For the Ondo State chapter of the All Progressives Congress, tomorrow’s governorship primary is obviously a make or mar event ahead of the November 26 election. Gboyega Akinsanmi writes

Unlike the previous election years, the political climate of Ondo State is unnecessarily charged already, at least, for two clear reasons. First, the two leading political parties – the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and All Progressives Congress (APC) – are in the thick of their primaries, which the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has scheduled for August 22 and 27 respectively. PDP, however, has held its own on the scheduled date with a former Commissioner for Justice and Attorney-General of the state, Mr. Eyotayo Jegede, emerging its candidate.

The other factor is that the APC has been the focus of the contest, which some of the party faithful strongly believe, would terminate the reign of the PDP in the state, depending on how its standard bearer eventually emerges. Aside that the state’s main opposition party is stronger and more cohesive than it was in the pre-2012 era, the rift in the PDP, occasioned by the assumption that a choice candidate had already been picked for the election, among others, appear to give the APC some advantage, however, if only it also manages its primary very well.

All is set for tomorrow’s primary election and no fewer than 50 aspirants have indicated interests in the APC nomination. However, only 25 of them eventually collected expression and nomination forms, which showed the level of interest the contest had generated in the rank of the party. Of the 25 people, who obtained nomination forms, 24 of them appeared before the screening committee at the APC National Secretariat, Abuja last week.

Despite the interest the contest has generated in the state, the APC has started facing tension-generated crisis. Two recent developments indeed cast pall on the chances of the party in the election. The first has to do with how the APC standard bearer will finally emerge. In 2012, the defunct ACN, one of the political parties that formed APC, produced its standard bearer, Mr. Rotimi Akeredolu through consensus, which stoked disaffection or undue division among other aspirants on the platform.

Apparently, the use of consensus by the defunct ACN to produce its standard bearer then had calamitous effect on the party’s performance. It was evident in the outcome of the election in which the ACN came third, polling 143,512 votes. Also, the PDP, which nominated its former National Adviser, Mr. Olusola Oke polled 155,961 votes, while the Labour Party, which re-presented Governor Olusegun Mimiko, scored 260,197.

At different times, the party’s post-election report had linked the loss of the defunct ACN to the decision of some of its aggrieved stalwarts to work against its victory in the contest. One of the APC faithful said some people “sold our course in the last election. They felt they were not concerned about the party’s victory. All they are concerned about is your money. We worked and we will continue to work.”

It was largely agreed that some of the ACN’s aggrieved leaders worked against the party’s interest. But that was sufficient reason to cost the party landslide in the contest. Another reason relates to the divergent position of the PDP National Secretariat and its Ondo State chapter. While the former tactically supported the re-election of Mimiko who contested on the LP platform, the latter went to the poll, not only as an orphan but also divided.

What therefore played out then compelled some public affair analysts to conclude that the 2012 election was determined before it was actually conducted. In a letter dated December 2, 2013, former President Olusegun Obasanjo condemned the decision of the then President Goodluck Jonathan to sacrifice the interest of the PDP in Ondo State for his personal ambition.

Really, different reasons accounted for why the defunct ACN lost the 2012 governorship election in the state, what was unfathomable was the way some party leaders worked against the victory of the ACN after Akeredolu’s emergence. Due to what transpired then, almost all interests in the APC are clamouring for credible primary to avoid the mistake of 2012.

The second directly relates where the APC candidate eventually emerges from. Already, there is perceived consensus that the governorship slot has been zoned to Ondo North in line with the doctrine of social justice, which some analysts said, has been guiding the emergence of candidates even before the return to civil rule in 1999.

But a swirling allegation that the APC National Leader, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu had endorsed one of the aspirants, Mr. Olusegun Abraham had already stoked agitation and tension in the party. The APC Chairman in Ondo State, Mr. Isaac Kekemeke brought the report to the state after a meeting with Tinubu in Lagos recently. Kekemeke attended the meeting alongside three leaders from the state’s senatorial districts.

The national leader did not personally convoke the meeting, neither did he openly endorse Abraham, but the meeting was said to be at the behest of Kekemeke, the purpose of which was to secure the endorsement of the APC National Vice Chairman (South-west), Chief Pius Akinyelure for one of the governorship aspirants and a member of the House of Representatives, Hon. Bode Ayorinde.

