The coming governorship election in Ondo State will be fought on all fronts and Rotimi Akeredolu, the governor and candidate of the All Progressives Congress, APC will be contending with many forces. So, in the coming weeks, Akeredolu will be mending political fences in his state over problems he easily would have avoided. He will also be spending time and resources calming nerves and trying to woo back his former allies who are waiting to have the last laugh during the forthcoming governorship poll.
But the biggest challenge facing the embattled governor today is the rift between him and his deputy, Agboola Ajayi who is generally regarded as a field commander on election matters. Ajayi who first ran to the People’s Democratic Party, PDP for refuge had declared shortly after falling out with his boss that Akeredolu made the party “a poisoned space with one man kneeling on its neck”, so he had no choice than to move on.
For those who know, Ajayi is an astute politician and grassroots mobilizer. In an election year, no smart politician disposes of or allows a character like Ajayi to move without considering the likely consequences of such an action. So, on this score, the governor miscalculated. Surely, the former deputy governor will throw a spanner into the works of the APC by virtue of his zone, Ondo South where it is alleged that all the electoral malpractices in the state take place. In fact, it is generally believed that votes are harvested in the Ondo South like fishes. Little wonder the man revealed that he was instrumental to the victory of Akeredolu in 2016. He is now in Labour Zenith Party and believed to be the preferred candidate of Olusegun Mimiko, the incumbent’s predecessor. But the fact that a serving deputy governor jumped ship at a critical time like this also leaves some gaps in understanding the governor’s character and leadership qualities.
Akeredolu is also contending with Ifedayo Abegunde, another principality who was the former Secretary to the State Government. Shortly after resigning, Abegunde publicly declared that he was opposing his boss’ second term bid and that he was ready to slug it out with the governor. He went a step further by declaring that Akeredolu did not win the 2016 to become governor of Ondo State. But Abegunde took responsibility and declared that he and other unnamed persons actually brought the governor to office. The governor is also battling with other governorship aspirants who lost the ticket to him in a contest some of them believed was skewed in favour of the incumbent. The governor and his supporters were also accused on many occasions of highhandedness. In fact, it was alleged that under Akeredolu, law makers and party officials were routinely suspended and disciplined for expressing a dissenting view even in a democracy.
Outside the APC and party officials, a groundswell of opposition is also developing among the different labour unions and other categories of workers in the state. On July 14, 2020, the state government convened a meeting to see how to assuage the bad feelings among workers who are owed arrears of salaries running into over eight months and even more in some instances. Apart from the issue of outstanding salaries, there are also cases of illegal deductions, minimum wage, stagnation and more.
Last week, newly employed nurses of the University of Medical Sciences Teaching Hospital, Ondo took to the street after issuing a one-week ultimatum to the state government to pay outstanding five months salaries or face serious industrial action. But the question is: why should an oil bearing and a relatively rich state like Ondo, continue to default in paying of workers’ salaries as and when due even with all the resources available to the state?
Many, especially his critics have questioned the governor’s credentials as an administrator and thinker. Does Akeredolu really understand the needs of the long-suffering people of Ondo State who, like some parts of Nigeria, have endured bad government for many years now? However, his opponents are also quick to point at the poor state of road infrastructure, schools, health facilities, agriculture, public utilities, unemployment and hopelessness among both the young and the old in the state.
These concerns have already created the template for the coming governorship election. To many, it is an open fight among the major gladiators: Akeredolu of the APC, Eyitayo Jegede of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP and Abegunde of Zenith Labour Party even though realignments are still possible. For those less charitable especially in the swelling opposition camp, the electorates are going to the polls this time around to defeat bad government, mediocrity, joblessness, disease, incompetence, hunger, starvation and impunity. The tragic part is that the incumbent is running on a record of poor performance and failure. So, instead of campaigning from a position of strength which would have been possible if he had performed, he will be campaigning on failed promises and asking for a new kind of support which is definitely going to be a hard sell.
Akeredolu will also encounter some old and unresolved problems. In addition, he will be contending with old political foes like Jegede who will definitely exploit the internal crisis in Ondo APC, the governor’s abysmal performance and the fluidity of this political season which is capable of swinging to anywhere at any time to deliver a killer punch.
The coming governorship election in Ondo State will be interesting, no doubt. Unlike other states in Nigeria where the incumbent holds the key, Akeredolu will be fighting the battle of his life because of the obvious obstacles on his way.
He will also be fighting both visible and invisible forces within his party and outside. This will be exacerbated by the acrimonious primary and his emergence as APC’s standard bearer. As expected, those who failed to emerge during the contest for the governorship ticket are already regrouping and working to undermine the candidate and a party they claimed, used and dumped them despite their contribution to 2016 victory. These and more are the shape of the things to come. But the governor is running out of time, coupled with the fact that he is not even giving the challenges the serious attention they deserve. However, in the weeks ahead, things would have become clearer and predictable even though a day is still a long time in politics.