There is anxiety in Ondo State over next Saturday, October 10, 2020 Governorship Election. In this report, Journalists Sam Egburonu, Dare Odufowokan and Osagie Otabor examine the chances of each political party.
On Saturday, October 10, 2020, just six days away, Ondo people will troop out to elect their new governor. As would be expected, the campaign has been hot even as some unique factors have emerged as possible determinants of the likely outcome of the crucial polls.
Investigation during the week reveals that the voters are specifically worried over the continuous acrimony among the major candidates and their supporters, resulting in an atmosphere of hostility and fear.
It is observed that the confidence of the electorate to come out and vote at Election Day, would depend on the ability of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the security agencies to truly convince them of their neutrality and willingness to conduct a free and fair election, devoid of violence.
This is even as it has become clear that zoning arrangements that have so far operated in the state and the intricate relationship of the leading candidates before their current contest will combine to determine who will likely win the election.
We uncovered that the election will be mainly local as each of the leading candidates have clear areas of strength.
WHO BENEFITS FROM ZONING?
After weeks of electioneering campaigns and media wars, pundits say the Ondo State governorship election, which will be held this Saturday, is a three horse race among the ruling APC, the opposition PDP and the newest entrant, ZLP.
The three political parties have Governor Akeredolu, Jegede and deputy governor Ajayi as candidates respectively. Not a few analysts are predicting victory for Akeredolu on the strength of what they called the ‘unwritten zoning agreement’ operating in the state.
Engineer Ambaliu Amudah is a chieftain of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the Coordinator of Ondo Professionals in Politics (OPP). His group recently threw its support behind Akeredolu based on what they described as the ‘need to keep the zoning policy alive in the state.”
This election is not actually about performance or popularity. It is also not about political parties to most of the enlightened people across our state.
Given the current situation, it is more about which zone of the state can produce the next governor and still keep the zoning arrangement alive.
Governor Akeredolu is the lucky beneficiary of this consideration. He is from Ondo North. He came in after Ondo Central did eight years of two terms with Mimiko as governor. Before Mimiko, Ondo South had its chance with Agagu as governor. Now, Akeredolu needs to do another term of four years so that Ondo South can come on board again.
This is the permutation that will give victory to the governor ahead of others. If Jegede of the PDP wins, Ondo South will have to wait for eight years instead of four years,” he explained.
The Nation similarly gathered that in spite of the presence of the Deputy Governor, Agboola Ajayi, in the race, many prominent indigenes of Ondo South are of the opinion that the people of the area should support the re-election of Akeredolu by voting the APC on Saturday.
This position, it was gathered, emanated from fears that Jegede may steal the victory with the advantage of votes from his Ondo Central base should Ondo South fail to support Akeredolu. “And we know that Ajayi cannot win with our votes alone,” our source said.
The prominent member of the Ondo South Advancement and Welfare Consultative Association (OSAWA), told our correspondent that though the people of Ondo South appreciates the contribution of Ajayi to the development of the area politically, they are not ready to take the risk of dashing Ondo Central another eight years in government house while Ondo South remains on the queue. “It is for this reason we are urging our people to vote Akeredolu and stop Jegede from winning the election. After Akeredolu’s four years, it will be our turn,” he added.
But PDP’s candidate, Jegede, is downplaying talks of zoning, insisting that the people of the state strongly believe that power should not be by inheritance. The former finance commissioner said “It is not turn by turn; it is about democracy. It is about the choice of the people.
The governor’s constituency is the entire state; 18 local governments that we have in the state. The market woman, who is there, is not talking about where you come from. She is talking about who is going to perform; who is going to take away her challenges and problems.”
Jegede, who is from Ondo Central, explained that zoning has never been a deciding factor in deciding governorship elections in the state. He said Saturday’s election will shock those who want to hide under the shadow of tribalism to win elective positions. “I don’t take refuge in ethnic considerations; I don’t take refuge in zonal considerations.
I take refuge in democracy. I want our people to make a choice. It is only a person who is weak and who is not acceptable that will take refuge in ethnic considerations,” he said.
But supporters of Ajayi are also insisting that his chances of winning the governorship poll have been brightened by the agitation for zoning. According to Olushayo Abegunde, a chieftain of the ZLP and one of the coordinators of the deputy governor’s campaign in Ondo Central Senatorial District, the choice of Ajayi, who is from the South Senatorial District as ZLP’s candidate, is in recognition of the fact that the zone deserves to produce the next governor ahead of any other senatorial district in the state.
