OPINION: Ondo 2020: Who will pilot the affairs of the State for the next four years?
Barring all odds, the people of Ondo State will file out on October 10 to elect a governor who will pilot the affairs of the state for the next four years.
The Ondo election is an off cycle election, just like the recently held Edo election, which returned the incumbent governor, Godwin Obaseki, of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) , back to the Dennis Osadebey House, as the Edo State Government House is called.
In the case of Ondo, it is either the electorate return the incumbent governor, who is the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), or they elect a completely new person as their governor.
Although, according to the umpire in the election, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), there are 17 political parties that will participate in the election, there is no doubt that the election is a three-way race.
The three major contenders, according to key political watchers in the state are: Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu of the APC; Eyitayo Jegede of the PDP; and Deputy Governor Agboola Ajayi, the candidate of the Zenith Labour Party (ZLP), a party whose promoters have described as the ‘third force.’
Certainly, one of the aforementioned trio will emerge the governor of the state after the October 10 election.
He hails from Owo in Owo Local Government Area in the Ondo North senatorial district.
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He is the second Owo man to be elected governor of Ondo State. The first was the late Michael Adekunle Ajasin, who was elected governor in 1979 on the platform of the defunct Unity Party of Nigeria.
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria and former president of the Nigerian Bar Association, Mr Akeredolu was first elected governor of the state in 2016. He won the election, even as an opposition candidate, defeating the candidate of the then ruling party, Mr Jegede of the PDP.
The October 10 election will make it the third time Mr Akeredolu will be seeking election for the governorship seat.
He debuted his gubernatorial ambition in 2012 on the platform of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria. He only won in three of the 18 local council areas in the state, losing the election to the then incumbent governor, Olusegun Mimiko, who is the first person to have completed two terms of eight years as a democratically elected governor of the state.
Since the country returned to civil rule in 1999, only few incumbent governors have lost re-election.
But as seen previously, especially with the recently held Edo and Kogi elections, where the incumbents won re-election, Mr Akeredolu stands a big chance to win another term, if incumbency is the only metric for evaluating a candidate’s chance in an election.
As posited by many political pundits, an incumbent governor stands a big chance of winning re-election in Nigeria because of the enormity of state resources at his beck and call, which he can easily deploy to his own electoral advantage.
Mr Akeredolu is most likely not going to be an exemption to this general rule.
It is also believed that he won’t be short of funds for ‘logistics’ before, during, and after the election. Winning an election in Nigeria is capital-intensive and many times, those with the financial war chest are the ones who win.
Logistics, in the context of elections in Nigeria, could mean compromising voters through material inducement, before and during the election, a practice that contravenes the provisions of the Electoral Act.
Almost all the major political parties in the country are guilty of this cardinal sin, most especially since 2015, when other means of rigging elections, such as arbitrarily stuffing ballot boxes with votes, bizarre allocation of votes to a particular candidate, and ballot snatching seem to have receded.
APC as a united party
Another major factor that may tilt the election in favour of Governor Akeredolu is that his party, the APC, appears to be united, going into the election.
Almost all members of the party are solidly behind him, drumming and canvassing support for his re-election across the length and breadth of the state.
Following the APC primaries that saw him emerge as the candidate of the party, some had predicted that other formidable aspirants would leave the party to find comfort elsewhere.
Fortunately for Mr Akeredolu, virtually all the aspirants stayed behind in the party. They include Olusola Oke, Ifedayo Oyedele, Isaacs Kekemeke, Segun Abraham, Jimi Odimayo and a host of others.
APC Chieftain, Bola Tinubu
Unlike in 2016, when a national leader of the APC, Bola Tinubu, did not support him, Mr Akeredolu is believed to enjoy the support of the former Lagos State governor. He is also believed to enjoy the support of the presidency and the APC governors, especially that of Ekiti State, Kayode Fayemi.
Regardless of whatever misgivings anyone may have, Mr Akeredolu is believed to have recorded some modest performance in terms of road construction and rehabilitation, renovating health facilities, school renovation, and industrialisation, which is meant to provide jobs for the teeming youth, improve the standard of living of the people and also raise the internally generated revenue of the state.
The Ore Industrial Hub, Ondo Liyin Hub, the Chocolate Factory in Idanre, though run through private public partnerships, are all meant to improve the economic profile of the state beyond its civil service status.
