By Segun Dipe
The size of the dog in the fight, the size of the fight in the dog. These two factors will join forces in determining who eventually clinches the governorship ticket of the All Progressives Congress, APC in Ekiti State, and the likely winner of the next governorship election already slated for 14 July 2018.
According to the calendar released by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Ekiti is the next point of call for governorship election, and activities leading to the election will commence on 4 April 2018 with the issuance of the election notice. Campaign by political parties will be allowed between April 15 and July 12. Forms for the election will be available for interested political parties on April 16 and they are to conduct their primaries and resolve all disputes arising therefrom between April 15 and May 14. Going by the INEC time table, the campaigns proper can only start on April 15, 2018.
Already, no fewer than fifty persons have declared their ambition to run, with well over thirty from the predictably winning party, the All Progressives Congress, APC. Others are from either the ruling People’s Democratic Party, PDP or other sundry registered political parties. This however has not guaranteed any slot for anyone, especially since no one has formally obtained forms for the election.
Whereas, in the spirit of installing someone to watch over his back and cover his tracks, the incumbent governor, Ayodele Fayose, has damned his party and decided to pack all his weight behind his deputy, Prof Kolapo Eleka as his successor -the singular act has also sounded a death knell on the little chance left of the People’s Democratic Party to survive the coming election, and has further galvanized the chances of the leading opposition party, APC, to live up its victory.
Fayose cannot boast of having won any election on his own, but always relying on the federal might, receiving both financial and military supports from the presidency during the 2003 and 2014 elections. The only time he ran on his personal strength, he lost woefully, with Senator Babafemi Ojudu, beating him to a distant third.
Notwithstanding the array of aspirants that have entered the race, it is widely believed that the political space cannot be agog unless Dr. John Kayode Fayemi and Senator Babafemi Abdulganiyu Ojudu formally throw themselves into the ring. Dr. Fayemi is the immediate past governor of the state and currently the Minister of Mines and Steel Development. Senator Ojudu, a renowned journalist and activist, is the immediate past Senator who represented the Ekiti Central Constituency in the April 2011 national elections to become a member of the 7th National Assembly (2011 – 2015). He is currently the Special Adviser to the President of Political Matters.
Another known aspirant that could have lighted the political space with array of followers is Engineer Segun Oni, also a former governor. But there is a strong perception that Oni is too young in the progressives fold to govern on its platform, with the strong suspicion that he might be on a vengeance mission, trying to prove that he can indeed win an election fair and square. Oni came third in the primaries within the PDP fold in 2007, yet was imposed on those who came first and second and was eventually declared the winner at the general election. But after three and a half years fighting through the legal system, the appeal court sitting in Kwara State declared Fayemi, his rival from the progressives, the duly elected Governor of Ekiti State on 15 October 2010, thus marked the end of his pyrrhic victory. Oni is also a sworn ally of ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo, which has further weakened his chances, considering Obasanjo’s recent political faux pas of launching a third force, Coalition for Nigeria Intervention Movement.
Not a few see Oni as guilty by association, believing that he definitely has one leg in the OBJ group as his Plan B. It is also rumoured that Oni still has some friends and sympathisers within the PDP fold, who see his victory as a victory for PDP in Ekiti, since it is certain that the party, having been hijacked by Fayose, cannot win the election. To cap it up, the relationship between Oni and Fayemi remains that of a cat and mouse as there is still no love lost between them, be it real or perceived. Neither of them will want the other to outshine him in a political contest.
Fayemi and Ojudu are friends, comrades and political associates. They share common trajectories and are both are sworn enemies of the incumbent governor, Fayose. They were both human rights and pro-democracy activists. When Fayemi ran for the Ekiti state governorship in the 2007 elections on the platform of the Action Congress party, Ojudu played the pivotal role of a general in the ensuing war. Side-by-side, they navigated through the trenches, before Fayemi eventually emerged victorious in 2010. Ojudu never for once dissed or ditched Fayemi during the war, and stayed with him afterwards, until the latter was eventually ousted in the 2014 election by Fayose.
But the situation is now a different one. Fayemi and Ojudu, though still remain progressives in the same party, APC, they have gone their different ways. If or when they eventually declare, both will no longer be doing so through the same group. Both have decided to test their individual political might against each other. While Fayemi will be prosecuting his governorship ambition through the JKF Movement, a political platform raised to mobilise voters and sell his candidacy in all polling units, wards, local government areas and senatorial districts in the state, Ojudu will be prosecuting his own on the platform of Ekiti Rebirth Organisation, a socio-cultural movement campaigning to see the Special Adviser on Political Matters to the President emerge as the next governor of Ekiti State.
