As the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) gets set for its primary election in a few hours, presided over by the Governor of Enugu State, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, at the International Culture and Event Centre in Akure, party faithful have expressed anxiety as to what the outcome will be. They want to see if the party will survive the many troubles that have dogged its heels in recent times.
To achieve victory for the party through unity of purpose so it could defeat the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and its candidate, Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, the number of aspirants was pruned from 19 to eight. The primary today, many political analysts believe, is a strategic platform for the party to consolidate on its chances in the choice of candidate, which comes two days after APC elected Akeredolu as its flag bearer.
Each of the three senatorial districts has an aspirant each, except for the South District, believed to be the home and political stronghold of the party. It has six contenders jostling for a ticket. The candidate of the party in the 2016 poll, Eyitayo Jegede, is trying again from the Central District while Bode Ayorinde from the North District and a kinsman of the APC candidate and incumbent governor, Akeredolu, boasts that only him can defeat APC.
There are arrays of aspirants from the South District, namely Banjo Okunomo, Eddy Olafeso, Olusola Ebiseni, Boluwaji Kunlere, Godday Erewa and the incumbent Deputy Governor, Agboola Ajayi, whose sudden appearance has shaken up the political space.
Ajayi ditched the ruling APC party and is keen to contest against Akeredolu in the forthcoming governorship election. But this is not without some misgivings from other PDP aspirants and their supporters, who accuse him of disrupting the party with his entrance so late in the day. He formally joined the party on Sunday June 21, 2020 and was received in Akure by the National Chairman of the party, Uche Secondus, who led other National Working Committee (NWC) members of the party to receive him.
This fuelled the suspicion of party members loyal to other aspirants, who raised the alarm that some leaders of the party were allegedly supporting the deputy governor to emerge as automatic candidate. Ajayi is not feared because of his status as deputy governor, but mainly due to his political antecedents in PDP before he joined APC in 2016 to become deputy governor barely six months after his defection.
Ajayi accomplished all his political exploits since 1999 as foundation member of PDP. He rose to political stardom as PDP councillor, caretaker chairman, substantive chairman and member of the Federal House of Representatives. These afforded him the opportunity to build a vast political empire and acquaintances in the party across the nation.
Before the emergence of the deputy governor, the coast had been clear for Jegede to emerge as the party’s possible flag bearer. Although he would have been challenged from other contenders, who believe that the strength of the party in the South should also be considered.
Within four weeks of joining, Ajayi has changed the political narratives of the party and state at large, even as the Akeredolu-led government accused him of re-enacting the political scenario of Ajasin-Omoboriowo saga. The first face-off between the major PDP contenders, Jegede and Ajayi, was the rumour that the party leadership had brokered a compromise, which stipulated that the former had agreed to be a running mate to the latter.
But the National Chairman, Secondus, who reiterated the neutrality of the party’s leadership, pledged that the interest of the NWC was to conduct free, fair and credible primaries. While receiving Ajayi, he debunked any form of imposition or endorsement rumour, saying, “Our coming here today is not to endorse a particular aspirant it is for the generality of the people. The Deputy Governor has said that he is not coming to utter the rule or seek for any favour from the party. But we know that with him and others joining the party, we can reclaim Ondo State so that people can have fresh air and good governance.”
Without mincing words, Secondus declared that the deputy governor would bring added value to the party, but his assessment was pitched against the former PDP South West Publicity Secretary, Ayo Fadaka, who asked him to toe the path of honour and resign from office as deputy governor.
The present political situation, especially the botched attempt to impeach Ajayi as deputy governor, has further strengthened the party, as there is APC governor and PDP deputy governor in government. Fadaka, who is supporting the former PDP Vice Chairman, South West, Olafeso, to get the party’s ticket, opined that the deputy governor betrayed the trust of his former party that put him in office in 2016.
“Ordinarily, it is up to Agboola Ajayi to do what I think is honourable by resigning himself if he feels he could no longer cooperate with the man who placed a level of trust in him to assist him in doing his job,” he said.
But PDP’s state Director of Media and Publicity, Mr. Zadok Akintoye, who alongside others, noted that the present situation affords the opposition a face in the state government, disowned Fadaka. Without mincing words, the party noted that Fadaka’s comment did not reflect the position of the party on the matter.
“Agboola Ajayi remains the deputy governor of the state and is not under any compulsion (either moral or legal) to resign his position,” Akintoye said.
Shortly after the screening by the party’s leadership, one of the aspirants alleged that Ajayi approached four of them to step down for him by inducing them with N400m. He kicked that “it amounts to an insult on all of us.”
During the PDP ad hoc delegate congress a few days ago, aspirants and their supporters protested that the committee members and some party leaders connived with the deputy governor to alter the delegates’ list in his favour. They called for the immediate arrest of the Secretary of the PDP Ward congresses Electoral Committee for Ondo State, Mr. Kingsley Chinda, saying he colluded to add 101 fake delegates into the adhoc delegates’ list.
Leading the protest, Mr. Solomon Bitire, a former chairman of Okitipupa LGA, said: “Agboola Ajayi must be disqualified for fraudulently injecting 101 fake delegates into the ad hoc delegates’ list of Ondo State PDP in collusion with Kingsley Chinda, the Secretary of the PDP Ward Congresses Electoral Committee.”
Consequently, the former state’s Publicity Secretary of the party, Okunomo, who emerged the consensus governorship candidate of Ilaje council, vowed to institute legal action against the party leadership if the anomaly was not corrected. The infighting within the party, with Ajayi at the receiving end from seven other governorship aspirants, made some people to conjecture that today’s exercise may be postponed due to volumes of complaints and petitions received in Abuja.
