Unusally, the Ondo State governorship election is repeating a precedence in the annal of Nigeria politics as the Deputy Governor, Agboola Ajayi, has burnt the boat to challenge his boss, Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu at the poll.
To all students of history, the 1983 saga would not be forgotten in a jiffy when the then Deputy Governor of the state, Chief Akin Omoboriowo, chose to contest against the second term ambition of late Chief Michael Ajasin.
However, the circumstances are somewhat different, as Ajayi does not enjoy the support of the Federal Government to defeat Akeredolu like Omoboriowo enjoyed National Party of Nigeria against Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN).
Nonetheless, the present Deputy Governor seems to have some advantages to himself and make the coast not impossible for his ambition, if underrated, may spring another surprise like it happened in 2007 governorship election in the state.
Though the three senatorial districts of Ondo State are ably represented in the forthcoming October 10, 2020 governorship election in the state, the current political trend and events give room for suspense and surprises.
The three major political parties, out of 17 screened for the election by INEC, have their candidates from each of the districts, making great efforts to garner support and votes from other zones to coast to victory.
In the North Senatorial District, the incumbent governor, Akeredolu, is seeking reelection under the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), while Eyitayo Jegede, who hails from the Central District, is making a second attempt under the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
The emergence of the incumbent Deputy Governor, Ajayi, who hails from the South District, as the candidate of the Zenith Labour Party (ZLP) has changed the political narrative ahead of the poll.
Many people had thought it would be a political battle between the ruling APC and the major opposition party, PDP, but ZLP showed up powerfully as a potent third force which has become a sort of threat to both parties.
Since Ajayi emerged as the ZLP flagbearer for the poll, there has been spates of political alignment and realignment from the other parties as many staunch supporters of PDP and APC, especially from the South, are swelling the third force camp.
Recently, some political appointees in Governor Akeredolu’s cabinet dumped APC to support the ZLP governorship candidate and quest of the South District to produce the next governor.
The ZLP candidate, who is still part of the APC-led government as Deputy Governor, is leveraging on the weaknesses inherent in both PDP and APC to forge a way for his governorship ambition; and to garner sympathy.
Based on political rotation, the ZLP members argue that the north district had ruled the state for 12 years during the time of late Chief Michael Ajasin, late Chief Adebayo Adefarati and the incumbent governor, who is presently ruling as governor.
From the Central District, the immediate past governor, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko, spent two terms in office as governor, while the South District only spent four years as governor, thereby kicking against perceived marginalization.
Many political readers attributed the failure of PDP in the 2016 governorship to the choice of successor made by the former PDP governor, Mimiko, who picked Jegede as the candidate of the party despite all odds.
Indeed, Jegede’s comeback for the 2020 election has further whittled down the chances of PDP as the people of the South District, which has been the stronghold of the party since 1999, believe that power should rotate to the South.
Initially, the southerners, mainly PDP, had decided that they would work against the party by voting for Governor Akeredolu and APC to finish his second term in office; waiting patiently for another four years when power will naturally rotate to the district.
But the emergence of Ajayi as ZLP governorship candidate and the purveyor of third force in the election, has changed the narrative as the people resolve to support their own son.
This decision may not be unconnected to the persistent outcry of abandonment and neglect by the present and past successive governments regardless of the fact that the district is the bird that lays the golden eggs for the state.
Most of the economic potentials of the state are situated in the South District, where there are oil wells that qualify the state as part of Niger Delta but negligible development. For the past 10 years, over 5000 communities are shut out of the National grid.
The people of the South take the grudge against Jegede too because he was part of the immediate past government, as former Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, which was adjudged to have mostly abandoned the district in all facet.
Another strong point for Ajayi is the support of the ZLP National Leader, Mimiko, in the project. It was gathered that the immediate past governor throws all his weight behind the Deputy Governor.
