As the election magical year of 2019 approaches, contenders gunning to take over from the incumbent Governor Abiola Ajimobi in Oyo State, have returned to the trenches, fine tuning their strategies to outdo one another in the titanic battle ahead, reports OLAJIDE OMOJOLOMOJU
Ahead of the 2019 gubernatorial election in Oyo State, contenders for the plum seat from the two major political parties, the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, have begun underground moves to ensure they emerge victorious in their bid to succeed the incumbent governor of the Pacesetter State, Senator Abiola Ajimobi, whose second term tenure expires on May 29, 2019.
Consequently, political activities in Oyo State, albeit clandestinely, and jostling for political relevance by various stakeholders, are on the increase.
The Pacesetter State sits on a tripod, just like most states in the country, based on the three senatorial districts, which are: Oyo North, comprising of Saki West, Saki East, Atisbo, Irepo, Olorunsogo, Kajola, Iwajowa, Iseyin, Oorelope, Oriire and Itesiwaju local government areas; Oyo Central, made up of Afijio, Ogo Oluwa, Surulere, Lagelu, Oluyole, Ona-Ara, Oyo East, Oyo West, Ogbomoso North, Ogbomoso South and Atiba local government areas and Oyo South comprising Ibadan North, Ibadan North East, Ibadan North West, Ibadan South East, Ibadan South West, Ibarapa Central, Ibarapa North, Ibarapa East, Egbeda, Akinyele and Ido local government areas.
A look at the leadership of the state since the advent of the current democratic dispensation showed that Oyo South has produced more governors of the state than any other zones.
From 1999 to 2003, the Agodi Gate Government House was occupied by the late Lam Adesina, who rode to power on the back of the Alliance for Democracy, AD.
He was succeeded by Rashidi Ladoja. Both of them are from Oyo South. The incumbent, Ajimobi is also from the Southern district.
The Central district has produced former Governor Adebayo Alao-Akala, while the North is yet to produce any occupant of the coveted seat.
However, as 2019 approaches, the major contenders for the governorship post include the Minister of Communications, Barr. Adebayo Shittu, former gubernatorial candidate of the Social Democratic Party, Seyi Makinde, former Governors Alao-Akala, a Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, and son of the popular late Ibadan politician, Gbadamosi Adegoke Adelabu, Adebayo Adekola Adelabu, media guru and former editor of the Guardian newspapers, Debo Adesina, Deolu Akande, a professor and former Chief of Staff to Governor Ajimobi, among other contenders, who are yet to declare their intentions.
But the whole saga took a new turn when Governor Ajimobi threw his weight behind the agitation of the Oyo North senatorial district, also referred to as the Oke-Ogun axis of the state for the governorship in 2019.
There is already a gentleman zoning agreement on ground in the state, like in every other state of the federation, which stipulates the rotation of the governorship among the three zones and it was against this background that Oke-Ogun is staking a claim to the seat, insisting that it is their turn to produce the next governor.
Ajimobi, had during the fidau prayers held at Okeho, in Kajola Loal Government Area of the state, in honour of a stalwart of the APC, Alhaji Salami Oloola, publicly declared his readiness to support the zone to produce the next governor of the state.
The governor, however, added a caveat emptor: that the Oke-Ogun zone should solicit the support of the other two zones, especially Ibadan people, which according to him, constitute 52 per cent of the state population.
While acknowledging the role of Oke-Ogun people in his electoral victories in 2011 and especially 2015, when he won an unprecedented historical second term in office, Ajimobi said, “I can recall vividly that during the 2015 governorship elections, I won in nine, out of the 10 local governments in Oke-Ogun, and this aided my emergence as the first governor to secure a second term in office in Oyo State.
“I cannot thank you enough. I will forever cherish you my people from Oke-Ogun and I am using this opportunity to assure you that I will reciprocate your love for me.
“Without prejudice to the competence and legitimacy of aspirants from other zones nursing the ambition of succeeding me, I can say the people of Oke Ogun deserve my support.
“But, I will advise that you seek the support of people from other zones. You must win them over to win a governorship election. For instance, Ibadan people alone constitute about 52 per cent of the population.”
He added that one of the ways he had in his own little way repay Oke-Ogun people was appointing the highest number of commissioners from the zone, describing the feat as unprecedented.
Meanwhile, incumbent Minister of Communications, Shittu, Adesina and Makinde are top contenders from the North senatorial district.
Oke-Ogun, is 60 per cent of Oyo State land mass, and an area of about 13,537 sq. km, has a population of about 1.6 million, according to the 1999 census figure.
The area is also blessed with abundant mineral resources, such as huge marble deposits at Igbeti, Olorunsogo Local Government Area; gold and clay deposits at Shaki East and Shaki West; gemstones at Atisbo and Itesiwaju local government areas; abundance of granites in all the 11 local governments areas of the zone, as well as kaolin and limestone deposits in the valleys of Osoogun and Ado-Awaye Hills.
But despite the abundant human resources in the zone, it has not enjoyed federal appointments in its annals.
