Signs of violence as Ondo governorship poll draws near

Rotimi Akeredolu
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Until recently, the events leading to the October 10, 2020 governorship election in were believed to be devoid of rancour that could stoke violence among the 17 political parties in the contest. This was due to the peaceful atmosphere that pervaded the pre-primary election preparations.

Though there were some internal wrangling within the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the major opposition Peoples Democratic Party (), the parties resolved their differences to the surprise of all. Stakeholders have continuously warned political parties to steer clear of situations that could plunge the state into anarchy, referring to the “Operation Wetie” saga in 1983 that led to the loss of lives and property. 

Following the primary elections and emergence of party flag bearers, an ugly trend began creeping into the political space with accusations and counter-accusations of violence from different parties.

A foretaste came a few days to the local council election held across the 18 councils last Saturday. There were coordinated attacks on opposition parties in Idanre and Ondo West councils. Similarly, Eyitayo Jegede Campaign Organisation cried foul over political intolerance by the APC-led government, alleging that the posters of the guber candidate, Eyitayo Jegede, were being destroyed across the state. 

It became a war of words between and APC as the former urged security agencies to arrest the pioneer state chairman of APC, Isaac Kekemeke, over a video that went viral on premeditated violence on the opposition. 

Kekemeke, a former Secretary to the State Government (SSG) and Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, in the video, had boasted that thugs and ‘federal might’ would be deployed in favour of APC in the upcoming poll. 

Describing himself, as a ‘militant’ as an indigene of one of the Niger Delta mandate areas in the state, Ese-Odo, he said the destruction of billboards in the state was a child’s play. In his address to the supporters of Lekeleke Movement, Kekemeke said: “If we all come together, we will beat them like never before. As Idajo (state chairman of NURTW) is doing him, so will Amuda (a notorious thug) be doing his, likewise Bayo Ebira (another notorious thug) will do him, and in all the local governments. There is no room for them. If it is Jegede, you know he is the one outside crying now that they are tearing his posters…”

On the other hand, youths under the auspices of the Youth Initiative (OSYI) have accused the deputy governor and governorship candidate of Zenith Labour Party (ZLP), , of stockpiling arms ahead of the October election. OSYI state coordinator, Lukman Akintoye, alleged that Ajayi was training a militia group to cause unrest during the poll in seven councils namely: Ese-Odo, Ilaje, Akure South, Idanre, Owo, Akoko North East and Ose. 

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He said intelligence reports revealed that Ajayi, in connivance with some Niger Delta state governors, had already identified some local governments where men of the militia group would be deployed with the intent of using them to destabilise the poll. This is coming after Ajayi was allegedly linked with the attack on a bus conveying electoral materials to the Ese-Odo council during the local government election recently. 

Akintoye argued that a prelude of what should be expected from the political hoodlums was orchestrated in the recent local government election in the state, when they attempted to disrupt the exercise in Ese-Odo. He also accused soldiers stationed at Ajayi’s residence in his hometown, Kiribo, Ese-Odo Local Government Area of harassing and intimidating people in the riverine communities.

According to him, part of the grand plan of the deputy governor and ZLP governorship candidate and his sponsors was to use political thugs to disrupt the exercise in the stronghold of his political opponents. He warned that except there was proactive security intervention, the governorship election in the state might be marred with violence and irregularities.

“We call on security agencies to investigate the report of arms build-up and training of militia group by the state’s Deputy Governor, , who is also the governorship candidate of ZLP,” Akintoye said. “We are appealing to our politicians, particularly to play by the rules and avoid do-or-die politics. We don’t want the repeat of 1983 political crisis in our state.”

But Media Adviser to the deputy governor, Mr. Allen Sowore, dismissed allegations that Ajayi was responsible for the attack on the bus conveying electoral materials to Ese-Odo LGA during the council poll. He accused the state government of cheap and orchestrated blackmail to dent the good image of Ajayi, whose party boycotted the local government election. 

