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Opinions of Wednesday, 7 October 2020

Columnist: The Nation

Any hope for Jegede?

The governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Ondo State, Eyitayo Jegede (SAN), is optimistic of winning the election. Can he realise his ambition? Our Correspondent examines his chances.

Former Ondo State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Eyitayo Jegede (SAN) is the standard-bearer of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) for the October 10 governorship election in Ondo State. Jegede was the party’s candidate in 2016. The process through which he emerged this season was without controversy unlike in 2016 when the PDP was polarised following the primary that produced him as the party’s flag bearer.

There were parallel congresses that produced two governorship candidates, each claiming to be authentic. The matter was taken to court to decide the authentic group. The issue dragged on to the Supreme Court, which declared the Jegede faction as authentic and that he was validly nominated as the PDP candidate. The time spent on litigation could not afford Jegede ample time to canvass for votes.

The journey to pick the ticket was not as rosy as expected for Jegede, especially after the deputy governor, Agboola Ajayi joined the race. The deputy governors defection to the PDP and his entry into the governorship race divided the party and those who were loyal to Jegede. The popular opinion then was that Ajayi had the money and key political position as deputy governor to buy his way as the candidate of the PDP. But, Jegede despite losing in 2016 refused to dump the party, he remained loyal to the party.

Jegede emerged victorious at the primary with 888 votes while Ajayi polled 657. The first major hurdle faced by Jegede was the choice of running mate. Shortly after the primary, some PDP bigwigs began the move of imposing Ajayi as running mate after they uncovered the plot of few of their colleagues to sponsor the embattled deputy governor on another political platform. They promised their argument on the fact that Ajayi, being a grassroots politician, could sway votes in favour of the PDP, especially from his Southern Senatorial District, if he is convinced to join the Jegede team. But, Jegede rejected the choice of Ajayi on the ground that he needed someone he could trust.

The development led to a fresh internal crisis as some party members disagreed with Jegede’s position. A PDP chieftain in the state said Jegede did not manage his post-primary election victory well.

According to him, he had taken things for granted. The party is now divided in the state. Jegede must understand that Ajayi, despite he defeated him during the primary, is still a big favour and big fish in the politics of Ondo State.

He should have appreciated the efforts of our party leaders and National Working Committee (NWC) members for their frantic efforts in persuading him to accept Ajayi as running mate because they know the political value of the deputy governor, especially in his zone. As things are today, can Jegede win the election in Ondo South Senatorial District with a greenhorn politician he has picked from the zone as his running mate?

Analysts are worried that the choice of running mate has taken its toll on the party’s fortune; the party is shrinking as aggrieved members are leaving in droves. A former Publicity Secretary of PDP in Ondo State and former governorship aspirant in the 2020 governorship primary, Banji Okunomo and his supporters had dumped the PDP for Zenith Labour Party (ZLP). Their grouse was the choice of Ikengboju Gboluga as running mate to Jegede as against their leader, Okunomo.

The Okunomo group said, it viewed with emphatic disapproval and absolute sense of rejection the undemocratic and unpopular dimension in which Jegede chose to foist the nomination of Gboluga, a serving member of the House of Representatives representing Okitipupa Federal Constituency on the PDP as his running mate in stiff defiance to all wise counsels to the contrary portraying him as a rigid, conservative person that will override a superior major view.

Speaking in the same vein, former Chairman of the Okitipupa Local Government and a chieftain of the PDP Solomon Bitire has said that the party has already lost the governorship election before October 10.

Bitire said: “I am PDP man, but PDP has already lost this election before the conduct of the election on October 10 for not doing what is right. The only way to correct the wrong was for Ondo South to produce the governor. No district should hold sway to power. As I have always said where a party didn’t respect the culture of zoning by producing their candidate from the right zone, then the electorate will correct the injustice during voting.”

Observers say after winning the primary, Jegede didn’t do much to reach out to other aspirants, who lost out in the race. Apart from the reconciliation meeting brokered by the Oyo State Governor Seyi Makinde, which was attended by Jegede and three other aspirants, there was no follow up. Three of the aspirants that didn’t show up include Agboola Ajayi, Dr. Eddy Olafeso and Dr. Bode Ayorinde. The failure of the reconciliation and unification process after the primary had depleted the rank and file of the PDP in Ondo State.

