By Bola Bolawole
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The Ondo governorship election has come and gone but the reverberations continue. Days after, it was talk-of-the-town everywhere in Akure, the state capital. Akure wore a gloomy look and carried on like someone bereaved. It is obvious – and understandably, too – that most Akure people did not like the win of the incumbent governor, Rotimi Akeredolu of the All Progressives Congress. Eyitayo Jegede of the Peoples Democratic Party, who came second, is an Akure son. So it is obvious why he won landslide in the two Akure local governments and the adjoining Ifedore local government but lost the other 15 local governments to Akeredolu. There were (unsubstantiated?) apprehensions everywhere in Akure that Akeredolu would tax the people of Ondo State to death in his second dispensation. But many also consoled themselves that this is a case of the heavens will fall; which is not likely to hit one section and spare another.
As Akure licks its wounds, I thought to make a dash to my Owo home town to see a few friends as well as “join” in the celebration of Akeredolu’s victory but, unfortunately, my car knocked the engine the night of the election. I was all the same able to witness the victory parade on social media. Owo, for the second consecutive election, stood with their son as one man. Yet, a few months ago, the most strident opposition to this same Akeredolu had come from the very same Owo. The avalanche of aspirants trying to prevent Akeredolu from snatching the APC ticket had come from Owo. During and after my nine-piece series on setting a new agenda for Nigerian politics in general and Ondo’s in particular, the most virulent comments, most of which was critical of Akeredolu, had come from Owo. But, as they say, blood is thicker than water! A Yoruba adage says: “Omo eni o s’edi bebere…”
Many reasons were adduced on the streets of Akure for their son’s second consecutive failed attempt at the topmost political office in the Sunshine State. There were those who felt Jegede was not aggressive enough, alleging that he played a gentleman’s politics and ran a docile campaign. He respected Akeredolu too much. He did not look the APC candidate eyeball to eyeball. Politics here has no accommodation for such “misplaced” finesse. There were also those who felt Akure did not support their son enough. Akure, being the State capital and with a larger population than Owo, should have given Jegede at least three times the number of votes that Owo delivered to Akeredolu. But, like we had said earlier, Akure, being the State capital, is a potpourri of sorts, the type our people call “iru wa, ogiri wa”
Carried forward, this argument bellyached about the number of votes Akeredolu managed to garner in Akure but which Jegede could not attain in Akeredolu’s Owo stronghold; even in Ipele, which is within the Owo axis and where Jegede’s mother hailed from. Many Akure people were not happy that their royal father was not “Akure enough” during the election. Having worked as a pundit on the day of the election for Akure-based Crest 87.7 FM, I noticed that the Oba (Deji) of Akure was one of the Ondo State traditional rulers who made repeated broadcast appealing for a peaceful, free and fair election – and the election was really peaceful. I am of the opinion Kabiyesi did very well.
One person who will be held accountable for Jegede’s loss is Agboola Ajayi, the current Ondo State deputy governor and ZLP governorship candidate in the election. When Ajayi defected from the APC, his first port of call was PDP where he fought Jegede for the PDP flag. Ajayi made a good showing in the PDP primary election despite the little time he had in the party. When Ajayi lost the fight to Jegede and vowed he would stay, this writer never believed him and said so. A Number Two man so desperate and impatient to put his deputy governorship position and a rosy political future at risk cannot be one who will accept to play second fiddle to an “also ran”. Ajayi soon ported to ZLP.
There are many who blame Jegede as well for not doing enough to tie Ajayi down in PDP. It is debatable if anyone and anything could have tied Ajayi down at PDP but Jegede appeared not to have demonstrated sufficient understanding of how politics is played in these climes. So, today, his loss is blamed on the “mistakes” he made in his blunt refusal to make Ajayi his running mate. The person he eventually chose as running mate is said to be unpopular with his own people – and this showed in the results from his Ondo South senatorial district, which Akeredolu virtually swept. Truth be told, the popular belief, especially from those watching from afar, was that a Jegede/Ajayi combination would have sung the Nunc Dimittis of Akeredolu’s political career but those who claim to know say, yes, a Jegede/Ajayi ticket would have given Akeredolu a scare but that the governor would still have won, even if with a lesser margin.
As in 2016, Jegede made a respectable showing in last Saturday’s election. Confronting an incumbent, he had a mountain to climb and if he failed, it was not for lack of trying. His party, the PDP, was not one solid house in the election. Many party leaders reportedly took an exception to his blunt refusal to accommodate Ajayi and, for this; they withdrew their firm support and only paid lip service. The politics of 2023 also robbed Jegede of support from those who saw him as an “Atiku boy” and were averse to allowing Atiku a foothold in the South-west. Remember, an Atiku son had announced on behalf of his father that the serial presidential candidate would still run in 2023. In 2019, Atiku had upturned the apple cart on governors Nyesom Wike, Aminu Tambuwal, and Ayo Fayose to snatch the PDP presidential ticket. This group is said to be bent on checkmating Atiku this time around. So, just like some APC leaders chose to lose Edo State last September to spite Adams Oshiomhole and bury him politically, their counterparts in the PDP were said to have acted similarly last Saturday in Ondo. Jegede, thus, was a victim of circumstance.
The most miserable loser in the Ondo election, however, is Agboola Ajayi. The election comprehensively demystified him as he coasted home to a miserable third position. Grassroots man! Power behind Akeredolu’s victory in 2016! He holds the aces! The man to beat in 2020! It is debatable if Ajayi still has a political future after his disappointing showing in this election. Like a chicken beaten by the rain, it is certain he will spend his remaining days in office as deputy governor incognito and will not be able to fly his shoulders any more. Here is a man who probably would have spent eight years in office as deputy governor and who, afterwards, would have been in a vantage position to step into his principal’s shoes. But, like Lucifer, he blew it all on the altar of morbid ambition. Don’t get me wrong: Ambition is good but inordinate ambition is a destroyer.
There were many reasons Akeredolu won the election. There are those who believe that the governor performed. The once high-flying Unity Group’s inability to present a common front and prevent Akeredolu from bagging the APC ticket allowed the governor who, at a period, was virtually down and out, to claw his way back into reckoning. Also, Akeredolu was smart enough to swallow his pride at the right time, making amends all over – in Abuja, at Bourdillon, and then at home. He managed to reconcile with his many opponents, bringing them back to his corner. At first, the fear was that the reconciliation efforts could be a facade and that those opponents might have chosen to stay inside and piss right inside. But the election results proved that they actually stayed inside and pissed outside. Akeredolu had his party’s staunch support. His fellow governors rallied round him. The cabals appeared not averse to his second term. He also seemed to have played his Amotekun card well, blowing hot and cold where necessary.
John 3:27 says “A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven”. So, the heavens must have smiled on Akeredolu. And, then, he had money to spend – an avalanche of it. “…Money answereth all things (Ecclesiastes 10:19). “For wisdom is a defence and money is a defence…(Ecclesiastes 7:12). The leading parties spent money massively in the election; it was as if money was going out of fashion. In that votes were sold and bought openly, the highest bidder had the advantage.
The election has come and gone but Akeredolu will do well not to forget the pitfalls that nearly derailed his second term. He has to work on his human relations; insulate his family from undue exposure to public criticism; and deliver the dividends of democracy to the people more than he did in his first term. My own sixpence for him: Ondo State yearns for a governor with listening ears and a human face!