For weeks, candidates for this weekend’s governorship election in Ondo State have been criss-crossing the state, trying to woo the electorate. The day of decision is Saturday 20 October 2012. Only three candidates are, from all indications, in the people’s reckoning. Here are their strengths and weaknesses
It is one of the beauties of democracy. Before a citizen could see a governor when he is in power, he or she has to fill forms and scale through different levels of protocol. But when elections are inching closer, governorship candidates and the incumbent come out of their comfort zones and go through the rigours of campaign. They perspire like the masses. They are exposed to the elements like the rabble and, on many occasions, step on goat excrement like villagers!
Just as school children stand nervously before judges and the audience, these respected individuals are put on the spot for political debate. That was what happened in Akure on Thursday 11 October 2012 when the African Independent Television, AIT, in a debate organised by the Nigerian Election Debate Group, paraded the three major candidates: Governor Olusegun Mimiko, the standard-bearer of the Labour Party, LP; Rotimi Akeredolu, of Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, and Chief Olusola Oke of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. That day, the troika seized the opportunity to reveal their programmes to the people. Moderated by Jire Kola-Kuforiji, the debate shifted from tackling issues to hitting below the belt. The candidates were, because of the verbal darts flying across, sweating under air conditioners! The politicians, the audience and television viewers were on tenterhooks. But the real sweat will be on Saturday, when the people elect one of the three to occupy the seat of power at Alagbaka, Akure.
Preparations for this weekend’s governorship poll in Ondo State have attained a frenetic proportion. None of the serious contenders is leaving anything to chance, as subterfuge and changing alignment of interests have become conspicuous in the last few weeks. Though 12 candidates were cleared for the poll by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, three of them are apparently the leading aspirants. They are Mimiko, Akeredolu, and Oke. The trio have exhibited political temerity, strong financial war chest and a large army of supporters, which the other candidates apparently lack. Besides, their impressive credentials and attainments in public life make them eminently qualified for the plum job.
The remaining aspirants are hardly known in public reckoning, while their political platforms lack visibility and structures in the state. They include Adeuti Taye, Allied Congress Party, ACP; Adeyemi Bolarinwa, All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP, and Ayodele Olusegun of Better Nigeria Progressive Party, BNPP. Others are Omoyele Olorunwa, Change Advocacy Party, CAP; Olusoji Ehinlanwo, Congress for Progressive Change, CPC; Oladipo Lawrence, National Conscience Party, NCP; Abikanlu Olusola, National Solidarity Democratic Party, NSDP; Victor Adetusin, Peoples Progressive Change, PPC, and Omoregha Olatunji of the Progressive People’s Alliance, PPA.
Though he has continued to face stiff challenges from his major political rivals, Governor Mimiko has shown uncanny audacity and ability to return the heat he receives from them in equal measure, if not more. He is dogged and resilient in pursuing his political interests. Even before a 2009 Court of Appeal judgment, which ousted former Governor Olusegun Agagu pronounced him the actual winner of the 2007 governorship election in the state, Mimiko had served in various capacities in a political career that has spanned almost three decades. He was two-time Commissioner for Health in the state, Secretary to the State Government under Agagu and Minister of Housing and Urban Development, after which he resigned from the government of former President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2006 to contest for governor in 2007. Despite reading Medicine at the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University), Ile-Ife, he, apparently, has found the political arena more appealing than the operating theatre. One thing he has going for him is the incumbency factor.
As a sitting governor of an oil-producing state, Mimiko has many things going for him, including the financial wherewithal and governmental structure to plot his return. It is noteworthy that two out of the three senators from the state, seven out of the nine House of Representatives members and 25 of the 26 state House of Assembly members are from LP. This is aside the party’s control of the entire 18 local government areas in the state and the retinue of appointed aides, who may equally pull some strings, however small, in support of their principal. Also, endorsements by various pressure groups, including the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, Trade Union Congress, TUC, transport unions among others make him better positioned. He was reported to have reached out to non-indigenes of the state, particularly non-Yoruba speaking communities, to solicit their votes. It is alleged that the governor recently constructed a town hall for the Igbo community, with a N25 million donation to boot! The National Chairman of the LP, Dan Iwuanyanwu, an Igbo, was also reported to have met with them to enlist their support for the governor. Mimiko is expected to garner the highest number of votes in his hometown of Ondo and in Akure, the state capital, where the performance of his administration is most visible. Both towns are in the Central senatorial district which, with six local governments, is the largest in the state. He is also expected to get some votes from Akoko South-West II, in the North senatorial district, where his deputy, Alli Olanusi, comes from.
