The two major political parties in Ekiti State, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party(PDP) have picked their flagbearers for the June 18 governorship election in the state.
The primaries conducted on January 26 and 27, respectively by the two parties to produce the candidates, were markedly different in the forms and procedures but bore inherent similarities in notions and innovations.
The APC went for the direct primaries which, expectedly, got members of the party at their respective 177 wards to vote for their preferences.
In this case, 107,000 members of the party came out to cast their votes for their candidate.
The PDP, on the other hand, relied on statutory and automatic delegates, which were about 1,187.
The Ayo Fayose-backed Olabisi Kolawole, a former Chairman of the PDP in the state, emerged as the candidate at the end of the voting process, just as Biodun Oyebanji, a former Secretary to the Ekiti State Government, who was the ‘anointed’ candidate of Governor Kayode Fayemi was announced the winner of the APC primaries.
There were cries of irregularities from both sides, despite the claims that they were free and fair by the winners and organisers.
The power brokers held fast to their reins and ensured the outcomes were as predetermined, without “breaking” the laws. The invisible presence of the “masters” ensured the voters fell into specific lines and the adversaries had only to whine over the restraints they suffered in the entire game.
The Coalition of Ekiti State Civil Society Organisations(COESCSOs) described the process as a game of godfathers. Watching from an elevated neutral position, the group said the process was devoid of violence and allowed delegates to freely make their choices. Its conclusion of the involvement of godfathers apparently creates a milieu of self- contradiction.
The Chairman of the coalition, Christopher Oluwadare, while giving the preliminary report of the coalition in Ado Ekiti, said the fact that the elections didn’t witness bloodshed, killing and violence made them more acceptable and better than the previous years.
“For PDP and APC indirect and direct primaries, those who have a stake, I mean the godfathers controlled the process,” Mr Oluwadare said.
“We feel that we must neutralise the overriding powers of individuals so that they won’t be the sole determinants of who becomes what in our parties.”
PDP’s ‘unjust’ primaries
The above observation informed the withdrawal of the PDP aspirant, Biodun Olujimi, who blamed the party for stripping her of delegates who, ordinarily, should have voted for her at the polls.
Ms Olujimi, a senator representing Ekiti South and serial governorship aspirant, gave insight into the thinking processes of the average politician and the dispositions of godfathers.
The aggrieved aspirant said delegates from four of the six local governments in her senatorial district had been given to former Ekiti State governor, Ayodele Fayose’s group, leaving only 12 delegates to vote in her local government, Ekiti East, and only 10 to vote in Gbonyin Council, a total of 22 where ordinarily at least 155 ought to have voted.
“I thought it was very unfair, it was unjust, it was disenfranchising me because of my gender or because the party feels I have not done enough for it,” Mrs Olujimi said.
“Going forward from there would mean that I am condoning what is wrong,” she said, while advancing her reason for pulling out of the contest.
“So I thought my best was just to pull out and I pulled out. I did not step down. They can continue with it, I will also internalise the problem; there will be some introspection, then I will make a decision.”
For the PDP, it has always been a battle for the strong and swift.
Allegations of vote-buying is a little sophisticated and complicated when it comes to primaries.
The delegates are gathered together and “hijacked,” by camping them in hotels removed from the reach of other aspirants. The aspirants with fewer delegates, like Mrs Olujimi, know the outcome from the beginning.
The powerful takes all and the process is compromised right from the ward congresses where it is distorted in favour of the godfather and those in power.
A former governor, who aspired on the platform of the PDP, Segun Oni, had reasons to raise dust over the process of the primaries. The Director-General of his campaign, Yemi Arokodare, alleged that the delegates’ register was mutilated and many delegates’ names were missing from the register.
According to him, 32 automatic delegates, who were accredited, were not given tags and were not allowed to vote.
He said Emmanuel Udom, Governor of Akwa Ibom State, who chaired the primaries committee, had threatened to arrest and lock up all of the aggrieved delegates if any of them attends the exercise.
The campaign organisation accused Mr Udom of allowing Mr Fayose and his aides to stay in the hall after they cast their votes, thereby intimidating delegates. The campaign DG, on the account of that, rejected the results of the poll.
Others have alleged that some delegates were seen showing their ballot papers to Mr Fayose while queueing to cast their votes, an action that would not have been possible had he been out of the hall after casting his vote.
Despite the protests by the PDP aspirants, the party headquarters in Abuja has gone ahead to present the certificate of return to Mr Kolawole.
The party’s spokesperson, Debo Ologunagba, has maintained that the governorship primary was free, fair and credible.
However, the party’s reconciliation committee headed by former Senate President, David Mark, has been saddled with the burden of reconciling aggrieved parties and the issues arising from the primaries.
The nine-member committee has Oyo State Governor, Seyi Makinde, as co-chairman.
Other members are former Senate President, Adolphus Wabara; Zainab Kure; Charles Akitoye; Sergeant Awuse; Bala Mande; Shuaibu Oyedokun; and Sanusi Daggash (Secretary).
Mr Ologunagba said the committee is charged with the sole mandate of reconciling “all our stakeholders in Ekiti State including all aspirants in the just concluded governorship primary election in the state.”
