The Ekiti State governorship election slated to hold sometime next year is already gathering momentum as the gladiators and their political parties gear up to outdo one another. But as fierce as the battle promises to be, it is still a free-for-all, albeit guided by certain factors. Victor Ogunje reports
The political chess game towards the 2018 governorship poll in Ekiti State is becoming more exhilarating and intriguing by the day. The two major political parties, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and its rival Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) are on a daily basis upping the their games to prove that they have the strategies up their sleeves in the bid to outdo each other. The battle is going to be fierce for many reasons.
The recent judgment of the Supreme Court, which validated the Ahmed Makarfi-led PDP and de-legitimised that of the Senator Ali Modu Sheriff, has re-energised the PDP. This, it is believed, may be the needed tonic for it to be able to prove a point. The party also has a good ally in Governor Ayodele Fayose, who has been rated as the political generalissimo of Ekiti State.
At various fora, the APC had openly owned up to the fact that it would be an uphill task to defeat the PDP at a time Fayose holds sway. The governorâ€™s grassroots connection has spanned over a decade and dislodging such long standing political ties he had built with the people would require extra efforts from the opposition party in the state.
The APC too is not going to pose like a minnow in this game, considering the enormous powers the federal government boasts in Nigeriaâ€™s political parlance. The APC would also use the opportunity to settle scores with Fayose, who has proved to be the most vociferous opposition to President Muhammadu Buhariâ€™s government.
Recently, the governor stirred the hornetâ€™s nest when he accused the presidency of covering Buhariâ€™s health and that the president had been on life support in London since May 7, 2017. Also, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, Minister of Mines and Steel Development, appears determined to avenge the defeat he suffered in 2014 while seeking re-election. The accumulation of all these factors would invariably make the battle very ferocious and pulsating. More importantly, certain factors will determine who holds the ace in the race.
The Zoning Question:
The issue of zoning is no doubt generating a lot of ripples in the APC. The people of the South senatorial district had consistently been beating the war drum that the next governor must come from the zone. In fact, the zone has not produced the governor since 1999. The agitations in APC have been deafening and gradually gaining currency and attentions. The last time they made efforts was in 2014 but a smarter and more acceptable Fayose from the Central snatched the ticket.
This is not to say that the PDP may not feel a dose of the agitations but it seems the party is ready to toe the direction Fayose goes for the actualisation of the continuity programme of the party. As sweet as this may seem, the former Minister of Works, Dayo Adeyeye, who is from the South was said to be unrepentant about zoning and seems determined to fight virulently to actualise this in PDP.
Before now, some notable leaders, though across all the three districts, like the deputy governor, Kolapo Olusola, former deputy governor, Dr. Sikiru Lawal, Adeyeye, former Commissioner for Works, Mr. Kayode Oso, Senator representing Ekiti North, Mrs Biodun Olujimi, former GMD, Wema Bank, Mr Bisi Omoyeni, were rumoured to be interested in the race under PDP and this vividly showed in their respective body languages and those of their supporters. But no open declarations have been made in this regard.
From all indications, Fayose is believed to be interested in installing a successor he could trust. A source close to the governor told THISDAY that he was being circumspect this time, taking cognizance of how he was allegedly betrayed by some of his allies after his ill-fated impeachment in 2006.
The source said the governor had preference for his Deputy, Dr. Olusola, who hails from Ikere in the south district but seems he has changed his mind. If information from other sources is correct, the governor may have settled for Oso, his former commissioner and chief of staff. Oso, according to sources, readily came to the governorâ€™s mind because of his loyalty and he is also an indigene of Ado Ekiti with very intimidating numerical strength in voting pattern.
To underscore how serious some APC leaders were over the contentious zoning, a member of the seventh House of Representatives and governorship aspirant, Hon. Bamidele Faparusi, and partyâ€™s bigwigs from the zone had threatened that they would join forces with other like-minded politicians to prevent some APC leaders from relegating Ekiti South senatorial district in the politics of the state. The party, which hitherto had over 20 aspirants, became agitated when former governor Segun Oni from the North declared interest in the race.
Reacting to this development, they stated that for the partyâ€™s National Working Committee to keep its integrity intact before and after the primary, Oni, who is the Deputy National Chairman (South) of the party should immediately relinquish his position, having plunged into the governorship race.
What actually fuelled the fear was the rumour that Oni was being backed by the presidency, NWC and some power brokers in the South-west, including three of the APC governors.
Another factor that had created room for suspicion that zoning could be muzzled in APC was the rumour flying around that Fayemi was also interested in the race. Fayemi hails from Isan Ekiti in Ekiti North.
Some opinion moulders from the south suspected that Fayemi could use his connection with Buhariâ€™s kitchen cabinet to swing the pendulum to his side at the primary. Some of them took a cue from the Ondo governorship primary, in which Governor Rotimi Akeredolu emerged controversially.
Faparusi said he suspected that deliberate conspiratorial strategies were being contrived by some powerful leaders in the state and beyond to perpetually keep the people of the area from having a shot at the governorship seat.
â€œOur party is bigger than any individual and the party should not allow itself to be put to disrepute by Oni and his cohorts. I, therefore, wish him well in his constitutional but immoral pursuits of his self-serving governorship ambition. But it has to be reminded that one doesnâ€™t win election through fantasy or arm-chair analysis. I pray that God will grant him the fortitude to be able to absorb the shock that will be his fate at the primaryâ€.