The governor has also signed a couple of Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) meant to attract more investments to the state. However, the citizens want to see these MoUs translate into reality, as a lot of MoUs signed with pomp in the past simply evaporated without a trace till today.
Accusation of Arrogance
One of the pieces of moral baggage around Governor Akeredolu is that he is seen as arrogant and someone who talks down on people.
The governor usually speaks his mind, not minding whose ox is gored or the intensity of the expressions or words he deploys in conveying his messages.
While his supporters hail him on this as being straightforward and frank, his critics say he has a loose tongue, and most times, uses words unbefitting of his status as governor.
He once reportedly told his supporters to pour red oil on the white linen of his erstwhile antagonist, Ajayi Boroffice, a senator representing Ondo North, because of perceived political differences, in spite of belonging to the same political party.
The two politicians have since reconciled. Mr Boroffice was the leader of the defunct Unity Forum in the party. The forum was initially opposed to the re-election of Mr Akeredolu but members of the forum are now canvassing votes for him.
He also was reported to have called his estranged deputy, Agboola Ajayi, a nincompoop during a live TV program on Monday, September 7, 2020. Till now, the governor has not taken back this expression considered to be gutter language in some quarters.
Another example of the verbal gaffes of the governor, pointed out by his critics, was when he allegedly threatened the paramount ruler of Ikale land, Abodi of Ikale land, J.B Faduyile, that he would not mind deploying security operatives to level Ago Alaye (an Ikale community) if the traditional ruler would not restrain his people from trespassing on a disputed land between the community and Araromi Obu, another community in the state.
Because of the dispute over the land and the perceived bias of the governor towards the Araromi Obu people, he was also caught on tape saying he would not need the votes of Ikale people to win a second term in office during a visit to Mr Faduyile’s palace.
It’s believed some Ikale people are still nursing some grudges against him over his ‘sins’ against them and may want to take their own pound of flesh come October 10.
The aforementioned are a few examples of what observers describe as some of the verbal lapses of the governor which may work against his re-election come October 10.
Be that as it may, he has reconciled with Mr Boroffice and even with Mr Faduyile, the traditional ruler of all Ikale people.
Allegation of family monopolisation of government business
The governor is accused of running the government of the state like his family business, an allegation he has consistently denied.
Mr Akeredolu denied the allegation on October 4, during a live debate organised by Ondo State Radiovision Corporation for four gubernatorial candidates ahead of the October 10 polls. He called on anyone who has any evidence of such an allegation to bring it forward.
He also threatened to sue anyone making unfounded allegations against his family.
While there have been insinuations that his wife has a stronghold on the governor with his son allegedly serving as a consultant on mega deals to the state government, none of the critics have put forward any concrete proof to substantiate the claims.
However, the insinuations have refused to go away. In fact, they have become louder and more entrenched as the election comes down to the wire.
Allegation of Ondo south marginalisation
Mr Akeredolu is being accused of marginalisation of the people of Ondo South in terms of project distribution.
Until very recently, when he started fixing some township roads in the area and the Ore Flyover Bridge, he was accused of abandoning the zone, which is the oil-producing zone in the state.
Also, a large section of the zone, especially the people of Okitipupa local government Area, have been without electricity for close to a decade in spite of the Omotosho power plant located in the area.
The people are saying that without electricity in their area, they won’t vote him for a second term in office.
Asides that, some politicians in the area also feel that it is the turn of the zone to produce the next governor of the state and they feel that the time for them to do so is now.
The last time the zone produced the governor of the state was 2007. He was the late Olusegun Agagu who was removed from office in 2009 via a judicial pronouncement by the Court of Appeal.
According to those familiar with the electoral politics of the state, Mr Akeredolu is projected to win in about 11 local council areas in the state.
Rotimi Oyeneyin, a political analyst, listed the council areas Mr Akeredolu could win as: Akoko North/East, Akoko North/West, Akoko South/East, Akoko South/West, Ile Oluji/Oke-Igbo, Irele, Ilaje, Odigbo, Ose, Owo and Idanre.
He, however, said the governor may lose in Idanre because of the soaring popularity of the ZLP in the area.
He is the candidate of the PDP. He was the candidate of the same party in 2016 but lost to the incumbent governor.
