Voters in Ondo State will today elect a new governor, but the atmosphere in the state, as is rightly expected, is cloudy, full of suspense, nervousness and possible last minute realignments.
Up till yesterday afternoon, at least 1,280,580 prospective voters that have Permanent Voters Card (PVC) were confused as to whether the election would hold or not.
Their apprehension was not out of place because various interests, including a section of the PDP, some activists, the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP) and many others, for some obvious reasons, had severally called for the postponement of the election.
Early reports from Akure, the Ondo State capital, yesterday, suggested that the election had been postponed and some residents were already thinking of other things.
‘No, the election has not been postponed,’ said Rotimi Oyekanmi, the spokesman of the INEC national chairman.
‘The election will go on as scheduled,’ he said.
Political pundits believe that the whole interest about the Ondo election is not about the immediate benefit accruing to the party that wins, but about the power tussle ahead of 2019.
The election would have been a straight contest between the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in the state and the leading opposition All Progressives Congress (APC).
However, internal wrangling, occasioned by unprecedented litigations, railroaded the Alliance for Democracy (AD) to become another vicious horse to contend with.
As the situation stands today, candidates of the three parties, including Eyitayo Jegede (PDP), Rotimi Akeredolu (APC) and Olusola Oke (AD), collectively sit on a huge tripod, with each basking on the euphoria of the lapses in the remaining two (and the political party they represent) to have a safe landing.
Though there are 28 political parties that fielded candidates for the election, Ondo’s voters who are undeniably in a serious dilemma, would have to weigh several options in selecting their leader who would pilot their affairs for the next four years.
The voters have the option of going for the PDP to maintain ‘continuity’ in the state in line with the expectation of the outgoing governor, Olusegun Mimiko.
They also have to decide on whether to vote for the APC so as to be in the ‘warm embrace’ of the ruling federal government.
Ondo voters equally have the third option of revolting against both the PDP and APC in support of the ‘new order’ signified by the AD.
Also, the federal government, headed by President Muhammadu Buhari, would be pleased to have Ondo because of its strategic importance to the consolidation stride of the party.
And finally, the political leaders of the South West, who provided the impetus for the APC to win the 2015 general elections, are also being careful as to which tent they should go and camp, considering the ‘unsavory’ events that unfolded in the last eight months.
Therefore, findings in Akure, yesterday, revealed a dicey trend for the election, which is seen as more of a battlefield for different forces within the PDP and the APC.
As such, chances of anti-party posturing are very high, a development that injected cold blood in the veins of the two aspirants of the PDP and APC, while the high expectation of the AD’s candidate has equally suffered a hitch following the Wednesday and Thursday’s judgments at the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court.
The problem in the PDP
Under normal circumstances, today’s election should have been an easy ride for the PDP, being the ruling party, which should have used the incumbency factor of outgoing Governor Olusegun Mimiko to ride to victory.
Before Thursday when the Supreme Court stamped its authority, Governor Mimiko and most of his counterparts in the PDP from the South-West and South-South had maintained a kind of cold feet because, Jimoh Ibrahim, who was then the party’s candidate recognized by INEC from the Sen. Ali Modu Sheriff faction of the party, is not their preferred candidate.
Therefore, the Senator Ahmed Makarfi faction of the party, which has the support of the PDP governors, was literally in hibernation as far as the Ondo election was concerned.
There was no financial support, no grassroots outreach and the party’s supporters were left obliviousness of who to vote for.
In fact, there were suggestions that the PDP governors were perfecting plans to connive with “renegades” from the APC and candidates of the smaller parties to mobilise support for the AD candidate.
“But the Appeal Court ruling that upturned Jimoh Ibrahim and recognized Jegede has completely changed our calculation,” said Jide Simon, a PDP member in Akure.
It was gathered that while Governor Mimiko had deployed state resources for ‘door to door’ campaign, PDP governors from the South-West and their colleagues in the South-South have renewed their confidence and mobilized resources in support of Jegede for the election.
At present, there is a marriage of convenience in the PDP as far as the Ondo election is concerned. While senior officials of the Sen. Sheriff faction yesterday called on the Ondo voters to support Jegede, other sources said they were only ‘setting a trap’.
The National Legal Adviser for Sheriff’s camp, Barrister Bashir Maidugu, said: “Going ahead with the Ondo governorship election is okay. PDP is PDP; whether Jegede or Jimoh Ibrahim. Our resolve is that everybody should go and vote the PDP. We are calling on our members and supporters in Ondo State to come out en mass and vote for PDP without reservations.
“As it is now, it is about the PDP. The Supreme Court has not ruled on anything. It referred all our applications to the Court of Appeal and the main issue of who remains the authentic national chairman of the PDP lies with the Port Harcourt Court of Appeal,” he said.
Similarly, the National Publicity Secretary for the Sheriff group, Hon. Bernard Mikko, told our correspondent in a telephone interview that internal crisis within the PDP shouldn’t stop the election.
