Monday, 2nd October 2023

Oni’s defection to SDP and feelers from APC, PDP

By Ayodele Afolabi, Ado Ekiti
09 March 2022   |   2:36 am
Ahead of the June 18 governorship election in Ekiti State, political activities have heightened. There are alignments and realignments by political actors who felt shortchanged or cheated in the primary elections...

Rousing welcome for Oni by SDP members in Ekiti.

Ahead of the June 18 governorship election in Ekiti State, political activities have heightened. There are alignments and realignments by political actors who felt shortchanged or cheated in the primary elections of the major political parties. One of them is Chief Segun Oni. The former governor’s political history in Ekiti is not new. He is one of the four major actors that bestride Ekiti landscape and have remained major players for about two decades. Others are former Governor Adeniyi Adebayo, who was the first elected governor of the state, former Governor Ayodele Fayose, who spent two terms and the incumbent, Kayode Fayemi, whose tenure would end in October 16 this year. 

The four politicians have rotated power among themselves since 1999. The political drama and the legal battle that ensued between Oni and the current governor, led to the state of off-season elections. It lasted for three and a half years. Oni was the governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in 2007, while Fayemi was the candidate of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), and at the end of a keenly contested election, Oni was declared winner. After spending three and a half years in office and after two rounds of runoff elections, he was removed on October 15, 2010 by an Appeal Court sitting in Ilorin, Kwara State, presided over by then President of the appellate court, Justice Ayo Salami.

In 2014, in a move that surprised many in and outside the state Oni, who was the Vice National Chairman South West of the PDP, left the party, citing irreconcilable differences with Fayose and the national leadership of the party as reasons for doing so. He then teamed up with his perceived political foe in APC, Kayode Fayemi. He was rewarded with office of Deputy National Chairman (South) of APC. 

Oni resigned the position to participate in the 2018 APC primary, where he came second behind Fayemi. Dissatisfied with the conduct of the primary, Oni headed to court to challenge the candidacy of Fayemi, whom he alleged refused to resign from the Federal cabinet within the stipulated time and also over allegation that he was indicted by the Judicial Panel of inquiry set up by Fayose’s government. He eventual lost the legal battle at the apex court. For taking the party to court, Oni’s supporters were schemed out of both appointive and elected positions by Fayemi. 

What was more, he was suspended indefinitely for anti party activities. 
These developments left Oni with no other choice than to return to his former political party, the PDP in 2019 to activate his governorship project. He was the first politician to openly declare his intention to contest the 2022 governorship poll. 

Before joining the PDP, the party was already badly fractured due to intractable crisis that bedeviled it dating back to 2017. There were two factions, which included the Osoko Political Assembly and the Repositioning Group, led by Fayose and Senator Biodun Olujimi respectively. Oni refused to join either faction, preferring to act as a mediator. He was hoping to benefit from both factions, but was resisted by the two groups. He was also unable to convince Senator Iyorchia Ayu-led National Working Committee (NWC) to be given the party ticket to fly PDP’s flag. In the primary election held on January 27, 2022, he came second behind Mr Bisi Kolawole, who became the party candidate. Oni and some other aspirants faulted the conduct of the shadow election, which they alleged was manipulated in favour of the candidate. He again dumped the PDP.

After dumping the PDP, Oni left many political observers guessing for three weeks as to the platform he would use to realise his governorship ambition. Some even speculated he had picked the ticket of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), before he eventually picked that of the Social Democratic Party (SDP).  

Therefore, out of the four political personalities that have rotated power among themselves since 1999, Oni is the only one contesting and whose name would be on the ballot. The other three are now godfathers, promoting the aspirations of their protégés. The implication is that Oni remains the most experienced among those contesting the June 18 governorship poll in the state. 

Before Oni was given the flag of the party, the SDP was regarded as one of the fringe parties in the state, especially because it has not won any election in Ekiti in the past. But the party, which came third in the 2018 governorship poll, is still more visible others in its category. However, the platform seems to have gained momentum within the two weeks that Oni joined the fold, to the extent that it is now seen to have the capacity of a third force. This is happening because Oni is a grassroots politician with good following, which cuts across the two major parties. He has people who remain loyal to him and have been jumping ship with him into whatever platform he adopts.

To test his popularity, the former governor made a triumphant entry to Ekiti through Ikere Ekiti. He was received by a mammoth crowd, which thronged the streets in different SDP branded attires.

The Guardian checks revealed that due to candidate’s limited resources, his supporters taxed themselves to raise fund to come and welcome him to Ekiti. According to party sources, members in different local governments contributed money ranging from N400, 000 to N1 million in what many described as a clear departure from the usual crowd renting episodes before now. A source expressed surprise that members from Ijero local government were able to raise N1 million to support Oni’s “triumphant entry” to Ekiti State. 

