Gov. Akeredolu of Ondo Stste abd his main rival, Jegede of the PDP

… Akeredolu 37%, Jegede 32%, Ajayi 29%, others 2%

By AYOOLA OLAOLUWA and SESAN LAOYE

It is barely six weeks to the Ondo State governorship election. As usual, serious contenders and pretenders are spoiling for war. At the last count, 17 political parties and their candidates have scaled the  Independent National Electoral Commission’s hurdle to battle for the coveted prize, Alagbaka House, Akure.

The list, as released by INEC, include; Gov. Rotimi Akeredolu of the All Progressives Congress (APC); Eyitayo Jegede (SAN) – Peoples Democratic Party; incumbent deputy governor, Agboola Ajayi – Zenith Labour Party (ZLP); Rotimi Adeleye Akindejoye – Accord Party; Joshua Oluwafemi Adewole -Action Alliance (AA); Adeleye Adekunle Peter – African Action Congress (AAC); Adelegan Adedapo Oluwaseyi – African Democratic Congress (ADC); Martin Kunle Olateru-Olagbegi -Action Democratic Party (ADP); Olowoloba Dele – All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA); Aminu Akeem Olanrewaju – Allied Peoples Movement (APM); Adesanya Olaoluwa – Action Peoples Party (APP) and Okunade Taiwo of the Labour Party (LP)

Others are Ojajuni Joseph Eniola of the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP); Funmilayo Jenyo Ataunoko – National Rescue Movement (NRM); Babatunde Francis Alli – Peoples Redemption Party (PRP); Fasua Peter Oyeleye – Social Democratic Party (SDP) and Ojon Dotun – Young Progressive Party (YPP)

However, while the various candidates, particularly the gladiators, namely Akeredolu (APC), Jegede (PDP) and Agboola (ZLP) are busy combing the length and breadth of the state for votes, Business Hallmark findings indicate the trio of Akeredolu, Jegede and Ajayi as the leading candidates.

Findings further suggest that rather than being a three-way race has been widely touted, the contest for the number one job in the Sunshine state will eventually come down to a straight battle between Rotimi Akeredolu and Eyitayo Jegede.

The consensus from a large number of likely voters who spoke with our reporters in Akure, Owo, Ondo, Okitipupa, Ore, Owena and many other cities is unanimous: ‘Forget the charlatans. Only one of Akeredolu and Jegede will emerge, governor, after the dust must have settled. The dark horse in the race, Ajayi of the ZLP, should bid farewell to his chances of a possible upset’.

Factors that will shape the election

BH checks identified many factors that will decide the outcome of the election. They include incumbency/political structure, federal might, popularity, zoning, party cohesion/unity, political structures, 2023 presidential election and many others.

INCUMBENCY/POLITICAL STRUCTURES

Going by past trends, the incumbency factor will once again play a major role in who becomes the governor come October 10. Very few governors who won their party primaries have lost elections to opponents. As it stands today in Ondo, though the incumbent, Governor Akeredolu, has gone down in his ratings and is not that popular with the masses, particularly in Ondo Central, according to BH polls, he nevertheless has the advantage of possessing the best structures on ground to prosecute the election, unlike his opponents. For example, most of the political structures in the state and at the national level given to Ondo citizens are occupied by members of the APC. For instance, the APC controls the state house of assembly with 22 seats out of the 25 available seats. While PPD is in control of 2, ZLP is in control of one. Also, the APC won all the chairmanship and councillorship positions in all the 18 local governments during the last council elections in the state.

In the National Assembly, while APC has a seat in the Senate and PDP 2, the reverse is the case in the House of Representatives. While APC controls 4 seats, PDP controls two, SDP and ADC, one each.

Also, all positions allotted to Ondo at the national level are occupied by active members of the APC from the state. In the same vein, all chairmen and members of boards of ministries, agencies and parastatals in the state are all members of the APC. Apart from having access to funds to deploy towards the elections, these public office holders, though unethical, are also known to usually deploy the public structures at their disposal to the advantage of their parties during elections.

Likewise, as sitting governors who award and superintend over the awards of contracts, state governors are always courted by wealthy contractors who always bankroll their elections in the hope of getting better returns. The case of Akeredolu is not expected to be different. In the twin areas of incumbency and political structures, Akeredolu seems to have an edge.

The governor presently controls all government agencies and could deploy them to his advantage. The recent inauguration of the Amotekun Corps by the governor is also raising dust, with many opposition figures questioning the timing of the flag off.

While reacting to the recent launch of the security outfit by Governor Akeredolu, the spokesperson, Eyitayo Jegede Campaign Organisation (EJCO), Mr Tope Fasua (Garo), questioned the rush, alleging that the ruling party plans to use the outfit against its rivals in the forthcoming election.

