The race to the Alagbaka Government House in Ondo State is becoming stiffer by the day with analysts predicting a tight three-horse race, PETER DADA reports
The Ondo State governorship election is about seven days away and preparations are already in top gear. No fewer than 17 political parties would take part in the election.
They include the ruling All Progressives Congress, Peoples Democratic Party, Zenith Labour Party, Social Democratic Party, African Democratic Congress and Young Progressives Party. Others are the African Democratic Party, Accord Party, African Action Alliance, the African Democratic Party, Peoples Redemption Party, New Nigeria Peoples Party and the Action Peoples Party, among others.
Meanwhile, political pundits believe that the contest would largely be between the candidate of the APC and incumbent governor, Mr Rotimi Akeredolu (SAN); a former Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice in the state, Mr Eyitayo Jegede (SAN) of the PDP and the current deputy governor of the state, Mr Agboola Ajayi, of the ZLP.
This is because they are believed to have the requisite structure in place across the 18 local government areas of the state, coupled with the fact that they relatively are about the most popular among the candidates.
Jegede, who was also the PDP candidate in 2016, is contesting for the second time.
The three candidates, who are legal practitioners, are from each of the three senatorial districts of the state – Akeredolu is from Ondo North; Jegede is from Ondo Central while Ajayi is from Ondo South Senatorial District.
For many people, it would be a tight contest. However, each of them has their area of advantage.
First, Akeredolu has some edge over the other two candidates, being the incumbent governor. In Nigerian politics, the power of incumbency is a strong factor, coupled with the fact that his party is in charge at the national level. Support from the centre and from other states being ruled by the APC would definitely be of great advantage to him.
Even though it wasn’t reported if the funds would be released before the election, the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), wrote to the National Assembly, seeking approval for the refund of N148bn to reimburse four states, Ondo State inclusive, for the money spent on road projects in their respective states.
Some members of the opposition are dissatisfied over the President’s reasons for trying to release the money to the state when the election is a few days away. They argued that it was an indirect way of empowering the party’s candidate.
Aside from this, the governor’s performance would also earn him votes, particularly in various communities he had carried out projects. Some people believe that Akeredolu had done well in the area of infrastructure, industrialisation and agriculture and many communities had benefited immensely in the projects in these sectors. Thus, in those areas where he carried out projects, he might get more votes.
However, according to some observers, a major factor that could be an obstacle to the governor’s re-election bid is the internal wrangling in the state APC which has not been completely resolved. Some APC members believe the governor did not coordinate the party properly since he assumed office in 2016.
The relationship became strained to the extent that the national body of the party set up a reconciliation committee to end the crisis. In spite of this, however, some members are still in court challenging the process of the party’s primary conducted in July 2020.
A top party chieftain of the party, who spoke on condition of anonymity, informed our correspondent that the party might lose the election because, according to him, there was no genuine reconciliation.
The party chief said, “If he loses this election, the greater cause would come from within the party. He has not done well to the party members. For almost four years, he ignored them; there was no party meeting at the wards, he was busy dealing with ‘Team Aketi’, he starved the party members.
“The disgruntled party members are waiting for him this time round. Secondly, the reconciliation they said they did was fake. Some of us party leaders are being bullied by the national leadership of the party to support his reelection, so that the party would not lose the state.”
In the same vein, Akeredolu may lose votes of some people who believe that governors don’t always perform in their second term since they do not have much at stake. Though the governor had said in many fora while allaying the fear of workers that if he won the election, he would perform.
The candidate of the PDP, Mr Eyitayo Jegede, would have an advantage in the Ondo Central Senatorial District, where he hails from as his major stronghold, coupled with the structure of the party across the 18 LGAs of the state. He also has supporters across the three senatorial districts, particularly in the southern senatorial district, which is sometimes regarded as the home of the PDP in Ondo State.
