Ondo State Governor Olusegun Mimiko will hand over to Governor-elect Rotimi Akeredolu (SAN) of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in February, next year. Group Political Editor EMMANUEL OLADESU revisits the protracted crisis in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which frustrated its bid for power retention and consolidation in the Sunshine State during the historic election.
Eyitayo Jegede, legal luminary and former Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, gazed at the Ondo State Government House, Alagbaka, Akure with optimism. To many people, he has what it takes to be governor. He has risen to the pinnacle of his career as a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN). He is an experienced technocrat; hardworking, urbane and courteous. A new breed politician, he is not assailed by scandals and controversies. But, the protracted crisis in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) became his albatross before and during the governorship election.
On poll day, there was a wide gap between expectation and reality. Governor Olusegun Mimiko’s bid to reap bloc votes through his strategic zoning of the slot to Akure, the state capital, paled into a miscalculation, despite the town’s superior numerical strength. Other emergency factors were not considered. Besides the determination of the All Progressives Congress (APC), which had the backing of the Federal Government, to truncate the governor’s succession plan, the PDP was in disarray. While the stage was set for the campaigns, the party was still in want of a candidate. The PDP crowd disappeared to look for greener pastures in the APC and the Alliance for Democracy (AD). By the time the dust settled over the protracted nomination litigation, it was too late to mobilise party followers who have sealed pacts with rival platforms.
Also, the ‘Akure Agenda’ crumbled like a pack of cards. It was evident that the message of power shift was not internalised by Akure North, the base of Senator Tayo Alasaoadura, who wanted to prove the point that he was in charge of the local government. While the ancient Akure town embraced it with passion, there was no corresponding support by residents of elite neighbourhood and suburbs-Alagbaka, Ijapo, Oba-Ile, Ondo Road, Owo Road, Osinle, Ijoka, Ilesa Road, and FUTA area. To Jegede’s consternation, card readers also failed in Akure South, leading to anxiety and negative thoughts about a pre-determined programme failure. When he was bombarded with distress calls by supporters about the malfunctioning of the card readers, he said it was unfortunate that the faulty equipment were brought to the local government with the highest number of voters in the state. “INEC brought malfunctioned card readers to our constituency so that we will not be able to vote,” he complained.
Mimiko had to go through the same ordeal in Ondo where he voted. Following the failure of the machine, the governor had to fill the incident form to become an eligible voter. Also, in Ode-Aye, the Minister of State for Niger Delta, Prof. Daramola sent a message to Akeredolu that the card readers were also misbehaving in his area. There was an isolated incident of ballot snatching that was nipped in the bud in the South District. The APC candidate also alleged that security agents were aiding abd abetting the PDP to rig in Idanre. However, apart from the bad card readers, the poll was adjudged free, fair, transparent and credible by observers.
Hailing INEC for living up to expectation, an observer, Clement Nwankwo, noted that the mistakes of the past were avoided by the commission. He urged the electoral agency to build on the achievement. INEC National Commissioner Solomon Soyebi, who acknowledged the skirmishes, said the agency quickly rectified them, adding that no voter was disenfranchised on account of the malfunctioned card readers. “We had very little incidence of violence, especially ballot snatching. But, they were minimal.”
To observers, the PDP suffered from self-inflicted wounds. After casting his vote in Igbotako, his home town, Mimiko’s tormentor, former disputed PDP flag bearer, Jimoh Ibrahim, yelled, saying that he was still the authentic candidate. He described Jegede as his campaign manager, reminding him that all the party agents in various polling units were his men. He also misinterpreted the court judgment, saying that the judiciary neither removed his name nor put Jegede’s name in the INEC register.
Had the PDP put its house in order, perhaps, the story could have been different. While the Edo PDP crisis, which was compounded by the nomination battle between Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu and Mathew Idiorioyemkwen was resolved in party interest, the combatants in Ondo State were locked in a war of attrition. The Niyi Poroye’s faction challenged the mainstream faction, led by Mimiko to a duel.
