The last gubernatorial election in Ondo state that produced Olurotimi Akeredolu has come and gone but it no doubt signals an indelible mark in the political fortunes of some/two All Progressive Congress (APC) leaders and raised serious questions about the waning influence of Senator Bola Tinubu in South West politics going into 2019. HEAD POLITICS DESK, MUMINI ABDULKAREEM writes more on the issue.
Last week Saturday, the eventual declaration of Rotimi Akeredolu as the governor-elect of Ondo state by the Returning Officer of the Independent National Electoral Commissioner, Professor AbdulGaniyu Ambali followed weeks of intrigues and electioneering that had left the APC more divided than united. For one, Akeredolu’s second coming did not come on a platter of gold. It may have left the APC more divided now than ever except urgent and genuine steps are taken to address the internal and consuming crisis that is tearing the party apart.
Announcing the results, the Vice-Chancellor, University of Ilorin, Ambali, said Akeredolu polled 244,842 votes to beat his closest rival, Eyitayo Jegede of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) who garnered 150,380 votes. He said the Alliance for Democracy (AD) candidate, Chief Olusola Oke, scored 126,889 to come a distant third.
“Having polled the highest number of votes and having satisfied all requirements, I hereby declare Oluwarotmi Akeredolu the governor-elect of Ondo State,” Ambali added.
Prior to the Ondo election, political analysts and commentators have been speaking extensively on the political undercurrent that played out in the runoff to the election but the declaration of Akeredolu as the governor-elect in Ondo may open a new vista in the fortunes of the APC and some of its national leaders going to 2019.
Between Saraki and Tinubu
Before and after the Ondo election, the political capital and influence of a national leader of the party, Senator Bola Tinubu and Senate President and National Assembly Chairman, Dr Bukola Saraki have hugely contrasted. The Ondo election has been described by analysts as anti-climax to the political fortunes of the two leaders. While Saraki was reportedly at the receiving end of the political shenanigans and scheming of Asiwaju over the way he emerged the senate president against Tinubu’s preferred candidate initially, the situation is now a complete turnaround following events after the Ondo election. After he was defeated in the game of the gladiators that characterised the primaries which produced Akeredolu, Tinubu further took the sticks from his opponent after he also lost out in the call for the resignation of National Chairman of the APC, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun who he accused of being biased. Subsequently, he endorsed Olusola Oke who defected to AD following disagreement over the APC primaries. Not only did Tinubu allegedly orchestrated Oke’s defection, he practically deployed his enormous financial resources and huge influential media empire to support and sell him to Ondo electorate. He even went ahead to collapse his now waning southwest structure to support him. Not only did Tinubu shun Ondo during the electioneering campaign, he practically banned his core lieutenants like Governor Rauf Aregbesola and Akinwumi Ambode from campaigning in the sunshine state. Yet Governor Ambode as the APC campaign chairman for Governor Godwin Obaseki spent six days in Edo state before and after the election. Tinubu’s actions to undermine the success of the party in Ondo for Oke’s emergence was so glaring that many political analysts consider it a mystery that the national leadership of the APC up till now has not deemed it fit to sanction him for anti-party activities.
In contrast to Tinubu’s declining political fortunes especially in the Southwest, that of the Senate President has hugely benefited from the political prosecution he has suffered since assuming the leadership of the Senate largely attributed to Asiwaju Tinubu. Already, there is every pointer to the fact that nothing tangible might come out of his trials at the CCT at the end of the day and the federal government might finally soft pedal on the forgery case especially after the huge gaffe and perjury to swear under oath that investigation into the case has been concluded. President Buhari lately has woken up to the fact that he needs to enlist the support of Saraki for his government to succeed especially after the Senate rejected some of his loan proposals and appointments and he has pursued the reconciliation with speed and vigour. After the failure to get Saraki to resign or be impeached as Senate President seems to have failed and he has since consolidated his hold in both the National Assembly and the APC, it was Saraki that President Buhari courted following the negative body language from Tinubu to cajole the Ondo electorates. Three high-level meetings at the instance of the President within a week were enough to convince Saraki to ‘rescue’ the APC sinking ship in Ondo. At the APC campaign grand finale which was led by President Buhari where Tinubu and his loyalists like Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, Governors Ambode, Aregbesola, Bisi Akande among other loyalists were conspicuously missing, Saraki told the electorates to vote for the APC, adding that he (Saraki) is also an Ondo man by blood because his mother hailed from Owo, same town with Akeredolu. Some political commentaries even see the deployment of Professor AbdulGaniyu Ambali, Saraki’s kinsman, as very instructive to the whole scenario that took place in Ondo. The rest is now history.
