By OLUSESAN LAOYE
The governorship election in Ondo state has now turned the state into a political battlefield as the two major political parties, the All Progressives Congress (APC) which is now ruling the State and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) are intent on winning the coming October 2020.
In the last three months, the state has witnessed a series of power plays and intrigues, internally and externally, towards both the primaries for the selection of flag bearers of the two major parties. The issues are not only internal party intrigues but inter-party also. At the government level, the governor, Mr Rotimi Akeredolu and his deputy, Mr Agboola Ajayi are locked in a war of supremacy which may be a prelude to the main election contest in October.
Although he has decamped from the APC which produced the ticket, he still is holding tight to his position as deputy governor, which many people see as a very daring political move.
Indeed, the governor’s attempt to impeach him through the House assembly collapsed like a pack cards when the move was dealt two mortal blows by the House failing to muster the required 2/3 members, which is 19 out of the 26 members; as well as the Chief Judge refusing the Assembly’s request to set up a panel to investigate the allegations against the deputy governor, which is an indispensable preliminary constitutional requirement to commence the process.
But October is still far and anything can still happen. However, observers believe that the abortion of the impeachment move is a pointer to the political strength of the Ajayi and the tenuous position of Akeredolu. But Ajayi new party, the PDP, may also be a source of fresh problems for him.
Even when the immediate past governor of the State, Dr Olusegun Mimiko fell out with the PDP, he calculated and knowing the orientations of the people, he joined a progressive oriented Labour Party, where he contested and won the election for the second time to rule the State for eight years.
This is what is playing out in the state now, as the political observers are thinking that what made Mimiko leave the PDP for the labour party has led the Ajayi to join the PDP, where he intends to contest but he is already encountering some difficulties, which may eventually lead him to a more neutral political party, where he may want to repeat Mimiko feat.
With Akeredolu determined and backed by the APC, to get him out of government through impeachment, the atmosphere is now very tense. Police as at the weekend were still stationed at the premises of the Assembly claiming that they were there to protect the law and forestall any crisis that could lead to the destruction of lives and properties.
But on the other hand, it was said that they were there to protect the lawmakers, who are loyal to Governor Akeredolu to smoothen the process of impeaching, Ajayi who was said to have been found guilty of gross misconduct
Ondo on edge
There had been no love lost between the duo, who were initially known to be close allies, but the frosty relationship between them was carefully managed to avoid it boiling over. But as the election approached it was getting impossible to continue to navigate the stormy water with the deputy governor and his camp accusing the governor of running a family government that excluded many stakeholders.
The governorship ambition of Ajayi which was initially denied, eventually, came into the open and caused a serious division both within the government and the All Progressives Congress.
Ajayi’s ambition further polarised the party, when he eventually declared for the PDP, where he now wants to further his ambition to unseat his boss. Although it could be said that the APC has put Ajayi’s departure behind it, the party despite that still has a serious internal crisis to contend with.
Also, his entry into the PDP opened a new round of commotion, within the party and has opened up a fresh battle for the survival of the aspirants who believed that some powerful people in the PDP are bent on imposing Ajayi on them as a consensus candidate whom they believed is in the position to defeat whoever may be chosen to represent the APC.
With this, Ajayi has become the issue in the two political camps, most especially, the PDP. It is therefore believed that the opposition he is about to face in the party, according to political watchers, maybe more grave than what he had in APC because those he wants to outwit in the PDP are no pushover.
Right now, the aspirants, such as Barrister Eyitayo Jegede, who was Mimiko’s Commissioner of Justice and Attorney General, and who was the candidate of the PDP in the 2016 election against Akeredolu; Sola Ebiseni, who served under Mimiko as Commissioner for Environment, Chief Eddy Olafeso, who is the present Deputy National Chairman of the party, Mr John Mafo, and Banji Okuomo, all who have vowed not to step down, are battle-ready to slug it out with Ajayi who is just coming into their fold.
The person who is now believed would be a stumbling block for Ajayi is the last candidate of the party Eyitayo Jegede, from Akure, who was narrowly defeated by Akerodolu in 2016. He is said to be the most favoured, by the PDP governors, especially Governor Seyi Makinde of Oyo State, and Nyeson Wike of Rivers State.
The situation is still however hazy for Ajayi in winning the ticket of PDP, though, he was said to be confident but no one is sure of the powerful people behind him, either in the PDP or elsewhere and the role he is expected to play in the state concerning the governorship election. It was argued in some quarters that he is acting the script of some powerful people behind the screen
It was also argued that the reason Ajayi is fighting his impeachment which, legal opinions say may be difficult if Akeredolu and the lawmakers follow the rule of law and the constitution, was to save his political career now and in future. If he is impeached, his political career may have been ruined and even if he gets the ticket of PDP he won’t be able to contest.
It was said that he could survive the impeachment on four grounds with the suit filed at the Federal High Court Abuja. He is fighting so that there won’t be a two-third majority to push him out of government. Already, there are 14 members out of 26 members in support of the impeachment, while nine have completely backed out. This means that for the impeachment to take place constitutionally, four more members who are now neutral have to join the 14 members to make 18 the required number by the constitution for his impeachment.
