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Ondo: A Season Of Political Re-engineering

Ondo: A Season Of Political Re-engineering Ondo State has become so central to all the contending political forces because of its strategic position as “a foot in the door” for both the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Peoples Congress (APC). Ondo is the last frontier to be conquered for the APC to have total control of the zone. For the PDP, it is still a friendly state, even though now in the coffers of the Labour Party (LP).

An unwary observer may think because there is no governorship election in the state next year, political activities should be in the low ebb, but the reality on ground is that a great deal of political maneuverings is going on that are fast changing the state’s political landscape.

In fact, the 2015 state and national legislative elections in the state would not only decide the outcome of the 2017 governorship poll because the party that controls the house is most likely going to produce the next governor, but also determine how the second half of the second term of incumbent governor, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko plays out.

Although many believe that the politically sagacious Mimiko would be able to work with an assembly of opposition lawmakers as he did when he was inaugurated five years ago and faced a mostly PDP legislators who later decamped to his Labour Party (LP) to give him the control lever, the same may not be the outcome in the event of the governor’s party losing the house next year.

A rehearsal of what could happen if the LP were to lose its majority strength in the Assembly and were the pendulum to swing to the side of a hostile opposition was played out when the governor presented this year’s budget to the lawmakers on the last working day of last year.

Even though they were said to be sufficiently informed of the presentation by the executive, two-third of the house membership stayed away from the chamber and some of them were seen within the complex discussing non-legislative matters in groups under the trees while the governor presented the fiscal bill, the most important annual event in the assembly, to only nine of the 26-member house.

The lawmakers’ hostile posture even though all of them except one belong to Mimiko’s LP, is seen as a reflection of the new direction that the state politics is taking, where the ruling party has allegedly lost considerable influence and goodwill particularly among the grassroots from where the party drew its strength when it was formed towards the end of 2006.

The waning influence of the LP is seen by many as self-inflicted, as members have been thrown into total disarray, which reflected in the non-holding of ward meetings after the October 12, 2012 gubernatorial election victory, apart from the fact that government seemed to have gone on recess in terms of delivery of dividends of democracy to the people since the commencement of the second term.

On one hand of the emerging scenario is a new opposition platform made up of disgruntled elements from both the PDP and the APC, who are said to be getting together to form formidable opposition, which from all indications, would give Mimiko and the LP a run for their money.

If the returns of the last election where Mimiko won with only about 42 percent of total votes cast is anything to go by, the strength of the combined opposition of both the PDP and APC could defeat the ruling party in the next electoral contest but as they say, politics is not a straight game that could be predicted with certainty.

A new appearance in the calculation is a refurbished PDP, which for many years had become an orphan abandoned by both its Abuja headquarters and the Presidency, which allegedly preferred to deal with Mimiko and the LP to the detriment of its own.

The PDP in state had been trudging on despite the fact that all the major political office holders, whose influence can keep the party machinery running, were curiously appointed from the fold of the opposition or through direct lobby of the state governor.

One of the major points raised by former President Olusegun Obasanjo in his controversial open letter to his successor, President Goodluck Jonathan, was the allegation that the latter did not provide the needed encouragement and support to the candidates of the PDP, preferring to provide same for opposition candidates to feather his nest of personal ambition.

Obasanjo stated in the letter that many PDP leaders and supporters including himself were “disappointed in the double game you were allegedly playing in support of party’s gubernatorial candidates in some states where you surreptitiously supported non-PDP candidates against PDP in exchange for promise or act of those non-PDP governors supporting you for your election in the past or for the one you are yet to formally declare.

“If you as leader of the party cannot be seen to be loyal to the PDP in support of the candidates of the party and the interest of such candidates have to be sacrificed on the alter of you personal and political interest, then good luck to the party and I will also say, as I have had occasions to say in the past, good luck to Goodluck.”

The former president, who specifically mentioned Ondo and Anambra states where the Presidency was quick to congratulate the winners from the opposing parties even while his own party’s candidates were crying foul and preparing to seek legal redress, went further to say that the development had contributed to the waning influence of the ruling party.

Although the president in his reply to the Obasanjo letter said the allegations of anti-party activities against him was “misdirected, hugely hypocritical and unfortunate as I relate with all governors irrespective of political party affiliations and have not worked against the interest of the PDP by not influencing the electoral process in favour of our party,” recent moves indicate that the Presidency may, as a result of the Obasanjo allegation, be turning a new leaf.

Because of the waning influence of the LP and the refusal of Mimiko to join the PDP formally, the new script at the Presidency, desirous of winning Ondo for Jonathan in 2015, now favours the strengthening of its political platform at the state level.

