•Total voters: 1,478,460 •Ondo Central: 559,374 •Ondo North: 411,188 •Ondo South: 508,044
By Hakeem Gbadamosi
The people of Ondo State will be filing out today to elect their governor for the next four years. HAKEEM GBADAMOSI examines the issues and intrigues ahead of today’s exercise, weighing the strengths of the major contenders.
THE D-day is here. The people of Ondo State will file out today to pick one of the 17 contenders for the Alagbaka Government House. The election, which has generated a lot of frenzied interests from beyond the state, is a clear choice between the status quo and a new order.
The incumbent governor and candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Mr . Rotimi Akeredolu, is seeking to renew his mandate while Mr Eyitayo Jegede of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is taking another shot at the top seat, having failed in his bid in 2016. Also on the ballot is the embattled deputy governor of the state, Mr Agboola Ajayi, who is running on the platform of the Zenith Labour Party (ZLP).
Ajayi had had a falling-out with his principal, Akeredolu, following which he dumped the ruling APC for the PDP, whose ticket he contested and lost to Jegede. He thereafter headed to the ZLP where he was welcomed by former Governor Olusegun Mimiko. Today’s election is believed to be a three-horse race among him, Akeredolu and Jegede. The three who are unarguably the main contenders in the contest are from the three senatorial districts of the state. Akeredolu hails from Owo (Northern senatorial district), Jegede is from Akure (Central senatorial district) and Ajayi is from Kiribo in the Southern senatorial district.
This election, according to Akeredolu, is to enable him consolidate his achievements in the last four years, while his deputy, Ajayi, is using the exercise to prove his mettle and make a strong political statement to his estranged principal. Jegede, on his own part, has left no one in doubt that he has a firm grip of his party and is ready to ride on its popularity to victory today.
Rotimi Akeredolu (SAN), born some 62 years ago in Owo, is the incumbent governor of the state. The former president of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) was the state’s Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice between 1997 and 1999. The legal expert, who became a Senior Advocate of Nigeria in 1998, was the chairman of the Legal Aid Council from 2005 to 2006. He contested the 2012 governorship election on the platform of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) but lost the race to Mimiko. He returned in 2016 to win a controversial primary of the APC before going ahead to beat his closest rivals, Jegede and Chief Olusola Oke, to win the governorship election. Akeredolu, again, clinched the ticket of his party to re-contest despite the initial gang-up against him in the party and the controversy between him and his estranged deputy, Ajayi.
Eyitayo Jegede, also a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, hails from Akure. He started his career as a legal practitioner in Yola, Adamawa State, after his national youth service. The PDP candidate, who was elevated to the rank of SAN in 199, was involved in political cases and election petition matters, an area of law for which he is noted and respected.
Jegede was appointed as the state’s Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice in 2009 by former Governor Mimiko. In 2016, he emerged the winner of his party’s governorship primary, having being cleared two days to the exercise by a court which sat on a suit bordering who the rightful standard-bearer of the PDP was between him and billionaire businessman, Jimoh Ibrahim. He lost the election to Akeredolu. He emerged the PDP candidate again for today’s election after defeating seven other aspirants, including the embattled deputy governor of the state, Ajayi.
Agboola Ajayi, a lawyer, was born some 52 years ago in Kiribo in Ese-Odo Local Government Area of the state. He started his political career as Supervisor for Agriculture for Ese-Odo Local Government between 1999 and 2001 and he was the caretaker chairman of the local government between 2003 and 2004 before he was elected as the substantive chairman of the local government in 2004.
Agboola’s political journey first peaked in 2007 when he was elected into the House of Representatives to represent Ilaje/Ese-Odo Federal Constituency. He served as the chairman of House of Representatives Committee on the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) between 2007 and 2010 and was member of various committees in the House. Ahead of the 2016 governorship election, Ajayi joined the APC and eventually became the running mate of Akeredolu. The two, however, quarreled recently, a situation which which caused Ajayi to join the ZLP.
Voting strength, pattern
Just like other states of the federation, Ondo is divided into three senatorial districts. They are Ondo North, Ondo South and Ondo Central senatorial districts. Incidentally, the three main contenders are from the three districts. While Akeredolu represents Ondo North, Jegede is from Ondo Central and Ajayi hails from Ondo South.