To many political analysts, the combination of the duo: Mimiko and Ajayi, can wreck a lot of havoc for both PDP and APC as they are renowned for their grassroots prowess and mobilization as politicians.
They described them as ‘very daring’ politicians based on Mimiko’s antecedents and exploits in the state with Labour Party (LP) in 2007. He resigned his appointment and joined the race to dislodge a ruling party less than four months to election.
Though Iroko, as fondly called by his supporters, didn’t reclaim his mandate until over 30 months litigation when he ousted his predecessor, late Dr. Olusegun Agagu despite all powers of incumbency at the state and federal levels.
Reliable sources disclosed that Mimiko, in his usual suasive style politically, has started meeting leaders, groups, artisans; and reconciling his adversaries to key into the ZLP project to win the next election.
Even his arch political enemy and former Commissioner for Special Duties, Niran Sule, Sola Amodeni, Abdulsalam Taofiq, the first female Speaker, Jumoke Akindele and Dare Emiola, who parted ways with him recently, just to mention few, had returned to work for the ZLP project, mobilizing people in their various zones.
The choice of a running mate for the ZLP candidate, Gboye Adegbenro, who is Mimiko’s political protegee and former Commissioner for Works, has further dissipated PDP’s chances in the Central District.
Adegbenro hails from Ifedore council, which shares same Federal Constituency with Idanre council. His influence and popularity in the area punctures the district against Jegede and PDP, coupled with the overbearing influence Mimiko still weilds in Ondo West and Ondo East councils.
Among the opposition parties, the candidature of Ajayi and Adegbenro towers above others as the PDP running mate, Ikengboju Gboluga, a Federal lawmaker representing Irele/Okitipupa Federal Constituency, is struggling for acceptance in the South District.
Ajayi began as supervisory councillor in 1998, caretaker chairman, substantive chairman in 2004, House of Representatives member representing Ilaje/Ese-Odo Federal Constituency in 2007 and elected Deputy Governor in 2017.
While Adegbenro, a civil engineer, is still the youngest and long serving commissioner for works in the state, he shares the same age bracket (50s) with the deputy governor.
At his campaign flag off rally the two weeks ago, Ajayi decried what he tagged insensitivity of the APC to the plight of the people and pledged to fix the lingering power outage in the South Senatorial District within 100 days in office.
He also promised to turn around the fortune of civil servants in the state if voted into power on October 10, 2020.
“We will make Ondo civil service work because we have brilliant sons and daughters. We are going to design Civil Service Revolving Financial Scheme, which would provide the opportunity for workers in the state to access loans to build houses,” Ajayi said.
Speaking on the controversial N4.3b state fund discovered in a secret account, he revealed the governor’s son was part of the means to siphon the money. He alleged that he collected N433m as consultancy fee without rendering any service to the state.
The Deputy Governor assured the people of the state that his administration would cancel the consultancy system which he described as a conduit pipe used to defraud the state.
Mimiko, who confirmed that the election would be heavily monetized, implored the people to collect the money offered by people who are planning to buy the votes and still go ahead to vote for ZLP.
But Governor Akeredolu, piqued by the volleys of support for his reelection, dismiss the moves to oust him as struggle for political attention, describing ZLP as a car without engine.
According to him, the conspiracy to stop him in ZLP is at the behest of spent forces. He likened all the politicians regrouping against his second term as people who have been relegated to the backdoor.
Surprisingly, the 2020 pitched him against Mimiko, his mutual friend of over 40 years. He taunted his relationship with ZLP, saying it is like a car without engine meant for people who are ready to end their political careers.
The APC candidate pulled the sentiment of the people against his predecessor by faulting him on payment of salaries, infrastructural development and listless abandoned projects of late Dr Agagu, mainly in the South District.
He added that the owners of the party are undertakers who are only interested in carrying dead bodies, saying: “Aruku aruku, aruku gbe oja ofo lo ba aruku loja.” (An undertaker carrying an empty load to an undertaker in the market).