By Dayo Johnson, Akure
Fear seems to have gripped the leadership of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Ondo State over the possibility of the National Working Committee, NWC, of the party adopting direct primaries for the state and National Assembly primary elections scheduled to hold next month.
Leaders of the party, especially those not on the same page with Governor Rotimi Akeredolu, are said to be putting pressure on the national leaders of the APC to go the way of the neighbouring Osun State for the primary elections.
But the governor and those on his side, it was learnt, have seen the danger of using direct primaries to nominate the APC candidates in the state ahead of the 2019 polls and have started fidgeting.
The governor’s camp, according to party sources, sees direct primaries as a way of integrating those that he had shut out of his administration sequel to their indifference to his emergence as the APC candidate in the governorship election over a year ago. But the party leadership, a chieftain told Sunday Vanguard, last week, “is desirous of preventing governors and other power brokers as well as moneybags from hijacking the party structures because of the delegates system of primary election”.
Recall that many party leaders, including the immediate state Chairman of the APC, lsaac Kekemeke, Senator Ajayi Boroffice, members of the House of Representatives, were more disposed to the alleged candidate of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, Segun Abraham, during the 2016 governorship primary in Ondo.
Akeredolu, highly placed sources in the APC said, appeared not to have forgiven those party leaders for their preference for Abraham, even after his emergence as governor and has subsequently not fully reconciled with Tinubu, the National Leader of the party.
Many believed the insistence of the party’s NWC to use direct primaries to elect its candidates for the National Assembly elections in Ondo may further deepen the cold war between Akeredolu and Tinubu.
Now that Tinubu has warmed himself back into the party and the heart of President Muhammadu Buhari, the National Leader seems to have bounced back with the South-West governors gradually falling back on line including the new entrant, Governor-elect Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State, while Akeredolu is in the cold. The emergence of Adams Oshiomole as the APC National Chairman, through the efforts of Tinubu, had further widened the gap between the governor and Tinubu. It’s an open secret that Akeredolu did not, until the last minute, become a fan of Oshiomhole, being the new captain in the ship of the party. He had always supported John Odigie-Oyegun’s continuity plan until President Muhammadu Buhari himself abandoned Odigie-Oyegun and pitched his tent with Oshiomhole.
Sunday Vanguard was informed by a top party chieftain that the NWC of the APC may have opted for direct primaries for the National Assembly candidates to remove the overbearing influence of governors in the choice of candidates that would stand for the 2019 elections.
Sunday Vanguard learnt that the adoption of direct primaries had removed the rug from the feet of the Akeredolu faction of the APC in the state and had given succour to those in state and national assemblies seeking re- election and may consequently shelve the idea of realising their ambitions in other political parties. These factional APC chiefs lost out in the last ward, local government and state congresses as the party, under Odigie-Oyegun, threw out their parallel congresses.
However, the leadership of the party in Ondo is said to be hiding behind a finger by claiming that it does not have the register of members of the party in the state and so direct primaries will not work there.
This, to the faction opposed to Akeredolu, is believed to be a deliberate move to counter the directive of the national secretariat of the APC.
The fear of the governor’s faction was that any attempt to use direct primaries would favour those in the Tinubu faction such as Kekemeke, Senator Ajayi Boroffice, Hon. Babatunde Kolawole, Olusola Oke, Hon. Afe Olowookere (Akure South/ Akure North), Hon. Bode Ayorinde (Owo/Ose) and Hon. Bamidele Bolarinwa (Idanre/Ifedore).
Of the three senators representing the state in the National Assembly who are seeking re- election namely, Boroffice of Ondo North, Tayo Alasoadura of Ondo Central and Senator Yele Omogunwa of Ondo South, only Alasoadura is on Akeredolu’s side while majority of those in the House of Representatives have parted ways with him. The anti-Akeredolu Reps are Hon. Afe Olowookere (Akure South/ Akure North), Kolawole (Akoko South West/Akoko South East), Ayorinde (Owo/Ose) and Bolarinwa (Idanre/Ifedore).
Last week’s stakeholders meeting in the Lagos chapter of the party, attended by Tinubu, and a directive for fresh registration of members has further caused anxiety in the governor’s camp.
The Akeredolu faction, according to sources, is not comfortable that the South -West governors in their second term in office have reconciled with Tinubu, leaving the Ondo governor out and that this may truncate his chances of even contemplating the idea of a second term in office. The sources opined that if direct primaries were allowed in the state, it will be difficult to change the narrative during his own re- election when the time comes.
To compound issues, Oshiomhole, before the Osun governorship primary, had said that direct primaries would surface in states where the party has a sitting governor in order to halt the hijacking of the party by them while in states where the sitting governor is not of the party, delegate primaries will be used.
Adopting direct primaries, to the party leaders, will increase participation of party members in key decisions that affect them.
Oshiomole had declared, “Any All Progressives Congress state with an APC governor will face direct primary. Any state without an APC governor will face delegates (or indirect) primary. I won’t support manipulation by sitting governors. The time for blackmail and manipulation is now completely over. The party is supreme and superior to anyone from the President to the Councillor”.
The lone voice that the governor appears to have is the new National Vice-Chairman of the party in the South-West, Bankole Oluwajana, who is not only a member of the NWC but also a NEC member. The decision to go the Osun way in the conduct of the primaries in the state is said to be the prerogative of the NWC whose decisions are binding on the party.
But Oluwajana, in an interview with Sunday Vanguard, insisted that the NWC has to abide by the decision of the leaders of the party in each state on their choice of either direct or delegate primaries.
Oluwajana said, “ Direct primary was adopted in Osun because that was what the leaders in the state wanted.
“ The position of the NWC is that both direct and delegate primaries are allowed under the APC constitution but it is what the leadership of each states wants that will suffice. The NWC will have to honour the choice of each state”.
Asked to comment on what was expected in Ondo where he hails from, Oluwajana said, “l don’t know for now. They will make up their mind when the time comes”.
While Akeredolu’s camp believed that the adoption of direct primary for the emergence of the candidates for states and national assembly elections would be a sword of Damocule against their principal, Tinubu said the decision by the APC NWC “was an inevitable natural consequence of party evolution,”
Throwing his weight behind the decision, the National Leader of the party said, “From its inception, our party has held to principles of internal democracy and, by the open and fair conduct of our conventions, we have distinguished ourselves from all other political parties.
“While we have achieved more than others with regard to internal democracy, there is still more to be done in order to perfect our internal procedures and mechanisms.
“This consideration was a key factor in the election of Comrade Adams Oshiomhole as party chairman. Core to that mandate is the improvement of democracy within the party so that we may become even better representatives of the people.
“This decision took courage and conviction because it bucked the old ways in order to bring about something better and new.
“Comrade Oshiomhole deserves commendation for leading the party toward greater democracy, which means increased participation of all party members in key decisions that affect them.
“The involvement of all APC members in candidate nomination will ensure that the party chooses the candidate of the people. It will also serve to galvanise the party membership for the general election that lies ahead. Moreover, direct primaries will serve as a future deterrent to those who might have tried to corrupt the delegate system of obtaining nominations.
“With that system, the temptation to ‘buy’ delegates was an ever-present weakness. Now, such a venal undertaking will prove much too costly and uncertain to be entertained as feasible strategy.
“I am sure party members in Osun welcome this decision for it shines the rays of democracy more fully upon them. May this decision not be peculiar to Osun but stand as the new way of our party. The nation and the APC will both be better for it”.