Is Ekiti the Bellwether to 2019?


From all indications, Ekiti State appears ready for Saturday’s governorship election, writes Victor Ogunje

Six days from today, the people of Ekiti State will again file out to elect who will decide their collective destiny for the next four years, at the governorship level. The game so far has been intriguing and a lot of dingdongs are being raised among political camps and gladiators and the resonating effects are making the political landscape quake as these actors play their chess games to outwit one another.

Generally, 35 political parties will be fielding candidates for this election, but realistically, the battle is chiefly between the two dominant parties: the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

Candidates of other parties like Dr. Sikiru Lawal of the Labour Party, Mr. Bisi Omoyeni of the Mega Party of Nigeria and Surveyor Biodun Aluko of the Accord Party are former deputy governors with admirers and sympathisers across party divides. The dominance of the PDP and the APC notwithstanding, they are still going to make appreciable impact in the election, though they may not pose much of threat to the strongest two parties with wide probability to win the much awaited election.

What actually made the game fiercer is the seeming retaliatory disposition of the APC. The party’s candidate and former governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, lost reelection bid to Governor Ayodele Fayose in 2014 and is believed to see this as an opportunity to pay the present governor back in his own coin. Fayose is backing his deputy, Prof Kolapo Olusola in the succession battle.

The impression then was that Fayose used federal might to suppress the state hence the APC is said to be poised to also use the same federal power to get rid of the PDP. How realisable this is will unfold on July 14, when the state will decide on the choice between the two parties.

Naturally, a lot of factors will decide, who gets the crown in the end. As of now, the whole scenario has been playing out in bulk and pieces and people are beginning to decipher that it is dicey and too early in the day to predict where the pendulum will eventually swing.

Fayemi Regains His Groove
Although Fayose has an advantage added to being an incumbent governor, who is believed to have done not badly in the face of dwindling revenues of the state, he has a very strong connection with the grassroots and these had conferred on him cult-like followers outside his party. Fayemi, before now, did not to enjoy this benefit due to the fact that many viewed him from the prism of being too elitist despite having impressive performance as a governor. But all that is equally believed to have since change as so far seen in the outcomes of the campaigns.

Unfortunately for Fayose, the gale of defections that had hit the PDP in recent time had eroded this support base to the point that it could cause him colossal damage in terms of votes posted if he failed to stem the tide. Many of those in the PDP are waiting in the wing and may defect few days to the D-day.

Those who made Fayemi’s defeat easier in 2014 had defected to APC to coalesce efforts with the former minister to undo Fayose, who virtually all the politicians in Ekiti now perceived as a common enemy that must be decimated and demystified.

The likes of Senator Ayo Arise, former Minister of Works, Dayo Adeyeye; former Speaker, Hon. Dele Olugbemi; former Commissioners, Owoseeni Ajayi and Deji Adesua respectively; PDP Majority Leader in the Assembly, Hon. Ebenezer Alagbada and Chief Whip, Hon. Sunday Akinniyi; former Special Adviser on Tourism, Demola Bello; former Senior Special Assistant on Finance, Mr. Cyril Fasuyi and other bigwigs too numerous to mention, are now in APC. These people are not only in APC, they are determined to give Fayose a bloodied nose in this election.

As at the time Fayemi was mooting the idea of veering into the race, his popularity rating was abysmal. Even those who could not win a ward among the APC aspirants had the erroneous impression that they would trounce the former governor in the primary. But the manner he emerged the candidate had lent credence to the fact that he is now a master of the game. He proved that he was no longer a tyro as he was in his first term, which Fayose banked on to remove him from office.

An in-depth analysis of the former minister’s political prowess gives a conviction that his popularity rating has soared, courtesy of so many factors. These include defections of PDP bigwigs, deep purse, strong campaign strategies, federal backing, and a good choice of running mate.

