In this analysis, Bisi Abidoye of PREMIUM TIMES looks at the talking points from last weekend’s governorship election in Ondo State
Gatecrashing the federal party?
The All Progressives Congress won Saturday’s governorship election of Ondo state. The candidate of the party, Rotimi Akeredolu, was declared winner, having received the highest number of the votes and met all the stipulated requirement. Mr. Akeredolu won in 14 of the 18 local government areas of the state and was runner-up in the other five shared by his two nearest rivals, Eyitayo Jegede of the Peoples Democratic Party (who won in two LGAs) and Olusola Oke of the Alliance for Democracy (who won in the other two LGAs.)
If Mr. Akeredolu’s election stands, it will be only the second time in the 40-year history of Ondo state that it has elected the candidate of a federal ruling party, the first being Olusegun Agagu who was elected on the platform of the PDP in 2003. Of course, the electoral commission had on two other occasions returned candidates of the parties ruling at the centre – Akin Omoboriowo of the National Party of Nigeria in 1983 and Segun Agagu of the PDP in 2007. But both verdicts were upturned at the court. Mr. Omoboriowo’s win was quashed after an uprising that gave the state its reputation for violent resistance to perceived electoral shenanigans.
It may be relevant that Ondo voted APC in last year’s federal elections, before consoling Mr. Mimiko by electing a majority of his party’s candidates into the state legislature. And just last week, the only Ondo senator elected last year on PDP ticket, Yele Omogunwa, defected to join the APC caucus. Maybe Ondo is an APC state after all.
When is a mandate?
Mr. Akeredolu won the election with 244,842 votes. But his tally represents only 44.41 percent of the valid votes cast, and means there were more voters on Saturday who preferred someone else as governor.
In some other electoral systems, where a mandate can only be delivered by a majority of voters, the Ondo state governor-elect would only have qualified for a run-off against his closest rival. But don’t blame Mr. Akeredolu for this seeming quirk – Nigeria’s electoral system awards victory to the candidate with the highest number of votes, if the candidate can show his or her footprints across the constituency. The framers of the nation’s constitution made provisions to ensure that the winning plurality does not come from only a section of the field. In addition to having the highest number of votes, the winner must also score at least a quarter of the votes in at least two-thirds of the constituency.
Mr. Akeredolu cleanly scaled this hurdle – in fact, he had majority of the votes in each of 13 LGAs and returned second with more than a quarter of the votes in each of the other five of the state’s 18 LGAs, apart from Ilaje where his rival of the AD denied every other candidate that honour.
But that is not the only thing that may twitch some purists’ noses. Only 35.49 percent of the registered voters cared to turn out last Saturday, despite initial media reports of public enthusiasm about the polls. If you take Mr. Akeredolu’s 244, 842 votes as a percentage of the 1,647,973 registered voters, then it means he has been elected by only 14.85 percent of those who were entitled to have a say on who should be the next governor of Ondo State. Again, this is not peculiar to Mr. Akeredolu, many before him had been so elected, including the man who would soon be his predecessor, Olusegun Mimiko.
What happened, Mr. Mimiko?
The outgoing two-term governor’s party got only 27.27 percent of the votes on Saturday (150,380). Curiously, the chairman of the PDP Governors Forum was never elected on a PDP ticket. He became governor in 2008 after a successful petition against the 2007 election of PDP’s Mr. Agagu. A post-primary defector from the PDP, he had challenged Mr. Agagu’s reelection on the ticket of the Labour Party and was reelected in 2012 on the same party’s ticket, in a three-man race that mirrored that of last Saturday. His two main challengers in that election were Mr. Akeredolu of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria and Mr. Oke, who was the PDP candidate at the time. After his reelection, Mr. Mimiko defected with the governor’s seat to the PDP, infuriating sitting members of the party in the state, including Mr. Oke who eventually fled to the APC.
