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The impending August 9 governorship election in Osun State appears to be a battle for supremacy between Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola , incumbent governor of the state and flag bearer of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and Senator Iyiola Omisore, candidate of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP). Olisemeka Obeche takes a critical look at the political intrigues involved as the two parties try to outwit each other knowing its outcome will play a key role in the epic 2015 general elections
The State of Osun which prides itself as “the State of the Virtuous” has in the past few weeks been literary turned into a political battle ground as the August 9 governorship election approaches. Although 20 political parties are also vying for the election, political pundits have predicted that it would be supremacy battle between the All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate and incumbent governor, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola and Senator Iyiola Omisore, governorship candidate of the People Democratic Party (PDP).
Aregbesola and Omisore are not strangers to Osun politics and they have one thing going for them. They both belong to one of the largest districts that determine the fate of any contender in any election in the state. Both of them are from Ife East senatorial district and this could make the competition fiercer. Besides, the duo have viable political structures in the district. Interestingly, their political disciples remain loyal and far from being fickle minded. They are die-hard followers who can weather all storms in the political arena.
Aregbesola is seeking a second term mandate to enable him consolidate the gains recorded by his administration in past three and half years while Omisore, a former deputy governor of the state, wants to return to Bola Ige House, Osun State Government Secretariat, Abeere, the seat of power.
However, analysts and close watchers believe that Fatai Akinbade, candidate of the Labour Party (LP) is no pushover in the race as he appears set to give the leading contenders a good fight. As a former Secretary to the Osun State Government, Akinbade is equally popular.
APC’s consolidation strategy
There is no doubt that the APC and the PDP will re-enact the political rivalry between them as they battle for control of the South-west geo-political zone. While the APC wants to retain the South-west as its stronghold, the PDP is fighting hard to secure some states in the geo-political zone. Following the surprise victory of the PDP in the June 21 governorship election in Ekiti State, the leaders of the APC have been re-strategising to retain Osun State.
Indeed, Aregbesola and his campaign strategists are leaving nothing to chance in a bid to secure victory in the August 9 poll as this would give the APC the much needed morale booster to face the PDP in the 2015 general elections. Aregbesola is confident that as a grassroots politician he will secure his second term mandate. The governor is not perturbed by PDP’s victory in Ekiti as he declared that “it is difficult and impossible (for PDP) to defeat me”. He therefore cautioned his opponents against equating the politics of Osun State with Ekiti State where the incumbent, Governor Kayode Fayemi, lost to the PDP candidate, Ayo Fayose, in a landslide victory. According to the governor, the rousing welcome he receives from the people of the state each time his campaign train stops at the various towns and villages attest to the fact that he is loved by the electorate. “Osun is not Ekiti. No vacancy at the Bola Ige House, Osun State Government Secretariat, Abeere. Let us continue the good work we have started. Ipinle Osun a dara,” he said.
The governor is confident that his administration’s giant strides in the areas of education, agriculture, health-care delivery and rapid infrastructural developments, especially roads in Osun remain unprecedented in the political history of the state and are enough to secure him a second term. “It is obvious to the entire people of the state that the landmark development initiatives of the administration have brought hopes back to a hitherto despondent citizenry,” he added.
Recalling that PDP’s seven and half years’ reign in Osun virtually crippled the state until the people gave him the mandate in 2007 which was held in abeyance until an Appeal Court ruling of November 26, 2010 restored him as the governor, Aregbesola vowed to ensure that PDP remained banished from the state. “The quest of putting an end to PDP’s continued reign in Nigeria come February 2015 commences with the Osun gubernatorial election on August 9, 2014. We must ensure that PDP does not return to power in this state. The choice we have now is to throw PDP away because we have seen best of development through APC leadership and we must ensure we continue on the path of development,” he declared.
Osun State APC equally believes the PDP does not enjoy the required visibility to enable it pose serious threat to the second term bid of Governor Aregbesola. The ruling party, in a statement by Mr. Kunle Oyatomi , Director of Publicity, Research and Strategy, Osun State chapter declared that besides banking on the support of the Presidency and its national party machinery, “they (PDP) are only loud with the lies they propagate in the media, and the false claims of support that is non-existent in cities and towns of Osun.” Oyatomi said that “Aregbesola is roaring with unprecedented crowd that shows massive grassroots support which is only reminiscent of Obafemi Awolowo’s political campaigns of the 70s and 80s.”
The governor’s spokesman and Director of his office’s Bureau of Communications and Strategy, Mr Semiu Okanlawon, said that apart from Aregbesola’s popularity, he has a formidable structure and impeccable pedigree. According to him, there is no better alternative to Aregbesola. Okanlawon argued that his boss has always dedicated himself to people oriented-programmes. “Aregbesola is a leader that the people can feel and this is because the people are at the centre of his programmes. A good leader inspires his people no matter how lowly placed and Aregbesola does it with ease. What will people not do to show Aregbesola their massive support?,” he asked rhetorically.
PDP’s counter plot
Expectedly, the victory of PDP in Ekiti State appears to have emboldened Omisore to boast that the party would replicate ‘the Ekiti miracle’ in Osun on August 9. “We will take over Osun State through the polls by God’s grace,” he declared.
The former chairman of Senate Committee on Finance who christened his campaign motto: ‘Rescue mission’, had in a statement issued through his Publicity Director, Mr. Diran Odeyemi, vowed that “APC will be sent packing, and will never again occupy the number one seat in the state.”
He hinged his prediction on what he claimed to be the perceptible failures of Aregbesola’s administration in all spheres of government endeavours. “Till today, 87 per cent of Osun State has not witnessed any meaningful development at all. The noise about road constructions is limited to only two major roads; all the township roads and other Federal Government roads are abandoned,” he claimed.
