Ahead of the October 10 Ondo State Governorship election, there is clearly increasing animosity between the camps of the All Progressives Congress’ candidate, Rotimi Akeredolu, and that of the former governor of the state, Olusegun Mimiko.
Although Mr Mimiko is not contesting the coming election, his entire political machinery is in full throttle driving the campaign of the deputy governor, Agboola Ajayi, whose controversial exit from the APC had landed him in the Zenith Labour Party, a relatively new party.
The ZLP is an offshoot of the Labour Party. Mr Mimiko singlehandedly brought the LP to limelight when he, on its platform, defeated incumbent Olusegun Agagu of blessed memory and turned it into a bargaining platform with the Peoples Democratic Party at the centre. PDP leaders at the time, like Olusola Oke and his supporters, battled for relevance in Ondo State as Mr Mimiko’s LP took the shine off the PDP members in the state during major elections.
The contention was that once Mr Mimiko decided to support the presidential candidate of the PDP as a governor of the LP in Ondo State, he marshalled all the campaign structures for the PDP at that instance, leaving out the PDP members in the state in the cold.
The romance between Mr Mimiko’s LP and the PDP was consummated during the effort to get Goodluck Jonathan reelected president in 2015. He collapsed the LP into the PDP and displaced the old PDP structure to implant his own. The result was similar to that of water displacement, a mathematical process of determining the volume of irregular shaped solids. The process involves immersing the solid in water and its volume is equal to the volume of water displaced. Mr Mimiko’s giant leap into the PDP became the party’s undoing in the election which broke the party into particles and left him holding on a weak twig which could not deliver the votes. Majority of those who left the party on account of Mr Mimiko’s return, found shelter in the APC.
Mr Akeredolu went on to win 2016 governorship election, defeating Mimiko-backed Eyitayo Jegede of the PDP and Olusola Oke, who then attempted a meander into the government house through the platform of the Alliance for Democracy. PDP loyalists were of the view that Mr Mimiko’s defeat by Mr Akeredolu had ended his political career and dwarfed his influence in Ondo State politics.
But Mr Mimiko, putting the earlier setback behind him, attempted to relaunch himself through a new political party. He and his supporters could not return to the LP, so they went ahead to register the Zenith Labour Party where he attempted to rejuvenate his political structure. He went ahead to contest the Central Senatorial District seat in 2019, but lost woefully to the PDP candidate.
The former governor surely knows how to be abased and how to abound. He kept his cool and maintained a low profile until recently when he seized the opportunity created by a prodigal deputy governor wandering from party to party seeking a platform to realise his dreams to become the governor of Ondo State.
After a few meetings, Mr Ajayi’s chances became bright. PREMIUM TIMES gathered that there were efforts both from the PDP and the APC to keep Mr Ajayi away from the ZLP. That could only have been possible if Mr Mimiko caved in to pressures from Mr Akeredolu and the Oyo State Governor, Seyi Makinde.
Mr Ajayi, against all odds, is the candidate of the Zenith Labour Party, where Mr Mimiko is the national leader. This is all he wanted when he decided he would run against the governor, but had to leave his party for the PDP. Since he dared to nurse the ambition, he lost his goodwill in the sight of the governor. Mr Akeredolu called Mr Ajayi a betrayer on different occasions.
Members of the House of Assembly have also failed to successfully execute an impeachment process against the deputy governor, with some members of the house refusing to play ball. The game eventually favoured Mr Agboola, when the state’s chief judge would not succumb to pressures to set up an investigative panel.
Campaign battles are currently ongoing; every candidate is engaging his opponent in his strongest point. Mr Akeredolu is showing so much respect for the PDP candidate, Mr Jegede, who is seen as gentle and cerebral. The APC team is seemingly unruffled by Mr Jegede’s desire to reclaim what he lost in 2016. However, this is not the same when it turns to the ZLP candidate. The APC leaders are obviously upset by the potentials of the deputy governor, now braced by the Mr Mimiko’s political sagacity.
Ondo residents are beginning to view Mr Ajayi candidacy through the lens of the achievements of the Mimiko administration. In fact, the campaigns are centered on a return to the Mimiko days of free health care and affordable tuition fees.
Some political analysts have submitted that the real contenders might be the incumbent governor and his deputy and that indirectly pitches the governor against his predecessor. By these dynamics, it is now Mr Mimiko versus Mr Akeredolu.
