Today, residents of Ondo State will be going into their seventh governorship election in 44 years, in a race that is considered to be very tight.
In today’s election, 17 political parties, including the All Progressives Congress and the Peoples Democratic Party, are fielding candidates and stakeholders have expressed fear that there may be violence, considering a history of election crises and violence in the state.
However, there are only three main contestants and analysts have predicted the poll will largely be a three-horse race.
The state, with the capital at Akure, was created on February 3, 1976 from the former Western State of Nigeria.
In the first 23 years of the 44 years of its existence, the state had 12 military governors/administrators, as well as two democratically elected governors.
The first democratically elected governor was the late Michael Adekunle Ajasin, who was elected on the platform of the Unity Party of Nigeria during the Second Republic. He governed the state for four years between 1979 and 1983.
The second democratically elected governor was the late Bamidele Olumilua, who was elected on the platform of the Social Democratic Party during the Third Republic.
He governed the state from January 1992 to November 1993, but he was forced to leave office when the military regime of the late General Sani Abacha took power.
Abacha ruled the country from November 1993 until his death on June 8, 1998. After his death, General Abdulsalami Abubakar became the head of state. He was the country’s last military ruler as he called for elections and transferred power to civilian government under ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo on May 29, 1999.
Meanwhile, after Ajasin and Olumilua, Ondo State has had four democratically elected governors from 1999 when democracy returned to the country till date. Thus, the state has had six democratically elected governors since its creation 44 years ago.
Hence, whoever wins today’s poll will emerge the Sunshine State’s seventh democratically elected governor.
Between 1976 when the state was formed and 1999, it had 12 military governors/administrators, including the late Captain Ita David Ikpeme, who served between 1976 and 1978 during the military regime of General Olusegun Obasanjo (who later became President).
Other governors who served during the military regime were retired Brigadier General Sunday Tuoyo (1978-1979), the late Commodore Michael Bamidele Otiko (1984-1985), the late Vice Admiral Mike Akhigbe (1985-1986), and retired Major General Ekundayo Opaleye (1986-1987).
Between 1987 and 1988, the state was headed by Brigadier General Raji Rasaki (retd), followed by Chief Bode George (1988-1990), and then retired Rear Admiral Sunday Olukoya (1990-1992).
The state experienced a brief democratic run by Olumilua from 1992 to 1993, but after Abacha took over power, the state was headed by the late retired Colonel Mike Torey (1993-1994), and then retired Colonel Ahmed Usman (1994-1996).
Thereafter, the late retired Navy Captain Anthony Onyearugbulem served as a military administrator between 1996 and 1998. The last military administrator to rule Ondo State was Colonel Moses Fasanya, who served between August 1998 and May 1999.
Those elected in the past 21 years of democratic rule were the late Chief Adebayo Adefarati (Alliance for Democracy), the late Olusegun Agagu (Peoples Democratic Party), Olusegun Mimiko (Labour Party), and the incumbent Governor Rotimi Akeredolu (All Progressives Congress).
AD’s Adebayo governed the state between 1999 and 2003; PDP’s Agagu, 2003-2009; LP’s Mimiko, 2009-2017; and APC’s Akeredolu, 2017 till date.
Today’s poll will see the seventh governor being elected in the past 44 years of the state’s existence.
Akeredolu, Jegede, Ajayi in tight race
Although 17 parties fielded candidates for today’s election, there are only three main contestants, and analysts have predicted the poll will largely be a three-horse race.
The three parties are the ruling APC, PDP, and the Zenith Labour Party, with Akeredolu, Mr Eyitayo Jegede, and Deputy Governor Agboola Ajayi as the respective candidates.
Some political parties that initially showed interest in the election have also collapsed their structures to support the main candidates, particularly those of the PDP and the APC.
For instance, the chairmen of 11 parties, earlier in the week announced the decision of their parties to support the PDP candidate.
Despite that, Akeredolu, Jegede, and Ajayi are heavyweights in the governorship election as their structures spread across the 18 local government areas of the state. This is coupled with the fact that they were considered to have had the financial strength to run their campaigns when compared to other candidates.
Due to their popularity across the state, it is almost impossible to predict who will win among the three politicians.
Interestingly, the three candidates are from each of the three senatorial districts of the state. Akeredolu is from Ondo North, Jegede from Ondo Central, and Ajayi from Ondo South.
It was gathered that until the last minute of the campaign, the candidates were still gaining support in their respective strongholds, where they are expected to get large votes and miscellaneously get the constitutionally required number of votes from the other areas where they are less popular.