With a catchphrase “Ekiti Koya, o to ge” (Ekiti reject suffering, enough is enough), Oni seems to have appealed to disgruntled members of the APC and the PDP who are disillusioned by absence of political patronage and neglect by the leadership of those parties whom they accused of entrenching winner takes all attitude.

Oni has also attracted those who are still aggrieved due to the outcome of the primaries.  Of the seven aggrieved aspirants that boycotted the APC primary, two of them have reportedly pitched tenth with Oni. They include Senator Dayo Adeyeye, who is the arrowhead of the South West for Bola Ahmed Tinubu (SWAGA), one of the organisations championing the candidacy of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu to become President in 2023. The other is Kayode Ojo, who was one of the frontline aspirants in APC with remarkable war chest. 

What may have further buoyed Oni and the party’s capacity to be a third force is the seemingly unending crisis in the opposition PDP. The crisis reared its ugly head barely 24 hours to the submission of parties’ nominations to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), when the nominee for the deputy governorship candidate, Mrs Funmi Ogun rejected her nomination.

This was contained in a letter dated February 24, 2022 and entitled: ‘Re: My Nomination As Deputy Governorship candidate, which she personally signed and addressed to the PDP National Chairman, Dr. Iyorchia Ayu, on Thursday February 24. The letter took the public, particularly politicians of the PDP extraction by surprise, with threatened the deadline for nomination the next day. 

Ogun was the commissioner for Works under Fayose between 2016 and 2017, and is an ally of Fayose and one of those who are uncompromisingly loyal to the former governor.

The letter read: “This is to formally inform you that I am not unaware of my nomination by Ekiti Stakeholders for the position of the Deputy Governorship Candidate in the 18 June 2022 Gubernatorial Election. Notwithstanding their good intentions, I formally write to reject the nomination for personal reasons. However, I appreciate the uncommon recognition and assure the party that no effort will be spared at ensuring our victory at the election. The Candidate can therefore be approached for a fresh Nomination.”

When called on telephone for clarification, the former commissioner confirmed authoring the letter, but she debunked the widespread insinuation that it was due to certain disagreement with former governor Fayose. Ogun said the leadership of the party in Ekiti had endorsed her as the deputy governorship candidate to Mr Bisi Kolawole and forwarded it to Ayu-led National Working Committee, whom she alleged refused to act appropriately.

“Yes, I want to confirm the authorship of the letter, but it wasn’t meant to slight anybody or confirm that I had disagreement with our leader, former Governor Ayodele Fayose, who is presently abroad for medical checkup. All the stakeholders in Ekiti politics had endorsed me and forwarded my name to our national leadership, but they didn’t act on it. So, I have decided to reject my nomination for me not to be on collision course or ruffle feathers with our national leaders. I have written this letter while awaiting the reaction of our leader, Ayo Fayose and the national leaders. But this doesn’t suggest any trouble in Ekiti PDP.”

Behind the façade, The Guardian learnt from an insider in the Fayose political family that, one of the people that masterminded her rejection was the party’s candidate, Kolawole himself. His action has allegedly thrown the party into fresh crisis. Fayose his benefactor, who was reportedly abroad at the time for medical checkup was said to have been livid with anger over the development. 

To beat the INEC deadline, a name was reportedly submitted to the electoral body from the southern senatorial zone, Senator Olujimi’s constituency. What was more, the development was said to be creating a cold war in the opposition party and the effects have become visible. While the APC candidate has embarked on a ‘thank you’ tour of the 16 local governments and there are activities going on in Oni’s SDP, the same cannot be said of the PDP, which some said has become a shadow of itself.

To douse the tension generated by rumours of alleged rift within the party, the candidate, Kolawole has dismissed the alleged quarrel with his godfather, saying, no individual could come between him and Fayose, 

In a statement, Kolawole said; “Our leader, Ayo Fayose is the one who has by himself financed this project of returning PDP to power in Ekiti State till this moment. By the power of God, he is the one that will finance it to a victorious end. We can only keep praying that God will give him more strength because to me, he is God sent. Even while seeking votes from Ekiti people, we will use his achievements while in office as governor to convince the people about our ability to deliver on our electoral promises…”

Responding to assertions that Oni’s emergence as SDP candidate could be a threat to both the APC and PDP, the Zonal spokesperson of the party, Mr Karounwi Oladapo told The Guardian that Oni’s touted popularity was an emotional make belief by his supporters over the years.

“Those of us who deal in fact and figures will use it to debunk their claim. We really don’t see someone who has never won an election in his life as a threat. I challenge anybody to dispute this, Oni has never won an election in his life, be it party election or general election. Even when he became governor, the court ruled that he was never a governor, that Fayemi won the election. He was never a governor in the face of the law. The primary election that brought him to that office, he came third. 

“When he aspired to be governor in our party, he came a distant second in the primary. When he contested in the PDP, he came a distance second. For six years he was in APC, he always lost his Ifaki Ekiti wards to the opposition PDP. How can we be worried about such a person going to a party without structure?” 

In this article