Bamigbola Gbolagunte, Akure
Palpable tension now mounts in all the 18 Local Government Areas of Ondo State as the people of the state go to the poll today to elect a new governor who will serve them for another four years.
No fewer than 1.4million voters spread across all the villages and towns in the state will participate in the election, which is being contested by three major candidates including Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Mr Eyitayo Jegede of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Mr Agboola Ajayi of the Zenith Labour Party (ZLP) who is the current deputy governor of the state. Across the 18 Local Government Areas of the state, there are fears and apprehension in the minds of many residents considering the violent crisis that characterized the campaign of the major political parties, especially the PDP and APC whose members were brutally attacked and suffered injuries in many locations during their campaign rallies.
For instance, in Ipele, Owo, Oba-Akoko and Idanre, many stalwarts of the PDP were attacked and some of them are still in different hospitals receiving medical treatment. Also in Idanre and Ikare-Akoko, some members of the APC were attacked and campaign vehicles of the party were damaged by political thugs.
Both the PDP and the APC have continued to trade blames over the violence, with PDP accusing the APC of sponsoring the attack against its members and vice versa. The last two weeks had witnessed accusations and counter accusations between the ruling APC and the PDP in the state, with the ZLP also chastising the ruling party. Leaders of the three political partie had at different times called on the police and other security agencies monitoring today’s election to ensure security of lives and property.
The development has also prompted the police to deploy over 34,000 policemen to the state, while the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) and the Department of State Services (DSS) also deployed a good number of their officers to the state to ensure smooth conduct of the exercise.
Already, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had distributed sensitive and non sensitive materials to all the 18 Local Government Areas, while election materials to the rivernie areas were also distributed to all the wards to ensure timely conduct of the exercise. INEC National Commissioner in charge of Information and Voter Education, Mr Festus Okoye disclosed that no fewer than 17,000 adhoc staff made up of federal civil servants and National Youths Service Corps (NYSC) members will be used for the governorship election.
He hinted that both the INEC staff and the adhoc staff had already arrived the locations where they will serve, adding that th Commission had perfected all arrangements for the smooth conduct of the election and called for the co-operation of all stakeholders, especially security agencies and politicians. Okoye said the Commission will follow the guidelines of the electoral act and the provisions of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in organizing the election, assuring that the it would be free, fair and credible.
In a related development, the Deji of Akure, Oba Aladetoyinbo Ogunlade threatened to place a curse on any individual or group of people who foments trouble or sponsors violence during and after the governorship election, just as he charged all residents of the state not to exercise any fear but go out en-masse to exercise their franchise.
The monarch, who lamented the unwarranted crisis in some parts of the state ahead of the election, said “as the custodian of culture of Akure, whose pronouncement is sequel to the invocation of the spirits of the ancestors, I will deal decisively with persons who may be bent on causing chaos during the election.”
He said “those who foment trouble should be ready to face the music of any of their intended action. It is important to reemphasize that I had met with all the gladiators and leaders of the major political parties and I therefore expect all the gladiators and leaders to abide by the agreement reached during the various meetings.
“It is important to say without any iota of contradiction that I will not give room for hooliganism and thuggery to thrive in Akure kingdom during the election or after. The ancestors would not fold their arms and allow a repeat of the ugly incident of 1983 in Akure and Ondo State at large.”
The monarch also implored INEC to remain an unbiased umpire in the conduct of the election, stressing that “every vote must count and the rules should be adhered to strictly. All the security agents should also display high level of professionalism while carrying out their duties. They should not compromise the confidence reposed in them by the good people of Ondo State.”
Notwithstanding, the assurances by the police and the traditional ruler, it is observed that there may be voters apathy in today’s election as findings revealed that many of the prospective voters are still nursing fears of likely violence. An election monitoring group, Justice Development and Peace Centre (JDPC), Akure, after a survey conducted in all the 18 Local Government Areas of the state predicted that today’s governorship election will by marred by voters apathy.
