Ondo 2016 guber race: The compass points southwards
WITH politicians who had gone into recess after the 2015 general elections gearing up for next year’s gubernatorial contest in Ondo State, a new wave of agitation among the people of the southern part of the state for the top job is sweeping the political landscape. Before now it was almost taken that the next governor of the state should come from the northern part. This was based on the arguments that since all the three senatorial zones have had opportunities of producing governors in the current political dispensation and the position should go back to the north that started the rotation in 1999.
The campaign was intensified during the 2012 governorship elections during which the then Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) zoned the position to the North with the fielding of former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, SAN. As it is, the hand of the compass seems to be reading south in the build-up to the gubernatorial elections in which the All Progressive Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) are expected to slug it out.
Coming mainly from residents and politicians from the South, the new agitation seemed to be gaining ground. The campaigners argue that although the zone had produced a governor in the person of late Dr. Olusegun Agagu, he was only recognized to have spent only one term. Two years into Agagu’s second term, he lost the position via a judicial pronouncement to incumbent Olusegun Mimiko who challenged his victory at the Election Petition Tribunal.
The southern agitators also claimed that being the area that produced a sizeable chunk of revenue for the state through oil production for which the state derives the statutory 13 percent Oil Mineral Derivation Fund, the zone has not had its fair share of leadership control. And because Agagu was an Ikale, a Yoruba sub-ethnic group that occupies two out of the six local councils in the South, the new agitation is more intense among the other groups in the zone, mainly the Ilaje and Arogbo Ijaw of the coastal Ilaje and Ese-Odo councils and the Ore/Odigbo and Ile-Oluji/Oke-Igbo axis.
While the APC is not expected to act differently from what its precursor, the ACN did in 2012 by zoning the position to the North because of the obvious fact that the party is stronger there, the PDP which by Mimiko’s decampment now rules the state, has more aspirants in the South. The PDP confirmed its control of the southern zone, a trend that had been visible since 1999, in the last elections when it won all the available seats in the area.
This is one of the strongest points of the southern agitators; that the party should pick its candidate from the zone. Although there are other formidable aspirants in the PDP like Gbenga Elegbeleye, former Director-General of the National Sports Commission (NSC) from the North, who over the years has been building a statewide structure, the preponderance of aspirants from the South could swing the pendulum in their favour.
Among the aspirants from the South is Dr. Pius Olakunle Osunyikanmi, the Director-General of the Directorate of Technical Aides Corps (DTAC) and former Presidential Adviser on Foreign Affairs who once headed the State Ministry of Education as the Commissioner. Osunyikanmi, a young politician from Ile-Oluji who like Elegbeleye, has used the offices he had occupied to empower a lot of youths and build a crop of enthusiastic loyalists across the state especially among the youths, is said to be warming up to succeed Mimiko, whom he had served as an aide at the dawn of the current dispensation in 1999 when the latter was Commissioner for Health in Akure and Minister of Housing and Urban Development in Abuja.
Seen by many as the new face of politics in the state, Osunyikanmi, a very strong grassroots politician in his Ile-Oluji/Oke-Igbo local council is believed to have a big following across the state particularly among public servants. Also on the list of aspirants from the zone is Sola Ebiseeni, a fiery lawyer from the oil-producing Ilaje local council and current Commissioner for Environment, a position he is holding for the second time after holding same during the Adebayo Adefarati regime between 1999 and 2003.
Ebiseeni who cut his political teeth as Chairman of the old Ilaje Ese-Odo local council that then covered the whole of the riverrine area of the State in his early thirties during the aborted Third Republic having been invited by Ilaje elites from his Lagos base, has been a recurrent decimal in the politics of the zone. The strong point of Ebiseeni is the resolve of most Ilaje, after the 2012 gubernatorial election experience, to use their strength that manifest in their being the group with the highest number of voters in the zone, to produce the next governor.
Another strong contender from the area is Kingsley Kuku, the immediate past Presidential Adviser on Niger Delta Affairs and Chairman of the Amnesty Programme of the Federal Government, an Ijaw from Arogbo-Ibe who was a member of the State House of Assembly between 2003 and 2007. Kuku, who headed the multi-billion-naira programme that saw to the ending of armed militancy in the once-restive Niger Delta region and management of post-crisis resettlement and rehabilitation of erstwhile militants, is believed to have been building massive consensus across the state to give his minority status the desired boost.
Analysts however believe that only a politician of Kuku’s status with tremendous goodwill in the Niger Delta region could make the dream of a small minority group (covering only half of a local council) becoming the governor of a state like Ondo realizable. Another strong name that has been mentioned is that of Chief Olusola Oke, the most prominent politician from the zone who decamped from the PDP, a party he helped to found and sustained for 16 years, for the APC on the eve of the last April 11 House of Assembly elections.
Described as the most influential living political figure in the zone particularly in his Ilaje area where he had been a political leader and head of the two intervention agencies as Commissioner in the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and Chairman of the Ondo State Oil-Producing Areas Development Commission (OSOPADEC), Oke, because of the brilliant campaigns he ran during the 2012 gubernatorial poll when he was the candidate of the PDP, is believed by many to be a governor in waiting.
It is however not clear if Oke, who many believe could would have taken the PDP ticket by mere asking if not for his dumping the party, an action believed to have been caused by the manner the PDP apparatus was handed over to Mimiko to the chagrin of those who toiled for the platform, would signify his intention to seek the top seat.
Corroborating this fact, Kuku, Oke’s co-traveler in the PDP boat since 1999 said he decided to contest the governorship seat because the absence of Oke who was also the PDP National Legal Adviser, left a huge leadership vacuum that he hoped to fill with his presence in the race. As the compass reads southwards, it now depends on the dexterity of the players to determine which one of them would succeed Mimiko in February 2017.
Coming mainly from residents and politicians from the South, the new agitation seemed to be gaining ground. The campaigners argue that although the zone had produced a governor in the person of late Dr. Olusegun Agagu, he was only recognized to have spent only one term. Two years into Agagu’s second term, he lost the position via a judicial pronouncement to incumbent Olusegun Mimiko who challenged his victory at the Election Petition Tribunal. The southern agitators also claimed that being the area that produced a sizeable chunk of revenue for the state through oil production for which the state derives the statutory 13 percent Oil Mineral Derivation Fund, the zone has not had its fair share of leadership control.=
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