In this piece, PETER DADA examines the renewed hostilities between incumbent Governor of Ondo State, Rotimi Akeredolu, and the governorship aspirants of the All Progressives Congress ahead of the primary election of the party
The Independent National Electoral Commission has fixed October 10, 2020 for the Ondo State governorship election. The election is one of the staggered polls in the country.
The announcement by the electoral umpire has prompted aspirants and political gladiators to intensify their consultations and to be more aggressive in their efforts to woo the delegates and members of their various political parties to be able to win the primary election and to win the race to the Alagbaka Government House, Akure.
Candidates from registered political parties for the election are expected to emerge at least three months before the election. However, politicians, in their characteristic manner, begin covert preparations, sometimes, years before elections are held.
Aspirants jostling for the plum job on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party, which is the arrowhead of the opposition parties in the Sunshine State, are also seriously plotting to pick the sole ticket of the party with the aim of defeating Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of the All Progressives Congress at the poll.
However, the race to pick the sole ticket of the ruling APC promises to be more interesting because aspirants are determined to pull a surprise by beating Akeredolu to the ticket. The race is considered to be more interesting because of the crisis which has rocked the APC since Akeredolu won the last election. The crisis has pitted some APC chieftains against the governor and, despite the reconciliation that took place among the ranks of members of the party a few weeks ago, many believe that some of the aggrieved members still have an axe to grind with the incumbent governor.
This development is seen to be a serious headache for the leadership of the party at the state, zonal and national levels. This is because the emergence of the aspirants said to be aggrieved aspirants, who are opposed to the planned second-term ambition of Akeredolu, is believed not to be unconnected with the leadership crisis that has been lingering in the ruling party.
Akeredolu recently declared his interest in seeking re-election, but the raging internal crisis in the party could make getting the party ticket on a platter of gold difficult for the governor. As a matter of fact, five aggrieved chieftains of the party are also eyeing Akeredolu’s job and they are bent on going for the primary election.
The contenders in the APC apart from Akeredolu are the immediate past chairman of the party, Mr Isaacs Kekemeke; a United States of America-based legal practitioner, Chief Bukola Adetula; the Executive Secretary of the Niger Delta Power Holding Limited, Mr Ife Oyedele; a businessman, Mr Jimi Odimayo; and the President of the Nigeria Medical Association, Dr Francis Faduyile.
Even though all the aspirants have the right under the constitution of the party and the country to contest any position in the party, it was gathered that, if the governor had a cordial relationship with the other aspirants, none of them would even show interest in the governorship position until after 2024.
Many moves have been made by the zonal leadership of the party to reconcile the governor and other aggrieved leaders of the party to no avail.
This development was said to be unprecedented in the political history of the state, especially since 1999 when the new democratic dispensation began. None of Akeredolu’s predecessors in office had stiff opposition within their parties like the governor currently has. Recall that former governors, like the late Adebayo Adefarati, the late Olusegun Agagu, and Dr Olusegun Mimiko, all had their opponents from the opposition parties, but not within their respective parties, as is the case today. Mimiko, who was in the PDP with Agagu, had to resign his ministerial appointment, leave the PDP and move to the Labour Party where he contested the 2007 governorship poll against
There is a belief in some quarters that Akeredolu would not have been struggling so hard to win the party ticket if he had done everything to pacify the aggrieved leaders of the party and ensured that peace was restored to the party. It is obvious now that some of the aspirants may not be so keen in ruling the state but do not want Akeredolu to continue in office.
At different fora, the aspirants had faulted the governor and agreed that the Owo-born politician had not done well, particularly in the area of promoting unity among members and leaders of the party, hence the need for someone else to take over from him. They also alleged that Akeredolu had been a fly in the ointment of reconciliation, following his alleged refusal to include all the aggrieved members in the scheme of things in his administration.
Even with regard to the infrastructural projects, especially road projects that the administration has embarked on across the state, the aspirants insisted that Akeredolu was short of good ideas and they vowed to bench him after his first term.