The Chief Press Secretary to Ajayi, Mr. Babatope Okeowo, also said the “APC-led state government should come forward and make the allegation instead of hiding under the auspice of a pseudo organization.

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“Is it the APC-led state government, which unleashed terror on the citizens under the pretence of conducting local government election that is making the allegation? If there is anybody stockpiling weapons, it is APC leaders in the state, as demonstrated in the just-concluded charade called local government election on Saturday.”

In an open letter to the APC chieftain in reaction to the drumbeats of violence ahead of the governorship election, and in particular reference to the trending video in which APC chieftain, Kekemeke, threatened violence, 26-year-old Regent of Ibulesoro, Moyinoluwa Olubunmi Falowo, expressed dismay and disappointment at Kekemeke, who he regarded as his mentor and role model. 

The Regent said: “In 2011, as an SS3 student of Federal Government Girls College, Akure, I participated in the 5th edition of the Hon. D. I. Kekemeke Essay Competition for Secondary Schools in . It centred on nation-building. It was your project sir. At the end of the contest, I came third. Ope Feyisayo Emmanuel, who represented Stella Marris College, Okitipupa, came second. One other boy came first. You personally presented us with generous prices, and I felt so elated. To you, it may have been an annual philanthropic project, but it was worth more than that for a young girl who just had her first shot at writing on a national issue.

“I saw you as a role model and was star-struck. Since that day, I have admired you because of that singular contribution to my life, winning a prize in your competition. In spite of finishing in the third position, I have always added that achievement to my CV. I was that proud.

“But I was appalled and disappointed when I saw the trending video where you boasted about your machinery of violence and intimidation on the forthcoming gubernatorial elections.

“I saw the video multiple times in disbelief that it couldn’t have been you, sir. Even though I have no personal relationship with you, the young secondary school girl inside of me felt hurt and betrayed by a leader she admired. I was scared when you called yourself a militant. I am unsure if I can reference proudly my secondary school essay achievement any longer.”

Alongside other concerned stakeholders, who condemned the video, Falowo, urged Kekemeke to “kindly apologize to the people of ,” stressing that to him, it may have been political, but to Ondo residents, it was a threat to their collective peace as a people.

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“Kindly also commit to a violence-free process,” she charged Kemeke. “If not because of today, do it because of tomorrow.”

Kekemeke has, however, said that the video under reference is a pep talk to a gathering of supporters in his office that an aide inadvertently shared.

According to him, “The sarcasm and humour contained in the talk have been spun and hyped to achieve political objectives. My records in the politics of this state as a militant are well known and I am not ashamed of it. I just finished one with Governor .”

Responding to the disappointment expressed by the Regent over the video, he submitted, “Kabiyesi, I understand that we are all on edge and that in these times, the majority of people will take things at face value. For those who are genuinely troubled by the clip, I take it that it is because they believe that the video does not represent the theme that they know. I apologise to them.”

He committed himself to non-violence against the opposition, pledging that, “For governorship candidate Jegede, he should rest assured that no harm of any sort will come from me to him. I have no intent or capacity to do so.

“For the , I reiterate that I will work so hard with my party, APC, to beat them silly during the October 10, 2020, governorship election. All over the world, incumbency at election confers an advantage. But I can assure you and others that I remain committed to a non-violent electoral process as I have always done.”

Meanwhile, the state PDP chairman, Fatai Adams, has also accused the ruling party of stoking crisis in the state. He urged security agencies to arrest Kekemeke for the inciting statements. 

According to him, “The security agencies are representatives of Mr. President and we believe he will intervene. We are doing this to guarantee free and fair elections in the state during the forthcoming gubernatorial election. His statement was careless, reckless, and unbecoming of a man who parades himself as a lawyer.”

Adams added that PDP being a law-abiding party, was ready to play the game according to the rules. He urged his party’s supporters to shun violence, saying, “as a party, we are prepared for a free and fair election and Akeredolu and his party should do the same.”

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