The defection of Iyiola Omisore to the All Progressives Congress (APC) is giving vent to a latent rift between Osun State Governor, Gboyega Oyetola, and his predecessor, Rauf Aregbesola, who is now the Minister of Interior.
Mr Omisore, a former deputy governor of the state who also served one term as senator for Osun East, moved from the Social Democratic Party (SDP). This consummated a romance with the APC that started in 2018 when he helped the ruling party win a close election that brought in Governor Oyetola. Mr Omisore was the candidate of the SDP in that election.
While Mr Aregbesola has denied any rift with the governor who was his chief of staff until 2018, he has continued to speak in parables over Mr Omisore’s entrance into the APC. This has intensified the proxy war the minister and the governor had been fighting especially on social media.
The rift arose from claims by Mr Aregbesola’s loyalists that Mr Oyetola had excluded them from his government and had instead accommodated Mr Omisore and his supporters.
The September 22, 2018 governorship election was a close race in which Ademola Adeleke of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) led with 254,698 votes ahead of Mr Oyetola who polled 254,345 votes.
Although Mr Omisore came a distant third with 128,049 votes, he immediately became the beautiful bride to be courted by his two leading rivals after the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) declared the election inconclusive on the ground that the 353 votes margin between Messrs Adeleke and Oyetola was lower than the number of cancelled votes (3,498) in seven polling units.
“Unfortunately as the returning officer, it’s not possible to declare anybody as the clear winner of the election on the first ballot,” Adeola Fuwape, the Vice-Chancellor of the Federal University of Technology, Akure who was the returning officer for the election, said then.
INEC eventually scheduled a re-run poll, in the seven polling units where votes had been cancelled, for September 27, 2018.
This led to a tussle between the PDP and APC for the support of Mr Omisore and his SDP. Interestingly, Mr Omisore had previous relationships with the two parties.
He had started the Fourth Republic in the Alliance for Democracy (AD) which after many transformations became the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and one of the legacy parties that merged in 2014 to form the APC.
Mr Omisore was elected as deputy to Governor Bisi Akande in 1999 under the AD. But he soon fell out with his principal and their mentor, Bola Ige, who at the time was the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice under President Olusegun Obasanjo. Mr Omisore was then impeached and removed as deputy governor.
Mr Omisore defected to the PDP and despite being arrested as a suspect in the December 23, 2001 assassination of Mr Ige, his new party nominated him as its senatorial candidate for the Osun East district in the 2003 general elections.
That year, in what was described as a political Tsunami, the then ruling party virtually obliterated the opposition AD by snatching five of the six states in the latter’s South-west stronghold, including Osun.
Mr Omisore, who was still in detention at the time of the elections, was among the victors and managed to secure a bail to take his senatorial seat when the Fifth National Assembly session began in June 2003.
Mr Omisore was the governorship candidate of the PDP in Osun in 2014 when he lost to Governor Aregbesola of the APC. But after party leaders started rallying behind newcomer Mr Adeleke to fly the PDP flag in the 2018 poll, Mr Omisore defected to the SDP and picked the flag of his new party for the election.
Delegations from both the APC and PDP met with Mr Omisore after the first ballot of the 2018 poll but he eventually threw his support behind APC, saying the ruling party had accepted the conditions he gave them.
The conditions according to him include a pledge by the APC candidate to ensure motivation of workers in the state, payment of salary arrears in his first three months in office, equity in infrastructure provision across the state, and the adoption of a local content policy for all projects in the state.
He also said the APC agreed to adopt his manifestos.
Mr Oyetola won in the controversial rerun poll and overtook Mr Adeleke by 462 votes amidst reported anomalies by local and international observers of the exercise in the seven polling units.
The APC quickly fell into acrimony after Mr Oyetola was sworn in as governor. For 10 months, he did not appoint his cabinet. When he eventually did, he appointed the running mate of Mr Omisore in the election, Lawal Olayemi, as Commissioner for Youths, Sports and Special Needs. Mr Omisore has since become a key adviser to Mr Oyetola.
Mr Aregbesola’s supporters became concerned and moaned that they had been sidelined. They cited the case of Fatai Kolawole, who was the permanent secretary of the Osun State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) in the Aregbesola administration.
