Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State may be heaving a sigh of relief now. The coming together of his political opponents within the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) for the purpose of stopping his second term bid has hit the rock.
Nevertheless, the aspirants are still planning to woo support from both within and outside the state. No fewer than 15 persons have declared interest to contest for the APC ticket, including Akeredolu, who seeking a second term.
Many of the aspirants are members of the Unity Forum headed by Alhaji Ali Olanusi, a former Deputy Governor. Others like Ambassador Olusola Iji refused to join the Unity Forum
When the Unity Forum started its activities, many Ondo APC chieftains who were aggrieved with the style of Akeredolu keyed into the project.
They saw the forum through which Akeredolu could be easily kicked out of power. The sole purpose was to wrestle power from Akeredolu, but the members were also blinded by individual ambition.
Some were said to have supported the project to enable them negotiate for 2023 general elections and 2024 governorship election when it would be the turn of other zones to produce governor.
Akeredolu hails from Owo in Ondo North. His predecessor, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko, hails from Ondo Central and the permutation is that Ondo South should produce the next governor in 2024. Many aspirants seeking to contest the primaries of the APC and opposition PDP are from Ondo South.
However, what appeared to have given strength to the forum has also became its albatross. The Forum is now in tatters and it is now to your tents each aspirants as Chief Olusola Oke was picked as its consensus aspirant to stand against Akeredolu.
Besides zoning, there were allegation of corruption leveled against the leadership, mistrust among the aspirants and lack of support from outside the state as some chieftains have opted to play a neutral role in Ondo.
It was gathered that many of the aspirants, including Akeredolu have paid private visit to the National Leader of the part, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, and he reportedly told them he will be neutral in the Ondo election and that wants to play the role of a father to all.
This was said to have put paid to the ambition of some of the aspirants who needed endorsement from Abuja and elsewhere.
Another factor that dealt a blow to the plans of the Unity Forum is the role expected from both PDP and APC leaders from Ondo South.
Some politicians from Ondo South said they want Akeredolu to finish his second term in 2024 so that the can come to South easily.
They stated that another governor replacing Akeredolu from the North means the South would wait for another eight years.
The Unity Forum got membership and support from across the state. Bigwigs backing the forum include Senator Ajayi Bororfice, Bola Ilori, Isaac Kekemeke, Babatunde White, Solagbade Amodeni amongst others.
Those seeking to contest for the governorship election under the Unity Forum are Olayide Adelani, Dapo Adelegan, Bùkólá Adétulà, Jumoke Anifowose, Akin Awodeyi, Alhaji Olanrewaju Kazeem, Jimi Odimayo, Chief Olúsolá Òkè, IfeOluwa Oyedele and Chief Olusegun Abraham.
Crisis began in the forum in March this year when a seven-man Ad hoc committee headed by Senator Yele Omogunwa was set up with a mandate to interviewing and collating report on all the governorship aspirants in the groupThe purpose was for the Unity Forum to present a single aspirant against Governor Akeredolu at the party primaries. Senator Omogunwa led committee was to report back to a Special Purpose Committee before the end of March.
Some aspirants complained about not being carried along before the committee was set up. They alleged that members of the committee like Hon Boye Adegbemisoye and Senator Omogunwa were strong supporter of Chief Olusola Oke while Elder Micheal Adeyeye is backing the aspiration of Chief Bukola Adetula.
The aspirants floated the Unity Forum Foot Soldiers through which they accused the Senator Omogunwa committee of collecting money from the aspirants.
Reading the resolutions at the end of its meeting, Alhaji Faust Kazeem, said the seven-man committee failed to submit a coordinated report as directed and therefore its activities expires on March 31st, 2020.
He further alleged that Chief Olanusi collected the sum of N50m from a former Senator in Osun State to do the bidding of an aspirant they termed “not consistent politically”.
Alhaji Kazeem said the Senator Omogunwa’s led committee has been dissolved and called for the setting up of a new committee to with a mandate to screen aspirants who bought the governorship nomination forms as that was the only sign of seriousness in running for the governorship race.
According to him, “That the newly constituted committee would be set up by the leaders of the Unity Forum in the next 72 hours after due consultation with the leaders, members and aspirants.
“The composition of the new committee members would show an equal spread along local governments, federal constituencies or senatorial districts.”
