Thirty-one days to the October 10, 2020 governorship election in Ondo State, and there seems to be a reversal of fortune in the camp of major opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The party is fast losing political steam as the race gathers momentum towards election day.
Reliable sources close to the party have revealed that the party is facing an acute financial crisis to run its campaigns with the lukewarm attitude of PDP governors to the party’s candidate, Eyitayo Jegede, and his strange running mate.
The party’s internal crisis began on Sunday, June 21, 2020, when the deputy governor, Agboola Ajayi, resigned from the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to contest the PDP governorship primary. Although it was not an easy road to the July 22 governorship primary, the party’s candidate in the 2016 guber poll, Eyitayo Jegede, clinched the ticket to defeating seven others, including Ajayi.
The National Working Committee (NWC) of PDP was even embroiled in the fight, as there were outcry and allegations that the party chieftains were planning to give Ajayi an automatic ticket. According to Ajayi, who later ditched the party for Zenith Labour Party (ZLP), the hostility of some PDP chieftains and co-aspirants pushed him out of the party. He left with many PDP leaders.
Meanwhile, there have been widespread protests by members of the party from the South Senatorial District, which is the strongest base of the party in the state, who argue that the South must produce the next governor. This sentiment produced six of the governorship aspirants from the South District, while only Jegede contested the primary from the Central District, just as Bode Ayorinde was the only contestant from the North District.
The six aspirants from the South District included Ajayi, Eddy Olafeso, Banji Okunomo, Boluwaji Kunlere, Sola Ebiseni, and Godday Erewa. But Jegede was said to have declined the choice of several PDP leaders and groups to pick the deputy governor and others tipped for the position for a running mate, including two governorship aspirants in the primary election, namely Okunomo and Erewa.
Instead, the PDP candidate chose one of the two running mates, who didn’t participate in the primary: Banke Sulton and House of Representatives member representing Irele/Okitipupa Federal Constituency, Ikengboju Gboluga. Gboluga’s choice as a PDP deputy governorship candidate has further divided the party and its chances in the district; he is said to be at loggerheads with many party leaders and chieftains.
While expressing his angst against the party’s choice, which was believed to be a unilateral decision of the flagbearer, Jegede, the former State Publicity Secretary of the party, Okunomo, deserted the party for Zenith Labour Party (ZLP) on Monday to team up with Ajayi. While tendering his resignation, Okunomo, who was also a governorship aspirant in the June primary and hails from Ilaje Council, boasted that 15,000 of his PDP supporters would follow him to ZLP to work against PDP.
It was gathered that his main grouse for leaving the party was the failure to pick him as the running mate of the PDP governorship flagbearer, who opted for Gboluga despite popular demand to choose one of the aspirants. Okunomo’s case, as gathered, has caused disaffection between Jegede and his age-long benefactor and former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, the reason five PDP governors chose not to support the party in the state.
Irked by the latest development, a PDP chieftain from the South, Solomon Bitire, stated that Jegede could not be trusted with power. Referring to the district where the party’s candidate emerged, he argued that no senatorial district should hold to power indefinitely, adding that the choice of Gboluga as deputy governorship candidate was not enough to satisfy the yearnings of the people. Bitire, who was a former chairman of the party and caretaker chairman of Okitipupa Local Government Area, insisted that PDP has already lost the election before October 10, 2020.
While speaking on the age-long neglect of the region by successive governments, he said: “If thousands of deputy governors are produced by our region, it can’t give us the necessary stimulus we need in Ondo South. Ondo South is lagging behind in everything and there are no other means to solve our challenges than to produce a governor. Don’t be deceived; a deputy governor is a spare tyre whose survival is at the discretion of his boss, the governor.”
While sensitizing the youths in a forum recently, Bitire stated, “I saw it all when I joined the advocacy for Ondo South to produce the governor. The political history of Ondo South has shown that the election of governors in the past was on the basis of turn by turn.
”No senatorial district should hold unto power. Like I have always said, where a political party doesn’t respect the culture of zoning by producing their candidate from the right zone, then the electorate would correct the injustice during voting.”
