The Ondo State governorship election is expectedly living up to its billing, with familiar foes deploying their best arsenal in a last-ditch effort to sway the voters of the sunshine state.
The leading parties, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Zenith Labour Party (ZLP), have toured the nooks, crannies and creeks of the state to canvas votes ahead of Saturday’s election.
The APC has a strong chance of winning the election with the incumbent governor of the state, Rotimi Akeredolu, as its candidate.
The PDP also has a strong candidate in Eyitayo Jegede, a former attorney general and commissioner of justice in the Olusegun Mimiko government. He contested the election against Mr Akeredolu in 2016 and came a distant second.
A “third force” appears also on the scene with the deputy governor, Agboola Ajayi, waving the flag of the ZLP.
With this configuration, the 2020 governorship election wears the look of the 2016 election. In 2016, there were three major political parties which drove the contest to its edge; the PDP, the APC and the Alliance for Democracy (AD).
This scenario produced a third party in a similar fashion to what happened with the ZLP. Olusola Oke who contested the primaries in the APC and lost to Mr Akeredolu, left the party to join the moribund AD, cleaned it up, got a good number of APC members who supported him, and contested the election.
Like Mr Oke, Mr Ajayi stormed out of the APC, first to the PDP, and then to the ZLP when he could not get the PDP ticket.
The contenders have on the average retained their following and support bases; that is beside the PDP candidate who lost his strongest supporter in the last election, Olusegun Mimiko, who as governor, deployed all his wherewithal to promote Mr Jegede’s candidacy.
A member of the Akeredolu campaign organisation, Rotimi Ogunleye, says in spite of the structural similarities, there are marked differences between the 2016 and the 2020 elections.
“This election is different in that the governor is approaching the election with a united party unlike the 2016 election, where all those who contested against him at the primaries, either left the party or worked against him,” said Mr Ogunleye.
“It is also different because the PDP ran in 2016 with a serving attorney general of the state and had suffered severely from the fractures and crisis that attended his party, unlike what is happening now, where he is contesting outside the government and has no crisis to contend with.”
A former official of the PDP in the South West zone, Ayo Fadaka, believes that Mr Jegede stands a better chance of winning the election and taking the state away from the “state of penury” suffered under the APC governments both at the centre and at the state level.
He told PREMIUM TIMES that the Ondo voters have a unique opportunity to change their destiny and put in place a government that would cater for their needs and alleviate their sufferings.
The Zonal Question
Interestingly, the ambitions of the three leading candidates have further divided the state into three zones, irrespective of the constitutional senatorial zones already in place.
The PDP candidate is an Akure man from the central zone. The APC picked its candidate from the north. The ZLP candidate is from the south. This was the same scenario in 2016. Mr Oke who ran on the platform of the AD is an Ondo South politician.
Mr Ogunleye is, however, of the opinion that his candidate and party stood above others running on the sentiments of zoning.
“The northern zone had a shot at the governorship in 1999 through Adefarati, it then returned to the South in Olusegun Agagu and then to the Central in Olusegun Mimiko,” he said.
“It is the sentiment of the majority that the North should complete its eight years in office before returning it back to the south.”
While it was natural for the zones to vote for their ‘son’ during the election, it did not really favour the PDP candidate in the 2016 election. Mr Jegede lost to Mr Akeredolu in Akure North and Akure South despite being from the area.
While Mr Akeredolu scored 25,797 votes in Akure South, Mr Jegede scored 25,005 votes. The same thing happened in Akure North, where Mr Akeredolu scored 10,710 while Mr Jegede polled 6,498.
The PDP did not win more than one local government during that election. Ondo East was the area of victory for the party. Even Olusegun Mimiko lost his local government to the APC.
Mr Akeredolu also won in the southern zone, leaving only Ilaje local government to Mr Oke, who hails from there. The current deputy governor who was his running mate is from Ese-Odo, and the APC won the majority of the votes there.
Mr Jegede and his supporters can blame the crisis which rocked the party on the leadership of the party.
The PDP had called for a postponement of the election because it had no time to campaign by the time the courts confirmed that Mr Jegede was the authentic candidate of the PDP. It was too late to campaign by then and most of its supporters had lost hope and joined other parties.
The Candidates’ Opportunities
The current race appears to offer a brighter opportunity for the PDP candidate. He has campaigned vigorously across the 18 local governments of the state with Akure and the central part of the state as his strong hold.
The Mimiko factor appears to threaten his ability to clean up his zone and garner the majority of the votes. But the Edo election has been a tonic for the PDP in Ondo State.
The state governors of the PDP in the South-South, and Seyi Makinde in the South West have been standing strong to propel Mr Jegede ahead of other contenders in the election.
Mr Makinde is in charge of the PDP campaign council. He has assured that victory will come the way of the PDP on Saturday. It will be a tall order in the face of the current challenge posed by the incumbent.
