Ondo APC guber primary and dilemma of a loose broom
In the last three weeks, the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Ondo State has been embroiled in a crisis of leadership following a groundswell of opposition to the continued chairmanship of Isaacs Kekemeke who has been accused by a section of the membership of anti-party activities.
The chairman was alleged to be promoting the candidacy of an unpopular governorship aspirant thereby raising questions about his sincerity to lead the party to victory in the November 26 governorship election.
Since his emergence, Kekemeke, a lawyer from the minority Ijaw-speaking Ese-Odo council in the riverrine area of the state who has his background in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) under which government he held several top public offices, has been viewed with suspicion.
While many see him as a ‘stranger’ in the progressive fold, others accuse him of being a mole working for the interests of those who didn’t want the APC to win the state.
Although he emerged as chairman, few months after he joined the APC, in a controversial election defeating Ade Adetimehin, long-time member of the old Alliance for Democracy (AD) family, by two votes, Kekemeke enjoyed the confidence of the South West zonal leaders because of his impressive political trajectory.
The leaders gave him the mandate to organise the party to become an election-winning platform and bring all the interests together to achieve the task, an onerous one in a state being governed by a professional politician.
Members however accused Kekemeke of failing to pursue the mandate especially as they alleged that rather than provide a platform of unity for all members; he deployed instruments of divisions, pitching his tent with “an aspirant he can control” rather than one that can win the state.
Tempers rose two weeks ago following speculations that the National Leader of the party and former Lagos governor, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu had directed Kekemeke to influence the emergence of his (Tinubu’s) business partner as the candidate of the party.
The chairman was said to have been saddled with the aspirant, a man of modest educational attainment, when his earlier choice of a university proprietor with sparse followers, failed to convince Tinubu.
In presenting a list of strong candidates to Tinubu, the chairman was accused of relegating strong contenders like Senator Ajayi Boroffice, Rotimi Akeredolu, Olusola Oke and Jamiu Ekungba to the bottom.
One of the aspirants, Dr. Tunji Abayomi who has been most vocal in condemning imposition of candidate in any guise, took it personal with Tinubu, whom he accused, through a letter, of undermining the democratic aspiration of Ondo people.
Although Tinubu, while replying the correspondence, affirmed his right to have preference, he vowed not to do anything to jeopardize the integrity of the primary election.
While many see Tinubu’s position as a tactical withdrawal from his earlier plan, others believe that the old politician may still go about the support for his preferred aspirant through some other subtle and clandestine ways.
Last week Monday, in an attempt to prevent the acting of the script of the ‘endorsed’ aspirant, some aggrieved members, led by the trio of Jimmy Adekanle, Wale Williams and Lanre Tegbe, locked up the party secretariat along Oyemekun Road in Akure, allegedly removed Kekemeke, conducted an ‘election’ and picked Saka Yusuff Ogunleye as the acting Chairman.
The next day, a band of thugs allegedly loyal to the embattled chairman came in their dozens armed with various dangerous weapons to chase away the ‘coupists’, reclaimed the secretariat and occupied the place.
The police had to be drafted to the scene on the third day when another set of thugs engaged the occupants in a free-for-all fight that sent passers-by and residents of the area scampering for safety.
When a meeting of the 69-member State Executive Council made up of the members from across the 18 local councils met to review the situation, a plethora of allegations was raised against the chairman resulting in 47 of them passing a vote of no confidence on his leadership.
According to Adetimehin, who was persuaded to be the Deputy-Chairman after Kekemeke’s emergence, the action of the majority of members of the executive has effectively removed the chairman from office and put him on the seat.
He said the members relied on Article 17 (5) and (6) of the party’s constitution, which spelt out the modes of relieving a sitting chairman of his position until a proper election is held to fill the seat.
The party’s State Publicity Secretary, Abayomi Adesanya, who shared the same position with the Youth Leader, Babalayo Olutayo, and who has been having a running battle with Kekemeke for some time over how the party’s publicity was being handled, echoed Adetimehin, saying due process was followed in the removal of the chairman.
Old members of the party under the auspices of Elders Assembly of Ondo APC added more to the burden of allegations against the chairman by accusing him of high-handedness and mismanagement of party affairs.
According to them in a statement signed on their behalf by Second Republic Senator, Olorunnimbe Farukanmi, “We are appealing to the members of the APC in Ondo State that unless capable leaders are made to reorganise the party properly, no matter whom we endorse to run the governorship election, our chances of winning the election are slim.”
But Kekemeke said he remained the chairman of the party, adding that the SEC had no power to remove him from office because he was a member of the National Executive Committee and could not be removed at the state level.
