The Ondo Elections is at the corner, by Saturday, 8th of October,the political parties that have fielded candidates for the Governorship would be winding down on their campaigns. The 10th of October,2020; is the date of Ondo State Gubernatorial Elections. The Independent National Electoral Commission have promised Nigerians of a free and fair election like Edo State, knowing full well that political pundits will use the elections in Edo and Ondo State to measure the fate of the electorates in the 2023 General Elections. The Nigerian Government is also leaving no stone unturned by deploying over 3000 Policemen to help provide peace and security in the countryside. Likewise, members of the Nigerian Army, Nigerian Navy, and Marine have been deployed to the 270 hotspots in the State; including volatile riverine areas like the Ese Odo and Ilaje areas of the state
As a prelude to the assurance of peace amongst the political gladiators, The National Peace Committee have made sure that all the 17 political parties signed the Peace Accord, a document that not only assures the citizenry of safety but also implicates the signatories and their political parties of the political goodwill and face, whenever election violence is connected to them. Bishop Mattew Kukah, Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Sokoto, called on the ‘good people of Ondo’ to go about the elections in peace as the Peace Accord organised by the National Peace Committee in collaboration with Independent Electoral Commission has helped impress upon all citizens ‘the building blocks of confidence’ for the elections. He said that he is impressed that respected traditional rulers are working in a non-partisan way to make the elections peaceful and credible.
Earlier, Prof.Mahmoud Yakubu, The Chairman of the Independent National Election assured Ondo electorates that elections will be free and fair like the just concluded Edo Elections.
The Peace Accord is important in Ondo State because there has been pockets of violence that had made the All Progressive Congress accuse members of Zenith Labour Party, and the People’s Democratic Party of disrupting their campaigns and causing clashes amongst their supporters. These cross-accussations has not deterred the recent killings of three youths at the Obanla Junction, at Akure South yesterday, neither did it stop the attack of Governor Akeredolu’s convoy in Oba-Akoko in Akoko South West Local Council of Ondo State. Many pundits are already seeing the handwriting of utter chaos on the wall. They express fear that 1983 election crisis might repeat itself. In 1983, Akin Omoboriowo of the National Party of Nigeria and Adekunle Ajasin of the United Party of Nigeria clashed. It led to about 70 deaths. Pundits refer to the semblance of antagonism between Governor Rotimi Akeredolu and Deputy Governor Agboola Ajayi, who have gone their seperate ways to contest on different political platforms and have accused one another of formenting anarchy, to a potential repetition of history.
In September, One person was killed and many others injured in a clash between supporters of APC and ZLP in Idanre Town. Recently, the APC led government had reportedly foiled an attempt of the ZLP governorship aspirant to curry favour and sympathy by curating an attack on his own convoy by his own party members disguised as APC members. At the time of the report, the ZLP candidate and his political machinery has not spoken to the public to the contrary.
Ondo State is a pivotal economic state for any political party. It is the only Oil Producing State in South-West Nigeria, which means that the state is entitled to the revenue and development benefits accrued to South-South States. Among the 17 Political Parties, three parties, the All Progressive Congress with Rotimi Akeredolu as its Governorship Candidate, the People’sDemocratic Party with Eyitayo Jegede as its Gubernatorial Candiate, and the Zenith Labour Party whose flagbearer is Agboola Ajayi.
The People’s Democratic party are hopeful that the Ondo gubernatorial elections will be won based on the quiet disillusionment of godfatherism and perceived failure of the government at the centre. They hope that with a possible Ondo victory, it would have increased the states under its party control and they would be able to wield a formindable party machinery to slug it out with the All Progressive Congress at the polls in 2023. They hope that the person of Eyitayo Jegede SAN, would be a preferred candidate to Rotimi Akeredolu SAN. Jedege brings to the fore the depth of a well-versed member of the bar, and one who has experience in governance.
At the Peace Accord, Eyitayo Jegede said he is committed to peaceful elections. He has urged the Nigeria Police not to stay aloof when any party forments violence. He urged them to be fair in arresting violators of the peace accord irrespective of political affiliations.Meanwhile, Jegede has promised Ondo State residents that he would create adequate job oppourtunities for young men and women through Public-Private Partnerships. He also assured many residents of riverine communities in Ondo State that he would intervene in the high trend of kidnappings by putting in place a high level security strategy to curb the menace, amongst other infrastructural, civil and social agendas. Jedege had criticised the incumbent of abandoning areas like Ilage, Ese Odo, Ilara-Mokin when it came to road networks. He also accused the incumbent ofmaking free or affordable heathcare unavailable to the poor through his intention to raise Internally Generated Revenue through public healthcare services.
