Can PDP Overturn the Existing State of Affairs in Ondo?

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Nseobong Okon-Ekong writes that with its inspiring stature, Peoples Democratic Party, the major opposition in Ondo State has the statistical number to put up a strong challenge to record an upset in the forthcoming Ondo governorship election

With the announcement by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) that governorship election will hold in Ondo State on October 10, everything appears set for a battle royale among the major political parties and their leading candidates. In the weeks ahead, there will be a primary by the parties to choose their flag-bearers. While things are still in a confused state in the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), with Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu uncertain of getting the required support from his party to return for a second term, the major opposition, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) may have its best chance yet to wrest power in the Sunshine State, where it is full of optimism to improve on its promising electoral performance.

Looking at the 23-member State House of Assembly, in which the PDP has a marginal two members, a cursory observer may be quick to dismiss the party. However, moving on to the larger picture in the National Assembly, the PDP definitely made a loud roar and looks good to edge out the APC, if it is able to put its house in order. Of the three senatorial districts, the PDP controls Ondo Central with Senator Patrick Ayo Akinyelure. Senator Nicholas Tofowomo of the PDP also represents Ondo South, leaving Senator Ajayi Borofice as the lone APC senator in-charge of Ondo North. The PDP, as well, has members from one-third of the state, that is, three out if nine federal constituencies in Ondo, in the House of Representatives.

With this inspiring stature, the PDP has the statistical number to put up a strong challenge to win a greater number of the 1,546,081 registered voters in Ondo to its side. Ondo Central has the largest number of voters with 39.78 percent or 615,157; followed by Ondo South, which has 33.12 percent or 511,998 voters. And both senatorial districts were won by the PDP in the 2019 National Assembly elections. If this performance is repeated next October, Ondo will become the next South-west state to come under the rule of the PDP, after Oyo.

The battle for Ondo for which political party controls Ondo is not going to be a child’s play. First, the parties have to make the critical choice of who, among the contending personalities, gets their governorship ticket. And this selection process is likely to be more fierce in the PDP, which looks set to create an upset. Unsurprisingly, prospective contestants in the PDP and their supporters have already started making a push, with some of them clearly warning of dire consequences should their favoured candidate not be given the ticket.

A few weeks ago, Hon. Bitire Solomon, former local government party chairman and chairman of chairmen of PDP in Ondo State and High Chief Daisi Mafimisebi, former local party chairman of PDP, for themselves and on behalf of Ondo South PDP leaders wrote an open letter to the national leadership of the PDP concerning the 2020 governorship election in Ondo State, warning on why the party may lose in the forthcoming contest. In the letter, in which they also sought the attention of the party’s flagbearer in the 2019 presidential election, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and its National Chairman, Prince Uche Secondus, they insisted that the party’s governorship candidate must come from the Southern senatorial district.

Solomon and Mafimisebi contended that, “After careful assessment of the chances of our party to win the coming election, we are disturbed that if urgent steps are not immediately taken by the party’s leadership to avert ugly occurrence, God forbid, the governorship election result may go the way of Kogi and Bayelsa states respectively. The winning formula for the PDP in the coming gubernatorial election in Ondo State is for the Party’s candidate to emerge from the Southern senatorial district of the state.

They argued that, “t is the current believe of everyone in Ondo State that it is the turn of Ondo South senatorial district since the outgoing governor, Oluwarotimi Akeredolu is from the northern part of the state while his predecessor, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko, the longest serving governor (eight years) in the history of Ondo State, hails from the Central Senatorial District of Ondo State.”

Drawing the attention of the party leadership to the ugly experience that happened in 2017 when the then governor of Ondo state, Dr. Mimiko tried to alter the rule by imposing his kinsman, Barr. Eyitayo Jegede (SAN) from the same district, after eight years of uninterrupted tenure, as the flag bearer of the party, they submitted that it was this a development that led to the dwindling fortunes of the PDP in Ondo State, which consequently resulted to its abysmal failure in the 2016 Ondo State governorship election.

One of the leading voices in Ondo PDP, Mr. Remi Ofakunrin, however, cautioned that the party had always kept to time-tested foundational principles, which dictate that power that must emanate from the people in an admissible and transparent democratic tradition. He said, “The party also holds in high esteem the equitable distribution cum geographical spread of political and party offices among the people in such a way that no significant force is short-changed in the scheme of things within the party.”

