By Michael West

“I dread our electoral system because election results are brazenly manipulated by supposed umpires. However, the Edo State experience and experiment seem to give a glimmer of hope that Ondo people’s votes may likely count.”

The next governor of Ondo State will be a lawyer, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN. He’s married, a Christian, not a first timer in the race, bespectacled and with no particular godfather. A resident of Akure, the state capital, with large following across the Sunshine State.

As the people of Ondo State cast their votes today, a decision for a new dawn is in process. Ondo State has a reputation for volatility and resistance to electoral fraud. The people vehemently dislike imposition of any “unwanted” candidate upon them by subterfuge to superintendent their affairs. The 1983 political crisis in which notable indigenes of the state were killed and burnt in the orgy of violence that erupted in the aftermath of Chiefs Adekunle Ajasin/Akin Omoboriowo’s governorship contest was partly attributed as a factor that brought in the Muhammadu Buhari-led military coup that toppled the Second Republic.

Four years ago, Ondo people elected the incumbent Governor Rotimi Akeredolu, SAN, on the platform of the ruling All Progressive Congress, APC. It is argued that the ruling party does not enjoy as much popularity at the grassroots like the opposition People’s Democratic Party, PDP. This line of thought might not be unconnected with the fact that since 2003 when the then PDP-led federal government rigged out the entire Alliance for Democracy’s, AD, government in the South West region except Lagos, Ondo State has been governed by the PDP. A situation that still largely reflects in the political configuration of the state. In 2019 presidential election, Ondo State voted the PDP. As at today, the PDP has two out of the three senators with almost equal number of the House of Representatives members with the APC.

Some pundits are predicting the possible outcome of today’s gubernatorial election in Ondo State without factoring the fact that the people do act according to their principles, convictions and beliefs. The confusion that characterised the PDP’s candidature in 2016 made it difficult for the people to clearly define their choice and pattern of voting. There was no clear-cut major contenders as courts’ discordant pronouncements at the peak of campaigns apparently threw spanner in the works of the PDP and its candidate, Eyitayo Jegede, SAN. The APC’s candidate automatically had a smooth run without strong opposition. It is therefore surprising to hear the Secretary to the state government claiming that the incumbent was “rigged” into office. I have my doubt about that statement but it is possible that the manipulation actually widened the margin substantially. There was voters’ apathy towards the poll as soon as they knew that one of the major contenders was already “defeated” even before the election day.

Today, another opportunity is here for the people of Ondo State to speak loud and clear through their votes. I dread our electoral system because election results are brazenly manipulated by supposed umpires. Security agents, the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC’s officials, the political gladiators and the judiciary have turned many elections to charades and mere formalities. Hence the loss of confidence and trust in the system. However, the Edo State experience and experiment seem to give a glimmer of hope that Ondo people’s votes may likely count if the promises made by those concerned are anything to go by.

The contest is a straight fight between the two Senior Advocates of Nigeria. The third force, Agboola Ajayi of Zenith Labour Party, ZLP, will be a spoiler than a force to reckon with. The ZLP’s standard bearer is no pushover but his platform cannot take him far.

The ZLP’s candidate, Ajayi, being the sitting Deputy Governor, may win and become governor but after 2020. His desperation to dislodge his principal by moving from one political party to another like a rolling stone added no credit to him. In politics, party platforms are as important as the personalities being presented. It was easier for Governor Godwin Obaseki in Edo State because the PDP is even a stronger platform than the APC in his state. It would have been very difficult for him if he had run on a less popular platform. The quality of a candidate and his platform are the prerequisites to winning a competitive election.

Dr. Olusegun Mimiko’s image and whittled political influence may not help his party’s candidate. Both the PDP and APC candidates do not want to deal with Mimiko due to his alleged treachery and slyness in politicking. Despite his rejection as running mate in PDP, Ajayi should have stayed put in the party to project his image and build a strong base preparatory for the next four years while he goes to the Senate in the meantime.

APC’s Akeredolu is no less a strong contender. Incumbency is no small factor in political contests though it does not translate to automatic victory especially where transparent and credible elections are conducted. The incumbent has some hurdles to surmount if he must retain his Alagbaka House tenancy for another four years.

First, toeing the line of his predecessor in the area of nepotism and populating his government with his kinsmen and family members may work against him at the poll today. Mimiko, at some point, had eight members of his cabinet from Ondo town alone! He corrupted the synergy of purpose and bond of unity in the state during his time as governor. For Akeredolu to fall into the same error is regrettable.

Second, levies imposed on people who are used to free education and free healthcare services may influence the decision of many voters. Even when it is apparently difficult to sustain some of those highly subsidised facilities and services, the percentage of the increase appears too burdensome to bear.

Lastly, Aketi’s poor human relations with some of his party and cabinet members, his alleged snubbish and arrogant disposition to some of those who are strategic to his reelection may hurt his electoral fortunes at the poll today. The fact remains that his estranged deputy and ZLP’s candidate may not help Akeredolu’s chances as both of them will share the bulk of APC’s votes. While his deputy will buoy his own chances with votes from the ZLP camp, the incumbent can only rely on his non partisan supporters’ votes across the state. It should be noted that loyalists have been switching allegiances between the two camps. Those who left Akeredolu went to Ajayi while a few that “repented” found their way back to Aketi’s camp. Therefore, if the incumbent fails, his ambitious deputy is largely responsible.

PDP’s candidate, Jegede, appears luckier as odds seem to favour him this time around. While his two main challengers will slug it out in the same camp, he would harness the bulk of his party’s supporters’ votes. In addition, the structures of 11 other political parties collapsed into his camp may further boost his chances. Still, it won’t be an easy ride for him especially in a contest to dislodge an incumbent.

In conclusion, if the INEC and security agents conduct today’s poll dispassionately, fairly and transparently as promised, Ondo governorship election may not be too close to call between Akeredolu and Jegede. But if money plays a deciding factor, which it will, most likely, the incumbent will carry the day. Head or tail, one of the eminent lawyers: Eyitayo Jegede or Rotimi Akeredolu will ultimately emerge the next governor of Ondo State.

To avoid a riotous outcome and bloodletting, people’s votes must count. Ondo State is the home of “no nonsense, no cheating” voters.

* West wrote via 08059964446

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