Ondo election: Akeredolu banks on incumbency in three-horse race for Oduduwa House

‎WHEN the people of Ondo State go out on Saturday to elect the man who would lead them in the next four years, a former governor, Olusegun Mimiko, would be hoping that his record as the only person to win re-election as governor in the state would still stand by the time the Independent National Electoral Commission announces the winner of the gubernatorial election. Mimiko was able to occupy the Oduduwa House, the Ondo State government house, for two terms – from 2009 to 2017. No other politician has achieved that feat in the Sunshine State and the major reason Mimiko would be wishing that the record stands is his support for the governorship candidate of the Zenith Labour Party (ZLP), Agboola Ajayi.

Interestingly, while Ajayi is currently the substantive Deputy Governor of Ondo State, he is seen as the ‘dark horse’ in what is clearly a three-horse ‎race for the Oduduwa House in Saturday’s governorship election.

The incumbent, All Progressives Congress candidate, Rotimi Akeredolu, and the Peoples Democratic Party flagbearer, Eyitayo Jegede, appear to be the more prominent horses in the race.‎

The Ondo State governorship election is indeed a three-horse race, even though 17 candidates are taking part in the election. And besides the ‘incumbency factor’, which should tilt the advantage ‎in Akeredolu’s favour, the three main contestants – Akeredolu, Jegede and Ajayi, appear to be evenly matched. The three men are not newcomers to the race – in 2016 Akeredolu and Ajayi were on the winning APC ticket, as governor and deputy governor, respectively, while Jegede contested against them on the platform of the PDP.

Also, the three men represent the three senatorial zones in the state – Akeredolu is from Ondo North senatorial zone, Jegede hails from Ondo Central senatorial zone, while  Ajayi is from Ondo South‎ senatorial zone.

… The zoning factor

‎Besides support from Mimiko, a considerable factor given the former governor’s position in Ondo State politics, another factor that seems to be propelling Ajayi’s bid for the governorship seat is the agitation for power shift to Ondo South.

Although the zone has, like other zones, produced the governor in the past, those who are insisting on power shift to Ondo South believe that say the zone has not had enough time in the Oduduwa House and this sentiment has gained added impetus with the feeling that the Akeredolu‎ administration is marginalising the people of Ondo South, the oil-producing area which informed Ondo’s inclusion among the oil mineral producing states in the country.

Ajayi is expected to get majority of the votes in Ondo South but the election is going to be determined by a candidate’s ability to get votes across the state, outside his own zone.‎

The power shift/zoning sentiment is a major hurdle confronting the Jegede campaign, as he hails from Ondo Central, the same zone ‎as Mimiko, who completed two terms in office before Akeredolu’s emergence in 2016. The prevailing sentiment, as was the case in 2016, is that Ondo Central should wait for its turn and that factor is likely to work against Jegede again as he makes another bid for the Oduduwa House in 2020, just as it did four years ago.

The import of the zoning factor has been highlighted in comments by Minister of State for Niger Delta Affairs, Chief Tayo Alasoadura, and a former PDP ‎governorship aspirant, Hon Banji Okunomo, both of whom insist that Jegede’s candidacy is dead on arrival because he is from Ondo Central. Alasoadura and Okunomo voiced the feelings of many who believe the PDP has shot itself in the foot by giving its ticket to a candidate from Ondo Central.

Okunomo, who has left the PDP for the ZLP, shed more light on the significance of the zoning factor, and the case for power shift to Ondo South, in remarks he made while addressing ZLP supporters in Okitipupa.

He said, “‎Majority of us who were working for the PDP have abandoned the PDP now, leaving only the party structure loyal to Jegede. Maybe next time the party will learn because this same error was committed in 2012 when they fielded Chief Olusola Oke from the South as at the time it was not the turn of the South to produce the governor, the same error was repeated in 2016 when Eyitayo Jegede himself was nominated from the Ondo Central after eight years of Dr Mimiko from the Central as the governor of Ondo State for uninterrupted eight years which both resulted to the failure of the PDP in the two circumstances.