“Those trying to use zoning in favour of Akeredolu and the APC are being untruthful by saying Ondo North deserves another term. They claim Ondo Central did two terms of eight years, yes that is true. But have they forgotten that Baba Adefarati, from Ondo North was governor between 1999 and 2003, for four years too?
Do they need to be reminded that Agagu from Ondo South also did only one term before Mimiko took over? So, which zone, in fairness, should produce the next governor? The people will answer that question by voting Ajayi,” he said.
Adding his voice to the debate on zoning, Banji Okunomo, former Chairman of Okitipupa Local Government Area of the state and a 2020 gubernatorial aspirant on the platform of the PDP, said Ondo people are ready to punish both the APC and the PDP for breaching the zoning arrangement in the state. “The PDP made the same mistake in 2016 by presenting somebody from the wrong zone. It lost. It will lose again because they fail to consider zoning,” Okunomo, who recently dumped the PDP for the ZLP, said.
Defending its decision to dump the zoning arrangement in its choice of candidate, the PDP said it considered competence above zone in picking its governorship candidate.
Secondus, who expressed confidence that zoning will not be a major factor in the election, said the PDP in Ondo State had no history of picking its governorship candidates based on zoning.
Will zoning play a significant role in Saturday’s election? Who will be the major beneficiary? Only the final result of the gubernatorial contest will reveal this.
CONCERN OVER INEC, SECURITY, VIOLENCE
There is concern over persistent alarm of possible manipulation and violence. This apprehension is nurtured by the growing suspicion on the part of the opposition that having lost Edo State, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) may be desperate to retain Ondo State at all cost
In fact, since INEC headquarters in the state caught fire in very mysterious circumstances, destroying valuable electoral materials, not many have expressed misgivings over the conduct of the October 10 governorship election in Ondo.
Even before the recent governorship elections in Edo State, hostile disposition of candidates in both Edo and Ondo states created fear in the hearts of many observers. It got to a stage where even INEC contemplated postponement of the vital elections.
The electoral umpire threatened to discontinue the process of the elections in the two states “if the actions of political actors lead to verifiable threat and/or breakdown of law and order before or during the elections.”
The National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye, who made the warning, at the end of one of the crucial meetings of the commission’s management in Abuja, said the commission had observed “with deep concern, the escalating levels of violent actions and incendiary statements by political parties, candidates and their supporters in the run up to the Edo and Ondo governorship elections,” explaining that the offensive actions included “destruction of opponents’ campaign materials like billboards, violent campaigns and use of offensive language.”
So he warned: “The commission shall not hesitate to discontinue the process should the actions of political actors lead to cogent and verifiable threat and/or breakdown of law and order before or during the elections.”
Although the fear was considered relatively more in the case of Edo than Ondo, the governorship election in the South-south state remarkably ended on a peaceful note.
While some observers said if Edo’s election would end peacefully that Ondo’s election would follow suit, our checks reveal deep rooted concern because of allegation that INEC and the security agencies may be influenced by the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to manipulate the election.
Governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike, is one of leaders of the opposition that recently raised alarm over concern on the role of INEC and security agencies in the Ondo governorship election. In one of the interviews he granted after the Edo governorship election, Wike said, “I am afraid of Ondo because of the enormous pressure on INEC.”
Reacting, Festus Okoye, INEC’s National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voters Education Committee, denied that the commission was working to favour any party or candidate in the October 10 Ondo State election, stressing that the commission was focused on conducting a credible poll.
According to him, “This Commission is not interested in rumours and speculations. This Commission will never allow itself to be diverted from focusing firmly on the conduct and delivery of credible and inclusive election.
“The Commission is not a political party and has no political affiliation. The same redundant and pedestrian allegations are made in every election without any verifiable fact. Our resolve is to improve on our deployment strategies.
“We want to maintain or surpass the bar of the Edo election. Political parties must desist from deliberate and mischievous de-marketing of the Commission. The Commission is a public trust and does not belong to National Commissioners and Resident Electoral Commissioners,” Okoye said.
“Ask those making the allegations to supply the names and dates and the venues of the meeting. The Chairman and National Commissioners have been in Ondo State for three days working hard on delivering a good election. We are not distracted and will not be distracted,” Okoye challenged.
Engr. Olatunji Ojogu, who described himself as a chieftain of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), said there are signs that the ruling party will do anything to retain the seat. “Anybody that carefully participated in the campaigns will confirm our fear of possible manipulation. People who should know have given us information on untoward plans.
