Long before the Independent National Electoral Commission announced October 10, 2020 as the date for the governorship election in Ondo State, there had been intrigues, political alignment and realignment as well as rising political activities across the political parties in the state.
However, since INEC released the timetable for the election, to be preceded by primaries, all the political parties have begun making rigorous preparations to make sure their primaries go flawless while making sure that a strong candidate emerges.
This alone has gradually activated and enlivened the quiet political atmosphere in the state.
No doubt, all eyes are on the two major political parties – the ruling All Progressives Congress and the main opposition in the state, the Peoples Democratic Party. One of the two political parties is likely going to produce the next governor of the state.
As the governorship race draws closer, people of huge influence in the state have begun their politicking. Some are politicians while some are apolitical, but interestingly, they all have varied influence in determining where the pendulum would swing in October.
While the politicians are well known, some of the apolitical personalities are the traditional rulers, particularly those ones in the first-class category.
Some of the respected first class Obas in the state include the Olugbo of Ugboland and Chairman of the Ondo State Council of Obas, Oba Frederick Akinruntan; Osemawe of Ondo Kingdom, Oba Victor Kiladejo; Deji of Akureland, Oba Aladelusi Aladetoyinbo; Olowo of Owo Kingdom, Oba Ajibade Ogunoye; and the Olukare of Ikareland, Oba Akadiri Momoh, among others.
These monarchs are believed to have a lot of influence on their subjects and so in every election cycle, especially governorship, candidates in the elections pay homage to these monarchs, ostensibly to curry some favour and ‘royal blessing.’
There is a belief that the respect and honour accorded these traditional rulers in their respective domains are enough to influence the pattern of voting in the towns and villages in their jurisdiction.
For instance, the Olowo of Owo Kingdom, Oba Ogunoye, has about 10 aspirants from his domain, including the incumbent governor of the state, Mr Rotimi Akeredolu.
Many are watching as things unfold, hoping that in the last-minute the revered monarch may intervene and plead with the aspirants to harmoniously support one among themselves for the town not to lose the coveted office of the governor.
Another revered monarch is Oba Akinruntan. The monarch has never been involved in partisan politics, even before his ascension to the throne. It is also not known that he’s supporting any candidate yet, but the first-class monarch, who is also an oil and gas businessman, is well respected among his people.
Some people believe that whoever he supports, even if its mere body language, will likely enjoy the support of the Ilaje people.
Already, Ilaje has about four persons contesting the election. They are Chief Olusola Oke (APC); Chief Olusola Ebiseni (PDP); Mr Banji Okunomo (PDP); and Mr John Mafo. But till date, the monarch has maintained his usual neutral stand.
In the view of a political analyst and legal practitioner, Mr Bayo Oluwole, the Obas too always have their preferred candidates among the aspirants but the preference would not be made known to the people, in most cases.
He said traditional rulers are political influencers but usually in a clandestine manner, in order not to cause disaffection among their subjects.
Oluwole said, “There is no way a monarch will not have a preferred candidate among other aspirants, particularly if such a candidate is the only aspirant from his town or ethnic group. They would have a way of passing the message to their subjects to support a particular candidate of their choice but they will not make it a public matter. They are traditional rulers and so are like fathers to everybody.
“Very soon, all the candidates will be visiting them in their palaces for their royal blessings and ‘anointing’ but the body language of the royal fathers would send signal to their people where to go on the election day.”
Aside from the apolitical citizens, there are core politicians who are likely to shake the atmosphere in the forthcoming election. They are likely to dictate the pace and direction of the election, using their positions, money and influence in the Sunshine State.
The incumbent, Akeredolu, has since shown interest in seeking re-election. Though there are lots of stumbling blocks on his way, he is still the incumbent, which is a major factor in Nigeria’s political process.
However, some of the perceived ills against him are the members of his party, the APC. There are strong indications that the APC in the state might experience some dramatic events in the coming days, especially over the party’s primary, scheduled for July 20.
The ruling party’s July 20 primary would determine who would be the candidate of the party in the October 10 election.
The governor is said to be keenly interested in the indirect mode of primary but other gladiators in the party and the National Working Committee of the party are rumoured to be tilting towards conducting direct primary.
