Eniola Akinkuotu, Fisayo Falodi, Gbenro Adeoye and Peter Dada
Aggrieved All Progressives Congress leaders and governorship aspirants in Ondo State have rejected Mr. Segun Abraham as the anointed candidate of the party’s national leader, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu.
They asked Tinubu to allow the APC governorship primary scheduled for August 27 to hold as planned and let the popular candidate emerge through a democratic process.
The aspirants said the plan by Tinubu to sponsor and endorse Abraham for the purpose of imposing him on them would derail the seamless and democratic process aimed at selecting the party’s candidate by delegates.
No fewer than 23 aspirants, including Abraham, have collected governorship nomination forms for the primary.
A recent report had claimed that Tinubu planned to impose Abraham on other aspirants and that he summoned all the APC leaders in Ondo State to a meeting in Lagos and asked them to support his candidate.
Tinubu was reported to have also promised to spend huge sum of money to offer financial support to ensure Abraham’s victory in the November governorship election.
But the APC Publicity Secretary in Ondo State, Mr. Steve Otaloro, denied that they were invited to Lagos by Tinubu to endorse Abraham.
All attempts to reach Abraham were unsuccessful as he neither answered calls to his telephone line nor responded to the text message sent to him.
Also efforts to reach Tinubu’s media aide, Mr. Sunday Dare on Thursday were unsuccessful as his mobile telephone line was not reachable. On Friday evening when his telephone rang, he neither answered calls to the line nor responded to a text message sent to it.
One of Tinubu’s close associates, who spoke to one of our correspondents, denied that the party leader was attempting to impose a candidate on the party.
“I’m telling you that it’s not true; everybody is using Asiwaju’s name, which is natural,” he said.
But the aspirants dismissed the denial, saying they were aware some party leaders met with Tinubu in Lagos over the matter.
The aspirants said Abraham should be allowed to contest in the primary alongside others if he is popular.
In separate interviews with our correspondents on Thursday, some of the aspirants said their presence at the APC national headquarters in Abuja for screening meant a rejection of endorsement of a particular candidate over the others.
They added that delegates should be allowed to elect the candidate of their choice.
An aspirant, who sounded angry and begged one of our correspondents not to mention his name, said he was aware of the meeting in Lagos.
He, however, said he was not interested in listening to any news of the endorsement.
He said, “I am in Abuja right now for screening and beyond that, I assume the report on the endorsement should be taken as rumour; that is what it should be.
“I am still in the governorship race and I am looking forward to a free and fair primary. You can talk to other aspirants; they will tell you the same thing.
“I am doing my campaign and I am reaching out to the people. I don’t want to be part of the discussion on the subject matter.”
Abayomi writes Tinubu, urges him to stop imposition
In an open letter titled, “The tonic of democracy is the right of the people to choose their leaders” and addressed to Tinubu, one of the aspirants, Dr. Tunji Abayomi, urged the APC leader to respect the wishes of the people of Ondo State and stop imposing candidates.
Abayomi said this was not the first time Tinubu would be imposing candidates.
He said, “In 2007 I ran for governor of Ondo State. You would recall that you invited me to your house in Bourdillon to break the news to me that certain leaders of the party had picked a candidate for us in Ondo State.
“The first question I asked then was ‘who were the leaders who chose a candidate for our people without the input of even the deaf and dumb of Ondo State?’
“Unconvinced by the responses, I made it clear then that I could not and would not support your decision as I considered it wrong in principle.”
Abayomi said in 2012, Tinubu again imposed a candidate on the party to the chagrin of other aspirants and the party performed woefully at the poll.
He added, “As a prominent leader in the past in the struggle for the undiluted and unpolluted right of the people to vote, I had hoped you will always allow the due process of voting to control political struggles.
“Indeed, this was the essence of our three-hour dialogue and disagreement when you and perhaps others placed over the people of Ondo State a candidate that was not chosen by us or for us through our votes in the 2012 governorship election.”
The human rights activist said it was unfortunate that despite contributing to national democracy, Tinubu had continued to fail to promote internal democracy within the party.
Another aspirant, Mr. Boye Oyewumi, who also said his preparation for the primary was already in top gear, stated that the APC governorship candidate should be allowed to emerge through a democratic process.
