By: Israel Umoh
The race for Ondo Government is on the touchline of history as the parties’ candidates have rounded off their electioneering campaigns and are at the mercy of voters to open the door for the preferred.
The election in Ondo State, South-West Nigeria billed for Saturday, October 10 is largely seen as a contest between the APC and the PDP, though ZLP as a dark horse could show its political teeth.
The incumbent governor, Rotimi Akeredolu of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), will rock the boat against Eyitayo Jegede of the main opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and 15 other candidates.
Ondo, one of Nigeria’s oil-rich states, has been governed by four different political parties since 1999. By winning the election, the APC will be the only party to have governed beyond eight years in the state.
Voting Strengths of Ondo LGAs
Of the 18 local government areas in the state, a winner is expected to garner two-third votes from them.
The areas are Akoko North East, Akoko North West, Akoko South East, Akoko South West, Akure North, Akure South, Ifedore, Ile Oluji/Okeigbo, Ondo East, Ondo West, Owo, Ilaje, Okitipupa, Ose, Odigbo, Ese Odo, Idanre and Irele.
Akure South LGA is the largest local government area in the state with a population of more than 480,000 and more than 280,000 registered voters.
For the 2016 Governorship election, Akure South with 25,797 votes, gave the sitting Governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, the highest votes from any local government area.
In 2012, the local government area gave Labor Party the highest votes of 49,915 to make former Governor Olusegun Mimiko to win second term in the office.
So far, the state has 1,822,346 registered voters, but 1,478,460 PVCs have been collected and the number of uncollected PVCs stands at 372,888. The state has 203 electoral wards and 3,009 polling units. The voters are drawn from Akoko S/West, 87,351; Ese-Odo, 66,481, Akoko N/East, 66,290, Idanre, 64,438, Ose, 63,568; Akure North, 60,744; Akoko N/West, 58,505; Irele 57,651; Ifedore, 54,640; Ile-Oluji/Oke-Igbo, 54,391; Ondo East 40,496 and Akoko S/East 32,763. PVCs have been collected and the number of uncollected PVCs stands at 372,888.
The Tinubu factor
In 2016, the race was mainly between the APC, PDP, and the Alliance for Democracy (AD), which fielded Olusola Oke, a former member of both the APC and PDP who was reportedly backed by the APC national leader, Bola Tinubu.
Yet, Governor Akeredolu won convincingly without the support of the party’s national leader, Tinubu.
In September 19 governorship in Edo State, Governor Godwin Obaseki, who defected from the APC to the PDP, was re-elected. Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu of APC who got tacit support of Tinubu failed the election.
Finding has shown that Tinubu factor has never worked in Ondo State since 2012. For instance, Tinubu supported Akeredolu against Mimiko in 2012 but lost. He also backed Olusola Oke in 2016 against Akeredolu and lost.
Indeed, the Ondo 2020 is a three-horse race from Akeredolu, Jegede, to Agboola Ajayi, the state deputy governor who pitched his tent with Zenith Labour Party after he fell out with his principal.
But the events from 2016 are unlikely to recur in the party, says Rotimi Ogunleye, who was among the APC members who defected to AD four years ago.
“This election is different in that the governor is approaching the election with a united party unlike the 2016 election, where all those who contested against him at the primaries either left the party or worked against him,” says Ogunleye, who now serves in the Campaign Committee of the APC for the coming election.
“It is also different because the PDP ran in 2016 with a serving attorney general of the state and had suffered severely from the fractures and crisis that attended his party, unlike what is happening now when he is contesting outside the government and has no crisis to contend with.”
Abimbola agrees with Ogunleye, in that the tide can only be turned against the incumbent, if the two other parties forge a united front.
A total of 17 political parties were cleared by the Independent National Electoral Commission for the election. While the APC, PDP, and ZLP had embarked on massive campaigning across the state, the other 14 parties have either remained inactive or thrown their weight behind any of the big three.
In 2015, Governor Mimiko boasted he would deliver one million votes for then-president Goodluck Jonathan; he delivered only a quarter of that. In 2019, the state got even fewer votes despite the governor and the president belonging to the same party.
