Expectedly, the major opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is leaning more on political providence to win the October 10, 2020 governorship in Ondo State. But this is not without its own internal wrangling.
Many people believe that the party, which lost out to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in the 2016 governorship election, would reap the gains of all the political upheavals happening in the latter since Governor Rotimi Akeredolu came to power in 2016.
They predict that the opposition party stands a great chance of doing well in the next election provided it puts its house in order by fielding the best candidate as its flagbearer. Initially, there were pockets of crises over consensus candidacy, especially among aspirants from the South Senatorial District, which has been the strongest base and home of PDP since 1999.
Okitipupa and Ilaje councils, the real homes of PDP, have over 13 aspirants while the Central District has the party’s sole candidate in the last poll, Eyitayo Jegede, and the North District has Bode Ayorinde and Dayo Fadahunsi, who later withdrew. The emergence of former PDP Vice Chairman (South West), Eddy Olafeso and the erstwhile state Publicity Secretary, Banji Okunomo, as consensus candidates for Okitipupa and Ilaje councils, respectively, stoked heated controversies from other aspirants.
Many political analysts had said it would be a high-pitch game by the South District to utilize the strength of the party in the district to take the ticket from Jegede, who believes that his last performance stood him in good stead for the next election.
But the sudden appearance of the state’s Deputy Governor, Agboola Ajayi on the scene, exactly 30 days to primary, has drastically changed the political calculations about who gets the party’s ticket. In a remarkable move, the PDP screening committee reduced the number of aspirants from 19 to eight, though some willingly dropped their ambition; only one aspirant was disqualified.
Successful candidates, who will participate in the July 22 governorship primary include Okunomo, Ajayi, Olafeso, Olusola Ebiseni, Boluwaji Kunlere and Godday Erewa from South District while Jegede and Bode Ayorinde are from Central and North districts respectively.
Meanwhile, Ajayi’s return to PDP, which many adjudge as adding value to the party, as confirmed by the party’s National Chairman, Uche Secondus when he personally received him in Akure, has raised a lot of suspicions. The fear mostly expressed against Ajayi, according to many PDP sources, is not only because he is the current deputy governor but also his background in the party before he left for APC in 2016.
Ajayi, shortly after the return of democracy in 1999, rose to political limelight by becoming a councillor, caretaker chairman, substantive chairman and member of the Federal House of Representatives under PDP platform.
Expressing fears of the unknown, a handful of the party’s faithful, especially those loyal to Jegede, accused the party’s executives and National Working Committee (NWC) of planning to give Ajayi automatic ticket, or at least prop him up to win the primary. Aside that, rumours are rife that the party’s 2016 guber candidate Jegede has agreed to be the running mate to the deputy governor. But Eyitayo Jegede Campaign Organisation (EJCO) has refuted this claim, affirming, “Jegede does not intend, either now or in the future, to become deputy to Mr. Ajayi.”
According to Jegede’s camp, “The aspiration of Mr. Eyitayo Jegede predates the emergence of Mr. Ajayi as a deputy to the incumbent APC governor and is an aspiration that carries the spirit of every PDP member who has remained loyal and has laboured for the continuity of this party against the consequences of the actions of those who worked against our party’s victory in the last election.”
However, a PDP chieftain, Wale Koledoye, said: “It’s a welcome development that he is coming to our party. But one thing is clear, the NWC will have us to contend with if they accept his proposals on the primary committee and go ahead to deliver him as they have plotted in Abuja.
“Here is a man who was in charge of the politics of the government after the governor delegated undeserved privileges to him. To us in the PDP, the deputy governor is the most treacherous politician in this state because he has remained the most powerful man in that position; so we can’t trust him.
“How can he now come to our party and insist on running as sole candidate to the extent of nominating the chairman and members of the primary committee. Or is it the reason he hired an aircraft for the NWC members that will come tomorrow to receive him. It’s the height of insults.
“The real game will start soon after he joins. Let’s wait and see as events unfold, because we are not fools in this party.”
While clearing all doubts about the NWC members’ neutrality, Secondus said the significance of the party’s leadership’s presence during the formal reception of Ajayi was to show the entire Ondo people that PDP is a mass movement in the country.
“Your exit from the APC to PDP is the act of God, and we know that your coming will be like a tsunami,” Secondus said, “APC members are still coming to PDP. We believe that with this mass movement in Ondo State, it will move to other states and I believe that Ajayi is going to bring changes and add value to the party.”
The national chairman assured all aspirants and members of the party that the NWC would conduct free, fair and credible primaries, urging them to discard all rumours about imposition or endorsement.
“Our coming here today is not to endorse a particular aspirant,” he had said, “it is for the generality of the people. The deputy governor has said that he is not coming to alter the rules or seek any favour from the party.
“But we know that with him and others joining the party, we can reclaim Ondo State so that people can have fresh air and good governance.”
