Ahead of the Ondo All Progressives Congress (APC) governorship primary fixed for July, the warring groups in the chapter are perfecting strategies for the party’s ticket. Aggrieved members under the aegis of the Unity Forum have resolved to pick a consensus candidate that will slug it out with Governor Rotimi Akeredolu.
The governor has boasted that he will win both the primary and the October 10 governorship poll without the support of the opposing group. Assistant Editor LEKE SALAUDEEN examines what led to the split and its likely effects on the ruling party at the poll.
THE internal crisis rocking the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Ondo State is posing a threat to the electoral victory of the ruling party in the governorship election scheduled for October 10. Despite efforts put in place by Governor Rotimi Akeredolu to secure the party’s ticket for the second term, aggrieved members are working to thwart his second term ambition.
Analysts have warned that unless the national leadership of APC moved in and resolve the crisis amicably before the governorship primary fixed for July, there may be an implosion and that APC may lose the state to the opposition. The party is walking on a tight rope. The governor is on his own while other party chieftains have sworn to work against him if he is fielded as the party candidate.
The current crisis is a carryover from the dispute over the September 3, 2016 governorship primary through which Akeredolu emerged as the candidate. Frontline aspirants like Dr Segun Abraham, Chief Olusola Oke and Senator Ajayi Borroffice faulted the declaration of Akeredolu as the winner by the election committee headed by Jigawa State Governor Badaru Abubakar. The first runner-up, Dr Abraham challenged the results of the primary in the court.
Interestingly, four years after, the three aggrieved aspirants are back in the trench, plotting to stop Akeredolu’s second term bid. The trio has declared their interest to contest for the party’s governorship interest. They are leaders of Unity Forum, a platform of aggrieved Ondo APC members that are working against Akeredolu’s re-election. Akeredolu, Abraham and Boroffice hail from North senatorial district while Oke comes from South senatorial district.
Other notable aspirants who are also out to thwart Akeredolu’s second term bid include the immediate past chairman of the party in the state, Mr Isaac Kekemeke from the South Senatorial District. He and Akeredolu fell apart during the build-up and after the 2016 governorship primary.
Akeredolu accused him of backing one of the aspirants. They also include Jimi Odimayo, an Irele-born oil magnate, who was one of the major sponsor of Akeredolu and the Executive Director of Niger Delta Power Holding, Mr Ife Oyedele, a strong member of the defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) and a confidant of President Muhammadu Buhari.
Curiously, there was no aspirant from Ondo Central Senatorial District. Besides the aspirants that have declared their interest to contest for the APC governorship ticket, many of Akeredolu’s political associates like Banji Ayiloge, his campaign director in 2012; former Speaker and Commissioner, Abdulsalam Taofik; and another commissioner, Sola Amodeni who left Akeredolu’s cabinet have joined forces to dislodge him from power.
Members of the Unity Forum insists that APC would lose if Akeredolu is fielded as governorship candidate. The leader of the Forum, Alhaji Ali Olanusi said the hydra-headed problems in the party started shortly after the emergence of Akeredolu as the elected governor of the state.
Olanusi, a former Deputy Governor of Ondo State and a member of the APC Board of Trustees (BoT) alleged: “Akeredolu pushed aside those who did not belong to his ‘Aketi Team’ and hijacked the party structure by positioning members of his team as executive committee members from the state to the ward levels.
He practically left leaders and members who laboured tirelessly for the victory of the party in the cold. He runs the government of the state for the benefits of himself, his wife and his children, while others are left to struggle for crumbs. It is a style of government that is alien to us in Ondo State”.
He said: “the anti-party activities of the governor and his team during the last National Assembly and presidential elections further deepened the problems. We all know the outcome as we lost many National Assembly seats and unbelievably President Muhammadu Buhari also lost here in Ondo State. It’s a disgrace. All these and many other factors are the build-up to the present ordeal.
“The Unity Forum is the soul of APC in Ondo State. But for the group, the party would have been totally destroyed. Could you believe, no ward meetings held in our state? All we have is Aketi for second term meetings. The Unity Forum consists of aggrieved members and leaders of the party who constitute about 80 per cent of the party faithful. Many of our party members have expressed their interest in running for the office of the Governor.”
Assuring his neutrality, Olanusi said “all aspirants have my blessings, they are members of the group. I have no preferred among them, they will all go through the process and the best will emerge but I can assure you that there will be no loser among them because the next government in Ondo State will be a government of the people.
“The true owners of the party who are the members will have their party back. We are looking forward to an all-inclusive government with room enough for all. We cannot have two governors but all of us can be involved in governance. That is true party politics. When the time comes, people will decide.”
On the efforts by the national leaders of APC to reconcile the feuding groups, Olanusi said “we need to thank Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, Chief Bisi Akande and Aremo Olusegun Osoba who took the initiative in July 2019 and attempted to broker peace and reconcile the factions.
“The meeting recommended the dissolution of the executive committee and constitution of a caretaker committee. But, unfortunately, none of the recommendations at the meeting has been attended to by the governor. He failed to call meetings for committees to be constituted to carry out assignments and steps that may bring lasting solutions.”
