The Ondo State All Progressives Congress (APC) Unity Forum, last month, announced the adoption of Olusola Oke, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, as its consensus candidate for the October 10, 2020 governorship election in the state.
The Unity Forum is a formidable group in Ondo APC, made up of prominent members of the party in the state vehemently opposed to the second term ambition of the incumbent Governor, Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, SAN. The members bent on ensuring that Akeredolu does not get the APC ticket for the second term, believed the easiest way that could be achieved was for the group to settle for one of the aspirants in its fold.
To this end, the APC Unity Forum chaired by Ali Olanusi, a former deputy governor of the state, set up a seven-man selection committee to pick a consensus candidate for the group, after the aspirants could not reach an agreement to settle for one person from among them. At the end of the committee’s screening exercise, a report adopting Oke as the chosen one from about ten aspirants was released.
Presenting the report to newsmen in Akure, the Ondo State capital, via a press statement, Olanusi, disclosed that in arriving at the decision, four of the seven members of the committee opted for Oke. Two, he said, voted for different aspirants while one was absent.
The ex-deputy governor stated: “The Unity Forum, by the content of the report, has adopted Chief Olusola Oke, SAN, as the candidate of the Forum. All the leaders and members of the Unity Forum are hereby enjoined to begin mobilisation across the state for the candidate of the forum.”
The Ondo APC factional group chairman further reveals that “during the meeting of the Aspirants on March 23, 2020, a unanimous decision was taken by all the Aspirants that the 7-man Gubernatorial Candidate Selection Committee should come up with a candidate to represent the Unity Forum in the Ondo State 2020 General election. This is due in part to the failure of the Aspirants to reach a consensus on a person to represent them as a candidate.”
Notwithstanding their pledge to abide by the decision of the selection committee, some of the aspirants dissociated themselves from the report. Also, the secretary of the 7-man selection team dismissed Olanusi’s statement declaring Oke as the adopted candidate of the group.
Keen watchers of Ondo politics opined that it would be in the interest of the forum for all the aspirants to keep to their promise by wholeheartedly accepting Oke’s adoption as the consensus candidate. It is believed that while all the aspirants may be eminently qualified to contest for the governorship seat, the popularity of the APC forum’s chosen candidate should be paramount if Akeredolu must be defeated at the primary election holding on July 20.
Oke’s loyalists are of the view that the forum made the right choice in settling for him. He is seen as a political juggernaut and master strategist who has built a strong support base across the state. His admirers noted that he made a significant impact on his participation in previous guber elections even though he didn’t win. They are however confident that he will sail through this time around, hoping that the APC Forum members and aspirants will put aside their differences and work together with the desired unity to actualize the purpose for which group exist.
An Ondo-born Abuja-based businessman, Mr. Jephthah Balogun, said he knew Oke was going to be the adopted candidate of the APC Unity Forum and was therefore not surprised at the announcement by Olanusi. Balogun said some of the aspirants complaining have no reason to do so having earlier agreed to accept whoever was being recommended by the APC forum’s committee.
Hear him: “I think it is important for all the members and aspirants in the APC Unity Forum to gladly embrace the adoption of Chief Olusola Oke as the consensus candidate of the group if only they are truly determined to dislodge the incumbent Governor Rotimi Akeredolu who really does not deserve a second term due to his failure to offer the kind of purposeful leadership and good governance needed to bring about the overall development of the state. The Ondo people are in agreement that the governor’s performance has been quite unimpressive, and so, he needs to be replaced. I believe Oke has what it takes to govern the state. Honestly, he is among the popular politicians that can do well if given the chance to occupy the exalted number-one seat of the state. He is a grassroots politician and he is very much at home with the people. There is, therefore, the need for the entire membership of the Unity Forum to rally round him to achieve the goal of pushing Akeredolu out of Alagbaka House. The governor himself knows that with Oke as the adopted candidate of the APC Unity Forum he is in trouble. He knows that Oke is not a pushover.