There were issues around his candidacy in 2016 until the courts finally resolved that he was the right candidate of the PDP, barely a few days to the election. His supporters said he would have won the 2016 election if he had enough time to prepare for it.
He was the attorney general and commissioner for justice in the administration of the immediate past governor of the state, Olusegun Mimiko.
Former Ondo State Governor, Olusegun Mimiko
He hails from Akure, the capital city of the state, in Ondo Central senatorial district. Akure, spanning two local governments, has never produced the governor of the state.
He is a likeable personality, quiet, decent and generally warm. He is also considered to be well-mannered and mentally sound.
Even Governor Akeredolu attested to the personality of Mr Jegede while appearing on an Arise TV programme recently.
Mr Akeredolu described him as a worthy opponent, saying ”Eyitayo Jegede is my colleague; he is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria; he is worthy of the office. I cannot see anything wrong with him. He is somebody I have a lot of respect for. He is eminently qualified to be a governor, unlike some people, who are not qualified to be a governor of this state.”
Moreover, Mr Jegede is a household name in the state, having contested in 2016.
If being loved as a politician would translate to massive votes on election day, Mr Jegede will not have a problem defeating the incumbent governor.
However winning an election goes beyond wearing a permanent smile on one’s face all the time or having a name that rings a bell.
Atiku and Makinde’s factor
It’s believed that Mr Jedede enjoys massive support from Atiku Abubakar, presidential candidate of the PDP in the 2019 general elections.
Recall that Mr Abubakar defeated President Buhari in the 2019 presidential election in the state.
some analysts believe that Mr Jegede won’t be short of resources and logistics to prosecute the election, as they believe that Mr Abubakar will roll out funds to support him.
Mr Jegede also enjoys the support of Oyo State governor, Seyi Makinde, who has made several tours to the state, talking to political actors in order to galvanise support for Mr Jegede.
Initially believed not to be supporting him because of the silent war of attrition going on in the PDP leading up to the 2023 presidential elections, Sokoto State governor, Aminu Tambuwwal, has now come to publicly to say all PDP governors are rooting for Mr Jegede to win the election.
PDP a household platform in the state
Ordinarily, being in the PDP should give Mr Jegede some leverage as it is a household platform with tentacles in all the nooks and crannies of the state.
In the 2019 general elections, the PDP won in two of the senatorial districts – Ondo South and Central – two zones with the highest voting strength in the state.
President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria.
The party also delivered the last presidential election in the state to its candidate, Mr Abubakar, who defeated Muhammadu Buhari, candidate of the APC, in the election in Ondo State despite the state being governed by the APC. Mr Buhari eventually emerged the winner of the election nationwide as declared by INEC.
Unwritten rule of zoning
Mr Jegede comes from Ondo Central, which is the same zone with immediate past governor, Mr Mimiko, who ruled the state for eight years.
It is a popular narrative in the state that it is not yet the turn of the zone to produce the governor of the state.
This same albatross of zoning was one of the significant factors that cost him the election in 2016, in spite of being supported by then incumbent governor, Mimiko.
Mr Mimiko and Mr Jegede have since parted ways, though the latter tried to reach out to the former recently to see if he could court his support for his latest ambition.
How Mr Jegede will manoeuvre his way around the currency of zoning in the forthcoming election remains to be seen, even as another prominent indigene of Akure, Tayo Alasoadura, current minister of state for Niger Delta affairs, has said that it is not yet the turn of Akure to produce the governor of the state.
Disunity in Ondo PDP
From all indications, the Ondo State chapter of the PDP at the moment, is polarised.
The polarisation is a fall out of the party’s gubernatorial primaries that saw the emergence of Mr Jegede as the party’s flagbearer.
While some aspirants, who vied for the ticket with him, have pledged to support him in the election, some have left the party while others, who chose to stay back, have been unusually quiet.
Some of those who stayed back and have been drumming support for him are Sola Ebiseni, a former commissioner in the state and Bode Ayorinde, a former federal lawmaker. The latter is from the same town, Owo, as the incumbent governor.
Other aspirants who stayed back in the party but have been silent during the campaign so far are Boluwaji Kunlere, a former senator representing Ondo South between 2011 and 2015, and Eddy Olafeso, immediate past chairperson of the PDP in the southwest.
Banji Okunomo, from Ilaje local council area, has dumped the party for the ZLP.
