Intrigue as Aiyedatiwa, ‘Abuja big boys’ fight for Ondo APC governorship ticket

  • Governor under pressure over choice of deputy

Barely a month after the death of the former Governor of Ondo State, Rotimi Akeredolu, political activities have started gaining momentum in the Sunshine State as some governorship aspirants have officially declared their intentions to run for the topmost seat in the forthcoming November 16, 2024 governorship election in the state.

Akeredolu died on December 27, 2023 after a long battle with ill-health. He is scheduled to be buried in his Owo hometown on February 23.

Consequent upon his death, his deputy, Lucky Aiyedatiwa, became the substantive governor, and gradually, political activities started gaining momentum.

Already, some aspirants have officially declared their intentions to run for the topmost seat of the Sunshine State.

Apart from Governor Aiyedatiwa, other top politicians eyeing the seat include a former governorship aspirant and a former legal adviser to the APC, Olusola Oke; former Commissioner and presently APC National Vice Chairman, South-West, lsaacs Kekemeke; a two-term House of Representatives member and former deputy Speaker, Ondo House of Assembly, Mayowa Akinfolarin; Afenifere National Secretary, Sola Ebiseni; Business mogul and Senator representing Ondo South Senatorial District, Jimoh lbrahim; Ife Oyedele; Paul Akintelure; Ola Mafo; Jimi Odumayo; Morayo Lebi; and Gbenga Edema.

As it is, there is an indication that the November 16, 2024 governorship election as announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission is going to be a fierce battle. And it will be more than a two-horse race because some of the big contenders, who fail to secure the tickets of the major parties, will jump to minor parties to realise their ambitions.

Two of the aspirants in the ruling All Progressive Congress are already talking with leaders of the Social Democratic Party and Labour Party ahead of their party’s primary. This is their plan B in case they are schemed out of the APC contest.

According to our investigation, the aspirants are waiting till the first week of February to move if the body language of President Bola Tinubu tilts towards any particular aspirant.

Presently, both contenders and pretenders have shown interest in the two major political parties, the ruling APC and main opposition People’s Democratic Party, while there is none yet in the SDP and LP.

Interactions with the gladiators already rolling up their sleeves for the contest showed that they are not leaving anything to chance. Some are dropping names of big boys in the Presidency as their link persons to get President Tinubu’s endorsement.

“According to our investigation, the aspirants are waiting till the first week of February to move if the body language of President Bola Tinubu tilts towards any particular aspirant”

According to our investigation, many of the aspirants have relocated to Abuja to press buttons and get endorsement from the Presidential Villa, which is one of the major factors that will influence who emerges as APC’s flag bearer.

However, it was gathered that the death of Governor Akeredolu, has literally made the APC a political orphan. Akeredolu was the symbol of the party in the last seven years in Ondo State. Those waiting to get his endorsement were said to have been disappointed that he died without naming his successor.

Many of those calculating to succeed him had to apply the brakes following his indisposition then. But with his death and the expiration of the days declared to mourn him, politicking has picked up, with many throwing their hats in the ring. The gladiators have started mobilizing ahead of their parties primaries.

The Point also gathered Governor Aiyedatiwa has not been able to win over those who opposed his being made acting governor before the death of Akeredolu.

According to our sources, it has been a game of mutual suspicion since he stepped into the shoes of Akeredolu.

Sources revealed that his relationship with a host of late Akeredolu’s appointees and the leadership of the party in the state has not been cordial
Although, there is no written agreement that the next governor would come from Ondo South senatorial district, most of those aspiring to be governor across the parties are from that area of the state.

Attention has shifted to Ondo South as the last two governors hailed from the other two zones. Olusegun Mimiko is from Ondo Central and late Akeredolu was from Ondo North.

It was gathered that while the next governor is expected to emerge from Ondo South, the deputy is to come from Ondo Central while the Speaker of the House of Assembly, would emerge from Ondo North.

