Preparations for the October 10 governorship election in Ondo State are gradually taking shape. It is going to be another face-off between the two Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SAN) that dominated the 2016 contest, as Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of the All Progressives Congress (APC) is set to square up against Eyitayo Jegede of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) once again. Deputy Governor Agboola Ajayi is also trying to play the zoning card to upstage the candidates of the two major parties. Deputy Political Editor RAYMOND MORDI examines the factors that will determine the outcome of the contest
Number of factors will influence the October 10 governorship election in Ondo State. Some of the factors are zoning, incumbency and the 2023 calculations. Seventeen candidates are contesting the election, but if Deputy Governor Agboola Ajayi throws his hat in the ring as expected the contest may end up as a three-horse race.
They are namely Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Eyitayo Jegede, Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) and Ajayi, who is expected to fly the flag of the Zenith Labour Party (ZLP). Each of the main candidates are from the three senatorial districts; Ondo North, Ondo Central and Ondo South respectively.
It is likely to be a repeat of the 2012 election, where the three main candidates held sway in their respective senatorial districts. A three-horse race means that none of the candidates may be able to win an absolute majority of votes cast.
That was the case in 2012 when former Governor Olusegun Mimiko beat Akeredolu and Olusola Oke to win the contest. To keep one’s home base securely, while making appreciable forays into the stronghold of other contestants is vital to doing well in the race. If Ajayi eventually does not throw his hat into the ring, the contest would be between Akeredolu and Jegede.
Going by what has transpired since the advent of civil rule in 1999; zoning does not appear to be a strong factor in Ondo politics. Nevertheless, it is expected to influence the outcome of the election. In this regard, Akeredolu and to a lesser extent Ajayi has an edge over Jegede. Adebayo Adefarati, from Ondo North, spent four years as governor between 1999 and 2003, Olusegun Agagu, from Ondo South, served as governor for over six years between 2003 and 2009. Mimiko came from Ondo Central and he served from 2009 and 2017. Olusegun Mimiko, from Ondo Central, served for two terms of four years each between 2009 and 2016.
With Akeredolu’s first term of four years, it is now being argued that Ondo North has had its eight years since 1999 and therefore power should shift to Ondo South. The above view, however, does not appear to be a popular one. Having put in four years, Akeredolu is likely to benefit from the zoning sentiment because Ondo North under him has put in only four years and there is a clamour that he should be allowed to do a fresh tenure before power shifts to Ondo South. As a result, the governor has been advised to reconcile with all those he seems to have offended in the last four years, to prevent what happened in Oyo State in the last general elections from repeating itself.
Indications are that Jegede’s name will be recognized more easily by voters across the state, than that of Ajayi, his ZLP counterpart. Therefore, he is likely to be the main challenger facing Governor Akeredolu. Observers, however, say Akeredolu and Jegede must start negotiating across all zones and regions other than where they hail from to stand a chance of winning the election.
This is the reason why Ondo South has suddenly become the beautiful bride in the search for running mates. Both Akeredolu and Jegede have chosen their running mates from there. Akeredolu chose Lucky Aiyedatiwa as his running mate. The governor said: “Aiyedatiwa, the former Commissioner in the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and native of Obe-Nla, an oil-bearing community in Ilaje Local Government Area has been with us since the beginning of this political journey in 2012. In arriving at this choice, some important factors assisted the leaders of this great party. We have decided to sever ties with mediocrity and treachery. There is indeed no art to find the mind’s construction in the face. We are also not in any position to change yesterday. We must, however, allow the experiences of the immediate past to guide our decision.”
2023 proxy battle
Like Edo State, the battle for the ticket of the two major parties in Ondo State is not unconnected with the 2023 presidential race. Some of the major gladiators in the two major parties nursing presidential ambition in 2023 see the Ondo 2020 governorship election as a proxy battle.
Particularly within the PDP, there were conflicting interests on who should be trusted with the Ondo governorship. Deputy Governor Agboola Ajayi had been assured that he would get the party’s ticket before he left the APC and joined the major opposition party.
Similarly, Jegede who remained loyal to the party despite losing the 2016 governorship also has his own backers both at the national and state levels. It remains to be seen how Ajayi’s failure to secure the ticket would affect the cohesion of the party ahead of the election.
In the case of the APC, all the interested parties eventually settled for Akeredolu at the end of the day.
At first, it appeared as if Akeredolu was going to be denied the APC ticket, but commonsense eventually prevailed. Nevertheless, he emerged as flag bearer after a keen contest. He initially had problems with members of his cabinet and key chieftains of the party. The drama started with the defection of his deputy, Ajayi, to the PDP. This was followed by the resignation of the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Ifedayo Abegunde. Ajayi dumped the APC because of his ambition to contest against Akeredolu. Apparently, they must have disagreed over key issues of governance. Ajayi said Akeredolu made the APC ‘a poisoned space’ with one man ‘kneeling on its neck’.
