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Battle of Akeredolu’s deputies as Aiyedatiwa, Ajayi pick APC, PDP tickets

If the feelers in Ondo among political parties and observers are anything to go by, the state’s governorship election fixed for November 16 is set…

If the feelers in Ondo among political parties and observers are anything to go by, the state’s governorship election fixed for November 16 is set to be a two-horse race between the two major contenders, the incumbent governor, Lucky Aiyedatiwa of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Agboola Ajayi of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), both former deputies to the late Rotimi Akeredolu.

The road leading to the November 16 governorship election in Ondo became clearer as the two major political parties, the ruling APC and the opposition PDP, seeking to occupy the Alagbaka number one seat, elected their candidates ahead of the exercise.

The APC candidate, Governor Aiyedatiwa, emerged last week at a keenly contested shadow election in a battle with 15 other governorship contenders of the party who participated in the exercise that was supervised by Usman Ododo, the Kogi State governor and chairman of the seven-member committee set up by the national secretariat of the party to monitor the exercise.

The emergence of Aiyedatiwa came 24 hours after Ododo ordered a rerun of the shadow election in 13 wards of Okitipupa Local Government, which is the domain of one of the aspirants, Jimoh Ibrahim, following complaints that the exercise was not held in the local government due to the late arrival of materials and personnel as a result of logistics challenges.

Before Aiyedatiwa emerged as the candidate of the APC, the sudden death of his former boss, Akeredolu, who had full control of the structure of the party in the state without naming his preferred successor, caused division among the stalwarts and aspirants as the once united “Aketi” loyalists went in their different ways.

Aiyedatiwa faced fierce contestants, among whom were heavyweight and experienced politicians, in the primary exercise that was engulfed with controversies, complaints, protests and violence.

Some of the governorship aspirants, which included Olugbenga Edema, Olusola Oke, Wale Akinterinwa, Jimi Odimayo, Ifeoluwa Oyedele, Dayo Faduyile and Jimoh Ibrahim, had also called for the cancellation of the exercise and even the replacement of Ododo as the chairman of the election committee, alleging that the process was marred with irregularities and primary election of the party did not take place in the state.

Amid the hues and cries over the primary by the aggrieved aspirants, the state commissioner for health, Dr Banji Ajaka, who was alleged to have been supporting and rooting for the emergence of Aiyedatiwa, was beaten to a stupor by angry members of the APC at his Ugbo ward 3 in Ilaje Local Government Area, for allegedly hiding the result sheet.

However, Aiyedatiwa’s eventual emergence as the party’s standard bearer for the November 16 governorship election had earlier been predicted as he had worked seriously to get the ticket of the party, and if the body language of the National Working Committee of the party, led by Abdullahi Umar Ganduje, is anything to go by, the party has no plan of revisiting the primary election. Though the first reconciliation meeting held between Ganduje and the aspirants on Thursday ended in a deadlock, senior party officials said the only option was further consultations with the aggrieved aspirants.

Like a cat with nine lives, Aiyedatiwa has survived different political traps, including an impeachment ploy and the allegation that his certificate and academic records were fake, meant to stop him from contesting the primary. But political pundits believe that all these attacks only did the opposite of what they were meant to do. They increased public sympathy for him, a factor believed to have led to his emergence as the candidate of the APC.

Daily Trust on Sunday was reliably informed that the governor had the support of his colleagues from the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF) and the backing of the presidency through Ganduje to emerge as the candidate of the party.

Also, he was able to harness the power of incumbency from day one when he threw his hat into the ring after the burial of his late boss, announcing that he would participate in the exercise and win.

Aside these, political observers believe that Aiyedatiwa has enough resources to fund his aspiration to win the primary and woo the party structure and former aides of his boss for his interest, especially by giving them political appointments and forming his cabinet before the exercise.

Before the primary election, the Obe-Nla-born politician from the oil-producing community in Ilaje Local Government used his first 100 days in office to perform some ‘wonders’ by embarking on some reforms, road construction and continuation of his former boss’ projects to attract positive commendations from residents of the state, who are happy with his steps.

