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ONDO POLLS : THE 3-WAY BATTLE —By Dr Akinbiola Sunday,,, Publisher’s corner,,

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—By Dr Akinbiola Sunday,,,
Publisher’s corner,,

For weeks, candidates for this October 10th’s governorship election in Ondo State have been criss-crossing the state, trying to woo the electorate. The day of decision is Saturday 10 October 2020 . Only three candidates are, from all indications, in the people’s reckoning. Here are their strengths and weaknesses

The candidates showing the stuff they are made of during one of the debates organised by Better Nigeria USA, and other Organizations.

It is one of the beauties of democracy. Before a citizen could see a governor when he is in power, he or she has to fill forms and scale through different levels of protocol. But when elections are inching closer, governorship candidates and the incumbent come out of their comfort zones and go through the rigours of campaign. They perspire like the masses. They are exposed to the elements like the rabble and, on many occasions, step on goat excrement like villagers!

Just as school children stand nervously before judges and the audience, these respected individuals are put on the spot for political debate. That was what happened in Akure some days ago in September 2020, when the Better Nigeria USA , and some other organizations in a debate organised by the Nigerian Election Debate Groups, paraded the three major candidates: Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu SAN , the standard-bearer of the ruling party APC, ; the embattled Deputy Governor of the state, Mr Agboola Ajayi , who recently defected to ZLP after losing the primary ticket of PDP shortly when he resigned from the APC even as a seating Deputy Governor , and Eyitayo Jegede SAN of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, and other political parties . That day, the troika seized the opportunity to reveal their programmes to the people. Moderated by Prince Dokun Faduyile USA , the debate shifted from tackling issues to hitting below the belt. The candidates were, because of the verbal darts flying across, sweating under air conditioners! The politicians, the audience and television viewers were on tenterhooks. But the real sweat will be on Saturday 10th October, 2020 , when the people elect one of the three to occupy the seat of power at Alagbaka, Akure.

Preparations for this next month’s governorship poll in Ondo State have attained a frenetic proportion. None of the serious contenders is leaving anything to chance, as subterfuge and changing alignment of interests have become conspicuous in the last few weeks. Though 8 candidates were cleared for the poll by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, three of them are apparently the leading aspirants. They are Eyitayo Jegede SAN , Akeredolu, and Agboola Ajayi . The trio have exhibited political temerity, strong financial war chest and a large army of supporters, which the other candidates apparently lack. Besides, their impressive credentials and attainments in public life make them eminently qualified for the plum job.

The remaining aspirants are hardly known in public reckoning, while their political platforms lack visibility and structures in the state. They include Alhaji Adekunle Saliu of social Democratic Party, SDP, Prince Dapo Adelegan of, African Democratic Party, ADC, Prince Eniola Ojajuni of new Nigeria Peoples party, NNPP and others.

Arakunrin Oluwarotimi Akeredolu SAN
Though he has continued to face stiff challenges from his major political rivals, Governor Akeredolu has shown uncanny audacity and ability to return the heat he receives from them in equal measure, if not more. He is dogged and resilient in pursuing his political interests. Even before he was pronounced winner of the 2017 governorship election in the state, Akeredolu had served in various capacities in a political career in the old days during Adekunle Ajasin regime as Attorney general and was the former President of NBA, Nigerian Bar Association, he contested in 2012 with Dr Olusegun Mimiko and lost but was focus and contested again in 2017 to become the Governor of the state. Despite reading Law at the University of Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University), Ile-Ife, he, apparently, has found the political arena more appealing than the law court. . One thing he has going for him is the incumbency factor.