This new direction was predictable when in the wake of Mr Ajayi’s move to join the ZLP, Mr Akeredolu was reported as threatening to expose his predecessor to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission(EFCC). The governor however, denied the report, saying he had no such intentions.
The Commissioner for Information, Donald Ojogo, who spoke in reaction to the report, said his boss had nothing against “his friend” but had chosen “to allow posterity to intercede and interpret the roles of men in whatever form.”
“ln this regard, the friendship of the duo shall remain unaffected by the current political permutations, alignments and realignment, however impotently strange,” he said.
“Governor Akeredolu shall maintain that cordiality even in the face of opportunism.”
There is no letup in the struggle to smear the Mimiko era as much as possible in the APC campaigns, while the ZLP led by Mr Mimiko has continued to draw the attention of the people to the failure of the Akeredolu government to build on the achievements of the Mimiko administration.
The hostility between the ex-governor and his successor assumed a new high recently when the former described the current government as “anti-people.” Mr Mimiko pointedly accused Mr Akeredolu of being the enemy of the people in his discontinuation of his “people-oriented” programmes. By this he was referring to the Mother and Child hospitals, the shuttle buses for school children, as well as the trauma centres.
“This government that hiked school fees is a bad government. Akeredolu’s government is an enemy of the people. Anybody that votes Akeredolu is selling his children’s future,” were the cutting words of Mr Mimiko recently when he led the ZLP campaign to Ile-Oluji/Okeigbo local government area.
“Any government that does not make health free is your enemy. Akeredolu’s government is an enemy of the people by cancelling mother and child and free health for children.
“Any time they come here to campaign for votes ask him, where is our shuttle buses? Where is our abiye? The government that cancelled trauma centre is your enemy,” he said.
But the governor has since responded in the same measure to the former governor’s tirades.
“Those lecturers that were sacked unjustly at the Rufus Giwa Polytechnic, Owo and Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba Akoko are still alive to bear witness to the anti-people government of Mimiko in this state,” said Olatunde Olabode, who spoke on behalf of the governor.
“These workers were only reinstated by Governor Akeredolu. Because of Politics, Mimiko killed the Olusegun Agagu University of Science and Technology, Okitipupa (OAUSTECH). What’s more anti -people than the actions of Mimiko in abandoning the various projects left behind by the late Olusegun Agagu?
“The Akeredolu administration came and realized Mimiko only had two mother and child hospitals in the whole of the state. Governor Akeredolu has now expanded from two to seven and they are now across the three senatorial district of the state.
“As we speak, work is ongoing at the Teaching hospital both in Ondo and Akure. Arakunrin Akeredolu has introduced the Contributory health scheme which has also brought about free health care service for children under the age of Five and pregnant women.
“So, on health, Governor Akeredolu has surpassed Mimiko in achievements, just as the Akeredolu administration has recorded significant stride in education and people’s welfare.”
The national headquarters of the APC has also shown interest in the Mimiko/Akeredolu clash. Its deputy national publicity secretary, Yekini Nabena, took out time to attack the former governor, accusing him of seeking a third term in office using the current political setup on the platform of the ZLP. Mr Nabena said Mr Mimiko was deluding himself to think that the Ondo people had forgotten how “they were subjected to his arbitrary, tyrannical and dictatorial actions when he governed the state.”
Mr Jegede considers himself as the factor that would alter the power balance between the APC and the ZLP. His campaigns showed that he is not a push over, even though he is being underrated and undermined. The permutations from both the ZLP and the APC is to see the PDP candidate spoiling the votes for their opponents and providing an advantage for them. Why they have so much disrespected the political strength of Mr Jegede is still not clear.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has promised to provide a level ground for all the parties. The Chairman of the commission, Mahmood Yakubu, promised to improve on the just concluded Edo governorship election with the Ondo election. He also charged his staff to ensure they maintained integrity in the conduct of the election.
“We must work conscientiously and we must allow the people of Ondo State to determine who their governor is, irrespective of what becomes,” he said.
This is the anticipation of the majority of voters. It widely believed that this is Mr Mimiko’s very last battle of survival. If he fails, he will have to hide his face in the sand for a long time. If he wins(and that means Mr Akeredolu’s fall), then he becomes a godfather of the likes of Adams Oshiomole and his new battle would be how to stave off the pitfalls of those who have served in that office before him.