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Waiting for another clash of two legal minds in Ondo guber contest

Akeredolu

The long awaited governorship primary elections of the two major parties ahead of the October 10, 2020 in Ondo State, All Progressives Congress (APC) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), have been won and lost. In the ruling APC, 12 governorship aspirants slugged it out for the party’s ticket, although there were some disagreements on the mode of primary to be adopted. 

Eleven out of the 12 APC aspirants kicked against indirect primary option except the incumbent governor, Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, who also declared that he was not scared of direct primary as canvassed by others.
 
The party’s leadership chose indirect option and Governor Akeredolu emerged as the flagbearer of the party to defeat Chief Olusola Oke, Nathaniel Adojutelegan, Sola Iji, Jumoke Anifowoshe and Akinsehinwa Awodeyi. Others were Isaac Kekemeke, Olubukola Adetula, Olayide Adelami, while Okunjimi Odimayo, Dr. Olusegun Abraham, and Ifeoluwa Oyedele stepped down to support the incumbent governor’s re-election a few hours to the poll. 

The major opposition PDP had positioned itself to strategically reap from what volarised the ruling party, but the party too got enmeshed in its own internal crisis among the eight aspirants. It will be recalled that the defection of the state’s deputy governor, Agboola Ajayi, from APC to contest the PDP primary governorship election 30 days to the election generated a lot of friction within the party. 

The primary election was more a contest between Ajayi and the PDP candidate in the 2016 governorship election, Eyitayo Jegede, who eventually won the election on Wednesday July 22, 2020. Other PDP aspirants were the former state’s Publicity Secretary, Banji Okunomo, Bode Ayorinde, Boluwaji Kunlere, Sola Ebiseni, Godday Erewa and the former South West Vice Chairman, Eddy Olafeso.

Like it happened four years ago, the election maybe a tough battle between two legal luminaries and Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SAN): Jegede and Akeredolu. It will be a repetition of what ensued in 2016.

Twelve weeks to the 2020 governorship election, voters across the 18 local government areas of the state are already having a hard time making a choice between the two lawyers. Akeredolu had been in the system prior to 1999, when he was appointed the state’s Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice during the Anthony Onyearugbulem-led military government. Not long after he rounded off his tenure as President of Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), he took the first shot at the governorship election as the candidate of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) in 2012.

Akeredolu was defeated by the incumbent governor at the time, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko, in whose government Jegede served as Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, a position, which Akeredolu left several years back. Strokes of luck pitched Jegede (PDP) against Akeredolu in 2016, as the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC); and the latter defeated the PDP candidate in spite of the power of incumbency Jegede enjoyed under Mimiko.

Many political readers observed that the defeat was due to PDP making a political somersault by picking its candidate, Jegede, from the same Central Senatorial District with then incumbent governor, Mimiko, who had broken the two-term jinx in the state. 

Nonetheless, Governor Akeredolu hinges his second term ambition on what he terms his outstanding performance in education, health, industrialization, agriculture, job creation, economic recovery, and prosperity as well as massive infrastructural development. According to the governor, there is dire need to exploit the human and natural resources of the state for prosperity. He leveraged it mainly in the Ondo Deep Sea Port, bitumen and Ore Industrial Hub. 

As speculated by many political analysts, the Monday July 20, 2020 primary election would have posed a huge challenge for APC to consolidate on its victory, but the fear eventually dissolved like a cube of sugar in water. To the shock of many, three major aspirants out of 11, Abraham, Odimayo and Oyedele, who were vehemently opposed to Akeredolu’s re-election, ditched their ambitions to support the incumbent governor. 

The result of the primary election, contrary to widespread criticism against the re-election of the governor by his contenders, shows that he was more popular as he defeated all the aspirants in their various councils. 

Immediately the Chairman of Ondo State APC primary committee and Governor of Kogi State, Yahaya Bello, declared Akeredolu as the winner, he, in his acceptance speech, offered the olive branch to his co-contestants and sued for peace among the party members. 

In his words: “The exceptional comportment on the part of our delegates and the seeming show of love for one another has thrown further challenges upon me as your leader and governor. 

“Most profoundly, I salute the courage of my brother aspirants. They have enriched the contest, no doubt. I must say that I am particularly enamoured by the determination and the industry we all put into this endeavour. The campaigns preceding this day have been noticeably fraught with mixed feelings. Relationships in some cases may have been bruised and interests hurt. 

“In other cases, methods deployed to run these campaigns may not have been pleasant. I plead with all us to leave these in the past and move on. This is more so that all aspirants, including myself, were either victims or indirectly responsible for such unpleasant circumstances. We must find spaces in our hearts to forgive one another.”

While extending the olive branch to aggrieved members and other APC aspirants, he added, “Therefore, I find it delightful to say here and now that we have all won together. Consider me as the custodian of your vision for the Sunshine State. Together, we shall move the state forward. Under my watch, we shall witness a more robust, reassuring and rewarding relationship. 

