The forth-coming governorship elections in Ondo State, South west Nigeria represents arguably the toughest and keenly contested gubernatorial contest in Nigeria’s forth republic. The forth republic which started in 1999 produced Alliance for Democracy (AD) Governors in the six south-western states, Ondo inclusive. The progressive bent of the party and affinity to the late Awolowo’s Action Group (AG) struck a chord with the people. The party however started unravelling prior to the 2003 general elections largely due to destabilisation by the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) – the party holding power at the centre and the nuclear fallout of AD’s Presidential primaries. The then President Obasanjo capitalised on the support of the AD which endorsed him as its candidate, to penetrate the region and dislodge its Governors. The crafty Obasanjo literally moved the machinery of the State to capture the Western region to the consternation of the AD governors. But there was a survivor, Bola Ahmed Tinubu of Lagos – a quintessential leader and political strategist of no mean repute, resisted the rampaging Federal forces and became the only surviving AD Governor. Tinubu led the mobilisation and re-organisation of the AD which culminated in its name changing to Action Congress (AC) and later Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) – as a result of alliances preceding the 2007 elections.
The 2007 elections in the South-west was blatantly rigged while only Lagos under Asiwaju Tinubu’s watch failed to succumb to lethal rigging tactics deployed by the PDP under the direct supervision of Obasanjo, who had then relocated to Lagos, few days to the elections. The task of recovering the stolen electoral mandates in the five Yoruba States was championed by Tinubu who co-ordinated the heroic retrieval with uncanny gusto and determination. One by one, the ACN bounced back to reckoning and by 2011, it was in control of five out of the 6 western states excluding Ondo State. Governor Olusegun Mimiko of the Labour Party (LP), himself a beneficiary of Asiwaju’s assistance in the titanic exertions in stolen mandates retrieval, held forte and is still incumbent Governor at least till October 20. Mimiko’s inauguration was witnessed by ACN stalwarts across Nigeria including its Governors. You could almost place a bet that ACN would be the eventual habitat of the new Governor seeing the kind of rapport and goodwill exchanged by both parties. That was not to be, as Mimiko stuck to his Labour Party and allegedly repudiated an unwritten agreement to defect to ACN after a favourable court verdict, preferring instead to be the lord of the manor in the sub-ethnic, one State, LP.
Though the impending gubernatorial elections in Ondo State has been described as a three-horse race between the ACN,LP and PDP by political pundits, close watchers of events have however tagged it as a straight fight between the Asiwaju- led ACN and Mimiko. The ACN candidate, Rotimi Akeredolu (SAN) is being branded by LP as a protégé of Tinubu imposed on the people of Ondo State to siphon their common patrimony to his god-father – a veritable campaign tool of Mimiko. The PDP candidate, Olusola Oke (SAN), brilliant, articulate and full of energy is however running on the platform of a flawed party noted for its penchant for poor performance. Given the political savvy and radical integrity of the Ondo people, it is doubtful if
they’ll give their mandate to a party that has caused them misery in the past and one, running a lacklustre Government at the centre. Akeredolu though a former Commissioner of Justice in Ondo State, is seen as a green-horn in the politics of the State. His brilliant resume as a former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) notwithstanding, his alleged imposition has cast a slur on his candidacy, which may not have a significant effect on his chances at the polls due to some other factors. Incumbent Governor Mimiko is running with a divided house. Few weeks to the the election he lost four key aides to the opposition ACN, a serving Senator, Ajayi Boroffice has since decamped and is working for the ACN candidate and so many prominent politicians that were key to his victory in the first place. He has lost so much aides and allies to the opposition than any Governor in the run-up to an election in this dispensation. The leadership style of Mimiko has been an albatross for him and may cost him the strategic support he needs to clinch victory. He seems to be going to the polls in a few days as a general with diminished troops. How his much touted grassroots support will see him through, remains to be seen.
