Ondo State’s Deputy Governor, Alfred Agboola Ajayi’s refusal to resign his position after defecting to the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and All Progressives Congress’ decision to adopt indirect mode of primary election have combined to heat up the state’s political theatre as the two leading parties prepare for their primary elections, report Sam Egburonu, Associate Editor and ‘Dare Odufowokan, Assistant Editor
ALTHOUGH many had predicted an intriguing electioneering campaigns during this year’s governorship election in Ondo State, only a few could have envisaged the gripping drama currently being enacted in the state ahead of the July 22, 2020 primaries.
Two issues have combined, probably more than any other, to heat up the polity as the two leading political parties prepare for the primaries.
There are the state’s Deputy Governor, Alfred Agboola Ajayi’s refusal to resign his position after defecting to the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), a development that is causing ripples in PDP whose flag he now vies to fly and All Progressives Congress’ decision to adopt indirect mode of primary election in spite of criticisms and protests by some of its members, including governorship aspirants.
Concerned observers told The Nation that the way these two critical developments are handled will ultimately determine the outcome of both the primaries and the governorship elections.
APC, PDP lock horns over deputy governor
In spite of the decision of the Chief Judge of Ondo State, Justice Olanrewaju Akeredolu, to reject the move by the state House of Assembly to impeach the deputy governor of the state, Hon Alfred Agboola Ajayi, there is no respite yet for the embattled number two man as the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), his former party, and his new platform, the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), continue to bicker over whether or not Ajayi should remain in office as the deputy governor of the state.
Akeredolu’s rejection was contained in her response to the House of Assembly letter directing her to constitute a seven-man impeachment panel to probe allegations of gross misconduct levelled against the state’s deputy governor.
The Chief Judge in her response rejected the request on the ground that the two-third majority required by the 1999 Constitution for setting up of such a probe panel was not formed in the House of Assembly and that the matter was subjudiced.
Only 14, out of the 26 members of the Assembly signed the impeachment notice while nine other members dissociated themselves from the impeachment plot.
The nine members have also written a letter to the Chief Judge of the state, dissociating themselves from the ongoing plans to impeach the deputy governor of the state.
Recall that the deputy governor had equally approached the Federal High Court to halt his planned impeachment.
But the forces against the deputy governor are more than just members of the state assembly and he is yet to be saved from being removed from office.
It seems chieftains and members of the APC in the state have resolved to stop at nothing to effect his removal from office before the October gubernatorial election in the state.
Recently, hundreds of protesters besieged the Ondo State Governor’s Office in Akure, the state capital, demanding the immediate resignation of the state Deputy Governor, Agboola Ajayi. Eyewitness accounts claim the protesters were mainly members of the ruling party drawn from across the state.
The crowd urged the state government and the House of Assembly to ensure that Ajayi is removed from office immediately.
The protesters vowed to occupy the State House of Assembly complex should the lawmakers fail to impeach the deputy governor in the next seven days.
Speakers after speakers insisted that it was morally wrong for Ajayi to hold on to power after defecting from the APC that gave him the platform to become deputy governor.
They were armed with placards with different inscriptions. They chanted anti Agboola Ajayi songs, asking him to resign as deputy governor of the state.
Some inscriptions on the placards read: “APC will not share power,” “Agboola Ajayi is a traitor,” “Agboola Ajayi must resign now”, “Agboola Ajayi must go,” “Akeredolu beware of saboteur,” “Go to PDP, leave us alone,” “We don’t want Agboola Ajayi again,” among others. There was serious traffic jam at the entrance of the Governor’s Office while the protest lasted.
Hon. Sola Ebiseni, a former councilor in the state and one of the leaders of the protesters, said he never expected Ajayi to behave the way he did, calling him a traitor and an ingrate.
He insisted it would be honourable for the deputy governor to resign or be impeached by the State House of Assembly.
Also, the leadership of the APC in the state has reiterated its call on Ajayi to resign his position following his defection to the PDP.
