The battle for the gubernatorial ticket of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Ondo State among members of the Unity Forum ahead of the party’s primaries, Newtelegraph report.
A head of the October 10 governorship poll in Ondo State, the battle over who occupies the Alagbaka Government House come February 2021 is gaining momentum as over 30 aspirants have already declared interest.
The aspirants, who are majorly chieftains and members of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as well as chieftains of Zenith Labour Party (ZLP), Action Democratic Party (ADP) and Social Democratic Party (SDP), are galvanizing their political structures in readiness for the contest.
Though APC is the ruling party in the state, the gubernatorial ambition has divided leaders of the party into three different camps. While a group is loyal to the incumbent governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, there is APC Unity Forum led by former Ondo State deputy governor and a member of the APC Board of Trustees (BoT), Alhaji Ali Olanusi. The third camp is made up of those who are neither in the Akeredolu nor APC Unity Forum groups.
Governor Akeredolu has not hidden his interest to seek re-election and some of his foot soldiers have commenced moves to ensure that their principal extend his stay at the Alagbaka Government House beyond February 2021. But as it stands, some political observers believe that the governor’s re-election might be an uphill task as the Unity Forum, apparently, has the number and has become a force to contend with in Ondo State, especially in APC.
As a sitting governor, many would have expected Akeredolu, who celebrated his third year in office this week with the commissioning of several laudable projects by President Muhammadu Buhari to have a smooth ride, but the coast seems not to be clear for him following the stiff opposition from the members of the APC Unity Forum and other camps in the party.
The APC Unity Forum in its quest to stop Akeredolu had agreed to present a strong and credible candidate to participate in the Ondo APC primary election, which according to the timetable released by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is expected to hold between July 2 and 25.
To achieve its goal, the group recently set up a Special Purpose Committee to ensure that the selection exercise runs seamlessly. New Telegraph gathered that at the last meeting of the group, eight aspirants showed interest in the governorship race.
They are 2016 governorship candidate of the Alliance for Democracy (AD), Chief Olusola Oke; former APC governorship aspirants Bukola Adetula and Olusegun Abraham. Others are Ife Oyedele, Akin Awodeyi, Olaide Adelami, Kazeem Olanrewaju and Jimi Odimayo.
A breakdown of the aspirants showed that five are from Ondo North Senatorial District, where Governor Akeredolu hails from, while three are from Ondo South Senatorial District.
It was gathered that during the APC Unity Forum meeting presided over by its leader, Alhaji Ali Olanusi, the eight aspirants who were personally present, agreed to pick one of them as the consensus candidate of the group and pledged to support whoever emerges to take part in the July primary election of Ondo APC. Olanusi, on his part, promised a level playing ground for all the aspirants.
All things being equal and if the consensus arrangement works as planned, the Unity Forum may likely throw up its candidate for the APC governorship prior to the July primary election of the party, and whoever emerges among the eight aspirants in the group will contest against others.
Speaking on the consensus arrangement, a key member of the group and Senate Deputy Leader, Senator Ajayi Boroffice, expressed confidence that the APC Unity Forum will present the standard bearer of the party in the forthcoming governorship poll.
Senator Borrofice, who represents Ondo North Senatorial District in the Upper Chamber of the National Assembly, while speaking in Akure, the state capital last Saturday during his empowerment programme for women in the Ondo Central and Ondo South senatorial districts, said members of the Unity Forum are working together to present a consensus aspirant to slug it out with Governor Akeredolu at the party’s primary.
“We in Unity Group of APC in Ondo State will have one person to vie for the primary of the party. It may be Chief Olusola Oke, Jimi Odimayo, Ife Oyedele, Olusegun Abraham or Bukola Adetula. It can even be me or anybody in the group since we have a common goal of presenting a credible candidate for the party in the coming election,” he said.
The APC Unity Forum, without any iota of doubt, comprised power brokers and political gladiators in Ondo State, which explains why many people believe that the group cannot be overlooked in the politics of the state. This belief seems to be the main reason why the group has continued to wax stronger as some other splinter groups have already joined forces with some presently in discussion to also join.
But despite the stiff opposition from the Unity Forum group, Governor Akeredolu is still a major contender in the governorship race and many political analysts believe that the recent working visit by President Buhari to the state to commission some laudable projects is a boost to the governor’s re-election bid.
It would be recalled that President Buhari on Tuesday inaugurated the Ore Interchange Flyover on the Shagamu-Ore-Benin expressway and also commissioned the Ondo-Linyi Industrial Hub as part of activities marking his working visit to Ondo State.
The President during the visit, commended Governor Akeredolu for some of his remarkable achievements and laudable projects in the state, including up-to-date payment of salaries and pensions as well as clearing six months out of the seven months arrears of salaries/pensions owed by the previous administration.
Against this backdrop, many people believe that Akeredolu will be a major contender in the race for the APC governorship ticket and will give anyone the Unity Forum presents as its consensus candidate for the party’s primary if the agreement of the group sees the light of the day.
But apart from Akeredolu and the aspirants in the Unity Forum battling for APC governorship ticket, there are other party chieftains who have also shown interest in the race. Among those in the race are former chairman of the party in the state, Isaac Kekemeke and Nigeria’s Ambassador to Togo, Olusola Iji.
With the array of gladiators, it is expected that the next few months in Ondo State will be interesting as some of the APC aspirants have kick-started their campaign privately and publicly, canvassing for votes in the nooks and crannies of the state.
Few days ago, there was excitement in Owo area of Ondo State as Adetula, who is a United States trained lawyer visited the Olowo of Owo, Oba Gbadegesin Ogunoye III. The aspirant had last Tuesday held a memorial anniversary of his late grandfather, Chief George Adetula, who was the Sasere of Owo and close confidant of then Olowo, Oba (Sir) Olateru Olagbegi, and also served as the Sasere to the father of the present Olowo of Owo.
Though the event was primarily designed as a memorial, Adetula used the occasion, which was well attended by APC chieftains and members to address the gathering, urging party cohesion and loyalty. He also used the opportunity to officially intimate the Olowo about his political aspiration.
Apart from Adetula, other APC aspirants are also canvassing for votes across the state telling party leaders and members why they should be considered as the next governor of the state.
With the perceived division in the ruling party, there is no doubt that some of the political gladiators in APC will be banking on the outcome of the Chief Bisi Akande-led Reconciliation Committee set up by the national leadership of the party for a way forward.
TEMITOPE OGUNBANKE writes