The season is here again, when Ondo politicians will vie for the position of governor under various political parties in an election scheduled for Saturday, November 24, 2016. In preparation for the election, the major parties in the contest have been conducting their party primaries, three of which are scheduled for this week. I will return to that in a moment, after a brief flashback to the last governorship election in the state.
It was in 2012, when three major political parties, among others, participated in the contest. The major parties were the then ruling Labour Party, the Peoples Democratic Party, and the Action Congress of Nigeria. The LP won the election, followed by the PDP. The ACN came third. The LP and the PDP have since merged. That’s why, this time around, there are only two major parties in the contest, namely, the PDP and the All Progressives Congress. Coming after the two major parties is the Social Democratic Party, whose candidate has already been named as the former Minister of Power and Steel and later Minister of State for Defense, Dr. Olu Agunloye.
There is a striking resemblance this time round in the way the leaders of the two major parties have managed the 29 or so aspirants between them, 7 for the PDP and 22 or so for the APC. The leader of each party has endorsed a particular candidate, although, in both cases, all the aspirants are still encouraged to participate in the scheduled primary contests. In the case of the PDP, Governor Olusegun Mimiko endorsed his immediate past Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Eyitayo Jegede, SAN, while the National Leader of the APC, Bola Tinubu, endorsed Segun Abraham, a businessman and politician.
True, other aspirants in both parties expressed dissatisfaction with the development, but the APC members were much more vociferous in their opposition, led by one of the aspirants, a lawyer and social activist, Dr. Tunji Abayomi, who blew the matter open by writing an open letter to Tinubu and talking to the media about it on several occasions. This is not altogether unexpected. The APC has many more aspirants who have staked their political fortunes and those of their close supporters in their chances of winning the primaries. Moreover, the endorsement by the APC leader came late in the day, whereas Mimiko’s endorsement of Jegede has been in the rumour mills within and outside the party for nearly a year.
The above notwithstanding, the reaction of the APC members, including the abortive removal of their party chairman, is surprising because many of the local party members, including aspirants and delegates, have been saying all over the place that they were waiting for “a signal from Asiwaju” as to which candidate to vote for in the primaries. This, in fact, explains why some of the aspirants have been touting endorsement by Asiwaju, especially after visiting Asiwaju and taking photographs with him. Why they would now cry wolf to the news of endorsement is hypocritical at best.
Nevertheless, it is true that Ondo people hate the idea of anyone imposing a candidate on them. It was partly responsible for the ACN’s loss in the 2012 governorship election and for the PDP’s loss in Ondo state during the 2015 general election, when party members felt that candidates for the Senate and House of Representatives were imposed on them.
In both political parties, not many of the aspirants believe that a level playing field still lies ahead, where each aspirant will have a chance to demonstrate his or her popularity and acceptability among the party delegates. It also would appear that only some of them are realistic enough to understand that party leaders always prefer certain candidates to others. To behave as if it is a sin for party leaders to indicate their preference is to be politically naive. They are however right to insist on open, fair, and credible primaries, where delegates are not arm-twisted for their votes.
There is no doubt that the fortune of the APC in the forthcoming election may well depend partly on how the outburst by many aspirants and party members over the issue of endorsement is managed before and following the primaries. What, for example, if the endorsed candidate wins the primary? What if another aspirant wins? And what if two or more aspirants tie for the lead? How will the party be able to maintain cohesion for the general election if it is fractionalized over the primary election? Are the party leaders aware that there really is no central structure as such across the state, save for the enclaves developed by particular aspirants?
It is not altogether smooth sailing for the PDP either, because the election may be a victim of the factionalization of the PDP at the centre and, to some extent, within the state. Yesterday (Monday, August 22, 2016), Jegede emerged as the party’s governorship candidate by defeating just one opponent by 760-22 votes, under the Port-Harcourt-based faction of the party, led by Ahmed Makarfi. Today (Tuesday, August 23, 2016), between two and five aspirants will hold their own primary under the Abuja-based faction, led by Ali Modu Sheriff. At the end of the day, the party’s candidate may well depend on a court ruling.
As things are, each party may be wishing continued internal conflict for the other party, hoping that may clear the path for victory. This scenario breeds a major implication: The election may come down to the popularity, acceptability, and political acumen of the party candidates as well as how they are sold to the electorate during the campaign.
Each of the two political parties has a major negative to contend with. On the one hand, the APC may have to contend with the negative effects of the economic recession, given its party’s control at the centre. Few are ready to listen to any explanation that may rightly put the blame on the 16-year plundering of the economy by past PDP administrations, especially by that of the immediate past President, Goodluck Jonathan. There is logic in blaming the slow pace of recovery on the President Muhammadu Buhari administration.
On the other hand, the PDP may have to contend with the nonpayment of salary arrears and the Governor’s perceived relatively poor performance, compared to his first term. While this may be blamed on the economic recession, there are those who would argue that the state’s status as an oil-producing state should have distinguished it from the club of nonoil-producing states owing over six months of salary arrears.
As a keen observer of political trends in the state as well as a major stakeholder, I am gladdened by one development–the absence so far of organized thuggery. True, there have been skirmishes here and there, one of which I experienced firsthand, nothing of the scale witnessed at this stage in previous elections. I hope it stays that way.