The exit of a former governorship aspirant, Olusola Oke, from the All Progressives Congress, an expected consequence of the September 3 controversial governorship primary election, has further opened a cavity in the fault lines of the party in Ondo State.
Mr. Oke dumped the APC on October 1 for the Alliance for Democracy where he picked, practically unchallenged, its ticket to contest the November governorship poll in the state.
He had been the national legal adviser of the Peoples Democratic Party and later its governorship candidate in the 2012 governorship election but defected to the APC shortly after last year’s presidential election.
Up against the state governor, Olusegun Mimiko, considered a master of intrigues in Ondo local politics, the APC’s faltering in the build up to next month’s election should be worrisome to supporters of the party.
Harvest of Aspirants
The main opposition party needed a consistent and well-articulated formation within its ranks to wrest power from Mr. Mimiko’s PDP administration. But as events unfold, there are reasons to believe that the dream to drive the PDP out of the Alagbaka Government House, is gradually falling apart.
The APC first demonstrated this weakness when over 24 of its members indicated interest to contest for the party’s ticket to become the next governor of the state.
Understanding the desperation of Nigerian politicians, not a few feared a doomsday for the party. Efforts to get the aspirants to realign and forge a united arrowhead against the ruling party failed as all wanted to test their popularity.
By default, or so it seems, the aspirants, notably the four prominent ones, represented primordial sentiments of traditional politics.
Each aspirant drew inspiration from his political zone, which laid claims to the right to produce the next governor of Ondo State. This became a major drawback in the bid to align the forces and get a candidate of compromise among all the different sections.
For instance, those from the southern senatorial district went for Mr. Oke, who, although new in the party, enjoyed the support of majority of party members in the district.
Rotimi Akeredolu, who comes from Owo in the northern senatorial district, drew strength from there aside from his previous political structure, which he used as the candidate of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria in the 2012 governorship poll in the state.
It was the same for Ajayi Boroffice, the senator representing Ondo North senatorial district and Olusegun Abraham, both of who are from the Akoko axis of the district. Both of them did not reconcile their ambitions despite claiming to represent the interest of their people.
The notion that whoever wins the party’s ticket to run for governor would automatically be victorious in the main election further drove hard the machinery of campaigns among all the aspirants.
Things went smoothly as far as the leadership of the party kept faith with their promise to create a level playing field for all the aspirants.
PDP’s Albatross/APC’s Gains
To be sure, the party had enjoyed an improved image and goodwill among Ondo people. This is arguably attributable to the failure of the state government to meet the yearnings of the people.
Unpaid salaries, perceived maltreatment of citizens, increased taxation and alleged insensitivity of the PDP government to the sufferings of the people, all worked to form a new opinion in favour of the APC.
But the Chairman of the party in the state, Isaacs Kekemeke, defended the huge number of aspirants. While analysts say the unwieldy number of aspirants that joined the race could work against the party, the chairman said it would make it more interesting as the delegates would simply vote for their choices. He ruled out the imposition of any aspirant on the party.
The leadership also met with all the aspirants and they were certain that provided no candidate was favoured in any way by the process of the primary election, they were willing to accept their fate at the end of voting.
One of the aspirants, Tunji Ariyomo, said the assurances given by the leadership would suffice in keeping all the aspirants together even after one of them had emerged victorious.
In a way, that was not to be. Despite the assurances, there was disquiet in the party for one week when news filtered in that Mr. Abraham, a business man and politician, had been endorsed by a national leader of the party, Bola Tinubu.
The ensuing bickering pointed to a rancorous primary. There were postponements and finally the election held belatedly on September 3.
Dust was however raised over the conduct of the primary election at the Akure International Event Centre, also known as the Dome.
The facade of a peaceful primary conducted by the Jigawa State Governor, Mohammed Abubakar, belied the undercurrents of manipulation and financial inducement, which contradicted the anti-corruption slogan of the APC.
Mr. Akeredolu was returned as winner of the primary election at the end of counting, defeating Mr. Abraham, the anointed candidate of Mr. Tinubu; Mr. Oke and Mr. Boroffice in that order. But before the winner could roll out the drums, the losers filed appeals with the appeal committee.
