Akeredolu, Unity Forum intensify battle for Ondo APC ticket
In the build-up to the October 10, 2020 governorship election in Ondo State, aspirants of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) are working hard to surmount all hurdles to win the election for the party. The race to get the party’s ticket is not limited to the 10 aspirants, who had earlier formed an accord to wrest power from the incumbent governor, Oluwarotimi Akeredolu. The governor, too, is battling tooth and nail with forces within and outside the state to retain his seat.
Though not unusual of any governor seeking a second term, Akeredolu seems to be affected on all sides by political adversaries who have sworn to stop his re-election bid and end his tenure in February 2021. Aside the political opponents in Unity Forum, a medley of APC bigwigs opposed to the governor across the 203 wards due to the 2016 governorship fallout, are also on his case, in addition with the national leadership of the party.
The political straw that broke the Carmel’s back was the recent deflection of the Deputy Governor, Agboola Ajayi, after several months of dillydallying on his governorship ambition, to the major opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Though with the suspension of APC’s National Chairman, Adams Oshiomhole and the subsequent dissolution of the National Working Committee (NWC) of the party, it would appear Akeredolu has been handed some advantage over his bitter rivals in Unity Forum faction in Ondo APC.
While reacting to the Court of Appeal judgment that affirmed the suspension of Oshiomhole, Akeredolu had bemoaned the instability rocking the party, describing the judgment as a disservice to APC. He had maintained that his administration and members of party were more interested in the stability of the party and passing vote of confidence on the leadership of the party at all levels.
Meanwhile, there was widespread report that his supporters jubilated when the Court of Appeal reaffirmed Oshiomole’s suspension, which he and the Edo State Governor, Godwin Obaseki, had earlier sought while trying to remove Oshiomhole. But the Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Mr. Donald Ojogo, described such report as a product of mischief, saying the governor did not gloat over the former national chairman’s ordeal.
“The author of that report, in all intents and purposes, wanted to create a non-existing frosty relationship between Mr. Governor and the leadership of the APC,” he’d said. “By every standard and by every yardstick that could be deployed to measure anything, Mr. Governor is the leader of the party and as such he will be so disturbed if there is a crisis in the party.
“We were greatly concerned, not because of any personal reason, but because we felt that the party didn’t need whatever intrigues that may shake the table at this point in time.”
Meanwhile, The Guardian learnt from a reliable source that Akeredolu has settled scores with the national leader of the party, Ahmed Bola Tinubu. It was gathered that during his last visit to Bourdillon after the first attempt to remove Oshiomhole failed, the governor and Tinubu had come to mutual terms on his reelection, especially in pursuance of the latter’s supposed presidential ambition in 2023.
Tinubu was said to see Akeredolu, who chairs Southwest Governors Forum, as a courageous voice in the scheme of events, especially in the protection of Yoruba race and interests. The reconciliation with him, it was learnt, didn’t come without a price, as there were deals that Bourdillon would get some commissioners and also nominate his running mate for the return ticket.
A reliable source within the party disclosed that the first son-in-law of the pioneer and interim chairman of the party, Chief Bisi Akande, Mr. Oye Akintola, is penned down as replacement for Ajayi. Akintola is being projected to take over the baton of leadership as governor after Akeredolu would have spent two terms by 2025.
However, it was also gathered that there is another replacement being pushed for the job by Bourdillon, Dr. Paul Akintelure, who was the running mate to Akeredolu in the 2012 election and close ally to Tinubu. Akintola and Akintelure hail from the same town, Igbotako, in Okitipupa Local Government Area of the South Senatorial District, which is poised to produce the next governor if Akeredolu, who comes from the North Senatorial District, gets a second term.
Consequently, Governor Akeredolu, especially after his colleague in the struggle against the former chairman Oshiomloe, Obaseki, was screened out of the primary election in Edo State, had found uncommon peace with the party’s leadership. The dissolution of APC NWC by President Muhammadu Buhari at a National Executive Council (NEC) meeting last Thursday sent some jitters down the spines of some members and guber aspirants of the party in Ondo.
While speaking with journalists in Akure, one of the aspirants who pleaded anonymity raised serious concerns that the governors had finally taken over the party. He also raised the alarm that the intervention of the president would jeopardize the chances of the other aspirants.
“From the look of things, the governors has at last taken control of the APC,” the source said. “Some of us warned the national leader that he should put his feet down but was scared of Ondo wahala. Which is better between this ugly development that has shoved him aside and our earlier plea for him to endorse one among us for the race to replace Akeredolu?
