By Dayo Johnson, South-West Regional Editor
THE rat race for the 2020 governorship seat in Ondo State has kicked off.
To this end, Governor Rotimi Akeredolu has put in place a kitchen cabinet to woo aggrieved leaders of the All Progressives Congress, APC ahead of the primaries.
Akeredolu is said to be optimistic that if he secures the confidence of party faithful in the state half of the war with the national secretariat would be won.
He is currently not on the same page with some power brokers in the Presidency, two prominent figures in the party, the National Chairman of the APC, Adams Oshiomole, and National Leader, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu.
Buhari’s loss in Ondo
The loss of the last Presidential election in the state and some National Assembly seats to the opposition because of the governor’s alleged anti-party activities for which he had been queried, had pitched him against some power brokers in the Presidential villa.
More painful to the power brokers was the allegation that the governor showed little enthusiasm during the Presidential election but went all out to mobilise and ensured that the APC had the majority of seats in the state Assembly election.
Equally, his refusal to abide by the decision of the NWC of the party during the last election over automatic tickets to national assembly members and his alleged support for the candidates of the Action Alliance, AA, drew the wrath of the APC leadership.
Vanguard gathered that his think-thank group had impressed it on him that once the party leaders in the state are solidly behind him his second term ambition would sail through.
The fear of the Governor Akinwunmi Ambode treatment was said to be giving the governor sleepless nights. APC elders and leaders backed by Tinubu opposed a second term for Ambode in Lagos and he was thoroughly beaten by Mr Babajide Sanwo-Olu at the APC primaries. Sanwo-Olu went on to win the 2019 governorship election.
Wooing aggrieved leaders
Consequently, the governor is wooing aggrieved party leaders including the former state chairman of the party, lsaac Kekemeke, the Senator representing the governor’s constituency in the National Assembly, Prof Ajayi Boroffice and former deputy governor of the state, Alhaji Ali Olanusi. He also promised to appease members complaining of abandonment in the last two years with board appointments and other political patronages. The think-thank, it was learned, suggested that Akeredolu should initiate moves to mend fences with the factional leaders of the party across the state in order to woo them for his re- election in 2020.
For over two years, the relationship between Akeredolu and the leaders has been frosty. These leaders are the arrow heads of the other faction of the party in the state and they have the ears of Oshiomole and Tinubu.
Faulty olive branch
The Kekemeke group is skeptical of the olive branch premised on Akeredolu’s re-election in 2020.
Recall that Akeredolu and other leaders, including Boroffice, have been feuding since the 2015 governorship primary in the state. While Boroffice and others believed that the outcome of the primaries was a sham, the party hierarchy thought otherwise and put its seal on the primaries.
Many of the governorship aspirants, who slugged it out with Akeredolu kicked vehemently and one of them, Dr Olusegun Abraham went to court and is still in court challenging the emergence of Akeredolu in the primaries.
Boroffice and others were later accused of anti-party activities during the election, which Akeredolu won.
Members of the group were thereafter sidelined by the governor on the pretext that they did not work for his emergence.
Akeredolu’s bid to stop Boroffice from returning to the Senate was thwarted by the APC National Working Committee, NWC, which gave him and two other senators automatic return tickets.
Not done, Akeredolu was said to have backed Dr Tunji Abayomi of AA against Boroffice during the election but failed as Boroffice retained his seat.
However, the governor beat a retreat after notable party personalities impressed it on him that he was fighting a lost battle against Boroffice more so that he would need the group for his second term ambition.
Consequently, Akeredolu, according to a party source, has decided to tread softly and unite with with Kekemeke and Boroffice.
Indeed, a source said that Akeredolu looked the the other way when another opportunity to make Boroffice lose his seat came up.
Rather, Akeredolu was said to have presented himself as an arbiter to save Boroffice from being sacked from the Senate in order to woo him to his side.
