APC hopefuls tackle Akeredolu as nine eye Ajayi’s seat
Despite the secrecy surrounding the outcome of the All Progressives Congress’s (APC) governorship screening exercise for Ondo State, where the committee disqualified one out of the 12 aspirants, there is tension around incumbent Governor Rotimi Akeredolu. While 11 aspirants on the party’s platform are ready to do battle with the governor for the APC ticket, nine other aspirants are mounting pressure on him to serve as replacement for the estranged deputy, Agboola Ajayi.
Akeredolu’s deputy, Ajayi, had dramatically defected from APC to the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), ostensibly to contest the October 10, 2020 governorship poll.
The governorship screening committee chairman, Alhaji Tijani Tumsa, while submitting the report to the APC National Caretaker Committee, headed by Mai Mali Buni, disclosed that the 12 aspirants were assessed according to their educational qualifications, presentations, party loyalty, community participation, among others.
Although Tumsa disclosed that one aspirant failed the screening, he withheld the name of the disqualified aspirant, a development that sparked wild speculations, with some suggesting that the governor did not scale through. Nonetheless, it later emerged that the closest political ally of APC National Leader, Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubu, Dr. Segun Abraham, was the one actually screened out.
But, just as the aspirant denied the claim, social media and public spaces were inundated with premeditated campaigns to whittle down the governor’s reelection bid and putting his participation in suspense by alluding to the screening committee’s report. A faction of the party went wild with jubilation over unconfirmed reports that Akeredolu would appear at the Screening Appeal Committee to redress his purported disqualification today.
Sources claimed that the governor was allegedly disqualified based on his activities during the 2019 general elections. However, the Senior Special Assistant to the Governor on Media and Publicity, Mr. Ojo Oyewamide, enjoined the people to discard the fake rumour, affirming that the governor would participate in the July 20 APC primary election.
Oyewamide described the unfounded rumour as yet another instance of distraction from the governor’s political adversaries, saying it was aimed at deceiving the unsuspecting members of the public.
He stated: “It is clearly coming from those who have chosen the perfidious political path. Governor Akeredolu is not just participating at the party’s primary. He shall be re-elected by the Grace of God, come October10, 2020. The governor therefore appeals to all his supporters to ignore the rumour and dedicate this period to God for His continuous grace, favour and protection.
“It’s a ploy to distract you. They are scavengers and will stop at nothing to sustain their trade of deceit. Ignore them. Remain firm. Be dedicated and be prayerful.”
Direct or indirect controversy
But, like a hydra-headed monster, the announcement of an indirect option for the party’s primary next week by the national leadership has stirred another hornet’s nest, as 11 aspirants have kicked against it. In a petition to the Caretaker/Extra-Ordinary National Convention Planning Committee (CEONCPC) last Friday, they lamented that the decision could lead to the emergence of an unpopular candidate for the election.
Without mincing words, the aspirants warned the committee that indirect primary would pave way for the major opposition PDP or others to defeat the ruling party. Though Akeredolu had declared several times that he was ready for direct primary option, he was the only aspirant whose signature was missing in the letter titled: “Why indirect primary cannot be an option for Ondo State Governorship Primary Election.”
Those who rejected the indirect option include the only female aspirant, Olajumoke Anifowoshe, Dr. Olusegun Abraham, Okunjimi Odimayo, Dr. Nathaniel Adojutelegan, Olubukola Adetula, Olusola Iji, Olayide Adelami, Olusola Oke, lfeoluwa 0yedele, Akinsehinwa Awodeyi, and Isaacs Kekemeke.
Premising their opposition to the indirect option on grounds of the controversial APC state congress in 2018, the petitioners also passed a vote of no confidence on the party’s State Executive Committee (SEC) led by Engineer Ade Adetimehin. Further, they claimed that APC is factionalized in Ondo State, alluding to the parallel executives headed by Chief Henry Olatunja, who took over the court case and party structure immediately the erstwhile chairman, Idowu Otetubi, joined Akeredolu a few weeks ago.
Olatunja, who was Otebi’s deputy, in a petition against indirect primary, claimed that his faction has 10 out of the 12 governorship aspirants jostling for APC’s ticket. However, the state Publicity Secretary, Mr. Alex Kalejaiye, said the party is not divided, and regretted that Olafunja is being sponsored to cause confusion in the party.
His words: “The only State Executive Committee, under the chairmanship of Adetimehin, was inaugurated in June 2018, and has since been adjudged as properly constituted by a competent court of law.
“This exco that legally inhabits and operates from the only state secretariat at Oyemekun Road, in Akure, has worked assiduously for the wellbeing of the chapter, and enjoys tremendous support from party faithful across the state.
“It is therefore curious that Mr. Olatunja, who was not part of the process during the state congress over two years ago, would appear from nowhere and announce himself as a factional chairman.”
Kalejaiye described claims that Ondo APC was factionalised as one of the instances of gross indiscipline, which the Adetimehin-led exco has strived relentlessly to stamp out of the party in the last two years.
“Olatunja and his co-travellers have demonstrated that they are solely out to cause confusion within the fold and lower the image of the chapter before stakeholders outside the state,” he said.