What motivates Fayemi is his crave for continuity. On several occasions, he had described the transfer of power from him to Fayose as an unfinished business, which he would love to come and complete. Ojudu on the other hand would want to come and rescue the state from what he called political slavery. He lamented that the state is currently like a modern slave camp where residents are in dire need of liberation.
For Fayemi, the coast is not clear yet. Those expecting him to boldly declare his intention may be waiting for Godot. Fayemi has been testing waters with one foot, but they are either too cold or too hot for him to plunge. Between 2014, when he left power and today, Fayemi has shed a lot of political weight. Like a bad dream, supporters of APC are still ruing the tsunami that hit them in 2014 Ekiti governorship election, when Fayemi, who had been widely acknowledged as having performed very well, lost his re-election to Ayo Fayose, a former governor of the state, in a woeful manner. And to worsen the matter, Fayemi left them in the lurch for too long to leak their wounds brokenheartedly. He shunned all reconciliatory moves, where those divisions that would make it nearly impossible for the APC to go into the 2018 election as a united house would have been resolved. Neither did he make any personal peace move, where he would have personally assured everyone that all would be well again, and chose to move on in search of greener pasture instead.
Today, Fayemi, who seemed to have since moved on and have found himself in the First-Eleven of the President’s team in Abuja, is no longer the rallying point of the progressives in Ekiti. While his body language has not left anyone in doubt that the job he still wants is that of the governor of Ekiti and not the ministerial job, his political strength has greatly waned. Whether he would eventually resign as a minister and join the race would depend on the outcome of the various consultations he has been making since last year. But so far, it has not been an encouraging one, as he has received more cold shoulders than encouraging ones. More so, his responses to whether or not he would join the raise, has continually bellies his body language and left everyone in suspense. He has always insisted that he has a job, courtesy of the President’s good gesture and he is committed to the success of the Buhari administration through effective accomplishment of promises made to Nigerians.
As much as he was able to record laudable achievements as Ekiti State governor, Fayemi of today is no longer Fayemi of yesterday. He is not the same person who was able to enlist so many people into the Collective Rescue Mission, while in government, and he knows this. It is widely held that his popularity began waning long before he finished the first term, and has even waned further since his exit in 2014. There is the concern that despite his intellectual prowess, he lacks strong and virile political structure to prosecute such ambition now, and may not command enough support, should he decide to throw himself into the ring. His loyalists, which include his cabinet members, the party Exco personally constituted by him, the lawmakers who worked with him and remained loyal to him, all through, the elders in the party and many other political associates have been turning their backs against him, ditching and dissing him, with complaints that his peace move started too little, too late. The mood of the moment is not favourable for him to come back.
The two most powerful warriors are patience and time. Sometimes, by losing a battle, you find a new way to win the war. This may not be working well for Fayemi. Should he eventually shun the counselling of these ones and declare, he will still be facing the uncontainable anger of so many people in Ekiti. And if Fayemi as a governor for almost four years was allegedly not having that touch with the common man who saw him as a “foreigner” and “too elitist” to relate with, what is the situation now that he has ignored them for so long?
Apart from party cells across the state, many believed that the ex-governor now lacks a core of political loyalists, “enforcers” and foot soldiers who would always ensure that he is in touch with the ordinary people, even when on national assignment. Fayemi also abandoned those who played this role in the past. Beyond party structure, there are no stronger political figures who can swing things in favour of Fayemi when the die is cast. Most importantly, Fayemi will also be undermined by the exit of his friends and political associates from his camp, as most of them have also decided to run against him. Many of the political top shots are seen openly canvassing against Fayemi and calling on him to shelve his ambition for now. The party Exco, led by its Chairman, Chief Jide Awe is also seen queuing behind other aspirants, thus greatly weakening the structure that Fayemi built, which could have mobilised for his re-election.