“Even the people of Ondo North where Akeredolu comes from are not happy with him. And it is simply because of the way he runs his government. He is not running the government as a politician or someone that understands how best to govern Ondo State for the benefit of the people. His ineptitude and cluelessness have negatively affected both Ondo as a state and his senatorial zone (Ondo North). Can’t you see that majority of those working round the clock to ensure he doesn’t return are from his place? The leader of the APC Forum, Alhaji Ali Olanusi, is from Ondo North. Most members of the forum are from the northern flank. That should tell that even his kinsmen are disappointed in him.”
A socio-political group, The Akoko Renewal Group, rooted in the northern axis of the state, threw its weight behind the Unity Forum’s adoption of Oke as the consensus governorship aspirant to confront Akeredolu in the APC’s guber primary poll.
A statement signed by the Secretary of the group, Olatubosun Awe, described the endorsement of Oke as the right decision while commending the Olanusi-led Unity Forum for putting the interest of the people of the state above any other.
Awe said: “It is important to commend the leadership of the Unity Forum for placing a premium on the interest of the people rather than personal ambitions.
“The decision of the Unity Forum to choose Chief Olusola Oke as the consensus aspirant among several aspirants in the group to contest the APC primary has revealed the good intentions of the Forum for the people of the state.”
Acknowledging Oke’s sterling leadership qualities, the socio-political group further stated that “It is pertinent to admonish other aspirants and chieftains of the Unity Forum to rally support for Chief Oke so he can win the APC’s gubernatorial primary and be the candidate of the party. This will give APC another opportunity to produce another governor in the state for the second time in the forthcoming governorship polls.”
An aspirant from the APC forum, Olarenwaju Kazeem, called on the aggrieved aspirants to sheath their swords and work towards the victory of Oke in the party’s primaries. He said the call became imperative to have a strong candidate that can rout the incumbent governor in the party’s primaries.
Kazeem, an erstwhile Commissioner for Agriculture in the state advised that the window of dialogue and reconciliation offered by the leaders of the forum should be embraced by all and sundry. He stressed the need for his co-aspirants to keep to their promise as men of honour by accepting the decision of the APC Unity Forum that adopted Oke as the group’s consensus candidate.
His words: “Everybody is not happy with Akeredolu the way he is running the affairs of our state; I would have wished somebody from Ondo North succeeds him during the 2020 election but it is only honourable if we all support the choice of our Unity Forum. We need to speak with one voice to dislodge Akeredolu during the party’s primaries. Let us work towards the same goal and we should all drop our personal ambition for the collective good of the people of the state.
“I don’t see any reason why any aspirants should reject the decision of the Unity forum; Baba Olanusi was shedding tears at one of our meetings when we could not arrive at a consensus candidate amongst ourselves and it was later agreed by all aspirants that they will all accept the decision of the selection committee headed by Senator (Yele) Omogunwa.”
Akeredolu does not appear to be bothered in any way with the decision of the APC Unity Forum to adopt an aspirant against him in the guber primaries. The governor is full of confidence that no amount of gang-up from the forum can stop him from winning the party’s ticket again.
Declaring that those interested in the governorship seat in the Unity group are of no match to him, the governor said: “if there is an election that is devoid of shenanigans, l will win hands down. l am particularly moved by the magnitude of 4+4 signs that numerous people of the state have been displaying. We will meet at the primaries. They are no match for me. I will win the primaries. We have delivered and the people on our side are more than those with them. if we go for an election today we are sure of having over 70 percent votes across the state. So we are at home with the majority of the people in the state.”
Oke vied for the guber seat in 2012 under the umbrella of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). He came second losing to the then Governor Olusegun Mimiko of Labour Party (LP). Akeredolu who also participated in that election on the platform of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) placed third. In the 2016 guber poll, Oke flew the flag of Alliance for Democracy (AD). He lost to Akeredolu the then-candidate of APC. He had earlier slugged it out with the incumbent governor for APC’s ticket before leaving the party to join AD.
Oke who returned to APC in January 2018 is again contesting for the Ondo guber seat. Is he going to succeed this time around as asserted by his supporters? Well, time will tell!
Michael Jegede, a media professional writes from Abuja