PETER DADA takes a look at the just concluded governorship primaries in Ondo State and posits the two major political parties and their candidates have the onerous challenge of uniting their respective members as well as leaders ahead of the October 10 poll
Barely a week ago, all the political parties contesting in the Ondo State governorship election, scheduled for October 10, concluded their primaries where standard bearers emerged.
While the All Progressives Congress retained the incumbent Governor, Rotimi Akerodolu, as its candidate, the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party picked its candidate in the 2016 governorship polls, Eyitayo Jegede, as the standard-bearer.
Other parties including the Zenith Labour Party and the Social Democratic Party also elected their candidates. For the APC and the PDP, pre-primary acrimony which almost marred the process has snowballed into a huge challenge.
This is even more so in the ruling APC where two of the 12 aspirants have approached the Appeal Panel.
Eleven of the aspirants had taken issue with the indirect primary mode the party leadership settled for instead of the direct mode which they argued was more transparent.
On his part, Akerodolu, aware of the tension within the party, heeded the advice of party leaders and began reaching out to those he defeated at the primary.
Some of those he has visited include: Chief Olusola Oke, Mr Isaac Kekemeke and Ambassador Sola Iji, who have all agreed to work with him in the interest of the party.
One of the aspirants who approached the APC Appeal Panel to lodge a complaint, Dr Nathaniel Adetelegun, said his decision to challenge the conduct of the APC primary was in the interest of justice.
He said, “What we witnessed during the primary was not an election. People were intimidated, we have videos of people thumb-printing and using their phones to snap to go and collect whatever.”
Also, a group of party supporters under the aegis of the APC Unity Forum led by a former deputy governor of Ondo State, Alhaji Ali Olanusi, has yet to come to terms with the Akerodolu’s emergence after its consensus aspirant, Olusola Oke, lost to the incumbent governor.
A member of the forum, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of intimidation, said the forum had given the governor its terms and conditions for peace.
He said, “The conditions were stringent and the governor may not be able to meet all of them and that will further complicate the ongoing reconciliation process, but we want to see how it will go.”
The governor who is aware of the need to unite the party ahead of the polls has apart from reaching out to his co-aspirants also embarked on a series of consultations with party stakeholders on the choice of a running mate.
One of the names being mentioned is Dr Paul Akintelure who was Akeredolu’s running mate in the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria during his first attempt to become governor in 2012. Others include Jimi Odimayo and Iji.
Reacting to this, the Ondo State APC Chairman, Ade Adetimehin, in an interview with Saturday PUNCH, said, “Those people agitating to become the running mate of Akeredolu have the right to do so, they have not done anything wrong but the party is already working on it and the governor would announce the person when it is time. Such an issue can’t cause any problem for our party.”
However, all these permutations took a dramatic turn on Wednesday when Akeredolu named a former Commissioner of the Niger Delta Development Commission, Mr Lucky Ayedatiwa, as his running mate.
He explained that the decision was taken after “due and wise” consultation with the party leadership.
It was leant that the governor’s action was informed by his desire to get a party loyalist who is also passionate about his agenda for the state.
As was expected, this decision which took many lobbyists by surprise has also thrown up new challenges.
Those who contested against him thought he would pick one of them or at least concede the slot to party leaders to pick for him as part of the reconciliation efforts.
They have all been forced to return to the drawing table.
The situation is not any different in the opposition PDP where its candidate is struggling to work with the party to unite ahead of the polls.
His closest rival who is also the Ondo State deputy governor, Agboola Ajayi, has also dumped the party to pursue his dream on the platform of Zenith Labour Party. He made his decision public on Wednesday.
His exit will no doubt have an effect on the PDPs chances during the poll. Ajayi enjoys a large following in the Southern Senatorial District. A district considered a PDP stronghold.
Jegede, a former Ondo State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice who has also been reaching out to party members, has more than Ajayi’s exit to worry about.
A party source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said, “Ajayi didn’t believe he would lose the primary, and since he has lost, he believes he has the political clout and popularity to win the governorship election without contesting in the PDP.”