To worsen Fayemi’s plight, Fayose has hung a sword of Damocles on his head by setting up a panel of enquiry. Fayemi did not honour the panel’s invitation. Rather, he described it as a kangaroo one set up to smear his reputation and render him unpopular by the PDP-led government. He headed for the court. Asking that the judicial commission of inquiry set up by his successor, Governor Ayodele Fayose, be restrained from investigating him over allegations of fraud and diversion of public funds. The High Court sitting in Ado Ekiti however affirmed that the judicial panel was properly constituted and that Fayose had acted pursuant to Section 2 (1) of the Commission Inquiry Law Cap C10 Laws of Ekiti State. The panel indicted Fayemi. Fayose went ahead to issue a white paper banning his predecessor as well as to gazette the verdict. How this will pan out is left for the outcome of the legal gymnastics likely to play out on both sides. Except it changes, the position today, as gazetted, is that Fayemi is banned from holding any political position in Ekiti State.
But if Fayemi is waiting on the power at the centre to hand over the ticket to him on a platter of gold, then he must be reading both the body and verbal languages wrong. The National Chairman of the APC, John Odigie-Oyegun, has come out clearly to say that the party will not endorse any candidate for the July governorship election in Ekiti state. Evidences abound in Edo, Ondo and Anambra that the party at the centre would want to play a neutral role, and at best, ensure its best to ensure transparency.
The questions are: will Fayemi be able to cross all these hurdles and run? If he will, when will he declare?
Meanwhile, Fayemi’s loss, seems to be Ojudu’s gain, as the latter keeps gathering momentum and support from both the elite and the non-elite in the state, who see him as the toughie most capable to immerse Fayose’s excessiveness and save the people from further torture. Ojudu is from Ado Ekiti, and that is where he has the greatest hurdle to clear. Already, indigenes of Ado-Ekiti, the state capital, are vehement that they would prefer to have their own son on the seat of power than now. The singsong is: “Ado na ti a j’Ewi” (Ewi will certainly emerge from Ado).
The intensity with which Ado indigenes want the next governor to come from among them is further underscored by the rivalry between Ado and Ikere. Ikere wants the governor, and Fayose, the political gadfly, who possesses the power of incumbency, has decided to back their agitation by giving them his deputy, Prof Eleka. Gradually, it is sinking in the consciousness of Ado indigenes that this would be an affront, and they would want their own to confront whoever is coming from Ikere. Babafemi Ojudu is the one with the nerve to face Fayose in the political battlefield. He had done it before, beating Fayose hands down in a direct contest. As of today, Ojudu remains the only aspirant from Ado Ekiti. All that is required of him is a formal declaration, where he would need to do a lot of convincing that he has street credibility and he is not ungenerous. He would also need to scale the primaries, and the victory is as good as his.
Like Fayemi, Ojudu has not declared and has been seen testing waters. But unlike Fayemi, he is not dithering, he has fixed his declaration date for Saturday 10 March 2018. He said it would be the mother of all declarations. He began the journey sometimes last year, when he embarked on a fence mending mission among the Ekiti State All Progressives Congress APC, who were feeling abandoned and disillusioned at the time, and he was well received everywhere he went. He has since then held several meetings and consultations in all the Senatorial Districts, propagating only one message: that the APC in the state should be united and all Ekiti indigenes should join hands to rescue the state from “political slavery.”
“We must respond to their cries and rescue them. We will rescue the state from all forms of slavery. It is political slavery when our people are reduced to chickens pecking crumbs thrown at them by a callous and uncaring governor,” he kept charging APC members everywhere he went. At every given opportunity, the presidential aide speaks of his burning desire for the advancement of all parts of the state, pointing out that governance should bring development, prosperity and self-esteem to the people.
According to him, politics should be about honesty, integrity and development, adding: “I want compatriots and associates to walk and work for the development of all Ekiti. There are states in Nigeria with less than half the resources of Ekiti that are now doing way better than our state because the current government lacks what it takes nor the commitment and the vision to uplift the people.”
The Special Adviser also used those opportunities to highlight the giant strides of the APC government at the centre, regretting that the current government in his home state has not taken advantage of opportunities created at the federal level. This is what Fayemi has failed to do.
If Fayemi represents the size of the dog in the fight, Ojudu stands for the size of the fight in the dog. Both are no strangers to political wars. Fayemi has been governor before. Ojudu was a senator. Both must test their might with others who have already declared their ambition. Ekiti people are indeed in for a great show as soon as these two illustrious sons, who both have the ears and eyes of the presidency, decide to slug it out in the ensuing battle royale.
Segun Dipe, journalist and political analyst, writes from Ado Ekiti