Would the immediate past governor of Ondo State lead the sunshine state back to its former lone-range status? Would Governor OluwaRotimi Akeredolu (Aketi) uphold the power of incumbency to requite Iroko’s 2012 gubernatorial defeat? Not those alone: how far would the bourgeoning ‘Southern Solidarity’ go to redefine the zonal political balance in the state?
The above posers have coalesced to build the momentum and acute interest for the October 10 governorship election in the ‘Sunshine State.’ Providence brought Mimiko, to political reckoning when the incumbent Deputy Governor, Agboola Ajayi, ricocheted off the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) into the Zenith Labour Party (ZLP). By picking the ZLP’s governorship ticket to gain a much-anticipated spot on the ballot for the October 10 poll, Ajayi unwittingly conscripted Mimiko into a ‘rematch’ with Aketi, whom he trounced in 2012 to secure his second and final term in office as governor.
In 2012, Akeredolu, although contesting on the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) platform, failed to build on the dominant progressive sentiments driven by his party to displace Mimiko, who had strategically elicited a common understanding with PDP.
Despite the fact that the then governor moved away from PDP in the buildup to the 2007 general election to confront his former ally, Olusegun Agagu, who was favoured by then President Olusegun Obasanjo, he returned to PDP in 2014 to bolster former President Goodluck Jonathan’s support within the party and Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF).
However, in the buildup to the 2019 poll, Mimiko travelled from PDP to, not Labour Party (LP) on which he mounted the saddle as governor, but a makeshift ZLP, to contest for the Ondo South Senatorial seat in the Senate.
Though there were plans to support him for the position of national chairman of PDP, sources close to the former governor told The Guardian that Mimiko was not particularly happy with how two state governors were dominating the affairs of the party.
“We lost the 2016 governorship mainly because of PDP’s leadership crisis between Senators Ahmed Makarfi and Ali-Modu Sheriff, but His Excellency complained about the two governors (from Southwest and South/South),” the source stated.
He rejected suggestions that Mimiko’s fear of losing the PDP senatorial primary drove the former governor away from the party, stressing rather that his (Mimiko’s) distaste for the intolerant behaviours of the two governors forced him to take his political destiny in his own hands.
Yet, losing the Senatorial contest to Ayo Akinyelure of PDP, who scored 66, 978 votes by a margin of 10, 374 not only showed PDP’s strength in the zone, but also the miscalculation based on his politics that threw up Jegede as the party’s gubernatorial candidate in 2016.
Many politicians in the state expressed outrage and disgust when Mimiko threw his incumbency weight behind Jegede for the 2016 election, just as others noted that the Akure axis has been producing governors to the exclusion of Ondo South.
It was gathered that the general expectation among citizens was that Mimiko would support a candidate from Ondo South to succeed, but the outgoing governor deployed political sophistry to introduce his Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Eyitayo Jegede, as the consensus choice of PDP.
At the governorship primary, Jegede had only Mr. Saka Lawal to contend with and, supported by the government machinery, the huge difference of 738 votes that separated the two contenders told the story of unbalanced contest.
Grieving that his 22 votes did not reflect the mood in the party before the primary, Lawal conceded defeat just as party faithful maintained that despite Lawal’s gesture of good sportsmanship, “the contest was a dress rehearsal contrived to engender the eventual outcome.”
Perhaps impressed by the physical presence of such stakeholders as Senator Yele Omogunwa, state party chairman, Chief Clement Fagboyede; Akinfolarin Mayowa; Joe Akinlaja, Victor Akinjo and Speaker of the state House of Assemly, Mrs. Jumoke Akindele, the chairman of PDP electoral committee, Henry Seriake Dickson, praised Mimiko for his visionary leadership.
Mimiko had contended that “Jegede, as the party’s candidate, was the beginning of the road to victory come November 26, 2016.”
But, peeved by Jegede’s emergence, PDP stakeholders from Ondo South and North Senatorial Districts kicked against the choice, saying it was Mimiko’s design.
In a belated attempt to mollify the North and South Senatorial Districts, the governor dangled carrots, including producing Jegede’s running mate and secretary to the state government among other positions, to ensure that the family remains intact and in charge.
With the combination of the contrived governorship primary and judicial intrigues by an aspirant on the Sheriff faction, Jimoh Ibrahim, at the Federal High Court, Abuja, Mimiko and Jegede fell to the combined forces of Aketi and the governing APC at the federal level.
As Ibrahim sought for an order of the court to set aside the conduct of the PDP governorship primary, judicial pronouncements threw up confusion as to who, between Jegede and Ibrahim was the PDP governorship candidate for the election.
