Ondo 2016 guber race: Undercurrents of APC primary election
Three months to the September deadline fixed by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for the primary elections for participating political parties in the November 26 governorship contest in Ondo State to pick their candidates, the state’s political field has continued to be saturated with an array of aspirants jostling to pick their party’s tickets.
The streets of Akure, the capital and many urban centres have been littered with posters and huge billboards in dazzling colours displaying photographs and proclaiming the virtues of these aspirants and their political platforms while the airwaves of all broadcasting stations are being ruled by messages of hopes and pledges of good things from votes canvassers.
Among the contesting political parties, the All Progressive Congress (APC), which is waiting in the wings to take over political power, has the highest number of aspirants, about 50 at the last count, followed by the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP).
Many aspirants are also suspected to be nursing some relatively unknown political platforms where they would easily become the candidate as former Defence Minister, Olu Agunloye, has done with the Social Democratic Party (SDP).
Tempers among contestants within and across party platforms are already rising and in several instances, boiling over in preparation for a major contest that is expected to shape the political fortunes of the state prompting the electoral umpire last week, to warn gladiators that it was yet to blow the whistle for the commencement of the duel.
Within the APC where the intra-party contest is expected to be fiercest, the battle appeared to have been narrowed to within three aspirants mainly Roberts Ajayi Boroffice, a professor of Human Genetics and ranking Senator representing the Northern Senatorial District in the National Assembly, Olusola Oke, a consummate grassroots politician who ran an impressive gubernatorial race on the platform of the PDP in 2012 and his defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) counterpart in the same election, Rotimi Akeredolu, a former National Chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA).
Oke, also a lawyer and former National Legal Adviser of the PDP, joined the APC after last year’s presidential election and within a short period, buoyed by his long standing association with old politicians particularly of the PDP hue, of which he was one of the founding fathers in 1999, has effectively entrenched himself in his new platform.
Although he started active political participation earlier, having been elected a member of the House of Representatives during the aborted Third Republic and had wielded tremendous power during the six-year rule of the PDP in Ondo during which period he was first, the Commissioner representing the state on the board of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and later as the Chairman of the Ondo State Oil-Producing Areas Development Commission (OSOPADEC), it is doubtful if he would have a headway in the coming contest.
The major obstacle to Oke’s ambition is said to be his PDP background, which the leadership of the APC, particularly those at the South West regional level, are not comfortable with. This is more pronounced with the ripples being caused in the APC pool by the alleged anti-party activities of former PDP loyalists especially at the emergence of the current leadership of the National Assembly.
Besides, a sitting APC Senator who was Oke’s soul mate in the PDP, has incurred the wrath of the regional leadership of the APC when he, in defiance of the party’s directive, pitched his tent with the Senate leadership, an action that earned him public condemnation from the party.
There is also a rising opposition by loyalists of the APC who see Oke as a man who wants to reap maximum benefits from two opposing worlds to the detriment of those who suffered to build a platform despite assaults from political rivals among whom Oke was belonged.
Oke may also have a herculean task in getting the required number of delegates to pick the party’s ticket because by the time he joined the party, all the party officials, from the state to the ward level, who form the 3000-strong delegates, have all been elected through congresses supported by leaders to whom they now individually owe their loyalties.
Although Akeredolu is believed to have a number of loyal delegates because of his 2012 experience when he was foisted by the party leadership on the other aspirants without a primary election, resulting in mass discontentment and eventual loss at the poll, his obvious disconnect with the grassroots is an albatross on his neck.
Akeredolu, who many party faithful allegedly regarded as an alien in Ondo politics and who was said to have temporarily left active politics the moment he lost the 2012 gubernatorial race only to return in the wake of last year’s presidential election, is also said not to be in the good books of party leadership in the region.
The former NBA president who hails from Owo was said to have incurred the wrath of the defunct ACN leadership in the South West as a result of alleged unsatisfactory management of the 2012 campaigns and his insistence, after the APC platform has been created, to seek election into the office of the party’s National Legal Adviser, even when the leadership had made a choice in a Lagos politician.
Besides, Akeredolu is said to have been involved in the internal wrangling of the APC leadership structure by aligning himself with some allegedly estranged disciples of former Lagos governor and APC’s National Leader, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, to reduce his influence in the region.
The Ondo governorship election, according to analysts, would provide an avenue for the Asiwaju to show these disciples, who have publicly identified with Akeredolu, that he is still the Grandmaster of South West politics.
At the inception of his campaign some weeks ago while trying to seek the face of the National Leader to convince other party members that he enjoys his confidence, inside sources disclosed to The Guardian that Akeredolu was only able to have audience with Tinubu after the sixth attempt.
Last week, Akeredolu’s camp became visibly jittery when it dawned on them that they might have to contend with the massive socio-political influence of Tinubu within the APC and across the South West as an entity, before they could have headway in the Ondo gubernatorial contest.
The camp reacted angrily to a speculation that Boroffice, who is said to be very close to fellow Senator Oluremi Tinubu may have been tacitly adopted by the party’s regional leadership and declared that any such adoption would lead to crisis within the party.
Borrofice has however denied that he had only secured the endorsement of majority of the delegates that would vote in the primary election and the confidence of party leadership because of his contributions to the growth of the party in the state.
A source within the top hierarchy of the party in the state said that members of the party are providing massive support for Boroffice’s ambition because apart from his landmark achievements as a sitting Senator, he was the only rallying point for the party after the 2012 gubernatorial election defeat.
Despite the fact that the primary election where he was a leading candidate was dropped for Akeredolu’s imposition, he was the only aspirant that worked for the party by winning his Akoko South West local council in the 2012 contest.
During last year’s elections, Boroffice not only successfully sponsored one of his aides to the House of Representatives and won his second term election; he also delivered the District for the APC in the presidential poll and won all the seats in the Lower Chamber.
The real test of the strength of Borofice’s political strength came two weeks after the presidential election when he became the only leader that won all State Assembly seats in his domain when the ruling PDP dramatically roused itself from defeat to victory.
Although none of the three candidates is leaving anything to chance as the holder of the party’s ticket is already considered a governor-in-waiting by those studying the state’s political landscape, both the trusts of the delegates and party leadership are required to forge ahead and only a candidate with these two attributes can breast the tape.