As a sitting governor of an oil-producing state, Akeredolu has many things going for him, including the financial wherewithal and governmental structure to plot his return. It is noteworthy that one out of the three senators from the state, seven out of the nine House of Representatives members and 20 of the 26 state House of Assembly members are from APC. This is aside the party’s control of the entire 18 local government areas in the state and the retinue of appointed aides, who may equally pull some strings, however small, in support of their principal. Also, endorsements by various pressure groups, including the Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, Trade Union Congress, TUC, transport unions among others make him better positioned. He was reported to have reached out to non-indigenes of the state, particularly non-Yoruba speaking communities, to solicit their votes. It is alleged that the governor recently constructed a Revenue house for the state to boost state economy. The National leader of APC , Asiwaju Tinubu was seen to have commissioned the edice. many of his supporters for presidency came in thousands to welcome him. He was also reported to have met with them to enlist their support for the governor. Akeredolu is expected to garner the highest number of votes in his hometown of Owo and in Akure, the state capital, where the performance of his administration is most visible. Although, Eyitayo Jegede supporters is seen to be die hard in Akure where he hails from. Akure people seems to have woke up from their slumber demanding now that Akure nikan’ Both towns are in the Central senatorial district which, with six local governments, is the largest in the state. He is also expected to get some votes from Akoko South-West II, in the South senatorial district, Ilaje LG where his deputy, Lucky Aiyedatiwa , comes from.

However, it is argued that the administration’s uneven spread of projects across the state might be a disadvantage to Aketi and his too much family influnce on the day to day running of the government . His critics claimed that many places in the Southern and Northern senatorial districts have witnessed little or no governmental presence. The defection of some of his erstwhile allies, including cabinet members, though some later returned may be considered another downside to the governor’s camp. The worst of it is his Deputy Governors resignation who is now battle ready to take power from him. its also an inside information that some of his cabinet members from the south are not with him 100 percent but are there to rock the boat for him for reasons bordering on his leadership style and his refusal to include people from Ilaje and Ese Odo LGAS in his government. This was followed by actions and reasons why the deputy Governor resigned from the party.. “Immediately the Deputy Governor resigned, Also prominent among those that have dumped Aketi are Alhaji Olurimisi, a former commissioner for Culture and Tourism though back their docile without trust and his Allies from Owo , Chief Amodeni, his former commissioner for Agric. Also his former commissioner for Works who was a former speaker at the Ondo state Assembly , Rt Hon Taofik resigned from his cabinet long ago and now joining forces with his Deputy Governornor in ZLP. The increasd in students school fees in Adekunle Ajasin University in Akoko , Rufus Giwa Polytechnic, Owo and OSUSTECH, Okitipupa,, may also reduce the votes garnered by the governor.

There is also talk about strained relations between Akeredolu and management staff of some state owned tertiary institution in the state. Some months ago, students of Ondo State origin under the auspices of the National Association of Ondo State Students protested against the government’s decision to increase school fees whereby over 30 percent of the students from poor homes have dropped out of school due to inability to further pay school fees . On the whole, opinion has been expressed on possible loss of votes from the student bloc.

Barr Chief Agboola Ajayi

Rotimi Akeredolu;s Deputy , Agboola Ajayi, the ZLP candidate, is a top contender capable of dislodging Akeredolu He has been very critical of the incumbent governor and seems poised to take his place. The debonair former former house of representative Member and the Embatled Deputy Governor has said that his mission is to redeem Ondo State from the alleged misgovernance of the APC. Agboola, like other candidates, was educated at the Igbinedion where he studied LawUniversity and has served and rose from a grassroots leader to the top. A respected grassrots politician, he has served in various capacities in the field of politics . He is among the few Nigerians who rose from the bottom to the top politically. He was a Councillor, Supervisory Councillor, Local Government Chairman, Member of the House of Representatives and presently the Deputy Governor of the state. Of course, he is not just the Deputy Governor but indeed a Deputy Governor with a class. From the inception of the Rotimi Akeredolu Administration in the state, Ajayi’s influence on the politics and administration of the state has been felt. He is not one of those deputy governors that their governors would just pocket as they desire.

Agboola was famous for his givings and has arrays of followers. In recognition of his contributions and honesty was reason some assembly members bow net of signing to impeach him as deputy governor .

