In Tight Race, Ondo Residents Elect New Governor Saturday

0

• S’Court slams the door against Ibrahim, Jegede intensifies campaign

NEWS ANALYSIS

Bolaji Adebiyi, Tobi Soniyi in Abuja and James Sowole in Akure

Although the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has put 28 political parties on the ballot for tomorrow’s governorship election in Ondo State, three dominant parties appear to have forced themselves into the people’s consciousness, making the contest a three-horse race.

As the front runners – the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Alliance for Democracy (AD) and All Progressives Congress (APC) – round off their campaigns today, pundits would have began an uneasy permutation about the possible outcome of tomorrow’s contest with no one ready to place a bet on any of the three leading candidates: Prof. Eyitayo Jegede (PDP), Chief Olusola Oke (AD) and Mr. Rotimi Akeredolu (APC).

INEC, nonetheless, said thursday that it was set to conduct the election in which 1,280,580 citizens with permanent voters’ cards (PVC), out of 1,660,055 registered voters, are expected to cast their votes in the 3,010 polling units across the 18 local government areas of the state.

Earlier in the week, the Inspector-General of Police (IG), Mr. Ibrahim Idris, said the security services were prepared to secure the election. He said 26,000 police personnel, sniffer dogs, horses, three helicopters and 300 vehicles, including 12 armoured personnel carriers and armoured Hilux vans, were ready for deployment in the state for the exercise.

Without a doubt, the tension in the state before the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court resolved the quarrel in the PDP for its ticket between Jegede and Mr. Jimoh Ibrahim on Wednesday and Thursday, respectively, must have necessitated this elaborate security arrangement.

Even with the clarity over the candidate of the ruling PDP in the state, the raised stakes in the contest by power blocs both in Akure and Abuja, and perhaps Lagos, must have left the police boss with no other option than to raise a war-like operation to provide tight security. The political tension in the state was heated up by discontent arising from the primaries of the PDP and the APC.

It began with the APC, where Mr. Olusegun Abraham, the preferred candidate of Senator Bola Tinubu, its National Leader, was defeated by Akeredolu with the backing of some powerful political forces said to be working for the presidency in Abuja. Alleging unfair dealings, Tinubu complained loudly, calling for the resignation of the National Chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun. In the meantime, his candidate’s supporters took to the streets of Akure to ventilate their grievances. When he got no redress, his candidate went to court, even as Oke, who came third behind Abraham left the party, first to the Action Alliance, then to AD.

Actually, the APC in the South-west has its roots in the AD, from where the Action Congress of Nigeria, one of the legacy parties of the former, arose. Although Tinubu made no public announcement about a shift in loyalty from the APC, all his foot soldiers, including Mr. Bola Ilori, the Director-General, Olusola Oke Campaign Organisation, and the party’s failed deputy governorship candidate in the 2015 Kogi State governorship election, Hon. James Faleke, have since turned his huge political machinery over to AD’s Oke.

Tinubu’s political structures and substantial funding were all the AD and its candidate, Oke, needed to rise from obscurity to prominence, challenging the dominance of the APC and the ruling PDP, which was embroiled in a dispute over the nomination of its candidate for the election.

Ordinarily, had the contest remained a two-horse race between the PDP and the APC, the former would probably have prevailed given its incumbency advantage and the awesome political machinery of Governor Olusegun Mimiko put together more than a decade ago. But the factional fight at the national level that reverberated in the state weakened the chances of the PDP, as its attention was diverted from the intense electioneering required for electoral success, to the judicial battle for survival. Valuable time was lost between the substitution of Jegede with Ibrahim by INEC and the eventual reinstatement of the latter, creating uncertainty among PDP members and canvassers even as Mimiko shuttled between Abuja and Akure, weighing his options had the courts failed to restore his candidate.

Indeed, a combination of factors have colluded to balance the influence of the three leading parties in the state, making tomorrow’s election an open race that is too close to call. But the demography of voters across the three senatorial districts of the state with respect to the dialectical balance of the parties’ ticket might tilt the contest in favour of PDP’s Jegede.

