…As Political Camps, Third-Force Shift Alliances Two Months To Party Primaries
Two months to the Governorship primary of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Ondo, Governor Rotimi Akeredolu’s political future hangs in the balance as forces within and outside of the APC continue to align, break -up and re-align again in their schemings to ramp-up strategies for the October election in the state.
The coronavirus-induced disruptions notwithstanding, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had on Wednesday “reiterated its commitment to conduct the Edo and Ondo governorship elections on 19th September and 10th October 2020 as contained in the Timetable and Schedule of Activities released on 6th February 2020.”
INEC’s National Commissioner, Information and Voter Education Committee, Mr Festus Okoye in a statement said: “We reassure Nigerians of our resolve and determination to provide the requisite guidance, innovation and leadership in conducting elections in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Also, the national body of the APC has announced July 20 as the date for its gubernatorial primary in the state. However, the announcement has failed to set the tone for who will fly the party’s flag at the election as there is no clue yet on APC’s would-be candidate.
Gang-up Against Akeredolu
While everyone set all eyes on Akeredolu, analysts say the incumbent Governor must first prevail over the massive gang-up against his re-election in his own party, even as the opposition’s People Democratic Party (PDP) are more than determined this time to triumph in the race to occupy Alagbaka government house, Akure.
Sources reveal that amid the tense war between the dominant parties, a formidable third force is already throwing spanner in the works, only buying some more time to make the entire political atmosphere in the state obscure and then glide through it.
The protracted crisis in the Ondo Chapter of the APC is a clear pointer for all that Akeredolu, like his Edo state counterpart, Godwin Obaseki will fight tooth and nail to get the APC ticket if eventually considered. Already the number of aspirants gunning for APC ticket are swelling by the day in the state. As of the last count the factional APC group in the state otherwise known as the APC Unity Forum bent on working at cross purposes with Akeredolu’s faction has a number of formidable aspirants.
Initially, the list include a former Chairman of the party, Mr Isaacs Kekemeke; a United States of America-based legal practitioner, Chief Bukola Adetula; and the Executive Secretary of the Niger Delta Power Holding Limited, Mr Ife Oyedele.
Others interested in battling Akeredolu for the ticket included the Nigeria Ambassador to the Republic of Togo, Mr Sola Iji; a businessman, Mr Jimi Odimayo; a legal practitioner, Chief Olusola Oke (SAN); Dr Segun Abraham and the National Chairman of the Nigeria Medical Association, Dr Francis Faduyile.
But the APC Unity Forum headed by a former Deputy Governor of the state and APC Board of Trustees (BOT) member, Ali Olanusi was said to have recently selected Olusola Oke as its consensus candidate to contest the party primary after setting up a screening committee to prune down the number of aspirants, though it was not without controversy.
According to a source who spoke with The New Diplomat, this has made some disgruntled aspirants notable among them, Kekemeke and Iji to pull out of the factional group, hoping to individually build momentum themselves that would deliver the APC ticket at the primary.
Many had thought Akeredolu would profit from the scuffle among his adversaries in the Unity Forum, but far from it as members of the Ondo House of Assembly were said to be plotting against the Governor in a bid to back Olusola Oke perceived as the aspirant with more political clout to take-on Akeredolu.
Another hurdle for Akeredolu is believed to be the cold war between him and his Deputy Governor, Agboola Ajayi. According to a top source in Ondo APC faction loyal to the Governor “Ajayi has been plotting to overthrow his boss and the fact that he controls APC structure and entire South District worries Akeredolu’s allies a lot.”
Ajayi who was a former House of Representatives member with the PDP was also accused of “making himself too powerful in the government, thereby influencing the appointment of a large number of PDP stalwarts into the cabinet.”
Though the disloyalty concern was said to be under control as chieftains move to placate him and his boss, the source added that the Deputy Governor still hobnobs with the leaders of the APC Unity Forum, something that could spell doom for Akeredolu eventually at the primary and the subsequent poll.
