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ONDO 2016: Between ''Team Buhari'' and ''Team Tinubu''

The followers of President Muhammadu Buhari in the All Progressives Congress (APC), some of whom are members of the Federal Executive Council, yesterday successfully delivered their first major political task in a build up to the 2019 race, with the emergence of Mr. Rotimi Akeredolu (SAN) as the governor-elect in Ondo State.

Akeredolu emerged victorious in the Saturday election after gathering 244,842 votes while his nearest match, Mr. Eyitayo Jegede (SAN) of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) came second with 150,380 votes and third was Mr. Olusola Oke of the Alliance for Democracy (AD), who pulled 126,889 votes. 

Saturday's race in Ondo State was, notwithstanding, demonstrative of the power tussle amongst APC in the South-west geopolitical zone, with supporters of the president, on the one side, and those faithful to a National Leader of the party, Chief Bola Ahmed Tinubu, on the other, Thisday reports.

Tinubu, who backed Dr. Olusegun Abraham to secure the ticket of the APC to contest in the Ondo poll, had opposed Akeredolu’s emergence as candidate of the party, alleging irregularities during the party’s primary, Thisday reports.

According to the reports, those believed to have taken part in the execution of the plan to deliver the state and are now regarded as “Buhari’s Boys” are the Minister of Solid Minerals Development, Dr. Kayode Fayemi; Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN); the governor of Kaduna State, Malam Nasir el-Rufai; and his Ogun State counterpart, Senator Ibikunle Amosun.
Ironically, most of those who have now aligned with the president were once loyalists of Tinubu, but are believed to have fallen out of favour with him.

Party sources who spoke on the issue to THISDAY said they were spurred by political expediency to show strength and capacity by mobilising all the resources at their disposal to ensure that the candidate of the president, Akeredolu, who was openly rejected by Tinubu won the election in the hotly contested race in Ondo.

The only APC governor believed not to have taken sides in the ongoing power tussle is the Oyo State governor, Senator Abiola Ajimobi, while the Osun and Lagos State governors, Rauf Aregbesola and Akinwunmi Ambode, remain staunchly in the Tinubu camp.  

Curiously, Akeredolu too, who is now in the opposing camp to Tinubu was his (Tinubu’s) candidate in the 2012 governorship election in Ondo State, but in which he came a distant third.
According to sources, with a majority of Tinubu’s former allies executing a brilliant campaign against their erstwhile principal, the stage has now been set to deliver Ekiti and Osun States to the president in 2018.

The goal, explained one source, is to ensure that the alliance between the North and South-west, which catapulted Buhari to victory in the 2015 general election, is maintained.

“The Buhari boys left nothing to chance, including using pawns such as Mr. Jimoh Ibrahim, a businessman, and Senator Ali Modu Sheriff, a former governor of Borno State, who both held the PDP by the jugular by ensuring that the party was unable to go to the election in one piece.

“Team Buhari was not oblivious to the fact that had they lost the Ondo election, the president would have been subjected to gross embarrassment, the very reason they deployed everything at their disposal to ensure that Akeredolu won, including mobilising everything and everyone who mattered to the grand finale campaign rally held in Akure, the Ondo State capital, a few days to the election.

“Although it is believed that Buhari’s boys have nothing against Tinubu, their goal, however, is to reenact the alliance that existed between the North and the South-west that was used to snatch victory from the PDP during the 2015 general election.

“So, with Edo and Ondo now comfortably in the kitty, the next port of call for Buhari’s Boys are Ekiti and Osun States, where elections are in 2018,” the source revealed.

But while those loyal to the president are said to be preparing for the two South-west states, and how best to retain their winning streak, they are not likely to bother about Lagos State, which Tinubu has held firmly in his grasp since 1999.

From all indications, what seems to be coming up in 2019 in the APC is a reenactment of the 2003 tsunami, which swept off all the AD states with the exception of Lagos under former President Olusegun Obasanjo, a situation that gave the PDP considerable leverage during its 16-year reign in power.