Another factor that may likely determine the outcome of the election is the issue of zoning, which may not favour Jegede. There is an unwritten power rotation formula among the three senatorial districts in Ondo State. The agreement is that power will reside in each district for eight years before it moves to another zone. For instance, the late Chief Adebayo Adefarati, who served as governor between 1999 and 2003 was from Ondo North and Olusegun Agagu from Ondo South was governor between 2003 and 2009. Former Governor Olusegun Mimiko hails from Ondo Central and he served from 2009 to 2017.

Attempts by Agagu to rubbish the agreement fell on his face when he imposed Oluwole Oke from his southern zone as the PDP governorship candidate in 2009. Oke lost the election to Mimiko, who contested the election on the platform of Labour Party. Again, Mimiko also tried to cancel the power rotation arrangement when he drafted his kinsman Jegede in 2016 as the PDP flag bearer. The election was won hands down by Rotimi Akeredolu of the All Progressives Congress (APC), who comes from Ondo North.

The argument among the stakeholders is that Ondo North should be allowed to serve out its eight years in office. An elder, Chief Adekunle Oluwasakin said after the Ondo North it is the turn of Ondo South to produce the governor of the state. According to him, the Central District has to wait for another 12 years to get power.

He said: In Ondo State, we abide by the agreement; nothing can make us compromise or change our mind.

But, Jegede has ruled out zoning as a determining factor in winning the 2016 governorship poll in Ondo State.

He said anybody who has been following the trajectory of the PDP since 1999 will know that the PDP in Ondo State has never emphasised on zoning.

He said: “I am optimistic that PDP will defeat the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) in this year’s governorship election. Democracy is about choice, the people determine who will govern them. The populace will have to weigh their options, whether their lives have improved in the last three and half years, whether the economy has improved, whether the security has improved, whether the education system has improved. If there is no improvement, the obvious thing is to have another government in place. This election will give a verdict about Akeredolu’s performance. And I believe that the PDP is standing a good chance to take over.”

He noted that since 2016 the PDP in Ondo State has grown to become a formidable party and united to defeat the APC and provide better governance for the people of the state. To buttress his claim, Jegede noted that in 2019 general elections, the PDP got more votes in the presidential election than the APC and got two senatorial seats.

His words: “Before 2019, APC had all the three senators, but in 2019, they lost two to the PDP. Secondly, in 2015, the APC had the highest votes in the presidential election, but in 2019 PDP scored the majority of votes despite the fact that APC was in government both at the federal and state level. Ondo State was the only state in the Southwest that recorded margin of votes for the PDP.”

Jegede said he has gathered enough experience not to allow what happened to him in 2016 when his hands were tied to his legs by some party members only to be loosened two days to the election by the court.

He maintained that he had control of the party’s loyalists in the 18 local governments. On whether Ajayi will be a threat to his performance at the poll, Jegede said: I contested against his (Agboola Ajayi) boss, Governor Rotimi Akeredolu in 2016 and I came second. If Akeredolu was not a threat to me in 2016, his deputy cannot be a threat to my ambition in 2020, he said.

A former deputy governor of Ondo State, Chief Omolade Oluwateru has rallied support for Jegede saying he parades the best qualities and deserves to be governor of the Sunshine State. He said the PDP flag bearer could be trusted having sustained his loyalty to the party, despite losing the governorship election way back in 2016.

Oluwateru, a member of the PDP Board of Trustees appealed to the people of Ondo Central Senatorial District, in particular, to vote en masse for Jegede because this is the golden opportunity for them to tell the entire people of Ondo State that the zone has an exceptional son, who could fulfil the yearnings and aspirations of the masses of the state.

He said: “We have all been behind Jegede all this while because we can see ahead, that the people of the state stand to gain much in terms of employment generations, social infrastructure, agricultural revolution, solid health services, education growth, among others.”

A House of Representatives member representing Akure South/ North Constituency, Adedayo Omolafe described Jegede as a natural leader, who gives priority to the welfare of his followers. He expressed optimism that Jegede would win the October 10 governorship poll, adding that his emergence as the PDP governorship candidate was a great boost to the party.

Jegede, in one of his campaign outings traced his track records in Nigeria’s socio-political affairs, stressing that as a former Commissioner for Justice and Attorney General in Ondo State, as a member of the States Tenders Board for six years, and as a former Chairman of Conference of Attorneys-General for the 36 states of the federation, he had come with enough experience in public administration.

He said: “In all my career, I have never been found wanting and I have overcome greed in any appearance. If I eventually win the governorship race, nobody will be forgotten in terms of spreading the dividends of democracy.”

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