By Jethro Ibileke
With less than 24 hours to the commencement of the governorship election in Ondo State, three key gladiators are favourite to hold sway. After a careful examination and sifting of the candidates of the 17 political parties contesting the poll, opinions narrow the chances to three candidates, namely, the incumbent Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu of the APC; his erstwhile deputy, Agboola Ajayi of the Zenith Labour Party; and Eyitayo Jegede of the PDP.
The three main contestants are busy strategising and plotting the defeat of their opponents. The big question is, who wins the race at the end of the voting exercise, who wins the battle for the soul of Ondo State?
The trio have one thing in common; they are lawyers. They also have one goal in common, they set their eyes on the governorship seat. But, only one of these three gladiators will be declared winner of the election come Saturday.
Below is a careful analysis of the three favourite candidates.
Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu
Sixty-four-year old Arakunrin Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, graduated from the prestigious University of Ife (now named Obafemi Awolowo University in 1977. He hailed from Owo town, in the northern senatorial district of the state. His campaign slogan, when translated from Yoruba language, means “let’s do it once more”.
Beside being a senior advocate of no mean repute, Aketi, as he is popularly called, is actually not a green horn in politics, having been in politics for over a decade. He served as the Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, during the first tenure of former Governor Olusegun Mimiko, who won his election on the platform of the Labour Party, but later defected to the PDP.
In 2013, Akeredolu contested for the governorship seat on the platform of the APC, but lost to his former boss, Mimiko, who won the election for a second term with a landslide. He, however, got lucky on his second attempt, and was sworn-in as governor on 24 February 2017.
This APC candidate obviously enjoys the support of his party, President Muhammadu Buhari and other APC governors. During the grand finale of his electioneering campaign rally which held inside the main bowl of Akure Stadium on Wednesday, Buhari in a goodwill message, described Akeredolu as a good brand who should be reelected for a second term.
“No doubt, our candidate is a good brand. I am particularly delighted with his approach to governance, he is a good brand. I join you to declare that Governor Rotimi Akeredolu deserves to be reelected for a second term,” Buhari had said.
The presence of 10 APC governors at the campaign is a further attestation of his acceptance in his party.
To win the support of the people of Ondo South Senatorial District where one of his main challengers, Agboola Ajayi hailed from, Akeredolu argued that they ought to give him their support, for the governorship rotation to get to their turn at the end of his second term. He reasoned that voting for the PDP candidate, Eyitayo Jegede, would jeopardise their chance of getting it in 2025.
The 52-year-old Igbinedion University, Okada-trained lawyer who hailed from Kiribo, in Ese-Odo Local Government Area of Ondo State, is an astute and a grassroots politician. He was called to bar in 2010 after his graduation from the Nigerian Law School, Abuja.
Ajayi though began his political career in 1989 when he was elected ward chairman of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), in the Old Apoi. When the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) was formed in 1998, he was made Secretary of the party in Ilaje/Ese-Odo Local Government between 1998 and 1999.
In 2004, Ajayi was elected chairman of Ese-Odo Local Government Council, and was made the Treasurer of Association of Local Government of Nigeria (ALGON), Ondo State chapter between 2004 and 2007.
Ajayi who dumped the PDP for the APC in 2016, was nominated as running mate of Arakunrin Oluwarotimi Akeredolu and together, they were sworn-in on February 24, 2017.
In the build-up to the 2020 governorship election, Ajayi clashed with his boss, when he declared interest in gunning for the Ondo top job. Following the rivalry that ensued, Ajayi dumped APC for the PDP on June 20, where he declared his interest to contest against Akeredolu during the governorship election. But when the PDP primary election was conducted on July 22, Ajayi lost to Eyitayo Jegede.
Few days later, Agboola Ajayi decamped to Zenith Labour Party (ZLP), where he is currently seeking election. He is banking on the over 514,000 voting strength of his home base of Ondo South, and whatever votes he could win in other parts of the state, to unseat his boss as governor.
The PDP candidate for the gubernatorial election, Eyitayo Jegede, Senior Advocate of Nigeria, was born to the family of late Chief Johnson Bosede, the Odopetu of Isinkan, Akure, in the central senatorial district of the state. He graduated from the University of Lagos in 1983.
The Chief Justice of Nigeria in 1992 appointed him as a Notary Public, before being elevated to the rank of Senior Advocate of Nigeria on 16th December, 2008. He was a two-time chairman of the Adamawa State chapter of the Nigerian Bar Association.
He served as a former Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice during the second tenure of Olusegun Mimiko.
On Monday, August 22, 2016, Eyitayo Jegede was voted as the PDP governorship candidate but Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court judgement issued on October 14, 2016, recognised Jimoh Ibrahim as the candidate of the PDP for the governorship of Ondo State. But on November 23, 2016, the Court of Appeal reversed the judgement of the lower Court, pronouncing Jegede as the PDP’s gubernatorial flag bearer.
Jegede emerged the flag bearer of PDP’s Governorship Primary for Ondo State in the October 2020 election after polling a total of 888 votes, defeating the Deputy Governor Agboola Ajayi who emerged second with 657 votes.
There is no gainsaying that Jegede’s presence in the governorship race is not only a nightmare to Governor Akeredolu, but a threat to his ambition of getting re-elected.
In summary, the fate of Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, Agboola Ajayi, Eyitayo Jegede, and indeed, that of the other candidates in the election, now depends on the decision of the over 514,000 eligible voters in Ondo South, the over 816,000 in Ondo Central and the over 485,000 in the North.
There is no doubt, however, that one of the three gladiators will emerge victorious on Saturday. We can only wait to see who finally wins the battle for the soul of Ondo.