Bamigbola Gbolagunte, Akure
All is now set for tomorrow’s battle for the governorship seat of Ondo, the Sunshine state. It is stating the obvious that the mother of all battles would be fought by the candidates of three major political parties. They include Governor Rotimi Akeredolu, Eyitayo Jegede and Agboola Ajayi of the All Progressives Congress(APC), Peoples Democratic Party(PDP) and Zenith Labour Party (ZLP) respectively.
However, no fewer than 15 political parties had initially shown interest in the governorship race but only three of the candidates could be seen as real contenders. For instance, few days ago, 10 governorship candidates withdrew from the race and threw their weight behind the candidature of Mr Eyitayo Jegede of the PDP, while two other political parties also coalesced into the APC and teamed up with Governor Akeredolu who is seeking a reelection on the platform of his party.
The build up to tomorrow’s exercise was one of tension as there were pockets of trouble and violence in many parts of the state, especially Akure, Ipele, Oba-Akoko, Idanre, Ondo and Owo. Following the development, critical observers expressed fears that except the security operatives do the needful, there may be serious crises during the election.
Expectedly, the three major parties had traded blames over the incidents with some campaign vehicles belonging to both the APC and PDP burnt in many locations in the state.
But ahead of the election, the three candidates signed peace accord at a programme organised by the National Peace Committee headed by former Head of State, Gen. Abdulsalam Abubakar.
Despite the crises that characterised the campaigns of the parties, the candidates agreed at the peace accord signing ceremony that they would ensure that peace reigns in the state during and after the election. They also assured that their followers and supporters will embrace peace.
Aside Ajayi who emerged as the ZLP candidate through substitution, the other candidates had emerged through a keenly contested primary, giving an indication that they are prepared for the onerous battle ahead of them.
Although the three candidates have their supporters and loyalists spread across the 18 Local Government Areas of the state, there are indications that some politicians may work for opposing candidates during the election because of all manner of alignment and realignment within the political class in the state.
The election is predictably going to be a tough race and it is difficult to say where the pendulum will swing for now, as the three major contenders boast of high number of followers in view of the impressive crowd of people at their campaign tours and rallies.
But the election is unique because it is the first time in the history of the state that a serving governor will contest against his deputy. Both Akeredolu and Ajayi will slug it out at the polls amid clashes of interest among their crowd of supporters.
Untill recently, both Akeredolu and Ajayi are close allies and their relationship yielded fruit in the political space in the state with the victory recorded in the 2016 governorship election that produced Akeredolu as the governor of the state. But little did anyone have the premonition that Akeredolu and Ajayi will one day become political foes. As they say, “in politics, there is no permanent friends or enemy but permanent interest.”
For the candidate of the PDP, Jegede, the contest between him and Akeredolu will not be the first outing as both of them had slugged it out four years ago. During the governorship contest of 2016, Governor Akeredolu defeated Jegede and the victory was not challenged at the tribunal.
Notwithstanding the clash of interest between Akeredolu and Ajayi, which appears as an added advantage for the PDP candidate, both Akeredolu and Ajayi left no one in doubt of their anticipated victory at the polls. While Akeredolu claims to be the candidate to beat in the election, Ajayi who has always referred to his support for Akeredolu as what paved the way for him (Akeredolu) to win the 2016 election, maintained that he will defeat his boss in any free and fair contest.
It was however learnt that there were efforts by some politicians within and outside the state to convince Ajayi to team up with Jegede but the efforts could not see the light of the day as Ajayi.
The last local government election held in August was also a prelude to the major battle ahead of the three political parties. Although the PDP and ZLP did not participate in the council election, the two parties allegedly supported the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and this had consequence on the conduct and result of the election.
Ahead of tomorrow’s election, observers would look out for certain factors.
Many would argue that the incumbent governor, Akeredolu stands a better chance in the election for so many reasons. Aside being the incumbent, he commands a large number of supporters and followers across the 18 Local Government Areas of the state.
Going by the unwritten zoning arrangements in the state, Akeredolu who hails from Owo in the Northern senatorial district of the state stands a better chance as it is believed that it is the turn of the zone to produce the governor for another four years, having served for the first term.
Going by the political arrangements regarding zoning of governorship position in the state, it is believed that Ondo North senatorial district where Akeredolu comes from has a minimum of eight years to spend on the seat, whereas Akeredolu has only spent about four years in office.
At the return of democracy to the country in 1999, Chief Adebayo Adefarati from Akungba Akoko in Ondo North senatorial district ruled the state for four years after which Dr Olusegun Agagu from Ondo South senatorial district succeeded him and later former Governor Olusegun Mimiko from Ondo in the central senatorial district took over from him.