“Why the sudden rush to kickstart the Amotekun outfit, just a few weeks to the election? Other South West states that agreed to the setting up of the outfit are still in the process of finetuning the laws and logistics that will enable it to hit the ground running. Why is the case of Ondo State different? The information we received is that they want to use (outfit) to harass and intimidate our supporters and prevent them from casting their votes. But we are ready for them. They should remember what happened in 1983 during the Ajasin/Omoboriowo saga”, Fasua warned.

FEDERAL MIGHT

Like in the case of incumbency/political factors, Governor Akeredolu seems to also have an edge over other candidates. His party, the ruling APC, rules at the centre and has the unenviable record of always being a biased umpire. Critics mentioned governorship elections in Osun, Bayelsa, Kogi and others where the government in power deployed federal institutions to help out the APC to subvert the wishes of the people. Virtually all members of the opposition who spoke with our reporters shared the belief that the election will not be free and fair.

ZONING

Zoning, like other factors, will play a role in who emerges as governor in six weeks. According to findings, Ondo South, which has only produced a one-term governor in the person of Late Olusegun Agagu, will benefit more from agitations from the zone with locals agitating that it is their turn to produce the next governor.

It would be recalled that the other two senatorial zones, Ondo North and Central had ruled for eight years, while Ondo South could not complete a second after its candidate, Olusegun Agagu, was sacked by the Appeal Court and replaced by Olusegun Mimiko of the Labour Party in 2009. While the first civilian governor at the advent of democracy in 1999, Adebayo Adefarati, who hails from Ondo North only served one term of four years (1999-2003), another politician from Ondo North, the incumbent, Governor Akeredolu, is about to complete another four years (2017-2021) to make it eight years for Ondo North.

On the other hand, Ondo Central enjoyed eight straight uninterrupted years with the rule of Olusegun Mimiko (2009-2017), leaving Ondo South in the cold with a first and an unfinished second term (2003-2009) to show for it.

With this, Ajayi has an edge over Akeredolu and Jegede in his stronghold. He is expected to win his senatorial district. However, that is where his luck will probably end as the expected win in his stronghold will not be enough to influence the outcome of the election. He has to make a strong showing in his competitors’ enclave which he is unlikely to achieve.

On the other hand, Akeredolu is expected to also benefit from the interpretation of zoning by his people from Ondo North who are insisting that the governorship position had been zoned to them for two terms and that the governor should be allowed to complete his second term in office before the office move to another zone.

Meanwhile, with Ondo South having the strongest claim to zoning, it has become the beautiful bride, as all candidates are doing everything possible to court it. At the last count, 11 candidates out of the 17 have all picked their running mates from the zone. For instance, while Akeredolu picked Lucky Aiyedatiwa, from Obe-Nla, an oil-bearing community in the Ilaje Local Government  Area of Ondo South as his running mate, his major contender, Eyitayo Jegede of the PDP picked Gboluga Ikengboju from Irele/Okitipupa Federal Constituency of Ondo South.

PARTY COHESION

Another major factor that will determine where the pendulum swings come October 10, is party cohesion and handling of the crises that emanated from parties primaries by party leaders. The APC and the PDP are particularly affected by the controversy that trailed their governorship primaries. While the APC seems to have successfully contained disputes, at least on the surface, the PDP is not that successful. The APC, it was gathered, is helped by the fact that it is in control at the national level.

According to a chieftain of the party who spoke with BH in Akure, the state capital, all aggrieved persons have been beating into line by the powers that be in Abuja.

“The governor was made to reconcile with all those he offended in the last three and a a half years to prevent what happened in the state during the last general elections from repeating itself.

“As an icing on the cake, all the aggrieved candidates were approached by the president himself and offered deals they could not resist. They were all offered juicy positions at the national level such as board chairmen and ambassadors. The president and his men even made Akeredolu ceed some positions in the state executive council and MDAs to them. Even if they are not satisfied, they dare not openly refuse the president’s offers without facing the consequences. Anyone who goes out of his way to openly oppose the gladiators will live to regret his actions”, said the chieftain.

Confirming the statement of the party chieftain, the Chairman, Ondo State House of Assembly on Information, Hon. Akogun Olugbenga Omole said there is no crisis in the party as all aggrieved persons have been pacified.

“I think whoever is still aggrieved by now is not ready to be a member of the party again. At this point, the leadership of the party, from the presidency to the party leaders at the national level made sure that the governor reconciled with everybody that matters.

“And we thank God, there is one accord at the party. Recently, almost all the aspirants converged at the Heritage Hotel in Ijapo Estate, Akure, with Chief Akinyulure, the governor himself and others for a family meeting. And they all agreed to work for the success of the party. The deputy governor designate has been visiting towns in Ondo waterside with Olusola Oke and other sons of the soil. And most of the candidates who have followership, if not all, are on the same page with the governor.