According to him, “Only the national executive members of the party can remove the chairman at the state level, because the state chairman is a member of the national executive. They should check their constitution and should not dissipate their energy or waste their time.”
Last Tuesday, Kekemeke’s position was buoyed by the National Secretariat of the party, which overruled the members during an emergency meeting in Abuja by saying through the Deputy National Chairman, Senator Lawal Shuaibu that the national committee was not aware of the chairman’s removal.
Earlier at a meeting to strengthen the confidence of the aspirants in the process, National Chairman, John Odigie-Oyegun said Kekemeke remained the Ondo chairman of the party as members at the state level have no power to remove him.
On the alleged endorsement by Tinubu, Odigie-Oyegun said while the leader can endorse an aspirant as an individual, it is improper and unacceptable for any SEC to do so.
But Adetimehin insisted that Abuja only pledged to “look into the issue. Nobody asked us to go back to the status quo. The national body said they would look into the vote of no confidence passed on Kekemeke.”
Kekemeke, however, denied the allegation that he was imposing an aspirant over the others saying, “I have said repeatedly that I do not prefer any of the aspirants but I have also no power to deny anyone the constitutional right to prefer any aspirant.
“All I know is that I don’t have a preference, I have a vote. In the interest of perception, I did announce to the state working committee over two months ago that I was not going to vote. I cannot stop anyone from exercising his constitutional and political right to express preference.”
FOR a platform that has huge potentials of forming the next government in the state, the crisis that is already threatening the victory of the party in the governorship election is akin to triggering a self-destruct mechanism that analysts believe has all along been embedded in the APC structure.
The party, unlike others in the Ondo political environment now or before it, has no central authority that all segments can hold in reference and which, at times like this, could take charge of the situation and provide directions.
At the commencement of the current democratic dispensation, a clear leadership in the old political order of the South West geo-political zone took charge of affairs and selected one of them, Adebayo Adefarati, as the governor of the state.
The opposition elements, drawing currents from the Abuja power base, rallied round Dr. Olusegun Agagu, the then Minister of Power and Steel who took over from Adefarati in 2003.
And while Agagu was in office, incumbent governor Olusegun Mimiko emerged as the pivot around which aggrieved politicians rallied to provide a platform for bringing the change to the occupancy of the Government House.
But in the APC as it was in its precursor, the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), the party lacks an internal father figure that has enough clout to put things in order. The result was a political party that lacked internal cohesion and where, for lack of a centre that can pull all the elements together, centrifugal forces built around ambitions of individual members, emerged to threaten the unity of the whole.
And because of the peculiar nature of Ondo politics, attempts by leaders from outside its territory to fill the vacuum and intervene in matters of importance always created a bigger problem than it intended to resolve.
When Akeredolu was imposed on the ACN as the candidate in 2012, allegedly without wide consultations, the party came third in the number of votes garnered at the election because a large section of the membership could not key into a project that was rammed down their throats.
The current crisis is more pronounced not only because it invoked the painful memory of the 2012 loss, but also because the status of the party has been more enhanced with influx of high caliber politicians from across many platforms raising the hope, more than ever, of its ascension to power.
With five out of nine members in the House of Representatives, two out of the three Senators, a member of the Federal Executive Council and a parent party holding power in Abuja, the party stands on a strong platform.
This strong position is more emphasized by the crack in the ruling PDP along the two factions that fight over the control of its national leadership, a division that is very pronounced in Ondo.
From all indications, if the APC could manage to put its house in order and get over the narrow interests of the aspirants many of who threw their hats into the ring without any support base, the party looks good enough to win the polls.
Besides the election is very crucial to the politics of the South West in relation to national politics, as it would chart a course to either realise the dream of a one-party structure for regional integration or a departure from it.
It is also very critical to human and physical development of the state where, for the last seven years, emphasis has been on playing politics rather than face squarely the problems of socio-economic growth.
And by the expected involvement of national and regional big wigs, the polls will also serve as a gauge to measure preparations towards the next general elections and the battle for 2019 presidency.
Realizing this, party chieftains who are desirous of victory have begun to remove the obstacles by convening meetings of various interests particularly as the primary election fixed for this weekend is only hours away.
For instance, last Friday, Boroffice a leading contestant and sitting Senator of Ondo North Senatorial District, hosted a meeting in his Abuja home attended by his counterpart in Ondo Central, Tayo Alasoadura, who is also an aspirant and Akeredolu where they reportedly agreed not to let this opportunity of ruling the state slip by.
Whether these fresh attempts by Senator Boroffice and other leaders to tighten the loose cord around the broom will succeed however remain to be seen as the state moves towards the election.