But one of the party leaders said Akinyelure declined to endorse Ayorinde on the grounds that he did not have such powers. Consequently, Akinyelure facilitated a meeting with Tinubu at his Bourdillon, Ikoyi residence, where Kekemeke disclosed the mission of his team. Like Akinyelure, Tinubu declined to endorse Ayorinde outright and disclosed indifference to endorsing any of the governorship aspirants.

Rather than supporting Ayorinde, whom he met for the first time at the meeting, the national leader was said to have told Kekemeke and his team that he would prefer “to support an Abraham, whom I invited to come and contest the 2012 election. In any case, I am not in support of any aspirants in Ondo State. All aspirants should individually pursue their aspiration and work for the interest of the APC.”

Aside the Bourdillon meeting, a group of party faithful under the aegis of Akoko Elders’ Council had met with the sole aim of producing one formidable aspirant from Akoko. The meeting, which allegedly involved the state’s former deputy governor, Alhaji Alli Olanusi, had equally resolved in favour of Abraham. But last week, Olanusi dissociated himself from the group and its resolution as well.

Across the party, there is intense campaign against imposition or endorsement. Contrary to Kekemeke’s position, the State Working Committee had dissociated itself from the report of endorsement. Likewise, the Conference of the APC Local Government Chairmen had called for a credible primary. Also, the youth wing of the chapter had rejected attempts by some forces to impose candidate on the party or smear Tinubu’s image in the name of Ondo politics.

Some party faithful at the state and national levels had also assured the people that the APC would conduct a credible primary scheduled for tomorrow. Mr. Labi Adeyemi, another APC leader from Idanre Local Government, warned that the process should not also disregard a tradition of rotating the governorship and senatorial offices between Ose/Owo and Akoko in Ondo North.

He explained the significance of the tradition in the politics of Ondo North, saying since the era of the state’s first civilian governor, Chief Adekunle Ajasin, the tradition had been in place “to promote social justice, ensure equity and avoid conflict in the governorship and senatorial elections. Ose/Owo and Akoko are two critical zones in Ondo North and both have an established political tradition.”

Since 1979, the political leaders have been observing the tradition of rotating or alternating governorship and senatorial offices between the two zones. In 1979, for instance, governorship office was zoned to Ose/Owo, where the former governor, Adekunle Ajasin came from. In the same era, the senatorial slot was zoned to Akoko. Then, late Mr. Kayode Ogunleye was the senator.

In 1992, the tradition did not apply because governorship office was zoned to Ekiti in the old Ondo State. Yet, Ose/Owo produced Mr. Remi Okunrinboye as the senator, perhaps due to the fact that Akoko produced senator in 1979. But at the return to civil rule in 1999, Akoko produced Chief Adebayo Adefarati as the governor while Ose/Owo produced Mr. Ayo Lawrence as the senator.

What happened under the administration of former Governor Olusegun Agagu was almost similar to the 1992 scenario. Agagu represented the interest of Ondo South just the way Ekiti produced former Governor Bamidele Olumilua. In 2003, however, Ose/Owo produced Mr. Titus Olupitan from Ose/Owo.
Also, Senator Bode Olajumoke from the same zone replaced him in 2007. Under the Mimiko administration, senatorial slot returned to Akoko, currently being represented by Senator Ajayi Boroffice.

Besides, the voting strength of Ose/Owo and Akoko zones are critical to the election of any governorship candidate in the state. Akoko zone has four local councils, comprising Akoko North-west with the voting strength of 68,061; Akoko North-east 61,451; Akoko South-east 29,773 and Akoko South-west 86,155. And the entire zone’s voting strength is put at 246,440.

Ose/Owo has two local councils compared to four in Akoko. The first is Owo Local Government with the voting capacity of 110,100. The second is Ose Local Government, which has the total number of 62,386 registered voters. In all, the Ose/Owo zone has 172, 486 registered voters. Even though it has lower voting strength compared to Akoko, the decision of Ose/Owo can alter the political calculation in favour of or against any political party depending on how the zone is treated in the next election.