Ondo 2016: Disputed candidacies, damaged flags

Rotimi Akeredolu

Rotimi Akeredolu

He impending electoral showdown in the Sunshine State has continued to throw up new surprises. Thirty days to the November 26 governorship poll in Ondo, all the major contenders, but one are contending with some process injuries. As a result, the four frontline political parties are enmeshed in one disputation or another.

On the lineup of gladiators are, Olusola Oke of Alliance for Democracy (AD), Rotimi Akeredolu, All Progressives Congress (APC), Olu Agunloye, Social Democratic Party (SDP) and Eyitayo Jegede of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

The battle of thrones began on the APC platform. Although the dust of the clash is yet to settle, the defection by one of the combatants to an alternative party seems to have doused the flame of confusion on the APC, both candidates and their supporters continue to haemorrhage over their bitter clash.

When Oke crossed over to the AD, the belief among his supporters was that he was going to build a wide network of following and become a compromise governorship flag bearer for political godfathers within and outside Ondo State.

But no sooner had he received a welcome in the AD than he displaced Akin Olowookere as the party’s governorship candidate. And enraged by the sudden about face by some party leaders, Olowookere and his supporters cried foul, insisting that the adoption of Oke as AD governorship flag bearer offended fairness, equity and natural justice, pointing out that the process of substitution must have the candidate’s input.

As in APC where he was coming from, the issue of who was the rightful candidate for the November 26 election separated members of the National Working Committee of the party along the naysayers and promoters. But even as the leaders on both sides of the divide try to mend the cracks, the party does not look as strong as it ought to be for the major offensive in November, because extraneous factors have set in.

Not long ago, the State Executive Committee sided with Oke, saying that his choice was in accordance with the stipulations of AD constitution. According to Ondo State chairman, Seriki Adebobola, those who still refer to Olowookere as the AD governorship candidate are not well informed on issues of party politics and the party’s constitution.

Adebobola pointed out when Oke confessed that AD was the party of Southwest, party leaders encouraged him to come over and forget Action Alliance that he was considering. “There are structures in the party, Oke discussed with leaders and met all the constitutional requirements before he was adopted to replace Olowookere,” the AD state chairman had said.

But despite the assurances of the state chairman, sources disclosed that extraneous forces were using some chieftain of the party in Ondo, including the youth wing that protested against the substitution of Olowookere, to make things hard for Oke in the party.

On his part, Akeredolu has sustained his reconciliation moves to weather the storm generated by the uproarious aftermath of the APC governorship primary. A new thinking was said to have entered the party in which all the protagonists are being reminded of the greater challenge of pulling off victory after so long a time outside Alagbaka House.

Signs that the APC and its flag bearer were unrelenting in their determination to mend the broken walls of the party emerged recently, when one of the frontline governorship aspirants, Senator Ajayi Boroffice announced his support for Akeredolu, saying that the party needed to forge a common front to win the November 26 governorship and shame their detractors.

Before Boroffice’s endorsement, Akeredolu and other leaders had settled for Agboola Ajayi as the deputy governorship candidate in what was perceived as a give and take gesture to convert some of the antagonists to Akeredolu’s emergence as flag bearer.

It is on record also, that Akeredolu approached the state chairman of the party who went into the eye of the storm that trailed the governorship primary election. Kekemeke’s alleged suspension helped to raise emotions over the APC ticket to fever pitch. As part of the reconciliation efforts, Kekemeke was enlisted into the governorship campaign committee inaugurated by the national chairman, Chief John Odigie Oyegun, penultimate week.

Boroffice, who is seen as a major force in the governorship schemes of APC, stated that his group and supporters of Akeredolu had been meeting since the animosities over the primary began, adding that in virtually all the meetings, “we were united on the fact that Ondo State needs help and that public interest must be above personal ambition.”

However, while Akeredolu and Professor Boroffice were clinging glasses over their newfound collaboration, some interest groups in the state said the reconciliation was partly to ensure that those who want to isolate the former Lagos State governor Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, did not have their way.

Said a source privy to the intrigues in both camps: “We have learnt that it could be suicidal to carry all our eggs in one basket. That is why we want to maintain some hold on the APC structure in Ondo so that after the governorship is won or lost, we won’t be losers.”

Could it be that Oke was made a sacrificial lamb to raise the stakes in the reconciliation plans? What if some elements against Akeredolu’s governorship ambition want to stay within the party to betray party efforts and work for a rival candidate? Since there is no way to find the mind’s construction on faces or utterances, the days leading to November 26, 2016 would reveal whose gambit holds the ace.

For PDP, what begun as a major breakthrough in the emergence of Jegede went awry shortly after an Abuja Federal High Court announced Jimoh Ibrahim as the authentic candidate for the party in the forthcoming poll. The judicial pronouncement may as well as be a distraction. But whether it was procured or intended to raise the stakes for the Senator Ali Modu Sheriff faction, the impact on the campaign strategies of the party should not be dismissed.

No doubt, apprehensions must have set in over the genuineness of the reconciliation efforts of the PDP leaders, especially with the court ruling coming at a time even the Sheriff camp noted that the purported governorship primary that produced Ibrahim fell short of acceptable standards, having not followed due process.

Did the court pronouncement lose sight of the fact that the so-called primary took place outside Ondo and without the supervisory and authenticating presence of the Independent national Electoral Commission (INEC)? Or was the pyrrhic court victory a ploy by the Sheriff camp to force the Senator Ahmed Makarfi camp, which Governor Olusegun Mimiko belongs to take it serious as discussions aimed at final blending of the factions continue?

While both Sheriff and Makarfi continue to affirm that the peace process was irrevocably on track, some of the state governors have pointed to Sheriff’s stand on the Ondo governorship and plan to float a parallel state executive of PDP in Edo State, to distance themselves from the reconciliation talks. That leaves the option of further legal pugilism open.

Even if Sheriff was talking with tongue in cheek, it is possible that the untoward Federal High Court ruling affirming his candidate as the authentic governorship flag bearer in Ondo, would make the campaign very expensive as funds that could otherwise have gone into electioneering may end up as legal fees or gesture of pacification of the offending party.

As a confidence and morale booster, candidate Jegede has been dismissing the court ruling, contending that in so far as he was not made a party to the case, it was dead on arrival. In remarks during a fund raising ceremony in Lagos, Jegede said: “I am the candidate of the PDP in Ondo State. I have not been sued as the PDP candidate and I have not sued anybody. Our party, the PDP, which is a defendant in the case filed by persons that were not governorship aspirants or contestants, has filed an appeal at a higher court and I believe that justice will take its course.”

Although Jegede outlined his policy of continuity and new strategies for job creation and education, he has the next three weeks to shake off the distraction of Jimoh Ibrahim, who incidentally is neither campaigning nor floated a campaign committee.

It is obvious that damage control, both of platforms and candidates would dominate the build up to the Ondo 2016 governorship election.

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