In the next two weeks, political parties in Ondo State would be conducting their primary elections, with a view to nominating flag-bearers for the forthcoming governorship poll, which has been scheduled for the end of the year.
Two parties, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) are basically the ones in contention for the ultimate political prize in the state.
The APC is the ruling party in the state while the PDP is the leading opposition seeking to displace it.
The PDP is strongly rooted in the state and is set to give the ruling APC a run for its money. As at today, the PDP is in control of two of the three senatorial seats of the state.
Specifically, the party controls the southern and central senatorial districts, leaving the APC with only Ondo North.
And the loss of the two seats to the PDP occurred under the watch of Governor Rotimi Akeredolu, who was elected four years ago on the platform of the APC.
As the governorship election draws closer, the PDP is very poised to take over the reins of governance in the state.
Recently, the party received a major political boost with the defection of the incumbent Deputy Governor Agboola Ajayi, alongside his supporters.
Other top shots in the Akeredolu government, including the Secretary to the State Government (SSG) and some commissioners, have similarly resigned from his cabinet, thereby portraying the APC administration in the state in a very bad light.
It is indeed a very grim situation for the ruling APC in Ondo State.
The alleged overbearing attitude of the governor and the unilateral manner he is running the affairs of the government is said to have alienated him from key political stakeholders in the party in the state.
It is instructive to note that all the major gubernatorial aspirants in the APC have come together on the platform of a political coalition known as the Unity Forum to oppose the return of Akeredolu to power.
The Forum has resolved to pick one of its members as a consensus candidate to challenge Akeredolu at the primary election. Political analysts believe that this is the only way the APC can survive defeat in the hands of the opposition.
The membership of the Unity Forum comprises of such formidable political figures as Chief Olusola Oke, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN); Dr. Olusegun Abrahams; Amb Sola Iji; Alhaji Olarenwaju Kazeem; Ife Oyedele; Jimmy Odimayo and Alhaji Ali Olanusi, a former deputy governor of the state.
The Forum also has Chief Isaac Kekemeke, the pioneer chairman of the APC in the state, who is also seeking to challenge Akeredolu at the primary election.
It is widely believed that Akeredolu would hardly win in a free and fair primary election because of a combination of factors, which include alleged poor performance, alienation of key party stakeholders, and unilateral management of the affairs of the state.
He is also said not to be in good standing with the national leader of the party, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, on account of political differences.
Expectedly, these factors would work against Akeredolu’s emergence.
As noted earlier, many political actors in the party are no longer comfortable with the leadership of Akeredolu, which is widely believed to be primarily responsible for the poor fortunes of the party in Ondo State.
According to Isaac Kekemeke, one of the governorship aspirants, “Akeredolu has tried his best for the state.
He has laboured and sweated.
He has stretched himself to the limit. We can`t ask him to perform beyond his best.”
He concluded that Akeredolu`s best was not good enough for the state.
“We must let the people know that our party can do things right.
“We must turn our image around.
“We can redefine leadership and offer a new deal.
“We can perform better.
“We can make a difference.
“We can unite our party again,” he added.
There is no doubt that the APC in Ondo State is at a critical crossroads.
The way and manner the primary election is handled can make or mar its chances in the coming governorship election.
All the aspirants must be given a level playing ground so that only the true choice of party members would emerge as the gubernatorial flag-bearer.
The mode of the election to be adopted by the National Caretaker Committee should be acceptable to all the aspirants.
At the moment, all the aspirants favour the adoption of direct method, which would give every member of the party in the state equal opportunities to participate in the nomination of its candidate.
Political analysts believe that this is the best way to go as it may be difficult for the process to be hijacked by agents of the state.
The indirect method is fraught with malpractices as the delegates in the Electoral College can easily be purchased by the governor, who controls the treasury of the state.
In order to ensure a level playing field for all, the National Caretaker Committee must ensure that the direct method is adopted in choosing the flag-bearer.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), which is a supervisory body, must ensure that the APC complies with best practices in the conduct of the primary election.
The media must also be given an unfettered opportunity to monitor the process.
If all these measures are put in place, the APC will come out stronger; and whoever emerges would be sure-footed to grab the ultimate political prize.
Adigun, a public affairs analyst, wrote from Akure. He can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org