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Nigeria: Ondo state polls set to be a tight race for ruling APC

By Nwokoye Mpi
Posted on Thursday, 8 October 2020 05:51

A view of Oba Adesida road in Akure
A view of Oba Adesida road in Akure, capital of Ondo state in Nigeria, September 9, 2016. REUTERS/Akintunde Akinleye

The race for the Ondo Government House is largely seen as a contest between the APC and the PDP. But a third force, the ZLP, may yet spring a surprise

On 10 October, Ondo State in south-west Nigeria will vote for a new governor. The incumbent governor, Rotimi Akeredolu of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), will square up against Eyitayo Jegede of the main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and 15 other candidates.

Hope in Ondo

Ondo, one of Nigeria’s oil-rich states, has been governed by four different political parties since 1999. By winning the election, the APC will be the only party to have governed beyond eight years in the state.

Having lost in Edo State last month to the PDP, the APC is hoping to stamp its authority on this contest ahead of the 2023 general election.

READ MORE Nigeria’s political elite fight it out for Edo State

In 2016 Akeredolu beat Jegede. While both candidates have managed to retain most of their support base, Jegede has lost his 2016 benefactor in 2016, Olusegun Mimiko, who was governor at the time and his biggest backer.

Political analysts in the state say the 2020 governorship election will largely see a repeat of events from four years earlier: vote-buying, ballot box-snatching, voter intimidation, and an APC victory.

The Tinubu factor

In 2016, the race was mainly between the APC, PDP, and the Alliance for Democracy (AD), which fielded Olusola Oke, a former member of both the APC and PDP who was reportedly backed by the APC national leader, Bola Tinubu.

READ MORE Nigeria’s Bola Tinubu: the Kingmaker who would be King?

The outcome of those elections saw Governor Akeredolu coast to victory without the support of the party’s national leader, Tinubu.

Fast forward to this year in September, where in neighbouring Edo State, Governor Godwin Obaseki, after defecting from the APC to the PDP, was re-elected. Again, he did not have the support of Tinubu.

In fact, several analysts believe that the Edo electorates cast a protest vote against the APC to show their aversion to being under the control of the Godfather in Bourdillon, a sobriquet for Tinubu named after his expansive home in Bourdillon Road in Lagos.

In Edo, it was a two-horse race. It was a godfather versus the ordinary Edo people.

But Gbenga Abimbola, a lecturer at the Department of Mass Communication at the Adekunle Ajasin University in Ondo State, says events unfolding in Ondo are completely different from what played out at the Edo polls.

“Ondo is different from Edo in terms of the political configuration. In Edo, it was a two-horse race. It was a godfather versus the ordinary Edo people.”

He argues that the Tinubu factor has never worked in Ondo State since 2012.

According to him, the same Tinubu had backed Akeredolu against Mimiko in 2012 but lost. He also backed Olusola Oke in 2016 against Akeredolu and lost.

As recently as 2011, Tinubu was influential in the election of the governors in four out of the six states in the south-west.

But Tinubu, who is reportedly eyeing the 2023 presidential race, is keen to test the extent of his influence, especially in his native south-west region where he needs a solid base for launching his ambition.

Three-horse race

Once again in Ondo state in 2020, it is still a three-horse race, this time among Akeredolu, Jegede, and Agboola Ajayi, the state deputy governor who pitched his tent with Zenith Labour Party after he fell out with his principal.

But the events from 2016 are unlikely to recur in the party, says Rotimi Ogunleye, who was among the APC members who defected to AD four years ago.

“This election is different in that the governor is approaching the election with a united party unlike the 2016 election, where all those who contested against him at the primaries either left the party or worked against him,” says Ogunleye, who now serves in the Campaign Committee of the APC for the coming election.

“It is also different because the PDP ran in 2016 with a serving attorney general of the state and had suffered severely from the fractures and crisis that attended his party, unlike what is happening now when he is contesting outside the government and has no crisis to contend with.”

“Forge a united front”

Abimbola agrees with Ogunleye, in that the tide can only be turned against the incumbent, if the two other parties forge a united front.

A total of 17 political parties were cleared by the Independent National Electoral Commission for the election. While the APC, PDP, and ZLP had embarked on massive campaigning across the state, the other 14 parties have either remained inactive or thrown their weight behind any of the big three.

READ MORE Nigeria’s ruling party: Looking into growing schisms inside the APC

Ifeanyi Odili, the General Secretary of the Campaign for Democracy, described the situation as a “shame.”

“I don’t see any of the parties outside the PDP, the APC, and the ZLP springing any surprises given the political situation right now. Most of them have fallen and have joined the leading parties,” he says.

Ondo voters not easily swayed

But presidential ambitions have very little effect on the electorates in Ondo; in the last two general elections, sitting governors failed to deliver their states to their parties.

In 2015, Governor Mimiko boasted he would deliver one million votes for then-president Goodluck Jonathan; he delivered only a quarter of that. In 2019, the state got even fewer votes despite the governor and the president belonging to the same party.

Currently, there is growing disenchantment across the country over the governance by the ruling party.

READ MORE Nigeria: Rising inflation/energy prices force small businesses to close

Recent hikes in the price of fuel and its domino effect on the cost of transportation and foodstuffs have led to political watchers predicting that, as in Edo State, the electorates in Ondo are ready to vote out the APC.

Ayo Fadaka, a former official of the PDP in the South-West Zone, says the perceived failure of the APC can work to his party’s advantage.

“The pains of the people will be the reason why the current governor should be voted out of office and a chance be given to the PDP candidate.”

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