It was gathered that other state governors had been moving round to appeal to the Presidency and some leaders of the party to prevail on the National Chairman, Mr Adams Oshiomhole, who reportedly superintended over the decision that direct primary would be adopted in Edo State.
The conflict of interest between Akeredolu and the APC NWC will make the political scenes interesting in the next couple of weeks while spectators are keeping their fingers crossed.
To this end, the Ondo governor has allayed the fears of his supporters as he recently declared that he was prepared for any mode of primary.
Speaking through the state Commissioner for Information, Mr Donald Ojogo, the governor, who is a former President of the Nigerian Bar Association, recently boasted that he was ready for any mode of primary. He said he would triumph whichever mode was adopted.
He said, “We are not afraid of direct primary, the noise being orchestrated by members of the Unity Forum is to bring the impression that Governor Akeredolu is afraid of direct primary.
“I want to tell you that we will prefer direct primary, those that are saying we are opposed to direct primary are wasting their time. We are even more prepared for direct than indirect, even more than those saying they want direct primary.”
Another perceived titan in the forthcoming governorship election in Ondo State are the APC national chairman, Oshiomhole, and the National Leader of the party, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, respectively.
The two party leaders are often instrumental in who occupies which elective position in the country, especially on the platform of the party.
It was gathered that Akeredolu and some of his colleagues had met with Tinubu to prevail on Oshiomhole to allow indirect primary in the state, to perhaps give the governor an easy ride in securing the ticket of the party ahead of the main election.
But there has not been any favourable response from the powerful national leader, who resides in Lagos.
Similarly, it was learnt that many APC aspirants in Ondo State had one time or the other gone to Lagos to seek Tinubu’s ‘blessing’ in their race to clinch the party’s ticket and ultimately win the race to the Alagbaka Government House in Akure.
A source said, “Oshiomhole and some members of the NWC will determine who will carry the flag of the party in the October election. All aspirants, including Akeredolu, are (allegedly) seeking the favour of the national chairman but we have yet to know who will be picked to be supported. One certain thing is that whoever is picked among them may likely be the next governor of the state because the party is the ruling party and stands a better chance.”
On the other hand, the governor, for the past few months, has been at loggerheads with his deputy, Mr Agboola Ajayi, who initially had expressed his indifference in the governorship contest.
But in recent times, following his not-too-smooth experience in the cabinet, Ajayi is said to be showing interest in the Government House, particularly if given a chance in the PDP.
Information has it that he wants to test his popularity in the state against his maternal cousin and boss – Akeredolu.
Some members of the PDP were said to be jubilating and celebrating the return of Ajayi who left their party for the APC few years ago to assist in ousting the PDP government, under the leadership of former Governor Olusegun Mimiko.
But the game has since changed as a result of the frosty relationship between Akeredolu and Ajayi. There are also insinuations that whether Ajayi wins the ticket of the PDP or not, his planned move and support for the PDP would help to ensure that Akeredolu does not win his election bid if he emerges as the candidate of the APC.
Another key titan in the political landscape is the immediate past governor, Dr Olusegun Mimiko.
It was gathered that many of the gladiators had been meeting him secretly to curry the favour of the Ondo-born politician, who some believe is a political intellectual, having unprecedentedly ruled the state for eight years.
Mimiko, now a chieftain of a relatively new party, Zenith Labour Party, is said to be a long-time friend and associate of Akeredolu and many other aspirants in the two major parties.
Some of the aspirants understand the fact that Mimiko has some influence that cannot be undermined as far as Ondo State politics is concerned.
Meanwhile, a group, Sunshine for Integrity and Justice, has called on all stakeholders in the forthcoming primaries and the main governorship election in the state to play the game according to the rules.
This was contained in a statement issued by the Coordinator of the group, Mr Mathew Odion. He said there was a need for political parties and INEC to conduct the elections in line with the COVID-19 regulations.
He added, “There is a need for stakeholders to consider the coronavirus pandemic, which has been ravaging the whole world for the past few months, when organising the elections, particularly during campaign. Aside from that, the elections must be conducted in a free, fair and credible atmosphere.”