In Osun State, the ruling Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) are now locked in a battle of wits as the gubernatorial election billed for 2014 approaches. Tunde Sanni gives an update on Osun’s political trend
Although, it is two years away from another gubernatorial election in Osun State, politics in the state has begun to play on the fast lane with both the ruling Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and the opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) neck-to-neck in the rush to the Government House, another party, the Labour Party, also seeks to create media attention in the run up to the election.
However, the cat race between the ACN and the PDP is expected. Until the court judgment that ousted it from office and changed the power dynamics in the state; the PDP was the ruling party while the ACN which was in the opposition, turned the heat on the PDP and dubbed it a non-performing administration before the people.
From the harsh criticisms of the PDP government, the people of Osun desired change in party platform and by extension in governance. But no one expected the change to come from the judiciary and so, when the Court of Appeal terminated the three years in the second term in office of the Olagunsoye Oyinlola government, the excitement and jubilation that followed was not unexpected. The arrowhead of the broom revolution in the state, Rauf Aregbesola, rode into the state like the Biblical entry of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem. The 2011 polls in the state further assisted in consigning the PDP into the trash of reckoning and relevance. The party lost its all in the National and State Assembly polls. Osun, as at today, can be regarded as yet another safe haven of the ACN, controlling all the federal and state lawmakers.
However, almost three years on, the heat seemed to have been turned against the ruling ACN government with the PDP now taking its pound of flesh. Aside from being a thorn in the flesh of the ruling government, the opposition party has put its house in order, preparatory to its come back in the 2014 polls.
First was the state congress of the party which had initially signposted apprehension that the party might relapse into irreconcilable factions. An army of aspirants had sprung up for party offices, especially the state chairmanship with party chiefs falling back on the old order to attempts to impose their anointed candidates on the party.
The party had zoned the chairmanship position to Osun Central senatorial district comprising Osogbo, Ikirun, Iree and Okuku which in the calculation of the stakeholders is not due for the governorship in the 2014 polls, having produced two governors of the state in Oyinlola and his predecessor, Bisi Akande of the old Alliance for Democracy (AD). Two candidates from the strongest blocs in the party in the state; Alhaji Ganiyu Ola-Oluwa, a former Chairman of Olorunda Local Government Council, Osogbo, who is from the Iyiola Oomisore bloc and a former member, House of Representatives, Mr. Kayode Idowu, who was favoured by some powerful elders like Oyinlola, Erelu Olusola Obada, the Minister of State for Defence and former Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Alhaji Fatai Akinbade.
As the stalemate over the choice of the two candidates and the inability of the elders to agree on a consensus candidate persisted, 11 other aspirants joined from the two senatorial zones to swell the rank of the chairmanship aspirants to 13. The elders had their fears; the fears of the unknown for the 2014 gubernatorial poll in the state. Delegates from the 322 wards of the state who partook in the congress later broke the ice at the state congress after the 11 new aspirants announced their withdrawal for Olaoluwa to emerge the chairman of PDP in Osun.
The success of the state congress later led to serial meetings of elders on the need to put the past behind them and rally round the party executive for the overall success of the battle ahead which is the reclaiming of the apparatus of government from the ACN government.
Rising from its stability, the PDP soon delivered some aggrieved ACN members who had abandoned the ruling party, especially from Ilesa West, Atakumosa West and Atakumosa East Local government areas, one of the perceived areas of influence of the sitting party and government. The defectors said governance has remained an issue of utmost concern not only to the masses but stakeholders in the state, pointing out that such concern led to their defection to the PDP in demonstration of their lack of trust and vote of no confidence in the Aregbesola-led government.
Sunday Oyejide (aka Abore) who spoke on behalf of the defectors explained that they joined the PDP to work assiduously in chasing away the ACN government from the state. He stressed that ACN was not that popular in state and therefore, assured the PDP that all the loopholes would be blocked to prevent the return of ACN to power come 2014.
But former Minister of Transport during the General Sani Abacha days, Chief Ebenezer Babatope, underscored the importance of the rally. “2014 is very near, all leaders in the party have buried their differences, and our common goal is to chase the hyena that has taken over the government of the state out of power.”
He noted that the PDP was still alive in the state, and that those who thought the party’s popularity had waned following its ouster would now have a rethink. He commended members of the party for not wavering despite being out of government in the state, and that their courage makes the party thick and prayed that the party would not put them to shame.
Interestingly, it is not only about the PDP reconciliation, the party has sustained putting the ruling government on its toes. One instance is a group within the party called the Osun Rescuers Initiative which has continued to fault the Governor, Mr. Rauf Aregbesola, on issues of development in the state, accusing him of running a media government.
The group in its assessment of the two years of Aregbesola government said the Aregbesola administration had failed to develop the state as against the noise it has been making. The group claimed that “various uncompleted projects by the government litter the nook and cranny of the state. Where are the dividends of democracy promised Osun people by the Action Congress of Nigeria?”
