Ekiti 2022: Oni’s governorship ambition and search for peace in PDP
Ekiti is on the march again as politicians are preparing for the 2022 governorship poll. Although aspirants are still keeping their aspirations to their chests, especially in the ruling All Progressives Party (APC), the former governor Segun Oni, has expressed his resolve to take another shot at the Oke Ayoba Government House. He made the declaration when he returned to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which he left in 2014 due to what seemed irreconcilable differences between him and ex-governor Ayodele Fayose last year.
That peace has continued to elude the Ekiti State chapter of the PDP is due to the struggle for the soul and structure of the party. The crisis first reared its ugly head in 2017, when the party could not conduct free and fair primary election because of vested interests exhibited by the then governor Fayose, who exerted his influence to pick the candidate. This led to the exit of leaders from the party who could not stomach the insult and meddlesomeness of Fayose.
After the governorship primary, it was Senator Biodun Olujimi and a few other leaders that remain to fight it out with Fayose. This state of affairs badly affected the party’s fortunes in the governorship and presidential elections held in 2019, as well as state and National Assembly elections.
The crisis has since assumed a different proportion. The sign that the party was sick became manifest when in 2019 two parallel presidential campaign councils for Atiku/Obi emerged. The Fayose-led faction appointed Prof. Olusola Eleka, the erstwhile deputy governor and candidate of the party in the 2018 governorship, as chairman of the campaign council. On the other hand, Olujimi faction’s also appointed Eleka as the campaign council chairman, but he declined it, remained in Fayose’s council. The rest, they say, is history. The ruling APC took advantage of the disorderliness and gave PDP a bloody nose in the presidential election.
For some political analysts, compromise can cure a lot of self-inflicted malaise. They reckon that if the dramatis personae could seek compromise, then the crisis could be nipped in the bud before it escalates further. Unfortunately, this has not been the case. As if destined for perdition, the principal actors remain recalcitrant. The last straw that broke the Carmel’s back was the party’s congresses, which was held in March 2020.
At the end of the ward, local and states congresses, two parallel executives emerged. The Fayose-led faction elected the former Commissioner for Environment, Bisi Kolawole, while the faction led by Olujimi elected Kehinde Odebunmi as state chairman. Despite producing parallel executives, the Olujimi faction headed to the court but the Federal High Court in Ado Ekiti dismissed the ex parte motion filled by the group. The judgment of Court of Appeal is being awaited on the matter.
The leadership of the party at the national level has not been able to remove itself from the crisis rocking the Ekiti State chapter of the PDP. Instead of performing the role of unbiased arbiter, the Uche Secondus-led National Working Committee appears. Instances abound when onlookers expected more neutrality from the party prefers to align with one faction, but that did not happen. When the ward congress was inconclusive and marred by allegations and counter-allegations of malpractices, the party accepted the result and asked that the local government congress should hold despite a pending suit challenging the outcome. What is more, even when the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the security agents boycotted the state congresses on account of the suit before the Court of Appeal, the party’s national leadership accepted and endorsed the executive produced by a faction of the party.
However, ex-governor Segun Oni was not part of the crises rocking the party because he left shortly before the governorship election in 2014. Oni left partly because he was removed from his position as National Vice Chairman (Southwest) PDP over differences with Fayose. When Oni decided to dump PDP and team up with Governor Fayemi, then candidate of APC in the governorship election, many people were taken aback because of the legal dispute between the two from 2007 to 2010. It is to their credit that the state found itself in off-season election. In the 2007 governorship election, Oni was the candidate of PDP, while Fayemi was the candidate of the defunct Action Congress (AC). The two were the main contenders for the governorship position. At the end of the election, Oni was declared winner. However, after more than three years in and out of court, Fayemi was declared winner and sworn-in as governor on October 16, 2010 after Oni had spent three and half years in office.
In 2014, Oni and Fayemi buried their hatchets when Oni left the PDP and decamped to Fayemi’s All Progressives Party (APC). Oni was then made the Deputy National Chairman (South) of the party. He declared his interest in the governorship position of the state early 2018. Fayemi was then a serving minister in Abuja. Many had given the APC ticket to Oni until Fayemi came into the race a few weeks to the party’s primary and changed the permutations. He won the primary and subsequently won the election.
The ex-governor proceeded to court to challenge Fayemi, urging the court to nullify Fayemi’s candidacy on the grounds that he did not resign from his position as Minister of Mines and Steel Development 30 days before the APC primary. Oni also stated that Fayemi was not qualified to contest he primary on the grounds that he was indicted and barred from holding public office by the Ekiti State Judicial Commission of Inquiry set up by Governor Fayose.
However, the High Court, Appeal Court and the Supreme Court dismissed Oni’s suit challenging Fayemi’s eligibility. For taking Fayemi to court, Oni was slammed with an indefinite suspension from the party. The letter titled: ‘Suspension from All Progressives Congress Ward II, Ifaki Ekiti’ reads: “ Subject to Article 21 Subsections I, II and X of the APC Constitution 2014 as amended, read: “We the undersigned executive members of the APC hereby suspend you indefinitely from our great party, based on your refusal to honour our invitation for investigation and fact-finding into the allegation of anti-party activities leveled against your person by the members of our party.
“We are by the copy of this letter informing both the local government and state working committee of the party for necessary information and action.”
What was more, Fayemi made numerous appointments that sidelined Oni’s political associates and supporters. The governor ensured that only trusted allies made it to the state assembly. Those elected to the National Assembly, without exception, were also close allies or those who worked for the success of his election at the July 14, 2018 governorship election.
Oni’s second coming to PDP at a time the party needs to pull all resources together would require putting his political dexterity to rally the warring factions to accept peace. Oni was said to have met with the leadership of both factions before decamping last year. But from all indications, Fayose was not enthusiastic about the return of Oni. While reacting to the return of the former governor in May 2020, Fayose was quoted as saying that Oni was not welcome to PDP because he is a paperweight politician. Although Oni was sighted at the parallel state congress of the Fayose-led faction held August 30, 2020, the body language of Fayose suggested that he would still prefer his own candidate. Sources said that Fayose might have ditched his erstwhile deputy, Eleka, who has indicated interest to contest the governorship; he is said to be banking on the support of his former boss. Fayose is said to be interested in the candidacy of his former Commissioner of Finance, Kayode Oso, who hails from Ado Ekiti, the state capital.
Initially, the Olujimi camp was said to have been ecstatic about the return of Oni, but it soon turned to anger when he started identifying with Fayose’s faction at the controversial state congress of the party. However, Oni has been seen at meetings called by the only PDP governor in the Southwest, Seyi Makinde of Oyo State. The implication being that he might have retraced his steps by aligning with Makinde and invariably, the Olujimi camp.
The question begging for answer is whether Oni will be able to reconcile the two tendencies in the party ahead of the party primary, which could take place early 2022. To many political observers in the state, though the task of resolving the lingering crisis is herculean, with concerted efforts, it could be achieved. The first step, according to a member of the party who preferred anonymity, is for Oni to remain neutral and not take sides. He should also begin reconciliation process by reaching out to the leadership of both camps to let them to see a bigger picture, which is the coveted seat of governorship of the state. Without unanimity of purpose, even if Oni manages to win the primary, which is doubtful if the two camps don’t support him, winning the governorship may remain a pipe dream.