Making further postulations, Ofakunrin stated that, “Over the years, the catechism has been held sacrosanct and congruent in the way leaders were emerging in every stratum of the party. In Ondo State, as one of the states where the party has become a formidable platform, leaders have been cropping up in line with these quintessential ethos. In search for leadership, the party would eagle-eye to get the best charismatic personality who would be acceptable to the generality of people in our political enclave.”

Espousing a similar view, Chief Olaniran Jogbodo argued that, “In a multi-party society like ours zoning principle by a singular party cannot work except there is a consensus opinion by all parties whereby all parties will agree to zone all their candidates to a particular zone or district so that in a final analysis, whichever party wins the election (head or tail) the zone agreed by the generality of the people produces the governor.”

His clear position is that if the PDP wants to successfully wrestle power from the APC, the party cannot shut its door against contestants from other zones by giving automatic ticket to a candidate from the south, because if it does, they already have the result they want; party loyalty will be discountenanced and they will file behind their kinsman to vote for another party. Because the party they love has deprived them of the opportunity to prove themselves. If they lose in the primary, they will be persuaded, out of loyalty to remain in their party because they will have hope in future participation. I strongly advise against zoning. Let’s go for the best as may be decided through a free and fair primary after which all aspirants will be addressed by leaders and persuaded to join hands and work together to clinch power.”

From available records, the PDP has picked its gubernatorial candidates from only two of the three senatorial districts in the five times the party participated in governorship elections in Ondo State. In 1999, the party went for Dr. Olusegun Agagu from Ondo South. The same man was fielded in 2003 and 2007. Ondo South again retained the favour of the party’s governorship ticket in 2012 with Olusola Oke as the flag-bearer. In 2016, the ticket, at first, was given to Jimoh Ibrahim from Ondo South, before it reverted to Eyitayo Jegede (SAN) from Ondo Central.

However, in the actual rulership of the state, all three senatorial districts have tasted power. Chief Adebayo Adefarati (Ondo North) governed for four years between 1999 and 2003. He was succeeded by Dr. Olusegun Agagu (Ondo South); from 2003 to 2009. It was the turn of Ondo Central for eight straight years with Dr. Olusegun Mimiko (Ondo Central) in the saddle between 2009 and 2017. The current governor, Oluwarotimi Akeredolu (Ondo North) has been in office since 2017.

Setting the records straight in a letter to the national leadership of the PDP, three leaders of the PDP across Ondo State Messrs Dayo Awude, a former commissioner in the state, (Central Senatorial District), Benson Amuwa, a former member Niger Delta Development Commssion (NDDC) Board Member,   (Southern Senatorial District) and Dr. Bobby Omotosho, former member, House of Representatives, (Northern Senatorial District) allayed the fears raised by Solomon and Mafimisebi, describing it as, “Purely a product of the elevated self-interest of the authors and an assertion that is very far from the truth and out of touch with reality.”

They asserted that, “Never in the history of governorship election in Ondo State, has the PDP zoned its candidacy to any part of the State. The party has always made competence and capacity its watchwords in picking its candidates. The PDP had picked four of its five candidates since 1999 from the same Southern Senatorial District. If zoning was the issue, the other senatorial zones would not have cooperated with the party in picking from the same zone on four consecutive occasions. It is clear that our party, the PDP, has always elevated merit, competence and capacity as indices of its choice, far above zoning or ethnic considerations.”

To completely jettison the arguments of the proponents of zoning, they said, “The Southern Senatorial District has produced the Deputy Governor of the State, on three different occasions. In other words, the zone has never been shortchanged in the political arithmetic of Ondo State.”

“Rather than promoting disunity and sectional interest in the party,” Awude, Amuwa and Omotosho, submitted that the concern of the party leaders in Ondo should be how to strengthen the existing peace and harmony in the party. “This is an election year, and we all must be concerned about putting our best leg forward, and preach the noble ideals and programmes of our party, to the good people of Ondo State, who are eagerly looking up to us to salvage the state from the hands of its current lackluster leadership.”

We must leverage on the gains of the last election in which we defeated the ruling APC in the state in the Presidential and National Assembly elections. There is no doubt, our people are with us. We must therefore not do anything that will discourage them. Ondo State, is a low hanging fruit for our party at the moment, and it is only this type of ‘Open Letter’ that can deny us the opportunity of taking back our state.”