“These are pre-election matters. It’s not Jegede or Jimoh that is on the ballot, it’s the name of PDP that is there, so, the election should go on and the party leaders will sort themselves out after the poll,” Mikko said.
But a source said Sheriff and Jimoh Ibrahim were only ‘after a PDP victory and not victory of Jegede’.
And of course there is sense in this assertion because on the day the Court of Appeal replaced him with Jegede, Jimoh Ibrahim said he would continue the struggle of reclaiming his ‘mandate’.
“We shall get justice at the Supreme Court and if the PDP wins Saturday’s election, we shall have our four years mandate to rule Ondo State. Let me advise you not to abuse anyone or fight over this one-day ruling, which was paid for from the state treasury. Mimiko will not succeed himself with Jegede this is too sure,” he said.
The spokesman of Sen. Makarfi’s faction, Prince Dayo Adeyeye, did not pick his phone calls or respond to a text message sent to him at the time of filing in this report.
But he told newsmen Tuesday, at Yar’adua Centre, Abuja, at the end of the PDP Ex-Ministers’ Forum, that the election should be postponed by at least three weeks.
Despite his ‘triumph’ at the courts, the PDP candidate for the election, Eyitayo Jegede, also said Thursday, that the election be postponed by 30 days to enable the PDP campaign.
He was however sighted in Akure seriously conducting last minute campaigns on Thursday. Jegede had also deployed media campaigns and was being vigorously assisted by PDP governors.
With all these in view, even if the PDP wins the election, it is clear that Jegede and Jimoh Ibrahim would continue their fight from where they stopped last week.
Slippery path in APC
Even though Rotimi Akeredolu of the APC has the support of the federal government, he is confronted with serious challenges in the home front, the South-West, due to the fact that he does not enjoy the support of the national leader of the party, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu.
Tinubu had wanted Olusegun Abraham as the APC candidate, but for the sake of power realignment, his candidate was literally trounced.
In fact, Tinubu had called for a new primary to no avail and since then, he had technically gone back into his shell and sources said the Ondo election would be a ‘day of retribution’.
Apart from refusing to come out and abide by the party’s decision to support Akeredolu, Tinubu, alongside some leading APC governors in the South-West, had remained silent about the Ondo election, boycotted the grand rally of the party held last week in Akure and there was no any indication that they are doing something to ensure the victory of the party.
Rather, there is a kind of ‘fresh air’ behind the AD and its candidate, Olusola Oke, and pundits believe that the confidence came from the green light seen in the Tinubu camp of the APC.
Investigations indicated that most APC members and supporters of Tinubu are either neutral (planning to boycott the election) or supporting the AD candidate, Olusola Oke.
This was the reaction of all the supporters and fans of Tinubu, who spoke with Daily Trust on Saturday on condition of anonymity.
A supporter who was asked who he would support simply said, “We have our candidate for the election”.
Asked whether he would vote for Akeredolu, he retorted, “Just wait and see.”
Another APC member said the party would support Oke in the election. Unconfirmed reports had it that 24 buses of supporters were mobilised from Lagos to attend a recent mega rally in Akure by the AD candidate.
What is clear from the interactions our reporter had with various APC supporters is the fact that the party wouldn’t support Akeredolu.
This was also confirmed by the APC spokesman, Mr. Joe Igbokwe, who in a chat with Daily Trust on Saturday said the party was neutral.
“As a party, we are neutral but individuals can take their decision on who to back, but as a party, we are neutral because we don’t want to be seen as doing anti-party, we don’t want to do that. We will support whoever wins, whether it is Akeredolu or Oke, but, I have thought that the party machineries would have gone into the matter and had it resolved so that the APC would have a united house,” he said.
Igbokwe reiterated that members of the APC in Lagos were not happy with the way Asiwaju was being treated in the party despite his contributions to the formation of the party and the 2015 election victory.
According to him, the president should have insisted on having Tinubu as part of the last rally the party had in Ondo and use that platform to reconcile with him.
He said contrary to the report that Tinubu did not attend the rally because he was ill, the APC national leader was in the country hale and hearty, adding that those who did not contribute to the party’s victory were hijacking the machinery and claiming its glory.
“Anybody in this country that thinks that he can ignore the capacity and capabilities of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu in this government, that person cannot get it”, he added.
Considering the disquiet in all the major parties, it’s only the outcome of the election that will unravel how the winner emerged. For now, all the candidates have their weakness and strengths.
And sensing that conducting the election would be a herculean task, the Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Kpotun Idris, had announced that 26,000 officers and men of the force had been drawn from 26 mobile units for the election.
He said 20 boats had been stationed to tackle any security challenges on the waterways, while 12 Armored Personnel Carriers (APCs) would be moved to the state.
According to him, 300 Hilux vehicles have been earmarked for the exercise, while 3 helicopters would also be used for aerial vigilance.