A few days to the unveiling of Unity Group’s consensus candidate, most of the camps within All Progressives Congress (APC) in Ondo State, including that of the incumbent governor, Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, are on tenterhooks. Unity Group has been a political thorn in the flesh of Akeredolu shortly after he was sworn in as governor on February 24, 2017, accusing him of gross marginalization and anti-party activities.
Membership of the group consists of influential APC members and leaders across the 203 wards of the state, led by the former deputy governor and member of APC Board of Trustees (BoT), Alhaji Ali Olanusi. Other notable members of the faction include a third term Senator from Akeredolu’s district, Prof. Ajayi Boroffice, Chief Olusola Oke, Chief Bukola Adetula, Mr. Ife Oyedele, Senator Yele Omogunwa, and Dr. Segun Abraham.
The APC chieftains, who in the past three years played formidable opposition to the present administration, have vowed to stop Governor Akeredolu’s second term bid in the APC primary slated for July this year. Sequel to the failed attempts to reconcile Akeredolu with members of the opposition Unity Forum, it instituted a seven-man committee to pick a consensus candidate against the governor after a recent meeting by its leaders in Abuja.
In the past few days, there has been a lot of lobbying and politicking among the aspirants lined up within the opposing camp with the aim of stopping Akeredolu’s re-election bid in the upcoming direct primary, as announced by the National Working Committee (NWC) of the party. The aspirants being screened by Unity Forum are Abraham, Adetula, Oke, Oyedele, Jimi Odimayo, Olaide Adelami, Akin Awodeyi, Dapo Adelegan, and Kazeem Olanrewaju. And as gathered from an insider within the group, they all agreed to support whosoever emerges the consensus candidate.
From all indications, Akeredolu’s camp is rattled by the latest development, especially coming on the heels of the failed attempts to remove the National Chairman, Adams Oshiomhole, and the rumour that his replacement within APC may emerge from his hometown, Owo. Recently, there was a widespread rumour that Chief Oke, who had contested the governorship election twice in the state, had been picked by the committee, led by Senator Omogunwa.
A close source within Akeredolu’s cabinet disclosed that the rumour sent some jitters down the spines of Akeredolu’s supporters, stressing that Oke is a big political weight to beat if selected by the forum. He said, “Chief Olusola Oke is the best man for the group. Chief Oke has the political clout and pedigree to dislodge the governor in the primary election. If Unity Group should consider him, the game is over for Aketi; he cannot match his candidacy and the group at large.”
However, Chairman of the Consensus Selection Committee, Omogunwa, promptly debunked such claim as mere rumour, saying they just began interfacing with the aspirants.
“I make bold to say unequivocally that there is no selection yet,” he said. “Before the end of the month, we shall turn in our report to the entire leadership of Unity Forum through its leadership. Relax and pray along with us, please.”
But opposition to Oke, who was the Southwest Director-General of President Muhammadu Buhari’s Campaign Organisation last year, is coming from some APC youths who have warned Unity Forum not to consider him for the ticket. The youths, under the aegis of APC Youths Assembly, described the former DG as a political liability that would destroy the chances of the group and party at large. They also decried his inconsistency as a politician.
The youth’s president, Mr. Adifala Ologun, said: “Oke is a man known for his inconsistency. He has contested in virtually all leading political parties just to satisfy his desperate political yearning. He had for long betrayed the confidence reposed in him by the people. A man jumping from one political party to another to quench his ambitious thirst can’t be trusted.”
He added, “We also heard from a reliable source that he is even negotiating with Aketi. The source confirmed that Oke admitted to the allegation when he was confronted by some leaders of the group. So where does his loyalty lie?”
While Oyedele, who is the Executive Director of Niger Delta Power Holding Company (NDPHC), is said to have stepped up efforts to emerge the group’s candidate. It was gathered that he had opened operations and laison offices in Akure and Abuja respectively. Checks reveal that he has appointed a former Assembly member, Mr. Bimbo Fajolu as Senior Special Assistant on Contacts and Mobilization and a retired Captain, Adeleke Farotade, as Senior Special Assistant on Security.
Moreover, Oyedele is banking on acceptability from the people, who see him, alongside Oke, as a good replacement from the South District for Akeredolu. He also has his old relationship with President Buhari as a chieftain of the defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC). But some dependable sources within Unity Forum group and its Abuja allies hinted that Oke and Oyedele were screened like the other seven aspirants.
One of the chieftains, who pleaded anonymity, recounted that the group does not want to put all its eggs in a basket by picking Oke, considering his political antecedents in the major opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) before he decamped. He alleged that the ongoing forensic audit of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) might implicate Oke, who was a former representative of the state. He also confirmed that the screening committee confronted him on the secret meetings with Governor Akeredolu, which he did not deny.
While Oyedele’s chances at the screening was deflated on account of his marital hitch with his wife, who he reportedly divorced recently. It was learnt that the Unity Forum group feared to entrust him with the state’s governance. To appease the leading aspirants, they revealed that there was machinery in place to pacify Oke with a juicy federal appointment while the power boss may be considered for deputy governor position.
An impeccable source within the group added that Abuja caucus had settled for Adelegan, the 14th Chairman and President of Council of Nigeria-British Chamber of Commerce, as a suitable replacement for Akeredolu. Adelegan, a royal prince of the Owo Kingdom, the headquarters of Owo Local Government Area of the state, where the incumbent governor hails from, was also a staunch member of CPC and showed interest in the 2016 guber race in APC.
He was the media strategist for the Buhari-Bakare 2011 presidential team and he worked alongside other CPC loyalists like Kaduna State governor, Nasir el-Rufai. The CPC team ate dinner in his house during the 2011 presidential campaign in Akure. It was gathered that Unity Group relies on Abuja for financial support and would necessarily depend on them to sponsor whosoever emerges the consensus candidate of the party in the October 10, 2020 guber poll in the state.
While giving validation on the emergence of the candidate, the source noted, “the choice of Adelegan is apt because he is from the same town with the incumbent governor. So, Owo people will not see it as if they are losing anything to support him.
“Aside getting financial war-chest from the Abuja caucus, he enjoys the backing of top business moguls in the country like Otedola, Dangote, Adenuga, just to mention a few. He will emerge and other aspirants will rally round him.”
Also speaking on the interest of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu bloc, the source maintained that the national leader agreed to align with the choice of the Abuja mafia. This, according to the source, is a deliberate move by Jargaban Borgu to avoid an unnecessary clash of interest with Abuja due to his 2023 presidential ambition. Perhaps, it was the reason he didn’t show up at Akeredolu’s third year anniversary or the commissioning of projects in the state, which President Buhari attended.
According to the source, “Tinubu has distanced himself from who becomes the next governor in Ondo, and from all indications, he is ready to support anybody given the ticket by the Abuja mafia. Adelegan is a close acquaintance of Bourdillion. The die is cast: the Unity Group selection committee is only waiting for time to visit Bourdillon for endorsement immediately Tinubu returns from his foreign trip.”
The Unity Group insider noted that “It won’t be a surprise if Adelegan is announced tomorrow, that has been APC style not to settle for highly cosmetic candidates. This is the same way Akeredolu emerged in 2012; let alone a candidate like Adelegan, who has better political pedigree.”