Buhari exoneration not enough
Although, President Buhari tried to exonerate Tinubu for his ignoble role and political suicide in Ondo, the President’s statement may be a difficult kite to fly in the present circumstance. According to Buhari, Tinubu remains a ‘priceless asset to the party’ and urged the public to disregard rumours that he (Buhari) and APC leadership are at odds with the embattled Tinubu.
A statement by his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Malam Garba Shehu, said the President was highly embarrassed by such “suggestions”. Buhari, he said, was in regular contact with Tinubu before, during and after the Ondo governorship election. But if this is so as the President wants Nigerians to believe, then why did Tinubu and all his supporters shun Ondo throughout electioneering and collapsed his influential print and broadcast media to promote Oke’s candidature who was roundly defeated. Before the election, the Nation newspaper had predicted Oke’s impending victory and even carried a graphical representation of his ‘impending landslide victory for days’. The same approach was also adopted by TVC station which was biased towards Oke in coverage and analysis.
Clear signs of betrayal
Against the backdrop of Tinubu’s foot soldiers to give their principal a soft landing after the devastating crash in Ondo with the argument that he supported Akeredolu, the reality is that Tinubu was clearly against ‘Aketi’s candidature and he deployed all his arsenal to truncate his emergence if to prove a point that he remains relevant in southwest and Nigerian politics. While Akeredolu tried to be diplomatic that he has Tinubu’s support going to the race, the utterances of his supporters during the victory dance by Akeredolu that “We have been liberated from Tinubu’s stranglehold” publicly said much to the contrary. Furthermore, Minister of Solid Minerals and former Ekiti State Governor who had fallen out with Tinubu, Kayode Fayemi publicly identified with Akeredolu during his victory parade in Ondo. Tinubu’s strategy, some observed was to use the Ondo election to re-launch his relevance in southwest politics and negotiate with it henceforth but he was beaten blue and black by forces that proved too formidable for his kind of politics. There were the northern gang-up in the APC against him which was complimented by a section of his estranged political godsons in Fayemi, Fashola and others.
Defeatist and belated response
While the drama in Ondo lasted and despite the loud cry generated by the issue, Tinubu did not consider it necessary to issue a single statement either to disabuse the minds of his opponents about the allegations or canvass support for Akeredolu. Even the attempt to play down his absence from the Ondo rally by Plateau Governor, Simeon Lalong that he was sick was rebutted by one of his lackeys, Senator Tokunbo Afikuyemi. In this regards his congratulatory statement after Akeredolu’s victory was seen by analysts as nothing but a defeatist action to the reality of his battered and shattered political capital. The question begging for answers now is that had Oke won the election or Akeredolu lost, what would have been the response of Tinubu because it was clear that he disapproved the latter’s candidature. There is no doubt that his apologists would have attributed Oke’s victory to Tinubu’s enormous support before the poll.
Future for Tinubu and southwest politics come 2019
As the country approaches the crucial line for the beginning of hostilities for 2019 battle, the Ondo election is seen by analysts as a test case already, especially among the divided political gladiators in the APC. For one, it presented a somewhat interesting scenario that irrespective of the angst and fury against the APC and President Buhari for the ongoing recession, the party might still be fashionable going forward especially since the opposition PDP has consistently shot itself in the foot before the race due to personal interest and egocentric traits of its leaders who have refused to rise above pettiness. With the Ondo election, opposing forces in the APC have succeeded in demystifying the once powerful Jagaban and Lion of Bourdillon. What is apparent now is that Tinubu’s diminishing influence might not be relevant again to win the southwest just like the Afenirere group has acknowledged. But that in itself might not be what some influential Yoruba leaders would want going into 2019 politics and Tinubu will be underestimated at any body’s peril. And Tinubu, will he lead a breakaway with other aggrieved minds in the party or continue to stomach what some of his supporters see as ‘insult’ for him that might even be increased in the days ahead if a crucial conference is not convened to gather all the dissenting forces to benefit the APC.
What next for APC?
According to some political analysts, it will be a miracle if the crisis in APC survived 2019. The present crisis has further exposed the wide gulf between some leaders of the party and the party’s fortunes going into 2019. The Atiku’s camp is losing out and with the suspension of Timi frank and all the talk about reviving the PDM by the former Vice President, the last may not have been heard on the issue. And up till now, the issue of Bolaji’s appointment that was imminent few weeks back seems to have taken the back burner for now, all in the fight to control the soul of the party heading towards 2019. Already the cracks have already started to generate talk of balkanisation and if the vibes coming from recent issue in the party is anything to go by, that will only be a matter of time before the prediction will come to pass on the formation of a new party. Some even see the Ondo election as a test tube and veritable avenue to test and revive the AD platform going into 2019. But whatever happens, going ahead for APC, PDP and the political environment will make another interesting analysis.