However, it is argued that the administration’s uneven spread of projects across the state might be a disadvantage to Mimiko. His critics claimed that many places in the Southern and Northern senatorial districts have witnessed little or no governmental presence. The defection of some of his erstwhile allies, including cabinet members, may be considered another downside to the governor’s camp. Last month, three of his special assistants, Kayode Agunloye, Soji Ojomo and Chris Anota, resigned from the cabinet for reasons bordering on his leadership style and his refusal to include people from Akoko South-West constituency I in his government. This was followed by the resignation of Opeyemi Igbede, an aide to the deputy governor. Although the Commissioner for Information, Kayode Akinmade claimed they were sacked for dereliction of duty and anti-party activities, the aides insisted they left voluntarily. One of them, Agunloye, said: “Immediately the Deputy Governor, Olanusi got a hint of our resignation, he quickly phoned the Ondo State Radiovision Corporation (OSRC) General Manager to lie to the public that we were dismissed.” Also prominent among those that have dumped Mimiko are Femi Idris, a former commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs in the LP government, and Diran Iyatan, special assistant on Project Monitoring in Owo Local Government Area. The industrial dispute between staff of Adekunle Ajasin University in Akoko and the management, headed by Professor Femi Mimiko, may also reduce the votes garnered by the governor.
There is also talk about strained relations between Mimiko and student groups in the state. Some months ago, students of Ondo State origin under the auspices of the National Association of Ondo State Students protested against the government’s decision to subject them to examination before being granted bursary awards. They also condemned the decision to review the academic Cumulative Grade Point Average, CPGA, from 3.5 to 4.0, among other issues. The deaths in July of three students’ union leaders in an auto crash while returning from Abuja where Governor Mimiko had received an award also portrayed the governor in a very grotesque manner. On the whole, opinion has been expressed on possible loss of votes from the student bloc.
Rotimi Akeredolu, the ACN candidate, is a top contender capable of dislodging Mimiko. He has been very critical of the incumbent governor and seems poised to take his place. The debonair former Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, president has said that his mission is to redeem Ondo State from the alleged misgovernance of the LP. Akeredolu, like Mimiko and Oke, was educated at the University of Ife and had served as Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice in the state between 1997 and 1999. A respected lawyer, he has served in various capacities in his profession, including being NBA secretary under the late Alao Aka-Bashorun. He has also served on the Council on Legal Education, Body of Benchers, the Legal Aid Council and the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, among others. The high point of his illustrious career was when he was elected president of the NBA unopposed. Akeredolu was famous for speaking truth to power during his tenure as NBA president. In recognition of his contributions and honesty as the association’s president, the immediate past executive of the NBA had its national headquarters in Abuja named in his honour. But that is as far as law is concerned.
In Ondo politics, Akeredolu is regarded as a greenhorn. Without a formidable structure on ground in the state, he would certainly rely on his sterling reputation and the works of his party men. His chances of getting substantial votes in Owo, where he comes from in Ondo North senatorial district, manifested last week when thousands of LP members defected to ACN. The defection negated the widely held perception that he was neither known nor liked by his Owo kinsmen. The influence of his running mate, Paul Akintelure in Okitipupa, his home town in Ondo South senatorial district, may also yield votes for him. Also, the clout of Adewale Omojuwa, an ACN chieftain in the same South district, and some stalwarts may also swing votes for Akeredolu. In Akoko, he may also count on the support of a former governorship aspirant and serving senator, Ajayi Boroffice, as well as from other notable figures in the party. He is likely to get sympathy votes from the Igbo community because of his wife, an Igbo from Imo State. His wife, Betty, was reported to have met with leaders of the Igbo community on the need to support her husband. At his campaign rally in Ondo town, Akeredolu received endorsements from some pressure groups, including the Association of Nigeria Theatre Arts Practitioners, ANTP, Ondo State chapter.
The manner of Akeredolu’s emergence as ACN candididate, which almost tore the party apart, may substantially affect the party’s chances. His nomination was greeted by protests from aggrieved members, many of who subsequently defected to either the LP or the PDP. Many Ondo indigenes have branded the ACN undemocratic in its choice, describing Akeredolu as an imposition.
The third leg of the tripod is PDP’s Chief Olusola Oke, from Ilowo, Ilaje, in the South senatorial district. Until recently, many a political watcher had dismissed the chances of Oke, PDP’s immediate past National Legal Adviser, in the election. The removal of Olusegun Agagu from office in 2009 contributed largely to the decimation of the party’s ranks and led to its current low rating. But with the intense PDP campaigns, Oke’s acceptability has been growing tremendously. Interestingly, the party’s deputy governorship candidate, Saka Lawal, was prominent among those that defected from PDP to LP. He told this magazine that he was one of the six people who lured Mimiko to the LP and had hoped he would be made the deputy governor or secretary to the state government. But “I realised that was not to be two weeks after he (Mimiko) was declared governor by the court.” This led him and his backers, including former Ondo LP chairman, Chief Olaiya Oni, to the ACN, where he also failed to clinch the party’s governorship ticket.
