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Implications of emergence of third force in Ondo for PDP, APC

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To keen followers of Ondo State politics and the governorship election, it is most likely there would be a third force, to be unveiled soon.

Across the 203 wards and 18 local government areas of the state, the people are anxious to see the deputy governor, Agboola Ajayi, formally declare his governorship bid under the banner of Zenith Labour Party (ZLP) today, 14 days after he lost PDP primary election to Eyitayo Jegede. 

This projection is as a result of the political undercurrent, which played out between the leadership of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the state governor, Oluwarotimi Akeredolu that eventually led to Ajayi’s exit from the party. The political adversaries of the governor within the party, especially the Unity Forum, had cashed in on the situation to stop Akeredolu’s second term bid by accusing him of anti-party activities, amongst others. 

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But the embattled governor jumped all those internal hurdles: his suspension was lifted; he reached a compromise with the party leadership to win the July 20, 2020 primary election, and lured all his political enemies to his side. Surprisingly, all the other 11 governorship aspirants, who had clamoured for direct primary option and vowed to stop Akeredolu’s re-election, rallied round his candidacy after the primary. Some stepped down for him a few hours before the election. 

Many political readers had pontificated that the governor would be denied the party’s ticket and be ultimately forced out of the ruling party to contest the October 10 governorship election in another party.
 
They also revealed that he was in secret talks with his old friend and immediate past governor, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko, on plans to switch to ZLP if he failed to sail through the hurdles in APC. But Governor Akeredolu surmounted all hurdles to emerge victorious. However, the issue of a third force came to the fore immediately his deputy, Ajayi, resigned from APC on June 21, 2020 to contest in (PDP). 

The sudden emergence of Ajayi in the major opposition party, PDP, 30 days before the governorship primary, created a lot of rumbles within the opposition party, mostly between him and the 2016 governorship candidate of the party, Jegede. The July 22, 2020 governorship primary became an open contest between Jegede and Ajayi. The deputy governor believes that it is the South Senatorial District’s turn to succeed Akeredolu. 

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But due to proliferation of aspirants from the South District, six contenders in all, who refused to step down for one another, Jegede, the sole candidate from the Central District, was able to coast to victory with a difference of 231 votes – 888 to 657votes respectively. Although Ajayi had immediately sent congratulatory message to the winner, it was gathered that he was not satisfied with the way he was treated by the party leadership. According to sources, they refused to pick his calls thereafter. 

There was a lot of infighting within PDP. The National Working Committee (NWC), led by Uche Secondus, was said to have assured Ajayi he would get the party’s ticket. Majority of PDP aspirants found a common ground to wad off Ajayi, who they believed allegedly induced the party leadership to sway the primary election in his favour. 

Meanwhile, there are factors playing out in the forthcoming election, which may not favour the opposition parties trying to wrest power from the ruling APC and incumbent governor, Akeredolu. Since the creation of Ondo State in February 1976, zoning arrangement has become so deeply rooted in the political system that the mantle of leadership rotates among the three senatorial districts. 

According to political analysts, the breach of that political tradition in 2016 by former governor Mimiko cost him and the ruling PDP the opportunity to produce a successor. It led to mass exodus of PDP stalwarts to APC. Mimiko, who is from the Central District and first governor to break a two-term jinx, had imposed Jegede, his Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, who is also from same district, as the candidate of the party. 

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Jegede’s candidature angered many PDP stalwarts like Ajayi, who left the party, while many, including those that served in Mimiko’s cabinet, stayed back but refused to work for the party. 

Not quite long after the 2016 election, won by APC and Governor Akeredolu, some close allies and family members of Jegede accused Mimiko of betraying their kinsman even though the latter delivered his strongholds: Ondo East and West councils for him while the candidate was defeated in his hometown, Akure South council. 

When Mimiko finally made his political detour to ZLP to contest for the Senate last year, Akure people massively mobilized against him and ensured he lost the election based on the 2016 outcome. He has since become the leader of the party in the state. 

As things stand, it is public knowledge that Mimiko, who is Jegede’s benefactor, is allegedly lurking in the corner to have his political pound of flesh from his estranged godson and Akure people. Aside internal wrangling within the state, it was reliably gathered that five current PDP governors maybe supporting Ajayi in a bid to whittle down the influence of former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, who has close relationship with Jegede. 

