Lessons from Ondo election

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The spin by Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) apparatchiks notwithstanding, the triumph of Governor Olusegun Mimiko of Ondo State in the October 20 election was a kick in the mouth for the party. Having deployed every armoury in the party’s arsenal for the election, the results surely must have left its candidates and supporters deflated.

The ACN’s serving governors campaigned across the nooks and crannies of the Sunshine state, with one or two sometimes using intemperate language and inflammatory words not befitting the positions they occupy. National officers of the party and its chief executive officer, read National Leader, also were not left out. Allegations and counter-allegations were levied and propaganda reigned supreme across the media space.

A week before the election, I was at Owo, Akure, Ondo and Ore, major towns in the state, and from my interaction with residents of these towns, only the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) could have defeated Mimiko’s Labour Party (LP). Of course, my random interviews were not done scientifically but with a reporter’s eyes for news. It was, therefore, not surprising to me that Labour Party polled 260,199 votes, PDP got 155,961 votes while ACN got 143, 512 votes.

So, what are the salient lessons all of us can learn from Ondo; even as the dust settles over the election? First, the people know who their leaders are. Though it was not stated explicitly, it was a proxy battle for the soul of South-West politics, which the election did not resolve totally, only showing indications of things that would come. On the one hand were the apostles of regional integration, who argued unsuccessfully that the Yoruba must be in one party before the South-West region can witness progress. The result was not just an affirmation for Mimiko’s party per se, but also a rejection of the overbearing tendencies of some Yoruba politicians.

It also demonstrated that increasingly, citizens would determine those who govern them. Even though the turnout could be better as only 624,659 votes were cast as opposed to 1.638 million people that registered, we must factor in the inadequacies of the voters’ registration exercise that could have resulted in inflation of figures. We are gradually imbibing the culture of change via the ballot box. An enlightened electorate not willing to be taken for granted would surely spell doom for an elected representative who refuses to respect their wishes.

Of much concern though is the heavy presence of security agents in Ondo State during the election. Does this mean we still cannot conduct free and fair election without 11,000 policemen and soldiers that a large detachment of the men in khaki, reportedly 8,000, was needed to superintend the polls? And if we needed such in just one state and for only one election complete with Civil Defence personnel and State Security Service (SSS) with the Inspector General of Police and Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Chairman, what happens when we have elections across the country? Our security chiefs and INEC ought to address this before future elections.

Further, a warm embrace of internal democracy, whereby candidates would emerge freely and not imposed by a conclave of party elders will do not only political parties in Nigeria a lot of good, but also strengthen our democratic experience. We need not go into how the candidates of PDP and ACN emerged, suffice to add that results from the Akoko area of the state could be said to be a justification for the people’s anger over the treatment meted out to their son, Olu Agunloye.

The former minister was prevented from testing his popularity in the Action Congress as there were no primaries, and he promptly jumped ship to Labour Party. In the four local council areas of Akoko South-West, Akoko North-West, Akoko South-East, and Akoko North-East, Labour Party won convincingly in three losing only in Akoko South-West where it got 11,833 votes to PDP’s 12, 331, and ACN’s 13,623. It speaks volume that the PDP, warts and all, appears more democratic in selection of candidates than other political parties.

I say this carefully, but the results further showed that the PDP cannot be wished away in the South-West. With the tacit lack of support from the party’s top honchos in Abuja for its candidate, Olusola Oke, and the unconfirmed-nor-denied support for Mimiko by President Goodluck Jonathan, it is interesting that the PDP still managed to defeat ACN with nearly 13,000 votes. One wonders what might have happened if Oke had been amply supported by his party. Of course, we should all be guided by a former British Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, who said in 1964 that “a week is a long time in politics” and so, things might change radically between now and the forthcoming governorship elections in the South-West. But if the PDP can settle the various disputes bedeviling the party in these states, the 2014 elections in Osun and Ekiti States cannot be slam-dunk for the ACN.

Curiously, Mimiko has been courting various political blocks after his victory. He has visited Oba Okunade Sijuwade, the Ooni of Ife and Mama Hannah Idowu Awolowo, the matriarch of the Awolowo family, and had also received in audience, Gbenga Daniel, former Ogun State governor. Public endorsements rarely result in election victory on these shores, but will there be a re-alignment of forces opposed to ACN before those elections? A smart politician that he is, it remains inconceivable that Mimiko too would not join forces with others to unseat those who took the battle to his gates and on this score; he’s a natural rallying point. He would, however, have to define what he stands for politically beyond the populist actions of his government as demonstrated in the last four years. This is the only way he can continue to remain relevant in the political space.

So while PDP has congratulated Mimiko, while ACN is still studying the results of the election, all eyes are on Ondo State and Governor Olusegun Mimiko as the latest barometer of Yoruba politics. All those who hope to remain active players in political battle must watch the state closely and learn from what transpired there.

By Wale Fatade