The presidency was said to be impressed by the performance of the PDP in the last governorship election, where the party came second and held tenaciously to its southern stronghold.

Sources disclosed to The Guardian said the presidency is already shopping for a new Man Friday, from whichever political platform, who would be acceptable enough among the political class to act as a check to the APC and possess the aura to win the state for the PDP.

When asked if Mimiko’s joining the PDP could put an end to the search for the new man, a top party chieftain said; “the governor can no longer join us. It is too late in the day. With what is happening in the state today, he doesn’t seem to possess that political might any longer.”

It was learnt that the impending cabinet reshuffle being planned by the presidency would be the launch pad for the party to come back into political reckoning since the occupant of the ministerial slot from the state, a technocrat in the person of Mrs. Omobola Johnson, has not contributed anything to the president’s political fortune.

The appointment of Johnson, who was said to have been nominated by Mimiko was vehemently opposed by the state PDP, which argued back then that as a party that had just lost governorship power, a strong politician is needed to be the rallying point for the party’s unity.

Former Nigerian Ambassador to Greece and Australia, Professor Olu Agbi, in a statement where he called for the appointment of a PDP man as minister, recalled that it was the late former governor, Dr. Olusegun Agagu as the Aviation Minister and later Power and Steel, who became the rallying point that the party needed to win the state in 2003 and warned that picking a non-politician would spell doom for the party.

With 2015 around the corner, that argument seems to have found favour with Abuja, which is said to be considering appointing a politician-minister to drive the support for Jonathan’s second term ambition.

This is buoyed by the recent appointment of Senator Musiliu Obanikoro, a grassroots politician and former Nigerian Ambassador to Ghana who is believed to have been brought to the Federal cabinet to shore up the strength of the PDP in Lagos, a state that had remained elusive to the PDP since the commencement of the current democratic experiment.

On the list of those in contention is former Jonathan’s Special Adviser on Foreign Affairs, Dr. Pius Olakunle Osunyikanmi, who now heads the Directorate of the Technical Aids Corps, Gbenga Elegbeleye, the Director-General of the National Sports Commission (NSC) and Abayomi Sheba, a member the board of the Federal Character Commission (FCC).

While both Elegbeleye and Sheba, who is said to be nursing senatorial ambition, were members of the House of Representatives on the platform of the PDP, Osunyikanmi got to Abuja on the ticket of the working relationship between the presidency and Mimiko after serving Akure as Special Adviser and later as commissioner for education.

As the DG of TAC, however, Osunyikanmi, who is in his early forties and represents the new face of politics with a lot of admirers from across all the political divides, has introduced innovations to the almost moribund system of deploying Nigerian experts to assist countries in the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) regions tackle their manpower shortages.

A well-connected grassroots politician, Osunyikanmi also has a large following across the state, a fact that was said to have made two former Senators in the state to present him to the president as the only politician capable of winning the state for Jonathan.

The comparatively youthful politician is however said to be too heady and independent-minded to hold the position, which many observers believe needed to be occupied by a man who can “play politics in the Nigerian way of mixing deceits, half-truths and facts together.”

Elegbeleye, who like Sheba, once represented the state at the House of Representatives on the platform of the PDP, is said to be putting together a massive structure across the state on which he hopes to contest the next governorship election, perhaps flying the PDP flag.

The greatest point the NSC boss has working for him, apart from the fact that he now dispenses favour to all and sundry to soften the ground, is that he hails from Akoko in Ondo North Senatorial District, which some pundits believe should be given the opportunity to produce the next governor.

However, his ambition could be bogged down from within the PDP because he is alleged to be among those who, because of selfish interests, abandoned their platform to work for Mimiko and his LP during the last governorship poll and the low electoral strength of his Akoko area compared to others in the state.

For Sheba, a former journalist who was drawn into politics through the influence of his late mother, a community leader in his native Ode-Irele in the southern district, by contesting and winning a seat at the lower House in 1999, after which he served as the State Liaison Officer in Abuja, the strength is in his robust following particularly among Ikale youths.

He is however believed to be unknown outside his area and his ambition to go to the Senate could be truncated by Agboola Ajayi, also a former member of the lower House in the neighboring Ilaje-Ese-Odo constituency, who like Sheba, is also a die-hard member of the PDP. Sheba’s other weakness, stakeholders say, is that he is honest to a fault.

GUARDIAN

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on Mar 30 2014. Filed under AFRICA, FEATURE, Front Page Story, NEWS, News Across Nigeria, POLITICS, South West News.
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