This stance is not unconnected with the 2016 election when the former governor, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko, who hails from the Central District, imposed Jegede, from the same district, on the party as a candidate after breaking the second term jinx.
The former PDP chairman noted, ”I am a PDP man, but PDP has already lost this election before the conduct of the election on October 10, 2020, for not doing what is right. The ball is in the court of all of you to save the future of Ondo South and decide the way forward, because I, Solomon Bitire, will not do that for you. I have played my part and it is now over to you.”
No doubt, Bitire spoke the minds of the people from the district. Already, they had threatened on the eve of the PDP primary that if none of the aspirants from the South got the ticket, they would work against the party as they did in 2016. Moreover, the infighting within the party became so obvious it was said to be responsible for the postponement of the party’s flag-off earlier scheduled for last Saturday before APC cashed in on the situation to start its campaign on the same date.
Sources within the party noted that the alleged cold war between some PDP governors and the governorship candidate robbed the party of the opportunity to make a quick decision, which led to the postponement. The Chairman of the PDP National Campaign Council and governor of Oyo State, Seyi Makinde, who is also a maternal relative to Jegede, confirmed the postponement in a Tweet.
A former member of the PDP National Executive Committee (NEC) confided in a team of reporters that the change of date might not be unconnected with the refusal of some of the PDP governors to give “full commitment to the Ondo project.
“The decision of the national campaign committee to postpone the rally has no link with the decision of APC to hold its own rally on the same, but the inability of the party’s national leadership to reconcile Jegege and some PDP governors.
“Some PDP governors have vowed to shun invitations for Jegede campaign flag-off in Akure following his alleged refusal to pick one the party’s governorship aspirants, who participated in the party July 22 gubernatorial primary as his running mate.”
He added, “From all indications, Jegede’s insistence on Ikengboju Gboluga as his running mate has caused a serious crack in the party and if this is not properly managed, it may consume the party on October 10.
“Most of our party’s governors and even a larger chunk of NWC are unhappy that Jegede turned down their offer to pick one of the governorship aspirants as running mate. I am not sure if our governors will show a serious commitment to this Ondo project. You can see how they are confronting their colleagues in APC in Edo State. They are battle-ready to retain Edo State for PDP.”
The PDP chieftain noted that “holding the exercise last Saturday would have exposed us and shown that we are not together because only one governor would have attended. Didn’t you observe that on the day of the Campaign Council inauguration in Abuja, Governor Makinde was the only PDP governors at the event?
“I can tell you that before the party chose Makinde, as the chairman of the campaign, some PDP governors were approached to lead the campaign council, but they turned down the offer.”
Also, the rumoured bid by Governor Makinde and Dr. Mimiko, to be running mate to the former Vice President, Atiku, for the 2023 Presidential election is causing disaffection among members of the opposition parties. Reliable sources revealed that the plot for the 2023 presidential election is fuelling a battle of supremacy among some PDP chieftains.
Nonetheless, Jegede’s running mate, Gboluga, has embarked on aggressive reconciliation tours across the six councils in the South Senatorial District, appealing to party members to support his candidacy. The federal lawmaker is assuring them that the Jegede-led government if elected next month, would not abandon the zone, but deliver to it the dividends of democracy.
While reacting to the departure of the governorship aspirant, Okunomo, to ZLP, the state Publicity Secretary, Kennedy Peretei, described him as “a bad loser,” adding that it is “eloquent testimony of a man lacking in the spirit of sportsmanship.
“Okunomo and his phantom 15,000 followership could muster only 90 votes out of 2,011 delegates during the PDP governorship primary.
“We endured his vituperation and attack on PDP, a party that promoted him beyond his capacity and gave him a sense of belonging. But it is evident that he has defeat hangover, occasioned by his gubernatorial misadventure.
“We wish Banji Okunomo best of luck on his journey to political oblivion. His exit amounts to good riddance. We shall surely not miss him.”