“Now, PDP has again picked from the wrong zone, Ondo Central, and the people are saying no. It is not the turn of the Central to produce the governor thus the contest is a straight contest between the candidate of APC and ZLP but I am optimistic that what affects Jegede also affects the incumbent governor of Ondo State from Ondo North Senatorial District who also doubles as the APC flagbearer.

“Though the constitution permits him to run if he so wishes the people are against him based on number one factor which is zoning, many people in Ondo State want the power to shift to the South because they believe Ondo North where Governor Rotimi Akeredolu hails from, has used 12 years (four years of Pa. Ajasin, four years of Pa. Adefarati and four years of Akeredolu himself). The reality is that neither the North nor the Central is favoured, it is only the South senatorial district that is favoured at this moment, I mean it is only the ZLP that has produced a candidate from the South which we want in Ondo State and that is the reason why in the last couple of days, there have been a number of people trooping in from the APC and the PDP to join the ZLP.”‎

Since 1999, all the three zones have produced governors but the South has had a shorter period in the Oduduwa House. Adebayo Adefarati, from Ondo North, governed for four years between 1999 to 2003. Olusegun Agagun, from Ondo South, was in power for five years and nine months, 2003 to 2009, and could not complete two terms. Mimiko, from Ondo Central, had eight years, from 2009 and 2017. The incumbent, Akeredolu, from Ondo North, has been in office since 2017.

Zoning indeed appears to be a strong factor in the election, as suggested by the choice of deputy governorship candidates by the three main contenders. It also appears that Ondo South will be the major battleground.‎ The governorship candidates of APC and PDP who hail from Ondo North and Central, respectively, opted for deputy governorship candidates from Ondo South to leverage on the zone’s voting strength – 588,931 registered voters or 32.3 per cent of total registered vot ers. ‎The voting population in Ondo Central and Ondo North senatorial districts are 746,105 (40.9%) and 487,310 (26.7%), respectively.

The total number of registered voters for the 2020 governorship election is 1,822,346.‎

‎… The incumbency factor

But Akeredolu, popularly known as ‘Aketi’ to his supporters, will be banking heavily on incumbency, a factor‎ that in most cases confers what amounts to an undue advantage to sitting governors, to equal Mimiko’s record of winning reelection as governor of Ondo State. Sitting governors hardly lose elections in Nigeria and as a result, it will be a major upset if Akeredolu ends up vacating the Oduduwa House at the end of the polls.

While the jury is still out over the governor’s performance in his first term in office – he claims he had done well while his opponents say he did not – Akeredolu has said he sees the October 10 election as a referendum on the impact of his three and half years in office.

Key achievements brandished by Akeredolu include reportedly raising the states Internally Generated Revenue from about N600 million to over N2‎ billion, road construction, creation of an industrial park, renovation and building of schools and improving the capacity of the state’s University of Medicine.

However, the incumbency factor also presents opponents with details which can be used to question the incumbent’s competence on the job and Akeredolu has been accused of non-performance and mismanagement of funds meant for Ondo State Oil Mineral Producing Communities. He was also accused of running the affairs of the state like a family business, as well as favouring his Owo people in appointments and location of projects.

Also, Akeredolu was accused of marginalising the people of Ondo South by abandoning the oil-rich zone in the distribution of projects and appointments.

On a personal note the governo‎r is accused of arrogance, and some of the words he used against his estranged deputy, Ajayi, had drawn criticisms.

All the same Akeredolu, a Senior Advocate of Ni‎geria who first vied for the position of governor on the platform of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria in 2012, will be expecting to be reelected at the end of the 2020 Ondo State governorship election. Victories by his fellow incumbents in recent elections in Kogi and Edo would no doubt give him hope, while, in the same vein, he is reported to be enjoying the support of President Muhammadu Buhari as well as that of the leadership of the APC. APC National Leader, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who did not support Akeredolu when he won in 2016, is said to be backing him this time around. In fact, Buhari‎, just on Wednesday, three days to the election, said Akeredolu deserves re-election.