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The PDP governors are said to be supporting the deputy governor so as to dismantle Jegede and Atiku ahead of 2023 presidential election. Sources say they don’t want Atiku to have any political leverage in the South West. 

A few hours after the PDP primary was won and lost, some sources, said to be privy to a meeting between the second runner-up and Mimiko in Ondo City, revealed that the deputy governor has started courting the former governor for support. They, however, added that Mimiko was yet to give a definite answer to Ajayi’s request due to uncertainty over the effect of such political overtures on the candidate of the party, Rotimi Benjamin, who is the party’s first governorship candidate to emerge in the state. 

A source said, “We were shocked to see Ajayi at Mimiko’s house. He told our leader that he would like to contest the October 10 election under ZLP and assured him that he has enough resources to win the poll. According to the deputy governor, one of his strategies is to pick his running mate from Owo Local Government Area, the hometown of Governor Akeredolu, to divide the votes from the town. 

“But kindly note that Mimiko has not given him his word. He told him that he would meet his supporters soon and get back to him. I doubt if Ajayi will have his way in ZLP.”

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Another source, however, pointed out that “Some of us knew how he supported Agbo, maybe because his mother is from Ondo town and you know, of course, that blood is thicker than water.”

But Mimiko’s answer to Ajayi’s request, a few days after, is evident in the communiqué issued at the South Senatorial District leaders’ meeting in Okitipupa last Sunday at the behest of the former governor’s ally and Chief Press Secretary (CPS), Mr. Eni Akinsola. The leaders, alongside Akinsola, who was ZLP’s senatorial candidate last year, lamented that the district was abandoned and clamoured for a South District candidate based on the rotational policy. 

Amongst other resolutions, they stressed, “That the leaders are wholly in support of the candidature of our son His Excellency, Hon. Alfred Agboola Ajayi on the platform of Zenith Labour Party in the October 10 gubernatorial election.

“That all indigenes and residents of the six local government areas in the Southern Senatorial District should embark on massive mobilization in support of Ajayi to ensure his victory and, by extension, our victory in the gubernatorial election.”

Nonetheless, Mimiko’s fingers are directly felt in the third force project as two of his loyal commissioners, Mr. Gboye Adegbenro and Olasimi Odunmbaku, from Ifedore and Akoko North East councils respectively, have been pencilled down as Ajayi’s likely running mate. 

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Adegbenro hails from the same Central District with Mimiko and was a commissioner for works in his cabinet, while Odunmbaku, who is from the North District, was a commissioner for women affairs and has the 35 Percent Affirmative Action advantage. 

Many political readers believe this may be the time for the former governor to reward Adegbenro for sacrificing his senatorial ambition for him in 2019. He had spent resources and consulted widely on the election but yielded the ticket to his benefactor without grudges.  

A former Speaker of the state Assembly, Abdulsalam Taofiq Olawale, who hails from Ikare-Akoko, Ondo North District, and who resigned from Akeredolu’s cabinet as Commissioner for Works, also stands a chance of clinching the ticket to satisfy Christian/Muslim ticket for the poll. 

MEANWHILE, PDP leadership is unsettled over the choice of running mate for its candidate since it was confirmed that Jegede had rejected advice to have Ajayi as his running mate for the election.
 
On the provisional list issued recently by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for the 17 governorship candidates, Jegede filled one Mr. Olumide Ogunje, as a surrogate running mate due to the inability of the party to conclude on who should be the substantive running mate before the deadline. 

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Observers believe that PDP is more interested in its candidacy rather than producing the next governor of the state. But indications emerged over the weekend that the party’s NWC may likely impose the deputy governor as the running mate in order to consolidate on the party’s chances in the coming governorship election.

This, according to sources in PDP, was part of the moves by some concerned party leaders to halt Ajayi’s defection to ZLP. It was learnt that the leaders had already met with Secondus on the need to prevail on Jegede to accept Ajayi’s choice so that the PDP camp in the state may not be depleted before the October poll. 

A PDP leader in the state, who preferred anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue, said: “Jegede may have no choice than to accept Ajayi as running mate. We can’t afford to go into the poll with a divided house. APC members in the state are on a daily basis uniting. Governor Akeredolu was in Lagos recently to introduce his running mate, Lucky Aiyedatiwa, to Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu, national leader of the party.