Each of the districts comprises six local government areas, although their voting strengths differ. Statistics shows that a total 1,478,460 registered voters will participate in today’s election with Ondo Central accounting for the highest number of 559,374. Ondo North has 411,188 registered voters and Ondo South, 508,044. The state’s political space has been reconfigured among the three leading parties.
There are six local government areas in Ondo North district with Akokoland having four of them. The six local government areas are Akoko North East, Akoko North West, Akoko South West, Akoko South East, Ose and Owo. This is Akeredolu’s political base and it is expected that the electorate from this axis will cast their votes for him today. The four local government areas in Akoko are being controlled by APC bigwigs who have thrown their weight behind the second term bid of Governor Akeredolu. Political heavyweights such as Ajayi Boroffice, Victor Olabimtan, Ali Olanusi and Tunji Abayomi hail from this area and it is a general belief that they will deliver the place for Akeredolu. Apart from these political leaders, the lawmakers representing the area in the House of Representatives, Honourables Bunmi Tunji-Ojo and Ade Adeogun have been mobilising support for Akeredolu.
This is just as the people of the area have vowed to break the second-term jinx with Akeredolu as far as the area is concerned. It is their contention that that the two former governors produced by the district were never re-elected. Ondo North is a stronghold of the APC and the party has always dominated elections there. In the 2019 general election, when the party was polarized in the state, Senator Ajayi Boroffice won in Ondo North.
Interestingly, none of the other political parties picked either their governorship candidates or running mates from the zone. However, Akeredolu’s strength, it is believed, lies in Owo and Ose where he is expected to garner majority votes. Owo also has a good number of elected and appointed government officials serving in the current administration, a development that is expected to weigh heavily for the governor today. Another factor that may also work for Akeredolu is that current elected officials across the state will naturally try to deliver their constituencies in order to have a good chance at securing second terms for themselves. The governor has been using projects executed by his administration across the three senatorial districts of the state as part of the crux of his campaign, while his opponents have been reeling out the things they plan to do if they are elected.
With 559,374 registered voters, Ondo Central has the highest number of voters in the state. Like other senatorial zones, it has six local government areas which are Akure South, Akure North, Idanre, Ifedore, Ondo East and Ondo West. The zone, regarded as a PDP stronghold, is the political base of Jegede. The Akure factor in Ondo politics cannot be overlooked even though the metropolis is also being inhabited by a good number of non-indigenes. The town has not produced an elected governor since the creation of the state in 1976 and Jegede’s candidacy is believed to offer the people of the area much hope in this regard. Jegede lost in Akure South in 2016 but it is hoped that much has changed as a considerable number of politicians from across the political divides in the locality appear to have joined Jegede’s camp.
The general belief among the people of Akure, it was learnt, is that Jegede lost to Akeredolu in 2016 due to power play and that they are ready to change the story this time around. Akure zone, which comprises Akure South and Akure North local government areas, has a total of 268,128 registered voters. Jegede is thought to stand a good chance here but he has to contend with the presence of some APC leaders who are said to command considerable respect in the two local government areas. The likes of APC’s Senator Tayo Alasoadura, Ifedayo Abegunde, Tayo Oluwatuyi, Saka Yusuf Ogunleye and Idowu Otetubi will be testing their wits against PDP’s Omolafe Adedayo and Ambassador Omolade Oluwateru in the two local government areas today.
The ZLP is believed to have picked its deputy governorship candidate from Ondo Central as a way of reducing Jegede’s influence in the zone, with a conviction that the parties will share the votes in Akure and its environs. The ZLP deputy governorship candidate, Gboye Adegbenro, is from Ifedore Local Government Area. He is believed to wield most of his political influence in his Ilara Mokin country home.
Jegede has been facing the sentiment that the immediate past governor of the state, Mimiko, is also from Ondo Central and that having another governor from that senatorial district would be unfair to other areas. But the PDP candidate has never stopped to explain that a governor has a whole state as his constituency. He has consistently told the electorate not to judge him by his place of origin but by his capacity and what he could offer the state.