“As a way of engendering unity of purpose and cohesion amongst all party men and women, in a matter of hours, I shall commence, in an inexorable manner, a process of reconciliation to heal all perceived wounds. We need one another more in the future than now.”

So as to close all ranks to be able to win the election, the governor promised while delivering his acceptance speech to meet Oke, Kekemeke, Iji and other aggrieved leaders of the party. One of the frontline aspirants, Kekemeke, who is also Ondo State pioneer chairman of APC, assured that he would not resort to litigation to challenge the result of the exercise. 

Many pundits believed Kekemeke would resort to litigation since he was the first to raise alarm on election day that the primary was skewed to favour the governor. Alongside other stalwarts like Oke, who shunned the reconciliation meeting put in place by the party’s leadership, Kekemeke put up serious fight to stop the incumbent governor’s re-election. However, the pioneer party chairman said, “It is still my conviction that the process leading to the voting was slanted, skewed and compromised to produce a predetermined result. 

“The advantages and opportunities that incumbency confers were overstretched to constitute the incumbent into both an umpire and a contestant. But then the delegates have spoken clearly and so be it. I wish the winner and our party well.”

He expressed his resolve to work for the victory of the party in the governorship election. Kekemeke recounted that “I have been approached by some persons and groups to run my aspiration on their platforms. Others have advised a challenge of the process in court. 

“My answers: I remain in the All Progressives Congress and I shall not be going to court. I will, however, continue to insist that our party, the APC, must be a party for all its members and not just a party for a privileged few in positions of authority.”

APC’s second runner-up, Oke, who polled 262 votes, made about turn from the threat earlier issued that he might contest the result of the primary election in court. Oke, a two-term governorship candidate, however, gave conditions for genuine reconciliation, saying it must be initiated by Governor Akeredolu but finalized with the participation of the national leadership of the party. 

“We resolved we remain members of the APC in our respective wards. As members, we are interested in a united, cohesive APC, where members will be treated as equal, where government patronages will no longer be sectional, where rights and privileges of members will be respected without hindrance.”

Erasing all guesses that he may ditch the party for another, he stressed that “It is not in the interest of any member of our party for this state to slant into opposition. We will do everything possible on our part subject to condition and terms to be agreed upon.

“Our group insists that because of the experience in the past where promises were made and not kept, where people were given assurances but were denied, it is important that the reconciliation should be comprehensive and involved all the strata of our party.”

Accordingly, “We believe in APC. We are interested in the preservation of the governance of APC subject to modification, adjustment, redirection and refocusing that will be contained in our charter of demand, which will be presented to the governor.

“Unless it is unavoidable, our members will not, for now, do anything that will be injurious to the overall interest of our party in the state. Whatever negotiations should be done, we are expecting that within the next seven days all reconciliation efforts, all terms and conditions, would have been agreed upon.”

Oke, who is the consensus candidate of Unity Forum, a group within APC that is opposed to Akeredolu’s second term, mulled the idea for comprehensive reconciliation in order to defeat PDP. 

“The matter of urgency on the table is how we will reconcile, because it is impracticable for one faction to win PDP in this state. But if all of us come together, we will defeat PDP in a landslide. No aspiration until we have delivered APC in this state.”

Meanwhile, PDP’s candidate, Jegede, has a lot of political hurdles to overcome, especially from the South Senatorial District, which is the strongest base of the party but which couldn’t get the ticket for one of its many aspirants. Before the arrival of the deputy governor to the scene, 30 days before the primary, PDP members in the South District had laid claims to the right of ownership, leveraging the propriety of getting the ticket on their strength.  

They lamented that the immediate past governor, Mimiko, in whose cabinet Jegede served as commissioner for eight years, is from the same district and power should shift to the South. But Jegede raised a point of correction, saying that the candidate of the party had always emerged from the South District since 1999, and canvassed for support to discard rotational politics for efficiency. 

In the last primary, six aspirants from the South District, namely Ajayi, Kunlere, Okunomo, Olafeso, Ebiseni and Erewa refused to step down for one consensus candidate and polled 657, 33, 90, 175, 29 and 14 votes respectively. 

Political analysts pointed out that the six aspirants from the South were carried away by the party’s strength in the area, making it difficult for them to raise a consensus candidate against Jegede and Ayorinde, who were the sole aspirants from the Central and North districts respectively. 

They maintained that the party has a lot of work to do in order to win the heart and support of party members from the South District, who believe that the party’s ticket was theirs by right. 

A few hours to the primary election, some of PDP’s delegates and loyalists to the Deputy Governor, Ajayi, who spoke with The Guardian, declared expressly that it was only the emergence of a candidate from the South that will make them work for the party. 

Jegede has his job cut out. He has to reconcile all sides and go into the election with one strong opposition party.

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