The October 10 governorship election in Ondo State may have come and gone, but its outcome is likely to continue to haunt some key gladiators in the state’s politics for a long time.
Apart from some Ondo residents, whose pre-election loud voices may have been hushed by the deep pockets, incumbency, and in some cases, violence, there are politicians whose political fortune and relevance may have also been badly affected by the result of the poll which was won convincingly by Governor Rotimi Akeredolu who won in 15 of the state’s 18 local governments.
The result, as announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), has reflected a clear deviation from the expectation of many who had predicted a keenly contested ‘three-horse race’ among the incumbent governor and candidate of All Progressives Congress (APC), Oluwarotimi Akeredolu; his estranged deputy and candidate of Zenith Labour Party (ZLP), Agboola Ajayi, and the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Eyitayo Jegede.
The wide gap in the votes recorded by each of the three candidates is still a shocker to many analysts who had predicted a narrow margin between the possible winner and the runner-up.
The result may have, therefore, deflated the ego of some of the politicians, who analysts had earlier predicted had the capacity to alter the scale of the poll’s outcome. Thus, with the outcome exposing their featherweight, the consequences may be grave for these politicians.
Leading the pack of this category of politicians is the quartet of Messrs Ajayi, Jegede, former governor Olusegun Mimiko and the immediate past secretary to the state government, Ifedayo Abegunde.
The fact of Mr Ajayi’s grassroots prominence, especially within the Ondo south senatorial district, had been seen as an asset.
This view is attested to by the story of his rise from the lower rung of political ladder as a supervisor for agriculture in 1999 to his emergence as a running mate to Mr Akeredolu in 2016. His political journey is also replete with records of political affiliations and connections across the state.
Without any higher school qualification, he was elected to the house of representatives in 2007, after he had served as both caretaker and elected chairman of Ese-Odo Local Government Area of the state, among other positions.
However, considering the confidence exuded ahead of the poll and the dirty fight with his boss, one would have expected a better outing for the 52-year-old politician. But with his mere 69,127 votes which constituted only 12.1 per cent of the total valid votes, Mr Ajayi appeared to have been overrated.
For an incumbent deputy governor, and one who crisscrossed political parties to realise his ambition, failure to win a single local government out of the state’s 18 is a dent on his acclaimed popularity.
Recording a paltry 4,760 votes in his Ese-Odo local government, where many had predicted a walkover, is a confirmation of this. For his followers, it was devastating to note that their candidate could only garner one-third of Mr Akeredolu’s 13,383 votes in his own territory.
“Can you imagine that oga (Agboola) could only beat the PDP candidate with a slim margin of 80 votes? So if you claim Akeredolu rigged, did Jegede rig too? It is sad my brother,” said Araitolu Emmanuel, a former APC member, who defected to ZLP in support of Mr Ajayi.
In 2016 when he first ran against all odds, pertinent excuses were advanced for his poor run.
Then, the intraparty crisis that rocked the PDP which had resulted in the legal firework between Mr Jegede’s faction and that of his main challenger and controversial businessman, Jimoh Ibrahim, was seen by many as a valid point.
In fact, it was not until some 48 hours to the 2016 poll, that Mr Jegede was only sure of his participation as a candidate.
He had waited for the judgement of the Supreme Court, which though eventually validated his candidature, came very late. By the time the judgement was delivered, the electorate seemed to have concluded on who to vote for.
He only won two of the 18 local governments despite the incumbency enjoyed by his party in the state.
It is, however, surprising that Mr Jegede’s performance in this year’s election could only be slightly different from his 2016 outing. Winning three local government areas out of 18 seems not good enough to earn the party’s trust in 2024.
Having fought valiantly to retain the PDP’s ticket for two consecutive election cycles, Mr Jegede may have just blown the chance of Akure, the state capital, and the Ondo central senatorial district, to produce the next governor in the state.
Based on the outcome of the poll, there seems to be an unwritten agreement among politicians in the state to produce the next governor from the Ondo south senatorial district, since both central and north districts would have had two terms each by 2024. While Mr Mimiko represented Ondo central, the incumbent is from the northern district.
It is true that the former governor was not on the ballot on Saturday but the poll was clearly a referendum on his waning popularity.
But the result of the election may have just finally re-buried Mr Mimiko’s political relevance that was abruptly rekindled a few months to the poll.
The former governor, who has changed parties like diapers, assumed the national leadership of ZLP ahead of the 2019 general election where he initially aspired to be Nigeria’s president.
When he realised the ambition was a tall order, he simply opted to represent Ondo central in the Senate, an election he lost to the PDP.
The ZLP candidate’s loss in Ondo governorship election made it three losses in a row for Mr Mimiko, a man whose larger than life image had been painted ahead of the election.
But one of his associates and his former assistant on inter-party affairs, Daves Akinbote, said rather than singling out his boss as a loser, the people of the state should be so regarded.
“Mimiko cannot become a governor in this state again, he does not need the affordable healthcare, the shuttle buses and affordable school fees which the people are not going to have under this administration for the next four years. So, how is Mimiko the big loser?
“The people have just lost another golden opportunity to reclaim the glory brought to this state during the eight-year tenure of Iroko (Mimiko).”
Ahead of the Saturday election and shortly before the APC primaries, the secretary to the state government, Mr Abegunde, resigned his appointment and reportedly pitched his tent with one of the aspirants in the party, Segun Abraham.
However, Mr Abegunde did not just resign his position, he criticised the policies of a government he had been a part of for more than three years.
Surprisingly, all the aspirants who took part in the APC primaries were prevailed on not to exit the party. The development forced Mr Abegunde to change his mind as he returned to campaign for the governor he had publicly condemned.
It is unclear whether Mr Abegunde would return to his seat as SSG, a development many of the stakeholders described as “impossible.”
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