“While embarking on a deep investigation to unravel the true identities of those behind this exercise in futility, Ondo State APC wishes to warn Olatunja to desist forthwith from parading himself as a factional chairman of the state chapter, or face prosecution for impersonation.”
Race for Ajayi’s replacement
As the drama continues, the same APC chairman in Ese-Odo Council, Samuel Ajayi, who received the resignation letter of the deputy governor, Ajayi, last month, has also deserted the party. Quite unexpectedly, Ajayi has dumped Akeredolu’s second term ambition to help the deputy governor (Ajayi) realise his governorship ambition in PDP.
Yet again, while anticipating the estranged deputy governor’s impeachment, nine APC chieftains have begun jostling to replace Ajayi for the rest of Akeredolu’s remaining days in his first term, as well as possibly serve as his running mate for the October 10, 2020 governorship election.
Sources said the contenders have been using their influence and resources to sponsor the impeachment process, until the move hit a rock recently, when the state’s Chief Judge, Oluwatoyin Akeredolu, refused to set up a 7-man probe panel, as requested by the state Assembly.
It was gathered that virtually all those jostling for Ajayi’s seat are from the South Senatorial District with majority of the candidates from Okitipupa Local Government Area, which has the highest political influence and electoral value in the district. The key Okitipupa contenders are two-term former Commissioner for Education and current Chairman of Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB), Mrs. Oladunni Odu and Dr. Paul Akintelure.
Although the younger brother and former Chief of Staff to late Governor Segun Agagu, Mr. Femi Agagu, who is also current Commissioner for Education, seems interested, he appears circumspect about his ambition.
In Ilaje council, the former member of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) Board and senatorial aspirant, Lucky Ayedatiwa and the Chairman of the Ondo State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission (OSOPADEC), Gbenga Edema, are also scheming to get the job.
Also two persons, namely Mrs. Olamide Falana and the Deputy Chief of Staff, Jimi Kuforiji, are queuing up as representatives from Ese-Odo axis, in the hope of replacing their kinsman, Ajayi, who might likely be eased out soon.
Two-term commissioner and current Commissioner for Finance, Mr. Wale Akinterinwa, and the Commissioner for Water Resources, Mrs. Yetunde Adeyanju, are staking claims from Ileoluji/Okeigbo and Odigbo councils respectively.
Sources inside government confided in The Guardian that the party’s leadership in the state is exercising caution to prevent a repeat of the nasty experience it received from the deputy governor. According to the sources, since the Fourth Republic began in 1999, APC aborigines, who often see themselves as progressives, have had unsavoury experiences in the hands of those with PDP background.
APC politicians that have PDP background could not be trusted within the party, they stated, recalling the recent resignation of former Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Ifedayo Abegunde.
“Agboola Ajayi and Ifedayo Abegunde have just confirmed our fears about politicians that have PDP background,” they said. “They cannot be trusted, and that’s why we are having this problem.”
Those assertions could hurt the chances of a leading contender like Odu while Agagu, Ikuforiji and Adeyanju, may not be spared due to past links with PDP. But Odu, who is also an Okitipupa princess, seems to be courting favourable political considerations due to her popularity among the womenfolk and her bid to activate the 35 per cent affirmative action principle for women’s participation in politics and holding political offices.
The SUBEB boss also enjoys robust relationship with Governor Akeredolu, because both worked together as commissioners during the military regime of Anthony Onyearugbulem.
Most observers think that Akintelure, an APC aboriginal, stands the best chance of clinching the deputy governor’s seat, as they see him as an amiable medical practitioner, who was running mate to the governor under the aegis of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) in his 2012 first attempt at the governorship contest.
Those who push for Akintelure say his chances are brightened by his close relationship with Tinubu, adding that his candidature may serve as an opportunity to settle the age-long political coldness between Akeredolu and Tinubu.
An APC chieftain from Okitipupa, Daniel Ilelaboye, while narrating how the embattled deputy governor hijacked the nomination for the position in 2016, said they had already settled that Akintelure would be chosen. Ilelaboye is of the belief that the time was now for Akeredolu and the entire Ondo APC to get it right, stressing that rather than handing over power to charlatans and usurpers, the governor should pick Akintelure to harvest the votes from the South District.
“It all depends on him getting his running mate right,” Ilelaboye stated, adding, “We need a party loyalist and a complete gentleman this time, not a maverick politician. And he must be meticulous too to pick from the local government that has the highest political value.
“The Ikale people with two local governments and the highest number of votes in the South District hold the political ace and magic to change the narrative for the better, and in favour of Governor Akeredolu.”
On the perceived misunderstanding and cold relationship between the governor and the people of the area, especially some monarchs, Ilelaboye said the array of aspirants from Okitipupa LGA would help alter the narrative, adding, “Akintelure, being the Otunba of Ikaleland, would easily remedy whatever misgivings exist between Governor Akeredolu and some monarchs.
“One thing is sure: Ikale people and communities would not abandon their own to support other persons, if their kinsman becomes a deputy governor.”