From Bamigbola Gbolagunte, Akure
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Ondo State appears to be in a serious battle over the choice of its candidate for this year’s governorship election holding in the state. Already, the party is currently in serious search for a formidable flag bearer to represent it in the election.
Since the release of the election date by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the ruling PDP has swung into action with the singular aim of searching for a formidable candidate that can deliver the state for the party in the election.
The PDP is currently in control of the state but there are fears that the party may lose its grip on the state if it eventually presents an “unacceptable” candidate for the election. The party is no doubt enjoying the good legacies and affection of the state governor, Dr Olusegun Mimiko and it is basking on the acceptability of Mimiko in virtually all the local government areas of the state.
But the forthcoming election may be a litmus test for the PDP in Ondo State as Mimiko is actually not contesting for the election, though he is well interested in who succeeds him. Evidently, he is working to ensure that a member of the party succeeds him in office.
Although none of the aspirants has formally declared the intention to contest the election, it was reliably gathered that the aspirants are seriously warming up for the election as they have commenced serious mobilization ahead of their declaration and primary election.
While the main opposition political party in the state, the All Progressives Congress (APC) has started serious campaigns in all the parts of the state ahead of the election, the PDP is calm. Sources within the party however described the strategy as an idea to silently recapture the state without heating up the polity.
Already, no fewer than 20 bigwigs of the party have signified their intention to contest the governorship election under the platform of the party. Some of the contestants are, however, said not to be serious contenders, but “pretenders” who are seeking appointment under whoever emerges as the party’s candidate, if the party wins the election.
The leadership of the party has also declared its intention to retain power and expressed its readiness to present a formidable candidate through an open and transparent system.
The state Chairman of the party, Mr. Clement Faboyede who stated that the party has commenced reconciliatory moves to ensure the return of its former members, said with the efforts put in place, all former chieftains of the party who had left for the APC would soon trace their steps back to the party.
He said the reconciliatory efforts of the party was aimed at ensuring that the party retains its glory and strength in all parts of the state, adding that the PDP remains the party of Ondo people and the party to beat in any election in the state.
Faboyede, who gave the names of former leaders of the party who have defected to the APC including Chief Olusola Oke, former Speaker of the state House of Assembly, Mr. Victor Olabimtan and Dr. Pius Osunyikanmi, assured that the efforts of the party will soon yield good results.
He noted that the defectors had in the past benefited from the benevolence of the PDP, noting that “the defectors are only on a self-seeking mission, after which they would have no alternative but to return to the PDP which was their root.”
He, however, stated that their action was democratic, saying: “Everybody has the right to choose any political association he or she wants to belong.”
The PDP chairman, who maintained that the party was not perturbed by the defection of its former Leaders, said: “In spite of their exit, the party remains the biggest and strongest in the state and would win the forthcoming governorship election in the state.”
He said: “The way members of our party jostled for available positions during the recently held local government election primaries attested to the increasing popularity of our party.”
It was, however, learnt that most of the PDP aspirants have been working underground by consulting various political stakeholders within the state on their ambitions. This is even as many of them are soliciting for the support of Governor Mimiko, believing that the governor may likely endorse his successor within the party.
It was also speculated that the aspirants may have decided not to embark on aggressive campaigns for now, as they could not read the mind of their leader, Governor Mimiko, who is reportedly doing everything to ensure that his right-hand man gets the party’s ticket and also wins the poll.
However, many of these aspirants are mainly from Mimiko’s cabinet. Some of the aspiring PDP members include the present Commissioner for Environment, Chief Olusola Ebiseni whose posters have flooded the state in the recent time.
Ebiseni, who is a lawyer and an Ilaje man, had once called the shots at Ilaje/Ese-Odo local government in 1991 under the platform of Social Democratic Party (SDP). He is known to be a grassroots politician.
He is very active in the main stream politics of the state. As a mobiliser, he was first appointed Chairman of the Ondo State Law Commission in 2009 by Mimiko and later became a commissioner. He is no longer new to the governorship race, as he had once aspired to become the Deputy Governor under the Democratic Peoples’ Alliance (DPA) in the 2007 general elections. Ebiseni may only rely on his loyalists in the party to get the party ticket because he may not be too trusted by the governor.
