Ondo guber race: PDP’s primary of cold rivalry
On Saturday 21st of November, 2014, a few leaders of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Ondo State met at the country home of octogenarian High Chief Agboola Akintan in the rocky town of Idanre to resolve the crisis rocking the party which began a month earlier when the state governor, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko, had formalized his long-time relationship with the national leadership of the PDP by defecting from the Labour Party (LP), to the party.
In what many likened to hauling a big log into a calm pond, the impact of Mimiko’s defection caused such a big ripple that within days, the attendant waves threatened to capsize the party’s boat of presidential and assembly elections slated to hold three months to the time.
The meeting was convened by Akintan, a respected leader in the state’s political field, to specifically broker peace between the governor and business mogul, Barrister Jimoh Ibrahim, who had become the face of resistance of the old members of the party to Mimiko’s decampment.
Ibrahim who was at the time, the biggest financier of the PDP, had instituted many cases in court to prevent a takeover of the party machinery by the newcomers.
Many old members of the PDP who had been nurturing the platform since 2009 when they lost state power via the Judiciary, suffering deprivation even from the national headquarters which preferred to recognize Mimiko rather than their own, found in Ibrahim, a worthy leader of resistance.
The parley which also had in attendance, leaders such as Ambassador Olu Agbi, Chief Segun Adegoke and Olusola Agbesua, was to align the positions of Mimiko, who is fondly called Iroko and Ibrahim, known by his local chieftaincy title of Araba, to strengthen two of the three dominant political platforms in the state.
Mimiko arrived the meeting with a few of his aides but unknown to the governor, Ibrahim had played a fast one by mobilizing a large crowd of old members, comprising women and youth groups as well as estranged former aides of the governor from the town, to the venue.
As soon as the meeting commenced, the crowd enveloped the venue, praising the gallantry of Ibrahim and warning Mimiko of the dire consequence of undermining the strength of the old members.
Identifying the two gladiators by their appellations of Iroko and Araba, which are names of indigenous economic trees in the tropical forest, the crowd chanted Yoruba folklore songs like, “ko wo, ko wo, Araba o wo mo, oju t’Iroko” meaning “Iroko has been shamed, Araba refused to fall,” and “Araba kii s’egbe Iroko, igi ju’gi lo” meaning “Araba is no match for Iroko, one tree is stronger than the other.”
The rowdy scene caused a lot of distraction and great discomfort to the governor and his team and the meeting could not achieve its objective as the gladiators failed to agree to the terms of the leaders to embrace a peaceful option.
Ibrahim accused Mimiko of attempting to take over the party through a warped proposal that sought to chase the old members from “a house they have toiled to build,” and attempting to sideline them from the efforts to ensure that Jonathan was reelected for the second term, of which he said they had reached advanced stage.
But the governor, exhibiting a calmness that was at variance with his public image of a hard-bargaining politician, defended his action stressing that he was in the PDP to add value to the party.
At a point when the peacemakers could not make a headway, the two politicians were isolated in a room to resolve the matter among themselves but the defiant voice of Ibrahim over the governor’s soft entreaties, filtering through the door, was enough to convince those present that the parley had hit the rocks.
When the stalemated parley ended in the late evening, security details had a hectic time providing cover for the governor and dispersing the crowd who poured invectives on him as he hurriedly exited the building. That was two years ago.
Mimiko was to later take over the PDP and become the coordinator of Jonathan’s campaign not only in the state but also in the entire South West region.
And except for a few leaders that earlier identified with Mimiko, Ibrahim and other notable members of the old group, including the 2012 governorship candidate and former National Legal Adviser of the party, Chief Olusola Oke, were completely sidelined such that presently, the old LP members dominate party and government positions.
The hostility between the two camps became so entrenched that even though they are under the same umbrella, they are differently identified by their slogans and recalcitrant dispositions.
While former LP members are known as PDP Gbasibe, a reference to the catchy slogan with which the relatively unknown platform shook the state’s political structure to its foundation in 2007, aboriginal members are called PDP Konigba, showing their heady resistance to Mimiko and his followers.