Subsequently, Abegunde resigned and publicly declared that he was opposing his boss’ second term bid. The former SSG also alleged that Akeredolu did not win 2016 election and that he (the former SSG) and other unnamed persons helped him to rig the election. In a swift reaction, Akeredolu called on security agencies to probe the allegations made by the former SSG.
During the buildup to the primary, 11 out of the 12 aspirants seeking the APC ticket rejected the indirect mode of primary, arguing that such mode of election is usually slanted to favour the incumbent because of his relationship with most of the delegates. The party, however, stood its ground, saying that the aspirants cannot decide the mode of the contest. Besides, an internal crisis within the party had been threatening the governor’s second term ambition for some time. The crisis was directly linked to the unresolved issues arising from the 2016 governorship primary that produced Akeredolu as the party’s flag bearer for that year’s contest.
The Ondo governor, it is said, did not help matters. He was accused of marginalising those who worked against his ambition to become governor four years ago. Thus, he has been accused of highhandedness and maladministration, as well as anti-party activities during the last general elections. The greatest threat to the governor’s second term bid was mainly from a splinter group within his party, the Unity Forum, which had vowed that it would produce a single candidate to face Akeredolu at the primary. But, luckily for him, the group could not agree on a consensus candidate and its members contested the primary individually.
In fact, on the eve of the primary, four aspirants stepped down for the governor, including Olusegun Abraham, who was Akeredolu’s main challenger four years ago. Others are Ifeoluwa Oyedele, Jimi Odimayo and Nath Adojutelegan. Thus, only seven aspirants vied for the ticket with Akeredolu. They are Olusola Oke, Olaide Adelami, Bukola Adetula, Jumoke Anifowose, Sola Iji, Isaac Kekemeke, and Awodeyi Akinsehinwa. Eventually, Akeredolu won in all the local government areas, with 2,458 votes. His closest rival, Oke got 262 votes, while Kekemeke came a distant third with 19 votes.
Given the tension within the party before the contest, Akerodolu has heeded the advice of party leaders by reaching out to those he defeated at the primary. He has visited Oke, Kekemeke, Iji and the other aspirants and they have agreed to work with him in the interest of the party. Akeredolu is banking on his performance as governor in the last four years to win the October 10 governorship election.
The good thing going for Jegede, a former Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice is that he was the main challenger against Akeredolu four years ago. In that November 2016 election, Akeredolu polled 244, 842 votes to beat Jegede, who garnered 150, 380 votes. Oke who contested on the platform of the Alliance for Democracy (AD) scored 126, 889 to come third. Thus, Jegede is confident that he can mobilise the party’s loyalists in the 18 local government areas to vote for him, having contested before.
Jegede is from Ondo Central, which has about 40 per cent of registered voters. His mother is from Ipele, near Owo in Ondo North. So, he might be able to garner an appreciable amount of votes in the district. Conversely, being an incumbent governor, Akeredolu is also capable of doing the same in his domain. But, it is instructive to note that the PDP won both senatorial districts during the 2019 National Assembly elections.
After consultations with stakeholders, Jegede has picked a member of the House of Representatives, Gboluga Ikengbolu as his running mate. Ikengbolu represents Irele/Okitipupa Federal Constituency and he is from Ondo South. Jegede rejected entreaties to pick one of the aspirants that contested against him at the primary, saying he needed a running mate he could trust.
Ajayi, who is going to fly the flag of the ZLP, believes he would garner enough votes from Ondo South, based on the zoning sentiment and in the two other districts to emerge as a third force in the race. Whether he would be able to achieve that feat and win the election is another matter.
Given his antecedents, as someone who has been moving from one party to another and someone who is desperate to govern the state at all cost, can the electorates trust him with their votes? That remains to be seen.
Ajayi resigned his membership of the ruling APC on June 21, 2020, and defected to the PDP, to realise his ambition, citing irreconcilable issues between him and his Governor Akeredolu (SAN).
After a short spell of 48 days in the PDP, he defected to ZLP. While confirming his resignation from the PDP, Ajayi thanked members of the party for their warm welcome during his short stay. He wrote on Twitter: “Today 10th August 2020, I resign my membership from the PDP to join the ZLP to further my aspirations. I appreciate the national leadership and members of the party for their warm reception and acceptance in the short period I rejoined the party.”
While in the PDP, Ajayi contested and lost the party’s ticket to Jegede. Before the primary, the general expectation was that Ajayi would utilise his huge war chest and key political position as deputy governor to become the candidate of the PDP. After losing the PDP primary, he expressed disappointment that some forces within the party were against his emergence as its candidate for the October election. Though the ZLP has conducted its primary and elected oil mogul Solomon Benjamin, from Ondo South, as its candidate, there are indications that he is willing to yield the ticket to Ajayi, who has been cleared by the National Executive Committee of the ZLP to contest the election. His name would be forwarded to INEC during the window provided for substitution of candidates.