The cracks began to show. It was evident that vested interests emanating from members of the national working committee would have their way even at the cost of ruining the party’s ambition in coming election.
Disagreement over the recommendations of the appeal committee was all that was needed to confirm that the centre could no longer hold. The committee recommended the cancellation of the primary and a repeat of the process. Power wielders within the NWC threw out the entire report, and upheld the election of Mr. Akeredolu. Aggrieved parties raised their hands in frustration, crying “to thy tent O Israel.”
Messrs. Oke, Boroffice and Abraham, fierce contenders for the ticket, found a common battle ground and jointly at a press conference rejected the decision of the NWC, threatening to take action not excluding moving out of the party.
Speaking on behalf of the aspirants, Mr. Boroffice said majority of the members of the NWC supported the recommendations of the appeal committee, but the National Chairman of the party, John Odigie-Oyegun overruled the decision of majority of the party leadership.
“He (Oyegun) rejected the path of truth and upheld the primary election that its process was characterized with corruption,” he alleged.
The senator said they were not deterred by the action of the NWC and the “undemocratic behaviour” of the national chairman of the party, but were encouraged by the genuine desire of their supporters and Ondo people to have a change and end the reign of mis-governance in the state.
Mr. Tinubu was also angry. In a statement, the former governor accused Mr. Odigie-Oyegun of fraud and demanded the chairman’s resignation, thereby aggravating the tensed situation in the party. The national chairman has since responded, describing Mr. Tinubu’s outburst against him as ‘reckless.”
Meanwhile, before the press conference jointly addressed by the aggrieved aspirants, Mr. Oke’s posters were already featuring widely in the social media, with speculations that he had defected to another party.
While he did not deny the reports, he said such publications were the opinions of his supporters. “They are entitled to their opinions,” he said.
On October 1, Mr. Oke formally moved out of the APC and pitched his tent with the AD.
Rotimi Ogunleye, the media aide to Mr. Oke, told PREMIUM TIMES that his principal dumped the APC because the platform was tainted with injustice.
He said the politician believes that the September 3 primary of the APC was rigged and the delegates’ lists tampered.
“Mr. Oke has the dream to build our fortunes into our future,” he said. “His agenda is that of Ondo State, which is to bring sustainable development to the people. The journey cannot be abandoned even though the vehicle had broken down. We cannot abandon the journey but we can abandon the vehicle.”
Mr. Abraham was equally angry. Penultimate week, his supporters stormed the party secretariat in Akure to protest the choice of Mr. Akeredolu as the party’s candidate in the coming election. The protest resulted to a free for all when they clashed with supporters of Mr. Akeredolu.
But the party’s state machinery branded them as thugs hired from neighbouring states to create unnecessary scene.
Abayomi Adesanya, the party’s spokesperson, insisted that its “decision is binding on all members irrespective of status.”
Threats to the quest to wrest power from ruling PDP
But can a divided APC pose a threat to the ruling PDP in the November poll?
Watchers of the unfolding events in Ondo say with the precarious situation in the APC, which has reverberated at the national level with Mr. Tinubu calling on Mr. Oyegun to resign, it is uncertain if it could muster the unity and votes to oust the PDP.
Granted that the PDP itself has its own internal wrangling, which is being settled as the Ali Modu Sheriff and Makarfi factions are engaged in a reconciliation process, it is believed that the disunity in an opposition party waiting to grab power could further dampen that hope.
Thus, unless the APC quickly puts its house in order, the quest to take over power in the south west state would be a mirage.
Already, the Tinubu/Oyegun face-off is taking a toll on the preparation of the party for the November outing. The former Lagos State governor is a master strategist in the game of politics and therefore it will be foolhardy to dismiss his complaints with a wave of hand as it is capable of affecting the party’s chances.
Yet there is the factor of the characters involved in the impending match. Some of the candidates also featured in the 2012 governorship election in the state, which Mr. Mimiko, then of the Labour Party, won. Messrs. Oke and Akeredolu were candidates in that election.