Since the lopsided marriage of the two camps, aboriginal members who still remained in the party have been licking their wounds and waiting for an opportunity to vent their anger.
That opportunity came last month when a crack appeared in the party with the crisis that pitched former Borno State governor, Ali Modu Sheriff and his former Kaduna State counterpart, Ahmed Markarfi against each other over the chairmanship seat of the party.
Because Mimiko has identified with Markarfi, the old PDP members pitched their tent with Sheriff and immediately declared their breakaway from the mainstream, opening a new office and appointing a new State Chairman in the process.
When Mimiko publicly endorsed his Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Eyitayo Jegede, SAN as the candidate of the PDP for the coming November 26 governorship election, other aspirants who were not happy with the choice, including two of his commissioners, Olusola Ebiseeni and Bamiduro Dada, of the Ministries of Environment and Chieftaincy Affairs respectively, pitched their tent with Sheriff.
Also, a former close associate of the governor who was his Commissioner for Special Duties, Niran Sule-Akinsuyi, who had earlier left for the APC, left the party and swelled the rank of PDP aspirants.
As the party prepares for the primary elections slated for next Monday for the Markarfi faction Tuesday for Sheriff, about five aspirants have emerged in the two camps aside Ibrahim. The two factions are however faced with the uncertainties surrounding the status of their camps concerning recognitions by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
A brilliant lawyer who got to public service with his appointment as Justice Commissioner at the inception of Mimiko’s administration in 2009, Jegede, an Akure indigene is believed by many critics as the governor’s instrument to secure a third term.
Known for his peaceful disposition, Jegede has the ability of a good administrator, provided somebody is carrying his burden of politics since he is not known to be an active politician.
A close friend of former Vice-President Abubakar Atiku whom he met at Yola where he has his law practice, analysts believe that the involvement of the Turakin Adamawa in his aspiration may draw many outside politicians who are contesting the national political space with Atiku into the fray.
The lawyer may also gain political capital from the current cry by Akure indigenes to occupy the top office for the first time in the current dispensation while he could also be hampered by the governor’s decision to retain the seat in his Central Senatorial District.
Another major burden of the Jegede candidacy, is the weight of the “sins” the Mimiko administration which the electorate will certainly put on his head.
Known to be very close to Mimiko in the many battles the governor fought to reach the peak of politics in the state, Sule-Akinsuyi is a lawyer and businessman from Owo in Ondo North Senatorial District.
He had been involved in the state’s politics since the Third Republic when he emerged as a member of the State Assembly on the platform of progressive politics, on which he operated till 2003 after serving as Legislative Adviser to former governor Adebayo Adefarati when he, with Mimiko decamped to the PDP.
Political watchers believe that the politician is the closest to all the state’s voting segments identified as the youths, members of the public service, traditional rulers and the body of politicians because of his interactions with them over the years in the course of the political offices he has held.
He is also better placed because of the agitation of the Owo axis of Ondo North to occupy the top office since late Chief Adekunle Ajasin’s era in the old Ondo State.
Sule-Akinsuyi would however, face the hurdle of energizing his statewide campaign structure to face the APC, which is believed to have the ability to draw support from across the borders being the party at the Abuja centre of power.
A popular member of the state’s second-generation politicians, Ebiseni, also a lawyer, is from the oil-producing Ilaje local government where he, as a young lad in his early thirties, served as the Chairman when the council area included the Ijaw-inhabiting Ese-Odo territory.
Ebiseni is an expert in oil history and politics who contributed immensely to the resolution of the oil well crisis with Delta in favour of Ondo and had served thrice as the Commissioner for Environment under different administrations.
He is believed to be a grassroots politician who has spread his political influence across the 18 local councils hinging his campaigns on the need for Ilaje, the proverbial geese that is laying the golden eggs for the state in forms of Mineral Derivation Fund despite ecological degradation, to produce the governor.
Ebiseni, a man of modest means with big ideas, may however have to face the burden of raising the huge funding needed to oil a governorship campaign in an environment of highly monetized politics.