It is disheartening that up till today, no concrete thing has been said concerning the probe on the mysterious fire that burnt vital electoral materials in the state at the time it did. We are therefore vigilant. All I want to say for now is that we, the people, will resist any attempt to rig this election in any way.”
It would be recalled that after the fire incident, the National Chairman, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, has promised that relevant authorities will probe the incidence.
Yakubu who spoke at a meeting organised by the National Peace Committee, co-chaired by the former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, and the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto, Bishop Mathew Hassan Kukah, said the damages caused by the fire in the office of the INEC in Ondo State were not substantial enough to affect the elections negatively as his commission would get replacement of the burnt items from neighbouring states.
Besides the fear arising from the fire that burnt INEC office, the major players have continued to allege plans to resort to violence.
Just Tuesday this week, suspected thugs alleged to be loyal to the PDP and the APC clashed in Owo Local Government Area, leaving about 13 persons injured and over 20 vehicles destroyed.
While the governorship candidate of the PDP, Mr. Eyitayo Jegede, alleged that his convoy was attacked at Ipele and Owo township by heavily armed APC thugs, the APC campaign spokesman, Olatunde Richard, alleged that it was Jegede who ordered his thugs to unleash attacks on the people of Ipele and Ijebu in Owo Local Government Area.
He said PDP members went berserk when no one received them into Owo town.
Since the clash this week, observers have confirmed increased apprehension as voters call on the police and the other security agencies to be vigilant and ready to protect voters.
The Chairman of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), Ipele branch, Bukunmi Ojo, who was hospitalised, said he was beaten up and stabbed by the attackers.
The police commissioner said he went round and saw that belongings were damaged and many people were injured.
He assured that the perpetrators would be arrested and prosecuted.
WHAT HOPE FOR SMALLER PARTIES?
Of the 13 political parties contesting the October 10 governorship election in Ondo State, three, the ruling All Progressives Congress; the Peoples Democratic Party and the Zenith Labour Party, have stood out as the frontrunners.
However, three other parties have vowed to contest at the polls and make a difference in the race to occupy Alagbaka Government House.
They are the African Democratic Congress (ADC), the Action Democratic Party (ADP) and the Social Democratic Party (SDP). Our investigation however confirms that these parties are no match to the three main political parties in terms of party structure, financial back up and outreach. But one thing is certain, the ‘smaller’ parties, especially ADC, ADP and SDP are not relenting in this election.
The candidates fielded by the parties are Prince Dapo Adelegan for the ADC, Prince Martin Olateru-Olagbebi for the ADP and Prince Oyeleye Fasua for the SDP. Their campaigns are taking a similar style in terms of reaching out to the electorates unlike the large campaign rallies of the three major parties.
They adopted the door to door campaign or the evangelism style by knocking on people’s doors and talking to potential voters on the need to vote for them.
Like Akeredolu, both Adelegan and Olateru-Olagbebi hail from Owo in Ondo North while Fasua hails from Akure in Ondo Central same as the candidate of the PDP, Eyitayo Jegede.
Prince Adelegan believed the outcome of the October 10 elections would be a watershed for the old political actors in Ondo as the people would take their destiny in their hands. He said the election would be more of a revolution in terms of the people taking their destiny in their hands.
He told The Nation; “On ZLP’s claim of being the third force, everybody can claim to be anything. They can claim to be anything. The ADP may be a smaller party than the big ones; it is the one with the biggest voice. If you look at our programmes and compare it with our opponents’, you will see that we are different. We are more focused and I have the capacity and competence to deliver on what we have promised. We are not sure of any first or second force. The people are the force. ”
The ADP candidate is a prince of Owo kingdom where Akeredolu hails from. He spent the better part of his life in the United States of America where he studied Architecture and later moved to construction before venturing to environmental issues.
He returned to Nigeria, ventured into politics and was picked as the Vice Presidential candidate of the party in the 2019 General Elections.
On how he hopes to defeat Governor Akeredolu, who also hails from Owo, he said: “I am not worried about defeating Akeredolu. I only appeal to the media and people of like minds to appeal to the ruling party to create an enabling environment. ”
SDP’s Oyeleye Fasua
Social Democratic Party’s candidate, Prince Oyeleye Fasua, told The Nation that his party adopted a house to house approach of campaign in order to reach the real electorate. He spoke just before the party launched its campaigns. “We are doing our flag off this week.
We will be doing house to house evangelism because of the rules of COVID-19. We are going to meet people in their houses and we will do Ward and local government rallies.
Told that observers believe SDP will eventually merge with one of the big parties in Ondo State, he said, “That is what people will be thinking about minor political parties. The battle we have started, we are taking it to the end.