Barely four months after the general election, the South-west region is gearing up for 2013 and beyond
Elections are about two years away in Ondo State, one of the states in the South-west geo-political zone of Nigeria, but various political parties in the state have started building their war chest and oiling their machinery, in anticipation of a fierce contest. For several reasons, Ondo is considered strategic for the major political parties within the region. For one, it is the only state that is not currently controlled by the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, which is at the helm of affairs in five out of the six states in the region. The ACN considers this an aberration, and appears determined to wrest the state from the grip of the Labour Party, LP government of Governor Olusegun Mimiko.
On its own part, the LP, which appears to enjoy a considerable backing of the people, is already spoiling for the second tenure. Apart from the fact that Mimiko does not want to relinquish his governorship seat in the state to any other party, LP also fancies its chances spreading its tentacles into the South-west and elsewhere in the country, as the ACN, which is now eyeing other states outside the region, have done.
Apart from the two major contenders, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, which lost the state at the election petition tribunal to LP, is also currently mapping out strategies to regain the state come 2013, to redeem its battered image within the region. The PDP considers the LP as one of its breakaway faction, because Governor Mimiko was once a chieftain of the party.
The battle for the soul of Ondo politics came to a head recently when Olaiya Oni, who was the pioneer chairman of LP in the state, resigned. In his resignation letter, Oni alleged that Mimiko had sidelined him in the scheme of things in the party. The resignation obviously put the government of Mimiko and the entire LP establishment under pressure. This is because Oni, a former minister of education, has a huge influence within the party and the state. He was also instrumental to the success of the party in the state. Perhaps that was why some traditional rulers and leaders of the LP had repeatedly pleaded with Oni not to resign.
Given the growing popularity of the ACN within the state, indications are that the Bola Tinubu-led party might be the biggest beneficiary of the resignation. Indeed, Oni is already being courted by the ACN. The state chapter of the ACN, which covets the influence he has in the state and the freebies of LP secrets that would come with him, was the first to congratulate the former LP state chairman. The magazine’s investigations in Akure, the state capital, suggest that the ACN has deployed its foot soldiers to the grassroots to mobilise support for the party. It is also said to have infiltrated the leadership of a number of trade and workers’ unions to reposition itself within the minds of the people of Ondo State. It is also said that Rauf Aregbesola, governor of Osun State, has been mandated to shop for a candidate and co-ordinate a media campaign against the LP.
But the threat of ACN incursion into Ondo has angered some of the state indigenes, who insist that Mimiko and the ruling LP are doing a good job. Such observers have warned Tinubu and the ACN to steer clear of the state in 2013. “Why are we doing this? Please let’s stop wasting our time debating ACN in Ondo State: It is not going to happen… I salute the work Babatunde Fashola is doing in Lagos State and I wish Jimi Agbaje well as he prepares to take over from a performer in captive. Iroko gba sibe joo,” a resident of Akure who merely identified himself as Bunmi observed.
Besides, in the wake of Oni’s resignation, some traditional rulers in the state have been paying courtesy visits to Governor Mimiko, to pledge their loyalty to the LP government. But it remains to be seen how far their backing would go in saving Mimiko from the onslaught of the ACN.
Mimiko and ACN were once united in the fight to get the PDP government of Olusegun Agagu out of office. Things however took a different turn after that feat was achieved. Whatever strain existed in the relationship was hidden from the public as ACN congratulated the governor when he celebrated his second anniversary in office at the beginning of the year. But things reached a head when the governor refused to collapse his structure into ACN ahead of the April general elections.
The way things currently stand in the state, the LP and the ACN are the major contenders, leaving the former ruling PDP trudging behind at a distant third position. Jumoke Anifowose, chairman, Ondo State ACN, described the PDP in state as in tatters. “In fact some people just decamped from the PDP to the ACN because they do not see any hope there,” she says.
Even so, the PDP has been quietly reconciling the warring factions within its folds. There are two factions of the party in the state; one headed by Agagu, former governor of the state, while Adetokunbo Kayode, former minister of defence, leads the other. But under pressure from its national secretariat, the two sides are on the verge of reconciling their differences.
