The All Progressive Congress (APC) governorship primary in Ondo State, won by Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu (SAN), and its fresh reconciliation efforts have given the party promising signs in the forthcoming governorship election, writes Southwest Bureau Chief BISI OLADELE
Jubilation erupted in Akure, the Ondo State capital last Monday when Ondo State Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu (SAN) was declared winner of the governorship primary.
He contested against eight other aspirants and won in all the 18 local government areas.
At the International Cultural and Convention Centre where the 14-hour election took place, the chairman of the Election Committee, Governor Yahaya Bello, declared Akeredolu winner of the contest after polling 2,458 votes to beat his closest rival Sola Oke (SAN) who polled 262 votes. Isaac Kekemeke came third with 19 votes.
Signals that the governor was the most popular started showing from the sorting of the first four local governments. In the first local government sorted, Akoko Southeast, Akeredolu polled 151 votes to beat Oke who polled seven votes and Kekemeke who polled only one vote.
The announcement of ‘Aketi’, which is Akeredolu’s alias, rented the air all through the sorting of the remaining 17 local governments, defeating rivals with very wide margin.
As soon as the counting of half of the local governments were completed with the announcement of Aketi at about 90 per cent of the time, the governor’s supporters who hanged around the venue of the election burst into jubilation, singing songs of victory. It was around 10:45 pm.
The primary brought to an end a vicious contest among many party leaders and governorship hopefuls. The months leading to the primary had witnessed intense bickering and coordinated campaigns suggesting that Akeredolu was a failure and, therefore, was no longer popular both in the party and the state.
But, his latest victory has proved his opponents wrong and re-established that he enjoys a broad-based support within the party, at least.
Days before the election, last-minute realignments, high-level meetings and interventions had characterised the activities within the APC.
Regional and national leaders rose in support of Akeredolu based on his credibility and performance in the last four years.
Consequently, three aspirants stood down for the governor less than 24 hours to the election. They are Ife Oyedele, Segun Abraham and Jimi Odimayo.
A last-minute agreement to go ahead with indirect primary as scheduled did not come easily. The Bello-led committee had a tough time convincing other aspirants that the election was not skewed in favour of the governor.
They had to produce the delegates’ list and allowed them preview and have a copy each for them to be sure that the list was not tampered with.
It also took a long time to convince them that COVID-19 protocols, the need to save time, logistics, cost and prevent interference of any form, necessitated the holding of the primary in Akure.
The meeting with aspirants lasted for hours at Heritage Hotel where members of the committee lodged.
Even before the withdrawal of the trio of Oyedele, Abraham and Odimayo, Akeredolu looked totally calm, radiating confidence in every way as if nothing serious was at stake.
He looked like a contestant who saw the mind of delegates from across the state in spite of the huge campaign against him which gave a narrative suggesting that he was not in charge of the party.
His opponents were presented as having a firm grip on the party and significant stakeholders.
With that narrative, many observers had pitied the governor with the expectation that the primary would seal his fate as a governor who will not be given the opportunity to contest for second term.
In the end, a total of 3,016 delegates were accredited while total votes cast stood at 2,793.
There were 2,760 valid votes while 33 were declared invalid.
Out of the total valid votes of 2, 760 Akeredolu polled 2,458, representing 89 per cent. Analysts believe that the aspirants who stood down would not have scaled off a significant number of votes from Akeredolu’s if they had participated. It is believed that the governor would still have polled not less than 50 per cent of the total valid votes.
Oyedele and Akinseyinwa Awodeyi garnered one vote each, Owolabi Adelami and Nathaniel Adojutelegan got four votes each, while Olajumoke Anifowose polled two votes. Olusola Iji polled nine votes, while Kekemeke got 19.
While reacting to the outcome of the primary, a calm but elated Akeredolu described his victory as historical. “The strong will, dedication, perseverance as well as the palpable resolve of all-party men and women at this very event present a historic moment to behold,” he said.
Also historical was that the victory came as a special 64th birthday gift to him. The election, which commenced on Monday, his wife’s birthday, was concluded on Tuesday, the day he clocked 64 years.
He pointed out that the comportment and love shown him by delegates and other leaders threw further challenges to him as their leader.
He commended co-aspirants for fighting a good fight, stressing that they are all generals with troupes that are important building blocks for the APC in its journey to totally lift the state to greater heights.
He said: “Most profoundly, I salute the courage of my brother aspirants. They have enriched the contest, no doubt. I must say that I am particularly enamoured by the determination and the industry we all put into this endeavour.
“All the same, the campaigns preceding this day have been noticeably fraught with mixed feelings. Relationships in some cases may have been bruised and interests hurt. In other cases, methods deployed to run these campaigns may not have been pleasant.
I plead with all us to leave these in the past and move on. This is more so that, all aspirants, including myself were either victims or indirectly responsible for such unpleasant circumstances. We must find spaces in our hearts to forgive one another.
“I am convinced that our individual pursuits were driven by the altruistic motivation to strengthen our great party and more importantly, take our dear State to loftier heights.
“Therefore, I find it delightful to say here and now, that we have all won together. Consider me as the custodian of your vision for the Sunshine State.
Together, we shall move the State forward. Under my watch, we shall witness a more robust, reassuring and rewarding relationship.”
Akeredolu expressed gratitude to the Bello-led committee, saying it demonstrated that credible election is possible and easy in Nigeria.
He also thanked President Muhammadu Buhari, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and other national leaders of the party for supporting a peaceful primary in the state.
He promised to initiate reconciliation with all aspirants and aggrieved leaders within 24 hours. Before the close of that day, Akeredolu paid unscheduled visit to some of them in fulfilment of the promise.
He stressed that they are all brothers, and that for the October 10 election to be won by the APC and for the development of the state, joint contributions of all stakeholders are required.
He visited Iji, Oke and also met with Kekemeke at his office.
After meeting Iji, Akeredolu said: “I must put it to notice that my brother here was the first person to call me and congratulate me.
He didn’t even know that I was coming. As you know he was once our chairman, he’s a party person to the core.”
As for Kekemeke, the governor said: “As you know D. I and I are colleagues. We are not only colleagues but brothers.
We have spoken frankly, he was frank. We have started talking, we are talking about our party not about individual. We have had very robust and frank discussions on how to move our party forward and work together.
Ondo State must remain APC state.” With frank talks giving way to true reconciliation in Ondo APC, the party may be cementing its footing for another victory in the October 10 governorship election.