Gov Poll: Few days to primary, Ondo APC still in turbulence - AMEBO ONLINE NEWSPAPER

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Gov Poll: Few days to primary, Ondo APC still in turbulence

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In less than 72 hours, delegates of the All Progressives Congress will gather to elect the party’s candidate for the Ondo State governorship election slated for October 10, 2020.

The task of choosing the right candidate, out of 12 aspirants, to fly the party’s flag in the light of a resurging opposition Peoples Democratic Party, will not be an easy job.

Although the APC is the party in government, political analysts appear united in the claim that the PDP is firmly rooted in the South and the Central Senatorial Districts of the state.

The recent defection of the state deputy governor, Agboola Ajayi, from the APC to the PDP supports the belief of those who subscribe to this claim.

Ajayi, who has joined the race for the PDP ticket, has the likes of Eyitayo Jegede, (SAN), and a former commissioner in the administration of former governor Olusegun Mimiko, Dr Eddie Olafeso, among others, to contend with.

The departure of the deputy governor from the APC was not without drama. The spectacle, which had been on for days in the state between Ajayi and the governor, Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, peaked a day to his departure from the APC.

Following his decision to take cover under the PDP’s umbrella, the deputy governor who was evacuating his personal effects from Government House, Akure, a night before his defection, was blocked by the state commissioner of police from leaving, notwithstanding his constitutional immunity. Both the deputy governor and the commissioner of police exchanged words while the drama lasted.

The action of the police chief was reportedly based on the orders of Akeredolu. The governor however denied the allegation, which he described as baseless.

In a widely circulated resignation letter to the APC secretariat in his ward at the Ese-Odo Local Government Area, Agboola said, “I am here to officially announce to you that, as from today, I cease to be a member of the APC. I came to tender my resignation letter to the ward chairman. The reason I am taking this action is known to all of you.”

It is instructive to note that the deputy governor left the APC with 34 top party leaders in the state.

Their departure has brought uncertainty to a section of the APC in the state. Ajayi’s supporters in the ruling party believe his exit will have an adverse effect on the APC fortunes in the governorship elections.

The Co-Convener of the APC Ondo Mandate Group, Gbenga Bojuwomi, who shared this sentiment, said, “We all know that members of our party are not happy with the governor. It is so bad that the general feeling is that we will lose Ondo State if we present Akeredolu as our candidate. Some of us will leave and work against the party if he is given the ticket.

“His administration has weakened the party structure and forced out some of our leaders. This was a governor who sponsored candidates on the platform of another party during the 2019 elections. As a result of his anti-party activities, we lost two out of the three Senatorial seats, and some seats in the House of Representatives were also lost. We equally lost the presidential election to the PDP in our state. How should such a person be rewarded with a return ticket?”

One of the party’s governorship aspirants, Olusegun Abraham, in an interview with Saturday PUNCH, explained that most party members wanted a team player as the party’s candidate, who would end the alleged divisiveness which he said had become the party’s hallmark under the Akeredolu’s administration.

According to him, the recent resignation of key figures from the Akeredolu administration was symptomatic of a growing desire among the people of the state for a positive change.

He said, “The people of Ondo State are very sophisticated. Even before the Secretary to the State Government resigned, and the deputy governor left for the PDP, I had the two of them (working) with me. The level of poverty in Ondo State today is also unimaginable.

“One of the reasons why I am contesting is because I don’t want us to lose the state to the PDP. Party leaders and supporters came together and asked me to contest. They said if I don’t come out, we will lose the state to the PDP. The larger population of the people of Ondo State have not benefited from Akeredolu’s administration. We need a credible primary which will restore the faith of the people in our party.”

Nevertheless, the Mai Mala Buni-led Caretaker/ Extra-Ordinary National Convention Planning Committee has chosen the indirect mode of primary for the state. This decision has not gone down well with 11 out of the 12 aspirants who have argued that the exercise is meant to benefit the incumbent.

In a letter titled, “Why indirect primary cannot be an option for the Ondo State Governorship Primary Election”, dated July 8, 2020, and addressed to the committee, the 11 aspirants rejected the indirect mode of primary.

Those who signed the letter included: Joseph Olusola Iji, Odimayo Okunjimi, Olayide Owolabi Adelami, Issacs Duerimini Kekemeke, Olusola Oke, lfeoluwa Olusola Oyedele and Olajumoke Olubusola Anifowoshe, among others.

The 11 aspirants said that having campaigned across the state, they were sure that party members were expecting indirect primary. They added, “It is our position that adopting indirect primary election in Ondo State, given the prevailing mood and circumstances, is hazardous.

“The consequence of knowingly opening the race to all willing members of the party by allowing them to invest time, energy and huge resources only to hand over victory to one of the aspirants by adopting a mode only favourable to that aspirant, is too grave.”

There is a belief in some quarters that Akeredolu is happy about the choice of indirect primary because he allegedly has control of delegates from the 203 wards.

As things stand, most of the aspirants are expecting the caretaker committee to reverse its decision on the mode of primary.