Kekemeke, a former Commissioner for Works in the state who expressed his intention to beat Akeredolu at the party’s primary, blamed the governor for allegedly prolonging the crisis without proffering a solution.
He said, “Since Akeredolu won the election and got inaugurated, we have never been one. I don’t like to criticise him but the buck stops with him. His inability to bring all of us together after winning the election is the foundation of the crisis. He ran government exclusively as opposed to running an inclusive government. I think he just realised that, even after victory, as governor, you need everyone.”
As a matter of fact, most of the aspirants are proud members of the Unity Forum, a group, which is comprised of political ‘enemies’ of Akeredolu and is led by a former Deputy Governor of the state, Alhaji Ali Olanusi.
The group which claims to have 75 per cent members of the party, has been bragging about to be the one to produce the party’s standard bearer for the October governorship election despite Akeredolu being the incumbent governor.
A member of the group, on condition of anonymity, told our correspondent that the group had begun the process of choosing a consensus candidate ahead of the primary of the party, which is likely coming up in July. He added that the membership of the group was increasing on a daily basis and was battle-ready to fight for the ticket with the governor.
He said, “Whoever is picked from among the aspirants in the ongoing consensus arrangement will certainly get the party ticket because we have a higher number of the party members from the ward to the state level. I want to tell you that some members of Akeredolu’s cabinet are very much with us. So, the ticket belongs to us. Akeredolu should go and contest in another party, if he likes.”
It is however unclear who has the best chance of getting the ticket between Akeredolu and other aspirants because if the consensus arrangement being planned by members of the Unity Forum works out, the group may have the ticket. Kekemeke, who is neither a member of the Unity Forum nor in Akeredolu’s camp, claimed to have the number of party members needed to win the primary election from the 203 wards in the state.
In a desperate bid to clinch the ticket, a source disclosed that all the aspirants have been approaching some national leaders of the party for possible endorsement or ‘anointing.’ While some are said to be lobbying the Presidency, there are those seeking favours from the embattled National Chairman of the party, Mr Adams Oshiomole, and others who are regular visitors to the residence of the national leader of the party, Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu, seeking his influence and support for the exercise.
However, Akeredolu, who publicly declared his intention to contest the election last week, during his third anniversary celebration, said people had been calling him to contest again and that he had accepted the call to contest the election, saying he was not bothered about the threat of any body or group within the party.
In his response to the allegations of promoting disunity in the party, the governor said, “I don’t think there is a division in our party. I think what we have is people who have gathered themselves for aspiration. It might be understandable if there is division based on ideology and not some unnecessary rivalry. People can aspire but when election is held and a winner has emerged, we should also learn to accept and support whoever emerges.
“It is not possible for us to have a party and not have rancour. (Speaking) as a lawyer, we argue in court and when we get out of the court, we shake hands and move on. It is only politicians that I see that would always say they want to settle quarrels in heaven. I don’t have any quarrel to settle with anyone in heaven. If we have an election that is devoid of shenanigans, I will win hands down.”
His camp was also boosted recently when a former deputy governor of the state and chieftain of the Zenith Labour Party, Alhaji Lasisi Oluboyo; and a former Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, Col. Samuel Awodeyi, defected to the APC with their supporters and promised to support Akeredolu for a second term.
In his view of the ongoing development, a political analyst, Mr Adeleke Williams, said contesting the ticket of the party would make the game interesting, provided a level playing field was created for all the gladiators.
Williams however expressed pessimism about the forthcoming primary of the party, saying the crisis of the party might not give room for a level playing field.
“What is currently happening on the side of the APC is a very common thing in democracy. Every member of the party has the right to contest for an elective position, as long as the person has the prerequisite qualifications.
“But the lingering crisis in the party may not allow the primary of the party be free and fair because of the divisions and absolute desperation perceived among the gladiators.
“However, it would be a good thing if the governor and aggrieved members of the party can resolve all the grievances among them, to avert another round of crisis after the primary,” he stated.