Ajayi is also hiding under the constitution that he has the freedom of association which is one of the factors being presented by his team of lawyers in court against his impeachment.
APC and Akeredolu’s dilemma
With Ajayi out of the way, Akeredolu’s problem within the party seems not to have been over as he still has many hurdles to jump to get the ticket of the party. He is still fighting to appease the power that-be to get the ticket of the APC for a second term. With the looks of things, the odd is against him and he will have to go extra miles to come back.
The primary of the party would be keenly contested and if those in the Unity forum of the party eventually come together to present a consensus aspirant against him, he is likely to lose out. Before now, the Unity forum backed by Asiwaju Bola Tinubu was asked to meet and pick a consensus aspirant to fight Akeredolu but the meeting ended in a stalemate, as they could not agree on who consensus aspirant would be.
Those who went through the screening process of the forum headed by the former Deputy Governor of the State under Mimiko, Alhaji Ali Olanusi, were Olusola Oke, Segun Abraham, Senator Ajayi Boroface, Ife Oyedele, Jimi Odimaye, Hon Durimi Isaac, Amb, Sola Iji, Bukola Adetula and Oluyide Adelani.
Initially, the screening committee was said to have endorsed, Olusola Oke, but others kicked against him saying that there was no time it was decided that he was endorsed.
Professor Sola Ehindero, who was the Secretary of the committee was the one who first cried out that the decisions of the Chairman Ali Olanusi and others were not part of the committee’s decisions but cooked up to favour only the aspirant of their choice. It was even alleged that those who endorsed Oke received gratification before doing so.
Since then, the group has not come up with a candidate to fight Akeredolu. Despite this, some powerful groups in the party were said to have eventually endorsed Oke, whom they believe is the only aspirant who could fight Akeredolu with his political structures across the State which he has built while in PDP and which he has continued to oil. Again, he had contested the governorship before. He contested as PDP candidate against Mimiko’s second term. He came second, with Mimiko an incumbent, defeating him with a narrow margin.
Apart from the hurdles within his party, Akeredolu has been accused of running a one-man show with his family. He was accused of nepotism and that only his kinsmen take juicy positions. The Chief Judge of the State, Chief of Staff, Special Advisers, Assistants, commissioner for Rural Development, Agric and Natural Resources, and Infrastructures were said to from his him the own Owo.
He was also accused of placing his son as chairman of palliatives, and his brother-in-law, and protocol officers as members. While his wife was said to be the determining factor on who gets what in the state. All these it was gathered are working seriously against him and these were in a way being used by his opponents in the party and the oppositions against him.
With the guidelines by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), there were speculations that if the APC and the PDP did not put their houses in order before the deadline for the submission of candidates’ names there could be trouble for them if the INEC fails to shift the date. The party which sources say is mostly affected is the APC which has a leadership crisis at the top.
This reflected in its letter to the commission notifying it of the governorship primary to be conducted between July 2 and 25. The letter which was only signed by the Acting National Secretary of the APC Waziri Bulama was rejected by INEC because it was not jointly signed with the Chairman as stipulated by the Article 4.4 of the commission’s regulations and guidelines.
According to section 85 of the electoral Act, political parties are required to give INEC, 21 days notice for the conduct of their primaries. The fear, therefore, is that up till the time of filing this report, it was learnt that the APC has not forwarded a fresh letter to INEC in that respect and this may further affect the party in the State. Meanwhile, there have been various reactions to the political crisis in Ondo State as it affects the October 2020 governorship election.
While reacting to Ajayi’s exit, the Secretary caretaker/extraordinary National Convention Planning Committee, Senator John Akpan said that the resignation of Ajayi and the Ondo SSG to PDP was based on their ambitions and not in the collective interests of the people. According to him, the screening committee for the Ondo primary election would be fair to all. “The party would ensure natural justice in accordance to its policy”.
On the Deputy Governor moving to PDP and the impeachment move, his Chief Press Secretary Babatunde Okeowo, when contacted said Governor Akeredolu has been unfair to his principal, saying that the Governor used financial inducement to lure the State legislators to carry out the impeachment which would eventually fail. The impeachment issue he said is now a subject of litigation and the legislators would be liable and could be charged for contempt.
Also, the media Adviser to Mr Ajayi, Mr, Allen Sowore, said, that the Deputy Governor would get the ticket of the PDP and would not go elsewhere to contest but PDP. He argued that since the defection of Mr Ajayi to the opposition PDP On June 22 2020, APC has been doing everything at the National level and within the state to obstruct his governorship ambition.
“The fact is that they were shocked of our departure from APC and they have not recovered from the shock”.
The Ondo State police command has reacted to the presence of the police at the State Assembly complex. Its spokesperson, Tee Leo Ikoro said the police were performing their constitutional functions to protect the people and violence that could lead to loss of lives and properties and people should not panic.