The story of deputies trying their best to usurp power from their principals is not alien to Nigerian politics but for the people of Ondo State, this will be the first time they will have an incumbent governor and his deputy run against each other in an election.
The race to the Alagbaka Government House in Ondo State, although between 17 political parties, is essentially a three-horse race. The major contestants are; the incumbent governor of the state, Rotimi Akeredolu; the deputy governor, Agboola Ajayi; and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)’s candidate, Eyitayo Jegede.
The election scheduled for Saturday, will determine the All Progressives Congress (APC)’s standing in terms of the control of states. Out of the 36 states, 19 are being governed by APC governors, 16 by the PDP and one headed by a candidate of All Progressives Grand Alliance.
This balance may be disrupted, especially if the outcome of Saturday’s poll does not favour the ruling party.
Mr Ajayi, a legal practitioner and a former member of House representatives was picked as a running mate of Akeredolu in the 2016 gubernatorial election. The duo emerged victorious with an over 90,000 vote margin.
For the first two years in office, they had a smooth relationship but things fell out on the altar of ambition. Initially, both concealed the differences and had denied any rancour, until June, 2020 when the unprecedented happened.
Acting on the orders from the governor, the police commissioner of Ondo State and armed policemen barred Mr Ajayi from leaving his official residence in the Government House for over four hours in June.
The drama, which happened late in the night, caused a stir in the state as everyone waited for Mr Ajayi’s next move.
Hours after the incident, the deputy governor stormed his ward in Ese Odo local government to resign his membership of the APC. He cited irreconcilable issues between him and his principal and that the party “has become a poisoned space”, as reasons for his actions. He joined the PDP afterwards.
In the heat of several dramatic moves and controversies between the two politicians, Mr Ajayi announced his decision to run for the position of the number one office in the state, with the knowledge that his principal is seeking re-election.
Five weeks after joining the PDP, he contested in the primaries but lost the ticket to Mr Jegede, a major challenger of Mr Akeredolu in the 2016 governorship election.
Relentless in the pursuit of his governorship ambition, the deputy governor decamped to Zenith Labour Party (ZLP), which is led by former governor Olusegun Mimiko.
As it stands, Mr Ajayi will contest the October 19 governorship election as a candidate of the ZLP, popularly referred to as the third force in the state.
To attain victory, the deputy has an incumbent governor and the PDP candidate to defeat.
In the 2016 governorship election, Mr Akeredolu polled 244,842 votes while Mr. Jegede of the PDP garnered 150,380 votes while Olusola Oke of Alliance for Democracy (AD) had 126,889 votes.
The final results, which favoured Mr Akeredolu, also showed the popularity of Mr Jegede, who was a former commissioner in the state and Mr Oke, who is now a chieftain of the APC.
In retrospect, Ajayi’s contributions to the emergence of Mr Akeredolu are quite significant. Mr Akeredolu won 14 local governments out of the 18 local governments in the state. Four out of the local government areas won are in Ondo South, the base of his deputy.
However, analysts have said the results for the October 10 poll would be tighter considering the feud between Messrs Akeredolu and Ajayi.
No doubt, the feud between Mr Akeredolu and his deputy will affect his performance in the poll, particularly in Ondo South, the district of his former ally.
Nevertheless, the zoning factor might favour Mr Ajayi, because it is believed that the next governor should come from the south, based on a zoning arrangement.
It should be noted that Adebayo Adefarati from Ondo North served as the state’s governor between 1999 and 2003, Olusegun Agagu from Ondo South took over between 2003 and 2009.
Between 2009 and 2017, Mr Mimiko, who hails from Ondo Central, governed the state, after which he handed the baton to Mr Akeredolu.
In fact, some leaders from the six local councils of the Ondo South senatorial district insisted that it is the turn of the zone to produce the next governor and have endorsed Mr Ajayi’s candidacy.
The leaders are Chief Adekanmi Adegbola, Lisa of Idepe Okitipupa, former members of the state House of Assembly, former commissioners and political office holders who expressed regret that none of the major political parties picked someone from the region as a candidate, as Vanguard reported.
This implies that Mr Akeredolu’s choice of Lucky Aiyedatiwa, who hails from the district, as his running mate, may not be sufficient to garner enough votes in Ondo South.
Another factor in favour of Mr Ajayi is the support from Mr Mimiko, a former governor and grassroot politician, who saw to the emergence of Mr Akeredolu as against Mr Jegede who served in his cabinet.
In recent times, Mr Mimiko has been seen leading the campaign of the ZLP candidate to the nooks and crannies of the state, telling the people that Ajayi would continue where he stopped if he is elected.
The power of incumbency has been a major factor in previous elections in Nigeria and Ondo State won’t be an exception. Mr Akeredolu, being an incumbent governor, has access to state apparatuses and machineries.
Also, one cannot rule out the support from the federal government since APC is in control at the national level. He will enjoy the support of many state overnors and that is another advantage his deputy cannot boast of.
Most importantly, President Muhammadu Buhari recently reimbursed four states, Ondo State inclusive, for the money spent on road projects in their respective states. Ondo State is expected to get N7 billion.
The payment approved for Ondo last week fits a pattern of questionable timing of federal money to APC-led states just days before their governorship elections.
Recall that similar payments were made to the incumbent governments in Osun and Kogi states just before their governorship elections.
Political analysts have questioned the timing of the payments, seeing them as suspicious from an APC-led federal government to APC-led states, as they could be used to influence the outcome of the polls.
Birds of same feather
The rivalry between the duo is not because of public interest but for selfish reasons, many persons have opined.
For these people, there is no difference between what Mr Akeredolu wants to offer the state and the promises of Mr Ajayi because they both served in the same government.
It is believed that the deputy governor, who now casts aspersions against his principal, cannot be isolated from the allegations of maladministration he makes. The same with the governor who alleged that his deputy awarded contracts for himself.
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While both parties might have intended scoring political points with these allegations, it is working against their candidacy.
Mr Jegede, the third of the trio, has also mentioned this in his campaign for votes.
When the PDP candidate was asked why he did not choose the deputy governor as his running mate, he explained that Ajayi was part of the “failure” of the Akeredolu’s administration that PDP is campaigning against.
“All the policies that we are fighting, the pains we want to end are the product of Akeredolu and his deputy. He was in our party (as a member) for just six weeks,” he said, referring to Mr Ajayi.
For Oluyemi Fasipe, a public affairs analyst and social media strategist based in Ondo State, the October 10 election will be keenly contested and the winner will emerge with a “little margin.”
He acknowledged that the deputy governor, although a third force, has a level of support from APC members.
“Some people in the APC are with him whether openly or otherwise. I’m surprised a lot of supporters as well.”
The level of Mr Ajayi’s popularity, Mr Fasipe can be traced to the media war and verbal exchanges between Mr Akeredolu and his deputy.
“Before now, some people do not even know the name of the deputy governor. Basically, the governor has been assisting to gain a level of popularity. It can get him a lot of sympathy too.”
In the battle for the soul of Ondo South, Mr Fasipe stated that the governor’s running mate cannot pull the same number of votes as Mr Ajayi in the district.