For Olusegun Mimiko, the outgoing governor of Ondo State, Saturday governorship election was like a war. Though he had fought many political battles before, coming out unscathed in almost all, he saw the last election as the most important political battle he needed to win in order to safeguard his political future. Iroko, as he is popularly called by his admirers, has many ‘laurels’ from the many battles he had fought in the past. He fought to retrieve his mandate from the late governor of the state, Dr. Olusegun Agagu. He won. He also fought a former Governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, who claimed to be majorly responsible for his governorship victory. Many believed him.
Mimiko also wrestled with a former President, Olusegun Obasanjo, when the latter asked him to stay back in his cabinet as a minister and allow Agagu to have a second term in office. When he knew that the umbrella of the Peoples Democratic Party was not going to shield him from exile that he was going to be sent to, he quickly moved to the Labour Party from where he was elected a governor over seven years ago. It was a victory that changed his political life.
Since then, Mimiko had become a political colossus to his followers. Even when Tinubu again led the formidable former members of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria to Ondo State to campaign for its governorship candidate, Mr. Rotimi Akeredolu, about four years ago, Mimiko, the Iroko, resisted them. He won the election overwhelmingly.
The journey he started about eight years ago is about to be completed. As demanded by the constitution, his tenure would end in about three months’ time. To the chairman of the PDP Governors’ Forum, this was probably his toughest political party. He, therefore, needed to thread carefully as he planned to execute the war. Mimiko, like other governors, decided to singlehandedly pick his party’s candidate. Funny enough, he did not see anyone worthy of succeeding him from the two other senatorial districts apart from where he hails from — Ondo Central. The argument that the state capital, Akure, has yet to produce a governor was used to sell the candidature of Mr. Eyitayo Jegede (SAN) to the wary voters.
Unfortunately, Akure being the state capital, harbours the majority of the civil servants in the state who are unhappy about the non-payment of their salaries as and when due by the state governor. It has been argued that an average worker has about six other voters sympathetic to his cause. Patiently, the angry workers waited for their governor to pay him back with their votes on Saturday when they trooped to the polling booths to reject Mimiko and his candidate, Jegede, who is also part of the governor’s cabinet.
Thus, the idea of picking a candidate from Akure, the same district with Mimiko, was met with anger by voters some of whom merely reside in the state capital but are from other parts of the state.
A staunch member of the PDP and a senator from Ogun State, Senator Buruji Kashamu, said that this was one of the reasons why his party lost the election. Kashamu said, “We told Governor Mimiko that after eight years in office, the good people of Ondo State would resist the injustice of producing a successor from the same senatorial district where he hails from. The votes that came from the state capital did not justify the picking of Jegede as he shared them with his arch rival, Akeredolu.
“It is not that Jegede is not a good material. He is urbane, intelligent and smart. He would have probably won had he come from any other senatorial zone than Mimiko’s. We told Mimiko that the people would not take anything that would look like a third term for him and his senatorial district. He would not listen.”
Some were also of the opinion that the state under Mimiko did not pay much attention to the development of other senatorial districts. For example, Igbokoda which is a part of the southern district, is said to have been in darkness for about five years while Okitipupa joined in the darkness crisis, two years ago. Also, the bridge that connects Okitipupa and Irele township was also said to have been abandoned since Agagu left office. The people of the northern district were also not left out in the cry of maginalisation. To them, another eight years under Jegede were intolerable and unbearable.
Apart from these, some people also argued that the allocation which was said to have come to the state in the past eight years, did not match the development on the ground. Ondo State is the second richest among the six states in the South-West.
The desertion of the governor by some of those who were said to have helped him to power was said to have also added to the defeat of his party and the success recorded by the candidate of the All Progressives Congress. It is instructive to know that the state, which used to be predominantly a PDP state, does not have a sitting senator belonging to Mimiko’s political party today. Some serving commissioners and advisers also jumped ship as soon as Jegede was seen to have been imposed on the party.
One of the inhibiting factors that worked against the governor was the crisis that engulfed the party following its factionalisation at the national level. Mr. Jimoh Ibrahim, a self-confessed hater of Mimiko, who was imposed on the party as its governorship candidate by Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court, Abuja, was rather busy campaigning against the governor instead of selling his party.
The attempt to vacate the judgment at the higher court, left Mimiko and his supporters in a state of uncertainty for weeks, until three days to the election when the Court of Appeal gave him and his candidate the go-ahead to replace Ibrahim. By then, the deed had been done. Some of Mimiko’s supporters had pledged allegiance to other candidates, some were left in disarray and above all, Mimiko and his party and candidate were unable to strategise and mobilise funds. The result was an unprecedented bashing of the man who many had thought would always wangle his way out of difficulty.
The loss of the Iroko was the gain of the main challenger to his exalted office, Akeredolu. Backed by federal might, the APC candidate drew up from his past experience as he started his campaign early. While Mimiko, Jegede and their party were in courts, Akeredolu was busy campaigning and reaping from the disgruntled members of the PDP who felt that its candidate was foisted on them.
The former President of the Nigerian Bar Association was also able to use the crisis that produced him from his party as its candidate to his advantage as he distanced himself from those that were used against him during his first attempt at seeking the office of the governor of the state. Then, many including Mimiko, had referred to him as an appendage of Tinubu, who was then backing him ferociously. This time round, Akeredolu found a new alliance with some ministers led by a former governor of Ekiti State, Dr. Kayode Fayemi. He was also backed by serving governors, the national leadership of the APC and President Muhammadu Buhari.
These men provided the needed funds that enabled him to traverse the whole of the state and also reached out to the voters personally.
For now, Akeredolu is expected to resume with an indigene of Imo State as First Lady, Mrs. Chioma Akeredolu.
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