But Akeredolu had boasted that he is the only person who could win the election for APC in Ondo State given his pedigree, achievements, and general acceptability by the majority of the people of the state. He said that the people would always stand with him because they freely looked out, persuaded and picked him to become the governor of the state without paying them any money as other aspirants did but were rejected by the electorate.
His words: “I didn’t ask to become governor of Ondo State; the people sought me out to be their leader. As far as I am concerned power belongs to God and not to any man or leader. It is God who gives power and not any human being. That was why I ran and won the primary of the last governorship election in Ondo State without paying people money as other contestants did.
“I can tell you there is no threat or panic whatsoever to my second term election. What I do know for sure is that if APC goes ahead to pick another person as their governorship candidate for Ondo State the party would lose.
“But with me on the ballot, we will win a landslide for APC in Ondo State. That is certain because God’s hands are with me and I cannot fail in my second term bid. My trust is in God and not in any man with clay feet.”
On what he described as Olanusi’s unwarranted attacks, the governor said he would not join issues with the leader of Unity Forum. Akeredolu said: “We are unwavering in our resolve not to burn the bridge of friendship, unity and cohesion in our great party, the All Progressives Congress (APC). Let all men of good conscience ignore these attacks that are most likely to cease as we move ahead.”
The governor noted that Olanusi had struggled to sustain and root a narrative that has incurably, continually defied acceptance and logic. “As these tantrums against me suffice, several persons have conscionably expressed feelings which understandably, seek to encourage a confrontational and possibly put Olanusi in his ‘rightful place’. We have weighed all these, such are plausible, permissible options in the game of politics, he stated.
He said the art of governance goes beyond providing good governance, it includes tolerating every view whether such is irritating or exposing some form of imposed challenges on the part of anyone who expresses the same. Perhaps, it is pertinent to state that failed desires, defeated expectations and jaundiced hope have an effective and potently irreversible way of colouring an individual’s perception of any system.”
Political observers noted that before now, the Unity Forum looked formidable but appeared to have shot itself in the leg when its leaders picked on well respected APC leader and former Osun State Governor, Chief Bisi Akande. At one of their meetings, the group passed a vote of no confidence on Akande’s headship of the party’s national reconciliation.
The group in a communiqué signed by Olanusi explained the rationale of the no-confidence vote thus: “This is because the said Chief Bisi Akande is on the payroll of Ondo State Governor and he was part of the reconciliation committee that met with the party leadership in Ondo State in July 2019.
The attack on Akande had created a rift among the Unity Forum leaders while the group is in disarray. In fact, some members of the group with governorship ambitions have dissociated themselves from the attack on Akande. In particular, a frontline aspirant Dr Abraham was furious over the attack on Akande.
He said “the vote of no confidence passed on Akande was unacceptable, frivolous and unpatriotic. The allegation levelled against him is unfounded, frivolous and lack any credibility. This was not discussed at the Unity Forum meeting which I attended.
“What was discussed at the meeting was illegitimate corrupt State Advisory Council put together by Akeredolu in which Chief Pius Akinyelure was railroaded into this deceptive contraption without asking for the two resolutions on the dissolution of APC executives in the state and all-inclusive government.
“I can never question or doubt Chief Akande’s capacity or competence as the Chairman APC National Reconciliation Committee because he is one of the few leaders who have all that is required to assist the party to resolve the crisis at both national and state levels. I will never sit down and allow anyone to abuse Akandeinstead I will leave politics and maintain my conscience and integrity.”
Abraham’s position drew support from APC concerned elders across the three senatorial districts of the state. They lambasted Olanusi for castigating “our respected elder and leader. We hereby express our unflinching confidence in the leadership of Chief Bisi Akande and the National Reconciliation Committee jointly set up by the Presidency and our national party leadership”.
But the Unity Forum is not deterred by the development, it boasted that it would present the APC standard-bearer in the forthcoming governorship poll. One of the leaders of the group, Senator Boroffice said: “We in Unity Group of APC in Ondo State will pick a consensus candidate that will face Akeredolu in the party’s primary in July.”
Akeredolu fired back saying that he is not threatened by any gang-up the group adding that the leaders of the Unity group are irrelevant to his re-election bid. Akeredolu said he would not need them for his re-election campaign as they have drawn the battle line against him and his government.
However, Kekemeke has cautioned the governor against making inciting statements out of provocation in the interest of the party’s unity. The former party chairman said he had seen some video clips flying around and “I just want to believe that the governor did not make the statement and if he did, I want to assume that it was a slip and if it was a slip, I want to think that the governor should have never allowed himself to be provoked to say those things he said as a governor.”
Kekemeke also warned: “Those who are provoking him should stop doing that, but he too should stop allowing himself to be provoked; so that we can have a big party. That is what I did when I became the chairman of the party, pulled this party together and that is where I stand. I can no longer be called into supporting a group that is fighting the governor. I also cannot be a pro-governor person, his mouthpiece, I cannot.”
Against the backdrop of what happened in Adamawa and Bauchi states, concerned chieftains of the APC in Ondo state have predicted that the internal crisis rocking the party could not only make it extremely impossible for Governor Akeredolu to get re-elected, but also capable of rocking the boat. The PDP is hoping to make huge political profit from APC crisis. Thus, the opposition party has been strategically positioning its forces to wrest power from the APC.