Ondo 2020: The zero hour

October 7, 2020
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AS electioneering gradually grinds to a halt, HAKEEM GBADAMOSI examines the issues and intrigues already thrown up on the governorship poll holding on October 10 in Ondo State.

The contenders are in the last lap, months after the boys were separated from the men in the hot race for the governorship seat in Ondo State. Already, the people of the Sunshine State are set to either re-elect the incumbent governor,  Rotimi Akeredolu for another term or to choose a new leader to pilot the affairs of the state for the next four years in the October 10 governorship poll in the state. Ten of the candidates that initially emerged from party primaries on Monday backed down to team up with the standard-bearer of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the contests promises a fierce battle given the caliber of the leading contenders, the 2016 experience in a similar contest and outcome of the September  19 governorship poll in neighbouring Edo State. Coupled with this is the intense intrigues and horse-trading that have characterised electioneering ahead the election.

Judging by all available records and issues that have thrown up, the contest appears to be a three-horse race with the All Progressives Congress (APC), PDP) and the Zenith Labour Party (ZLP) that some have dubbed the third force in the state. Four years ago, the APC candidate and incumbent governor, Akeredolu contested against the PDP candidate, EyitayoJegede, with the current ZLP governorship candidate, AgboolaAjayi, as Akeredolu›s running mate. Now, the two men parted ways at the dawn of the 2020 governorship primaries in the ruling APC. Interestingly, all the main stakeholders, including the candidates attach a great importance to the election because of the poll to the 2023 general election, existing political equation in the state nay the South-West geopolitical zone.

Following the electoral setback suffered by the APC in the contiguous state of Edo three weeks ago, there was apprehension in some quarters in the ruling party about the implications for the Ondo poll. The palpable tension and anxiety occasioned by the Edo experience seemed to be a wake-up call for APC stalwarts in Ondo to rally round Akeredolu as the main battle drew near. With the countdown reaching a crescendo, PDP is also not resting on its oars in the bid to have a former governor of the state,  DrOlusegunMimiko back into its fold. Mimiko is regarded as the backbone of Ajayi, who dumped the party for ZLP after losing PDP ticket to Jegede.

To some extent, both the APC and the PDP, see Mimiko as a threat to the aspiration of their candidates and this might be responsible for the seeming brickbats between Akeredolu and his friend of over four decades Mimiko, as Mimiko is said to be scheming seriously to ensure a repeat of the 2007 magic, when he defeated the late incumbent Governor OlusegunAgagu, at the poll.

 

Who does the cap fit?

Pundits are of the view that the shape and form of the 2020 poll might be slightly different. This is because of the alignments and realignments that have characterised the ranks of most of the major gladiators involved in the poll. While some were expected in view of the absence of ideological principles, other forms of alliances came as a surprise to a few pundits because of the antecedents of those involved. This is aside from other factors such as zoning arrangement, power of incumbency, antecedents of the main actors, voting pattern, politics of godfather and money, as well as extraneous issues that bothered essentially on the 2023 political calculations. The battle of supremacy among the gladiators, especially in the two leading parties in the country is at stake in the election. Political actors from the South-West, an eye on the 2023 presidential race see Ondo 2020 as an opportunity to confirm their relevance in the zone and recommend them to other zones for higher offices.

The election will, no doubt, afford the PDP candidate, Jegede, the real chance to prove that the 2016 experience was only a temporary setback and that he remained the candidate to beat in 2020. It is also an opportunity for him to show his political sagacity and prowess; that the internal wrangling in the PDP and the legal battle over the authentic candidate of the party four years ago truncate his victory at the poll. According to his associates and allies, Jegede is standing for the election this time around without any godfather but as the choice of the party.

The assumption in some circles was that he reportedly imposed in 2016 allegedly by Mimiko thus creating misgivings among the supporters of the party, who believed power should have shifted to another senatorial zone. Mimiko and Jegede hail from the Ondo Central senatorial district and most politicians in state then believed that it was not fair remaining in the district. So, a number of them were persuaded to work for the emergence of Akeredolu. Akeredolu won the election, by more than 96,000 votes.