After Mimiko had ruled for eight years, completing the cycle of the rotational arrangements, power again shifted to Ondo North senatorial district with Akeredolu emerging as the governor of the state and will expectedly be completing his first term in February 2020. The contention is that the North should be allowed to control its remaining four years.
Many indigenes of the state believe in the zoning arrangement and the people of Ondo North senatorial district in their wisdom presented Akeredolu as the only candidate from the zone, believing that it would be easier to convince people from other zones of the state if they present a common candidate.
Aside Akeredolu, there is no other serious contestant from any major political parties in the state contesting the poll and this gives him the opportunity to negotiate with people from other zones regarding sharing of political appointments.
However, some political analysts are of the view that the performances of Governor Akeredolu are not enough to ensure his victory in the election. They particularly identify the increment in tuition of tertiary institutions in the state by the Akeredolu’s government as an issue that will work against him as students and youths may not vote for him.
Some also believe that Akeredolu did not meet the people’s expectation in providing infrastructural development for the state, as many roads are still in dilapidated condition less than six months to the end of his first term administration.
But a chieftain of the APC in the state, Chief Alex Ajipe countered the claim, saying that among others, the governor embarked on infrastructural amenities more than any of his predecessors in office. He pointed out that the construction of Ore interchange bridge was second to none in the entire South West region of the country.
The current deputy governor and candidate of the Zenith Labour Party (ZLP), Mr Agboola Ajayi is said to be a popular politician in the state, and his face transcends his Ondo South senatorial district. He had at different times served as Local Government chairman in his native Ese-Odo Local Government Area and a member of the House of Representatives before becoming the deputy governor to Governor Akeredolu in 2016.
A grassroots politician who has the control of his people, Ajayi who hails from Kiribo in Ese-Odo Local Government Area of the state is said to be the choice of the people of Ondo South who are also clamouring to rule the state.
Ajayi’s core support base is Ondo South senatorial district, especially his Ese-Odo Local Government Area and Ilaje area, having represented Ilaje/Ese-Odo federal constituency in the House of Representatives.
A staunch member of the APC, Ajayi recently defected to the PDP but left the party for ZLP when he lost the governorship primary of the party to former Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice in the state, Mr Eyitayo Jegede. Despite pleas to compensate Ajayi, he left PDP for ZLP, claiming that he decided to go to the new party because of a call by his people to serve them and his determination to serve.
The defection of Ajayi which polarized the APC was an advantage for the ZLP led by former Governor Mimiko, as many former members of both the APC and PDP joined the party.
The deputy governor is believed to be a rich politician who also spends money for his supporters. This belief contributes largely to the high number of his supporters. It is also believed that the inability of the state House of Assembly to impeach Ajayi despite frantic efforts is a proof of his acceptability and popularity as not many political office holders can survive such situation.
Many believe that Ajayi has money to spend for the election coupled with the support of Mimiko which he enjoys. He was said to have moved round all the local government areas of the state soliciting support and his followers are on the field working day and night for his victory.
However, many political observers see Ajayi as a desperate politician who is hellbent on becoming the governor of the state at all costs, hence his defection to two political parties in a spate of one month.
But the Chief Press Secretary to the deputy governor, Mr Babatope Okeowo said his principal is driven by his desire to serve his people, insisting that Ajayi remains the candidate to beat in the election considering the level of his acceptability by the people of the state.
Former Commissioner for Justice and Attorney General of the state, Mr Eyitayo Jegede, an indigene of Akure, the state capital emerged the candidate of the PDP in a keenly contested primary election against eight other aspirants including the deputy governor of the state, Mr Agboola Ajayi. His victory at the primary election showed his popularity and acceptability as many had believed that the deputy governor who joined the party lately would win the primary.
Since the creation of the state in 1976, no indigene of Akure, which is the state capital has ever ruled the state and indigenes of the town have always clamoured for the governorship seat. Many believe that it is the turn of an Akure person to rule the state and they are already working for the realization of the desire across party divides.
Jegede who is banking on the support he enjoys from the people of Ondo central senatorial district, especially Akure, his home town, which has the highest number of voters had on several occasions declared that he would win the election if conducted in a free and fair manner.
He said both Akeredolu and his deputy, Ajayi are no threat to his ambition, having contested against Akeredolu four years ago and emerged the first runner up in the election.
The general belief is that the people of Akure will work for Jegede and support his aspiration. Akure alone has two local government areas with highest number of voters and this may work in favour of Jegede being one of their own.
However, if the zoning arrangement is embraced, people from other zones may not vote for him and the votes from his zone alone cannot be enough to make him the governor of the state.
With the unfolding scenario, the three leading contestants represent the three senatorial districts of the state. While Akeredolu comes from the North, Ajayi is from the South and Jegede from the Central senatorial district. If the zoning arrangements reflect in the voting pattern, the candidate from the largest zone may eventually have the day