Another PDP aspirant, who is said to be a leading aspirant in the state, is a former Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta Affairs and the Chairman of the Presidential Amnesty Programme, Hon Kingsley Kuku.
Kuku, who is an Ijaw man, came into political limelight when he was elected as lawmaker representing Ese-Odo constituency in 2003 at the state House of Assembly. He is a loyal PDP chieftain, who had been consistent and also supported in building the party financially in the state.
Although, Kuku is at present recuperating from a knee surgery in one of the hospitals in the United States but he was among the party aspirants who had begun their underground campaign though his supporters spread across the 18 local government areas.
It is believed that Kuku has the financial muscle to fight the governorship election and he is popular among members of the party in the state, having served in different capacities within the party since he joined active politics. Also, his philanthropic gesture will be an added advantage for him as he had helped many people at different times.
Also, the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Eyitayo Jegede (SAN) is another popular aspirant, who became popular due to his closeness to Governor Mimiko and his roles in the administration of Mimiko.
Jegede, who is a prominent indigene of Akure, is one of the technocrats in Governor Mimiko’s administration and he had been in Mimiko’s cabinet since 2009, with various contributions to the success of the government. Jegede is one of the aspirants who have a brighter chance in clinching the PDP gubernatorial ticket being one of the trusted aides of Mimiko.
He is also favoured with the clamour by Akures to present the next governor of the state under the slogan “Akure agenda”. This is without recourse to rotational arrangement among the three senatorial districts in the state. Since 1999, the governorship seat has always been rotated among the three senatorial districts. Prominent Akure people, particularly the Deji of Akure, Oba Aladetoyinbo Aladelusi had on several occasions declared that an indigene of Akure should be the next governor and called on the people of the town to support any candidate who hails from the town.
He boasted that Akure kingdom which include Ifedore, Akure South and Akure North local government areas have political voting strength to decide who would rule the state.
But Jegede, being from Central Senatorial district, may face a herculean task in getting supports from other two senatorial districts due to the fact that the incumbent governor is also from the central senatorial district. It will be recalled that the late Chief Adebayo Adefarati, who was from the northern district, became the governor in 1999 but he was unseated by the late Olusegun Agagu who was from southern district in 2003. Agagu spent six years before he was sacked by an Appeal Court sitting in Benin in 2009 and Mimiko, who is from the Central district, was sworn in as governor.
Although, the rotational system has no constitutional backing, political observers believed that the northern senatorial district should produce the next governor.
Another factor that may work against Jegede is that despite the fact that Akure has the highest voting strength, most of those who registered in the town are non-indigenes but residents of the town may not vote during the poll. Another popular aspirant in the party is the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Dr. Rotimi Adelola, a technocrat. Adelola had also been with Mimiko since 2009 and he was said to be close to Mimiko’s younger brother, Prof. Femi Mimiko.
The SSG, who is from Odigbo Local Government Area, may have been working on his boss on how to get PDP ticket through the relations of the governor.
Also, a prince from Owo Local Government Area, Nekan Olateru-Olagbegi may decide to give a shot at the governorship race. He was the pioneer senatorial candidate of Labour Party (LP) in 2007 but defeated by Senator Bode Olajumoke of the PDP.
He had been seen as one of the consistent followers of Mimiko who never betrayed the governor. He also got nominated for the appointment under Jonathan in 2011 but later dropped for Dr. Pius Osunyikanmi.
However, Prince Nekan, who is a US-based business expert, is the state Coordinator for Private Public Partnership (PPP). Pharmacist Bamiduro Dada is the Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs and he is also eyeing the PDP ticket. Dada, an indigene of Ikun-Akoko in Akoko South West Local Government Area has so many things that are working against his ambition.
He is from the same local government with Senator Ajayi Boroffice, and Hon. Victor Olabimtan, who are all aspiring to rule the state from APC platform. Former Director-General of the Nigeria Sports Commission (NSC), Hon. Gbenga Elegbeleye is one of those struggling for the PDP ticket.