By Emmanuel Oladesu
The Ondo State chapters of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) have been thrown into governorship primary fever. The stiff competition in the two parties have also compounded long standing intra-party and inter-party conflicts.
The only cure to to the apprehension is credible shadow poll. There appears to be a proper diagnosis. But, will the appropriate medication come? Who will administer it? Will the PDP Governorship Primary Committee conduct a free and fair intra-party poll? Will the APC Primary Panel be above board? Will the outcome be acceptable to the antagonistic aspirants? Or will the exercise herald post-primary crises in the ruling and opposition parties?
Both parties are bracing up for next week. The APC is maintaining a keen interest in the PDP’s affair for obvious reasons and vice versa. The nature of the candidate that will be thrown up by the APC will influence the PDP’s calculations, ahead of its primary and shape its preparations for the governorship election.
On Monday, delegates will storm Akure for the APC primary. On Wednesday, it will be PDP’s turn. Will the contests be significantly different? As usual, there will be dollar war because of the mode of primary. The indirect option is never insulated from monetisation.
No fewer than eight contenders are competing for the governorship ticket of the tension-soaked Ondo PDP chapter. They are Deputy Governor Agboola Ajayi, Bode Ayorinde, Sola Ebiseni, Eyitayo Jegede (SAN), Senator Boluwaji Kunlere, Banji Okunomo, Dr. Eddy Olafeso, and Gooday Erewa.
Ajayi defected to the PDP, with the aim of getting the ticket to wrest power from his estranged boss, Governor Rotimi Akeredolu(SAN), reminiscent of how Chief Akin Omoboriowo struggled to displace Governor Adekunle Ajasin in the Second Republic. He is however, not a stranger in the PDP. He was in the party before he defected to the APC. Ajayi is said to have a financial muscle. The contest, for him, may also be an ego battle. If he does not win, his ego would have been bruised.
Jegede is like a long distance runner. Four years ago, he failed woefully. He was not cleared to participate at the poll until two days to the exercise. He accepted his fate and joined forces with party leaders to achieve victory during last year’s National Assembly elections. Jegede is not a deserter or serial defector. The legal luminary also deployed his legal expertise in aid of PDP flag bearers who were in court against APC candidates. It is a pay back period as some of them are supporting his ambition.
Ebiseeni is an experienced grassroots politician from the South; a former council boss and former commissioner. In those days when seniority was a factor, he would have dwarfed his competitors. Ordinarily, based on his antecedents, he should be in the progressive camp. But, how progressive are many of the so-called progressive actors?
Olafeso is a national officer and former commissioner. The agitation for power shift to the South should have been to his advantage. But, aspirants from the South are many and they are working at cross purpose. There votes will be split at the primary.
Zoning is not an important issue during this electioneering. That is why the plight of Akure as the only sub-zone that has not produced a civilian governor before is ignored, despite its huge population.
At the primary, money will play a key role as aspirants focus on delegate targeting. Will the highest bidder get the ticket? Can financial inducement be checked or curtailed?
Predictably, the PDP primary may not be smooth like that of the Edo PDP that threw up Governor Godwin Obaseki, after the strategic decision was made in Abuja by national party officers, who Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike described as venerable tax collectors. It was relatively easier to force it down the throat of the Edo chapter, which was perceived as an orphan before Obaseki’s defection.
It appears that the tax collectors, who are never weary of the peculiar wheeling and dealings, cannot reach a consensus on the endorsement of a particular aspirant in Ondo. Therefore, there may be no anointed candidate imposed by the PDP national secretariat.
But, does that doubtful neutrality guarantee a level playing field for contenders? There are hues and cries about a manipulated delegate list and seven aspirants are pointing accusing fingers at one common rival.
The complaint meant that the seven aspirants were jittery. As a corollary, the interpretation is that when seven aspirants collectively perceive a single aspirant as a threat, that lone or lonely aspirant may be the candidate to beat. At worst, he has a bright chance.
But, it may not be the end of the matter. The ticket may become useless, if it is obtained in a fraudulent manner where internal democracy is subverted. Post-primary reconciliation may be an uphill task. There may be no defection from PDP to APC, but aggrieved chieftains may become moles and work against their party from inside.
The PDP can only achieve a breakthrough at the poll, if it puts its house in order.
There is no peace in Ondo PDP, which is torn apart by the scramble for the ticket. But, the APC is worse hit by protracted crisis. The grievances of the past have not been settled in the absence of effective conflict resolution mechanism. Some elements in the chapter are fanning the embers of discord by insinuating that Ondo APC does not have a valid State Executive Committee.
The aspirants are Governor Akeredolu, Chief Olusola Oke(SAN), former federal legislator and one-time PDP National Legal Adviser, Engr. Ifeoluwa Oyedele, Ambassador Barrister Olusola Iji, former chairman of Alliance for Democrscy (AD), Mr. Jimi Odimayo, Barrister Isaacs Kekemeke, former lawmaker, commissioner, Secretary to Government and ersthwhile party chairman, Barrister Bukola Adetula, Barrister Jumoke Anifowose, former commissioner and Action Congress of Nigeria(ACN) chairman, Olayide Adelami, Dr. Abraham Segun, prominent businessman who gave Akeredolu a tough battle during the 2016 primary, Dr. Nat Adojutelega and Akin Akinsehinwa, who is in the race the third time.
Akeredolu, still the leading aspirant, is leaning on the strength of his structure, Aketi Group, which may ordinarily crash, if other aspirants pull their strengths and resources together.
The anti-Akeredolu contenders pretended to be building a common front. But, personal ambition, which could not be jettisoned for a collective agenda, resulted in the eclipse of the so-called Unity Forum, led by Chief Ali Olanusi, former deputy governor. In fact, the Unity Forum aspirants could not agree on a consensus candidate, making things to fall apart. There is an allegation that not all the aspirants are serious. According to observers, they are only in the race to get attention and be in reckoning when party chieftains are considered for future appointments.
While PDP aspirants have embraced indirect primary, 11 APC aspirants are rooting for direct primary, which may water down the bloc votes of statutory delegates, majority of who are loyal to the governor.
It is doubtful if the National Caretaker Committee chaired by Yobe State Governor Mai Mala Buni will accede to the non-divisive and non-destabilising agitation for direct primary at the dying minute. Indisputably, APC governors are behind Akeredolu for a second term.
In Ondo State, apart from Akeredolu, only few contenders have formidable structures, although all of them parade good academic, work and moral credentials. Having refused to sponsor a candidate, their votes may be split at the primary, to the advantage of their common foe.
Unlike APC and PDP, the smaller parties merely warm the register of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). They are participating in the election as spectators. The people of Ondo State have limited constitutional choices to make on poll day in the absence of credible and formidable candidates outside the two parties, and in the absence of independent candidates.