Ondo APC Readying for a Crucial Primary

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Two weeks to the governorship primary of All Progressives Congress in Ondo State, all the aspirants are in a last-minute scramble for the support of delegates. Although no fewer than 23 aspirants have been screened, the contest is effectively between Mr. Rotimi Akeredolu and Chief Olusegun Abraham, writes Oladipo Awojobi

On November 26, the people of Ondo State will decide who will succeed the incumbent governor, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko. But the process through which the governorship candidates of the political parties will emerge is as critical as the election itself. Already, the two leading political parties – Peoples Democratic Party and All Progressives Congress – have kicked off the process.

In the PDP, Governor Olusegun Mimiko is alleged to be supporting the candidature of the Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Eyitayo Jegede. Jegede’s candidature has already stoked consternation in the ranks of the PDP chieftains in the state. It has equally torn the state executive council apart. Consequently, the former Commissioner for Environment, Mr. Sole Ebiseni, and his local government counterpart, Mr. Bamiduro Dada, recently resigned their positions as commissioners to pursue their governorship aspiration on a factional PDP platform. Ebiseni and Dada have obtained nomination forms from the Senator Ali Modu Sherriff-led PDP, while Jegede got his from the Senator Ahmed Makarfi national caretaker committee.

Geopolitics
The candidature of Jegede may hit the brick wall in the final election. The reason is what a public affairs analyst, Mr. Felix Ogunleye, ascribed to the tradition of rotating the governorship position on the basis of senatorial district. Ogunleye argues that both Mimiko and Jegede “are from Ondo Central senatorial district. So, it is illogical, perhaps, untraditional for Ondo Central district to produce Mimiko’s successor.”

Ondo North had produced Chief Adebayo Adefarati, who governed between 1999 and 2003. Subsequently, Ondo South produced Dr. Olusegun Agagu, who was in charge between 2003 and 2009. However, Agagu’s re-election was disputed and he lost the electoral litigation, giving room to the emergence of Mimiko as governor in February 2009. Mimiko’s second term will end in February 2017.

Jegede, an Akure indigene in Ondo Central, is said to be Mimiko’s anointed candidate. But technically, the people of Ondo State believe Ondo North should produce the next governor, which Ogunleye says, is founded on the principle of social justice and the tradition of rotation the state has been observing not just since the return to civil rule in 1999, but since the Second Republic.

All Eyes on APC
Another public affairs analyst, Olusola Akinkunmi, says the APC is the focus of the forthcoming election due to the increasing number of Mimiko’s allies and PDP chieftains at different levels of APC at the moment. No fewer than 50 aspirants have indicated their interest to pursue their governorship aspiration on the APC platform.

Of the 50 aspirants, only 23 have obtained nomination forms as at this weekend. Some of the aspirants have been screened. Ahead of the August 27 primary, the aspirants are already scrambling for the support of delegates across the local government areas. But the process through which the APC governorship nominee emerges would largely determine if it can eventually displace the PDP.

Even though 23 aspirants have collected nomination forms, only five of them are widely believed to be strongly in the contest. The four leading aspirants are former president of the Nigeria Bar Association, Mr. Rotimi Akeredolu (SAN), former national legal adviser of the PDP, Mr. Olusola Oke, two serving senators, Professor Ajayi Boroffice and Mr. Tayo Alasoadura, and a business mogul, Chief Segun Abraham.

Odds
With the exception of Oke and Alasoadura, who respectively hails from Ondo South and Ondo Central, three other leading aspirants are from Ondo North, where consensually the APC has zoned the governorship slot. All eyes had been on Akeredolu, possibly because he was the flagbearer of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria in October 2012. He came third in the last governorship contest. But Akeredolu’s performance in the election has been his major albatross.

For the party loyalists, Akeredolu’s performance in the last contest should not be a parameter to measure his public rating or acceptability. Ogunleye provides two interrelated reasons to justify this position. First, according to him, the defunct ACN was replete with some regressive forces, who worked against its victory. He cites Alasoadura, who he says, failed to manage Akeredolu’s campaign effectively. Ogunleye alleges that Alasoadura worked at cross-purposes to the party’s interest.

Ogunleye also links Akeredolu’s performance to the decision of the then PDP-led federal government to manipulate the process. He alleges that the entire process was manipulated against Akeredolu himself. Also, according to Ogunleye, PDP manipulated the process against its own candidate. It manipulated the process in favour of Labour Party, the platform on which Mimiko had then sought re-election.

