Ondo Poll: Parties Step Up Strategies with Choice of Running Mates

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But for the fact that conduct of primary election for the choice of deputy governorship candidates for political parties participating in an election is not clearly spelt out in the constitution, the choice of running mates for the candidates in the forthcoming governorship poll in Ondo State would have degenerated into another round of crisis within the major political parties.

As it was the case with the process that led to the emergence of candidates of the three dominant parties ahead of the November 26 governorship election in the Sunshine State, the choice of running mates was not without intrigues.

Stakeholders did all within their powers to secure votes.
Sequel to the quest by the three dominant parties to secure votes from the crucial parts of the state, apart from the areas where their governorship candidates come from, factors like senatorial district, local government, religion, popularity, commitment and past activities were made important considerations in the choice of running mates.

As the deadline set by the Independent National Electoral Commission for conclusion of all issues relating to governorship and deputy governorship candidates gradually came to an end, the three major parties struggled to submit names of their running mates to the commission.
Like it was in the 2012 election in the state, the November 2016 election is most likely to be a three horse race featuring two of the three major contenders in the 2012 exercise.

Candidates
While APC has fielded Mr Rotimi Akeredolu, SAN, who contested for the same position in 2012 under the platform of the Action Congress of Nigeria, the Peoples Democratic Party’s candidate in 2012, Chief Olusola Oke, would contest for the same position in November on the platform of the Alliance for Democracy. The new major entrant into the race, Mr Eyitayo Jegede SAN, would contest as the PDP candidate.

Interestingly, the three candidates represent the three senatorial districts of the state. Akeredolu is from the North, Jegede is from the Central, while Oke is from the Ondo South.
With this formation, it is naturally expected that their running mates would be from districts other than those of the flag bearers.

Running Mates
The first party to resolve the running mate issue was the AD, which chose a former member of the House of Representatives for Akoko North West/Akoko North East Federal Constituency, Hon Gani Dauda, few hours after the defection of the party’s candidate, Oke, from the APC. Apart from the fact that Dauda, who is a former chairman of Akoko North West Local Government Area, is popular among the people of the federal constituency, being a Muslim, his faith would be an advantage for the party, as several Muslim groups have declared that they would not vote for any party with Christian/Christian ticket. Also of advantage to the AD is that the choice of Oke’s running mate came before any issue could be raised, unlike the case of the two other major parties.

For the PDP, the choice of the deputy governorship candidate was not without politicking. But what could have resulted in crisis was quickly resolved with the intervention of the state leader, Dr Olusegun Mimiko, and others, who allowed superior arguments to prevail in the interest of the party.

Mimiko, certainly does not want any issue that would distract the party and following the manner that the issue of the governorship primary was handled, listened to various stakeholders, who eventually settled for the former Commissioner for Information in the state, Prince John Ola Mafo. Mafo is currently a Special Adviser and the Chairman of the State Football Agency.

Disagreement had almost erupted when it was rumoured that some people were clamouring for a prince of a prominent traditional ruler in the oil-rich Ilaje Local Government Area of the state so that the party could get some financial backing from the traditional ruler.

What contributed to the amicable resolution of the PDP deputy governorship issue was the decision of the party’s leaders to zone the position to the Ondo South and Ilaje Local Government Area where the AD candidate hails from. There is also the issue of the political consistency and commitment of Mafo to the PDP cause since 1999. This made his choice acceptable to many leaders and members of the party. While many of his peers had moved to more than two political parties, he remained in the party, despite challenges.

Justifying the choice of Mafo, the PDP publicity secretary, Banji Okunomo, said Mafo had many things that qualified him for the position. He said the decision to pick him was taken by the highest decision making body of the party in the state.

Okunomo stated, “The party took this far reaching decision after considering all factors that would lead to its victory at the poll. The party weighed a number of options, including the credentials of Ola Mafo, which ranged from being a former chairman of Ilaje Local Government Area of Ondo State to former Commissioner for Information in Ondo State.

“Mafo is also a foundation member of the PDP and a veteran politician from the Southern Senatorial district, particularly Ilaje local government, a native of Zion Pepe. The choice of Mafo was based on equity and political balance.”

Like in the case of the APC governorship candidate, the choice of the party’s running mate generated controversy more than that of other political parties. Some party leaders and members kicked immediately the mention of Hon Agboola Ajayi was submitted by the party as deputy to Akeredolu.

Ajayi, an indigene of Ese-Odo Local Government Area, represented the Ilaje/ Ese Odo Federal Constituency at the National Assembly between 2007 and 2011.

Since the position was zoned to the Ondo South, like in the case of PDP, there were schemings among various interest groups and leaders in the six local governments and three federal constituencies that make up the district. The choice of Ajayi generated controversy because of the fact that he is an indigene of Kiribo, a town in Ese-Odo Local Government Area where the mother of the APC standard bearer, Akeredolu, hailed from.

Those that opposed his choice argued that choosing him as Akeredolu’s running mate made the matter a family affair. Ajayi’s opponents said in terms of voting figure, the party would be better for it if leaders could consider giving the slot to Ile-Oluji/Okeigbo/Odigbo Federal Constituency.

The party had, in order to assess the objections of Ajayi’s opponent, set up a committee to decide on the matter and assess interested members on their merits and political considerations. The decision of the party to throw the matter open led to expression of interests by some people, including Ajayi. The party eventually picked Ajayi whose name was submitted to INEC.

Ajayi is not new in the politics of Ondo State. He is a former chairman of Ese-Odo Local Government Area before he won election into the House of Representatives in 2007 on the platform of the PDP. He lost his bid to return to the National Assembly in 2011 to the Hon Raphael Nomiye, who contested on the platform of the Labour Party.