Can Segun Oni’s Third Force Turn the Table in Ekiti?

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Chief Segun Oni, a former governor of Ekiti State

Having failed to clinch the governorship ticket of the main opposition, Peoples Democratic Party, Chief Segun Oni, a former governor of Ekiti State has moved on to the Social Democratic Party to actualize his dream, writes Victor Ogunje 

On March 1, 2022, the ex-Governor of Ekiti State , Engr. Segun Oni formally flagged off his governorship campaign on the platform of the Social Democratic Party (SDP). 
This event came after the populace, especially his admirers,  were put in abeyance, expecting the course the former governor will take in his political journey to 2022, after a waiting game spanning over one month.
In actual fact, it was one unique declaration, for Oni , because  he came out on the platform of a lowly rated party, Social Democratic Party (SDP), which  represents a third force in the countdown to the June 18 governorship poll in Ekiti State.
Since the advent of democracy in 1999, Ekiti has been known for majorly recognizing two parties, despite the multiparty system being operated in Nigeria. 
Going down memory lane, it was a direct duel between the Alliance for Democracy and the Peoples Democratic Party in 1999.  This trend dominated the polity until 2007 when the AD transmuted to Action Congress and later Action Congress of Nigeria and now All Progressives Congress(APC). 
Looking at the trajectory of elections and whatever transmutations the progressive party must have undergone, electioneering has always been a direct battle between the progressive party and the PDP even up to 2018.
Though,we have had instances where third forces  emanated for governorship elections, but none of them made remarkable showing. 
The first time this kind of scenario played out was in 2007, when former governor Ayodele Fayose, who was impeached ordered his foot-soldiers to abandon PDP and work for the candidature of the aggrieved Mr Yinka Akerele on the platform of the defunct All  Nigeria’s People’s Party(ANPP).
The results of the election showed that Akerele, who came first in the PDP’s primary, but was substituted with Segun Oni on the order of President Olusegun Obasanjo could only poll slightly over 7,000 votes out of over 300,000  total votes cast in the election  .
The same scenario resurged in 2014 when Governor Kayode Fayemi was seeking reelection on the platform of the APC. Miffed by the way he was edged out of the primary, a member of the House of Representatives then and now a Senator representing Ekiti Central Senatorial District, Opeyemi Bamidele, moved to Labour party and contested in that election.
Despite his popularity in the politics of the state, Bamidele could only muster 18,200 to emerge third behind Fayose , who won the election with the incumbent Fayemi coming second.
In-depth dissection of  the aggregate of these political happenings gives an insight  that third force had never made any remarkable impact in the Ekiti governorship race. 
Though in 2015 , nobody ever expected that Muhammadu Buhari of the APC could spring  trounce the incumbent President Goodluck Jonathan with intimidating presidential power in such an ignominious fashion, but it happened and history  recorded that.
 The whole Ekiti is patiently waiting for the political Ingenuity and wizardry that Oni would bring to bear to turn the table against APC and the dominant opposition PDP in this game.
However, the only  difference between  Oni’s third force and others remains that he is a former governor while the two others: Akerele and Bamidele are not. 
Indisputably, Oni has two things  going for him in this game and that is the goodwill he has garnered over the years as a former governor, where he employed over 6,000 people into the civil service. The populace also have the general feeling that he is one leader with spartan, modest and receptive mien, who can be trusted with power.
In Ekiti, as things stand today,  the civil service remains the engine room of election, because it consists of over 60, 000 population  all within voting ages. This gives them advantage to remove any governor at will, especially those they do not want. 
The second advantage for Oni is the fact that he has criss-crossed all major parties, where he held vital and strategic positions. He was a foundation member of the PDP and later moved to the APC where he held the position of Deputy National Chairman (South). With these  political journeys,  it is evidently clear that Oni has followers in the ruling and main opposition parties , which has become a strong bulwark for his campaign and ambition in SDP.
Without sounding exaggerative, the former governor enjoys  a lot of goodwill today in Ekiti. This singular factor has made the SDP he joined barely three weeks ago a  movement and potential danger to both the ruling APC and Fayose-propelled PDP.
The fact that he brought out his running mate from Ado Ekiti capital city, one Ladi Owolabi, has also reinforced his chances in this election. Also, Ado Ekiti has the largest percentage of voting population and it remains one of the swing local governments in election victory.
The APC has also played a smart politics to countermand this strategy, by picking Hon Biodun Oyebanji’s running mate, Mrs Monisade Afuye from Ikere Ekiti, the town   with second largest vote concentration in Ekiti.
However,  Oyebanji too, is also an experienced politician with strong backings from from Governor Kayode Fayemi, the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Otunba Niyi Adebayo, traditional rulers and political office holders. This has made him a hard nut to crack for any contestant in the coming election. He is also being rated as having a good prognosis of winning the poll. 
It was a carnival like moment the day Oni formally flagged off his campaign under SDP in Ekiti.  He was welcomed into Ado Ekiti via Ikere road by mammoth crowd of party admirers, who were adorned in SDP vest carrying Oni’s portrait and a big horse, the logo of the party. 
The large turnout of admirers and party supporters that welcomed Oni, who was accompanied by his running mate and Ado Ekiti indigene, Hon. Ladi Owolabi, had caused serious traffic gridlock along Ado-Ikere-Akure road for over two hours.
