- As Main Rivals Go Neck-and-neck In Battleground LGAs
Three days to the October 10 gubernatorial election in Ondo state, Southwest Nigeria, there’s still so much to fight for; so much undecided voters to sway and many battlegrounds to conquer in a poll that political pundits have predicted to be intriguing and full of last-minute horse tradings by the leading candidates.
Among the 17 candidates expected to be on the ballot, the torchbearers of the All Progressives Congress (APC), incumbent Governor Rotimi Akeredolu and People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Mr Eyitayo Jegede are familiar foes, with the requisite background from their 2016 contest. But the emergence of Akeredolu’s ambitious deputy Governor, Hon. Agboola Ajayi as the candidate of the Zenith Labour Party (ZLP) seen as a dark horse in the race has brought complications to the political calculations as the contest immediately became a three-horse race, with sundry uncertainties.
As the 1,478,460 eligible electors armed with Permanent Voter’s Cards (PVCs) out of the 1,822,346 registered voters in Ondo will be filing out Saturday, it’s important to note that the trio of the challengers come from three senatorial districts that make up the state, making it a well-balanced contest.
Akeredolu hails from Ondo North, Jegede hails from Ondo Central while Ajayi hails from Ondo South. To deliver on their showmanship of popularity, the rivals are banking first on the deliverables on the home turf and then the much penetration, they can have at one another’s territory to cancel things out.
Jegede’s Ondo Central has the highest voting population followed by Ajayi’s South, and Akeredolu’s North, however, the three districts have six local government areas each with complex political dynamics.
Among factors causing concerns in the camps of the candidates is the political antecedents in the state, where the Ondo electorate shunned party affiliations on election morning to make their vote count for various parties of interest. The Action Alliance (AA), Zenith Labour Party (ZLP), Social Democratic Party (SDP) all benefited from the internal crisis that rocked the Ondo APC at the time, winning federal and state’s assembly seats at the free-for-all polls.
Also, many find it interesting that Ondo has some unique political features in that no political party has a sweeping dominance in all the areas, raising posers on whether the leading candidates can garner the much needed block votes in certain zones enough to convincingly sway the election as seen in the recent Edo guber election, where PDP’s Governor Godwin Obaseki amassed gaping votes in Edo Central and South to seal his victory.
Ondo Central is the largest district in the state with a population share of 38%, while Ondo North and South almost even out at 30.8% and 30.5% respectively.
The population setting in the 18 LGAs as captured in the Senatorial demographics is 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
Rotimi Akeredolu (APC)
Since Governor Akeredolu reconciled with the breakaway faction of the APC in the state, as well as mended the cracks caused by the primary election that produced him, it appears he now has a united front ahead of the Saturday poll.
Meanwhile, Akeredolu has lost a political capital in his estranged deputy, Ajayi, whose sagacity contributed in no small way to his triumph in 2016, including penetrating PDP’s stronghold– Ondo South.
However, APC chieftains from Ondo South who contested against Akeredolu at the primaries have vowed to deliver the area for the APC because they expected the governorship to be zone to the area after Akeredolu’s second tenure. They believe a support for Akeredolu’s second term will give them leeway to the ticket of the APC. Chief Olusola Oke, Isaac Kekemeke, Engr. Ifeoluwa Oyedele, Ambassador Olusola Iji, are among APC chieftains who hailed from Ondo South.
Akeredolu hails from Owo in Ondo North. In the six local government areas that make up Zone; Akoko North East, Akoko North West, Akoko South West, Akoko South East, Ose and Owo, Akeredolu is predicted to have a landslide victory.
The withdrawal of the SDP candidate, Prince Oyeleye Fasua from the Ondo guber race, Monday, to back Akeredolu is a huge boost for the APC chances in Ondo Central where SDP enjoys cult followership in Ifedore and Idanre local governments, winning a House representatives seat there in 2019.
Eyitayo Jegede (PDP)
Jegede, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) like Akeredolu, has a state-wide appeal, but analysts said not much has changed in the Ondo PDP since 2016 and it appears the party hasn’t learned from the experience that cost Jegede the governoship seat as some chieftains of the party are still caught up in some bickerings after the PDP’s primary won by Jegede. This led to the defections of some top party leaders like Jimoh Ibrahim to the APC. Plus the defection of Ajayi to the ZLP after losing the PDP’s ticket to Jegede has messed up the PDP in its once-upon-a-time safe political haven–Ondo South.