Mr Kolawole was said to be the face of the APC in Modakeke, one of the areas where the rerun poll took place in 2018. Because of his role in the rerun, he was expected to be appointed chairman of the education board. Instead, Mr Oyetola appointed Ajibola Famurewa, a former House of Representatives member and the director-general of his campaign organisation, to the position.
PREMIUM TIMES gathered that this and other appointments by Mr Oyetola angered Mr Aregbesola’s camp. But the two old associates tried to manage their differences because of their connection to Bola Tinubu, the former governor of Lagos and national leader of the APC.
While Mr Aregbesola has a long history of association with Mr Tinubu, the governor has a blood relationship with him. As a result, the two avoided washing their dirty linens in public, sources told PREMIUM TIMES.
That remained the case until Mr Omisore came into their party.
The first open fight was recorded between the Special Adviser to Governor Oyetola on Education, Jamiu Olawumi, and Bola Ilori, who is serving in Mr Aregbesola’s office in Abuja.
It began when Mr Olawumi, on his Facebook wall, took a dig at the minister on December 20, saying: “The rug always has an owner. It is always regimented. There is a new Sheriff in town. One at a time ni!”
He was apparently referring to the struggle for the control of the APC in Osun State.
In a swift riposte through a lengthy post of his own, Mr Ilori wrote:
“This position is neither right nor helpful to the real owners of the RUG, the SHERIFF and even the RUG itself. The owner of the RUG is the entire community and it is held in perpetuity. So, the RUG has never belonged to a single owner at any time and it is never regimented.
“What you have is an ANCHOR TENANT who coordinates the stay on the RUG with other key tenants, including those on the other side of the divide on the RUG. The misunderstanding of this key philosophical basis of housekeeping is the basis of the current dilemma.
“Those who currently and wrongly believe that the SHERIFF is the owner of the RUG are those ignorantly prodding the SHERIFF to tear the RUG just because they are of the opinion that they can excommunicate anybody from the RUG to prove they are the only owner of the RUG. Such attempts are exercises in futility and a recipe for disastrous outing on the RUG.
“It’s enough to remind us to learn from the previous SHERIFFs, they have always accommodated and celebrated the previous SHERIFFs. The last SHERIFF accommodated and celebrated all the previous SHERIFF without exception (even much more resoundingly) when fate brought them to the same side of the RUG. I wish to believe that the current SHERIFF is fully aware and following the same path.”
Mr Aregbesola’s camp continue to argue that Mr Oyetola has neglected them and his predecessor. But Mr Oyetola has debunked the allegation on several occasions.
One of the evidence cited by Mr Aregbesola’s camp against the governor was that he did not back Mr Aregbesola’s ministerial appointment.
“The fact that Oyetola did not support Aregbesola’s nomination as the minister from Osun was really a major friction between the two blocs. It took the efforts of Baba Akande and Asiwaju to resolve this. Aregbe was later appointed at the expense of the Omisore,” a top official of APC in Osun told PREMIUM TIMES asking not to be named as he was not permitted to talk to journalists on the matter.
“But we cannot blame the governor on this. His plan was that Aregbesola would get an offer from the presidency and he wanted to reward Omisore.”
Mr Oyetola had nominated Mr Omisore for the ministerial appointment but it was Mr Aregbesola who later got the state’s slot.
The two are also fighting over the control of the APC in the state. As governor, Mr Aregbesola controlled the party’s structure in the state. He is accused of desiring to continue exercising that control from Abuja, hence the dig about the rug and new sheriff.
Mr Oyetola has lured the state chairman of the party, Gboyega Famodun, to his side. Mr Famodun’s tenure lapsed in October 2018 but he has retained the position because Mr Oyetola has not allowed the party to organise a state congress to elect new leaders in the state.
Following Mr Aregbesola’s parables aimed at Mr Omisore, the party chairman, Mr Famodun, in a statement by his media aide, Kola Olabisi, rebuked party leaders he said were making unguarded utterances in the media over party matters.
“It is a pity that some of the leaders and members of the party are bereft of when to talk and when not to talk, forgetting that meanings could be read into whatever they say as the response of their principals,” he said then.
Reversal of controversial policies
PREMIUM TIMES also heard from insiders that Mr Aregbesola is not happy with the reversal of some policies of his government by the incumbent.
One of these is the controversial single school uniform Mr Aregbesola introduced in 2013 for all public primary and secondary schools.