In Ondo politics, Agboola Ajayi is regarded as a topnut . Reason he could go to any party and make waves which was evident in the just concluded PDP primary election where he joined barely a month to primary and came 2nd.Without a formidable structure on ground in the state, he would certainly rely on his sterling reputation and the works of his loyal men. To add to it, a former governor in the state who happens to be the 1st Governor to spend 8 years in office in solidly behind him, canvassing and bringing people into the party. His chances of getting substantial votes in Ese Odo, where he comes from in Ondo south senatorial district, manifested last week when thousands of PDP members defected to ZLP. The defection negated the widely held perception that he was neither liked by his kinsmen. The influence of his running mate, Gboye Adegbenro in Ifedore, his home town in Ondo central senatorial district, may also yield votes for him. This is because Gboye;s achievements and generosity when served under Gov mimiko was incomparable. Also, the clout of Hon BANJI Okunomo, a former aspirant in the last PDP governoship primary election, Rt Hon Jumoke Akindele, Hon Oboli Ogunwa, in the same South district, and some stalwarts may also swing votes for Agboola Ajayi. In Ondo East and Ondo West , mimiko has the grip of the 2 local governments and some of the radical house of Assembly members, Hon Wale Williams and Hon Tomide who is the only ZLP man in the state house of Assembly. So the 2 local government is a sure bet for Agboola Ajayi , he may also count on the support of a 5 terms Commissioner in Ondo State and former senator, Senator Yele Omogunwa , as well as from other notable figures in the party. Recently 4 heavy LG Chairman from Irele and Odigbo Local Government Area of the state decamped to Zenith Labour Party from APC, Hon Akinbiola Oluwatobi Nicholas, Hon Prince Gbadebo Odimayo, Hon Prince George Adenikinju and other APC stalwarts. He is likely to get sympathy votes from the Ikales and the people from the south due to Southern agenda and the darkness the people of the South have suffered for over 9 years . The people have been so engrossed and ready to support Agboola Ajayi to win on his announcement during his campaign tour in the south that,,, I shall restore electricity within 100 days in Ondo South if elected Governor. At his campaign rally in Ondo town, Agboola Ajayi received endorsements from some pressure groups, including the Association of Nigeria Theatre Arts Practitioners, ANTP, Ondo State chapter.

The manner of Agboola ’s emergence as ZLP CANDIDATE makes the party’s chances brighter. Because, he was well accepted .

Eyitayo Jegede SAN

The third leg of the tripod is PDP’s Eyitayo Jegede SAN , from Akure , in the central senatorial district.

In 2009, Mr. Eyitayo Jegede, SAN, was appointed as the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice under Dr. Olusegun Mimiko’s administration where he served in the first four years of the administration. Following the re-election of Governor Mimiko for the second term in 2013, Governor Mimiko again appointed Mr. Eyitayo Jegede, SAN, as Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, a position he still serves till 2017 when he contested keenly against the current Governor and came 2nd under same PDP party. The division in the party then affected the chances of his winning as his judgement came barely a week to the general election as the real candidate of the party. The legal batle cause a lots of setbacks to his campaign.

Until recently, many a political watcher had dismissed the chances of Eyitayo Jegede because the zoning did not favour him. , But his triumphant performance in the last PDP governorship primary election contributed largely to his acceptance by the people but the zoning and the view of the political mathematicians in the state and the decimation of the party’s ranks had led to its current low rating. But with the intense PDP campaigns, Jegede’s acceptability has been growing tremendously. Interestingly, the party’s deputy governorship candidate, who is a seating rep member , was prominent among those that supported the struggle He told this magazine that he was one of the six people who lured Jegede to contest again and had hoped he would be made the deputy governor or secretary to the state government. But “I realised that was not to be two weeks after he (Jegede ) was declared governorship candidate of the PDP due to pressure within the party but Jegede was resolute.

The choice of Gboluga , from OKITIPUPA in the southern senatorial district, is described as a masterstroke which was considered as one of Jegede’s greatest strengths but the people especially from his area describe him as a snob and an Arkagon who is not friendly with money again after becoming member of the house of Representatives .

The picking of Hon. Gboluga Ikengboju as the Deputy Governorship candidate of the PDP, has no doubt generated some storms in the major opposition party, PDP, especially in the southern Senatorial District of the State. Most of Gboluga’s critics are nursing personal grudges as a result of an alleged deficiency leveled against him as the incumbent Member House of Representatives representing Okitipupa/Irele Federal Constituency.

Most of these aggrieved leaders who do not have anything particularly offensive against Eyitayo Jegede, the Governorship candidate of the PDP, have indeed vowed to ensure that they take their pounds of flesh from Gboluga by working against him and his principal in the election.

