Politics

April 14, 2024

Ondo 2024: D-day nears as APC aspirants relocate to Abuja for Tinubu’s endorsement 

Aiyedatiwa

Governor Aiyedatiwa

•Oke, Akinfolarin, Akinterinwa, Kekemeke, 14 others dare Aiyedatiwa’s incumbency power

By Dayo Johnson

Barely a week to the All Progressives Congress, APC, governorship primary election in Ondo State, 15 aspirants have rolled up their sleeves to unseat incumbent Governor Lucky Aiyedatiwa, who is also an aspirant in the contest.

With the party’s National Secretariat scheduling the primary for Saturday, the aspirants have warned Aiyedatiwa that even with the power of incumbency, he could fall flat in the contest. 

Considering that the state’s political heavyweights have vowed not to step down for one another, observers are primed to witness a fierce election. And to make it more exciting, 15 of those jostling to be the APC’s flag bearer in the forthcoming governorship poll are from Ondo’s Southern senatorial district, although one of the two female contenders hails from the Northern senatorial district area.

Those who purchased the N50 million governorship tickets and are battle ready for the April 20 contest after undergoing APC compulsory screening include Governor Lucky Aiyedatiwa, Chief Olusola Oke, Mayowa Akinfolarin, Isaac Kekemeke, Wale Akinterinwa, Olugbenga Edema, Jimoh lbrahim, Jimi Odimayo, Diran Iyantan, Soji Ehinlanwo, Morayo Lebi, Dr Olamide Ohunyeye and Engr Ifeoluwa Oyedele. Rather than pay for the nomination form, the two female aspirants — Mrs Funmi Waheed-Adekojo and Engr Funke Judith — were requested to pay N10 million each for expressing their interests, hence the APC raked in over N800 million from the sales of nomination forms.

Sunday Vanguard gathered that all the aspirants have relocated to Abuja to lobby close associates, family members of President Bola Tinubu for endorsement. The aspirants, worried by the silence of Tinubu on his choice aspirant, are keen to see him anoint one person to fly the party’s flag in the November governorship election.

Following the sudden death of former Governor Rotimi Akeredolu, there is a general belief in the state that Tinubu has vested interest in who becomes the party’s candidate. While some of the aspirants now shuttle between Akure and Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, others, in an attempt to woo party members ahead of the indirect mode of primary adopted by the party’s National Secretariat, prefer to tour the state. Those who have traversed the 18 council areas of the state seeking votes include Mayowa Akinfolarin, Olusola Oke, Jimoh lbrahim and Wale Akinterinwa. In the same spirit, Lucky Aiyedatiwa, last Friday, started his campaign in lfedore council area after his screening in Abuja. 

It is believed by observers that Aiyedatiwa waited this long to get the Villa’s approval on his candidacy before commencing his campaign. What remains unclear is if the governor was able to see the president to discuss his ambition after his private visit to Pa Reuben Fasoranti, the national leader of the Pan Yoruba Socio-Political Group, Afenifere, in Akure last month. Meanwhile, Vanguard gathered that the president, who didn’t want to be viewed as taking sides, declined to see any of the aspirants. 

Coast not clear for any aspirant, national leaders told to steer clear

While all the aspirants have been screened by the party’s screening committee at the National Secretariat and the results of the screening would be made public this week, none of them, including Aiyedatiwa, is sure of winning next Saturday’s primary election. Sunday Vanguard gathered that they are all studying the body language of the president and waiting for what is termed “presidential directives.” 

Reports have it that the National Chairman of APC, Umar Ganduje, has been warned by President Tinubu not to “poke” nose into the Ondo governorship election matter; rather, he should allow events unfold. With seven days left, the entire APC family in Ondo is at a state of confusion as they await directives from the president.

Defection looms

However, if the political firmament remains cloudy by Friday, one or two of the aspirants may eventually defect to other parties to realise their lifelong ambitions. Will any of the aspirants step down for Aiyedatiwa, Jimoh or Oke? Reports have it that those with a deep pocket bought nomination forms for one or two of the aspirants with an understanding to step down in the twilight of the primary election.

Sunday Vanguard learnt that some of the aspirants may gang up against Aiyedatiwa if he becomes Tinubu’s choice. According to reports, they are ready to step down and give their backing to their preferred person.

Will Aiyedatiwa jump out? 

Unconfirmed reports in the camp of Aiyedatiwa, however, said that “whatever the case, our principal will be on the ballot come November governorship election”. How the statement would come to fruition if Aiyedatiwa fails to secure the party’s ticket on Saturday remains unknown.

Chances of aspirants

Lucky Aiyedatiwa: Reports have it that if the governor wins the primary election, he would not leave any stone unturned in his bid to fly the party’s flag in the November poll.  Reports also have it that he is lobbying the immediate family members of the president, National Chairman of the APC, Umar Ganduje, his colleagues in the Governors’ Forum and some Northerners for the president’s endorsement.

Aiyedatiwa openly declared recently that “nobody wants to be a governor for one year,” an indication that he would give his all to win the primary. His endorsements by groups and stakeholders across the state show Aiyedatiwa’s determination to display to the world that he’s firmly rooted in the state.

But, aside the incumbency power, which other aspirants don’t see as an added advantage that would aid his chances, Aiyedatiwa has no political structure. His late boss, Akeredolu, who was the symbol of the party, recently died without a public endorsement of Aiyedatiwa.