To some extent, Boroffice’s aspiration has proved formidable, at least in his senatorial district. He was first elected senator in 2011 on the platform of Labour Party. He subsequently defected to the defunct ACN. The lawmaker contested for re-election on the APC platform in 2015 and won convincingly. Obviously, Boroffice’s re-election put him in good standing for the next governorship contest.

But Boroffice’s candidature might not really sail through for two reasons. First, some key political leaders are said to be opposed to him. They argue that the lawmaker had spent five years at the Senate with little or no impact on Ondo North. Second, while seeking re-election in 2015, Boroffice was said to have told the people of Owo/Ose that he would not contest the 2016 governorship election.

Also, Oke was the flagbearer of the PDP in the 2012 contest. Despite that the PDP national leadership, technically, adopted Mimiko then, Oke came second in the contest. Till date, his political allies believe he did not lose the election to Mimiko, but to his political party, which preferred to support the candidate of Labour Party.

Even though he lost, the election actually showcased his leadership potentials. Shortly after he lost the contest, Oke defected to the APC just before the 2015 general election. But Oke’s aspiration might not earn him the APC ticket for two reasons. First, Oke hails from Ondo South and technically the governorship slot has been zoned to Ondo North. Second, Oke is new in the APC and may find it difficult to get the required delegates that would swing the pendulum to his side.

Strategic Challenge
Of all the aspirants, Abraham appears to be the best positioned to win the governorship ticket. His public rating rises by the day for different reasons. First, in 2012, Abraham was the first aspirant to step down for Akeredolu. Abraham’s decision to step down for Akeredolu, some party loyalists say, was taken in the interest of peace and unity. That decision brought about relative order to the defunct ACN, though other aspirants did not follow his example.

Some party loyalists have argued that it would be more honourable for Akeredolu to reciprocate Abraham’s gesture by “stepping down” for him. But Akeredolu is neck-deep into the 2016 contest. Both Abraham and Akeredolu have become formidable forces and many believe either of them may clinch the APC governorship ticket.

Abraham’s social intervention has also earned him much support, not just in his senatorial district, but across the state. But he says he does not like bringing the activities of Abraham Foundation, a non-governmental organisation, into partisan politics. Explains his decision to keep the NGO out of politics, he said some people “see their NGO as a tool for them to be popular and publicise themselves.”

He adds, “In Christianity, when your right hand does something the left hand must not know. A lot of grassroots people are happy that I am coming out in this governorship race. It is not about giving alone but it has made others to see that you can serve your God through the poor people around you.”

Abraham is very prepared to take up the mantle of leadership in the state. Already, he has unveiled a plan to set up Government Demand Industry (GDI) and People Demand Industry (PDI). The former is designed to complement the major industry that will support the government policies and programmes, which he said, would generate 500,000 jobs in four years.

The latter is structured to build small scale industries under the public-private partnership, which he initiated on a premise that 80 per cent of what the people of Ondo State “need are brought in from outside. We will provide part of the funding, training and good and services depot that will supply the populace at a much reduced rates so that they can have economic value on their income.”

Abraham has also unveiled a plan “to restore the state’s lost virtues and values. We will develop technological and managerial capability in order to harness our various resources, with little dependence on foreigners. We will develop organic food that is now the new paradigm shift in economic returns, apart from information technology so that Ondo State can become the hub for organic food globally.”

Abraham’s aspiration has gained acceptance across the state. Former chairman of APC in the state, Comrade Sola Iji, has endorsed the aspiration of the business mogul. He says Abraham excelled in all the parameters of consideration, stressing that his decision to support Abraham came after an assessment of all the aspirants on purpose “to produce a formidable candidate.”

Iji says, “The unanimous decision to adopt the candidacy of Abraham was finalised on March 30, after we confirmed from assessment that he is the only candidate that excelled in all the parameters of consideration. Among the aspirants, it took us some time to come to the carefully thought-out decision to support the aspiration of Olusegun Abraham to serve Ondo State.”

Likewise, the former chairman of the defunct ACN, Chief Adesola Adesoji, acknowledged that some enlightened political leaders in the state “have endorsed Abraham’s aspiration.” He added that the decision “to support Abraham was based on the conviction that he has the experience and ability to truly transform the state. We have informed the party and also mandated them to identify with this decision.”