Many elders of the PDP in Ondo State are rooting for Eyitayo Jegede, the party’s candidate in the 2016 governorship election, who is believed to have been tested, but was not given a fair chance. Jegede has, however, remained consistent and continued to service his political structure across the state. His supporters say he is not only the most qualified, he is also a gentleman. “Of all the pretenders now, he is the only one that is ready. He stood for election and in 2016. He came second, despite the crisis preceding that election. He was in court against Jimoh Ibrahim. That case was not decided until four days to the election, which already destabilized him. He couldn’t campaign until that time because the court had declared Jimoh Ibrahim the candidate so he was discouraged from campaigning or parading himself as the candidate. He only got judgment four days to the election and he still came second. He is very popular, not controversial and perhaps the only candidate that PDP can field right now and hope to defeat Akeredolu. He is from the Central Senatorial no doubt. There is been concern that the former governor Mimiko came from central. But what people have failed to understand is that this gentleman is from Akure and if people are talking about zoning or fairness or justice, if you look at all the former divisions in Ondo state, you have Owo division, Ekiti division which is now a state, Akure division, you have Ondo division. Owo division has been governor. All the divisions have produced governors apart from Akure division. Talking about agitation of whatever, but that is not an issue. We are looking at merits. A governorship material that resonates across the state.”

“What happened to him in the last election generated a lot of sympathy. And again, if you look at it, he has remained loyal to the party since then and it was his case that was used to resolve the PDP national problem; between Markafi and Sheriff crisis. It was the ratio in his case that was input in the subsequent case of Markafi. The contention in the case between him and Ibrahim was about the person empowered by law to endorse a candidate. It was resolved in that case that it was the Markafi caretaker. After that pronouncement in the Supreme Court, the case between Markafi and Sheriff was almost decided. Since then, he has remained committed to the party. Now there have been some agitations, including a petition that was written by irrelevant politicians recently, and there have also been counter petitions. You will see in that petition, that the guys are afraid of a primary. They have resorted to blackmail, claiming that it is the turn of the South. If you analyze the south, they are not that united. You have the Ilajes, the Ikales and the Ijaws. If you look at the politics there…if everyone decides that it should go to the south, the Ilajes will never accept that it should go to the Ikales because an Ikale man has been governor for six years and that is Agagu. And Ilajes and Ikales don’t agree when it comes to politics, and Ilajes and Ijaws don’t agree when it comes to politics, so where do you also do micro zoning?

“Also, if you look at those aspirants coming from the South, you really can’t say that this one will win his local government. After Agagu, the most popular politician from the South is Olusola Oke. To understand the political dichotomy in the South, Oke has contested for governor twice. Once under PDP, the second one in the AD. He only won in two local governments. Assuming the South is united, how did that happen? In the last election, he came a distant third even if he had the support of the National Leader of the APC, Bola Tinubu. So, where is the permutation that a Southern politician will win an election in Ondo state? How was the permutation done? How is it possible that an unknown politician will now contest and win in the state? It is just a political blackmail and it is not unconnected to the fact that if there is a primary today, Jegede will win. He is the only one in the party today that has a structure that is standing. Whether he comes from the South, North or Central part of the state, he has a structure and serious politicians are in that structure. Two things are also working for him. He is from two senatorial districts. His father is from the Central. His mother is from the North. Ose people will vote for Jegede because his mother is from Owo local government area. He is very advantaged and the one that can defeat APC, defeat Akeredolu and he is less controversial. Politicians do not like anyone that is controversial. He is the man to beat if PDP wants to win the state. The PDP must contest to win based on the materials available. The other people parading themselves are jokers. They can’t win a local government. Why should we support such jesters when there is a serious candidate? Why can’t we queue behind someone who has contested before, is tested and his own personal lesson from that loss? That is an asset.”

Other candidates touted to have an interest in the PDP governorship ticket in Ondo State include the current Vice Chairman of PDP South-west, Chief Eddy Olafeso, who is not a grassroots person. He is a latecomer to the event but no doubt he is eloquent. Politically, he is not sellable, at least not in this current dispensation. He is one of the nine or ten aspirants from the South. Whereas, in the central, there is only Jegede. In the North, as at today, it is only Jegede