A towering political figure from Ondo Central, considered as the stronghold of the PDP, Jegede is having a second shot at the governoship seat in this election. His zone is reputed as having the highest voting population in the state. Jegede is expected to massively win in Akure South and Akure North, but things are likely to be a bit tricky for him in the remaining four LGAs in Ondo Central as the APC and ZLP are all over the place, plotting to do big numbers in the zone, which appears to be the toast of all the parties due to its voting population.
Ondo South used to be PDP’s bastion of hope in previous elections, but the party’s fortune is expected to suffer a hit as Ajayi is currently leaving no stone unturned to command huge support among his kinsmen and get a chunk of the voters there behind his party, ZLP. Aside the ZLP’s threat to Jegede’s bid, the APC is expected to come up with strong showing in Ileoluji/Okeigbo, Odigbo and Ilaje, where the deputy governorship candidate of the APC, Lucky Aiyedatiwa hails from and seems to be pulling some weight. But the much of the Ondo South forms the battleground areas in this election.
However, Jegede is fiercely fighting on, attempting to rally bipartisan support for his bid as no fewer than 11 political parties merged and collapsed their structures to support the candidacy of PDP candidate on Monday, just five days to the Saturday governorship election.
Speaking with newsmen in Akure, the State Chairman of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), Mr Oladele Ogunbameru, on behalf of other party chairmen said the decision was taken in the common interest of the state.
“We have invited you today, Oct. 5, 2020, to intimate you of the outcome of a series of meetings of 10 out of the 17 political parties participating in the Ondo 2020 governorship elections.
“We have resolved to back the PDP candidate, Eyitayo Jegede (SAN), for the polls at the meeting held on Sunday, Oct. 4, in Akure with the party leaders and top echelon of the PDP in attendance.
“We are committed to good governance in Ondo State which we believe can only be offered by the PDP at this present austere time.”
Agboola Ajayi (ZLP)
Ajayi, the embattled Akeredolu’s Deputy and the flagbearer of the ZLP is far from being a pushover in this election as he has demonstrated some political sagacity while flexing muscle with his estranged boss.
Ajayi, had on a number of occasions resisted all attempts by Akeredolu to decimate and remove him from office, as he makes waves in his domain–Ondo South, despite PDP’s dominance in the axis. Ajayi is on course to stretch Akeredolu and Jegede to the limits, field responses suggest.
Currently, opinions are divided as to the exact game plan that Ajayi and his grassroot team hope to adopt. While many field responders told The New Diplomat that Ajayi is playing the spoiler game for both Akeredolu and Jegede, many argued that the mission of the two-time House of Representatives’ member is more than just causing political distruption in the sunshine state as he could deliver a massive upset on election day to shatter all the bookmaker’s predictions making the rounds.
Recently, some supporters of Governor Akeredolu decamped to the deputy governor’s camp. A source familiar with the workings of Ajayi’s campaign told The New Diplomat that “This development, coupled with the influence of the former governor of the state, Dr Olusegun Mimiko, who has deployed all his political machinery towards Agboola’s candidacy have made political watchers in the state to start considering new political arithmetics that could throw up a third force. Also, the deputy governor has the key to unlock the grassroots. This a game he knows how to play very well.”
Some of the indices to analyze the above thought is that Mimiko is from Ondo Central senatorial district, the zone with the largest number of votes, and where the candidate of PDP came from, which to a very large extent could make block votes practically impossible for the PDP this time.
Verdict & Defining Dynamics:
Akeredolu has built a political fortress of some sorts for himself in Ondo North, where his block votes are expected to come from, but it remains a wait-and-see game for the Governor in Ondo Central and Ondo South where all the three leading challengers are likely to go neck-and-neck on election result sheets.
The New Diplomat had reported that in tactical manoeuvring, former President Olusegun Obasanjo had attempted to broker a truce between the PDP and the ZLP when he met Mimiko and some political heavyweights in Abeokuta last week, but the planned alliance was yet to materialize as of the time of this reporting. It would have been a tsunami-like alliance made from heaven had it worked as one political analyst has this to say: “The stall in the merger talks was a relieve to the Akeredolu’s camp as many political watchers have argued that the alliance between the duo of Jegede and Ajayi would create a formidable force enough to jolt Akeredolu’s re-election.”
As things currently stand, attempt by Jegede and Ajayi to further penetrate each other’s play ground would be in Akeredolu’s gain. On the other hand, field investigation shows that the Governor’s rivals were yet to discover the magic wand that would make them eat into Akeredolu’s projected block votes in his Ondo North domain, as well as the scattered votes elsewhere in the battleground local governments where his field soldiers are combing for votes.
In the final analysis, Ondo voters are quite unpredictable as they come with different levels of political sophistication in each election cycle. Whichever way, all is set for Saturday’s election to go down in history as a battle royale for the soul of the Southwest state.