In the 2012 election, Mr. Oke’s PDP finished second behind Mr. Mimiko’s Labour Party. So with the LP dissolving into the PDP long before Saturday’s election, it was normal to project the PDP as frontrunner last Saturday. Alas! It returned a distant second with just over 27 percent of the votes. Considering that the PDP candidate was handpicked by Mr. Mimiko, did the outcome of the election indicate how sore Ondo voters were over the stewardship of the outgoing governor?
A rolling stone
As for Mr. Oke, what would he make of his finishing on Saturday? He was first runner-up in 2012, albeit with the (some have said half-hearted) support of the PDP which then controlled the federal government. Mr. Oke defected to the APC in resentment of Mr. Mimiko taking over the PDP in the state. He ran for the ticket of the APC but again left in a huff over alleged lack of fair play in the primary. Mr. Oke seized the ticket of the AD for last Saturday’s election to howls by some of the older members of the party. But it was widely speculated that a disaffected section of the APC covertly backed his campaign, so many punters made him the dark horse. It turned out not to be a smart bet. He returned very far behind the man whose nomination by the APC he had queried. Will he stay where he is now or keep his feet loose?
At least, Mr. Oke proved that he has home support though. He won in his Ilaje LGA handsomely, unlike Mr. Jegede of the PDP who only won in the backyard of his mentor, Mr. Mimiko.
Lame donkey or sabotaged?
To be fair to Mr. Jegede and the PDP, it still has to be analysed how much his race was affected by a headwind called Jimoh Ibrahim. For six critical weeks in the run-up to the election, Mr. Jegede gnashed his teeth in no man’s land after he was elbowed out as the candidate of the PDP by a court judgement the Appeal Court has sternly rebuked as fraudulent. While the other candidates were on the field courting the electorate and setting their nets for votes, Mr. Jegede was out in the cold baying at Mr. Ibrahim who had snatched his ticket and parading the courts for delayed help. When just two days to the election, the ticket was retrieved for him from the wily snatcher, Mr. Jegede did not know what else to do other than mount a fruitless campaign for postponement of the polls. No way the authorities would allow a family affair delay a race the community had long awaited. Now, the defeated PDP flag bearer can only rue what might have been! Still, you are not going to be proud of yourself when you cannot win even your LGA.
Twenty eight parties presented candidates for the election. Although the media, trying to separate the men from the boys, projected a four-horse race, it turned out that only three horses actually ran to win, as Olu Agunloye of the Social Democratic Party garnered only 1.84 percent of the votes. The combined votes of all the other 24 amounted to a mere 3.47 percent! So what was their purpose on the ballot, apart from giving electoral officers clerical headache? Worse still, 16 of these parties had joined their voices with the PDP’s in calling for a postponement of the polls last week, pretending to be genuine stakeholders.
In some polities, a party or candidate has to scale some hurdles before being allowed on the ballot. This could be in the form of having their nominations endorsed by a percentage of the registered voters, or, as in the First Republic, making a deposit which they forfeit if at the end of the election they did not reach a particular threshold of the votes. May be Nigeria has to consider reintroducing something like that in the future, to weed the field. Imagine one of these parties being mistakenly left out of the ballot paper. It would have gone to court to have the entire election cancelled and repeated at great cost to everybody.
And by the way, what happened to Mr. Agunloye too? The former minister’s SDP has as its national leader, Olu Falae, an elder statesman whose chest is full of badges as a former secretary to the federal government, minister, presidential candidate of the combined forces of two major parties (AD/APP) in 1999 and an Akure monarch? Perhaps the media still has to learn how to identify paper tigers.
Finally, beware Mr. Akeredolu, speed breakers ahead!
Before Mr. Akeredolu assumes office next February, he would have to carefully ruminate on how to relate with his state Legislature that may be controlled by the vanquished PDP at least until 2019. The party has only a small majority in the House, but that is enough to make Mr. Akeredolu worry about forming his cabinet and passing his budgets. By giving control of different arms of government to different parties, Ondo voters too may need to hope that they have not inadvertently set the stage for gridlock in how their affairs will be run from next year.