Baring internal fangs against the deputy governor, who has been engulfed in impeachment battle, former PDP South West Publicity Secretary, Ayo Fadaka, asked him to toe the path of honour and resign from office. Fadaka’s sentiment is in tandem with outcries against the deputy governor from the APC leadership, led by Mr. Ade Adetimehin, who allegedly, alongside other party chieftains, sponsored the impeachment process against the deputy.
The state’s APC chairman, Adetimehin, had said: ”Since he has resigned from the APC, he must equally resign the office of the deputy governor because that ticket belongs to APC. It is not a joint ticket between APC and PDP.
“It is clearly stated in our constitution. It is a ticket on the platform of the APC. We have told him that you are a comrade in the APC, but if you are leaving, don’t go with our property. Drop all our belongings.”
The former PDP spokesperson, who is a close ally of Olafeso, Fadaka, stressed that it is up to the governor and the APC to do an appraisal to determine whether they still have a running mate in Agboola Ajayi, who is now in the PDP or not.
According to Fadaka, “Impeachment is initiated if it is considered that the person to be impeached has committed high crimes against the system. But again, with the decamping of Agboola, can it be construed to be a high crime against the state?
“The constitution says that for every governor that will contest, he should have a running mate and that’s why there is always a deputy governor to assist the governor. The governor picked Ajayi; PDP was not part of whatever they were doing when they decided to run with each other.
“And if they still feel comfortable running with each other, we do not want to have an input into it. Ordinary, it is up to Ajayi to do what I think is honorable by resigning if he feels he could no longer work with the man who placed a level of trust in him to assist him in doing his job.”
However, PDP’s state Director of Media and Publicity, Mr. Zadok Akintoye, argued that the present situation affords the opposition a face in the state government. He disowned Fadaka, and urged the public to disregard him. Without mincing words, the party noted that Fadaka’s position does not reflect the position of the party on the matter.
“His Excellency Agboola Ajayi remains the deputy governor of the state and is not under any compulsion (either moral or legal) to resign his position,” Akintoye affirmed.
Within two weeks of joining the opposition party, Ajayi has become the reference point in the scheme of events, especially the backlash from other aspirants who see him as a threat to their aspiration. More so, political readers pontificate that he is in a better position to get the party’s ticket and give the ruling APC a tough contest at the poll due to his growing popularity, pedigree and financial clout.
To clip his political wings and chances, one of the party’s aspirants, who does not want his name in print, has alleged that Ajayi has made overtures to some of the aspirants to step down for him. He is alleged to have induced them with N400 million. While speaking for other aspirants, he vowed that they would resist any attempt by the party’s leadership to give the deputy governor an automatic ticket, saying “it amounts to an insult on all of us.
“If truly he has the strength and support base that he has been telling them in Abuja before he came to us, let him get set for the party’s primary; that has been our position.
“Even Abuja now knows that whatever he told them was not the truth about his popularity. At least we saw how our national chairman asked with disappointment the whereabouts of the lawmakers and cabinet members.”
In his words: “So, with his inability to have the automatic ticket, as soon as we got back to Akure after the screening, he sent about four different emissaries to four of us that he was ready to pay off our debts at a cost of N400 million; that is 100 million per aspirant, and he concentrated the talks on those of us from the South.
“To us, that is an insult because we are not products to be procured in the open market as he thinks. We have all jointly resolved to go to the party’s primary election and fail instead of collecting money from him.”
There was a protest in Akure last Thursday at the venue of the party’s ad-hoc delegate congress when some aspirants and their loyalists alleged that the deputy governor and the state’s party leadership manipulated the delegate’s list.
Sequel to the protest against the recent congress, chieftains of the party held a press conference in Akure on Sunday, demanding the disqualification of Ajayi over plans to disrupt the delegate’s list in his favour. They called for the immediate arrest of the Secretary of PDP’s Ward Congresses Electoral Committee for Ondo State, Mr. Kingsley Chinda, saying he colluded to add 101 fake delegates to the ad hoc delegates’ list.
PDP’s leaders, led by Mr. Solomon Bitire, a former chairman of Okitipupa LGA, said: “Agboola Ajayi must be disqualified for fraudulently injecting 101 fake delegates into the ad hoc delegates’ list of Ondo State PDP in collusion with Kingsley Chinda, the Secretary of the PDP Ward Congresses Electoral Committee.”
Bitire recounted their sour experience at the venue of the ad-hoc delegates Congress held at Heritage Hotel, Akure, affirming that the party’s faithful gathered to protest on hearing that the result had been manipulated.
“Suddenly after the protests, members of the panel disappeared into tin air and thereafter converged in a hotel in Lagos to hatch the evil plot,” Bitire alleged. “As we speak, over 101 names have been injected into the ad-hoc delegates’ list ahead of PDP primary by Ajayi and Mr. Chinda, the secretary of the panel.
“We are here to call on the leadership of the party to immediately arrest Chinda and disqualify the deputy governor for fraudulently manipulating the delegates’ list.”
Consequent upon this, the Okunomo Campaign Organisation, alongside other aspirants, has vowed to institute legal action against the party’s leadership if the infraction is not reversed.