He said, “I have spent money to collect nomination form and I am undergoing screening now. Are they screening us in vain?”
Asked what would be his reaction if Tinubu insisted on Abraham’s candidacy, Oyewumi said the issue would be dealt with appropriately when the time comes.
A former President of the Nigeria Bar Association and one of the aspirants, Mr. Rotimi Akeredolu, said he heard about the endorsement just like others heard about it.
He asked anybody who believed that he had been endorsed to wake up from his slumber.
Akeredolu said, “I heard about the endorsement just like others heard about it. To me, it is nothing, but unsubstantiated rumour.
“The rumour did not just start today, it has been around for a while, but I can assure you that Asiwaju Bola Tinubu is a democrat and will not jeopardise a democratic process in electing the candidate of the APC.
“The constitution of the APC is very clear on free and fair primary. Asiwaju Tinubu had told me himself that he had no preferred candidate and that everybody should go to the poll and I hold him to the integrity of his words.”
The state Vice Chairman of the party, Ade Adetimehin, said, “Eighty-five per cent of Ondo State indigenes will never support endorsement. What we want is free and fair primary. Let the best candidate emerge through a credible primary. That will give us a good chance to defeat the PDP.”
This is just as the Ondo State Eminent Persons Group – an assemblage of professionals in the state – asked political parties’ leaders within and outside the state to stay off undemocratic practice of selecting candidates for the next governorship election in the state.
The group, in a statement by its national president, Mr. Banji Alabi, said the alleged report that Tinubu had already chosen Abraham as the APC candidate for the poll was unhealthy for democracy and an affront against the fundamental rights of other aspirants.
Alabi said it was unfortunate that APC leadership in the South-West had yet to learn from the same costly mistake it made in the 2012 governorship election when a candidate was imposed on the people, which he said was responsible for the loss of the election by the then Action Congress of Nigeria.
A chieftain of the APC, Chief Ayo Opadokun, who did not confirm or deny the report, declined to comment on it, saying, “I am sorry; I won’t run any commentary on it. Thank you.”
Efforts to reach the former National Chairman of the APC, Chief Bisi Akande, were not successful as he neither answered his calls nor replied a text message sent to his mobile telephone.
But sources close to the party chieftain said APC leaders had agreed before now that there would be no imposition of candidate in Ondo State.
One of them told our correspondent that Akande had just returned to the country about a week ago from where he went to for medical checkup.
The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said, “There is no disagreement between Chief Akande and Asiwaju on the governorship candidate of the party in Ondo State.
“All of them agreed long time ago that the party would pick its candidate through a transparent primary to avoid intra party crisis. Whoever wins will be supported by others.”
Another source, who is close to Akande also told our correspondent that no leader of the party was ready to impose any of the aspirants on the people.
He said, “They did it in 2012 and the result was clear. It was a resounding failure. The party is not prepared for such failure again hence the leaders agreed that primaries should be used to pick the most popular aspirant among them just like it was done in Edo State.”
Ondo PDP set for harvest of defection
There are indications that the Ondo State chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party is warming up to receive aggrieved aspirants from the APC.
Besides, the PDP is wooing them with appointments into cabinet positions.
The PDP Publicity Secretary in the state, Mr. Banji Okunomo, who gave the hint on Thursday in an interview with one of our correspondents, said the aggrieved APC aspirants would be welcomed with open heart.
He said, “The PDP is the only party where they can exercise their fundamental human rights. We will be glad to receive the aggrieved aspirants and we will also provide the platform for them to aspire to any political office of their choice.
“No political party will reject defectors. Any political party takes the advantage of movement into its fold. So, whoever desires to come to the PDP fold is welcome. It is not unexpected that some aggrieved aspirants in the APC will still come to the PDP.”
Okunomo also said that such aggrieved APC members will be treated like old members should they defect to the PDP.
He said, “The opportunity in the PDP is open to all without discrimination. In fact, many of the aspirants in the APC and their supporters were formally members of the PDP. So, if they are returning to the PDP, it means they are returning home. We are not going to discriminate against them; we will treat them as old members of the PDP. They should be assured that they will be considered for cabinet appointments and other positions.”
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