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May 22, 2024
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Ondo 2024: Tough choices for voters as ex-deputies battle for highest office |

The November 16 governorship election in Ondo State is set for a straight contest between two former deputy governors who served one principal. Besides coming from the same region, the incumbent governor, Lucky Aiyedatiwa, and Agboola Ajayi have other striking similarities that will be difficult to choose between at the polls, ADEWALE MOMOH reports.
With the conclusion of party primaries ahead of the November 16, governorship election in Ondo State and the emergence of the candidates, it is obvious that the contest will be fiercely fought by the two former deputy governors, who served the late governor of the state, Rotimi Akeredolu, at different times.  The incumbent governor and the candidate of All Progressives Congress (APC), Lucky Aiyedatiwa, was a deputy governor to Akeredolu until he became terminally ill, and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate, Agboola Ajayi, who also served as deputy governor in Akeredolu’s first term. The duo will lead other candidates to the election that analysts said would be difficult to predict. Other candidates and their parties are, John Akinmurele of the Young Peoples Party (YPP); Abbas Mimiko, Zenith Labour Party (ZLP); Ayodeji Akinnodi, Action Democratic Party (ADP); Ayodele Olorunfemi, Labour Party (LP); Adeyemi Nejo, African Democratic Congress (ADC); and Adekunle Ajayi of the African Action Congress (AAC). While PDP had a hitch-free indirect primary, APC adopted a direct mode and was enmeshed in controversies following a series of protests and condemnations of the process. Other parties adopted the consensus mode of primary. But permutations are already going on about the chances of Aiyedatiwa and Ajayi, who are not new to governance. Indeed, both of them had served as acting governors of the state. Both of them started well with Akeredolu but faced political persecution during their stint with him. They were alleged of gross misconduct and disloyalty by the camp of their erstwhile boss and survived the impeachment process instituted against them by the Ondo State House of Assembly.     Ajayi fought Akeredolu to a standstill and remained in government while he joined the Zenith Labour Party (ZLP) to contest against him during the 2020 off-season governorship election in the state. But he was roundly defeated by his boss. The two former deputies who were at different times politically close to Akeredolu during their trials, were alleged of possessing unverifiable academic credentials, a development that had since been laid to rest. However, the uniqueness of the two candidates is that, despite emerging as candidates of different political parties, they enjoy almost the same support base in the state due to their dexterity to carve a niche for themselves instead of tying themselves to the apron string of their former boss. Aiyedatiwa, 59, and Ajayi, 55, hail from the same Ondo South senatorial district. But while the former is from the Ilaje local council of the state, the latter is from the Ese-Odo local council. While Aiyedatiwa’s party has a winning structure in the state for controlling all elective positions from local, state to federal, PDP is still battling with how to bring back its people under the same umbrella to wrestle power from APC. Besides, incumbency is another major factor in winning elections in Nigeria because of the government resources at the disposal of the governor, but it can also be a liability because the coming election will be a referendum on Aiyedatiwa’s achievements in office. He still has five months to convince the electorates of what he can do differently and better to deliver dividends of democracy to the people of Ondo State who have been yearning for good governance.   However, both of them have assured their supporters of victory at the polls on November 16, with political observers and electorates awaiting the unfolding drama that will determine the future leadership of the state. Expressing his view that he could not be intimidated by the incumbency factor, Ajayi said: “Yes, Lucky Aiyedatiwa is the incumbent governor, but that does not take away from the fact that he is Lucky Aiyedatiwa and my name is Agboola Ajayi. Ondo State people know two of us, they know our capacity, and they are going to choose the better candidate between the two of us. “It is going to be interesting, but I’m sure that at the end of the day, I’m going to win the election. I have a lot of edge over him. I started at a very tender age as a ward chairman of the then Social Democratic Party (SDP). I became the secretary of the party at the local government and a supervisory councillor at the local government. I was a chairman of a local government before winning the election to become a member of the House of Representatives. I was a deputy governor and as a matter of fact, I acted as a governor.”    Aiyedatiwa on his part stated that, “now, more than ever before, the greatness of Ondo State is what matters most. I therefore request that we all join hands together in building the future that we all yearn for in the state.  “There is infrastructure to be built; better healthcare services to be delivered; fair justice to be served; qualitative education to be ensured; civil servants to be trained and motivated; security of lives and properties to be strengthened; an enabling environment to be created for businesses to thrive and attract investors.” However, while Ajayi has been enjoying the support of all leaders of the PDP and other aspirants, Aiyedatiwa is yet to get over the post-primary crisis that precipitated acrimonious divisions among members of APC in the state. Although the national leadership of the APC has promised that Aiyedatiwa will run an all-inclusive government if he wins the election, aggrieved aspirants have not changed their minds against the alleged shoddy primary conducted by the party. To them, the shadow election was characterised by violence, manipulations, and absence of election in some of the 203 wards across the state. They are insisting that the primary should be cancelled for a better, fair and transparent one. Aiyedatiwa was declared winner of the primary by the chairman of the Primary Election Committee and Governor of Kogi State, Usman Ododo for polling 48,569 votes. He defeated Mayowa Akinfolarin, who polled 15,343 votes, Olusola Oke came third with 14,915 votes while Senator Jimoh Ibrahim scored 9,456. Surprisingly, Aiyedatiwa lost in his Ilaje Local Council Area to Oke, who also hailed from the council, by a margin of 26 votes. The governor scored 2,485 while Oke had 2,511. Other aggrieved aspirants who participated in the primary include, Olusoji Ehinlanwo, Jimi Odimayo, and APC National Vice Chairman (South West) Isaac Kekemeke. Others are, the immediate past finance commissioner in the state, Wale Akinterinwa; Prof. Francis Faduyile, Olugbenga Edema, Olamide Ohunyeye, Morayo Lebi, Oladiran Iyantan, and Ifeoluwa Oyedele, as well as two female aspirants, Funmilayo Adekojo and Funke Omogoroye.    Aiyedatiwa’s victory was attributed to his strategic moves and the tactical support he received from some influential figures within the party, especially in the presidency. It was gathered that since his cold war with Akeredolu, he has been enjoying the support of some highly placed political figures in the party that helped him to survive the impeachment plot against him as a deputy and acting governor. A source within the APC who pleaded for anonymity told The Guardian that: “Some bigwigs within the party and influential figures at the national level threw their weight behind the governor. The fact is, Aiyedatiwa was provided with the necessary support to navigate the murky waters of direct primary. “My own term for the direct primary adopted in Ondo State is “sudden death.” In a proper democratic setting, the best and most loved aspirant within the party should emerge as the candidate. I believe the risk was not worth taking in the state, and that was why everything was done to give the ticket to the governor. But my concern is that the abnormalities were just too glaring and obvious. “The rerun that was done in the 13 wards of Okitipupa was just a formality. Senator Jimoh Ibrahim is from the local government, and they knew that he wouldn’t take it. But I don’t think Jimoh Ibrahim is moved by the ploy because I can confirm to you that he is very furious with the whole scenario.  According to another top APC member in the state who was the Campaign Director-General of one of the aspirants, his principal had to back out of the process following some meetings and phone calls from some chieftains of the party outside the state.     He also confirmed that the powerful party chieftain reached out to other aspirants, but the intervention came too late as most of them had spent huge resources to canvass support from the 171,922 members of the party in the state.  “When I received a call from someone from the National Assembly and another person from the Presidency and even from the national secretariat, that was when I knew that the game had changed. “But since they have decided to give the ticket to Aiyedatiwa, they should not have waited for that long. Obtaining N50 million nomination forms and other finances is no joke.” It was also gathered that none of the aggrieved aspirants had congratulated Aiyedatiwa or agreed to support his candidacy, throwing panic in the governor’s camp. In fact, there are rumours that some of the aspirants were planning to defect to other parties. It was alleged that the names of candidates submitted to the INEC by some small parties are placeholders for some aggrieved APC aspirants. “Until the period for substituting names of candidates is over, it is difficult to say who is with us among them”, a party source told The Guardian. Despite various entreaties from the national leadership of the party to the aggrieved aspirants to give chance for a genuine reconciliation, Akinterinwa, Ibrahim, Oke, Edoema Odimayo and Omogoroye have not withdrawn legal actions, in different courts challenging the outcome of the primary.  

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