Aonther remarkable thing about the election coming up on Saturday is the fact an incumbent deputy governor is on the ballot against his boss. It is the first time that such would be happening in the state since Nigeria restored civil rule in May 1999. Having parted ways with Akeredolu, Ajayi stuck to his gun to contest for the coveted office while retaining his number two seat, He migrated to ZLP to emerge as its standard-bearer after losing PDP ticket to Jegede at the party primaries.

Again, each of the main candidates for the election hail from the three senatorial districts. While Akeredolu is from the Ondo North, Jegede is from the Central and Ajayi from the South. But the difference in their constituency might not represent the likely voting pattern in the election based on the past.

Permutations

In the November 2016 election, Akeredolu scored 244, 842, with Jegede polling 150, 380 votes. Oke who contested on the platform of the Alliance for Democracy (AD) got 126, 889 votes to place third. Jegede hails from Ondo Central, an area with a very large number of voters. His mother is from Ipele, near Owo in Ondo North. And the PDP won both senatorial districts during the 2019 National Assembly elections. The choice of a running mate by Jegede is also instructive. Until his choice as running mate, GbougaIkengbolu was a member of the House of Representatives from Irele/Okitipupa Federal Constituency in Ondo South.

In the opinion of some analysts, the issue of incumbency is likely to play a major role in the election. Having been unsuccessful in the bid to retain Edo, the assumption is that the APC might want to back Akeredolu with all legitimate means during the Ondo poll.

The debate over the principle of zoning has remained in the front-burner all along. Opinions vary on the role it would play during the election, with some claiming that it has for now paled into insignificance because of the political configuration created by the outcome of the party primaries. While the PDP apparently kept the idea of zoning arrangements in abeyance, with the choice of its standard-bearer for the poll, the APC settled to go southward with Akeredolu as the party’s choice. But the ZLP and its candidate are singing different tune that it was the turn of the Ondo South to produce the next governor of the state.

The three senatorial districts have had their turns in Government House over time. The only difference is that while Ondo Central has served a two-term tenure, others have only served once before Akeredolu. The Late Adebayo Adefarati, from Ondo North spent four years as governor between 1999 and 2003, while the late OlusegunAgagu, from Ondo South served as governor for over six years between 2003 and 2009 before he was sacked by the court. Mimiko, who came from Ondo Central, served a two-term tenure of four years each from 2009 and 2017. So, the contention among a section of the political class in the state is that Akeredolu should be allowed another term before power should shift to the South. The argument is punctured by others, who said that Ondo North has had its eight years since 1999 and therefore, power should shift to Ondo South. According to them, this has informed the backing of the ZLP candidate, Ajayi, in the South. It is also one of the reasons the area became the beautiful bride, with Jegede and Akeredolu picking their running mates from the southern part of the state. Akeredolu chose Aiyedatiwa as his running mate, while Jegede pitched his tent with Ikengboju Gboluga as his deputy.

Many pundits attributed the new romance between Akeredolu and some stalwarts, including Olusola Oke, Isaacs Kekemeke, Ife Oyedele,  Jimoh Ibrahim and others from the South to the politics of power shift/rotation after the next four years. Accordingly, most of them are believed to have resolved to support Akeredolu so that power will go to the South in another four years.

Conversely, many believe that Jegede is on familiar terrain and remains the main challenger in the current contest due to the performance of his party in the last general election. Others, nonetheless, claimed that the PDP candidate should have shelved his ambition in 2020, as the zoning principle was not in his favour. They argued that it was on that ground that many politicians from the Ondo Central put their ambition on hold till the next dispensation. They advocated that power should remain in the North because South completed a two-term of eight years with Mimiko as governor.

Analysts also foresee the state civil servants playing a role in in election, as a lot of them regard it as a pay-back time for Akeredolu for rescuing them from the era of unpaid salaries to workers. The current administration inherited seven months’ salary arrears from the government of Mimiko, who has been campaigning for Ajayi, the ZLP candidate.

Voting Pattern  

With the leading candidates from different  senatorial districts in the state, it will be more interesting to see how the votes will go. The natural thing is that each of the candidates will want to reap in quantum votes from their individual districts in a manner reminiscent of the son-of-the-soil syndrome. But with a combination of other salient factors, whether such mentality will prevail in the election remains a subject of speculation.