The former Deputy Governor berated the APC government in Osun for bastardising the education sector of the state, claiming that its e-learning programme (`Opon Imo’) which cost about N8.4 billion was a waste of tax payers’ fund.
According to him, the eight-point programme unfolded in his manifesto would bring good governance and pragmatic development to Osun and its citizens. “Our primary focus will be on improving the wellbeing and social safety of the people; wealth creation and pensionable employment; agriculture, food security and rural development; peace and security and public service administration”, he pledged.
The PDP national secretariat was also in bullish mood ahead of the crucial poll, declaring with confidence of a second-straight triumph against its arch-rival in Osun. “PDP is marching on with this new spirit to Osun State where we also have a popular candidate in the person of Senator Iyiola Omisore; and with the overwhelming support of the people of Osun State, our victory in the August 9, 2014 election is also guaranteed,” declared the party’s National Publicity Secretary, Olisa Metuh in Abuja.
Odds against Omisore
One of the hurdles on Omisore’s way is the disunity in the party. Many party members believe that the primaries which produced Omisore was flawed as the likes of former governor, Isiaka Adeleke, were craftily edged out.
The process was said to be far from transparent and democratic. This could cause problems in the fold and force the aggrieved aspirants to align with the APC candidate. Already, Aregbesola has strategically reached out to a former governor of the state and immediate past National Secretary of the PDP, Olagunsoye Oyinlola, although the Presidency is working hard to pacify him.
Another factor that could work against him is his alleged involvement in the murder of Bola Ige, former Minister of Justice. Although Omisore has continued to deny it, this has not debarred his political opponents from using it against him.
Grassroots appeal factor
Not many political watchers were surprised when the photograph of Omisore, sitting on a motorcycle appeared in the media late last June. By riding on a commercial motorcycle, it later emerged; the former deputy governor was trying to sell his candidature as ‘grassroots man’, a similar mantra that reportedly earned his Ekiti counterpart a surprise victory.
Since Aregbesola is riding on the crest of his government’s impressive infrastructural development in the state over the last three and half years, Omisore had sought to use the ‘grassroots appeal’ to woo voters. But his critics were quick to declare that he does not possess the credentials of a grassroots politician.
Samson Egbetokun, a commercial motorcyclist in Osogbo thinks the ‘okada-ride-show’ depicts Omisore as a fake politician. “If he likes, let him go and eat booli (roasted plantain) and epa (groundnut) on the streets of Ilesa or Ila or Osogbo, that does not change the fact that he is not seen to be committed to the welfare of the common man. He was a senator and what did we benefit from him. He should go and tell his party that riding okada and looking odd on it is not what we want in a governor,” he said.
However, most political analysts believe Aregbesola is a grassroots politician whose development policies and programmes had impacted positively on the lives of the people across the state. “Aregbesola’s welfarist approach to governance has been appreciated by the people of Osun. So, there is no likelihood that what happened in Ekiti would repeat itself in Osun,” declared Mr. Kayode Adebayo, a trade union leader in Ogun State.
The National Publicity Secretary of the Afenifere Renewal Group (ARG), Mr Kunle Famoriyo also believes Aregbesola’s chances of re-election on August 9 are bright because of his government’s populist track record. “He has introduced people-oriented policies aimed at improving the economy of the state. The educational base of the state is solid, there are standard schools for the children. Osun is number one today in the area of education,” he said.
Prominent APC chieftain, Senator Olorunnimbe Mamora believes that Aregbesola’s victory is guaranteed as the dynamics that played out in the surprise victory of the PDP in Ekiti is not likely to feature in the Osun contest. Apart from the governor’s impressive performance, he also disclosed that APC has perfected its winning strategy ahead of the poll. “We have our operational strategies in place for Osun to ensure PDP does not snatch the state from us. We will retain Osun and other states in the South-west. We have definitely learnt our lessons from the Ekiti experience,” Mamora said.
But some observers insists Aregbesola’s campaign team and APC should not be too sure that the government’s performance alone can fetch the needed victory as the Ekiti experience has shown that performance does not correlate with electoral victory. For Mr. Cliff Nneli, a political analyst, the key to Aregbesola’s re-election victory lies in not taking voters’ for granted. “The governor and his team should forget about the hugely advertised impressive performance and focus their attention on the immediate concerns of the voters,” he said.
Comrade Moshood Erubami, an activist and convener of Nigerian Voters’ Assembly, also believes that proper mobolisation of voters would pave the way for Aregbesola’s triumph. He argued that a situation where over 300,000 voters were disenfranchised in Ekiti because they could not present permanent voters’ cards on the day of election was a grievous mistake on the part of APC. “It is unfortunate the party leaders failed to mobilise the electorate towards collecting the cards,” he said, adding that politicians must live in the heart of the people. “There is a difference between politics of principle and politics of winning votes. They should create atmosphere of accessibility. They should run participatory government,” he advised.
There are speculations that incumbency factor would also give Aregbesola an edge. However, human rights activist George Afolabi sees the Osun gubernatorial poll as a supremacy battle between APC and PDP and thus advised the former to throw its resources into conjuring up victory for Aregbesola. “The PDP has declared Ekiti and Osun governorship elections political battle grounds. All APC governors should rally support for Aregbesola for the party to retain Osun,” he said.
Mr. Kola Folorunso, a political analyst, however, predicts that with the two parties possessing sizeable war-chest and power, the personality appeal of the two leading contenders could play a key role in the outcome of the poll. “Pedigree, antecedents, integrity and lack of it between the candidates would more than anything else determine where the pendulum would swing on August 9,” Folorunso submitted.