The confusion over the candidate of the All Progressives Congress ahead of the November 26 governorship election in Ondo State came to an end on Thursday, as the party’s National Working Committee submitted Akeredolu’s name to the Independent National Electoral Commission. James Sowole, in Akure, reports
Relief came the way of the All Progressives Congress in Ondo State, particularly the camp of the former president of the Nigeria Bar Association, Mr Rotimi Akeredolu, SAN, on Thursday, as the National Working Committee of the party submitted his name to the Independent National Electoral Commission as the party’s candidate for the November 26 governorship election in the state.
Akeredolu won the September 3 primary election of the APC after defeating 23 other aspirants in a keenly contested election. But the results of the primary election was challenged by three other aspirants, Dr Olusegun Abraham, who came second, Chief Olusola Oke, who came third, and Senator Ajayi Boroffice, who placed fourth.
The aggrieved aspirants in their petitions alleged irregularities in the process that led to the actual voting. They said some delegates were smuggled in to vote while genuine voters were disenfranchised. The petitioners therefore called for cancellation of the primary.
In line with the petitions, the appeal committee that reviewed the complaints upheld the prayers of the petitioners and recommended a fresh primary to the NWC of the party.
However, the suspense created by the silence of the NWC on the recommendation of the Mrs Helen Benbager-led appeal panel resulted in a stalemate, as stakeholders became confused about the next action to take because of the power play in the leadership of the party. The delay by the NWC in taking a decision on the recommendation of the panel created speculations, as parties in the issues circulated information that would suit their own interests in order to retain their supporters.
While the party loyal to the winner of the primary poll, Akeredolu, said the NWC had thrown away the recommendation of the appeal panel and upheld the return of the former resident of NBA as the party’s standard bearer, the petitioners maintained that the recommendation of the panel remained sacrosanct.
Pre-empting the decision of the NWC, the camps of the aggrieved aspirants took an action, which they thought could protect their interests.
THISDAY learnt that some aspirants had sponsored their protégés to emerge as candidates of smaller political parties before the expiration of the deadline for the holding of primaries with the hope of having their names substituted in case the decision of the NWC did not tally with their own expectations. The essence is to ensure that they are able to contest the governorship election.
Members of the party in Ondo East and Ondo West local government areas of the state on Wednesday took to the streets to protest the decision of NWC to reject the recommendation of the appeal committee. The members led by the chairman of the party in Ondo East, Mr Temitope Akintunde, said the decision of the NWC to accept the governorship primary showed that they were insensitive to the aspiration of the party to win the governorship election. The party members and sympathisers moved round the town with placards protesting the outcome of the NWC’s decision nullifying the appeal panel report. Some commercial motorcyclists joined in the procession that moved round the town.
Some of the inscription on their placards were “We reject the NWC report”, “Let the decision of the appeal committee stand”, “Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and Baba Akande are our leaders”, “Bola Ilori is a hero”, “Bola Ilori, thank you for been the voice of the voiceless “, “A candidate that disrespects leaders is an emperor in the making “, “Ondo East and West say thank you all’.
Akintunde regretted that his petition, which was favourably considered by the appeal committee, was rejected by NWC.
Similarly, one of the aspirants, Dr Segun Abraham, told his supporters not to panic as the decision of the appeal committee on the governorship primary stood. In a statement, Abraham appealed to his supporters to remain calm, assuring them that the right thing would be done.
He stated, “Thankfully, and as you know, our party’s Electoral Appeal Committee has given a recommendation that is consistent with facts and the anti-corruption stance of our great party, with the hope to right the many wrongs of the September 3 primary election.
“As we await the ratification of this recommendation by the National Working Committee, some desperate ones have rushed to the media to give misleading, wrong, unauthorised and anti-party information, in a contemptuous attempt to jettison the on-going deliberations of our NWC.”
As the deadline for the conclusion of primaries of political parties that would participate in the November election expired on Monday, September 19, INEC could not state categorically whose name was submitted for the commission as the APC candidate. When asked, the Resident Electoral Commissioner for Ondo State, Mr Olusegun Agbaje, said in line with the law, names of the parties’ candidates would be displayed to members of the public 30 days before the election date.
Akeredol, in his reaction to the NWC action, described his affirmation as the work of God. “What can I say than to thank God who has done it again? God does not abandon his projects, notwithstanding the challenges that may arise.”
Akeredolu in a statement issued by the Aketi Media Group, thanked members of the NWC, especially the APC national chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, national leader of the party Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, and President Mohammadu Buhari for making sure that justice was done to all parties in dispute.
The statement read, “I make bold to say to my co-aspirants in the APC that we are all winners. None is vanquished. We are all victors. None is a loser. I hold the ticket of the party in trust for all of you. I am not perfect. No one is. But I will make up for my imperfections by drawing from your collective strength. Together we shall work in one accord to achieve success in the November 26 governorship election. Now is the time to pool our energy and resources and rescue our state from misery and misrule of the Peoples Democratic Party-led government. United we stand. United we shall be victorious.”
The APC flag bearer also thanked the election committee led by the Jigawa State governor, Mohammed Abubakar Badaru, and the security agencies for creating an enabling environment for a free and fair contest, as attested to by the NWC.
While those who were in support of Akeredolu’s candidacy saw the NWC decision as welcome development, those who opposed his emergence described the action as the beginning of another round of crisis.
The primary election outcome has already taken its toll on the APC in the state. Many believe it would be difficult to resolve the crisis because of the personalities involved.
The crisis has also created opportunities for the ruling Peoples Democratic Party in the state to advance in its effort to retain the governorship of the state. Already, the PDP candidate, Mr Eyitayoo Jegede, SAN, has taken over billboards and spaces in conspicuous places in major towns of the state for his campaign.
The PDP candidate has also been poaching on the membership of the APC in the state, as many have reportedly defected to the ruling party. One of the defectors is an APC leader in the Akure South Local Government Area, Mr Idowu Yusuf. He was said to have led about 2,000 others to the PDP. Yusuf, according to a statement signed by the PDP publicity secretary, Banji Okunomo, was the state’s director-general of the Buhari Campaign Organisation in the 2015 presidential election.
Receiving the defectors, Ondo State Governor Segun Mimiko, who was represented by the Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr Kayode Akinmade, urged the people of the state to reject the APC in the interest of the state.
Mimiko said the people should allow the good work to continue because APC had planned to privatise the Mother and Child Hospitals, mega schools and Free Bus Shuttle programme if elected to power.
But reacting to the grounds covered by the PDP candidate in his campaign, the APC vice chairman, Mr Ade Adetimeyin, who is a leading supporter of Akeredolu, said what the candidate needed was to engage in reconciliation with the aggrieved members. He expressed optimism that with the ratification of the NWC things would normalise very soon. He said APC would within two weeks meet and overtake the PDP candidate on the field.
According to Adetimeyin, the people of the state are tired of the PDP government in the state and are yearning for a change, which only the APC can provide.
However, many believe the position of the NWC may worsen things for APC in the state.