While Nicholas Tofowomo, the current senator representing Ondo South, remains in the PDP, most of his supporters are canvassing support for the candidate of the ZLP.
Mr Tofowomo reportedly backed Mr Okunomo to win the PDP ticket but lost it to Mr Jegede.
The senator representing Ondo Central, Ayo Akinyelure, is said to be supporting Mr Jegede. Mr Akinyelure is from Idanre, the same place with the state chairperson of the APC, Ade Adetimehin.
Commentators are of the view that the disunity in the party will have a strong impact on the performance of Mr Jegede in the election.
His choice of running mate
Mr Jegede chose Gboluga Ikengboju, a legislator representing Okitipupa/Irele federal constituency in the House of Representatives.
The choice of Mr Ikengboju shocked some party chieftains, just as it angered some who said they would never support the candidacy of Mr Jegede in the election.
All attempts to make Mr Jegede change Mr Ikengboju as his running mate fell on deaf ears as he insisted on keeping him.
Meanwhile, some chieftains of the party believe the choice of Mr Ikengboju is a reward for supporting Mr Jegede during the race to win the party’s ticket. Moreover, Mr Ikengboju’s local council, Okitipupa, has traditionally been a stronghold of the PDP since 1999.
Mr Ikengboju is from Ondo South and many had expected him to support someone from the zone during the PDP’s primaries. Rather, he chose to tag along with Mr Jegede who is from the Central senatorial district.
Estrangement from Mimiko
Fact is, Mr Jegede became a political force in Ondo State, courtesy of Mr Mimiko who appointed him his commissioner for justice for almost seven years.
Mr Mimiko also went all out to ensure Mr Jegede was the candidate of the PDP in the 2016 election in the state, against all odds.
Some supporters of the former governor popularly called ‘Iroko’ said they would never support Mr Jegede in the October 10 election
Mr Jegede is projected to win Akure North and Akure South, the local councils with the highest voting strength in the state, other things being equal.
Some observers say he may win Okitipupa local council because his running mate hails from the place, in addition to the fact that the council area has always been pro-PDP. All that seems to be changing now though considering that there are top APC chieftains and ZLP in the area.
Verdict: He could win two or three local councils.
Mr Ajayi is the incumbent deputy governor, though estranged from his boss, Mr Akeredolu, over irreconcilable political differences.
He parted ways with the governor when he defected to the PDP in spite of assurances and reassurances that his relationship with his principal was cordial and that he would work for the reelection of the governor.
After spending less than a month in the PDP, he vied for the party’s ticket but ended up a runner-up to the winner, Mr Jegede. He eventually ditched the PDP for the ZLP.
Meanwhile, all attempts to impeach him by the State House of Assembly have so far proved abortive, just as the governor and his supporters continue to bash him over what they call an act of betrayal on the part of Mr Ajayi.
The failed impeachment move has led to the suspension of some lawmakers believed to be pro-Ajayi.
It should be noted that Mr Ajayi is the only deputy governor in the state who could not be impeached by the state house of assembly on the prompting of the governor.
From all indications, it does not look like the state lawmakers will be able to impeach him before the expiration of his tenure.
Mr Ajayi’s strength
Extensive grassroots penetration
He is a grassroots politician who is reputed to have the capacity to connect well with the people.
For the first two years of the Akeredolu-led administration, it’s believed that Mr Ajayi was the one handling and coordinating the political side of the administration, an access that made him mine some political advantage for himself to the detriment of the political capital of Mr Akeredolu.
In 1999, he was a supervisory councilor in the Ese Odo local government, and later became the chairperson of the council area, first as a caretaker in 2003 to 2004, until he was elected in 2004 till 2007. He leveraged on the position to get himself into the Association of Local Governments in Nigeria, where he served as treasurer in the Ondo State chapter of the group.
He was later elected a member of the House of Representatives in 2007 on the platform of the PDP representing Ese-Odo/Ilaje federal constituency and served as the chairperson of the committee on NDDC, one of the so-called ‘juicy’ committees.
Like a bolt from the blue, Mr Ajayi emerged the running mate to Mr Akeredolu in the 2016 governorship election in the state, which the APC later won.
Glancing through his political dossier, it’s crystal clear that he is not a pushover. However, there is more to winning an election in Nigeria than one’s rich political credentials.