The spokesman for the Eyitayo Jegede Campaign Organisation, Mr Gbenga Akinmoyo, however, said his principal remained a party man to the core and that the issue of who becomes his running mate was being handled in conjunction with the party hierarchy.
Akinmoyo said, “The party is handling the matter (running mate) and very soon the real person will be unveiled. But I believe the party will choose somebody who is a loyal party man and who is ready to serve the people of the state like Jegede would always do.”
However, against all odds, Jegede has submitted the name of Olumide Ogunje to the Independent National Electoral Commission as his running mate. Sources said Ogunje could be dropped after interested parties would have been contacted.
According to an Ondo-based political analyst, Ishola Obembe, post-primary conciliation is a must for any political party interested in making an impact in the election.
Obembe, who retired from the Federal Ministry of Works before venturing into political analysis, said, “My general view is that our politicians are very ambitious, mostly over-ambitious. We all know that it is only one position that is available-that is governorship.
“However, I expected most of them to have stepped down for the most popular candidates. The APC tried that at the late hours of the primary but the PDP did not learn from that.
“The implication I envisage is that the two candidates must work hard. However, it is very difficult to defeat an incumbent governor in Nigeria especially where the ruling party in the state is also ruling at the national level. So, therefore, I wish Eyitayo Jegede, the best of luck.”
Another political analyst and lawyer, Segun Adeoti, said there was a need for true and genuine reconciliation in both the PDP and the APC if victory was their targets in the election.
Adeoti said, “For instance, the two major political parties in the state which everyone is expecting to be the winner of the election are engulfed in various crises but their reconciliation process would have an immense impact on how far they would go in the election.
“The APC lost some states in the past as a result of their irreconcilable issues that led to litigations. I believe the participating political parties should learn from these and ensure all stakeholders go to the election with forgiving minds. So reconciliation is a must at this point in time.”
Meanwhile, smaller political parties are also not devoid of intrigues. For instance, the SDP which many believe could spring some surprises, is enmeshed in a crisis. Party supporters had two parallel governorship primaries, one in Akure, the state capital and the other in Ondo town. Consequently, one faction produced Mr Peter Fasua as its candidate while the other named one Mr Adekunle Saliu as the party’s standard-bearer. The two groups claimed their primaries were monitored by the officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission as required by law.
While Fasua is said to enjoy the support of the party’s National Chairman, Prof. Tunde Adeniran, Saliu is the preferred choice of supporters of an Ondo State member of the House of Representatives, Mr Tajudeen Adefisoye.
The SDP National Working Committee led by the National Vice Chairman (South-West), Mr Bade Falade, supervised the election that produced Fasua.
Falade said, “Let me use this opportunity to let the people of the state know that as a party, we are one; there is no form of faction or iota of destruction within the party. SDP is one in Nigeria and in Ondo State, there is no division in the SDP and we are ready to win the October 10 governorship poll in Ondo State. Prof. Tunde Adediran is the party’s national chairman and other officers are helping him to move the party forward.
“In Ondo State, we have a caretaker committee in place headed by Dele Ogunbameru. We are battle-ready for the election.”
On the other hand, Adefisoye, the only member of the House of Representatives elected on the SDP platform, insisted Saliu was the duly nominated candidate of the SDP for the governorship election.
Adefisoye, who represents the Idanre/Ifedore federal constituency of Ondo State, in a statement in Akure, explained that Saliu had fulfilled necessary guidelines including filling of the INEC form.
In the statement which was signed by his Senior Legislative Aide, Mr Richard Adeyemi, the lawmaker said, “We have also gone ahead to send the name of our candidate, Alhaji Adekunle Saliu, to INEC alongside his completed INEC form and the court summon while we are awaiting the decision of INEC on the candidate to recognise.”
Notwithstanding the internal crises in the various political parties, the people of Ondo State have a date with history as they file out on October 10 to exercise their franchise.
It remains to be seen if the contestants and their political parties can settle their internal conflicts ahead of the elections.