But, Professionals in Ondo Unity Forum, in a reaction said the so-called ‘Foot Soldiers’ were not members of the Unity Forum. Speaking after its meeting in Akure, Engr. Ralph Adetimehin, dismissed the allegations and said they were playing politics of lies and mudslinging at a odd time.
Adetimehin insisted that Senator Omogunwa has since submitted a sealed report to the Special Purpose Committee for its consideration as soon as the mood of the nation improves.
“We would like to also inform the public that from our findings, those behind this mischief and lies belong to two classes.
The first class are those non members of the Forum who by sympathy have prefered aspirant they believe will emerge, they have suddenly developed fear that their preferred governorship aspirants are not likely to emerge.
“Therefore, these few individuals must splash mud of lies and allegations against the members of the committee who were carefully selected and approved by all the aspirants based on verified parameters.
“They are ready to sponsor some willing allies in the first group, who have been conquered by hunger and fear, to destabilise Unity Forum before they take their leave to PDP where their hearts now belong.
We are aware of the huge investment deployed by their sponsors to prosecute their devilish mission. The public is hereby put on notice that they are poised to spit more lies in the days ahead in preparation for their defection to the PDP.”
Last week, crisis in the Unity Forum deepened when Abraham, who is Chairman of Governorship Aspirants in Unity Forum, released a communique supposedly issued at the end of a virtual meeting of some aspirants claiming that all the aspirants at the meeting agreed to support a candidate from Ondo North.
The virtual meeting was attended by 10 aspirants and the communique reads that they were committed to the agreement of the forum to present only one aspirant that would contest the party gubernatorial primary election and that they have unanimously ceded the mandate to Ondo North Senatorial District.
“That therefore, the aspirant that will represent the Unity Forum should come from Ondo North. On this, we expect the aspirants from this district are expected to meet soon to amicably reach a consensus on their preference for the governorship candidate.”
Angered by the release of the communique, 9 of the 10 aspirants issued a counter-communique lambasting Abraham and accusing him of acting without authorisation.
They said: “The contents of the publication which was sponsored to purvey lies were never discussed. The Aspirants Forum did not raise, discuss or resolve on any of the grave allegations in the publication against the Unity Forum, its leadership and process during the online interaction.”
Daughter of the late Chief Adekunle Ajasin, Jumoke Anifowose, who also attended the meeting, backed Abraham that the meeting agreed to cede the governorship to Ondo North.
Jumoke and Governor Akeredolu hail from Owo in Ondo North. Another aspirant in the Unity Forum who pleaded anonymity said Governor Hope Uzodinma was financing one of the aspirants from Ondo South.
“The desperation of this person to become a governor at all cost will not turn out good for our people. He has unfortunately compromised to the point of making himself an ‘Ajele’ if he eventually becomes the governor. The situation will certainly be worse than what is obtainable now in Ondo State.
“The Imo State Governor has been in constant touch with the Unity Forum Chairman, Alhaji Ali Olanusi and some members of the group as well as key supporters of another aspirant.
“We are not unaware of the heavy financial inducement of Alhaji Ali Olanusi, the Chairman of this group. We are also not unaware of the roles played so far by the Imo State Governor to ensure the selection of this serial governorship candidate of different political parties.
We are quite aware of the heavy financial inducement of some members of the Unity Forum. This is regrettable though.
We are definitely not unaware of the regular telephone conversations that is aimed at positioning this person as the preferred choice of our group against the obvious performance at the screening exercise”.
But, Chief Press Secretary to Governor Uzodimma, Oguwuike Nwachukwu, described the allegation as untrue and tissues of lies.
“My governor is not from Ondo State. It is Ondo people that will decide who govern them.
Olanusi described the allegations as baseless and untrue. He said the people that signed the statement were unknown to the Unity Group.
According to him, “They are disgruntled element. We don’t know them in the Unity Forum. The Committee has finished its work but they have not submitted it because the of corona virus. I have not read not their report so I will not know what it contained.
“On that N50m. I have not seen such money and so it is not true.”
The last straw that scattered the Unity Forum was the unveiling of Oke as the forum’s consensus aspirant. Olanusi, in a press statement, said Oke was picked in the report submitted by the committee.
Olanusi who also begged aggrieved members of the forum to accept Oke said his choice was because of Oke’s popularity as they are contending against a governor “who has all, except popularity, at his beck and call.