The current agitation in Ondo South for power to shift to the zone seems, on the surface, to have gelled with the ambition of Mr Ajayi, who is the only candidate from the zone contesting on a major platform.
As a matter of fact, the root of his ambition is in Ondo South and some top political players in the zone appear to be rooting for him as they believe this is the best time for someone from the area to become the governor of the state.
The allegation against Governor Akeredolu that he has not been fair to the zone in terms of developmental projects also seems to be working in favour of the deputy governor.
However, votes from Ondo South alone won’t make him the governor. Moreover, the APC also parades some political heavyweights who will want to prove their mettle by delivering the zone to Mr Akeredolu.
Mr Akeredolu’s running mate, Lucky Ayedatiwa, is from Ilaje local council, one of the council areas with massive voting strength. Olusola Oke is from the same council too.
The business mogul, Jimoh Ibrahim, who has donated generously to the campaign of Mr Akeredolu, is from Ondo South. So is Paul Akintelure, who was Mr Akeredolu’s running mate in 2012.
A former commissioner for education in the state, Oladunni Odu, reputed to be a grassroots person, is also from the zone, ditto for the current commissioner for education, Femi Agagu, who is believed to have inherited his late elder brother’s vast political dynasty, Olusegun Agagu.
Also, the running mate to Mr Jegede, Mr Ikengboju, is from Ondo South, which has always been a comfort zone for the PDP since 1999.
In any case, Mr Ajayi’s ambition is loudest in Ondo South. It remains to be seen if he will win handsomely in the one.
Although Mr Mimiko lost his bid to go to the senate in 2019 on the platform of the ZLP, coming a distant third in the election, he is believed to be a strong political factor in Ondo State by his fans.
He is the national leader of the ZLP and a strong backer of Mr Ajayi.
Some analysts and observers believe he will deliver Ondo East and West areas with huge voting strength to Mr Ajayi.
That remains to be seen as the ZLP only managed to win just a House of Assembly seat in the area in 2019.
There is no doubt, however, that the factor of Mimiko has been adding value to the candidacy of Mr Ajayi.
More importantly, this may be the last chance for Mr Mimiko to once prove his political brilliance which seems to have dimmed a bit in recent times.
If he fails with Mr Ajayi, well, it may be a farewell to his otherwise brilliant political career.
Doubtful intellectual capacity
Of the three leading gladiators in the election, Mr Ajayi is seen to be the least intellectually endowed.
The other two – Mr Akeredolu and Mr Jegede – are senior lawyers, both Senior Advocates of Nigeria, and are believed to be intellectually sound and engaging.
Although Mr Ajayi is a lawyer and was called to the Nigerian Bar having graduated from Igbinedion University, Okada, Edo State and the Nigerian Law School, some critics of his said he does not have the intellectual wherewithal to govern a state like Ondo State.
Apparently coming in defence of Mr Ajayi, Mr Mimiko said recently that all a leader needs to have is a good heart in order to perform. He said a leader must have compassion for his people. He described Mr Ajayi as a compassionate leader.
While he is a lawyer, according to a letter from the Council of Legal Education and sighted by this newspaper, Mr Ajayi only submitted his O-level results to INEC for the election.
The use of his O-level result rather than his LL.B and B.L results have continued to raise some doubt about his qualifications, though none of his accusers has been able to substantiate the claim of forgery against him.
The ZLP’s limited popularity
Beyond Ondo South and Central, especially in Ondo town and Ifedore, where his running mate, Gboye Adegbenro, comes from, the ZLP is not so strong in Ondo North, the senatorial district of Mr Akeredolu.
The zone has the smallest number of registered voters in terms of percentage; Ondo North is 27 percent, South 33 per cent while Central has 39 per cent.
Asides that, Mr Mimiko, who has his own baggage, is the only major backer of Mr Ajayi, who continues to tell anyone who cares to listen to him that he is going to win the October 10 election.
Mr Ajayi hails from Ese-Odo local council.
He is considered a minority by his ethnic tribe, Arogbo-Ijaw, whose population is quite small.
However, when some other invisible election variables favour a candidate, his minority ancestry becomes insignificant.
Mr Ajayi is projected to win in Ese-Odo, Ifedore, Okitipupa, Ondo East and West, based on where the strengths of his backers and supporters are.
Some faithful of the APC in the state have said Mr Ajayi would barely win a council area out of the 18 council areas in the state.