The party in a release by the publicity secretary, Alex Kalejaye, said “We wished Hon. Ajayi had not taken this decision, after series of efforts and attempts by royal fathers and party leaders, from within and outside the State to forestall this migration.
His statement that he will not resign is vexatious. It is imperative to remind Hon. Ajayi that he ran on an APC ticket given to Arakunrin Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, SAN, and both were sponsored by the party.
Now that he chooses to defect, the party advises Agboola to tow the path of wisdom, and resign honourably as the Deputy Governor of Ondo State. Ondo State APC wishes him and his followers a safe trip to the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). We will, however, be willing to reabsorb them whenever they opt to retrace their steps.”
PDP provides support
But it appears Ajayi is not alone in his struggle to remain in office while being a card carrying member of the opposition party in the state.
The PDP has not hidden its readiness to support him for as long as the struggle lasts. As a sign of its support for Ajayi’s decision to dump the APC and join its fold, the party granted a waiver to the deputy governor to participate in its governorship primary election.
The primary has been fixed for July 22, 2020. Nine governorship aspirants, including the deputy governor, have shown interest and collected nomination forms to contest the party’s ticket.
The Nation also gathered that prominent chieftains of the party are providing tacit support for the embattled deputy governor in his face-off with his principal and the APC.
According to reliable party sources, the national leadership of the party recently warned one of its officials in the southwest who made a statement to the effect that Ajayi should quit his position as a matter of honour.
“The party was alarmed by the statement and promptly chided the concerned official who did not speak on behalf of the party in the first place.
Similarly, the party has reached out to its elected lawmakers in the state, especially in the National Assembly, to throw their weights behind Ajayi,” a source said.
On Friday, a group of PDP chieftains in the southern senatorial district of the state, called on President Muhammadu Buhari, the Chief Justice of the Federation, Justice Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad and the Inspector General of Police, Abubakar Mohammed Adamu, to protect Ajayi from being unconstitutionally removed from office by the ruling APC.
Ondo South PDP Youth Forum, headed by Comrade Akin Edema, asked the federal government to ensure that both Ajayi and the Chief Judge of the state, Justice Akeredolu, are not stampeded by the Governor Akeredolu-led government as regards the ongoing impeachment moves against the deputy governor.
In a strongly-worded petition written by the group to the President, CJN and the Police IG, the petitioner alleged that the Ondo State governor, the State House of Assembly and the ruling party, have perfected plans to ignore the warnings of the Chief Judge and move against Ajayi in the coming days.
“They have made up their minds to go ahead with their plans to illegally remove him from office and stop him from functioning as the deputy governor.
They intend to hurriedly appoint a replacement and swear-in same against all known democratic norms. It is not impossible that Ajayi may come to physical harm in such a process. That is why we are crying out in good time,” they claimed.
Personally, Ajayi has continued to dismiss any talk of him resigning from the cabinet of Governor Akeredolu. According to Ajayi, who confirmed that he is in the PDP to stay irrespective of what becomes of his gubernatorial ambition, he was elected by the people, and he is still serving their mandate.
The embattled deputy governor said he only resigned as APC member and not as the deputy governor of the state.
“It’s my people that voted for me. They did not ask me to resign, so I remain the deputy governor of this state. I was duly elected as a deputy governor,” he said.
A new battle-line drawn
Following the rejection of the impeachment move by the Chief Judge, Ajayi is now calling for the immediate resignation of the Speaker of the state House of Assembly, Bamidele Oleyelogun, over the perceived incompetence which he said had brought the exalted parliament into disrepute in the state.
This was contained in a statement made available to journalists in Akure last Sunday by the Media Adviser to the Deputy Governor, Allen Sowore.
According to the Deputy Governor, “this will go a long way to preserve our democratic gains, restore the dignity of the legislature and the principle of separation of power”.
“His Lordship leaves no one in doubt about the need to adhere strictly to the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) and due process in modern democracy.
The decision is a triumph for the rule of law against brigandage and anarchy. With the decision, the judiciary of Ondo State has demonstrated its independence and thus made a clear statement about its commitment to secure and sustain the principles and lofty ideals of our constitutional democracy.