Dissenting Voices against Returning Officer
As the election fever bites, Seyi Makinde, the Chairman, National Campaign Council of the Peoples Democratic Party and Governor of Oyo State, has rejected the choice of the OAU VC as Chief Returning Officer for the election.
Makinde had said, “We are speaking in particular about the appointment of Prof. Eyitope Ogungbenro Ogunbodede, the Vice-Chancellor of OAU, Ile-Ife, as the Chief Returning Officer of the Ondo State governorship election.
“The PDP totally rejects Prof. Eyitope Ogungbenro Ogunbodede acting as Chief Returning Officer. He is a known crony of Rotimi Akeredolu SAN, candidate of the All Progressives Congress and hails from Owo, the same hometown as the candidate. He cannot be a fair party in the proceedings by virtue of their association.”
But the Independent National Electoral Commission on Friday ruled out the appointment of Ogunbodede as the Returning Officer for the Ondo State governorship election.
The commission said while it would not be drawn into speculations relating to the performance of its constitutional and statutory functions, the RO for Saturday Ondo State governorship election “is not from Ondo State and not from OAU Ile-Ife.”
INEC National Commissioner and Chairman (Information and Voter Education Committee), Festus Okoye, made the clarification in a statement in Abuja on Friday.
According to him, the RO would report to the Resident Electoral Commissioner for Ondo State on the date conveyed in his letter of appointment issued several days ago.
Okoye explained that the RO for the governorship election is not from the state and not from OAU Ile-Ife.
He said, “While the commission will not be drawn into speculations relating to the performance of its constitutional and statutory functions, it is imperative to set the records straight for the benefit of the people of Ondo State and the integrity of the electoral process.
“It is the sole responsibility of the commission to appoint a Returning Officer for the Ondo governorship election and does not share this responsibility with any individual, group or political party.
“For the avoidance of doubt, the Returning Officer for the Ondo Governorship election is not from Ondo State and not from the University mentioned in the said press conference.
“The Returning Officer appointed by the commission will report to the REC for Ondo State on the date conveyed in his letter of appointment issued several days ago.
“The commission is firmly focused on the conduct of free, fair and peaceful election and implores all the stakeholders to cooperate and play their own part in ensuring peaceful election and not to engage in unhelpful speculation.
“The main concern of the commission is in ensuring a credible electoral process while the outcome is in the hands of the people of Ondo State.”
No Face mask, No Voting
There is another lacuna to the election pulled out by INEC. The election umpire has mandated the use of face masks for individuals before they can exercise their franchise in the forthcoming elections in Edo and Ondo states.
This is part of measures by the Commission to ensure the safety of voters ahead of the Edo, and Ondo governorship polls amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It is mandatory for every voter to wear a face mask or face covering without which the voter would not be allowed to vote,” the Chairman of the electoral body, Professor Mahmood Yakubu, stated at a briefing of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 in Abuja, Thursday.
The INEC boss while giving insight into the nature of face masks to be worn during the elections, explained that the electorates do not need surgical masks to cast their ballots.
He stated that “a face covering will be sufficient for a voter to be accredited to vote.”
To ensure physical distance during the elections, the chairman said INEC is introducing two queues in the polling areas.
“One outside the polling area and the other, inside the polling area,” Mahmood added while stressing that “within the inner queue, voters must maintain the mandatory two-meter or six feet distance and we clearly marked this in one of the by-elections we conducted recently.”
For voters who have a high temperature, cough, or are sneezing, the former Executive Secretary of the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) said there is a protocol by the body.
“They must obey all directions from officials to stop other voters from getting infected,” said the INEC Chairman noted.
In case of emergencies, INEC also has a “procedure for evacuation” and will be collaborating with health officials in the different states, according to the former lecturer.
“In Edo State, for instance, we are working with the State Response team,” he explained.
These are matters arising in the governorship election, which is close to call. INEC has delivered sensitive materials to the state. Security agents have been dispatched to supervise a peaceful, orderly conduct of the election. Baring all the challenges, the Ondo people will triumph after electing a governor after their own hearts.