Four years after, there seems to be a reversal of roles. Although the incumbent doused what could have led to internal revolt within the body of APC governorship aspirants, Mimiko’s support for Ajayi instead of Jegede has changed the narrative in the impending gubernatorial contest.
Pioneer Ondo State APC chairman, Isaac Kekemeke, told The Guardian weeks to the APC primary that though Akeredolu seemed to have done his best, his best was not good enough, stressing that the state needs to go back to its progressive ideals of human welfare.
Kekemeke explained that the mood in the state was that a new hand was needed in Alagbaka House to pilot the affairs of the state, adding that education and agriculture, which had defined government policies in the former Western Region, have been sacrificed on the altar of grandiose infrastructural projects.
Echoes from Edo
COMING weeks after the wave-making Edo State governorship poll, where voters sounded it clear that ‘Edo no be Lagos’, the October 10 Ondo State election may gradually redefine the power of godfathers and incumbency.
In a bid to avoid the negative profiling of internal colonialism, Governor Akeredolu stylishly shielded former Lagos State governor, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, from gracing the venue of APC governorship campaign flag off penultimate Saturday. Although the APC ‘national leader’ arrived the state and had earlier commissioned the Revenue House and paid courtesy visit on the traditional ruler, Deji of Akure, Omoremilekun Asodeboyede, he was conspicuously absent at the rally ground.
But with Tinubu being excused from ‘meddling’ with the politics of Akeredolu’s reelection, especially given the fact that he did not support the incumbent in 2016, a new thinking has cropped up in the state.
Unwittingly, Akeredolu’s record of achievement in office is being placed side by side with that of Mimiko, with the latter trumpeting it about that the incumbent has emerged as a colossal failure in governance and leadership.
On top of that, the immediate past governor is being extolled as a born-again supporter of the Ondo South Senatorial District, based on his latter-day acceptance and alliance with Ajayi’s ambition to turn the table against the incumbent.
Intriguingly, those who are now singing Mimiko’s praise as an elder statesman, maintain that his godfather role is preferred to that of an outsider while alluding to support from a neighbouring Southwest state governor, who is said to be the governor’s ally.
Mimiko’s journey to taking Ondo State back to the days the state produced the lone LP governor is also said to be helped by Tinubu’s supporters, who claim that Aketi aligned with an ‘Akintola’ against the progressive politics of the Southwest.
Despite the groundswell of negatives from opposition, especially those who cite the outcome of Edo to contemplate the routing of APC on October 10, many voters insist that the achievements of the incumbent would gift him a deserved second term in office.
The Progressive Governors’ Forum led by Senator Atiku Bagudu of Kebbi State and the party’s National Caretaker and Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee (NCECPC) led by Governor Mai Mala Buni are leaving no stone unturned to avert a second straight loss for APC in the governorship contest.
A member of the 103-member strong Ondo State Governorship Campaign Council, led by Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, Mr. Osita Okechukwu, told journalists that fears that Akeredolu would lose in the election like Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu, were unfounded.
While declaring that the October 10 poll was Aketi’s to lose, Okechukwu, who is also the Director-General of Voice of Nigeria (VON), observed that much like Obaseki, Governor Akeredolu performed creditably to merit reelection on APC platform.
His words: ‘’Governors Akeredolu and Obaseki share a lot in common. One, they devoted much more resources in the past four years to physical infrastructural development than stomach infrastructure.
“This is why some elites are antagonistic to both. Secondly, both diligently reconciled with their fellow gubernatorial aspirants within their parties thus going into the election with the spirit of internal democratic advantage.
“Thirdly, they both defeated same candidates in 2016 and one does not see the danger naysayers are hyping. Fourthly, don’t forget that they are products of our great party, APC.”
On insinuations that the election would be an indirect verdict on APC leadership in the past five years, VON’s DG said President Muhammadu Buhari’s recent vow to leave a legacy of credible poll would be rewarded in the election.
He noted that “if Aketi didn’t put his house in order, by diligently rallying the support of former opponents like Senator Ajayi Borofface, Engr Ife Oyedele, Olusola Oke and others, one could have bothered about Jegede.”
Barely a week to the Ondo State governorship poll and in the absence of any godfather behind Akeredolu, is the space open for Mimiko to rally Ondo voters to a political restitution of non-aligned political standing independent of the two mega parties, APC and PDP?
If Akeredolu surmounts all odds to win a second term, it would be left to be seen whether it was a remarkable demonstration of power of incumbency, contribution of federal might or a reflection of assertion of independence by the electorate.