Coming from the high voter Ondo Central Senatorial District that accounts for 39.78 per cent of the PVCs, Jegede whose running mate, Mr. Ola Mafo, comes from the equally populous Ondo South with 33.12 per cent, might have a demographic advantage if his people decide to vote en bloc for him. This is more so because whereas Oke, also from Ondo South, and Akeredolu, from Ondo North with 27.1 per cent, have opposing party running mates (PDP’s Mafo and AD’s Alhaji Ganiyu Dauda, respectively) who are expected to split the votes in their districts, Jegede has no opposition running mate to reduce his anticipated haul.

Two other factors are likely to weigh in the favour of Jegede: money and a possible collaboration with Oke against Akeredolu. If the contest becomes transactional like it was in the recent governorship election in Edo State, then Jegede may well be on his way to the Alagbaka Government House in Akure. Besides, initial restraint exercised by the oil-rich and wealthy Niger Delta governments in the hands of the PDP because of the substitution of Jegede might now be relaxed with the prospect of huge funds coming the way of the Jegede campaign machine.

Although the APC with its federal might muster much more funds in aid of Akeredolu, indications, however, are that President Muhammadu Buhari, in spite of his open support for his party’s candidate, is not inclined to deploying state funds to such a venture. Meanwhile, a split in the ranks of APC governors owing to the disenchantment of their national leader threatens to weaken Akeredolu’s capacity to raise substantial funds from neigbouring states.

Finally, with Akeredolu being viewed as the common enemy by both Tinubu and Mimiko — Oke and Jegede’s principals — a last minute collusion between the two could edge him out of contention. But who would the conspirators chose? Is it Jegede or Oke? This, perhaps, is the reason the race remains open.

S’Court Shows Ibrahim the Door

But as residents go to the polls to decide who their next governor would be, the Supreme Court thursday struck out the appeal that sought to nullify the leave granted to Jegede to challenge the judgment of the Federal High Court, Abuja, which barred him from participating in the Ondo governorship election.

The Supreme Court, in a unanimous judgment by a five-man panel of justices led by the acting Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, also threw out 14 separate motions filed by chieftains of the PDP from the six South-west states who are loyal to the Ali Modu Sherrif faction of the party.

Justice Onnoghen, who delivered the ruling, held that the interlocutory appeals had become “academic”, considering the fact that the Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal had already delivered judgment on the substantive matter.

However, the Supreme Court declined to award costs against the appellants.

Those behind the appeal were the Chairman of the PDP in Ondo State, Prince Biyi Poroye and Ademola Genty (for themselves and the Ondo State Executive Committee of the PDP), Hon. Olasoji Adagunodo, Bola Ajao Lateef (Osun State PDP Excos), Hon. Taiwo Akeem, Hon. Alaba Adelabu (Oyo State), as well as Hon. Bowale Solaja, Adewale Segun and Ogunbiyi Adeleke Olasukanmi.

While striking out the interlocutory motions, the Supreme Court said Poroye and his group were at liberty to appeal against the judgment of the Court of Appeal.

Justice Onnoghen said it was better and safer for the appellants to add all the issues they raised in the 14 motions in any appeal they might wish to lodge against the decision of the Court of Appeal.

The acting CJN said there was no point hearing the motions piecemeal when final judgment had been delivered.

Reacting to the ruling, Jegede’s lawyer, Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), said his client was not afraid of whatever appeal Poroye’s group would file against the appellate court’s judgment.

Olanipekun also commended the Supreme Court for paving the way for the speedy resolution of the Ondo PDP crisis.

However, the counsel to the appellants, Chief Beluolisa Nwofor (SAN), said his clients would abide by the Supreme Court ruling.

He was however not satisfied that issues of law raised in the motions were not determined on their merit.

Jegede Intensifies Campaign

With his reinstatement as the candidate of the PDP, Jegede yesterday intensified his electioneering across several towns in Ondo to beat tonight’s deadline.

In addition, Jegede’s campaign jingles and promos rented radio and television airwaves immediately after the judgment of the Appeal Court ruling on Wednesday, reported the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN).

