After the storm in Ondo, the calm
Before the conduct of last Saturday’s governorship election in Ondo State, there was apprehension in the land that the outcome of the exercise may unleash a round of violence among a people known for high political volatility.
The fear was not misplaced judging by the build-up to the November 26 date during which all the tricks in the books, including judicial manipulations and threats of violence, were being employed by gladiators to influence the outcome of an election that was not yet held.
While the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) triggered off its self-destruct mechanism, allegedly aided by the antics of the All Progressives Congress (APC) that was accused of having found an ally in the former’s divided house, the Alliance for Democracy (AD) carried the onerous burden of salvaging the threatened image of a regional political leader.
In the ensuing battle between the trinity of forces, the electorate was torn between showing support for the powerful political lords of Abuja, Akure and Lagos, a development that further complicated their choices.
As Akure, represented by the incumbency of Olusegun Mimiko accused the APC power house in Abuja of undermining the electoral aspirations of the people and warned against reenactment of the state’s bloody political past, Abuja was flexing muscles that “all attempts to disturb the peace would be quashed with maximum force.”
During a hurriedly-arranged visit to the Presidency at the wake of the substitution of the candidate of the PDP, Mimiko reportedly told President Muhammadu Buhari that as the Chief Security Officer of Ondo, he may find it difficult bringing the mayhem that could follow any undemocratic action under control.
The governor who repeated the same warning while casting his vote on election day, was said to have referred to the carnage of 1983 and the possibility of its reenactment to which Buhari reportedly reminded him that as the one who cleared the 1983 mess, he was ready to do same again.
To show that Akure’s threats were not empty ones, especially when it was pointing accusing fingers at Abuja for the distractive litigation that had crippled its candidate and while calling for polls delay after the eleventh hour judgment, pockets of violence erupted in the state capital and a few other urban centres.
Members of the commercial drivers’ union, who are always the recruitment grounds for political enforcers and whose leadership’s tenure is tied to the support of an incumbent governor, were the first to disturb the peace by setting bonfires on the streets.
Next to stage protests calling for the postponement of the election were market women and members of the traders’ associations, a section of the population that Mimiko, a consummate politician, had deliberately courted and allegedly pampered in the last seven years.
Within the APC itself, another fallout of internal wrangling apart from the resuscitation of the AD, was the occasional violence from the group loyal to the first runner-up in the contentious primary election.
For several days before the polls, residents living in the neighborhood of the APC state secretariat located along Oyemekun Road in the state capital, were always scampering for safety whenever hoodlums loyal to the two opposing camps face each other causing general confusion and raising apprehension about the conduct of the polls.
In one instance, before the police sealed up the one-storey office and took over its protection, many scary fetish objects were deposited at the entrance of the building for which some mischievous commentators on the social media gave the party the sobriquet “Ayelala Peoples Congress.”
Another factor that raised tension about the election was the involvement of traditional rulers in campaigning for their subjects who were leading candidates in the polls.
Laced with subtle threats especially from the domains of the three leading candidates, non-indigenes were warned to either cooperate with their hosts and put all their votes in one basket in favour of the choice candidates or risk possible forceful expulsion from their communities.
The three communities of Akure, where the PDP candidate hails from, Owo, hometown of the APC candidate and Ilaje, the domain of the AD candidate, are guilty of these threats to not only the settlers within their midst but also to their own who have been identified to be working for the opposition.
Before last Saturday, many non-indigenes had either surrendered their rights of choice of candidate to the community or decided to be on the safer side by not participating in the exercise.
On the eve of the election, the threats were executed in Owo when a serving commissioner in the incumbent cabinet and PDP chieftain attracted communal wrath when he allegedly ordered the destruction of the property of politicians known to be supporting the choice of the community.
Three persons in the commissioner’s camp were reportedly killed and it took a combined team of security agencies to protect his multi-million naira mansion from being destroyed, an action that could have affected other identified opposition politicians. He was, under the cover of darkness, ferried to Akure Government House for protection.
Despite the high level of trepidation brought about mainly by the utterances of the gladiators and threats from communal heads, the election was conducted under a peaceful atmosphere.
Besides, an unprecedented post-election calm that is rare on the shores of Ondo has descended on the state to show that the general public has accepted and in fact, happy about the outcome of the exercise.
There was no violent action as the results started trickling in moments after the conclusion of voting on Saturday. In the evening, there were reports of sharing of bottles by opposition politicians at drinking joints where many of them had converged to compare notes.
Nothing depicted the peace that followed the exercise more than the picture of the dancing duo of Eyitayo Jegede, the PDP candidate and his wife, inside the St. David’s Cathedral Church at Ijomu in Akure, on Sunday morning even before the final collation of results were done. They attended a Thanksgiving Service to praise God for giving them “the opportunity of participating in a peaceful exercise” even though they didn’t emerge as winners.
And at the Ijapo, Akure home of Olusola Oke, the AD candidate was holding a stakeholders’ meeting with his supporters where he thanked them for their steadfastness and commitment with words of encouragement that what they didn’t get today could be theirs tomorrow.
In the two instances, both candidates prayed for the success of the governor-elect, Rotimi Akeredolu and called on the people of the state to cooperate with him to move the state to greater heights.
With this calm heralding the opening of a new chapter in the political history of Ondo State, it is hoped that other gladiators will sheath their sword and embrace the winner, who according to the post-election request of elder statesman, Chief Olu Falae, should “open the doors of his administration to form an all-inclusive government that will accommodate all opinions.”