The confidence with which gladiators such as Olusola Oke, Wale Akinterinwa, Mayowa Akinfolarin, lsaacs Kekemeke, Sola Ebiseni, Ola Mafo, lfe Oyedele and Jimoh ibrahim speak is an indication that the poll is going to be a fierce battle.

Some of them are so sure of winning the primary of their parties, no matter the plans of the big boys in the Villa.

At least, two commissioners of the late governor, the Secretary to the State Government, Princess Oladunni Odu and the Finance Commissioner, Wale Akinterinwa, are expected to declare their interest after the expiration of the days declared to mourn their benefactor.

PDP battles internal conflict
A handful of the aspirants are in the PDP, which is battling a leadership crisis after the Chairman Fatai Adams, was kicked out by 11 of 13 members of the State Working Committee over alleged anti-party activities.

Until a few weeks ago, the PDP had gone on sabbatical but it returned when a few of its bigwigs openly declared their interest in the plum job. Activities in the party had since picked up.

Afenifere General Secretary, Olusola Ebiseni; former Information Commissioner, Ola Mafo; Adeolu Akinwunmi; and Bosun Atebuwa have since shown interest in the coveted seat.
According to reports, a former Deputy Governor, Agboola Ajayi and the 2022 governorship candidate, Eyitayo Jegede would soon declare their interest.

Aiyedatiwa under pressure over choice of deputy
Although the incumbent governor is yet to declare his interest, his foot soldiers have invaded the social media saying that “continuity is the word.”

However, Aiyedatiwa’s critics are accusing him of being too desperate before and after the death of his boss, to become governor.

To succeed, he has to win many foes to his side and build a solid political structure within three months before the party’s governorship primary in April.

He is said to be relying on the support of some party leaders in Abuja and some colleague governors to be declared as the party’s consensus candidate.

Governor Ayedatiwa is currently under intense pressure to choose his deputy from an array of aspirants in the state after he became governor following the death of Akeredolu.

The pressure on Aiyedatiwa is coming mainly from those who hail from the northern and central senatorial districts of the state.

Akeredolu hailed from the Northern district and there are speculations that the number two slot should be ceded to the district under the current dispensation.

The argument is that the zone will complete eight-year tenure in office which is expected to end in February 2025 after which it will be the turn of the southern senatorial district to produce the next governor of the state.

However, sources said it is too early to predict if the southern part of the state which has produced a governor once since the creation of the state will agree with the powers sharing formula.

In the 47 years of its creation, the Southern zone produced the late Olusegun Agagu, who ruled the state for six years before his tenure was abruptly put to an end through judicial declaration.

Aiyedatiwa will have many hurdles to cross if he throws his hat in the ring in the race to Alagbaka house in 2024, as a large number of strong contenders from the southern senatorial district have shown interest for the number job even before Akeredolu’s departure to the world beyond.

Some four months to the primary of the party to produce the party’s standard-bearer for the November 16 governorship election in the state, Aiyedatiwa is presently concerned and battling with who becomes his deputy aside from other challenges.

The scheming on who becomes the next deputy governor of the state has begun. Among those who may be considered for the number two position include Olugbenga Ale, who is Akeredolu’s Chief of Staff, the state Commissioner for Energy and Mineral Resources, Razaq Obe; former Commissioner for Women Affairs and Social Development in the state, Omowunmi Olatunji-Ohwovoriole; Mrs. Jumoke Ajasin- Anifowose, the daughter of the late governor of the state, Chief Adekunle Ajasin, among others.

Some analysts are of the opinion that the arrangement does not favour any of the aspirants from the North on the ground that once the governor comes from the South, the deputy should emerge from the central district. But other observers say it would be an honour to assuage the Owo people with the post of deputy governor following the sudden death of their son.

Nonetheless, a source claimed that the people of the town are divided over who should be pushed forward to complete Akeredolu’s term.

He said while some are rooting for Akeredolu’s Chief of staff, Ale, others are backing Ajasin-Anifowose, who once contested the governorship ticket with Akeredolu.