Voting population

All the candidates for the poll will be scrambling for a total of 1,478,460 votes. According to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the 1.4 million voters will determine the fate of the candidates by casting their ballots in 3,009 polling units in the 18 local government areas within 203 electoral wards and registration areas.

The Ondo Central has the highest number of voters, and it is expected that votes from this zone may play a key role in determining the voting pattern. The zone seems to possess the potential to swing the pendulum. But this might not be entirely so,  because all the three leading candidates have their foot soldiers rooted in the six local government areas that make up the district. The votes might just be spilt among the trio in the area, while a similar situation may happen in the other two districts. Some observers are already saying this factor might lead to none of the candidates securing an absolute majority of votes cast in the districts, as no party in the state seems to wield total influence and dominance in all the areas.

The outcome of the 2019 general election lends credence to this fact, as less formidable parties won seats in the House of Representatives and the state House of Assembly.

Vote buying

Trading in votes has become a recurring decimal in the nation’s politics. It is one of the obstacles to the quest for free and fair election. There are signs that the ugly trend might play out at the election in Ondo, which is not island in the political space of the country, especially because of the level of poverty in the country, ignorance coupled with the desperation of political actors to secure the votes of the people.

Personality Influence

Personalities from within and outside the state are equally likely to shape the conduct of the poll. With the politics of the 2023 general election gradually gathering momentum cross the country, some major gladiators in both the PDP and the APC with speculated presidential ambition are believed to be pulling the strings through their proxies ahead the Ondo election.  Some members of the ruling APC and the main opposition believe that a national leader of the party, Bola Tinubu, is backing the party›s ticket. He was said to have played a prominent role in bringing all the aggrieved aspirants and group together after party primaries.

Similarly, Jegede has secured the backing of a closed ally and PDP candidate in the 2019 presidential election, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar. The governor of Oyo State, Seyi Makinde, the only governor from the South-West elected on PDP platform, is providing all necessary support for Jegede, despite the raging leadership cold war in the South-West PDP. A former governor of Ekiti State, Ayodele Fayose, has warned that Jegede, might lose the election in Ondo if the PDP remained divided, due to Makinde›s alleged plan to foist party executives and orders on the party in the zone.

Many people are curious about the role of Mimiko in the election. As the national leader of the ZLP, he threw his weight behind Ajayi as soon as he became its candidate for the election. His support for Ajayi altered the initial political calculations in the state and created a gulf between him and his friend of over four decades, Akeredolu. Although Mimiko is not contesting in the election, his entire machinery is in full throttle, driving the campaign of Ajayi. Ironically, the PDP seems to be in dilemma since the former governor decided to back Ajayi. The party sent several emissaries and made appeal to Mimiko to drop his support for Ajayi. But some prominent members of the PDP defected to the ZLP because of Mimiko.

However, the election will go a long way in determining further role of Mimiko in politics in the future. He is believed to be locked in a fierce battle such that if he triumphs, Mimiko would affirm his status as a major powerbroker not only in the state but also at national level ahead the next presidential election in 2023.

Nonetheless, he faces an arduous task. With the coming together of all aggrieved aspirants of the APC, he and other opposition figures are in for a tough contest. APC bigwigs in the state, including Olusola Oke, Olusegun Abraham, Ife Oyedele, Sola Iji, Olaide Adelami, Jumoke Ajasin Anifowose, Bukola Adetula among others, who are grassroots mobilisers, are fully behind Akeredolu in his reelection bid.

The spectre of violence that trailed electioneering has created a season of fear among the prospective voters and indeed the entire citizenry. The level of political intolerance forced law enforcement agencies to go back to the drawing board, just as the INEC and other stakeholders embarked on troubleshooting missions to restore order. With more security personnel to be on ground on Saturday, there might be relative sanity to guarantee the INEC promise to provide a level-field for all the parties in the election. The chairman of the commission, Mahmood Yakubu, has promised to improve on the Edo election and charged his staff to ensure they maintained integrity in the conduct of the election.

Will all the stakeholders in the Ondo poll play by the rules as the zero hour beckons?

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