Some of the aspirants raised the alarm that Ajayi has allegedly earmarked $1000 to financially induce delegates for their votes. Holding forte for Olafeso, a legal activist and chieftain of the party, Dr. Benson Enikuomehin, clamoured for the disqualification of the deputy governor in today’s primary.
Enikuomehin warned that the law court would do the needful for PDP if the party leadership failed to disqualify him, alluding to the unfortunate judgment against Bayelsa State a few months ago. He explained that the appeal for the disqualification of Ajayi was based on a suit filed at an Ondo State High Court by a member of the PDP, Ayenuberu Eganosi.
According to him, the suit claimed that the Ondo deputy governor obtained his academic qualifications in breach of the 1999 constitution, extant laws, manuals and regulations guiding various examination bodies.
Based on the aforementioned, the litigant is not only seeking an order to disqualify Ajayi from participating in the PDP primary, but also praying the court to restrain the PDP from presenting Ajayi to INEC for the purpose of election.
“If we succeed at the governorship election and the issue that has to do with these certificates that has been described in the petition, our opponents will only raise the issue that somebody sat for an examination in two separate schools and obtained results here in Akure,” Enikuomehin said. “The young man sat for May/June in Aquinas College. In the same May/June he sat for the same examination in Victory College, Ikare, at the same time, same date and same examination. He passed both examinations.”
He added, “Other facts are here. It is necessary as concerned leaders of the party that our national leaders must do something in this respect. Failure of do so, we may be cruising home to the Bayelsa experience. We may work hard and after winning, a red card will be shown to us.
“We urge the leadership of the party in Abuja to look critically at this matter and have this thing addressed. If we do not do the needful, the court will do the needful for us.”
However, Jegede, who was the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice during the past PDP administration, led by Dr. Olusegun Mimiko, declared that the deputy governor is not a threat to his ambition.
According to him, “I contested against his boss, Mr. Rotimi Akeredolu in 2016 and I came second. Myself and his boss are those who contested in 2016.”
The former commissioner revealed that he had a firm grip on all the delegates across the 203 wards in the state, saying “If Akeredolu was not a threat to me in 2016, his deputy cannot be a threat to me or my ambition in 2020.”
He premised his confidence on his past records as a former commissioner, member of the state’s Tenders’ Board for six years and chairman of Conference of Attorneys-General for the 36 states of the federation.
“In all my career, I have never been found wanting and I have overcome greed in any appearance. If you cast your vote for me in this primary election, and if I eventually win the governorship race, nobody will be forgotten in terms of spreading the dividends of democracy.”
Also, a former deputy governor during the late Dr. Olusegun Agagu’s administration, Ambassador Omolade Oluwateru led 114 delegates in Akure kingdom to support Jegede. Oluwateru, a member of the PDP Board of Trustees (BoT), vouched for the loyalty and honesty of Jegede, saying, “This is a golden opportunity for you to tell the entire people of Ondo State that Akure has an exceptional son, who can fulfill the yearnings and aspirations of the masses of the state.
“We have all been behind Jegede all this while because we can see ahead, that the people of the state stand to gain much in terms of employment generation, social infrastructure, agricultural revolution, solid health services, educational growth, among others.”
He assured him that all the 114 delegates in Akure South had signed up to a common agreement to vote for him, saying Jegede has the wealth of experience to manage the affairs of the state better than any other aspirant.
However, the deputy governor Ajayi has described all the allegations against him as mere fabrications sponsored by envious adversaries, and pointed accusing fingers at Governor Akeredolu. Ajayi, who spoke through his Media Adviser, Allen Sowore, said it was understandable his political adversaries within the PDP and APC have intensified fruitless efforts through sponsored media attacks to smear his reputation since he moved from the ruling APC to PDP.
“Some PDP aspirants, who are being sponsored by the Ondo State Government to obtain forms just to undermine the capacity of the opposition party in its bid to take over the reins of government from the wobbling and floundering Akeredolu, have suddenly realised that it’s not going to be business as usual. This may not be unconnected to the fact that the Akeredolu-led government has so far found it arduous to come out of coma and fill the gap the exit of the deputy governor has created.
“It must be noted that it is the national leadership of PDP that sent a committee to see to the conduct of delegates’ election and they are the custodian of the list and not the deputy governor.”
While speaking on age falsification and certificate scandals against his boss, Sowore disclosed that there was a Court of Appeal judgment, which vindicated him from the blackmail sponsored to whittle down his aspiration.
According to Sowore, “The deputy governor as a governorship aspirant of the PDP submitted the basic requirements and qualifications for the governorship contest: SSCE results, official age declaration, membership card and tax clearance, all of which have been screened and certified okay.
“There was a petition against his Law School Certificate and Call to Bar. This again has been dismissed by the highest and most distinguished Body of Benchers. It is therefore foolhardy and unfortunate that those who should know better are still wandering and wallowing in their pool of ignorance over a matter, which the judiciary had given its final verdict.
“In the past three months, the same stories aimed at smearing the reputation of the person of the Deputy Governor, Agboola Ajayi have been sponsored and planted in both traditional and online media platforms. The ultimate aim of these job-seekers is to demarket the amiable deputy governor as the Ondo State gubernatorial election gets near.
“These hirelings and their sponsors do have the sympathy of Agboola Ajayi. However, it’s not too late for them to face the reality that no one can curse a man whom God has blessed.”
Many political analysts have noted that the fate of the party to pull a surprise stunt politically lies in the South and Central districts. But this is provided the party gets the choice of its candidate right.
According to them, although one of them has better chances over the others, working together as a team stand them a chance to defy the power of incumbency, which the ruling APC welds and give it a tough fight and possibly coast home to victory in October.