It was gathered that Jegede had been enjoying the support of the PDP governors across the country and some national leaders of the party are also in his support. So, money for the election may not be the headache for the party and its candidate.
Being a part of the immediate past administration of Dr Olusegun Mimiko, many beneficiaries of the administration are queuing behind Jegede to win the election with the hope that his administration would be the continuation of Mimiko’s government, especially in the area of free medical service for pregnant women and children, reduction in school fees, and community development, among others.
But the major challenge that could militate against the PDP candidate is the hullabaloo on the senatorial zoning sentiment. Jegede has been described as a gentleman, with high credibility and intellectual prowess to manage the affairs of the state but in the political quarters, the permutation and calculation do not favour him following the senatorial district he comes from. Some political analysts have argued that Mimiko, from the same central senatorial district with Jegede, spent eight years in power. They said it was no longer feasible for the same zone to retain power.
They further argued that it was either Akeredolu completed his eight years or power should shift to the southern senatorial district. Due to this sentiment, some members were defecting from the PDP to support the APC or ZLP candidate.
Another factor that could affect the chances of the PDP candidate is the unsettled rift between him and his former principal, Mimiko. The former governor, who is now the National Leader of the ZLP, is said to be solidly behind the candidate of the party, Mr Agboola Ajayi. At the moment, some of Mimiko’s supporters are said to be leaving the PDP for the ZLP.
In the same vein, the emergence of Agboola Ajayi as the candidate of the ZLP had apparently shot the party into the limelight. Some people even describe the party as a third force in the election. Many political analysts have warned against underrating the ZLP candidate.
Apart from the fact that he is a grass roots politician who rose through the ranks, he has a lot of supporters across the state. Though the party may not have the financial strength to match the APC and PDP, it is said to be increasing its supporters’ base courtesy of defections, especially from both the APC and the PDP.
The senatorial zoning sentiment could also be in his favour as many people from the Ondo South Senatorial District are already seeing his governorship ambition as their project and are planning to deliver block votes from the area.
Ajayi’s alliance with Mimiko is also believed to be a boost for his ambition. Mimiko has been seen leading the campaign of the ZLP candidate to the nooks and crannies of the state, telling the people that Ajayi would continue where he stopped if he is elected. A source disclosed that Mimiko’s loyalists in the PDP and APC were already working for Ajayi ahead of the election.
However, it is believed that Ajayi’s party may not be able to match the others if the election is unethically monetised as is sometimes the practice. Another concern of some of his supporters is how he would be able to gather the much-required votes from the two other senatorial districts. The structure of the ZLP is also not as strong as that of the APC and the PDP.
In the view of some analysts, the election would be a three horse race.
According to a university lecturer, Dr Gbenga Abimbola, the winner of the election would certainly be between the three major political parties and it would be difficult to predict the winner.
He said, “The election is a three horse race among the APC, PDP and the ZLP, because these are the parties that have structures and resources in the state. But it is early to predict where the pendulum would swing due to some factors that could play out.”
He added, “Each of the three senatorial districts is producing a candidate for the election. Each candidate would have to win enough votes in his district and get more in other districts. The sentiment of zoning is also there; though it is not a written agreement. The southern senatorial district is saying it is its turn but the north says it would have to complete its eight years.
“However, there will still be calculation and permutations because 24 hours is a long time in politics. Let’s keep our fingers crossed and see what will happen in the next few days.”
Similarly, a legal practitioner and public affairs analyst, Mr Deji Ogunyimika, said the current political game in Ondo State reflected the beauty of democracy. He also admitted that the election victory was among the three major political parties.
He added, “Having three major candidates in a state election is good for our democracy; at least, it will afford the voters the opportunity to have more choices among them. But I will appeal to the stakeholders, particularly the Independent National Electoral Commission and the security agencies, to allow a free, fair and credible election. In Edo State, with all the apprehension, the election was credible to a very large extent. I think that should be repeated in Ondo State. People’s votes must be allowed to count for the sake of our democracy.”