But again, there are concerns among APC members that if the ego-tripping and the policy of eccentricity that have collectively reached its apogee in the Ondo APC chapter is not checkmated, the party could be on its way to the Zamfara regrettable scenario during the last general elections in the country.
PDP’s Comeback Mission
The Peoples Democratic Party having fixed Wednesday July 22 and Thursday, July 23 as dates for the its primary has reportedly primed up activities targeted at beating the APC to its game this time.
No fewer than 10 members of the People Democratic Parties (PDP) have signified interest in contesting the party primaries. They include the PDP governorship candidate in the last governorship election, Mr Eyitayo Jegede; the party’s National Vice Chairman (South West), Dr Eddy Olafeso; Senator Boluwaji Kunlere; a former Commissioner for Environment, Mr Sola Ebiseni; and a former council chairman, Mr Banji Okunomo, among others.
Most of the PDP aspirants hail from Ondo South senatorial district and a few from the Ondo North district, while Jegede remains the only aspirant from the Ondo Central.
Some observers who spoke with The New Diplomat did not rule out the possibility of a major crisis breaking out in the PDP because of the large number of contestants. They opined that the primary might not be free and fair enough unless the party trim down the number of the aspirants.
In the main time, a lot of party faithfuls are rallying support for the second coming of Jegede as the party’s candidate, believing in his existing structures and argued that the post-party’s primaries in the past greatly contributed to the defeat of Jegede by Akeredolu in 2016.
A source said: “Recall that a faction of the party led by Chief Jimoh Ibrahim dragged the Faboyede-led faction challenged the candidature of Jegede in court. Jegede was eventually declared the authentic PDP candidate, just 48 hours to the election.” According to the source, this made it impossible for Jegede to soar his popularity during the campaign.
Beyond the two dominant parties, 14 political parties and three pressure groups have collapsed structures into the Action Democratic Party, ADP, to form a third-force ahead of the October 10, 2020, governorship polls in the State.
The third-force group was formed under the aegis of ‘Emerging Political Committee’, EPC, with the aim of serving as alternative between the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, and the major opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.
The Coordinator of the group, Biyi Poroye in a recent statement stated that the mission of the third-force was to wrestle power from the APC-led government in the State.
He said: “It’s on this strength I want to announce to you on behalf of the EPC and the benefit of the entire populace of Ondo State that the party that will wrestle power from the old hands APC and PDP has just been adopted and christened as The Third Force. Action Democratic Party ADP is the new political party to watch out for in the coming election.”
The emergence of the third force, political watchers said could tilt either APC or PDP’s breaking edge at the poll as disgruntled members could see it as their final destination days to the guber poll and use it to front for a candidate and party of interest, scheming out others in the process.
Ondo Central is the largest district in the state with a population share of 38%, while Ondo North and South even out at 30.8% and 30.5% respectively.
The population setting in the 18 LGAs as captured in the Senatorial demographics are as follows:
Ondo North (30.86%)
Akoko North West 211,867
Akoko North East 179,092
Akoko South East 82,443
Akoko South West 228,383
Ondo Central (38.5%)
Akure North 130,765
Akure South 360,268
Ondo East 76,092
Ondo West 288,868
Ondo South (30.5%)
Ese Odo 158,256
Note Total Population According to 2006 Official Census Figures: 3,460,877
Key Frontline Contenders
- Gov Rotimi Akeredolu
Strength: Incumbency factor, extensive financial cash-flow and profound professional skill-sets.
Weakness: His inability to rally members of his party since his emergence as governor leading to protracted crisis till date is seen as a major deficit already working against his re-election. Unless he corrects this, his chances look very dicey.
- Olusola Oke
Strength: A veteran politician with professional skill-set, commands widespread grassroot following in Ondo. Oke is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN).
Weakness: Political re-alignment among members of his APC faction (Unity Forum) could affect his chances of being presented as the faction’s consensus aspirant to battle Akeredolu.
