Ondo 2020: A Post Mortem By Tony Ademiluyi
History repeats itself because man in his usual frailty learns the stories but never the salient lessons.
Historians and political pundits alike will remember the 1983 elections in Ondo state where the popular incumbent, Chief Michael Adekunle Ajasin was rigged out by his recalcitrant deputy, Chief Akin Omoboriowo of the National Party of Nigeria. All hell was let loose as the people rose up in unison to protest the outcome of the election by engaging in brazen acts of violence which made the Federal Electoral Commission (FEDECO) to rescind its decision and give the victory to Ajasin.
One didn’t need to be a soothsayer to predict that the current incumbent Governor Rotimi Akeredolu would win the elections for the same reasons that Ajasin did thirty-seven years earlier.
The Independent National Electoral Commission announced on Sunday, October 11 that Akeredolu won with 292,830 votes (51.1 percent).
He was followed by Mr Jegede, who scored 195,791 votes (34.2percent). Mr Ajayi came third with 69,127 votes (12.1 percent).
The total accredited voters for the election was 595, 213, which represents 31.6 percent turnout of voters. The total valid votes however stood at 572, 745. Also, 18,448 votes were rejected, while about 16,000 votes were cancelled.
Babajide Kolade-Otitoju predicted a slim victory for Akeredolu in the popular Journalists Hangout show on Television Continental (TVC) two days before the elections. His prediction was not entirely accurate as Akeredolu won with a landslide by winning fifteen local governments out of eighteen – an improvement of his 2016 electoral victory where he won fourteen.
Eyitayo Jegede won just three while the renegade Deputy Governor, Agboola Ajayi lost his to his boss who is fondly known as Aketi.
Akeredolu was smart enough to mend fences with the political heavyweights in the state like Olusola Oke, Isaac Kekemeke who he was feuding with. These men even though had lost their gubernatorial bids were still influential in their local government areas. They publicly backed Aketi and ensured that he carried the day.
The role of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu is also worthy of mentioning as he was instrumental to the peace meetings between Akeredolu and the two above mentioned politicians. The All Progressive Congress (APC) National leader was physically present in the peace meetings and ensured that the reconciliation took place. The National Leader also proved to be a good sportsman as he withdrew his support for his preferred candidate, Olusegun Abraham to throw his weight behind Aketi and also ensured that the latter did so.
Agboola Ajayi sought the support of the former Governor Olusegun Rahman Mimiko whose supporters address him as ‘Iroko.’ This election proved that ‘Iroko’s time as a strong man and factor in Ondo politics had come to an end as he couldn’t deliver even his local government to Ajayi. Iroko was indeed overrated as he lost his bid to go to the Senate in 2019 under the Zenith Labour Party and while he was in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as the Governor in 2015 failed to deliver the state to the then President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. His fly by date had indeed come in the last election.
While jubilating with his supporters, Aketi wondered why he didn’t win in Akure and Ifedore which were the strongholds of Jegede despite the numerous projects that he cited there especially with its being the capital of the state. This shows that sometimes doing well isn’t necessarily a criterion for re-election. Success at the polls could be largely based on political sentiments rather than performance. We see it happen all the time – In the defunct Second Republic, the Late Professor Ambrose Folorunsho Alli, the then Unity Party of Nigeria Governor of Bendel State lost his re-election bid to Dr. Samuel Osaigbovo Ogbemudia despite his sterling performance. Late Chief Bola Ige lost to Dr. Victor Omololu Olunloyo in Oyo state in spite of the ground breaking performance of the former. Abubakar Rimi of Kano state lost to the barely literate Senator Barkin Zuwo. Coming down closer, Dr. Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State lost in all the 18 local government areas to Ayo Fayose in 2014.
Akeredolu took advantage of the fact that he was the incumbent and dominated the airwaves. His propaganda was so strong that he even included a clip of his deputy praising him for his performance despite the fact that the duo had a bitter falling out. During the debate between him and Jegede, the latter drew his attention to the fact that his billboard in Owo – Aketi’s home town was badly defaced by faceless people. To his shock, some days later it was pulled down and in its place was Akeredolu’s own erected. He had the most frequent radio and television adverts that sold him as the best thing to happen to the state since its creation in 1976.
Ajayi also shot himself in the foot by not participating in the first debate organized by Channels television where he could have sold himself to the electorate especially as many of them saw him as treacherous for parting ways with Aketi. His excuse of being in the thick of his campaign was untenable and did not do well to advance his electoral cause.
There were ugly skirmishes of violence in Akoko, Akure, Idanre, Owo and Ipele. This violence naturally reduced the number of enfranchised Ondolites that would have loved to vote on that day.
Yiaga Africa and the Campaign for Democracy & Development (CDD) in their reports said that there was the ugly incident of vote buying which must have influenced the results in Aketi’s favour.
The zoning also helped Aketi as Mimiko from the central did eight years; Aketi from the north was heavily backed by the south – which has never produced a governor so that by 2024, Aketi would be forced to reciprocate the gesture.
Aketi’s critics opined that he didn’t really justify the resources that accrued to the state as his performance was rather lacklustre as he cashed in on the division between Jegede and Ajayi to coast home to ‘victory’. They argue that if Ajayi had stepped down for Jegede the latter may have carried the day but that assertion may have been rather farfetched given the zoning permutation in the state which clearly didn’t favour Jegede who was once the state’s Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice under Olusegun Mimiko.
Now is the time for Aketi to get down to work by justifying the people’s mandate in him for the next four years. This is not an excuse for him to be vindictive towards the people of the central zone who didn’t vote for him as that would be extremely petty. He needs to show good sportsmanship and have his eyes on leaving a legacy as a statesman rather than as a politician.
As a lawyer who rose to the zenith by becoming a SAN and the President of the Nigerian Bar Association, much is expected of him and he has to justify the confidence that the public has in him by performing.
His time starts now!
Tony Ademiluyi wrote from Lagos and edits www.thefederation.com.ng