Poroye has an axe to grind with the governor. He claimed that, following Mimiko’s return to the PDP, the old party members were sidelined. In his view, the caretaker committee set up by the governor was a nullity, adding that he was the authentic chairman. Poroye camp is in the minority. But, once it aligned with the Modu Sheriff faction at the national level, it received a tonic to fight on. Also, Sheriff has not forgiven Mimiko for deserting him at the last PDP convention in Port-Harcourt, Rivers State capital. A natural alliance developed between the group and Ibrahim, who has scores to settle with Mimiko. The bitter factional national chairman, Senator Modu Sheriff was also bent on taking a pound of fresh.
Two parallel primaries were held. Mimiko’s group, which was the majority, converged on Akure for its shadow poll, which produced Jegede. The exercise caused quite a fuss. But, the rift was settled quickly. The presence of INEC officials at the venue gave the group a lot of confidence. Jimoh and his co-travelers boasted that the outcome of the primary will not stand. He was ignored.
Later, the Poroye faction held its primary at Ibadan, Oyo State capital. Justifying the exercise, the faction said it had the backing of the PDP constitution, which stipulated that the party can conduct a primary outside the state and in the headquarters of the six geo-political zones, if the particular state is not conducive. Ibrahim emerged at the primary that was not witnessed by the INEC.
Ibrahim may have been underrated by the Mimiko camp as a political jester. But, that perception was to its peril. When the clever lawyer and businessman got the judicial backing as the candidate, he became a threat to Jegede’s ambition and Mimiko’s succession plan. The nomination battle shifted to the court at the eleventh hour. Jegede was asked to stop parading himself as the candidate. His name was substituted with that of Ibrahim, who has no structure to win election. As a candidate, Ibrahim restricted his rallies to Igbotako and environs. He preferred to engage voters through newspaper advertorials. Although he submitted a list of party agents to INEC, its composition did not reflect party spread and loyalty.
The governor and his men had run into problem. Time was running out. Mimiko has the structure, resources and strategies. But, he was handicapped by the judicial verdict. Much attention was dissipated on litigation, instead of campaigns. The campaigns scheduled for 18 local governments were put on hold. Jegede lacked the constitutional status to hold party meetings as a candidate with the various stakeholders-artisans, peasants, market women, professional groups, students, civil servants, teachers, local government workers, traditional rulers, and community leaders. Intra-party contracts for the erection of campaign platforms, musical bands, food and drinks, transportation to and fro rallies, printing of sovenouirs, and other logistics were put on hold.
During that period of tribulation for the PDP, the APC candidate gained much ground. Akeredolu had the backing of President Muhammadu Buhari, APC governors and prominent party leaders across the country.
Also, some PDP chieftains defected to the APC at the grassroots, thinking that hope was lost for their party. Worried by the turn of events, some party chieftains thought that Mimiko should strike a deal with either the APC or the AD. The AD candidate, Olusola Oke, was confronted by some challenges. The AD is not a strong party. Its structure is not formidable. For example, in Akoko axis, the propaganda by Gboyega Adefarati against the party was effective. The younger Adefarati, whose father, the late Governor Adebayo Adefarati, was the backbone of the party, said his family no longer had ties with the party.
When Jegede bounced back as the authentic candidate, much ground could not be covered in two days. Many party followers had shifted allegiance and loyalty, to the consternation of the governor and party leader. Sensing danger, Mimiko urged the electoral commission to postpone the poll. But, his request was turned down.
According to analysts, the power shift in Ondo has implications for the ruling party and the outgoing governor. The PDP’s sphere of influence has further depleted. Since last year’s election, the PDP has not lost a major by-election. The PDP Governors’ Forum will be slightly decimated next year when Mimiko bows out of office. Also, in the next four years, the PDP will be playing the opposition role. However, Akeredolu may have to contend with a hostile House of Assembly, whose majority of members belong to the PDP.
For Mimiko, the defeat is devastating. The power of incumbency has collapsed. The governor’s succession plan has hit the rocks. According to observers, the Iroko, as he is fondly called, has been deserted by the people. It was a wide departure from 2007 and 2012 when he enjoyed an overwhelming support. Ahead of next parliamentary polls, Mimiko will be engaging the people as an opposition leader.
Also, those behind the ‘Akure Agenda’ may have to wait till another eight years. Jegede has just received his baptism of fire. He may now begin to learn the ropes and become a more formidable candidate in the future.
Source : ThenationonlineThenationonline