- Segun Abraham
Strength: A businessman with strong backing from the APC camp holding things down in the South-West.
Weakness: As manifested in 2016, he needs to penetrate the grassroot more and the swelling number of aspirants from Ondo South where he hails from (in Ilaje) could dampen his chance. His perceived closeness to some key players in the APC national structure that are not from Ondo state might work against him as he is being accused of attempting to serve as a stooge to outside interests.
- Eyitayo Jegede
Strength: A Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Jegede is the bookmakers’ choice aspirant to emerge as the PDP’s candidate once again following his 2016 good showing for his party. He has state-wide appeal and support across age groups in the state.
Weakness: Though popular in the Ondo PDP, his inability to get the buy-ins of some top party chieftains could again work against him as it stopped him from campaigning in 2016 due to a long legal battle over his candidature despite being declared winner at the primary. Analysts said following the failure by the PDP to put its house in order in the state, not much has changed and it appears the party hasn’t learned from the experience. Time will tell whether there would be another gang-up against Jegede.
- Eddy Olafeso
Strength: A thoroughbred management professional, Olafeso is the National Vice-Chairman (Southwest) of the PDP. He has both regional and national backing to count on in the primary race.
Weakness: It’s a crowded race in Olafeso’s South Senatorial district which has many of the PDP aspirants. This has created a division in the party in the area as endorsements and counter-endorsements dominate political activities there. This could scuttle his chance.
The Political Dynamics…
As the race hots up, the argument in certain quarters is that power should be allowed to stay in the North where Akeredolu hails from. Some of his kinsmen are insisting that the area should be allowed to have a second term following Akeredolu’s emergence in 2016. However, it is believed that the high number of APC aspirants from the senatorial district vying against their kinsman, Akeredolu may not augur well for the Governor in the days ahead. In recent post-1983 politics, Mimiko remains the only governor to have spent two terms of eight years in the state, a feat Akeredolu hopes to equal.
However, the South District is also clamouring for a shift of power to their area. This accounts for the army of PDP aspirants from the area, though, the party has stated clearly that the slot was opened to all the three senatorial district of the state.
According to political analysts, another factor that will be considered in the forthcoming election is the political structures of aspirants in the race. While Akeredolu will be contesting for the exalted position for the third time, having contested in 2012, 2016 and planning to re-contest for the third time. He lost in 2012 to Mimiko, but returned to win in 2016, using his existing structures. Though, his structures had been depleted but Akeredolu remains a force to reckon with in this election.
Another strong politician with solid structures is Chief Oke. He contested for the seat twice in the past: 2012 under PDP platform but came third in the race; he also came third in 2016, after dumping the APC for the AD to contest the election. The former national legal adviser of the PDP has a large following in the state.
Similarly, the PDP aspirants, Jegede, Olafeso and Ebiseni, have political structures in the state. While Jegede will be banking on his 2016 structures as the party’s candidate, he has ingrained his name in the subconscious of many in the state. Olafeso, the South-West vice chairman of PDP, will be leveraging on his position in the region to strengthen his structure ahead of the election.
But in all this, the role of moneybags and national alliance should not be underestimated, a political analyst summed it up.
He argued that while a national leader of the APC, Bola Tinubu is reportedly at variance with the party on Akeredolu’s re-election and considering backing his 2016 candidate, Abraham (who lost to Akeredolu at primary then), Ekiti state Governor Kayode Fayemi, Former Ogun State Governor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun and a hosts of anti-Tinubu groups in the South-West are reportedly backing Akeredolu’s emergence.
Also, the support that Akeredolu may likely not get from Oshiomhole given his standing, is likely to come from some key players at the presidency who are said to be disposed to his re-election barring any last minute change. “Beyond the local power play, the national and geopolitical dynamics that played out in 2016 Ondo Guber poll is likely to also shape things up at this year’s poll,” the analyst told The New Diplomat.