The Mega Party of Nigeria, MPN, had after the election filed a petition at the Election Petitions Tribunal sitting in Akure against the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC and the winner of the Ondo North senatorial election, Senator Ajayi Boroffice challenging the absence of its logo on the ballot papers used for the election.
Akeredolu reportedly met severally with the leadership of the MPN both within and outside the state and they agreed to settle out of court. If the MPN did not withdraw the petition it could make the courts to order fresh elections in the zone.
Contacted, the state chairman of MPN, Biyi Poroye, said the party was no longer interested in the case the directive to withdraw the case came from the National Headquarters of the party.
According to him, the decision to discontinue the case was borne out of the spirit of reconciliation.
However, the Boroffice faction said they are not impressed and that Akeredolu would have to pay for all his sins against leaders of the party who he shut out of his government over the years.
Akeredolu declines comment on second term bid
Contacted, an aide to Akeredolu declined comment on the governor’s second term ambition.
His Chief Press Secretary, Segun Ajiboye, recently told Vanguard that his principal should not be distracted with the second term campaign.
Ajiboye said it was too early as the government just marked it’s second year in office.
However, last weekend, some party leaders gathered at the government house to tactically endorse Akeredolu for second term as they passed a vote of confidence on him.
Those at the parley, included Senator Titus Olupitan; former Finance Commissioner, Segun Ojo; former Commissioner for Information, Prince Olu Adegboro; South-West chairman of the APC, Pastor Bankole Oluwajana; a member of the APC Board of Trustees (BOT) Chief Jamiu Ekungba; Senator Tayo Alasoadura; a member of the House of Representatives, Hon. Kolawole Babatunde; and Pat Kelly.
Also present at the meeting were Deputy Governor Agboola Ajayi; Speaker of the House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Bamidele Oleyelogun; SSG, Ifedayo Abegunde; members of the state House of Assembly, state executive council, land ocal government caretaker chairmen among others.
They unanimously gave Akeredolu a pass mark particularly on infrastructural developmental, water and sanitation, industrialization, workers welfare and other areas of critical intervention.
The APC South West chairman, Pastor Oluwajana explained that Akeredolu has made the next journey of the party easy and described him “as a sellable candidate who has touched the lives of the people of the state.
The APC state chairman, Ade Adetimehin at the meeting urged members of the party to be united and speak with one voice ahead of future elections in the state.
Akeredolu turning Ondo around with agriculture – Campaign Concourse
Indeed, a pressure group, Campaign Concourse, said Akeredolu is turning the fortunes of the state around through agriculture and human capital development.
A leader of the group, Mr Amudipe Opeyemi Marcus, said agriculture has been a strong focus point of the Akeredolu-led administration given his multiple agricultural investment and intervention programmes.
Recently, Akeredolu said Ondo State Government is in partnership with the Federal Government through the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation. NNPC, to set-up a cassava-ethanol plant at Okeluse, in Ose Local Council of the state.
According to the governor, the cassava-ethanol plant will produce bio-fuel for NNPC and ethanol both for local use and export, adding that the cassava-ethanol project will be the largest cassava- based ethanol plant in Nigeria and Africa.
He said the project will provide over one million jobs for Ondo indigenes and other citizens within and outside the state. Handled by Obax Worldwide Ltd, Complant in partnership with the NNPC, the project would create 12,000 direct jobs while over 200,000 farmers would be fully engaged.
Governor Akeredolu said this project was visible due to the current interest by investors in Ondo State from the maiden edition of the Ondo State Investment Forum which took place in 2018 in Akure on the auspices of the Presidential Economic Diversification Initiative, PEDI.
The governor who said the NNPC team was already in touch with the communities and assured the people of the state that the industry would be the long-awaited answer to the agitation for industrialization in Ondo state for years.
Marcus said Akeredolu’s vision and interest in agriculture for both human capital development and the development of the state can be seen in various programmes such as Youth on the ridges empowerment in agro business, and Schools on the ridges for secondary schools students among others.