Ondo is not called the sunshine state for nothing. Just as the sun rises to set the pace for the day, so does Ondo State set the pace for the nation in many respects. Take, for example, Ondo’s role in setting the pace for the nation’s attempt to meet the Millennium Development Goals 4 (to reduce child mortality) and 5 (to improve maternal health) by 2015. Not only did Ondo State meet those goals ahead of target and ahead of the nation, it also used the medical care complex developed to meet those goals to establish a University of Medical Sciences.
Ondo’s cocoa and timber are also pace setters in agriculture and the housing industry, respectively. Scarcely is a cocoa derivative (Chocolate, Ovaltine, Bournvita, or Milo) consumed without some contribution from cocoa produced in Ondo State. This is especially true of the array of cocoa products (Cocoa Powder, Cocoa Butter, Cocoa Liquor, and Cocoa Cake) produced locally by Cocoa Products (Ile-Oluji) Limited, Ondo State. Similarly, the Idanre Forest Reserve in Ondo State continues to supply the nation with timber for the housing and furniture industries.
The combined impact of cocoa and timber as well as other agricultural products on the state’s economy is quite significant as proceeds from both products provide many a parent in the state the funds for their children’s education. Generations of Ondo students, including my own, owe their early education to the proceeds from our parents’ cocoa plantations or timber sawmills.
It is, however, in Nigerian politics, that Ondo seems to have made the most impact in setting the pace for the nation, partly owing to widespread education of its citizens (many families in the state have produced five or more university graduates), which promoted high political consciousness and partly owing to the citizens’ electoral experiences. It is widely recognised that the sun of Nigerian politics sometimes rose and set in Ondo State. Remember, for example, 1983? That was the year when the people rose against those who rigged the governorship election in which they voted overwhelmingly for the late Chief Adekunle Ajasin of the Unity Party of Nigeria but were surprised and angry that the late Chief Akin Omoboriowo of the National Party of Nigeria was declared the winner. The mob rose against the suspected riggers, mainly local leaders and supporters of the NPN, and killed as many as 40 of them (The New York Times, August 20, 1983). The court eventually ruled in favour of Ajasin, the true winner of the election. The Ondo electoral crisis (also duplicated in Oyo State) exposed the massive rigging of the presidential election of that year in favour of Alhaji Shehu Shagari of the NPN, and would set in motion the political upheaval that culminated in a military coup on December 31, 1983.
A similar crisis followed the 2007 governorship election in the state. Unlike 1983, when the election was rigged for the opposition candidate, the incumbent governor, the late Dr. Olusegun Agagu, was the beneficiary of the rigged election. As in 1983, the court ruled in favour of the true winner, this time the opposition candidate, Mimiko of the Labour Party, after two-year protracted litigation.
Now, fast forward to 2016, when the political landscape remains anything but certain. At no time in the history of the state has there been as much confusion on the political landscape as there has been since the primary season started in August. First, two factions emerged in the Peoples Democratic Party, each of which held a primary and elected a governorship candidate – Eyitayo Jegede (SAN) for the Ahmed Makarfi faction of the PDP and Jimoh Ibrahim for the Ali Modu Sherif faction. For a while, it appeared that the matter was settled in favour of Jegede, who is the establishment candidate of the ruling PDP in the state. However, the court recently ruled in favour of Ibrahim, thus tossing the candidacy up in the air again, given the subsisting submission of Jegede’s name to the Independent National Electoral Commission.
As for the All Progressives Congress, the internal feud over candidacy reached a head in the alleged rigged primary, which led to a sharp division within the National Working Committee of the party. The beneficiary of the alleged rigged primary, Rotimi Akeredolu (SAN), is now the party’s governorship candidate. However, the aggrieved co-contestants have gone their separate ways, with one of them, Olusola Oke, being the candidate of the Alliance for Democracy. Right now, members of the APC are split between Akeredolu and Oke, whose grassroots support has been much stronger than Akeredolu’s since they both ran for governorship in 2012.
When the candidate of the Social Democratic Party, Dr. Olu Agunloye, is factored in, there is a four-way contest ahead in November. The uncertainty surrounding the governorship candidate of the PDP can only complicate the job of opinion pollsters as the governorship election draws near.
The events in Ondo have three political implications. First, they indicate that our politics is governed by self-interest. True, as Prof. Ayo Olukotun reminded us recently on his column, politics is about who gets what and how; the problem with us is the very selfish interpretation of politics. The politics of self-interest is behind the confusion in Ondo politics today. Whether we are talking about aspirants, candidates, or their party bosses, including godfathers, the driving principle is self-interest.
Second, the meddling of political godfathers in their parties’ primaries was the trigger of the crisis within both the PDP and the APC. One justification often used for the participation of party leaders in the selection of candidates is the tradition of purchasing votes, otherwise known as “See and Buy”, especially during primary elections. The fear that such a tradition could throw up the “wrong” candidate often leads party leaders to intervene. There are two questions: (1) At what point should such intervention take place? (2) Is such intervention needed at all?
This year’s presidential primary in the United States provides good answers to these questions. The Democratic Party establishment intervened early with the endorsement of Hillary Clinton by Congressional leaders and super delegates. The Republican Party’s attempt to intervene in the middle of the game met with resistance from Donald Trump’s supporters, leading eventually to his victory in the primaries.
Finally, the Ondo events reveal a happy development in the politics of the state – the absence so far of violence, despite sharp intra-party disagreements. Although inter-party conflicts may still arise during the open campaigns, the reigning peace in the state should be maintained. It is already bad the way it is. It should not be allowed to turn ugly.