We are reminded of the triumph of the human spirit across the age against totalitarianism and encouraged to bring to live the progressive provisions of our constitution that are antidotes to satanic demagoguery and maximum leadership.
“The deputy governor is humbled by the epochal decision, and reinvigorated to continue to stand for the good of the people as arrow head of the move to return government to where it rightly belongs; the people of Ondo State.
It’s in this light that we demand the immediate resignation or removal of the inept and mediocre Speaker of Ondo State House of Assembly, Hon David Bamidele Oleyelogun, whose incompetence has brought the exalted parliament into disrepute.
This will go a long way to preserve our democratic gains, restore the dignity of the legislature and the principle of separation of power.”
Expectedly, the Speaker has described the call for his resignation as a joke taken too far. This is just as he got a vote of confidence from majority of members of the House over the matter.
The pro-impeachment lawmakers described the move as wishful thinking on the part of Ajayi. According to the lawmakers, Ajayi should use his purported majority of the members of the Assembly loyal to him to remove the Speaker
The lawmakers, who spoke through the Chairman, House Committee on Information, Olugbenga Omole, stated that Ajayi was making unsubstantiated allegations.
According to Omole, the deputy governor was only boasting to have control of majority of the lawmakers which he said he did not possess.
“The Speaker will not be removed. He said he has majority lawmakers. Let him use the majority to remove the Speaker,” Omole said.
Rumbles over indirect primary
Besides the deputy governor’s refusal to resign his position, another issue that is causing ripples within the ruling APC is the adoption, last week, of indirect mode of primary election.
Even before the party leadership finally settled for the option, it generated heated controversy. Some major stakeholders argued passionately that only direct option will give the party “a popular candidate.”
One of the chieftains that argued that way just before last week’s resolution is the pioneer State Chairman of APC and former Secretary to Ondo State Government (SSG), Hon lsaacs Kekemeke
He had told newsmen that any other mode of primary, apart from direct mode, “will produce an unpopular candidate.”
According to him, adopting any other mode will “prevent party members from picking most popular aspirant.”
Explaining what he considers as the importance of direct primary election, he said “direct primary gives party members a sense of obligation to deliver, giving them a moral responsibility to work for the party’s candidate because they were involved in the selection.
Direct primary provides level playing ground for all aspirants and therefore promotes fairness, equity and justice. It removes influence of money, eliminates cash-and-carry and removes ‘kidnap syndrome’ whereby delegates are kidnapped and kept in a place.”
Kekemeke said there was a lingering problem arising from the 2018 congresses and that direct primary would remove controversy and allow participation of all registered party members, adding that direct primary would also portray the party’s national leadership as consistent and predictable, having adopted it in previous shadow polls in Lagos, Osun and Edo states.
Another reason adduced by Kekemeke for his preference of direct primary in the forthcoming exercise is the challenge of COVID-19.
As he puts it, “In fact, it’s COVID-19 protocol compliant; why would they gather 2000 or more delegates in a place as against smaller gatherings in their various wards.
Any politician who asks for the disenfranchisement of his party members is unpopular, undemocratic and should be rejected,” he said.
Since the adoption, other concerned stakeholders have made desperate moves to reverse the decision.
For example, 11 APC governorship aspirants in the state openly rejected the indirect mode of primary for selection of the party’s candidate on July 20 when they sent a protest letter to the party’s Caretaker/Extra-Ordinary National Convention Planning Committee (CEONCPC).
It was reported that only Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, who is seeking re-election, did not append his signature on the letter submitted to the office of the National Chairman of the party in Abuja.
Chief Olusola Oke, one of the governorship aspirants, on behalf of the others, submitted the letter dated 8th July, 2020, entitled: “Why indirect primary cannot be an option for Ondo State Governorship Primary Election.”
The Nation gathered the aspirants were reacting to a Thursday statement by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) indicating that indirect mode of primary election has been approved for the primary.