Another instance was the governor’s personal involvement in his party’s campaign for the Ondo governorship seat where the party was humiliated to a distant third by the Labour Party.
The PDP in a statement issued by its Director of Media and Strategy, Diran Odeyemi, had accused Aregbesola of diverting the state funds to prosecute an electioneering campaign where the state has no stake and warned the Governor against championing the “Operation Capture Ondo State at all cost”. PDP accused Aregbesola of abandoning his duties to the people of Osun Sate because of the Ondo poll and wasted the state’s resources on the election.
But of course, the Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Sunday Akere and the party’s Director of Publicity, Research and Strategy, Kunle Oyatomi, had also fired back on many of the allegations.
Akere, while speaking on the parlous state of development in the state asked: “What did the PDP in Osun do for seven and a half years? What’s there to show for the billions of naira collected by the Olagunsoye Oyinlola administration as allocation from the Federal Government? “It is shocking, shameful and ridiculous for the PDP to accuse the Aregbesola administration of non-performance when the Oyinlola-led government crippled the state’s economy through mismanagement and unthinkable obtainment of N18.3bn loan.”
On failed mission of the ACN in Ondo State and the accusation that the governor had used the state funds to prosecute the electioneering campaign, Oyatomi described the allegation as baseless and intended to smear the person and government of Aregbesola.
“If it takes Mr. President, who is the leader of PDP, and the Senate President among other PDP leaders, to come out to campaign for their candidate in Ondo regardless of the massive flood across the country, it suggests to any reasonable person that there is an awful lot at stake in the Ondo election.
“If Aregbesola is campaigning for ACN candidate in Ondo State, only stupid people do not know why. That is the long and short of the meaning of PDP accusation against Ogbeni Aregbesola.”
But in spite of the attacks and counter-attacks, the need for the PDP to field a formidable and acceptable candidate for the governorship election is not lost on the party. Perhaps, it is as a result of this that some of the PDP chieftains are seen to be oiling their campaign machineries ahead of the party primary in the countdown to 2014.
Whilst it may be too early to determine the line up of the aspirants but two of the aspirants appear battle ready to outwit one another for the PDP ticket. They are Omisore and Akinbade. There are also the 2010 gubernatorial aspirants who were said to be lurking in the dark to convert their nomination/declaration of intention deposit in the 2010 primary which the Court of Appeal judgment botched. They are Mr. Tunde Odanye, a lawyer; Chief Femi Fani-kayode, ex-Aviation Minister; Prof. Wale Oladipo; Diran Odeyemi, the present party spokesman and former Special Adviser to Oyo State governor, Adebayo Alao Akala; Fatai Sarumi, a business tycoon and Lati Bakare, an accountant.
Aklinbade, a compromise SSG during the seven years tenure of the Oyinlola, was at a time chairman of the party in the state, a position, that enabled him have a huge network of contacts and grassroots connections. He is also said to be very popular both within and outside of the party and is regarded as humble, personable and accessible. A PDP stalwart in the state describes him as having “a listening ear”.
He, however, has a match and even much more formidable material in Omisore who boasts intimidating network of contacts and support base to aid his aspiration. The former chairman of Appropriation in the Green Chambers of the National Assembly is believed to have structures in all the 30 local government areas of the state aside from enjoying the sympathy of majority of the elders of the party who, it was learnt, are poised to field a candidate that will give the ACN flag-bearer a run for his money.
Thus, if financial war chest, influence, acceptability, popularity and doggedness are factors that would determine the PDP candidate for 2014, the party will certainly not go far in search of one; Omisore is at its beck and call.
In addition, Omisore will be entering the contest better equipped than he was as chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriation. He is currently backed in the classroom for his doctoral degree as he is waiting to defend his PhD dissertation with specialty in Public-Private Partnership at the International School of Management, Paris/St John's University, New York, United States of America. The former federal lawmaker has a way of pursuing his ambition such that all forms of inhibitions are tamed to enable him have a free access. One of such is the party executive that would be a great factor in deciding who gets the party ticket.
Another factor likely to affect the aspiration of whoever clinches the party’s ticket is the unity in the PDP. Elders may want to stave off the possibility of any conundrum in the party which may trail the choice of the party’s candidate, hence the possibility of rallying themselves for a consensus candidate. Yet, they may also want to be careful in order not to be messed up, a repeat of their inability to manage the choice of the party executives which later snowballed into a congress.
While it is taken that Aregbesola might be gunning for a second term in office, a situation that would make the rivalry with PDP stronger even stronger, criticisms of non-performance hanging on the ruling party from all political parties in the state, is a major undoing that would work significantly in support of the PDP.
Again, the people of Osun, like they did before are craving change. Interestingly, they have tasted the two sides of the political divide- PDP and ACN and as such, better positioned to decide the fate and fortune of the new governor in the state. And with near daily defections of ACN members to PDP and vice versa, the chance is therefore 50-50.