The reclassification of the public school system and the abolition of single-sex schools across the state were some of the 26 issues reviewed by Mr Oyetola’s administration.
Other issues reviewed include the introduction of ‘Opon Imo,’ otherwise referred to as the tablet of knowledge, issuance of primary school leaving certificates, change of schools’ identities, ownership of Ladoke Akintola University of Technology (LAUTECH), operations of Osun State University, the merger of basic and high schools across many communities, among others.
PREMIUM TIMES reported that despite Mr Oyetola’s action being popular with stakeholders, including educationists, school administrators, missionaries and school owners in the state, the minister’s allies believe the review was to rubbish his legacy.
PREMIUM TIMES gathered that former Governor Akande made efforts to reconcile Mr Aregbesola and Mr Oyetola but the rift has remained.
Omisore benefiting from feud
And Mr Omisore appears to be reaping political capital from the feud.
Insiders told PREMIUM TIMES that Governor Oyetola sees Mr Omisore as a strategic ally in Osun East senatorial district where Mr Aregbesola also comes from.
When Mr Omisore officially joined the APC last week, his supporters escorted him to the registration point at his unit in Moore, Ile-Ife with chants of “Oyetola for second term.”
He was welcomed into the party by the deputy governor, Benedict Alabi, and Mr Famodun, the state chairman of the party.
Sources said Mr Omisore wants to return to the senate in 2023. He, however, did not respond to our reporter’s call and text messages requesting comments on his ambition.
Reaction to defection
However, Mr Aregbesola was not so welcoming of Mr Omisore to the APC. During the revalidation of his APC membership last weekend, at Ifofin, Ward 8, Ilesa East Local Government Area, the minister spoke in parables, insinuating the party had admitted killers and miscreants into its fold.
Mr Aregbesola said the Nigerian Constitution allows suspects and murderers to register as members of any party.
“This registration affords us the opportunity to deepen internal democracy in our party. Our members now have a say in whoever becomes a flag bearer either at the party level or in government.
“Though the Constitution allows everyone to register as a member of any political party, even if they are suspects, murderers, character assassinators etc, but those who constitute the majority of the party membership must represent the core values of the party,” he wrote on Twitter.
“What distinguishes us in APC are the values we hold. We value social democracy, to a large extent liberal democracy and progressivism.
“There must be a clear distinction between jolly good fellows and fair-weather friends who will still leave our party when they sense a better opportunity elsewhere. In associating with individuals, who you are, your character and world view must come to play.
“More importantly, we must honour the memory of our father, Chief Bola Ige and what he stands for which includes, compassion, commitment to the good of the majority and ideas that will bring good life, happiness, progress and security for the people”, he said.
While the minister did not mention names, it is clear that he was referencing Mr Omisore’s alleged role in Mr Ige’s assassination, despite the courts acquitting him of the charge.
Mr Aregbesola’s statement has understandably triggered a controversy in the state.
Speaking on a political programme on Rave FM on Wednesday, Mr Oyetola’s spokesperson, Ismail Omipidan, cautioned against statements capable of killing the APC in the state.
He reportedly said: “It is unfortunate that the minister failed to inform Oyetola before he came to the state and started making unpatriotic comments over Omisore joining APC.”
He said it was unfortunate that Mr Omisore’s presence in the APC angered Mr Aregbesola, despite the former’s role in ensuring the party’s victory in 2018.
Mr Aregbesola’s media aide, Sola Fasure, who also featured on the programme, admitted that there is no love lost between the minister and Mr Omisore.
“Omisore and Aregbesola are not the best of friends and the minister will never hide his feelings about that. He is not seeing Omisore joining APC as a disappointment but the progressives must be careful of those that are dancing on the grave of Chief Bola Ige,” he said.
Now that he is in the APC, the question is how Mr Omisore will contend with Mr Aregbesola who is known by party members as a political strategist.
Mr Aregbesola helped to defeat Mr Omisore’s bid to return to the senate from Osun East when Babajide Omoworare won that election in 2011 under the banner of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN).
Mr Omoworare had 119,852 votes to Mr Omisore’s 51,315 votes.
While Mr Omisore has a history of dominating any party he moves into, Mr Aregbesola will not tolerate this dominance in his senatorial district let alone allow him hijack the structure of the party in Osun.
For Mr Oyetola, insiders said the governor is determined to secure a second term, with or without Mr Aregbesola’ support.
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