Political jigsaw as Ondo APC, PDP prepare for governorship primaries

There are series of political intrigues presently in Ondo State ahead of the October 10, 2020, governorship election in the state.

The Coronavirus pandemic ravaging the country notwithstanding, aspirants for the position across the major parties in the state have been making deft moves to clinch their party’s ticket for the election. However, the race is expected to be a straight fight between the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the major opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). While the APC has scheduled its governorship primary to hold on July 20, that of the PDP has been slated for July 22.

Ahead of the primary, the PDP has screened eight aspirants while APC was still in the process. Among those cleared by the PDP are Eyitayo Jegede, Godday Erewa, Banji Okunomo, Eddy Olafeso, Bode Ayorinde, Olusola Ebiseni, Boluwaji Kunlere and the state Deputy Governor, Agboola Ajayi, who recently defected to the party from the APC, with a pledge to deliver the state to the party.  

In the APC, Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, who is seeking reelection, leads the pack of those jostling for the ticket of the party. Others include Isaac Kekemeke, Olayide Adelami, Ife Oyedele, Olusola Oke, Jimi Odimayo, Dapo Adelegan, Bukola Adetula, Jumoke Anifowoshe, Sola Iji and Olusegun Abraham. 

The contest for the APC ticket has been fierce among the aspirants. This resulted in the emergence of the Unity Forum, an army of politicians across the 18 Local Government Areas (LGA) of the state, who are strongly opposed to Akeredolu’s second term bid.

Unity Forum members fell out with the governor shortly after he was sworn in on February 24, 2017. They accused him of marginalisation and anti-party activities, especially in the build-up to the 2019 general election, vowing to stop him from getting the party’s ticket. 

But they have been unable to unite themselves from every indication. They had, in a bid, to actualise their dream of ousting the incumbent, constituted a selection committee charged with the responsibility of choosing one of them that will stand as a consensus candidate against Akeredolu at the primary. But all their claims to unity vanished when the committee announced Oke as the consensus candidate. The announcement dissolved their unity like a cube of sugar in raging waters, as the other eight aspirants in the group went their different ways except for Olawale Kazeem who chose to align with Oke. 

The development appears to be giving an edge to Akeredolu in the contest, as the Unity Forum had hinged their strategy to defeat him on throwing up a consensus candidate. This is even as the clamour by the group for the adoption of the direct primary mode by the party’s National Caretaker Committee has also suffered defeat.

To their chagrin, the caretaker committee, led by Mai Mala Buni, who is also the governor of Yobe State, disclosed that the party would stand by the choice of indirect primary earlier sent to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) by the recently-dissolved National Working Committee (NWC) led by the former National Chairman of the party, Adams Oshiomhole.

Leading an avalanche of criticism against the decision, the pioneer state chairman of the party and one of the aspirants, Kekemeke, said that any other mode of primary apart from the direct mode would produce an unpopular candidate.

According to him, direct primary has the capacity to sensitise and mobilise party members for eventual inter-party election.

“It gives party members a sense of obligation to deliver, giving them a moral responsibility to work for the party’s candidate because they were involved in the selection.

“Direct primary provides a level playing ground for all aspirants and therefore promotes fairness, equity and justice. It removes the influence of money, eliminates cash-and-carry and removes ‘kidnap syndrome’ whereby delegates are kidnapped and kept in a place,” Kekemeke said.

He recalled that there was a lingering problem arising from the 2018 congresses, adding that it was the only direct primary that could reduce the controversies that might arise from the election. 

He insisted that there must not be discrepancies in the primary election option adopted for Edo and Ondo states, arguing that the latter should also be given the direct primary option like the former. 

“In fact, it’s COVID-19 protocol compliant; why would they gather 2000 or more delegates in a place as against smaller gatherings in their various wards. Any politician who asks for the disenfranchisement of his party members is unpopular, undemocratic and should be rejected,” he added.

