Bamigbola Gbolagunte, Akure
No doubt, today’s governorship election in Ondo State is a fierce battle to be fought by three political titans in the state and the outcome of the election will determine the strength of each of the three contestants.
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, while others could be described as pretenders. Few days ago, 10 governorship candidates withdrew from the race and pulled their weight behind the candidature of Mr Eyitayo Jegede of the PDP, while two political parties also collapsed their structures into the All Progressives Congress (APC) and teamed up with Governor Rotimi Akeredolu who is seeking a reelection on the platform of the party (APC).
Pockets of trouble and violence were recorded in many parts of the state, especially Akure, Ipele, Oba-Akoko, Idanre, Ondo and Owo ahead of the election, an indication that except security agencies do the needful, there may be serious crisis during the election.
The three major political parties contesting the election; Zenith Labour Party (ZLP), PDP and APC had traded blames over the incidence and the three parties had been victims of the violent political attacks. While the PDP accused APC of sponsoring the violent attacks, the APC also accused the PDP of masterminding the crisis. Some campaign vehicles of both the APC and PDP were burnt in many locations in the state.
The three leading governorship candidates; Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of the APC, Mr Eyitayo Jegede of the PDP and Mr Agboola Ajayi of the ZLP are not leaving anything to chances as they engaged in aggressive campaign exercise ahead of the polls. The three candidates also signed peace accord at a programme organized by the National Peace Committee headed by former Head of State, Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar.
Despite the crisis that characterized the campaigns of the parties, the three candidates said at the peace accord signing ceremony that they would ensure that peace reigns in the state during and after the governorship 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 election, given 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 candidate during the election as there is alignment and realignment within the political folds in the state and the realignment was ongoing till the eve of the election..
No one can say where the pendulum will swing for now, as the three major contenders boast of high number of followers, just as they parade impressive crowd of people at their tours and rallies. This is not to say that all the supporters of the candidates are working for the victory of their candidates, but the presence of crowd at their programmes suggest that they have large followership.
It is the first time in the history of the state that a serving governor will contest against his deputy. Both Akeredolu and Ajayi, the serving governor and deputy governor respectively will slug it out at the polls and this is posing a serious challenge to their followers as the clash of interest between the two political gladiators is causing tension in the state.
Untill recently, both Akeredolu and Ajayi were close allies and their relationship yielded a wonderful result 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. No one had the premonition that both Akeredolu and Ajayi will one day become political foes.
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 crisis 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 was hell-bent on contesting the election.
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 oucome of the election.
However, there are factors that will work in favour of the three candidates, while some will also work against them.
The incumbent governor of the state and governorship candidate of the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) Mr Rotimi Akeredolu stands a better chance in the election as many factors work for his advantage. Aside being the incumbent with the power of incumbency, which may be an added advantage for him, he commands a large number of supporters and followers across the 18 Local Government Areas of the state.
Going by the unwritten zoning arrangement 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 arrangement 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 governorship 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 arrangement, power again shifted to Ondo North senatorial district with Governor Akeredolu emerging as the governor of the state. The governor will be completing his first term of four years in February 2020, but many political observers believe that the northern senatorial district still has another term of four years to spend in office before power moves to other zone of the state.
Many indigenes of the state believe in the zoning arrangement and the people of Ondo North senatorial district in their wisdom present Akeredolu as the only governorship 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 party in the state contesting the governorship poll from the zone 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 alleged that the increment in tuition of tertiary institutions in the state by the Akeredolu’s government will work against him as students and youths may not vote for him.
Also, many believe that Akeredolu did not work well in providing infrastructural development for the state, as many roads are still in dilapidated condition less than six months to the end of his administration despite promises made by the governor to fix the roads and facilitate other development.
But a chieftain of the APC in the state, Chief Alex Ajipe countered the claim, saying that 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.
He said “one good term deserves another. The people of Ondo State are not ungrateful elements. We are appreciative of good deeds and we don’t pay bad for good. I’m sure our people will pay Akeredolu back at the appropriate time. He deserves a second term and he really worked for it. The best way to appreciate the good works of Akeredolu is to vote massively for him. There is no local government area in the state that doesn’t feel the impacts of the present administration in the state in the area of road construction.”
The current deputy governor and governorship 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 election 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 call by his people to serve them and his determination to serve.
He had since he left the APC been blaming Akeredolu for the poor development of the state, even as he chastised his boss on all the projects he embarked upon. 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 considering his wealth and the support of Mimiko, which he enjoys may also be an added advantage for him. He was said to have moved round all the local government areas of the state soliciting for 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.
A notable member of the APC, Chief Ajipe said “if ZLP had not given its governorship ticket to Ajayi, I’m sure he would have left the party and move to another one, the same way he left PDP. He is a desperate politician who can do anything to realize his ambition. But he will faill woefully in the election.”
Also, Governor Akeredolu who described the choice of his deputy as a great mistake, said the ZLP is like a vehicle without an engine, saying that it is a party for stinking politicians who are already irrelevant in the scheme of things.
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 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 while indigenes of the town have always clamoured to rule. 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 governorship election if conducted in a free and fair manner.
He said both Akeredolu and his deputy, Ajayi are not threat to his ambition, having contested against Akeredolu four years ago and emerged the first runner up in the election.
“Ajayi can never be a threat to me because even his boss, Akeredolu was never a threat to me four years ago. I am rather a threat to their camps and I am sure if the forthcoming election is free and fair, PDP will have the day. Our people already know who have the mind to serve them. The last four years of Akeredolu’s governmemt could be likened to years of darkness in Ondo State,” he said.
He alleged that the APC relies on violence and rigging going by a video which has gone viral on the social media where a former chairman of the APC in the state, Hon Isaac Kekemeke allegedly said that the APC will use federal might and power of incumbency to win the governorship 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 high 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 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 arrangement and sentiment reflect in the voting pattern, the candidate from the largest zone may eventually have the day.