It was a deft and meticulous move for Fayemi to have picked a grassroots and well-revered politician, Chief Bisi Egbeyemi as his running mate. Egbeyemi has a lot of things going for him. One, he hails from Ado Ekiti, a town with the highest votes. This man is largely seen as a homegrown politician. He has also held positions of influences in the past as a Council boss of the capital city and commissioner. He is also a legal practitioner with more than 35 years of experience in the state.

During these years, he had rendered free legal services to many people, who may want to see this opportunity as a payback time for his good deeds. Besides, Fayemi is believed to have chosen an elderly person so that he would not have succession crisis start from his backyard by the time he finishes if he eventually won next Saturday. They would both leave together and pave the way for a much younger person on a clean slate.

Also, the impression was that many of those, who contested the primary with Fayemi, including former Governor Segun Oni would defect if Fayemi had won, but those with this thinking had been disappointed as they all remain firm and committed to APC reclaiming the state.

The overt support being exhibited by the leader of the party in the South-west, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu has also been boosting people’s confidence in Fayemi.

Fayemi has been acting like a typical politician by promptly realising where the bulk of his crises will come from in this election. This might be the reason he initiated a confidence-building tactic by meeting with the leaderships of Nigeria Union of Teachers, Nigeria Labour Congress and Trade Union Congress to convince them that he has no evil intention against them.

At various fora, he had taken time to explain how he jacked up workers’ salaries and released other incentives like running grants, loans and special allowances as and when due during his time as a governor. All these benefits had been abolished under the present governor. He was explicit that the highly vexatious and controversial Teachers’ Development Needs Assessment, which pitted him against the civil servants, would not be revisited. The message seems to be sinking deeply as many of the teachers are still undecided on who to vote for and Fayemi may be the right choice in the end.

Fayose Fights Back
As this gale of defections raged, Fayose has been making counter moves by rallying teachers, artisans under the auspices of Ekiti State Private Sector Association of Nigeria, civil servants and local government workers to back Olusola. In doing this, a lot of propaganda is being dished out that Fayemi would sack teachers and civil servants as well as banished Okada riders from the roads if elected governor. Without exaggerating issue, this has become a campaign issue Fayemi has been battling to refute wherever his campaign train visits.

The governor was also smart by studying the voters’ register and got the percentage of voters, who are youths. In his intention to woo this population, Fayose made Mr. Deji Ogunsakin, a 39-year old man the running mate to Prof. Olusola. This has been seen as an impetus to the youth population coupled with the fact that Ogunsakin is from Ado Ekiti and had presided over the Council as an elected Chairman.

Voters’ Changing Attitude
A study of the trajectory of the electioneering process in the country in the last four years vividly portrayed the process as heavily monetised. This played out in Edo, Ondo and Anambra gubernatorial elections and Ekiti may not be an exemption. Money will play prominent role in this election and APC, borrowing leave from the Ondo scenario is resolute to not leave anything to chance.

However, the assumption is that the PDP may not have problem of finance, being the ruling party. Governor Fayose’s strong ties with oil rich states of Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Delta and Bayelsa, is also an added benefit. But by the governor’s nature, he has never been fond of spending to win election. This could be confirmed with the 2003 and 2014 elections he had won. The fear in PDP has been that, the party may crash out in this election if such strategy is adopted going by the trends of voting in recent polls conducted by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

Without trying to play the ostrich to the real issue, Fayose seems to have another battle to fight. Most of the PDP members are aggrieved. Most dangerous is the fact that many of the aggrieved persons were not bold enough to defect. This group may constitute a serious impediment on the day of election by acting as the fifth columnists. The governor must realise this, because he has been holding series of meetings across the 177 wards and 2,195 polling units in the state to calm frayed nerves.

The issue of election has become the business of everybody in the state, the old, young, literates and illiterates. Movement from the capital city to the remotest town of Omuo, Efon, Irele, Ikole, Emure and others, people are seen in clusters discussing the issue that has direct connection with their lives and future.