This, the legal officer of the group, Mrs Oluwatoba Olaifa, said was as a result of violence that characterized the campaign of some of the political parties participating in the exercise. To this end, the group called on security agencies, especially the Nigeria Police Force to ensure that peace reigns during and after the election, just as it called on electorate across the 18 Local Government Areas, especially women not to entertain any fear regarding the conduct of the election. However, the three major contestants have boasted that they would emerge winners of the election. Akeredolu, Jegede and Ajayi are banking on the support they enjoy across the state as basis for their presumed victory.
While Jegede said he remains the candidate to beat in the election, it was gathered that his support base is majorly Akure, the state capital, which is also his hometown. Jegede is firmly rooted in Akure South, Akure North, Ifedore and Idanre Local Government Areas which are four out of the six Local Government Areas in Ondo central senatorial district, In the remaining two Local Government Areas of Ondo East and Ondo West, Jegede would have controlled high number of followers but for the former governor of the state, Dr Olusegun Mimiko who is an indigene of Ondo town which is made up of the two Local Government Areas.
Until recently, both Mimiko and Jegede were in the same political camp. In fact, Jegede was commissioner for Justice and Attorney General of the state throughout the eight years tenure of former Governor Mimiko who also sponsored his campaign in 2016 but lost to the incumbent Governor Akeredolu of the APC. As it stands, the ZLP appears stronger than Jegede’s PDP in both Ondo East and Ondo West Local Government Areas because of Mimiko who is the national leader of the ZLP and one of the supporters of Ajayi, the candidate of the party.
For Akeredolu who is the flag bearer of the APC, he is seen to be in total control of ondo north senatorial district as he hails from Owo, headquarters of Owo Local Government Area. Apart from the power of incumbency, Akeredolu is seen as the choice of many people in Owo, Ose, Akoko South West, Akoko South East, Akoko North West and Akoko North East Local Government Area of the state. From time immemorial, the people of Akoko division were said to be progressive, with many of their old politicians being associates of late Chief Obafemi Awolowo. At the return of democracy in 1999, Akoko division produced late Adebayo Adefarati as the governor of the state when he emerged on the platform of the Alliance for Democracy (AD). Since then, many politicians in the area have remained in the progressive fold and the APC has many key political office holders from the area.
Many of the political gladiators in Akoko division like Senator Ajayi Borofice, Hon Victor Olabimtan, Dr Segun Abraham and many others had pledged their support for Akeredolu and they worked seriously for him during the campaign.
Also, in the two Local Government Areas of Owo and Ose which form Ondo north senatorial district with the four in Akoko division, Akeredolu is strong being an indigene of the area. He is seen as the choice of the people of the two local governments considering the infrastructure he provided in the area.
The governorship candidate of the ZLP, Mr Agboola Ajayi is said to be the choice of the people of Ondo South senatorial district, having come from the district. Except for Ilaje Local Government Area where the running mate of Akeredolu, Mr Lucky Aiyedatiwa and that of Jegede, Mr Gboluwaga Ikengboju hail from, Ajayi is said to be the choice of the other five local government areas.
In Ese-Odo, Okitipupa, Irele, Odigbo and Ile-Oluji Local Government Areas of the state, Ajayi has a good number of supporters, because the people of the southern senatorial district believe it is their turn to produce the next governor of the state and they see Ajayi as their own.
One major factor that make today’s election unique and different from others is the fact that the three major contestants are from the three senatorial districts of the state. While Akeredolu is from north, Jegede is from central and Ajayi is from South. This is an indication that the voting pattern may reflect the geographical classification of the state.
Should the people of the senatorial district vote for their representatives on the ballot, it implies that the senatorial district with the highest number of voters will produce the next Governor of the state.
However, it may be difficult to predict that the voting pattern will reflect the geo-political classification of the state, as the choice of the running mates of the three major contestants will also count.