There is no letup in political activities in Ondo State, despite the lockdown on social and political gatherings following the outbreak of coronavirus in the country. The governorship aspirants, as well as their respective parties have devised ways of engaging in politics and furthering their aspirations ahead of the governorship elections later in the year.
The tenure of the governor of Ondo State will expire on February 23, 2021. The Independent National Electoral Commission(INEC) had earlier scheduled the Ondo governorship election for October 10, 2020.
The commission had therefore, scheduled that the conduct of party primaries and the resolution of disputes arising from the primaries would be between July 2 and July 25, 2020; even as political campaigns would be officially opened on July 13.
However, in the wake of the outbreak in many states, INEC has been in a dilemma regarding the conduct of activities affecting the governorship elections in Edo and Ondo States.
It recently announced the suspension of all regular and non-essential activities for 14 days in its headquarters and offices across the country because of COVID-19.
It, however, said the dates for the governorship elections would not be affected by the suspension order.
Ondo State, where three cases of coronavirus have been confirmed, has officially shut down all political activities for two weeks and has continued to take additional stringent measures to restrict movement given the increase in the number of infected persons nationwide.
According to the Commissioner for Information, Donald Ojogo, there is a ban on all political rallies and meetings in the state.
The Peoples Democratic Party, Ondo State Chapter, had also put off its state congresses in line with the directive of the state government in compliance with the social distancing protocol of the NCDC.
In spite of this development, there are intensive political activities within the two main political parties, especially the All Progressives Congress(APC), as aspirants within the parties intensify their efforts to emerge as the preferred candidate.
Tangle within APC
Within the APC, there are two major groups, the Unity Forum, which is the opposition group within the party and the continuity or the Aketi group belonging to Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu.
Mr Akeredolu appears to be engrossed in the battle to keep track on the raging Corona virus, whereas his opponents are openly in the fray to win the support of party loyalists against the coming primaries.
PREMIUM TIMES gathered that the aspirants are very optimistic that the plague would soon be over, allowing political activities as scheduled by INEC to be realised within given periods.
With the suspension of the April 18 local government elections, most actors had rested their nerves, but the Ondo State Independent Electoral Commission came out last week assuring that the election would hold as soon as the pandemic was brought under control. The announcement which was meant to dispel the rumours that the LG polls had been cancelled, has again awakened the local aspirants to renewed political activities.
The Unity Forum is led by a former deputy governor and member of APC Board of Trustees (BoT), Ali Olanusi. Other notable members of the faction include a three-time senator from Akeredolu’s district, Ajayi Boroffice, former governorship candidate of the PDP and AD in the last two elections, Olusola Oke; Bukola Adetula, Ife Oyedele, Yele Omogunwa, and Segun Abraham.
The forum’s main objective is to produce a single candidate who will be acceptable to the majority of the party stakeholders and could beat the incumbent governor to the ticket at the primaries instead of running their separate campaigns that may not sufficiently ruffle the chances of the governor to return.
The forum, since the lockdown, has pushed, even with a squabble, to pick a consensus candidate that could match the incumbent governor. It created a seven-member committee to reach the consensus agreement, and there had been a tumult as a result with the tendency to destroy the movement.
The aspirants being screened by the Unity Forum are Olusegun Abraham, Bukola Adetula, Olusola Oke, Ife Oyedele, Jimi Odimayo, Olaide Adelami, Akin Awodeyi, Dapo Adelegan, and Kazeem Olanrewaju. Report has it that all aspirants had agreed to support whosoever emerged as the consensus candidate.
Although large political gatherings have been banned in the state, PREMIUM TIMES reliably gathered that the aspirants have been meeting with stakeholders in small groups.
They are also making effective use of the social media to reach a number of the party stakeholders and engaging the minds of their people ahead of the contest.
Kazeem Shamsudeen, a media aide to Mr Olanrewaju, confirmed that the aspirants were not meeting in large groupings, but in meetings of twos or threes.
“I can tell you that meetings are going on in small groups,” he said. “This is done in an effort to secure a consensus candidate.”
It was also gathered that the committee has finished its work, and a report has been submitted to Mr Olanusi, the leader of the group.
“The reason the consensus candidate has not been announced is because some of the aspirants were opposed to announcing the chosen aspirant in the face of the ongoing lock down as a result of the corona virus,” Mr Shamsudeen said.
There are fears that the announcement of the anointed candidate for the forum could spell doom for the group, as some aspirants are reported to be meeting in groups to denounce the outcome of the selection committee, even though they had earlier swore to abide by the outcome of the exercise and support whoever was picked as the consensus candidate.
Another source informed this newspaper that the screening committee engaged all the aspirants and interviewed them on their qualifications to reach a consensus.