“If Akeredolu could unite with Tinubu, I don’t see why Jegede should reject Ajayi. Jegede must understand that Ajayi, despite defeating him during the primary, is still a big fish in the politics of Ondo State. 

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“We must commend some of our party leaders, particularly some PDP governors and NWC members for their frantic efforts to stop Ajayi from dumping PDP before the October election. They love the party, unlike those who are pushing Ajayi to go to another party to contest.”

But the state’s PDP Director of Media and Publicity, Mr. Zadock Akintoye, stressed that “For the avoidance of doubt, Mr. Agboola Ajayi remains a member of PDP and has not informed the party of his intention to leave; he remains a well valued and respected member of the party. 

“Please, note that clarification on the allegation has been sought from the deputy governor and assurances given to the leadership of the party of his intention to stay in the PDP.”

There was a twist to the narrative last week when the deputy governor was spotted in a meeting at Abuja with APC Reconciliation Committee members, led by Niger State Governor, Abubakar Bello. The rumour spread like wildfire that he had attended the meeting with Akeredolu, a federal lawmaker from Oyo State, Shina Peller, amongst others, to return to the ruling party and beg for soft-landing. 

But Ajayi’s Media Adviser, Mr. Allen Sowore, said that the Tuesday, July 28, 2020 meeting was to honour the invitation extended to his boss by Governor Akeredolu at his residence in Abuja. 

“The Deputy Governor of Ondo State, a thoroughbred man and politician imbued with the virtue of respect, couldn’t have turned down an invitation from a sitting governor. He couldn’t also have asked Niger State Governor to come to his house.

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“Ostensibly, His Excellency Agboola Ajayi met with the Niger State governor and discussed issues relating to political developments in Ondo State. Without equivocation, let it be known that the deputy governor is still a member of PDP and has not returned to APC.”

According to Sowore and the teeming supporters of the deputy governor, who had hitherto complained that the PDP was not fair to him before and after the primary, Ajayi has embarked on wide consultations with critical stakeholders within and outside the state. 

“He is also determined to reassure his teeming supporters following PDP primary election,” Sowore said. “In a couple of days, Agboola Ajayi will announce his next line of political decision.”

The President of Movement for the Survival of the Underprivileged (MOSUP), Mr. Dappa Maharajah, said that the Abuja meeting with the APC might not be without the knowledge of Mimiko. 

According to Maharajah, “It is more of a political bargain to whittle down and undermine the chances of the major opposition party due to the massive sentiments from the South District against the party’s candidate, Eyitayo Jegede. 

“An average Southerner does not believe in the candidacy of Jegede, who is fated to spend another four years if he wins the next election. The implication to the southerners is not favourable and they don’t want to wait another 20 years.”

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Maharajah explained that the meeting with APC chieftains might be a political contract to dismantle PDP, adding that the ruling party knows that Ajayi’s presence in PDP would further strengthen the opposition party against it. He pointed out that aside getting a recoup for his financial expenditure politically, the deal might be a political soft-landing for the deputy governor for his many sins against Governor Akeredolu and the ruling party. 

“The enemy of my enemy is my friend,” he said. “And this is why Dr. Olusegun Mimiko too may be part of the bargain to stop Jegede by all means. To him, if Jegede wins 2020 election, it becomes automatically proven that he sold him out in 2016.

“By Ajayi’s ticket in ZLP, it becomes an ill-wind that blows no one any good for Ajayi and Mimiko. The South will vote massively for their son; PDP’s block vote is then thwarted and Akeredolu has an easy sail to second term.”

In order to parch cracks in the wall, it was gathered from a reliable source close to Jegede’s camp that he met his boss and benefactor, Mimiko, on Monday night in his house. 

According to the source, “Eyitayo has gone to his principal and benefactor, but it is unfortunate that he is just doing it now after Mimiko’s Zenith Labour Party had picked Ajayi as his candidate and created a third force wave.

“This third force is almost consuming our party as many bigwigs across the state are already dumping the party unannounced. Ajayi’s candidacy is already receiving a massive boost from both within and outside the state, as some PDP and even APC governors have already backed him against Jegede and incumbent governor, Rotimi Akeredolu.”

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