This election seems to have a clear departure from the past. No one could predict who will be the next occupant of Oke Bareke Government House few days to election. In 1999, people already knew one month to election that Otunba Niyi Adebayo of the Alliance for Democracy (AD) would win. In 2003, it was clear two weeks to the election that Mr. Ayodele Fayose would emerge the governor, the situations were similitude to what were obtained in the 2007 and 2014 elections that the duo of Fayemi and the present governor won.
Another cogent parameter being deployed is the zoning issue. The people of the south were of the opinion that it is their turn to produce the governor. The duo of Fayemi and Segun Oni are from the South, while Fayose and Adebayo are from the Central Senatorial District.

Ekiti, being a homogeneous state has never been divided by geographical delineation. People see themselves as one but the southern people have been feeling ostracised over the inability to allow them to produce the governor, when the two other zones had produced governors twice. That was the reason Fayose dumped other preferred aspirants and embraced Prof. Olusola, who is from Ikere Ekiti in the south. The governor has been using this to campaign to the masses in the six local governments that constitute the district and zoning has become an issue to the people of the zone.

The South had the largest number of aspirants in APC for the May 5, primary, but was overwhelmed by Fayemi. The APC could bank on the strength of Senator Gbenga Aluko, Adeyeye, Dr Wole Oluyede and the Deputy Director General of Kayode Fayemi campaign organisation, Hon. Bamidele Faparusi to ward off Fayose’s incursion into the election and have been doing this. The party has also been moving to placate the district by ceding the ministerial slot to the zone.

As capricious as the election seems to be, the PDP candidate may have a good showing in the South on account of geographical affinity and feeling of being alienated. This comprise of Gbonyin, Ikere, Emure, Ise/Orun, Ekiti East and Emure local governments. Fayemi too may enjoy such in Moba, Oye, Ikole, Ido/Osi and Ilejemeje Councils of the North with his mobilisation prowess.

Curiously, Oni is now in court challenging Fayemi’s eligibility to contest the APC primary. Oni contended that the former Minister did not resign his federal appointment before contesting as demanded by the party’s constitution. Too bad, there appears to be nothing to the case.

There may be a balance of forces in the Central between Governor Fayose and former Governor Niyi Adebayo. The central consists of Ado, Ekiti West, Efon, Ijero and Irepodun/Ifelodun local governments. This zone may be a battlefield and the deciding factor in the impending battle.

The mood of the people about this election is not one of excitement as it was in the past and their reactions captured this, the reason the over 42 per cent of voters were said to be undecided seven days to election, according to the report of an Abuja-based Civil Society Organisation under the banner of Election Monitor and Evaluation Group.

The President of the group, Mr. Clement Iwobi, said this could not be unconnected with the apathy that has taken over the polity as a result of bad governance, fraud and dictatorial tendencies of Nigerian leaders, who often disappoint the people after elections.
No matter how lukewarm the people seem to be in this pre-election season, it may not diminish their enthusiasm to cast their votes for their preferred candidates going by the high number of those that had procured the Permanent Voter Cards. This, according to INEC, had risen by over 250,000 within the past two months. It lent credence to the fact that people are ready to vote in this election, but where the pendulum would swing remains a puzzle.

Can the Ekiti Election Influence 2019?
The interesting thing about next Saturday’s governorship election in Ekiti State is that it shares no bearing with the expectations of the 2019 elections, either at the presidential level or other categories. The understanding that they are mutually exclusive must be appreciated by all concerned.

In 2014, when Governor Fayose defeated Dr. Fayemi, the grace of his victory did not extend to former President Goodluck Jonathan, who was equally defeated by President Muhammadu Buhari in 2015. And this is because all the elements responsible for next Saturday’s election would vary significantly by next year, when the nation shall seek to elect new persons into various offices.

What it therefore means is that how hard the respective office-seeking politicians work, coupled with their acceptability, vision and mission as well as their capacity to hold down their turfs would play either for or against them in the respective seasons, and not that the success of one can guarantee the salvation of the other. The outcome of the Ekiti election may not in any way influence what is to expect in 2019. It is a no brainer!