In spite of the closeness in the ratings of the trio, political observers have still managed to rate the chances of the three candidates across the 18 local government areas, though it is still difficult to ascertain who the winners will be in the areas.
During the campaign, it was observed that the three candidates were welcomed by their mammoth supporters. Their campaign venues were always full, which signified the popularity and acceptability of the candidates in the local government areas.
Political analysts predicted Akeredolu to win and have massive votes in Owo Local Government Area, where he’s from, as well as in Odigbo Local Government Area.
Though Odigbo Local Government Area is in the southern senatorial district, its inhabitants are mainly non-indigenes of the state. Besides being the third highly populated local government area in terms of voter registration, with over 120,000 registered voters, the local government area comprises mostly people from Osun and Kwara states, which are APC-controlled states.
According to observers, Jegede may win Akure South Local Government Area, where he is from and which is the largest local government area in the state in terms of voter registration. It has over 248,000 registered voters who comprise both indigenes and non-indigenes of the local government area.
In addition to that, with the perceived popularity of the PDP candidate among the people of Akure, coupled with the determination of his kinsmen to support him in this election, victory is also predicted for Jegede in the Akure North Local Government Area.
The Deputy Governor, Ajayi, is from the Ese Odo Local Government Area in the southern senatorial district. Being his local government area, his people would prefer to vote for their ‘son’ rather than an outsider.
He is also expected to win in Ondo West and Ondo East local government areas, owing to his backing by a former governor of the state, Dr Olusegun Mimiko, who is also the National Leader of the ZLP, in the election.
Mimiko always won the two local government areas since 1999, regardless of his political party. Observers said Ajayi would also win the two local government areas in today’s election.
In general, a total of seven local government areas are expected to be won by the three candidates, leaving the 11 other local government areas as battlegrounds.
According to analysts, the battleground local government areas are Akoko North-East, Akoko North-West, Akoko South-East, Akoko South-West, Ose, Ifedore, Idanre, Ile-Oluji/Oke-Igbo, Okitipupa, Irele, and Ilaje.
However, some political analysts have noted that Akeredolu may have an edge over the two other contestants, being a sitting governor.
Police deploy 33,000 operatives, INEC assures free, fair poll
To curb election violence, the Inspector-General of Police, Mr Mohammed Adamu, said the police had deployed over 33,000 officers and men.
Other security agencies have also prior to the election deployed their operatives, with the promise that the exercise would be violence-free.
This is as the Independent National Electoral Commission promised to ensure the election is conducted in a free, fair, and credible atmosphere.
The INEC Chairman, Prof Mahmoud Yakubu, said adequate preparation had been made to make sure every vote counted in the election.
The candidates in the election have also signed a peace accord and made a commitment that the poll would not be violent.
Speaking with one of our correspondents, a public affairs commentator and university lecturer, Dr Ralph Abimbola, noted that since the election had become a three-horse race, and the candidates are from each of the senatorial districts, the candidates must have impressive results from their respective senatorial districts to win the poll.
“The three candidates are expected to have enough votes from their senatorial district and strongholds, and at the end of the day, whoever has the majority of the votes cast will win the election,” he said.
“But the most important thing is for the election to be free and fair, and the people’s votes should count,” Abimbola added.
APC chieftain asks court to disqualify Akeredolu over unlawful nomination
An APC chieftain, Mr Kalu Agu, has asked the Federal High Court in Abuja to disqualify the party and its governorship candidate, Akeredolu, from participating in the Ondo State governorship election.
The plaintiff, in the suit filed on October 9, 2020, and marked, FHC/ABJ/CS/736/2020, also urged the court to stop the party’s senatorial candidates for Lagos East, Mr Abiru Tokunbo, and Imo North, Mr Frank Ibezim, from participating in the bye-elections to hold in the states.
Agu, a youth leader of the party in Abuja, who had a pending suit challenging the dissolution of the Adams Oshiomhole-led National Working Committee of the party on June 25, 2020, asked the court in his fresh suit to stop the party from fielding candidates for any election until the old suit challenging the disbandment of the NWC was determined.
The defendants sued by the plaintiffs include INEC, the APC, Chairman of the APC Caretaker Committee and Governor of Yobe State, Mai Mala Buni.
Others defendants are members of the caretaker committee which include Isiaka Oyebola, Ken Nnamani, Stella Okorete, Niger State Governor Sani Bello, Dr James Lalu, Senator Abubakar Yusuf, Akinyemi Olaide, David Leon, Prof Tahir Mamman, Ismail Ahmed, and Senator Akpan Udoedehe as the 1st to 14th respondents respectively.