Idanre is expected to be a hot battle ground for the three main political parties which are believed to have strong influencers on the ground there. Kayode Akinmade, Senator Ayo Akinyelure and others will be fighting to record victory for Jegede in the area, while the APC chairman, Ade Adetimehin; the lawmaker representing the federal constituency, Honourable Tajudeen Adefisoye; Taye Akinyele and others will be battling to win the area for Governor Akeredolu. The ZLP is also not without strong presence in the area as its gladiators will also strive to secure a sizable number of votes for Ajayi. Mimiko, it is believed, will form a major factor in determining who wins the two local government areas in the Ondo kingdom.
Mimiko has never lost an election in Ondo and today may not be an exception. He looks set to deliver the two local government areas for Ajayi. The area is regarded as a stronghold of the ZLP but this will be contested by the APC due to the influence of Honourable Abiola Makinde who won the Ondo East/Ondo West Federal Constituency seat in 2019. Makinde and his supporters recently declared support for Akeredolu. And Mimiko’s failure to secure the senatorial seat in 2019 is thought to have put a question mark on his political influence in the state.
Ondo South was viewed as a stronghold of the PDP before the entrance of Ajayi into the governorship race. The PDP won the senatorial seat in 2019, but the defection of Ajayi and other political leaders to the ZLP has polarised the PDP in the zone. Some PDP leaders in the zone have dumped the party for the ZLP and have been working towards Ajayi’s victory in today’s election. The ZLP’s strength, it is believed, lies in the widely acknowledged grassroots presence of its candidate, Ajayi, who started his political career as a councillor and rose to become the deputy governor after serving as a member of the House of Representatives. He has served in various capacities and has wormed himself into the hearts of many, especially old members and leaders of the old PDP who moved with him to the APC before 2016 election. Moreover, the support of Mimiko, who is the national leader of the ZLP, is a major booster for Ajayi’s ambition, while many former political officeholders that served during the former governor’s tenure have joined the crusade to actualise Ajayi’s governorship ambition.
However, the APC enjoys strong presence in the zone and with the caliber of leaders of the party from the area like Chief Olusola Oke, Ife Oyedele, Jimoh Ibrahim, Sola Iji, Lucky Ayedatiwa, Albert Akintoye and Remi Olatubora, pundits agree that the party should put on a good show there today. APC also parades prominent politicians like Chief Olusola Oke, Isaacs Kekemeke, Ifeoluwa Oyedele and Ambassador Olusola Iji.
Although the PDP deputy governorship candidate, Ikengboju Gboluga, hails from Okitipupa, he is up against an army of political leaders from Ondo South. Oke, believed to be a grassroots mobiliser, has contested governorship election twice and he never lost Okitipupa and Ilaje on both occasions. Okitipupa is now regarded as ZLP’s stronghold but it has the APC to contend with for today’s votes from the area.
The APC deputy governorship candidate, Lucky Aiyedatiwa, hails from Ilaje. He is said to be a grassroots mobiliser, too. The APC is expecting victory from this locality. Apart from Ayedatiwa, Oke is expected to deliver this local government for the APC. The lanky politician who hails from the small fishing settlement of Ilowo in the coastal Ilaje local council has, for years, been the face of political leadership not only in Ilaje but in the whole of the Southern senatorial district where he is expected to deliver for the APC today.
In Ese-Odo, where Ajayi hails from, the presence of APC leaders in this area is a threat for the deputy governor. Some ex-militants from the area are said to be supporting Akeredolu despite the open support of Kinsley Kuku for Jegede, whereas Bibopiri Ajube (Shoot at Sight) and the state Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Donald Ojogo and Kekemeke are said to have been mobilising support for Akeredolu’s victory in the area.
Straight victory for any of the parties is uncertain in this local government area, which makes both Ese-Odo and Irele huge battlegrounds.
The Ile Oluji/Okeigbo and Odigbo local government areas are strongholds of the APC and PDP. This area with a voting strength of 102,000 has a prominent role to play in today’s election.
All in all, today’s election is a straight fight among the APC, PDP and ZLP, but the people of the state hold the ace as to which of the candidates will be chosen to be in charge of their affairs for the next four years. The die is cast.
Credit: Nigerian Tribune