Kayode Fakuyi is the media aide to Mr Boroffice, who revealed that the senator was no longer in the contest for the APC governorship ticket.
He said the senator was not interested in the ticket and had not been involved in the activities of the unity forum for the governorship ticket, even though he is a strong supporter of the movement.
“All the aspirants were made to face the screening committee with their certificates and had to provide the evidence that they could attract development and resources to the state if elected as governor,” Mr Fakuyi said.
“Senator Boroffice is in Abuja observing the restriction order by the government, and because he is not in the current political struggle he is not in Ondo but in Abuja,” he said.
“You know if the politics was ongoing, we would be in Ondo and not in Abuja.”
The publicity secretary of the All Progressives Congress, Alex Kalejaiye, told PREMIUM TIMES that the party had put a hold to all political meetings and activities in line with the directive of the government.
He said as a result, the party had cancelled every meeting earlier scheduled, and would expect all its members including aspirants to adhere to the directive.
Mr Kalejaiye noted that he was not aware of any meetings going on especially as he could not speak for the unity group who are apparently an opposition within the party.
“We are complying with the directive that all political gatherings are not to hold to ensure there was no spread of the corona virus,” he said.
“We are expecting that even though political activities resume, we expect the electoral agencies to readjust the time table to allow players to prepare for the elections.”
PDP setting the house in order
Last week, an aspirant of the PDP and a former member of the House of Representatives, Bode Ayorinde, formally declared his intentions to contest the governorship election under the flag of the PDP.
In his declaration statement, Mr Ayorinde urged the PDP to give him the chance to contest the governorship against Mr Akeredolu, in view of the fact that he is from Owo as the incumbent governor and would necessarily be able to complete the governor’s second term as an Owo man.
Mr Ayorinde will therefore be running against the candidate of the party in the last election, Eyitayo Jegede, who marginally lost to Mr Akereszdolu at the final count.
Mr Jegede had continued his interface with the party stakeholders via the social media and had continued to issue statements with regard to the corona virus pandemic and measures taken to avoid its spread.
Mr Jegede, a senior advocate of Nigeria, is a former Attorney General of Ondo State under the Olusegun Mimiko administration.
Other aspirants include Banji Okunomo, former south west leader of the party, Eddy Olafeso and former Senator, Boluwaji Kunlere.
The party had suspended its state congresses at the wake of the lockdown, but with the expiration of the current executive committee in the state, a directive from the Wadata House has seen it transiting into a caretaker or interim committee to run until the ban on political gatherings is lifted.
The party has also circumvented a full blown congress for the election of members of the state working committee through the adoption of the candidates using the consensus method.
Mr Zadok Akintoye, the spokesman for the party in Ondo State, told PREMIUM TIMES that the party had in spite of the lockdown managed to bypass much of the state congresses with most of the wards agreeing to pick their candidates through the consensus process. By implication, the voting members had picked their candidates by signing a document agreeing to the emergence of a candidate.
Mr Akintoye noted that there was however a disagreement on the selection of the state Chairman of the party. Even though majority had endorsed Fatai Adams for the position, a contender had protested, and demanding an all out congress for the election of the chairman of the state chapter.
“If not for that disagreement, we would have proceeded to announce the chairman of the party,” Mr Akintoye said. “Because we adhere strictly to democratic principles and would want to be transparent in the process, we would have to wait for the lockdown to end and then we will proceed with the rest of the process.”
Governor’s subtle moves
Knowing the times, the Aketi group is not idle in the current lockdown. The Covid-19 pandemic itself has provided a channel through which the re-election campaign of the governor can be promoted.
Coordinators at the 203 wards were appointed during the week by a support group for the governor’s re-election, called Ibi Giga Ambassadors. Their mission is to use the Covid-19 palliative initiative to promote the image and achievements of Governor Akeredolu.
The group planned to begin the distribution of palliatives to residents across the states in the process of carrying the re-election message to the people.
The Secretary of Ibi Giga Ambassadors, Adetunji Gbenga, said in a statement that the role of the coordinators among other things was to publicise the achievements of the Governor in the areas of industrialization, infrastructure, Health, Education and Agriculture.
“Note: all concerned should send their WhatsApp numbers and Account Numbers to the Secretary with GSM No. ********* as the Directorate has made necessary arrangement for palliative to cushion the effects of the lockdown in the state aimed at preventing the spread of Covid-19 in the state,” a message read.
The Special Assistant to the Governor on Media and Publicity, Ojo Oyewamide, said politicians cannot do without meeting to strategise. “While the opposition is meeting to strategise, the governor’s side will also find ways to meet to strategise,” he said.
All the contending groups agree that until there is a certainty on the time the pandemic will be brought under control, all the political efforts are mere futile agitations.
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