“The NWC urges all aspirants, leaders, critical stakeholders of our party in Ekiti State to remain focused on the success of the PDP in the forthcoming governorship election in the state,” he added.
APC’s aggrieved parties
The APC’s situation was not as complicated as that of its rival, PDP.
The battle for the governorship is largely shaped by the politics of the 2023 presidential election.
The two broad groups at fray are the Pro-Tinubu groups riding under the South West Agenda for Asiwaju 2023(SWAGA) led by a former senator, Dayo Adeyeye, squaring up against the Pro-Fayemi group, which is largely made up of the state executive of the APC in Ekiti.
Messrs Adeyeye, Kayode Ojo, Bamidele Faparusi and Femi Bamisile, who aspired for the APC ticket, have all rejected the outcome of the process, claiming that it fell short of minimum democratic standards.
They claimed to have withdrawn from the race after alleging that Ekiti APC, in collaboration with the state governor, ensured that their political associates were appointed as presiding and returning officers of the primary election.
The matter was said to have been laid before the primaries committee Chairman and Jigawa State governor, Abubakar Badaru, who failed to address the issue.
The aggrieved aspirants have vowed to fight what they described as unfair and manipulative activities perpetrated at the election.
It was for the fear of manipulations and highhandedness of the incumbent that some people within the party, particularly, Mr Adeyeye and his followers, demanded the adoption of direct primaries to elect the party’s flagbearer for the governorship election.
Although there was an initial apprehension on the demand, the party eventually decided it would be direct primaries. This was in spite of the failure of the President to accept the direct primaries clause in the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2021.
The battle was lost and won last year when the party carried out two crucial exercises to reposition itself for the election.
First, the party undertook the revalidation of membership in the party. During this period, those watching the Ekiti politics believe the governor seized the opportunity to fortify his stronghold.
Analysts say he did this by ensuring those in the register across 16 local governments were in his control.
He also ensured that his adversaries lost out in the congresses held at the ward and local government levels. He used his position as the leader of the party in the state to ensure only his loyalists emerged as party executive members at the various levels.
The governor’s alleged moves widened the crack within the party. The governor has consistently denied involvement in party decisions in the state.
The Pro-Tinubu group were the biggest losers at the congresses and had called for their cancellation, as they are now calling out on the primaries.
Despite the angst by the opposition within the APC regarding the Ekiti primaries, a preliminary report by the Nigerian Human Rights Community (NHRC) described the primaries as a demonstration that direct primary “remains the best option for the party’s internal democracy in Nigeria.”
Although the group acknowledged that the process was fraught with a few challenges, it held that it was proof that direct participation of members of political parties in choosing the party’s candidate was the way forward.
It submitted that the election represented the wishes and aspirations of the majority of members of APC in Ekiti State. It urged Nigerians to disregard reports being released by people who did not witness or monitor the election that it was manipulated.
Response to allegations
Mr Badaru had since reacted to the allegations levelled against him by seven of the aspirants.
He insisted that the elections were held in 166 wards of the state, but results from 11 wards were cancelled because the process was disrupted.
Mr Badaru also denied the withdrawal of the seven aggrieved aspirants, explaining that the allegations of using party loyalists were addressed.
“What they are alleging, probably party members loyal to the governor, were chosen to serve as returning officers in various wards and local governments; and they raise that at the meeting,” said Mr Badaru.
“I asked them, the guideline is to use the party people to do the job. We cannot hire or take people that are not from the party. But they can also give us 20 each from the party people they believe will do justice to them.
“And they provided a list of 20, which we incorporated into returning officers. And this was communicated in the early morning to them because they send their own list very late and that was what even delayed us that night.”
“We managed to incorporate all the 20 people each they sent to us to participate also in the exercise. But you can see from what happened that they are supposed to have agents in all the 177 wards. And these 11 wards that the primaries were disrupted were wards that had relationships with most of the aspirants.
“So, you can see if they have that power to stop the congress, they could have done it also in the 166 wards.”
While Mr Badaru has submitted his committee’s report, the seven aggrieved aspirants already have their protest letter before the national secretariat, calling for the cancellation of the election.
A former deputy national publicity secretary, Yekini Nabena, told PREMIUM TIMES that the aggrieved persons would be required to send their petition to the appeals committee, which would take a look at it and file a formal report to the secretariat on the matter.
However, Mr Nabena knocked the aspirants for withdrawing from the process while it was ongoing. He said it did not show seriousness on their part, seeing that they had put in for the contest and should have walked the length of it.
The elected candidates of the two parties have work to do. Mr Oyebanjo said he was making efforts to reach out to the aspirants, hopefully, to pacify them and win them back to the fold.
It has also been reported that Mr Kolawole has already reached out to Mr Oni and other aspirants to broker a truce over the rancour arising from the primaries.
Both parties have tasted the bitter consequences of approaching an election divided.
Both Messrs Fayose and Fayemi are familiar foes. They have fought on the tuff tensely in 2014 and 2018. Now they will be fighting as generals of the political field by proxies. As leaders of their respective groups, a victory or defeat would depend on their abilities to muster the collective forces of their political parties.
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