“We know that the governors were up to something when they made frantic efforts to save Obaseki but failed. The Appeal Court ruling that caused this crisis didn’t come from nowhere. The governors reactivated it to embarrass Oshiomhole when they could not persuade him to forgive Obaseki.”
Many political readers have noted that the latest development catalyzed into the deflection of the deputy governor, who had also picked the PDP governorship ticket to slug it out with his boss in the upcoming election. At a historic reception given to him by the PDP National Chairman, Mr. Uche Secondus and other NWC members in Akure, Ajayi boasted that his deflection would cause a huge tsunami in APC that would lead to the defeat of Akeredolu.
According to the analysts, Ajayi had foreseen the futility of denying Akeredolu the party’s ticket, especially when the Unity Forum members are not united to present a consensus candidate against Akeredolu. To prove mockers wrong on its unity of purpose, Unity Forum members presented a donation of N22.5 million to the consensus governorship candidate, Chief Olusola Oke, to obtain his nomination form in Abuja.
The leadership of the group explained that the candidate emerged through a free and fair process, though eight other aspirants in the group rejected the choice of Oke. A former deputy governor of the state and member of APC Board of Trustees (BoT), Ali Olanusi, who was represented by the former House of Representatives member, Afe Olowokere, presented the donation to support Oke’s ambition.
According to him, the group donation made the group to show their support for the electioneering process and inclusiveness in the election. He explained that it was to give everyone a sense of belonging in the project.
Olanusi noted that such practice would reduce “winner takes it all tendencies,” which he identified as the bane of the present administration led by Governor Akeredolu and the reason for forming the forum.
Speaking on the crisis that trailed Oke’s emergence, Olanusi noted that the seven-man screening committee had an agreement with all the 10 governorship aspirants in the forum, who agreed to abide by the decision of the group. Eight of the aspirants rejected the choice of Oke, who was a two-term governorship candidate in the state, except Alhaji Olanrewaju Kazeem, who eventually emerged as Oke’s Campaign Director General.
Kazeem explained that the committee had urged the aspirants to choose a candidate from among them to no avail, confirming that they thereafter agreed among themselves to abide by the choice of the group. He added that four out of six screening committee members that were present voted for Chief Oke, while a female member voted for Mrs. Jumoke Anifowose and another member chose one other aspirant.
Oke, who pulled several political stunts in the last election, warned that urgent measures must be taken so that the ruling APC would not allow its fortune to slip into opposition in the state.
As the Southwest Coordinator of President Muhammadu Buhari Campaign Organisation in the last general elections, Oke based his observations on the lacklustre performances of the party across the 18 councils of the state.
“Our experience in the last election showed that something must be done to rescue APC in Ondo State,” Oke said. “Our people are hungry and angry. Our people are tired of government that is not sensitive to their needs.”
While speaking on the maladministration in the state, he said: “People are tired of capital flight out of the state. People are tired of the government that does not respect party leaders. People are tired of commercialisation of education; they are tired of commercialisation of health services, and the people need a new face of APC in the state.
“I want to bring back the good old days in governance. I want to ring back the days when leaders of the party were respected and not bullied.”
Oke further appealled to other APC governorship aspirants to team up with him to rescue the state.
Similarly, the pioneer chairman of the party, Isaac Kekemeke, decried the leadership style of Governor Akeredolu, stating that his time was over and he was ready to retire him in the October 10, 2020 governorship election.
According to him, “Akeredolu has tried his best for the state; he has laboured and sweated; he has stretched himself to the limit. We can’t ask him to perform beyond his best.”
Without mincing words, Kekemeke, who is one of the leading APC governorship aspirants, though now out of Unity Forum before its disintegration due to the divisive tendencies, said the governors best is defective.
“We must let the people know that our party can do things right,” he insisted. “We must turn our image around. We can redefine leadership and offer a new deal. We can do things better. We can perform better. We can make a difference. We can unite our party again.”
He hinged his performance on his pedigree and experiences as a former state lawmaker, Commissioner for Justice and Attorney General, Secretary to the State Government (SSG) and pioneer APC state chairman, who won the state for APC in 2016.
Kekemeke noted that the deputy governor’s defection would not affect the chances of the party, noting, “All I need to do is to work hard as I did in 2016 to put everything together, and once I emerge, if it is a prophecy, that tsunami will happen in PDP.”