Scores to Settle
Whichever way it swings, the coming election is going to wear a toga of personality clash between Fayose and Fayemi. Fayose had consistently boasted that Fayemi could only become a councillor in his Isan/Ilemeso/Ilafon ward in Oye local government. The taunt came about because Fayemi lost in virtually all the wards in Oye Local Government in the last election with the exception of his own ward. Fayose has this impression that the game will be easier with Fayemi being the governorship candidate. Whether Fayemi is picked or not, he has scores to settle with Fayose.
But the APC State Publicity Secretary, Hon. Taiwo Olatunbosun contended that it was sheer illusion for Fayose to think he could defeat the APC this time, predicating this on the governorâ€™s waning popularity due to his inability to pay workersâ€™ salaries. Ekiti is predominantly a civil service state, where wealth can only be redistributed via salary payments.
There was this impression within the APC that Fayose muzzled the party with federal might to win the 2014 poll. Olatunbosun corroborated this when he said: â€œAre you talking of election where the PDP used the federal might to arrest and intimidate our members? Over 50 of our members were arrested a night before the poll, was that an election?
â€œSome notable leaders of our party including me, Hon Sunday Ibitoye, Bimbo Daramola, Bamidele Faparusi, our State Chairman, Chief Jide Awe, Senator Babafemi Ojudu, Hon Dapo Karounwi and others were prevented from coming near their polling units. Should we conclude that there was fairness in that election? Was there any fair play?â€ he queried.
The relationship between the two gladiators had worsened to the extent that they no longer exchange pleasantries anytime they meet at functions.
An APC chieftain, who spoke under the condition of anonymity, said the election would be tension-soaked because these two most popular gladiators donâ€™t see eye-to-eye.
â€œDidnâ€™t you see what happened in Isan Ekiti recently when a new Onisan was installed? Their supporters nearly exchanged fisticuffs if not for the interventions of stakeholders. When they also met at Ilawe Ekiti during the fifth coronation of Oba Adebanji Alabi, they refused to greet each other. So, you should expect that the election will be toughâ€, he said.
As prepared as the APC and PDP seem to be for the impending political battle, there were apprehensions that the parties may be approaching the election factionalised. The APC may be badly affected if this happens due to poor administration.
A close watcher of the events since Oni joined the race would find it easy to conclude that the party is no longer one. There have been ill-feelings and exhibition of unnecessary ego that Oni, being a former governor couldnâ€™t have contested, the way they expected Fayemi to also steer clear. To this extent, the former governor had been under harsh criticisms by APC foundation members on the strength that he was coming from the PDP to take over the party structures.
Many party leaders said they never imagined Oni, who is the National Deputy Chairman (South) of the party to descend so low from that Olympian height to vie for the governorship. With the way they sounded, they were bent on stopping the former governor at all costs not minding the consequences, because he has little control over the delegates. But it appears Oni is presently enjoying popularity growth among the populace and whoever despises that may end up committing political suicide.
To confirm this, Fayose was said to have been rattled by the huge crowd that accompanied Oni to the APC secretariat in Ado Ekiti while declaring his intention. To mitigate the effect on the PDP, the governor was said to have hurriedly left for some towns noted to be swing towns in the politics of the state to distribute rice and money the second day.
Some practical politicians in the party, who didnâ€™t mind whoever flies the partyâ€™s flag, were apprehensive that the war of attrition among them may push former governor Oni out of the party. It was even gathered that many of his handlers were already thinking of the Labour Party as a viable alternative should the conspiracy against him materialise at the primary.
But Oni, while declaring his intent for the plum job said, â€œThis is not a do-or-die affair for me. I am not hungry for power but I only think of the future of this state. People are beginning to appreciate my programmes during my first term and if given the opportunity, I will do more. In actual fact, it must be noted that I am coming on a rescue missionâ€.
The PDP is not immune to this imminent crisis as well. There were fears that Adeyeye was determined to pursue his aspiration not minding whose ox is gored. The former SUBEB Chairman under Oniâ€™s government was being suspected to be mooting a second option to actualise his dream and might end up joining Oni in the APC if picked at the primary or defect with him to other party to fight both the APC and the PDP.
The Ekiti Votersâ€¦
The sophisticated and unpredictable nature of the electorate is another factor giving the two sides some sleepless nights. The way they revolted against Fayemi in 2014, where Fayose won in all the 16 local government areas still remained a mystery and instructive for the incumbent to be wary of his actions. Added to this was the epileptic payment of salaries to Ekiti workers. Largely, Ekiti runs a civil service state and whatever disquietude emanating from the civil servants could have a devastating effect on the outcome of the election.
As positive as this appears for the APC, the people on the streets are also expressing deep disenchantment with President Buhariâ€™s government on account of lacklustre performance. The hike in prices of foods and the rising unemployment in the country have also hardened the peopleâ€™s hearts and might force them to vent their venom on the party if things remain the same.
With the way things are now, the two parties canâ€™t predict where the pendulum will swing. But the outcome of the election will depend largely on how the parties could manage the foregoing variables. The truth, however, is that Fayose would have to put in more effort to establish his stronghold on the state, including fine-tuning his approach to governance, failing which he risks being completely exterminated at the state and national political levers.