Out of the 624,659 votes cast in that election, Mr. Mimiko polled 260,199 votes, Mr. Oke of the PDP got 155,961 votes while Mr. Akeredolu then of the ACN got 143,572 votes.
If the figures of the 2012 were anything to go by, the combination of Messrs. Akeredolu and Oke may barely bring them victory. The combined total votes of both men are 299,533, about 39,000 over Mr. Mimiko’s votes.
The scenario may be different this time. The incumbency factor is certain to play a role in the November poll. It is assumed in some quarters that Mr. Mimiko is running the election by proxy.
Essentially, as in the recent election in Edo State where Governor Adams Oshiomhole played a significant role in the campaign and election of Godwin Obaseki of the APC, the Ondo governor is prominently involved in the campaign of the PDP candidate, Eyitayo Jegede, his former attorney general and commissioner for justice.
As a man extensively knowledgeable in Ondo politics, Mr. Mimoko is sure to deploy his political machinery and goodwill to help Mr. Jegede garner votes.
The governor is from the central senatorial district as the PDP candidate and their combination is sure to secure the votes of the people for the party, especially as Akure where he (Jegede) comes from has yet to produce a governor since the creation of the state 40 years ago.
Mr. Oke, now of the AD, is without doubt popular in his southern senatorial district. Although, the party may not be popular, should the people consider the personality of the candidates, he is sure to win there.
Mr. Akeredolu is also certain to perform in the northern senatorial district where he hails from. The only snag is the crisis in the APC, which is featuring two prominent aspirants from that district, namely Messrs. Boroffice and Abraham. Both are aggrieved and the party may have it rough there.
However, despite APC’s obvious challenges, Mr. Adesanya insists that his party is set to rule the state. According to him, the disagreements plaguing the party in the state would soon be sorted out.
But his opposite in the PDP, Banji Okunomo, mocks the APC, saying the end of the road has come for the party and its candidate with its multifarious conflicts.
He said with the crisis, it is unclear who leads the party and on what structure the party will be campaigning.
“We hear that the party sacked its chairman recently, yet the chairman claims he remains the party chairman,” he told this newspaper.
“Even the party’s candidate does not know who to relate with as the party chairman.”
Mr. Okunomo said the recent clashes between supporters of the different aspirants showed that the APC has lost its bearing and would not recover before the election.
Not a few believe Mr. Oke’s exit from the APC is a major setback for the party, given his popularity in the southern district of the state. For them, the APC is sure to lose to AD in the district, even though Mr. Kekemeke also hails from there.
But the APC dismisses all of that. Mr. Adesanya said rather than affecting the chances of the party, it is a blessing in disguise because he (Oke) has only returned to where he came from.
“We would have preferred to have him in the party, because democracy is a game of numbers. But his exit is a blessing in disguise, it will not defeat our ambition. The people will eventually decide who rules them during the election,” Mr. Adesanya told PREMIUM TIMES.
On his part, Mr. Okunomo said Mr. Oke, as the flag bearer for the PDP in 2012, won in only two local government areas, Ilaje and Okitipupa, wondering how he could win any this time with a party without structure.
“Alliance for Democracy is a dead party, those who created it are all gone. If he won only two local government areas with a party with structure in place in 2012, he may end up not winning even one local government with this party that is dead,” he argued in an interview with this newspaper.
But Mr. Oke’s camp dismissed those views. Mr. Ogunleye told PREMIUM TIMES that his principal possesses the credentials and experience to translate his vision for Ondo State to reality, for which the people are willing to vote for him.
According to him, Mr. Oke left the APC because the people urged him to do so, and for reasons that he would not want to remain in the APC to be creating problems or engaging in litigations.
But Mr. Oke might just be lucky. His action has a precedent. In 2007, Mr. Mimiko left the PDP for the unpopular LP to contest against the incumbent, Olusegun Agagu, and emerged winner, even though he only assumed office more than a year later through the courts. Can he repeat the governor’s feat?
The triad of the APC, PDP and the AD contest will undoubtedly offer political observers interesting episodes as November 26 approaches. What is sure, however, is that in all this, the decision on who governs Ondo State afterwards will eventually be taken by the electorate, if their votes are allowed to count.