The performance of the ACN governors which has been widely acclaimed as satisfactory will win some sympathy for Akeredolu. Massive campaign rallies have drummed it into the ears of the Ondo people that they can’t be left out of the exemplary service delivery, ACN states are noted for. Another thing that may work for ACN is the bandwagon effect. The Yoruba people have always favoured political integration with dominant progressive party right from the time of the Action Group. The extent to which this factor will help depends on the magnanimity of the people to pardon the selection process of the ACN. The caucus selection process of the ACN candidate instead of the proper primaries is thought to be imposition and is detested not by a few citizens. The Ondo people highly regarded as independent and cerebral, see it as largely insultive for an outsider to dictate to them and if this perception sticks with the majority, then the polls will be for Akeredolu to lose. The performance of Mimiko has however been called to question. Even though the State capital is said to wear a new look with sporadic cosmetic projects here and there, the level of performance across the State is allegedly not commensurate with the over 650 billion naira that has accrued to the State coffers in 3 ½ years. Cases of abandoned road projects cited include dualisation projects of Ondo, Arakale and the five- kilometre stretch in Owo town among others. The Owena dam project is still in comatose and the promised water project in Akure remains a pipe dream. The stadium project started by the previous administration has also been halted, such that the State’s sports contingent has to travel to Ijebu- Ode Stadium, Ogun State, for their training. A whooping N6.8 billion was released by the Mimiko administration in the past six months for an Independent Power Project to service the Omotosho Industrial Park in Ore but nothing is on ground at the moment to justify such huge expenditure. Residents claim there has been no activity in the area for the past one year.
Mimiko has however boasted that his achievements will return him to Alagbaka Govt house. His Ultra-modern millennium schools, market complexes, beautification projects are some of the projects cited. He has also provided free shuttle buses for primary and secondary school pupils in some parts of the State. The lopsided nature of his projects is another factor that may work against him. The rural and other parts of the state apart from the State capital have not felt the impact of government.
Critics have also argued that slamming ad hoc and haphazard developmental projects on a State without articulating same to a grander vision of regionalism and deep integrative base which reflects the dominant mood of the people shows the lack of strategic thinking and co-ordinated master plan. Whether people from the nook and cranny of the State are satisfied with this remains to be seen in a few hours.
Regional Integration has emerged has a major campaign plank of the ACN. It has argued that it needs the vote of the Ondo people for total integration of the Yoruba race to replicate the outstanding economic emancipation and unparalleled development of the old Western region under the Action Group (AG). History has shown that infiltration and external destabilization has impinged on the progressive train in the past and total political integration is a pre-requisite for regional transformation. Mimiko’s gravitational odyssey through all the parties irrespective of ideology constitutes a setback for progressive consciousness. The ACN believes he cannot be trusted and might be an agent of destabilization sponsored to infiltrate the dominant progressive tendency of the Yoruba race and open the leeway for reactionary forces to gain a foothold again, subtly, through the back door. Mimiko’s serial betrayal of his mentors from Adefarati to Agagu to Obasanjo to Tinubu has shown a man whose inordinate ambition sways his loyalty, the end justifies the means is what defines his principles. A man of this character cannot be trusted to protect the interests and dominant aspirations of his people and not trade it on the altar of ambition!
As it is, Mimiko is propelled along by a folksy populism without any deep intellectual content or serious integrative and theoretical base. His party, the so-called Labour party, is a vexatious and pernicious nuisance emptied of all radical contents and without any links to the real labour, an apron string of the Governor and a mere opportunistic decoy of the ruling party at the centre. Even though the odds seem to favour him as latest exit polls a few hours to the elections shows he might be coasting home to victory, his triumph at the polls will be due largely to the opposition ACN’s mismanagement of its gubernatorial selection process, which failed to read the mood of a people stoutly independent and ferociously anti- imposition. That the caucus selection process which produced Fashola worked in Lagos and other states doesn’t mean it will fly in Ondo considering the peculiar dynamics of the State, governed by an incumbent standing for election and riding on the crest of massive grassroots support bolstered by effective propaganda. The story might have been different if ACN had allowed the people to freely choose their flag-bearer; it would have sure given it an edge considering its streak of performance in other States. The PDP on the other hand though quite strong in the State and is expected to post a good showing at the polls is a shadow of its old self and is presenting a flawed platform which has a pedigree of non-performance, it will most unlikely get the consent of the majority to clinch the governorship.
24 hours they say is a long time in Politics. Within the next 48 hours, crucial alliances and upsets can still happen that will swing victory either way. Political pundits have been proved wrong times without number, we wait with bated breath to see if Ondo will be an exception. Whether the “Jagaban”, Asiwaju Tinubu will be humbled by the “Iroko” as Mimiko is popularly called remains to be seen in a few hours time. Will “hurricane” ACN which swept through
Osun, Ogun, Ekiti, Edo ,Oyo, Lagos States be potent enough to uproot the “Iroko or will the PDP snatch victory”?? Only time will tell. The die is cast. Either way the polls go, the wish of the people must prevail. Any attempt to rig the elections must be forestalled. The sanctity of the ballot must be respected, that way the people of Ondo State would have taken their destiny in their hands, and assume responsibility for their choice for the next four years.
Written by Segun Tomori