The plaintiff, through his lawyer, Mr Ukpai Ukairo, claimed that the nomination of candidates for an election by law ought to be by no other person than the chairman and secretary of the party and not by a caretaker committee, which is currently running the APC.
He stated in an affidavit filed in support of the suit that “there is no lawful provision for a caretaker committee to run the affairs of a political party at all, including the 2nd defendant”.
He also averred that INEC did not receive any notice of primary election for the selection of APC’s candidates in the governorship election in Ondo as well as the senatorial bye-elections in Lagos and Imo states duly “signed by the National Chairman and Secretary of the 2nd defendant/respondent.”
He added that as of the time the caretaker committee was inaugurated by the National Executive Committee of the APC, the NWC had barely spent two years out of the four years it was elected to be in office.
In a separate motion, the plaintiff sought an interlocutory injunction pending the determination of the substantive suit restraining INEC from acting on any document submitted by the APC in relation to any election it was conducting as long as such documents were signed by the caretaker committee.
He further prayed the court for another order restraining INEC from placing the APC in the ballot for any election it is conducting, “or where already placed from ascribing any vote to the APC in so far as the names and particulars of any such candidate were submitted to INEC by or under the hands and signatures of the 3rd to 14th respondents.”
He also prayed the court to restrain INEC from ascribing any vote to Akeredolu, Tokunbo, and Ibezim in the governorship and senatorial elections respectively.
The Ondo State Police Command has said that its 33,000 personnel deployed across the state are treating every part as a flashpoint ahead of today’s governorship election.
The Police Public Relations Officer, Tee-Leo Ikoro, told Saturday PUNCH on Friday that there were also aircraft to be deployed to monitor the security situation from the space.
He said the Commissioner of Police, Bolaji Salami, mandated the police to treat every part of the state as a flashpoint in the election.
This is as the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, has ordered the restriction of vehicular movements from 11:59pm on Friday to 6pm on Saturday in the state.
Adamu, in a statement on Friday by the Force spokesman, DCP Frank Mba, noted that the directive was also aimed at preventing political actors and troublemakers from freely engaging in unpatriotic acts such as circulation and use of illicit arms and hard drugs, movement of political thugs from contiguous states to Ondo State and the disruption of the electoral processes, which are inimical to the dictates of the electoral laws.
The statement was titled, ‘Oct 10 Ondo governorship election: IGP orders restriction of vehicular movement.’
The Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps on Friday also said 60 sniffer dogs and 7,079 officers and men drawn from the South-West states, as well as Kogi, Edo, and Kwara commands would be deployed for today’s poll.
The Deputy Commandant General in charge of Operations, Hilary Madu, while briefing newsmen on the preparedness of the corps for the exercise at the Ondo NSCDC Command headquarters, also said four Assistant Commandant Generals would also be on duty during the poll.
Meanwhile, INEC has warned political parties and their supporters planning to share money during the election that the police would be waiting to arrest such criminals.
The state Resident Electoral Commissioner, Mr Rufus Akeju, added that INEC officials in riverine communities would be the first to be dispatched to prevent any incident of late arrival during today’s election.
In the meantime, the hospitality business has been thriving in Ondo State since the beginning of the week, following the influx of politicians and party supporters to the state ahead of today’s election.
It was gathered that some state governors are already in the state to give support to the candidates of their parties and they have been occupying many hotels in Akure, Owo, and Ondo towns.
Also, residents of Akure, Ondo State capital, on Friday stormed various markets in the metropolis to buy foodstuffs and other basic needs in preparation for today’s poll.
At Arakale, Oja Oba, and Isikan markets, all located within Akure metropolis, there was an unusually large number of people buying items.
A trader at the Arakale Market dealing in foodstuffs, simply identified as Morenike, in an interview with Saturday PUNCH said many people had patronised her unlike before.
Similarly, at the Oja Oba Market, another foodstuffs seller, Iyabo Olusola, and a meat seller, Busari Akeem, also said more buyers had thronged the market apparently to stock up ahead of the poll.
Meanwhile, a group, the National Consultative Fronts led by a former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Ghali Umar Na’Abba, and former presidential candidate, Prof Pat Utomi, have mandated all accredited observers to eschew violence and other forms of electoral malpractices.
Also, the Ekiti State Governor, Dr Kayode Fayemi, has urged the Ekiti people in Ondo State to cast their votes peacefully in today’s election.
The governor, represented by his Chief of Staff, Biodun Omoleye, spoke in Akure, the Ondo State capital, on Thursday evening at a parley with Ekiti State indigenes resident in Ondo State.