Many of his supporters have boasted that the incumbent governor will get the ticket of the party, which he did, but the albatross against his aspirations is the agitation by leaders from the south, demanding eight years of two-term for whoever emerges, but the governor can only spend four years if reelected in November, a yearning he may not be able to fulfill because the constitution has now limited him to just one full four-year term, having earlier taken an oath of office to complete Akeredolu’s term.

In the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Agboola Ajayi, who served as the late Akeredolu’s deputy between 2017 and 2021 before falling out with him, emerged as the candidate of the opposition party, setting up a grand battle with the man who replaced him as the number two citizen of the Sunshine State.

Ajayi had resigned his membership in the ruling party on June 21, 2020 and joined the PDP following the feud between him and the late Akeredolu.

Ajayi is not a newcomer in the race, having earlier contested the PDP primary but lost to Eyitayo Jegede, who eventually became the candidate of the party then. He headed to the Zenith Labour Party (ZLP) and joined former Governor Olusegun Mimiko but returned to the PDP.

Ajayi, who hails from Kiribo town in Ese Odo Local Government Area, is generally considered a heavyweight politician in the PDP and from the southern part of the state. He served as a member of the House of Representatives and represented the Ilaje/Ese Odo federal constituency under the PDP, serving as the chairman of the House Committee on the NDDC from 2007 to 2010, a position it was believed he used to warm his way into the hearts of the people of his area across different parties.

Analysts believe that part of the factors that worked for him to emerge as the candidate of the PDP is his political experience and being a grassroots politician who started politics with the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and understood the game.

Stakeholders believe that other aspirants of the PDP who lost in the exercise did not have the support garnered by Ajayi and the financial muscle pulled into the exercise to have their way among the delegates.

Both parties managing post-primary crises

Although the two leading political parties have concluded their primary elections, it is not yet uhuru, especially in the APC as the aggrieved aspirants are demanding a cancellation of the exercise over alleged irregularities; and no doubt, litigation might be looming.

The party seems to be taking the move to reconcile the aspirants by urging them to submit a petition to the five-member Primary Election Appeal Committee headed by a former Bauchi State governor, Mohammed Abubakar.

No fewer than five petitions have been submitted to the Abubakar-led committee by the aggrieved aspirants who participated in the exercise.

Also, the leadership of the APC has been making frantic moves to dialogue with the aspirants individually and collectively to have a common ground at the main governorship election.

The embattled APC national chairman, Abdullahi Ganduje, who met with them last week in a closed-door meeting, had appealed to the aggrieved aspirants to put the events and circumstances of the exercise behind them and work for the victory of the party.

In the PDP, the opposition party has said there is no winner or loser in the just-concluded primary.

The party, after congratulating its candidate, Ajayi, on his emergence and other aspirants that took part in the exercise, said the contest was a “family affair.”

Kennedy Ikantu Peretei, the state publicity secretary of the PDP, noted in a statement that the shadow election demonstrated to the world that the opposition party was serious about taking back power from the ruling APC.

Daily Trust on Sunday gathered that the remaining aspirants have accepted the conduct of the PDP primary.

A political analyst, Ayodele Ologunmeta, who spoke to our correspondent, said the forthcoming election would be determined by the two candidates of the APC and the PDP.

Ologunmeta explained, “The game has just started as both of them have to put their houses in order ahead of the November election. During this period, the alignment of politicians would be tightened, and we will start seeing defections from one side to another, considering the weight of the two candidates for the exercise.

“More importantly, Agboola Ajayi, who is the candidate of the PDP, is not a newcomer to the game. He had been desperate to get to that seat before he parted ways with his former boss, Akeredolu.

“So, I am seeing the governorship election between the candidates of the APC and the PDP. And when you mention other political parties, which of them has a strong candidate? Unlike in the previous race when we had a third force, this time, it is going to be a two-horse race and a tight one because the two of them are from the southern part of the state jostling to retain the seat and desperate to clinch power. Both are also popular in the region by providence.”

Observers believe that it would be interesting to see how the game would unfold as the two former deputies to Akeredolu move towards the main election by November, with the hope of proving a worthy successor to the late governor.

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