NEXT year’s governorship election in Ondo State is expected to be a tough contest between politicians in the state’s political divide which mainly cuts across the All Progressive Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
The APC, which is the platform of the mainstream South West politics and to which many politicians in the state are switching allegiance to, is preparing to take over from the PDP, symbolized by incumbent governor, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko.
For Mimiko, who decamped to the PDP a few weeks to the last general elections to, according to analysts, seek federal protection in the face of imminent defeat of the Labour Party (LP) which he floated in 2006 to wrestle power from his new platform, the 2016 governorship contest is a must-win to remain relevant in Ondo politics.
But the Iroko, as Mimiko is called because of the massiveness of his political machinery and depth of grassroots support, which elevated him to a near-mortal status between 2006 when he floated the LP and 2009 when he was sworn-in as the governor after a 22-month legal battle, may not have it east this time.
After securing a second-term through a narrow win in 2012, a victory attributed by observers of Ondo politics to his romance with then President Goodluck Jonathan and the PDP Abuja powerhouse which chose to abandon its own candidate, a lot of challenges have crossed the path of Mimiko that have threatened his high public rating.
While the PDP was seriously depopulated of high-calibre politicians like Chief Olusola Oke, the party’s candidate in the 2012 gubernatorial elections, Gbenga Ogunniya, a three-term Senator of Ondo Central, and many others at the wake of Mimiko’s defection to the party, several others who were with him in the old LP like his Deputy, Alhaji Alli Olanusi, also found succour in the APC.
Among the close aides that left the Iroko camp earlier is Niran Sule-Akinsuyi, a political tactician and strategist from Owo who started the political journey with Mimiko when both of them were chieftains of the defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP) in 1991. Mimiko was commissioner for Health while Sule-Akinsuyi, who later served him as Commissioner for Special Duties at his emergence as governor in 2009, was a member of the House of Assembly.
But the most devastating of the defections from the Iroko camp, according to watchers of the state politics, is the one two weeks ago, by Dr. Pius Olakunle Osunyikanmi, the Director-General of the Technical Aids Corps who openly declared for the APC.
Osunyikanmi was Special Assistant to Mimiko when the latter was Commissioner for Health in 1999, Secretary to the State Government (SSG) in 2003 and Minister of Housing and Urban Development in 2006.
When Mimiko became governor in 2009, Osunyikanmi was made Special Adviser on Multilateral Agencies and later Commissioner for Education, a position he held until he was appointed a Special Adviser to President Jonathan on Foreign Affairs.
Described by many sources as the lubricating oil in Iroko’s political engine, Osunyikanmi was the rallying point of all the governor’s political activities especially during the difficult days when the battle for the retrieval of Mimiko’s mandate was fierce and the governor withdrew, “for security and strategic reasons,” from public glare.
Apart from being a grassroots mobiliser in his Ile-Oluji/Oke-Igbo local council, Osunyikanmi is very popular among public servants and the youths, many of who across the state, benefitted particularly from his current position as the DG, TAC, an agency of the Federal Government that provides manpower support to needy African, Caribbean and Pacific countries on request.
It is on record that Osunyikanmi has not lost a single election in his locale and that he was the only politician that checkmated, with the returns of votes from his local council, the obvious emergence of Agagu as a Senator in 2011, a development that would have waned the influence of Mimiko considerably in the state politics.
Analysts are of the opinion that a major benefit that the APC would get from the support of Osunyikanmi, who is believed to be eyeing the governorship seat, is however, his ability to draw a large chunk of Mimiko’s supporters, particularly from Ondo and Ile-Oluji/Oke-Igbo axis into the party.
Another major player who left the PDP is the immediate past Senator of the central district, Ayo Akinyelure, the Idanre politician and one of the original founders of the LP, who also pitched his tent with the APC citing irreconcilable differences with his former platform.
Elated by this development and the expectations that it would facilitate easy victory for the party in the coming polls, the APC in a release by its Director of Media and Publicity, Steve Otaloro, saluted the courage of Osunyikanmi and Akinyelure in their determination to bring the desired change to governance in Ondo State.
The release stated, “as a party poised to take government in Ondo State and change the socio-economic fortunes of the citizenry of the state, their decision to join hands with us is a morale booster. We assure them that the APC in the state is open, ready and prepared to accept them into its fold and treat them with all the respect they deserve.
“This present move by these gentlemen and their supporters should serve as an encouragement and eye-opener to all progressives still in the PDP and other parties to do the needful- join the APC. We urge them to take action now by joining hands with us to end the strange rule of one man in the state.”
The PDP has however described the defections as inconsequential and warned the APC “not to rejoice at the coming of these men as their party in this state will witness more turmoil than any good.”
A release signed by the party’s State Director of Publicity, Ayo Fadaka, declared that “these men who were truly acolytes of Dr Olusegun Mimiko, who is solely responsible for their emergence on our political space, owe all their political contents and relevance to him, have just began a journey into political irrelevance, and as such are bereft of any capability to injure the spread and influence of our party in this state.
“For us in the PDP, we have since discarded and obliterated them from all our scheming and planning as much more reliable people have since replaced them in their respective Local Governments.”
But one of the youth leaders of the PDP in Ilaje local council, Sam Ogunmusi, sounded a note of warning to the party leaders to stop playing the Ostrich and admit that all is not well within the party.
According to Ogunmusi, “when five serving governors and former Vice-President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar walked out of PDP National Convention in Abuja before the presidential election, some PDP leaders said it didn’t matter, we all know the result of the presidential election thereafter.
“When former President Olusegun Obasanjo tore his party card at his ward meeting in Ogun State, some PDP leaders said it was a fluke that he was a spent political force, we all can see the outcome today.
“In Ondo State PDP at the moment, two PDP leaders have just defected to rival APC, Senator Akinyelure, the immediate past Senator that represented Ondo Central at the Senate and a very close confidant of Governor Mimiko, Dr Pius Osunyikanmi, DG TAC, and some people are saying these people are not politically relevant again. I think is high time some people learnt from political history and stop deceiving themselves that all is well with Ondo PDP.”