Sequel to the frosty relationship between late Akeredolu and Aiyedatiwa before his death, the late governor’s aides pitched their tents with Wale Akinterinwa, Akeredolu’s ally who is a governorship aspirant and former finance commissioner.

It may be tough for Aiyedatiwa to win the primary. But, with the incumbency power and his deep pocket, others may not be able to match him. Ahead of Saturday race, Aiyedatiwa is no doubt a force to be reckoned with.  Also, President Tinubu may not want to offend the Governors’ Forum that has put in good words in favour of Aiyedatiwa. Will Tinubu buckle or call the bluff of the Governors’ Forum? Time, as they say, will tell.

Jimoh lbrahim: Many believe that he has all it takes to win the primary. In fact, he has spent so much while touring the wards and council areas of the state to sell his candidacy to people in the grassroots. Ibrahim, who is the senator representing the Southern senatorial district, has displayed all his academic achievements to show to the world that he is eminently qualified to rule the state than Aiyedatiwa who, some describe as “battling with certificate scandal.” But, political analysts believe that Jimoh may be too difficult to control if he wins the primary. Also, many see him as intellectually arrogant. Nevertheless, Jimoh, who declared that Aiyedatiwa doesn’t stand a chance against him on Saturday, is a strong contender in the race.

Olusola Oke: He is believed to be the best of the aspirants because he has twice contested for the governorship position, but failed. Observers, who believe that Oke understands the game in and out, note that he is a household name and a formidable grassroot politician known beyond the state. Having gathered friends across all political divides, Oke, who says it is his turn to rule the state, believes that Aiyedatiwa won’t fly even with his power of incumbency. 

Mayowa Akinfolarin: A former House of Representatives member, Akinfolarin, who is one of the strong contenders in the race, has some powerful backers within the presidency. Akinfolarin doesn’t believe Aiyedatiwa has the political structure to win the primary. To him, incumbency power won’t help Aiyedatiwa because “you don’t give what you don’t have.” Akinfolarin authoritatively added: “To have contested elections six times and won five out of them is a testament of my relationship with my people.”

lsaac Kekemeke: He is another strong contender. Kekemeke is presently the National Vice Chairman of the APC in South-West, and may spring surprises next Saturday. Kekemeke also believes he will take Aiyedatiwa and others to the cleaners Saturday primary election.

Wale Akinterinwa: He inherited the political structure of the late Governor Rotimi Akeredolu. This, according to observers, will give him an edge over others come Saturday. Akinterinwa, a political heavyweight in Ondo, doesn’t consider Aiyedatiwa his match in the Saturday contest.

Pretenders

Other aspirants include Olugbenga Edema, Jimi Odimayo, Soji Ehinlanwo, Olamide Ohunyeye, Diran lyantan, Mrs Funmi Waheed-Adekojo, Morayo Lebi, Professor Dayo Faduyile, Ife Oyedele and Funke Omogoroye Folakemi Judith who, according to stakeholders, lack the structure to pull any weight during the contest. Sources say that many of them may step down for any of the top five strong contenders before the commencement of the primary election.

No vacancy

Aiyedatiwa knocked by other aspirants over no vacancy statement

However, while Aiyedatiwa has insisted that the office of the Ondo State governor is not vacant, three leading contenders, including Chief Olusola Oke, Mayowa Akinfolarin and Jimoh lbrahim have fired back at him, saying he is not a threat to their ambitions.

Describing Aiyedatiwa’s no vacancy statement as wishful thinking, Oke, in an interview, said: “It is a statement of wish and desire by the governor, and it is a statement that is intended to undermine a democratic exercise. It is an aphorism from all incumbents. I heard this one in Lagos when Ambode was there. Ambode said, ‘No vacancy’; he had to leave when he needed to leave. .. If we are going to primaries and the people will have to determine, how would anybody have the guts to say there is no vacancy? There is no vacancy between now and February next year, no doubt, but after February, his one-year term will be exhausted, and then there will be a vacancy.”

On his part, another aspirant, Akinfolarin said he is not bothered about Aiyedatiwa’s statement, noting that “it is the personal opinion of the governor. He has every right to say the seat is not vacant. However, I am very prepared to take over from him. I will be the next governor of Ondo State come February 2025 by the grace of God.”

Jimoh lbrahim, while reacting, described  Ayiedatiwa’s statement of no vacancy as a huge joke. According to him, “he’s joking. It is a big joke. The governor is joking, a big joke, a huge joke he is cracking with you. He is out of that place by the time we finish primary next week, he is gone and there is nothing virtually he can do about it.

“What is the governor talking about? This governor has never won an election, he contested for the House of Representatives, he didn’t win one local government, just two local governments, and he couldn’t even win one. He was a paired with Akeredolu, we didn’t vote for him, we voted for Akeredolu. But I can assure you, the governor is a huge joker.”

Saturday primary may make 

or mar party in state

If not free, fair and credible, next Saturday primary election may make or mar the chances of the ruling party in the November governorship election. There is no doubt that President Tinubu still holds the ace in deciding who emerges as the candidate of the party next Saturday. 

One of Aiyedatiwa, Oke, Akinterinwa, Kekemeke or Jimoh will win the primary and fly the party’s flag if President Tinubu doesn’t repeat the 2019 game he played when he overlooked top governorship aspirants in Lagos State to go for Babajide Sanwo-Olu, who was not a contender. 

Nonetheless, Sanwo-Olu’s performance since his assumption of office has shown that Tinubu made the right choice in Lagos. Will he be right in his choice for Ondo on Saturday? The answer, as observers have declared, lies in the womb of time.