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One of the aspirants, who expressed his feeling about the development on condition of anonymity, said the state chapter of the party might be heading for the direction of Zamfara State APC, which did not present a candidate in the 2019 governorship election due to legal battles over the mode of primary.

He said, “Akeredolu has finally had his way. We all demanded direct primary; they gave us indirect primary because the governor, who is no more popular, wants a second term desperately. One fact is that the primary may not hold. The indirect mode of primary will not work and, at the end of the day, we may go the way of Zamfara State APC. But we are still consulting; you will soon hear from us.”

However, the state APC Chairman, Mr Ade Adetimehin, attempted to correct the impression that the decision of the caretaker committee was influenced by some groups in the party.

He claimed that nobody could influence the committee, while declaring that the party in the state was ready for any mode of primary.

Adetimehim said, “Like I always say, this matter is an internal business of our party. Anybody that is not pleased with the decision of the (caretaker) committee has a right to complain. But, at the end of the day, we shall resolve all these matters. We still have some days before the primary and I want to assure you that everything will be resolved before July 20.”

The state Commissioner for Information, Donald Ojogo, refuted the claim that the party would lose if it presents Akeredolu for re-election.

He told Saturday PUNCH that “those singing the anti-Akeredolu song are desperate ticket hunters who have failed to realise that there is time for everything.”

He explained, “Interestingly, none of them have alluded to the fact of non-performance on the part of the governor. Their complaint has always been their pockets and that is the difference between these characters and the governor.

“The governor has distinguished himself. Ask them (his traducers), has he performed? As far as Ondo State is concerned, it has not been this good. The massive infrastructural drive has become a nightmare to these men of importunate desires. The roads are our signpost. Ore flyover can no longer be said to be non-existent. If Mr President said so much about Akeredolu that he has performed, we may not need to dissipate energy on the puerile issues they (his antagonists) are raising.”

Speaking in the same vein, a pro-Akeredolu group, Ibi Giga Ambassadors, said the governor had done well to deserve a second term in office.

The Deputy Director-General of the group, Mr Alex Ajipe, said party supporters as well as members of the group were confident that the governor would sail through the APC primary and go ahead to win again.

Meanwhile, Akeredolu and some of the aspirants in the party have started house-to-house campaign despite the lingering crisis around the mode of primary as well as a festering leadership tussle within the party in the state.

Olu Olatuja, who claimed to be a factional chairman of the party, said there was a pending suit in court challenging the outcome of the last party congresses in the state.

He argued that in the eyes of the law, “the state has no executive committee (from ward to the state level), pending the outcome of the court case.”

Also, apart from the Ondo APC Unity Forum, there are other chieftains of the party who are not on the same page with the governor. Despite the interventions by both the national and zonal leaders of the party, peace has remained elusive in the state chapter of the APC.

A source close to the party in the state said that some of the aggrieved aspirants were considering the possibility of presenting a candidate to face the governor, if the primary eventually holds.

The source said, “Akeredolu is their common enemy and all other aspirants prefer anybody except the governor, because they believe that if Akeredolu gets the ticket of the party and eventually wins the election, he may make them politically irrelevant in the state.

“All of them, including Akeredolu, know that the national secretariat of the APC and the Presidency have the final say on the matter. Anybody that is endorsed by these two bodies will win the ticket of the party irrespective of the mode of primary adopted.

“In 2016, Akeredolu was supported by the national secretariat and he won the primary and the main election. The same thing is going to play out in this matter. That is why all of them are crying out for a direct primary.”

A public affairs commentator, Yemi Adetoyinbo, said the latest developments in Ondo APC had highlighted the need for total adherence to the rule of law and constitution of the party by the leaders and followers.

Adetoyinbo said, “The situation is not that good. The deputy governor has gone and the SSG has abandoned the governor. This shows that all is not well with the party leadership of the state.

“Everybody has the right to have an ambition but things should be done politically and constitutionally. Nobody should be forced out. I believe dialogue should be the solution. All stakeholders must embrace dialogue. Without this, the party may pay for it again in the long run.”

According to a school of thought within the APC in the state, unless the party leadership finds a way to unite the party after the primary, the ruling party will have an uphill task retaining the state considering the level of acrimony among aspirants who appear united in their desire to oust the governor.

Another school of thought, however, expressed the view that aspirants opposed to the governor were so divided that none of them could pose a serious threat to his re-election bid irrespective of the mode of primary.

Those in the latter school of thought argued that the failure of party stakeholders under the aegis of the Ondo APC Unity Forum to agree on a consensus candidate had further complicated matters for the governor’s political enemies.

The stakes have never been this high, according to analysts. Notwithstanding, the APC is said to be determined to ensure that it does not allow a repeat of the events that led to the loss of Oyo State to the opposition PDP in 2019.

The PDP, on its part, is working hard to expand its sphere of influence in the South-West by adding Ondo State to Oyo as one of the states it controls.

Ultimately, the handling of the party primary and its fallout will play a key role in who carries the day.

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