The All Progressive Congress have the power of the incumbency at its disposal. The Governor, Rotimi Akeredolu has the mettle,financies, oratorial skills and support of the extensive machinery of the All Progressive Congress at the Federal level. What could however make the governor jittery is that the Government at the centre may remain aloof to political needs and aspiration of South-West powerbrockers, and this may adversely affect the chances of Rotimi Akeredolu at the polls. At the recent Peace Accord, Akeredolu said that he will ‘solmenly abide by the peace accord document’. He said that during the last two gubernatorial elections, all the contestants operated as brothers. He assured Nigerians that the current Ondo elections, will be peaceful as long as the Nigeria Police take on the role of protecting the rights of all without bias. Akeredolu assured the public of his long-term friendship and professional engagements with Eyitayo Jegede but said that all contestants should continue to talk to their people so that they do not incite violence. The chances of the APC is further blostered by defections from ZLP to APC at the Ondo East LG. Akeredolu has to grapple with the sentiment the opposition intends to use to colour his administration. They have described his government with the hashtag #NOTOGOVERNMENTOFFATHERMOTHERANDSON which implied that Akeredolu turned Ondo State government into a family venture. This sentiment has been disuaded by the incumbent governor, who asserted at a recent gubernatorial debate, that his wife was neither a commissioner nor his children held any political or state appointments. The Governor stated it was the way of life of those making the allegations. He told the audience that his government wasof the people, by the people and for the people.
Akeredolu has insisted that his government also has welfarist leanings, he denied using the public healthcare service to raise IGR for the state,he noted that he signed the Health Insurance scheme into law to provide free healthcare so that anyone with an insurance card can get free healthcare in the state. He also added that he has built additional hospitals in the state.Akeredolu is also banking on some of his achievements such as the revitalised Okitipupa Oil Industry among others.
Nevertheless, The ZLP cannot be considered as an irrelevant party. The relatively new party is an offshoot of the Labour Party that brought Governor Olusegun Mimiko into power and diminished the influence of Olusegun Agagu of the Peoples Democratic Party in the State. Former Governor Mimiko’s welfarist policy implementation endeared him to the people throughout his tenure as Governor. The Agboola Ajayi campaign hopes to leverage on the mimiko policy signature to win hearts and minds in Ondo State. Dr Olusegun Mimiko has also involved himself with the politics of the time by casting aspersions on the incumbent Governor, he described the Akeredolu government as ‘antipeople’. For Mimiko, Akeredolu discontinued his welfarist programmes especially The Mother and Child Healthcare Programme, the Shuttle Bus Programme for School Children, and the Trauma Centres. This has not only frayed some nerves between the former governor and the incumbent, it has also made people of Ondo who enjoyed the Mimiko era and who may have welfarist leanings begin to pitch their tents with Agboola Ajayi against Rotimi Akeredolu.
Agboola Ajayi promised to reduce tuition fees of the state tertiary institution from N150,000 to N50,000. He also said his administration would bring back good governance and a reformed civil service that would give jobs of the civil servants instead of consultants. He promised to also start a program that would cater to the elderly and bring back the various caring heart programmes that would benefit the people. ‘We will create a civil service revolving credit scheme for civil servants who desire to build a house and buy cars. We believe this will serve as support for them.’
‘We will initiate a zero pothole project across the state and start an ‘Operation Restore Power in the South’ in the first 100 days in office,’ he said.
For Akeredolu, Agboola Ajayi is a politically irrelevant former deputy governor who is an ungrateful powermonger. However, the fact the Agboola Ajayi had been immediately wooed by the PDP once he left the APC showed that the substantive deputy governor has something to offer. When Agboola Ajayi lost the PDP primary elections with a narrow margin to Eyitayo Jegede, he moved to ZLP barely some days to the closure of the submission of candidates through party primaries. Agboola has since been pulling his weight in the Ondo Gubernatorial Election. He may not be able to win Rotimi Akeredolu but with a well-defined alliance with Eyitayo Jegede, he may be able to reveal and undermine the time-tested political strategies of the incumbent governor.
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All things being equal, the Ondo State Governorship election promises to be peaceful if the security operatives are professional and forthright about safeguarding the lives of law-abiding citizens, apprehending ballot snatchers irrespective of party affiliations and are able to make life unbearable for ‘troublemakers’ and their sponsors.
The Peace Accord is not enough to assert the need for peaceful, free and credible elections–it would take the exertion of the police, army, navy and Marine to make sure that electoral rights are not scuttled by political hooligans. The Nigerian people also hope for the change in the electoral culture which can only be implanted by an unbiased presidency.
Peace Omenka and Femi Morgan