In the central district, some individuals are also said to be lobbying to be considered for the number two seat. Among them is said to include the Energy Commissioner, Rasaq Obe, perceived to be a close ally of the new governor.

However, some pundits claim the romance between the new governor and Obe might not endure with time. One of them noted that Obe was too vocal, whereas the governor is a man of few words. They fear the possibility of a love lost between them.

Meanwhile, Aiyedatiwa is faced with a herculean task of bringing all stakeholders together, as the ill-health of the late governor created a gulf within the APC. This is seen in the exit of some members of Akeredolu’s cabinet, who believe that with the demise of the legal luminary, their services will no longer be considered necessary. The resignation of these aides is seen as an open expression of dissatisfaction with the emergence of Aiyedatiwa as governor and would not wait to be shown the way out by the new helmsman.

Most of the aides, who resigned from the government, hinged their action on the death of Akeredolu who appointed them.

The Special Adviser to the Governor on Union Matters and Special Duties, Dare Aragbaye, in his resignation letter said “My decision to resign is based on the unfortunate death of my principal, a fearless and honest leader, Governor Arakunrin Oluwarotimi Odunayo Akeredolu, whom I am loyal to, even in death.”

The tones of the resignation letters of the Chief Press Secretary, Richard Olatunde; Senior Special Assistant on Special Duties, Doyin Odebowale; and Commissioner for Works, Lands and Infrastructure, Raheem Aminu, were all similar.

There are speculations that many others might resign from the cabinet, either to contest against Ayedatiwa or step aside in respect for their principal, Akeredolu. Those who have openly shown interest in the governorship race include the Commissioner for Finance, Wale Akinterinwa, the Secretary to the State Government, Princess Oladunni Odu.

Another aspect where some observers believe Aiyedatiwa needed to thread softly is a rumoured plan to impose his candidature on the APC leadership in the state. They have advised him to move closer to the party hierarchy in the state and use the APC as an instrument to secure his ambition.

A top party member noted that Aiyedatiwa will be banking on the structure of his late boss to contest in the primary.

The source said, “The irony of it is that Aiyedatiwa is not on the same page with the party leadership. The Ade Adetimehin led-executive, unless concrete arrangements are put in place by governor Aiyedatiwa, may halt his ambition.”

He maintained that any attempt to dissolve the leadership might turn into a serious crisis in the state APC. According to him, some hawks have started putting pressure on Aiyedatiwa to dissolve the existing political structure, saying this may spell doom for the party.

The top party member said though dissolving party leadership might pave the way for Aiyedatiwa’s loyalists to take over the affairs of the party, he said the development may attract the anger of the APC leaders whose nominees would be forced out of office.

According to him, the APC structure in the state remains in the firm grip of Adetimehin, the party’s chairman, while there is no love lost between Aiyedatiwa and the chairman, as observers held that this played out during the inauguration of Ayedatiwa as the governor of the state.

Meanwhile, the League of Imams in Akure led by its Chairman, Shaykh Muhammad Raji Kewuyemi and Secretary, Imam Qamardeen Bintinlaye has echoed the yearnings of the Muslim community in the state for a Muslim to be chosen as Aiyedatiwa’s deputy. They argued that such a move would promote religious harmony, political balance, social justice, equity and fairness.

A party chieftain said there was a need for Ayedatiwa to unite the party rather than causing division. He said this is one of the reasons President Bola Tinubu tasked Aiyedatiwa to unite the party.

According to the chieftain, the first step the governor should take is consultation with party leaders and other stakeholders in picking his deputy.

The chieftain said, “It is the prerogative of the governor to pick his deputy. The consultation will be mere formality because he has a bigger task of winning the primary.

“Some of these people being paraded are not on the cards. What Aiyedatiwa needs is a politician because he is not a politician. The party is not united. He has been told to bring everybody together. His manner of consultation before picking his deputy would determine how far he is willing to go to ensure party unity.”

The state House of Assembly will also have an important role to play in the choice of the deputy governor for Aiyedatiwa.