“If he can win in 2017 without much support, what do you think will happen now that they are now all behind him? I can tell you that if we go to the polls tomorrow, the APC will win convincingly”, Akogun said.

On the other hand, the PDP has not been able to overcome the crisis that trailed its governorship primaries. It was learnt that while most national officers of the party and state governors supported the emergence of the deputy governor, Agboola Ajayi, as its candidates, forces in the state, supported by a handful from the outside rooted for Jegede.

The losing side, after suffering a humiliating defeat at the primary, it was gathered, is not too willing to deploy resources to help out Jegede in the polls.

The crisis became almost intractable when Ajayi was denied the ticket to be Jegede’s running mate.

“Anything is still possible as reconciliation meetings are daily taking place. The PDP stands a good chance if all the players can bury their hatchets a d come together”, declared a concerned party faithful, Chief Omotayo Esan.

2023 PROXY WAR

Like in Edo State, actors gunning for the 2023 presidency, particularly in the APC and PDP, are not leaving anything to chance in their quest to win Ondo over to their side. According to feelers from both parties, a win for them in Ondo will boost their chances of winning the presidency, while a loss will be a setback.

For example, a chieftain of the APC, Bola Ahmed  Tinubu, is said to have rolled out all machinery to ensure that Ondo remains in the fold of the party despite his differences with Akeredolu.

“The APC strongman has deployed massive resources to Ondo to ensure that the state goes APC way on October 10. He is nursing a presidential ambition and believes that another state in the kitty will help him achieve his ambition. As it is, he can’t afford to lose the state. He is playing a major role in the Edo governorship election as well for personal reasons”, the party source stated.

Likewise, some politicians on the platform of the PDP nursing presidential ambition in 2023 see the Ondo 2020 governorship election as a do-or-die if they want to realise their 2023 ambitions.

POPULARITY

Among the three major candidates, Eyitayo Jegede of the PDP has the best public rating. Out of every ten Ondo citizens interviewed, six proclaimed the PDP candidate as the best suitable for the job. Also, Jegede is very popular in Ondo Central, which has about 40 per cent of registered voters. His mother is from Ipele, near Owo in Ondo North (Akeredolu’s enclave). He is expected to snatch some votes from under Akeredolu’s nose from his mother’s kinsmen.

However, checks revealed that the PDP has failed to capitalise on peoples disenchantment with the APC government. Rather than riding the tide to its advantage, the party is rather playing catch up with the APC. Things on the ground suggest that the APC is the one on the offensive.

A concerned member of the PDP blamed the lacklustre approach to the coming election on lack of funding and leadership.

“You know the PDP has been out of power for some time. So, many of its sponsors are broke since they are not getting patronage from APC governments both at the national and states. So, there are no funds to prosecute the election.

“Also, the PDP does not have cult figures like President Muhammadu  Buhari and Bola Tinubu to bulldoze their members into submission. That is because we are not in power at the national level. When Jonathan was in power, just the mention of his name, not to mention that ‘Jonathan said this, Jonathan said that’, would have restored order in the party. Currently, that is the advantage APC has over us”, said the source.

How the LGs will  vote

Baring a major and unexpected shock, findings revealed that the election will likely be a repeat of the 2012 governorship election where the three main candidates of the APC, PDP and LP, Rotimi Akeredolu, Olusola Oke and Segun Mimiko, held sway in their respective senatorial districts.

While Akeredolu is expected to make a considerable impact in his Ondo North zone, Jegede and Ajayi are expected to win their Ondo Central and Ondo South zones respectively. Meanwhile, the decision of the PDP and APC candidates to pick their running mates from Ajayi’s backyard will greatly erode his strength. Also, the rapprochement between Akeredolu and Olusola Oke, a strong player from the Southern part of the state will not help Ajayi’s cause.

However, Ajayi is expected to do well in Ondo Central, where his major backer, former Governor Olusegun Mimiko, hails from.

LOCAL GOVERNMENT AREAS

(ONDO NORTH)

Akoko North-West          Akeredolu/APC

Akoko North-East            Akeredolu/APC

Akoko South-East            Akeredolu/APC

Akoko South-West          Akeredolu/APC

Ose                                      Akeredolu/APC

Owo                                     Akeredolu/APC

(ONDO CENTRAL)

Akure North                       Jegede/PDP

Akure South                       Jegede/PDP

Ifedore                                Jegede/PDP

Ile Oluji/Okeigbo              Too close to call

Ondo West                         Ajayi/ZLP

Ondo East                           Ajayi/ZLP

(ONDO SOUTH)

Idanre                  Too close to call

Odigbo                Too close to call

Okitipupa                            Ajayi/ZLP

Irele                      Too close to call

Ese Odo               Ajayi/ZLP

Ilaje                      Ajayi/ZLP