Going back to past records, besides absorbing new blood into the civil service during his time, Oni also has indelible footprints in road infrastructure, establishment of two universities, robust scholarship scheme, micro credit for traders and above all ensured prompt payment of salary, pension and gratuity.
But as lofty as these seem to be, he still has personality crisis, which  necessitated by his removal from office abruptly through judicial pronouncement in 2010. The general feeling that Segun Oni rigged himself into government still reverberates and efforts need to be intensified  by his handlers to cleanse the label of poll rigger already attached to him. 
However, addressing the crowd, the former governor, described  the ruling All Progressives Congress under Governor Kayode Fayemi as a colossal failure, saying the SDP he brought to Ekiti represents progress. He pleaded with Ekiti voters to get their Permanent Voter Cards(PVCs) and sweep the APC out of Ekiti.
Oni said the SDP he brought represents progress, which he accused   the APC and the dominant opposition PDP  of vehemently  failing  to provide for the populace. He assured the people that they will take absolute ownership of his government as he did during his first term between 2007 and 2010 if elected .
“Our election is coming up on June 18, 2022, you are all aware of this. My advise to all of you is to go and get your PvCs and send this government packing .Sending them packing is like a  good riddance to bad rubbish. 
“You won’t miss both PDP and APC in Ekiti if you vote for me. What is the essence of a government than can’t bring  progress? Please tell them that progress has come and that progress is Segun Oni. By the grace of God, I will not disappoint you. 
“Your voter card is your power, don’t allow these people to continue to dominate the system and cheat you. Vote for progress, vote SDP. Go and mobilise for SDP, it is the party of progress. Ekiti peoole don’t deserve suffering, sweep them away with your votes on June 18”.
Oni predicated the  groundswell of supports he had been savouring among Ekiti residents on his goodwill and impressive governance he ran during his first term, where he placed high premium on prompt payment of salary and pension. 
He promised to prioritize the security of the people, employment generation, commercial agriculture, good governance, affordable health services, massive road Infrastructures  and would ultimately return power to the people, to whom he holds the power in trust. 
“I have served you before, you know that I represent transparency and development and these  I will give you you if elected on June 18. I can’t deceive you, it is the same Segun Oni that you voted for in 2007, I shall keep all my promises with you. I believe in the people and the power shall be in your hands this time, like I did during my first term”.
But an APC chieftain and one of the strongest backers of the party’s candidate, who also held the Deputy Speakership position  in the Ekiti State House of Assembly, Taiwo Olatunbosun, described Oyebanji as the candidate to beat in this election.
Olatunbosun, a former Information Commissioner under Segun Oni, was of the believe that Oni didn’t pose any threat to APC in the June 18 election, saying Governor  Fayemi’s achievements surpassed that of any other governor that had ever ruled Ekiti and that this would serve as a springboard for APC candidate .
The former Deputy Speaker stated that Ekiti voters are ready to reward the APC for the continuation of the free education policy, Social security scheme to the elderly, human capital development, payment of salary and pension , regular water supply scheme, empowerments for women and widows , which are hallmarks of good governance ushered in by Governor Fayemi in this poll .
“Apart from the fact that the impressive achievements of Dr Kayode Fayemi will be our campaign focus and slogan in this election, we also have a sellable candidate in the person of Hon Biodun Oyebanji. He is not a hard sell in this election, he is known all over Ekiti since 1999 .
“Again, he was the Secretary of the committee for the creation of Ekiti in 1996 at barely 27 years. How can someone who participated actively in the creation of a state be considered unfit to lead that state as a governor? Ekiti voters are not ingrates, they will reward Oyebanji for his good deeds to the people.
“Don’t also forget that his late mother was a teacher while his father, who is one of the prominent members of the Ekiti council of elders retired as a school principal. So, we have no problem marketing him to the civil servants and our teachers across Ekiti.
“Again, Governor Fayemi has an impressive labour relations in Ekiti. Between 2010 and 2014 and now that he has been  a governor, he increased the minimum  wage trom N11,300 to N18,200 to N30,000 with consequent adjustment also effected for senior workers. 
“He also increased monthly pension from the paltry N10m to N100m monthly. So, we are not skeptical about APC winning or feeling any heat or threat. We are not threatened at all”.
The PDP also boasted that it remains unfazed by the grandstanding of both APC and SDP in this election, saying the party stands as the most visible in Ekiti politics because of Governor Ayodele Fayose’s superlative performances while in the saddle of governance.
The party’s Publicity Secretary,  Raphael Adeyanju, said the party remains unshaken and unperturbed by Oni’s waves in SDP, describing the PDP as having the best candidate, Hon Bisi Kolawole that can be market easily to dislodge the ruling government.
“We are not in any way rattled at all, because the PDP is on ground in Ekiti and our people are at home with us. We have nobody or party to fear, because Hon Bisi Kolawole stands above others . 
“Don’t forget that he was azz House of Assembly member and Commissioner in Ekiti. He has the experience and also leaning on the shoulders of the most popular politician in Ekiti, Ayodele Fayose is his greatest advantage.
“The biggest blow to Segun Oni’s ambition is the hatred our people now have for recycled leadership. We had seen the best of Segun Oni between 2007 and 2010, so our people are yearning for a new, competent leadership and that is what Hon Kolawole of the PDP represent.”
The election is about 100 days ahead. Fingers are crossed as to whether Oni will be a clear departure from the past, by turning the table and establishing a new template that a third force can be a potent force to dislodge the ruling party.