The governor might have his reservation on the role of the lawmakers, having been served with an impeachment notice, signed by most of the lawmakers. Though the impeachment process was quashed and halted by the court before the political solutions that lay to rest the crisis between Akeredolu and Aiyedatiwa.

The political base of the principal officers of the House of Assembly will also play a vital role in the selection of a deputy governor. The current speaker hails from Ondo Central while his Deputy, Abayomi Akinruntan is from the South; the Leader, Oluwole Ogunmolasuyi, is from the North senatorial district.

Meanwhile, various groups have been demanding for the deputy governor seat as Aiyedatiwa commenced consultations over his choice of a deputy governor, citing reasons why a particular section or individual deserves the slot.

A group of indigenes under the aegis of Ondo State Positive Thinkers, called on Aiyedatiwa to seek out for an experienced hand that will help him to stabilise the state and bring about the necessary atmosphere to move it forward.

“Some hawks have started putting pressure on Aiyedatiwa to dissolve the existing political structure, saying this may spell doom for the party”

The group, through its President, Bodeola Balogun, observed that “the challenge before Aiyedatiwa right now is how to reconcile the already fractured state following the political crisis that engulfed the state in the last three months. We, therefore, call on Governor Lucky Aiyedatiwa to avoid picking a deputy that would not add value to governance in the state.

“Though some names have been thrown up and also behind the scene lobbying has been ongoing, we feel that the governor needs a grassroots politician who would help him settle down to work and also be humble enough to help Mr Governor galvanise the people of the state behind him. In this way, we want to suggest Honourable Victor Olabimtan who is not new to the Akeredolu-Aiyedatiwa camp. Olabimtan was the Director General for Akeredolu in 2016 and also played the same role during Aketi re-election in 2020. A former Speaker of the State House of Assembly and one time governorship aspirant, Olabimtan has political contacts across the state, which puts him in a better position to help the governor reconcile the already divided state.”

They described Olabimtan as an astute politician and a grassroots mobiliser that Aiyedatiwa will need to help stabilise the state because of his reach and contacts.

Another group, however, differed on this, as they specifically called for the seat to be ceded to Owo.

A socio-cultural group, Imade Development Association asked Aiyedatiwa to consider an Owo indigene as his deputy to compensate for the loss of their son, Akeredolu. They stated that any move against this may lead to further polarisation of the people along ethnic and political divides.

The chairman of the group, Segun Ogunbadeniyi, said Owo, as an ethnic group, has a strong interest in presenting a candidate for the deputy governorship position, saying the interest of Owo must be well protected in the scheme of things with the death of Akeredolu, an indigene of the town.

The group’s argument hinged on the joint mandate of Akeredolu and Aiyedatiwa, saying it will be an honour for a politician from Owo extraction to complete Akeredolu’s term.

He said, “The battle for the mandate was fought by Akeredolu and Aiyedatiwa. It is to the honour of Akeredolu that the ticket must be maintained. Aiyedatiwa must prioritize what will bring peace and unity to the state. The event in the last few months has polarized the state both in body and spirit. For us in Owo, we are ready to work with him and bring about unity and prosperity to the state. As a kingdom, history has shown that Owo has been making sacrifices for Yoruba nation and Ondo State and Akeredolu’s tireless efforts to protect Nigeria and Yoruba nation came to us at great cost.

“Many of our people have suffered loss and hardship. Our sacrifices must be recognized and honoured. Changing the mandate will amount to another terrorist attack on Owo. The issue on the ground should be approached with empathy, respect, and transparency to show that Aiyedatiwa is committed to building bridges and finding common ground with all stakeholders. Any attempt to erase Owo from the calculation until February 2025 by Aiyedatiwa, in our opinion, is unfair, not equitable, and can cause division in the body politic.”

For now, the people of the state are curious about who is picked as the deputy governor. The issue dominates discussion and mention in most political circles in the state. The permutations have ranged from the sublime to the ludicrous, depending on the calibre and pedigree of those at the centre of the discourse.

As it is, the political cloud is gathering, the coming days, weeks and months will be interesting in the Sunshine State.