Around Okitipupa thursday, it was observed that Jegede’s campaign train was in the town and its environs. Jegede’s campaign team sang his praise and distributed fliers on his election bid.

His supporters were also jubilant, dancing and singing different campaign songs. Also, some supporters of the candidate called for the postponement of the election to give the PDP candidate more time to campaign.

Mr. Ayodele Fasakin, the PDP candidate’s campaign director in Okitipupa, said that the team had a short time to campaign. “INEC should postpone this election; we don’t have enough time for campaigns because the election is two days away. But I am optimistic that Jegede will win the election; it is glaring, “he said.

One of Jegede’s supporters, Mr. Ayinde Ikudaisi, added that he was satisfied with the judgment, and urged INEC to give Jegede more time to sell himself to the electorate.

Another supporter, Mrs. Yemi Akinwale, also said that she was delighted with Jegede’s reinstatement, adding that more time for his campaign would give him a better chance of winning the election.

Also, Jegede thursday led protesters to the state headquarters of INEC reiterating the need for the commission to shift the election by four weeks.

Jegede, who was accompanied by a mammoth crowd that welcomed him when he arrived the Akure Airport, drove in a motorcade through some streets in the state capital.

He said his call was to ensure that the election is held in full compliance with the provisions of Section 34, 45 and 74 of the Electoral Act.

According to Jegede, who submitted a letter to the INEC Chairman, Mahood Yakubu, since the Electoral Act stipulates that the names of candidate should be published 30 days before the election, he felt it would be appropriate if the commission started counting his days as a candidate from November 23 when the Court of Appeal gave judgment in his favour.

He said this would also allow the PDP to submit a list of his party’s agents in good time before the election as provided by the Electoral Act, which stipulates that each party should make available a list of their party agents to the commission 14 days before the day of election.

Jegede said the names submitted by the Biyi Poroye faction of the PDP could not be regarded as the list of the party, because the appellate court had ruled against the faction, making its list a nullity.

Reacting to the request, the Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) in the state, Mr. Olusegun Agbaje, said INEC had gone past the issue of postponement, given that it had distributed sensitive materials to all the local governments already for the election.

He insisted that the commission was prepared for the election come saturday.

“We can no longer be talking about the postponement of the election right now. The matter is an internal dispute within the PDP and so we cannot be talking about postponement.

“If we postpone the election, we will be losing billions of naira knowing that we have already deployed sensitive and non-sensitive materials to all the local government areas of the state,” he responded.

He said the list of party agents would be received from Jegede and the old ones discarded.

Agbaje said adequate security had been provided to escort the materials to the respective local government areas.

Despite his calls for postponement, Jegede continued his campaign across the state, but party leaders expressed concern that the limited time could hurt his chances in the election.

CANDIDATES’ STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES

Olusola Oke (AD)

STRENGTHS

· Has experience contesting in the past

· May benefit from the internal conflicts in the PDP and APC

· Is unencumbered by internal party rancour

· Has strong grassroots support in Ondo South Senatorial Zone

· Has large shadowy backing by political leaders

WEAKNESSES

· His party structure is relatively weak

· Is perceived to be politically unstable having changed parties thrice

· May be hamstrung by poor funding

Rotimi Akeredolu (APC)

STRENGTHS

· Has the backing of the federal government and ruling party

· Has a large war chest

· Has previous experience contesting for the governorship post

WEAKNESSES

· Unresolved anger arising from the primary of his party

· His opponents and Bola Tinubu are already rooting for the AD candidate

· Anger over the non-performance of the APC-led federal government might be transferred to him

· Weak grassroots support

Eyitayo Jegede (PDP)

STRENGTHS

· Has strong political structures and the backing of the state government

· Has a strong financial base

· Could benefit from the disenchantment of the people with the federal government for non-performance

· The sympathy vote

WEAKNESSES

· Not an experienced politician

· May suffer from the adverse effects of the legal tussle for his ticket

· May lose some support from core PDP members who see him as an imposition by Governor Mimiko for third term