Until the recent appointment of Shittu, as Minister of Communication, the only federal appointments from Oyo State from that zone were those of Chief (Mrs.) Janet Akinrinade as Minister of State for Internal Affairs between 1979 and1983 and Otunba Bamidele Dada as Minister of State for Agriculture between 2003 and 2007.
As the battle for the Agodi Government House rages on in the state, various power brokers and blocs in the state have begun intense politicking and planning to outwit one another and take charge of the state machinery.
This is just as the ruling APC is enmeshed in internal wrangling, leading to the polarisation of the party into two major factions.
The opposition PDP also has its own share of crisis as Ladoja and a former governor of the state, Gbolarumi, continue to battle for the soul of the party in the Pacesetter State.
The APC in Oyo State is divided into two major splinter factions: the Lamists and the SENACO. The Lamists are said to be loyalists of former late governor of the state, Adesina in the defunct Action Congress, AC, which later became Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN; while SENACO is peopled by the Ajimobi camp, especially those who were members of his team during his attempt to lead the state under the defunct All Nigeria Peoples Party, ANPP, who followed him to the defunct ACN and ultimately to the APC.
The problem in the APC began shortly after the 2015 election, but the crisis was managed by the party leadership until April 3, when members of the different factions took up arms against each other.
During the fracas, weapons such as stones, cutlasses, axes and charms were freely used by the groups, with many members sustaining varying degrees of injuries.
The major bone of contention that blossomed into the fracas was the lopsided appointment by the Ajimobi administration, which was said to favour only the SENACO camp.
There was also the alleged imposition of candidates in the composition of caretaker committee members for the 33 local government areas of the state and the local council development areas.
Leadership learnt that one faction accused the governor of appointing over 80 per cent of education secretaries for the 33 councils from his faction.
It was also learnt that members of the Oyo State Independent Electoral Commission, OYSIEC, appointed in all the councils were allegedly from the governor’s camp.
Another thorny issue in Oyo APC was the inauguration of APC Elders Council at Lafia Hotel, by Ajimobi, who said the aim of the inauguration was for the council to ‘rejuvenate’ the party.
But this was kicked against by some stalwarts of the party, especially, Shittu, who described the inauguration as a ploy by Ajimobi to hijack the structures of APC in the state ahead of the 2019 general election.
While featuring on a TV current affairs programme monitored by Leadership in Ibadan, Shittu alleged that the inauguration of the APC Elders’ Council and appointment of caretaker chairmen for the 33 councils as well as the 35 LCDAs were calculated attempts by the governor to achieve his mission, adding that the governor’s actions were alien to the APC constitution.
Shittu had said: “The appointment of zonal leaders or elders advisory council for APC in Oyo state is unconstitutional and it is a clear attempt to make the state executive of the party irrelevant. It is so clear. There is no position of zonal leaders in our constitution. We must challenge that because it will be used for sinister motive.
“The supreme structure for the state is the state executive, representing various parts of the state. The interest of our people must be of utmost priority. What is the motivation for that? Where do you put all our leaders who worked tirelessly for our success in 2015 election? Why do you want to make them irrelevant to people you think will do your bidding. I don’t think it is patriotic.
“We have the state executive of the party recognised by the constitution. With due respect to Mr. Governor, he does not have a role to play than managing the state executive of the party.”
While not denying his interest in the governorship in 2019, Shittu added, “I don’t want to be handpicked by anybody. I want to contest a primary that if I lose, I will be happy. I can assure you that the primary will be fair. With the national executive of the party that I see and with the symbolic style of President Muhammadu Buhari, it will be transparent. If the President will go through primary, why would others be different?
“As at today, the party is at a stage where the bubble may burst, the only power I have now is to speak out my mind so that perhaps, that will inspire people of like minds. If I discuss with him with the rate things are going and he says no, will I have the moral backing to come to the open and start talking? For me, I think the party leadership at the highest level should intervene. People are frustrated; these are people who contributed to the emergence of the governor in 2011. We don’t want the APC to go the way of PDP.”
This was just as Governor Ajimobi assured APC stakeholders that his administration would provide a level playing ground for all contestants in 2019 as well as the forthcoming council polls.
It is instructive that although Ladoja had his eyes on the, governorship, he has listened to the voice of reason and is now ready to play a kingmaker role.
But unless the PDP puts its house in order, it may as well kiss the seat goodbye in 2019.
While all these shenanigans are playing out, one of the contenders, Makinde, has gotten the endorsement and support of politicians from the North zone.
A group of eminent politicians from the Oke-Ogun axis of the state expressed their readiness to work for his gubernatorial ambition in 2019, at a meeting held in Iseyin.
With all these playing out, it is expected that the battle for the soul of the state in 2019 would be an interesting one, especially against the background of the intrigues already playing out in the state.
Interestingly, many analysts have said that the elevation of some chiefs in Ibadan to obaship status, was part of the shenanigans going in the state, targeted at some gladiators, especially, former Governor Ladoja.
Definitely, the race would be interesting as the days go by and the election year draw high.