‎Akeredolu’s confidence appears to be high, going by recent comments in which he suggested that he was already looking beyond Ondo State politics. Speaking while signing the peace accord for gubernatorial candidates on Tuesday, the governor said the October 10 poll will be his last election in Ondo State. “This won’t be our first election, at least for me. This will be the third time that I will be contesting in the state. And this will be the third and last time that I will be contesting an election in Ondo State,” he said.

If the voting patterns in previous elections is repeated, there is a possibility that APC party will win big in the Ondo North senatorial district, and also compete well with the other parties in Ondo Central, and especially in Ondo South, where Akeredolu’s deputy, Lucky Aiyedatiwa, hails from.

… The Jegede coalition

Barely a week to the election, 11 political parties in Ondo State collapsed their structures to support the PDP candidate, Jegede.‎ The development might have boosted the PDP flagbearer’s candidacy, depending on the strength of the political parties involved but it was certainly a vote of confidence on Jegede’s claims to the Oduduwa House. The 11 political parties that adopted the PDP candidate include Accord, the Action Alliance (AA), Action Democratic Party (ADP), the African Action Congress (AAC). Others are the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), the Allied Peoples Movement (APM), the All Peoples’ Party (APP), New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP), the National Rescue Movement (NRM), Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the Young Progressive Party (YPP).

The 11 political parties said the decision to back Jegede was taken in the common interest of the state. The coalition also attacked the Akeredolu-led APC government, describing it as an anathema while stressing that the collaboration was an “organised effort to save Ondo State from the political quagmire and the undesirable socio-economic predicament of our people”.

“We have resolved to back the PDP candidate, Eyitayo Jegede, SAN. We are committed to good governance in Ondo State which we believe can only be offered by the PDP at this present austere time,” state chairman of the Social Democratic Party, Mr Oladele Ogunbameru, said on behalf of the 11 political parties.

On a personal note, Jegede is regarded as a very likeable person in Ondo politics, and he also boasts of wide popularity, having served as Commissioner for Justice and Attorney General in the Mimiko administration before contesting as the PDP candidate in the 2016 gubernatorial poll, when he was backed by Mimiko to succeed him. Jegede can also count on the wide acceptance and popularity of the PDP in Ondo State.

But being from Ondo Central, where the immediate past governor, Mimiko, also came from, might count against him, as the prevailing sentiment is that the zone should wait its turn for another stint in the Oduduwa House. Also, Jegede has fallen out with Mimiko, and that is seen as another factor that will rob him of much needed political goodwill.

… Darkhorse, Ajayi, waiting in the wings to spring a surprise

Among the three major contestants in Saturday’s governorship poll, Ajayi, of the ZLP, is the one running on the platform of a ‘small’ party but any inclination towards dismissing his chances should be ignored, not just because he is the substantive deputy governor, but also due to the fact that the man is a political stalwart in his own right. This much is illustrated by the fact that the Ondo State House of Assembly could not even impeach him on the governor’s prompting. Ajayi is the dark horse in the three-horse race.

Ajayi seems to be on a mission to take over the Oduduwa House from his former principal, Akeredolu. After leaving the APC, following political differences that broke up his relationship with the governor, Ajayi moved to the PDP, where he lost out to Jegede in the battle for the party’s governorship ticket. Having failed to realise his ambition in the PDP, he has ended up in the ZLP, where he has also become the anointed candidate of the former governor, Mimiko.

A grassroots politician with long years of experience while rising through the ranks, Ajayi is a strongman in Ondo politics in his own rights and it is believed that he enjoys the support of many of the ‘ordinary’ people. Ajayi is a former councillor, local government chairman, member of the House of Representatives and currently, deputy governor. Also, his candidacy embodies the agitation for ‘power shift‎’ to the people of Ondo South.

However, Ajayi’s party, ZLP, might not have the sort of strong state-wide structures that his major opponents have, and although ‎the candidate is very popular in Ondo, the party might not really be a household name across the state.

    All the three major candidates would fancy their chances on Saturday but the contest is to be settled by about 1,478,460 voters in the state who have collected their Permanent Voter Cards. ‎

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