But the difference between 2003 and 2019 is that while the former was an external aggression orchestrated by the former president into AD-controlled territory, this is no less an internal insurrection, also by the presidency, to wrest control of the South-west from Tinubu and ultimately pave the path for Buhari’s re-election bid in 2019.

THISDAY also learnt that the outcome of Saturday’selection is bound to stoke a bitter rivalry within the party, whichever way it goes. 

Sources hinted that some of the unreported outcomes of two separate meetings of the South-west governors held in the run up to the Ondo election showed that the cracks might be deeper than thought, as the governors in the region have already taken sides.

At the Ibadan meeting, for instance, one of the governors loyal to Tinubu was said to have called Tinubu on the phone for him to thank the Ekiti State governor, Ayodele Fayose, a PDP governor, “for staying the course”. 

Indeed, when Tinubu answered the call, he was said to have profusely thanked Fayose for his interventions and described him as “Omoluabi”, the Yoruba term for a child who has done well in a particular assignment and shown to be of proper upbringing and behaviour. 

But that camaraderie at the meeting only lasted till the time other APC members suggested that Fayose should chair the meeting.

Amosun, however, was said to have rejected the suggestion, saying since there were two PDP governors present at the meeting, against four of them from the APC, a governor from the ruling party should chair the meeting. It was on this basis that the meeting was chaired by a governor from the APC.

The Ibadan meeting, nonetheless, was not as heated as the Abeokuta meeting, where Aregbesola and Amosun were said to have engaged in a heated exchange.
In fact, Aregbesola, a source disclosed, was said to have claimed Amosun was threatening him because the meeting was held in his house. 

The cause of the exchange occurred because Aregbesola and others accused Amosun of betrayal, as they had reached an understanding earlier that they would not attend Akeredolu’s grand finale rally in Akure. 

But Amosun was said to have objected, saying they were the ones who played anti-party politics by disobeying and disrespecting the president, who was said to have personally called everyone and urged them to attend the rally. Amosun, the source said, accused them of ignoring Buhari’s pleas and embarrassing him and the party by not attending. 

The meeting was said to have been so heated that Aregbesola and Ajimobi refused to eat after the meeting. But while Aregbesola refused to eat because he claimed Amosun had threatened him, Ajimobi felt it was improper to eat since the matter had not been resolved.

However, a former chairman of the party, Chief Bisi Akande had a hearty meal, showing maturity and neutrality over the contending issues. 

Aregbesola, who believed that their candidate, Oke, might win the Ondo election was also said to have suspended further discussions until after the election. 

Had Oke won the election, Tinubu, sources said, would have returned today into the arms of scores of supporters who would have been mobilised to receive him at the airport.
But with the outcome of the election, it is unlikely he would return anytime soon as planned and might spend more time abroad before returning home. 

Despite Tinubu’s disenchantment with the APC primary that threw up Akeredolu, leading to his eventual victory, the party’s national leader yesterday congratulated the new governor-elect.
Tinubu asked party members to close ranks “for the good of our party and its progressive ideals”.

In a statement from his media office, he said: “Following the announcement by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) with regard to the governorship elections in Ondo State, I extend congratulations to Mr. Oluwarotimi Akeredolu (SAN) on the outcome of the election and for his perseverance and persistence in seeking that office.

“I must also congratulate the people of Ondo State for their generally exemplary conduct on election day and for demonstrating their will to shun the regressive politics of yesterday by returning to the progressive brand of politics that has been the trademark of the people of that state.

“I congratulate all party members in the state, particularly the party leadership in the South-west.
“Finally, I must express profound congratulations to President Muhammadu Buhari, the national leader of the party, whose stature and dignity helped guide the APC to another victory that should advance the progressive aims of the party and the people.

“To all the people and parties in Ondo, your election has been had and held. Now is the time that all must work for the continued development, prosperity and peace of your state and our beloved country.”
He appealed to all party members including those who have been disaffected from the primary to come together for the good of the APC and its progressive ideals.