Ondo guber election: APC, PDP walking a tight rope
From all indications, particularly looking at frenzied activities within the All Progressive Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Ondo State, one may easily conclude that the next November 26 gubernatorial contest would be a two-horse race between the two political parties.
With almost 50 aspirants, drawn from all the senatorial zones, jostling for the ticket of the APC and about 10 seeking same in the ruling PDP, the campaigns for the top job have been intense especially as the period fixed by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for the primary elections approaches.
Expectedly, several intra-party wrangling, especially among the APC, have been recorded in the last few weeks and the leadership of the parties at the state level, have been taking measures to douse the tensions.
Last week, the APC leadership, while releasing guidelines for participation in the primary election, scheduled to hold on August 27, warned aspirants to stop abusing each other while the PDP cleared the air on insinuations that the party already has a preferred aspirant among its contestants.
Both parties have also given assurances that rather than wait for anointed candidates from Bourdillon Road, Ikoyi Lagos home of the leader (in the case of the APC) and Government House, Alagbaka Akure (in the case of the PDP), transparent primary elections would be conducted to pick the flag-bearers.
For weeks, these aspirants have embarked on tour of the 203 political wards of the state, meeting delegates and other party faithful, making pledges and canvassing for votes. In the case of the APC, the over 3000 delegates that would pick the flag-bearer have suddenly turned to celebrities.
But beyond the surface of these intense flurry of campaign activities by the two leading parties there are cracks within their structures that are likely to create a space for the emergence of a third force in the state’s political field.
Within the APC, a party that was strengthened by the influx of politicians from the PDP before and after the 2015 elections, the fear of marginalization of the new entrants is getting real by the day.
Last month the fear was heightened by feelers from the Muiz Banire committee at the Abuja headquarters of the party that late entrants into the party might be prevented from having a taste of the gubernatorial pie, causing a lot of disenchantments within the rank of the newcomers especially those who have governorship ambitions.
The fear was however doused last week by the party’s National Vice Chairman in the South West region and former Ekiti State governor, Engr. Segun Oni, who disclosed in a radio interview monitored in Akure that there would not be any segregation between the old and new members.
Despite these assurances, the body of defectors still believes that proper and full integration has not taken place to accommodate them even though the current State Chairman, Isaacs Kekemeke and the Senator representing Ondo Central, Tayo Alasoadura, have PDP background.
Both served the administration of former governor Olusegun Agagu. Alasoadura as the Commissioner for Finance for the six years of the administration and Kekemeke at different times during the period as Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Commissioner for Works as well as Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice.
Another factor that could prevent the APC from having a united front in the gubernatorial primary election is the possibility of imposition of a candidate that will not enjoy the support of the majority of the delegates.
The apprehension is not misplaced. In 2012, the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), which metamorphosed through an alliance with the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) and the All Nigeria’s Peoples Party (ANPP), saw no wisdom in a primary election.
In what became its waterloo during the October 2012 governorship election, the party leadership imposed former National President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Oluwarotimi Akeredolu without seeking the acceptance of other aspirants who had spent time and money seeking the ticket.
Most of the disappointed aspirants who were denied the opportunity of testing their popularity in the race for the ticket, abandoned the choice of the leaders.
It was only Senator Ajayi Boroffice, a professor of Human Genetics who represents Ondo North at the upper chambers that played the loyal party man by winning his Akoko South West local council for Akeredolu.
Both Boroffice and Akeredolu are also in the current race and curiously, Akeredolu’s voice is the most strident in the condemnation of any imposition of candidate by the leaders.
Although many aspirants have been wooing the leadership particularly at the national level, with some allegedly dropping names and seeking questionable endorsements of local leaders, the party’s national secretariat has made it expressly clear that there is no anointed candidate and that an open primary election would be conducted.
Shedding light on the desire of the party to contest the poll with a united front, another frontline aspirant, Chief Jamiu Ekungba who is one of the only two members of the party’s Board of Trustees (BOT) from the state, said the elders are concerned about the unity of the party.
He, however, expressed optimism that the party would defeat the PDP because the people are already yearning for a change from the social and economic stagnation foisted on them by the ruling party.
The PDP, which has been divided into two factions at the national and state levels because of leadership crisis, is even facing more trouble in the preparations towards the election.
The party’s crisis is also complicated because of the manner its leader in the state, Governor Olusegun Mimiko, who joined at the wake of last presidential elections, allegedly hijacked the machinery of leadership completely from the foundation members, a development that led to strong politicians like Olusola Oke to drop the umbrella for the broom.
The movement of Oke, a former National Legal Adviser of the party, to the APC, is said to have dealt serious blow to the structure of the PDP because many of his compatriots in the “old PDP” are still not integrated into the Mimiko camp.
At the thick of the national leadership crisis of the party, a faction loyal to Senator Ali Modu Sheriff, and old members found an avenue to express their discontent and many of them aligned with the former Borno governor with their former Chairman, Omotayo Alabi being made the state chairman of the party in Edo by the Sheriff camp.
There were also strong indications that words may have been passed around that the governorship seat be retained at the Central Senatorial District where Mimiko, who is completing a two-year tenure, hails from.
While many see this as a manifestation of a sectional agenda with the backing of Alagbaka, a groundswell of opposition is rising against it with a promise of dire consequences for the party and the political balance of the state.
Sule-Akinsuyi, who has been described as someone who can easily blend with all the critical stakeholders in the state polity having been involved in governance since 1992 when he was elected as a member of the House of Assembly, said he has been assured that the leadership has no preferred candidate.
Speaking with The Guardian, one of the aspirants in the APC, Niran Sule-Akinsuyi, who was one of the earlier defectors to the party that refused to move to the PDP with Mimiko, whom he served as a Commissioner, expressed the fears of the contestants.
According to him, “every aspirant is working tirelessly to clinch the ticket and we have been assured of a level-playing ground. Because we are all desirous of winning the coming election, everything should be done to preserve the unity of the party so that we will all go with whoever emerges as the candidate, to win the contest.”
Analyst are however of the opinion that a mismanagement of the primary election processes in the two leading parties could create an avenue for the emergence of a third force that could take the trophy away from the duo.
Already some aspirants are looking for less visible platforms where they can easily pick the ticket and then wait for implosions in the two leading parties to create a path of victory for them.