With the current turn of events in the party ahead of the primaries, the earlier speculation that Akeredolu might ditch the APC for either Action Alliance (AA) or Zenith Labour Party (ZLP) should he be denied the party’s ticket no longer seems to be an option before the governor.

But the recent defection of the Deputy Governor, Agboola Ajayi, to the PDP and the resignation of the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Ifedayo Abegunde, are somewhat uncomfortable omens for him.

Last month, Ajayi resigned from the APC to contest the October poll against his boss on the platform of the PDP, while Abegunde resigned his position last Monday to support Akeredolu’s second runner-up in the 2016 governorship election, Abraham. 

The former SSG accused the governor of maltreatment and high-handedness, saying that the governor marginalised APC stalwarts in the state after they had won the 2016 election for him.

Abegunde, who dispelled insinuations that he might follow Ajayi on the political voyage to the PDP, said he would remain in the APC but would withdraw his support for Akeredolu to ensure he fails the primary. 

Nevertheless, the present political template in the state where an APC governor, Akeredolu, has a PDP stalwart, Ajayi, as deputy has been generating tension in the state, with the 26-member state House of Assembly now plunged into crisis over the plot to impeach Ajayi.

At a plenary session convoked after their COVID-19 pandemic-induced recess last Tuesday, 14 pro-Akeredolu lawmakers appended their signatures to a notice of impeachment against Ajayi. But nine pro-Ajayi members staunchly resisted the move while three remained neutral. 

The 14 lawmakers accused the deputy governor of gross misconduct, financial recklessness, abandonment of duty and tendencies to re-enact the 1983 political pogrom in the state, among others.

Barely 24 hours after, three out of the Assembly members supporting Ajayi were suspended based on accusations that they flouted a Standing Order of the House. Among those suspended were the Deputy Speaker, Iroju Ogundeji; Adewale Williams and the only female member, Favour Semilore; while the Majority Leader, Jamiu Maito, resigned his position to support Ajayi. 

The deputy governor, on his part, has been fighting back. He has approached a Federal High Court to stop his impeachment and also written the state Chief Judge, Oluwatoyin Akeredolu, accusing the governor of desperation to sack him. The pro-Ajayi lawmakers also wrote to the Chief Judge to appeal to her conscience and integrity, arguing that the process being enacted to impeach the deputy governor is illegal and that the 14 signatories do not fulfil the constitutional requirement. 

They raised the alarm that there were plans by the group loyal to the governor to suspend the remaining six lawmakers so as to get the two-thirds majority required to effect the impeachment. 

As Ajayi battles to remain on the seat, his defection to the PDP has been causing ripples in the party, especially in the South District.

It was gathered that many of the PDP aspirants and their supporters see Ajayi as a threat to their ambition. But Okunomo has declared that he would not be distracted by Ajayi’s entrance into the party, saying he was working hard to get the majority of delegates to vote for him.

One of the PDP aspirants had also alleged recently that Ajayi has been approaching some of the aspirants from the South District to step down for him, with a promise to pay off their expenses with N100 million each.  

“As soon as we got back to Akure after the screening, he sent about four different emissaries to four of us that he was ready to pay off our debts at a cost of N400 million, that is N100 million per aspirant, and he concentrated the talks on those of us from the South.  

“To us, that is an insult because we are not products to be procured in the open market as he thinks. We have all severally and jointly resolved to go to the primary election and fail instead of collecting money from him.

“If truly he has the strength and support base as he has been telling them in Abuja before he came to us, let him get set for the party primary; that has been our position,” he said.

Given the intrigues playing out in both the APC and PDP, many political observers in the state believe that if Akeredolu gets his party’s ticket, as he is likely to in two weeks time, the power of incumbency and federal support might help him to secure a second term in office at the October poll. But they also see the crisis of confidence in the APC as an opportunity for the PDP to take over the seat of government at Alagbaka, especially if it gets its choice of candidate right this time. 

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