The choice of Lawal, from Akoko in the North senatorial district, is described as a masterstroke and is considered as one of Oke’s greatest strengths. There are four local governments in the district and there is some possibility that his people would want to vote for him to ensure that one of them becomes deputy governor in 2013. Another factor in PDP’s favour is the expected votes from the South senatorial district, where Oke hails from. He is from Ilowo, a riverine community in Ilaje Local Government Area, in Ondo South. It is worth noting that the district is the only one that has not produced either a governor or deputy governor since the state was created in 1976. The reality of their kinsman emerging governor may be a compelling reason for them to vote for him. Ondo South is equally reputed to be the district with the highest number of registered voters in the state. Investigation revealed that the district yielded over 197,000 votes in the 2011 presidential election, which was more than double the votes turned out from the Central district in that election. While serving as his state’s representative on the governing board of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, and the Ondo State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission, OSOPADEC, Oke was said to have facilitated some development projects being executed in the area as well as empowered its youths, putting him in the good books of his kinsmen. Moreover, the PDP has been harping on Agagu’s achievements as governor and the need for the electorate to vote for the party again. And being candidate of the country’s ruling party, he definitely will have the backing of the Presidency.
But Oke has his weaknesses. The division among some leaders of his party may pose a problem. Already, some of them are said to have declared their support for Mimiko and are surreptitiously working against PDP’s interest. The majority of the aggrieved leaders are those opposed to Agagu as leader of the party in the state. The possibility of Mimiko getting some votes through his appointed aides from the senatorial district cannot be discountenanced, though. Like Akeredolu, Oke’s wife is Igbo, from Imo State, and appears to be popular with the Igbo community. It was gathered that Oke’s wife has always identified with her Igbo kinsmen and has helped many of them. This, again, is an advantage to her husband.
Another salient feature of the forthcoming election is the candidates’ styles of campaign. While Governor Mimiko has adopted project commissioning and continuity as a campaign strategy during his rallies, Akeredolu and Oke are wont to fault him. To them, the projects hardly justify the huge revenues that have accrued to the government since it took power in 2009. Oke has consistently harped on leveraging on the legacies of the Agagu administration, reviving ailing industries and putting the state on the path of industrialisation, among other promises. Akeredolu, on his part, has promised to create 30,000 jobs in his first 100 days in office, develop means of increasing the state’s internally generated revenue, build a refinery, give monthly stipends to the elderly and intervene in agriculture, education and other critical sectors of the Ondo economy.
But Mimiko appears confident that his performance will lead him to victory. “Three years on, I want to say with all sense of responsibility and evidently that we have worked for the people,” he told this magazine.
The exchange of verbal darts has been quite intense between Akeredolu and Mimiko than between either of them and Oke. The reason for the bitterness is obvious. Ondo State is the only one in the South-West that is not controlled by the ACN. The allegation by the ACN leadership that Mimiko reneged on an agreement to defect to the party shortly after his swearing-in is another reason for the smouldering animosity between them; though the governor has consistently refuted the said agreement.
The opposition has also raised the issue of the state’s burgeoning debt profile, which they claim currently stands at N50 billion. “It is an irony that a state that had a credit balance of N38bn three years ago is incurring a debt of N50bn,” Akeredolu said. He also accused the incumbent administration of mismanaging the state’s resources, stating that over N600bn has accrued to the government in its three and a half years in power, with little to show for it. Mimiko has equally refuted the opposition parties’ claims, insisting that he has been prudent with the state’s finances.
As the election draws nearer, the political horizon of the state is characterised by tension. This has resulted in confrontations among supporters of the leading candidates. Two weeks ago, the LP blamed ACN for the death of two of its supporters, including a youth, in Akoko. But ACN dismissed the allegation. Rather, it said, the row that led to the fight in which the two LP supporters’ died was over money Governor Mimiko gifted them. Director of Publicity, National Association of Nigerian Students, NANS Zone D, Olufemi Metufo, reacting to the death of the youth, said: “The incident is a confirmation of our earlier position that the government in Ondo State is not youth-friendly. A government that has refused to empower the young now gives them money to act as political thugs.” The veracity of Metufo’s allegation could not be ascertained, but certainly the stakes are high. Consequently, there have been calls on the federal government to deploy soldiers to Ondo State for the election, as it did during the Edo State governorship election recently.
—Fola Ademosu/Akure. Published on TheNEWS in magazine