But this increase in the tempo of political activities is not limited to Ondo State alone. Elsewhere in the South-west, the PDP, which suffered defeat during the last general elections is trying to reorganise itself to form an effective opposition in the various states, while the ACN, which snatched two more states from the former at the April polls is trying to settle down to business.
The magazine’s investigations reveal that the reconciliatory initiative within the PDP is not limited to Ondo alone, as there are similar moves across the entire South-west region, where internal crisis worked against the interest of the party during the last general elections. Though election is still about three to four years away in most of the states, the party has opted to clear its Augean stables well ahead of time. Hence there has been a bonanza of reconciliation meetings within the region and in Abuja to weld the factions back together.
For instance, reports say PDP chieftains in Ekiti State are currently making overtures to woo Ayo Fayose, a former governor of the state, with a view to shore up the party’s fortunes in future elections. Fayose, a former PDP governor of the state, contested the Ekiti Central Senatorial slot under the LP. The party leaders, led by Dipo Anisulowo, its vice chairman, Ekiti Central Senatorial District, reportedly met with the former governor as a way of drumming up support for the party ahead of the 2013 elections.
Like Ekiti State, there are behind-the-scene moves in Ogun State to bring the faction loyal to Gbenga Daniel, the former governor back to the fold. Daniel had floated a rival party, Peoples Party of Nigeria, PPN, while he was still in the PDP to accommodate his faction due to his grievances within the party over the outcome of election primaries. Investigation reveals that the widely circulated report that Olusegun Obasanjo, the former President had snubbed the effort to reconcile with Daniel was false.
Joju Fadairo, former chairman of PDP in Ogun State observes that the warring faction within the state had started burying their hatchets. “We are fusing together again and the PDP in Ogun State will soon become one indivisible family. Those who went to PPN are now coming back to the PDP,” he says.
Similarly, Dejo Raimi, an elderly PDP chieftain in Oyo State and a former secretary to the state government says that the reconciliation initiative in the South-west is in top gear. “Apart from the fact that we have started reconciling the factions in Oyo, we are also reaching out to Ladoja to come back to the party. The national headquarters is also reaching out to him,” he says. Rashidi Ladoja, a former governor under the PDP in Oyo State, had left the fold to form his own Accord Party.
Ayo Fadaka, director of publicity, PDP, Ondo State, explains that the state chapter had started working out its differences. “We are like the proverbial shepherd that does not want to lose any of its sheep. We are doing everything possible to keep them within the party,” he says.
But even if the party successfully finds a way to end the factional crisis in the region, it would still have a Herculean task dislodging the ACN during the next round of election. This is because the electorate has warmed up to the ACN in states like Lagos, Osun and Ekiti. Besides, in Oyo State, the PDP is facing an image crisis due to the negative perception of Adebayo Alao-Akala’s tenure, which was characterised by bickering with the traditional rulers in the state.
But the ACN is not without its Achilles’ heels. Some members of the party have accused it of highhandedness and being undemocratic with regards to the selection of candidates for elections. In Oyo State for instance, there was bickering between Governor Abiola Ajimobi and the party hierarchy over the former’s choice of commissioners. The party was aggrieved that the governor had selected persons who were not within the party fold. But Ajimobi was able to nip the crisis in the bud before it got out of control. “In ACN when we disagree we air our views. But we have resolved it,” he said during the recent swearing-in of his commissioners and special assistants.
Raimi, however, boasts that the ACN lacks political heavyweights in its rank and file to leverage on. “Apart from Lam Adeshina, who is in ACN, is there any other big name in the state? The PDP has big names such as Richard Akinjide, Teslim Folarin, Wole Oyelese, Olunloyo, and Dejo Raimi. Look at these names don’t they mean something?"
Taofiq Abdusalam, former Speaker, Ondo State House of Assembly also argues in this line. “How many big names do they have in ACN in Ondo or even in Labour? We have the likes of Olusegun Agagu, Adetokunbo Kayode and the likes.”
What is happening in the South-west generally is a realignment of forces after the April general election, which altered the political equation in the region. Though election is two years away in Ondo, three years away in Osun and Ekiti and four in Lagos, Ogun and Oyo, the various political parties are only trying to make themselves relevant in future elections.