There are four local governments in the district and there is some possibility that his people would want to vote for him to ensure that one of them becomes deputy governor in 2020 if not for the complain . Another factor in PDP’s favour is the expected votes from Akure South and North where Jegede hails from. He is from Akure in Akure South Local Government Area, in Ondo South. It is worth noting that the zone is the only one that has not produced a Governor since the state was created in 1976. The reality of their kinsman emerging governor may be a compelling reason for them to vote for him. Ondo South is equally reputed to be the district with the highest number of registered voters in the state and is also seen to be PDP strongholds but majority of the stakeholders their have joined ZLP . Investigation revealed that the district yielded over 197,000 votes in the 2011 presidential election, which was more than double the votes turned out from the Central district in that election if Gboluga can harness the opportunity. Moreover, the PDP has been harping on Agagu’s and Mimiko’s achievements as Governors and the need for the electorate to vote for the party again. But Jegede has his weaknesses. The division among some leaders of his party may pose a problem. Already, some of them are said to have declared their support for Agboola Ajayi and are surreptitiously working against PDP’s interest. The majority of the aggrieved leaders are those opposed to Jegede decision to pick Gboluga as his running mate and his lackadaisical attitudes of the governorship candidate to the leaders of the party in the state. The possibility of Mimiko getting some votes through his past appointed aides from the senatorial district cannot be discountenanced, though. Like Akeredolu, Jegede’s wife is Igbo, from Abia State, and appears to be popular with the Igbo community. It was gathered that jegede’s wife has always identified with her Igbo kinsmen and has helped many of them. This, again, is an advantage to her husband.

Another salient feature of the forthcoming election is the candidates’ styles of campaign. While Governor Akeredolu has adopted project commissioning and continuity as a campaign strategy during his rallies, Agboola Ajayi and Eyitayo Jegede SAN are wont to fault him. To them, the projects hardly justify the huge revenues that have accrued to the government since it took power in 2017. Jegede has consistently harped on leveraging on the legacies of the Agagu administration, reviving ailing industries and putting the state on the path of industrialisation, among other promises. Agboola , on his part, has promised to create 30,000 jobs in his first 100 days in office, develop means of increasing the state’s internally generated revenue, build a refinery, reduce the high school fees in tertiary institutions, give monthly stipends to the elderly and intervene in agriculture, education and other critical sectors of the Ondo economy.

But Akeredolu appears confident that his performance will lead him to victory. “Three years on, I want to say with all sense of responsibility and evidently that we have worked for the people,” he told this magazine.

The exchange of verbal darts has been quite intense between Akeredolu and Agboola Ajayi than between either of them and Jegede . The reason for the bitterness is obvious. The Deputy Governor leaving the party to contest is reason for the smouldering animosity between them; though the governor has consistently refuted the allegations .

The opposition has also raised the issue of the state’s burgeoning large credit profile, which they claim currently stands at N50 billion. “It is an irony that a state that had a credit balance of over N58bn three years ago is not doing up to expectations,” Agboola said. He also accused the incumbent administration of mismanaging the state’s resources, stating that over N600bn has accrued to the government in its three and a half years in power, with little to show for it. AKEREDOLU has equally refuted the opposition parties’ claims, insisting that he has been prudent with the state’s finances.

As the election draws nearer, the political horizon of the state is characterised by tension. This has resulted in confrontations among supporters of the leading candidates. Two weeks ago, the ZLP blamed APC for the death of two of its supporters, including a youth, in Akoko and Idanre . But APC dismissed the allegation. Rather, it said, the row that led to the fight in which the two ZLP supporters’ died was over money, Governor Akeredolu gifted them. Director of Publicity, National Association of Nigerian Students, reacting to the death of the youth, said: “The incident is a confirmation of our earlier position that the government in Ondo State is not youth-friendly. A government that has refused to empower the young now gives them money to act as political thugs.” The veracity of the student’s allegation could not be ascertained, but certainly the stakes are high. Consequently, there have been calls on the federal government to deploy soldiers to Ondo State for the election, as it did during the Edo State governorship election recently.

Other parties and candidates include Alhaji Adekunle Saliu of social Democratic Party, SDP, Prince Dapo Adelegan of, African Democratic Party, ADC, Prince Eniola Ojajuni of new Nigeria Peoples party, NNPP

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