In the north, Mr Akeredolu appears to have some measure of control. He won all the six local governments in the zone in 2016.
None of the leading opposition candidates picked their deputy governors from the zone. Gbenga Abimbola, a former editor of the Hope Newspaper and lecturer at the Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba Akoko, thinks this was a mistake on the part of the opposition.
“It means they have left the northern zone for the governor alone. They have nothing with which to appeal to the sentiments of the voters in the area of zoning,” he said.
The lecturer said this is different from what Mr Akeredolu did, who picked his deputy governorship candidate from the South, giving him an opportunity to garner a good number of votes from the area as he did in 2016.
Mr Ajayi is a grassroots politician, a former local government chairman in Ese-Odo and a former member of the House of Representatives. He is famed to have a way with the commoners and this has been his strongest point for Saturday’s election.
He began his campaign in Ore, in Odigbo local government area of the southern zone. His campaigns have been quiet and not much of him is seen in the media. He has also not availed himself of the opportunity offered by the two election debates organised for the election.
Tope Okeowo, his spokesperson, told PREMIUM TIMES that Mr Ajayi is hitting all the right points to secure maximum votes on Saturday. He said the campaign strategy was that of “house-to-house.”
“Meeting the people at their places and communities is most important, and we are doing that,” he said.
Mr Ajayi hopes to win big in the South and there is the expectation he would get a good chunk of the votes in Ondo West, Ondo East and Ile-Oluji/Oke-Igbo where Mimiko’s influence is strong. With seven local governments in the central zone and five in the southern zone, there is a clear opening for any of the three candidates to win big in the central zone.
Mr Akeredolu is seeking reelection and has all the trappings of his office at his disposal in his bid to win on Saturday. He also has the backing of the ruling APC government at the federal level to his advantage.
Several APC governors are already in Akure with their influence and affluence behind the Aketi movement. Mr Akeredolu has highlighted a number of landmark projects as the basis for his belief that he deserves a second term. He is no doubt very confident of his chances and he showed it in the two election debates he featured during the week.
Mr Abimbola sums it up thus: “The APC was divided in 2016 and Akeredolu won, now the APC is united and the opposition is more divided, this has given even greater advantage to the incumbent governor.”
He, however, noted that the table could be turned if the opposition found a rallying point of unity against the incumbent. As the hours tick away into the election moments, there is little hope of a merger between the PDP and the ZLP, the two major opposition parties seeking to wrest power from Mr Akeredolu.
Akure South, where Mr Jegede hails from has 248,953 registered voters, the highest in the state. The winner of the local government might likely be heading to victory, but there are other large voting local governments.
Ondo West where Mr Mimiko is still the political strongman, follows closely with 150,838 registered voters. This is followed by Odigbo, in the South, with 120,014 registered voters.
The others are Ilaje, 114,235; Owo, 110,100; Akoko South West, 86,155; Akoko North West, 68,061; Ile- Oluji/Oke-Igbo, 64,219; Ifedore, 63,243; Akoko North East, 62,451; Ose, 62,386; Idanre, 60,720; Ese-Odo, 57,255; Irele, 55,231; Akure North, 53,935; Ondo East, 7,469 and Akoko South East, 29,778.
However, available data has shown that Ondo with a total population of 3,460,877, only 39 percent (1,822,346) are registered to vote, out of which 1,478,460 (81.1 percent) have collected their PVCs. This means that only about 31.6 percent of the population are eligible to participate in Saturday’s governorship poll.
Since 2011, voter turnout has not exceeded 35 per cent in Ondo State. In the 2011 presidential election, turnout was 31 percent while in the 2016 governorship election it was 35 percent. In 2011, it was 21 percent for the presidential election and 29.3 percent for the state assembly election.
The run up to Saturday’s election has been attended by violence, resulting in injuries and the destruction of property. This might be a further inhibition to voter turnout on Saturday.
There are other political parties apart from the main three, but none of them had shown any ability to cause an upset in the election.
Ifeanyi Odili, the general secretary of the Campaign for Democracy, told PREMIUM TIMES that the other parties have shown no commitment to winning the election.
“Some have even collapsed their parties in support of the APC or PDP,” he said.
“They are not serious and none of them has shown any sign they want to contest the election.”
However, the candidate of the Young Progressives Party, Ojon Dotun, has been consistent in his campaigns. He has been well represented in the media showing zeal and passion. His voice however seems to be drowned by the noise coming from the triad of the PDP, APC and the ZLP.
With the hindsight of the Edo election and with the variables of violence, ballot box snatching and intimidation already rearing its ugly head ahead of Saturday’s election, the people will certainly have to struggle to prevail on the day.
Mr Abimbola irrevocably asserts that the failure of the external forces in Edo will repeat itself in Ondo on Saturday.
“I can assure you that only the voters in Ondo State will determine the outcome of the election on Saturday. The Edo election is an indication to that reality,” he said.