Besides splitting their votes in the South, even if they nominate one person, they can’t defeat Jegede. This is informed from the pattern of voting when Labour Party ruled the state. The PDP won in a good part of Ikale, but not the entire Ikale, particularly Okitipupa. Agagu was from that axis. By the time you come to Odigbo, because you have a lot of non-indigenes there, that is the Ore area, the Action Congress of Nigeria took a substantial part of the votes. Labour had a good chunk, as well. PDP was weak there. In terms of the reality on ground, the South are not together. There is a strong opinion that if the party decides to give it to the South, it must not come from Ikale. because Ilajes won’t agree. The Ikales have five contenders. But the question is who is sellable statewide? That person is Jegede. He is very popular. The case between him and Ibrahim shot him into national limelight and generated sympathy for him so much that three days to the election, he didn’t have time to raise funds because nobody wanted to put their money on a candidate that the court said should not parade himself as a candidate. He had the least funds in that election and he still came second.

This time, with all the resources behind him and no distraction from the courts, he has a good chance of winning. In the 2019 national elections, Jegede was the state coordinator for the PDP. He won two senate seats under his leadership. A party that wants to win will sit down and see that they already have a candidate that can win and consolidate on him, rather than looking for a fresh candidate to start all over again.

Jegede appears battle ready. The history of Ondo state is replete with political warriors. Recording many failures before a triumph is not unheard of. Mimiko tried many times. It is not a piece of cake. A look at all the aspirants, reveals that one was previously a Publicity Secretary of the PDP. His political achievement is that he was the caretaker chairman of Ilaje local government under the Labour Party and now he wants to be a governor. His name is Banji Okunomo. There is John Olamafo who was the deputy governorship candidate to Jegede in 2016. He says he wants to contest. A three-time commissioner, former elected local chairman of Ilaje/Eseodo LGA, Sola Ebiseni, who has a reputation of being a serial contestant is also warming up. But people cannot quickly forget his role in the last PDP national crisis when he pitched his tent with the Sheriff faction against the mainstream. This may be his albatross. Coming from Owo, the same town and council area as the incumbent governor may work against the aspiration of Mr. Dayo Fadahunsi, a former Special Adviser to the Governor on Union Matters. He is known to have links to artisans and trade associations. Tony Erewa, another likely contestant from the Southern Part is also said to be mapping out strategies for the governorship contest.

QUICK FACTS:

* The Independent National Electoral Commission has fixed governorship election in Ondo State on October 10

*With two out of three senators, three out of nine federal constituencies and two out 23 state constituencies, the Peoples Democratic Party in Ondo state may be set to score an upset in the election

*PDP has the statistical number to put up a strong challenge to win a greater number of the 1,546,081 registered voters in Ondo to its side. Ondo Central has the largest number of voters with 39.78 percent or 615,157; followed by Ondo South, which has 33.12 percent or 511,998 voters. And both senatorial districts were won by the PDP in the 2019 National Assembly elections

*Hon. Bitire Solomon, former local government party chairman and chairman of chairmen of PDP in Ondo State and High Chief Daisi Mafimisebi, former local party chairman of PDP, for themselves and on behalf of Ondo South PDP leaders want the Ondo PDP governorship ticket given to a candidate from South

*The PDP has picked its gubernatorial candidates from only two of the three senatorial districts in the five times the party participated in governorship elections in Ondo State. In 1999, the party went for Dr. Olusegun Agagu from Ondo South. The same man was fielded in 2003 and 2007. Ondo South again retained the favour of the party’s governorship ticket in 2012 with Olusola Oke as the flag-bearer. In 2016, the ticket, at first, was given to Jimoh Ibrahim from Ondo South, before it reverted to Eyitayo Jegede (SAN) from Ondo Central

* In the actual rulership of the state, all three senatorial districts have tasted power. Chief Adebayo Adefarati (Ondo North) governed for four years between 1999 and 2003. He was succeeded by Dr. Olusegun Agagu (Ondo South); from 2003 to 2009. It was the turn of Ondo Central for eight straight years with Dr. Olusegun Mimiko (Ondo Central) in the saddle between 2009 and 2017. The current governor, Oluwarotimi Akeredolu (Ondo North) has been in office since 2017

* Many elders of the PDP in Ondo State are rooting for Eyitayo Jegede, the party’s candidate in the 2016 governorship election, who is believed to have been tested, but was not given a fair chance

*The Southern Senatorial District has produced the Deputy Governor of the State, on three different occasions

* The PDP had picked four of its five candidates since 1999 from the same Southern Senatorial District

*In the 2019 national elections, Jegede was the state coordinator for the PDP. He won two senate seats under his leadership