In the two-page letter, signed by Joseph Olusola Iji, Odimayo Okunjimi, Olayide Owolabi Adelami, Issacs Kekemeke, Olusola Oke, lfeoluwa Oyedele and Olajumoke Olubusola Anifowoshe; Awodeyi Akinsehinwa Akinola Colinus, Olubukola Adetula, Dr. Abraham Olusegun and Dr. Nathaniel Adojutelegan, the aspirants said: “Having variously traversed the length and breadth of Ondo State, interfacing with party members as aspirants, we can confidently inform you that overwhelming majority of our party members prefer Direct Primary for the nomination of the party’s candidate for the 2020 Governorship Election”.
The group argued that “adopting Indirect Primary Election in Ondo State, given the prevailing mood and circumstances is hazardous”.
Advancing reasons against indirect mode of primary election, the aspirants recalled that the party has been engrossed in a legal action at the Federal High Court, Akure, Ondo State following rejection by members of the validity of the Ward, Local Government and State Executives purported to have emerged from the compromised congresses of 2019.
They therefore called for an “overriding need to maximize fairness and minimize bitterness that, as stakeholders, we most humbly insist that direct primary be adopted as was peacefully utilized in Edo, Osun, Lagos, Oyo and Ogun states.
“It will provide a level playing ground for all aspirants and assist in no small measure in mobilising party members to own the candidature of whoever emerges from the process.
“The consequence of knowingly opening the race to all willing members of the party by allowing them to invest time, energy and huge resources only to hand over victory to one of the aspirants by adopting a mode only favourable to that aspirant, is too grave to imagine, given the prevailing mode generally in the state and particularly in the party,” they said.
Also, Youths for Change (Y4C), an APC support group in Ondo State, during the week, warned of the possibility of the party leadership “repeating its mistakes in Zamfara and Rivers” where, according to them, “the party frivolously lost out of the race for the governorship and legislative seats.”
They said in a communique issued after their emergency National Executive Committee NEC meeting held on Wednesday and jointly signed by its National Spokesperson, Olayinka Ajayi, National Secretary, Abdullahi Dalhatu, and its National Coordinator, Okoye Ikechukwu, “We appeal to our listening Caretaker Committee Chairman, Governor Mai Mala Buni and his team not to be deceived by the antics of these unpopular politicians in Ondo State who have lost touch with the people but insisting on contesting under our great party.”
They said among others: “That we find it appalling that out of 12 aspirants contesting in the primaries only one person is seriously rooting for indirect primary.
That a subsisting case in court instituted by aggrieved members of the party challenging the constitutionality and validity of the ward, local government and State Executives purported to have emerged from a marred and compromised congresses of 2019 cannot and will not permit these persons to stand as delegates even if an indirect primary is adopted.”
But promoters of direct primary in Ondo State said it would give back power to the people. This, they said, is because a direct primary is like a general election; a system where all the registered members of the party openly vote for who they want to be the flag-bearer of their party.
This is unlike the indirect primary, where only delegates are involved, a type of representative voting.
Dr. Rotimi Ademola, explaining the passion of the politicians for and against indirect mode of primaries in Ondo said: “Although the Electoral Act allows for either of the two modes, most of the major political parties in the country, have since 1999, opted for indirect primaries.
“That is why some people, making reference to former Lagos State Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, who was easily denied a return ticket through a direct primary election, argue that the direct method could serve as a whip in the hands of some leaders of the party who may want to punish any of the aspirants in Ondo State considered to be unbending.”
The Nation’s investigation during the week confirmed that in spite of the decision to settle for indirect primary, members of the party in Ondo are still sharply divided on the right option.
While some said the adopted indirect method has been used in the past to favour incumbents who rely on the votes of their aides, members of the cabinet, and hangers-on used as delegates, others said organisers could easily manipulate direct method, especially if they have a pre-determined result.
Whatever may be the case; both the aspirants and most of the party members are highly agitated.
It remains therefore to be seen how the Ondo State’s July 22, 2020 primaries would fare and how the outcome will eventually affect the fortunes of the party in the governorship election.
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