Fifty days to the 2018 governorship election in Osun State, the political stage in the State of the Living Spring is now set for what observers have said will be a historic contest, with 48 political parties in the running for the governorship seat currently occupied by Governor Rauf Aregbesola, who is finishing his second term of eight years.
Already, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the body saddled with the responsibility of conducting the election, has published 48 names as governorship candidates of the parties that will engage in the contest. Of these 48 parties, however, the real contest is expected to be among five, with bookmakers in the state ruling out the possibility of a dark horse in the race.
Some of the parties in the contest include the All Progressives Congress (APC), Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Social Democratic Party (SDP), African Democratic Congress (ADC), Action Democratic Party (ADP), the Alliance for Democracy (AD), All Grassroots Alliance (AGA) and the Accord Party. But bookmakers have zeroed in on five parties to watch in the race for the control of Osun State, mentioning the APC, PDP, SDP, ADP and ADC in what they note will be a five-horse race.
For close watchers of the politics of Osun State, these five parties share the same fate. Their standard-bearers are friends turned foes for political expediency while some of them are siblings at war; a war that only the outcome of the governorship election can settle. Three of the five candidates have once shared the PDP platform while the other two worked in the Aregbesola government for years and effectively became enemies less than three weeks ago following what one of them described as lack of transparency in the conduct of the APC primary. So, the battle ahead will not be with the unknown, it will be a civil war. Fierce, tactical and a fight to finish, these five parties will throw all darts and fire all salvos in the bid to win the 22 September, 2018 poll.
In the beginning
Since the return to democratic rule in 1999, Osun State politics has always remained unique for its closed-circuit governorship contest, with the governorship election always contested by two to three major parties. Beginning from 1999, when Chief Bisi Akande (Alliance for Democracy), Senator Olu Alabi (PDP) and Senator Isiaka Adeleke (All Peoples Party), slugged it out in a keenly contested poll, to 2003 when Akande and Olagunsoye Oyinlola (PDP) contested, governorship contest had always been keenly contested among two or three candidates. The 2007 contest, which involved Oyinlola and incumbent Governor Rauf Aregbesola (AC) was not different, neither was the subsequent governorship contest between Aregbesola and Senator Iyiola Omisore (PDP) in 2014.
The 2018 governorship contest has, however, changed what was fast becoming the unwritten rule of engagement in the governorship race in the state, opening the political space to five strong political parties, a development that has, for the first time, made the outcome of the contest unpredictable.
The zoning that never was
Prior to the emergence of candidates for the parties, a strong wave had blown across Osun State regarding the zoning of the governorship seat. Political groups, leaders of thought including former Governor Oyinlola and many others had argued in favour of zoning the governorship seat to Osun West Senatorial District, citing what has become an unwritten rule of engagement that each of the three senatorial districts take turns on the governorship position.
For the advocates of zoning, the fact that since 1999, the governorship position had been occupied by Akande and Oyinlola from Osun Central for a combined 11 and half years and Aregbesola from Osun East for eight years meant only one thing: Osun West should be the sole contender for the seat in 2018. But this position attracted widespread criticisms from some quarters, who apart from pointing out that there was nothing like zoning in the state, discredited the attempt to zone the governorship seat based on senatorial district rather than the administrative divisions or other features such as the sub-tribes in the state. According to the opponents of zoning, chief among who are people of Ile-Ife extraction, including the SDP’s governorship candidate, Senator Omisore, of the four sub-tribes in the state, namely; the Oyos, the Ijeshas, the Igbominas and the Ifes, only the latter has not produced the governor of Osun State since 1999. Secondly, they argued, of all the administrative divisions: Osogbo, Ikirun, Iwo, Ede, Ilesha and Ile-Ife, only the latter, Osogbo and Iwo have not produced the governor.
As the buildup to the governorship contest increased, however, advocates of zoning appeared to be coasting home to victory in the APC and PDP until the last minute when political realities pulled the rug off the feet of the Osun West advocates in the APC. Incumbent Chief of Staff to Aregbesola, Chief Gboyega Oyetola was to later emerge the standard-bearer of the party in a governorship primary that many aspirants, including Aregbesola’s former Secretary to the State Government, Alhaji Moshood Adeoti, criticised. Adeoti was to later withdraw from the APC primary, taking with him a horde of leaders and APC members to the ADP, where he is now the party’s standard-bearer.
In the PDP, the Osun West advocates had a better deal, as three of the four aspirants that got on the ballot for the primary were from the zone. But that too could only happen after Omisore had dumped the party. The outcome of the primary saw Akinbade pulling out to pick ADC’s governorship ticket.
With Oyetola from Iragbiji and Omisore from Ile-Ife, the trio Senator Ademola Adeleke (PDP), Chief Adeoti and Akinbade from Osun West, will have a real problem on their plates, while the idea of zoning can be considered as ultimately consigned to the dust bin. The challenge, however, is that apart from Osun West being the smallest in terms of voting strength, with a bulk of its votes concentrated in Ede, Iwo and Ejigbo, the emergence of candidates from Osun Central and Ile-Ife will further contract the votes of the Osun West candidates, especially given the fact that three of them would struggle to divide the votes from 10 local governments in the zone.
The primary election blues
For watchers of political events in Osun State, it was a forgone conclusion five weeks ago that the two-horse race in Osun governorship contest might return in the 2018 poll, with only those conversant with the voting behaviour and politics of the state extending the parties to watch in the contest to three. All these permutations have, however, changed. The outcome of the APC primary, which Oyetola won, to the displeasure of Adeoti, who has now picked the ticket of the ADP, widened the political space, with Adeoti now considered as capable of upturning the APC’s apple cart.
In a similar development, the defection of Akinbade to the ADC, following the disagreement and displeasure that followed the outcome of the PDP primary won by Senator Adeleke, is considered as another factor that will make the governorship contest keen. With the former Secretary to the State Government having picked the governorship ticket of the ADC, two-way contest known with the state has given way to a contest in a wider space.
One bounty, many warriors
Apart from the 2018 governorship poll already setting record as the one with the highest number of governorship candidates, it is expected to be a watershed in the history of governorship contest in the state. With 1,407,235 registered voters and a little above a million having collected their Permanent Voter Cards, the 48 political parties in the race will go after the votes, but the candidates who will share the votes of the PDP, SDP and ADC, on one hand, would be fishing in the same pond, seeking votes in same PDP strongholds in Osun East and Osun West, while Oyetola and Adeoti are deemed to be candidates of the ruling APC. Feelers from the APC are pointing out that the Adeoti has the support of APC chieftains and members across the state.
Saturday Tribune gathered that 27 out of the 30 current APC local government party chairmen, 11 out of the 17 State Working Committee members, a large percentage of former appointees of Governor Aregbesola and members of the APC elders’ caucus known as Igbimo Agba, among others, are behind Adeoti.
Though Saturday Tribune could not independently verify this claim, insiders’ reports from the APC had even gone ahead to say that he might enjoy the funding and backing of Abuja.
Another key factor that will play out between the APC and ADP candidates is the grievance of some of the aspirants who lost out in the party’s primary, chief among who is the Deputy Speaker House of Representatives, Honourable Lasun Yussuff. The Ilobu-born politician, few days ago, voiced out his grievance when he accused the APC of double standard on the primary and vowed not to leave the party, saying: “Nobody can force me to leave the APC. I will stay right in the party and if the party wants to collapse, let it collapse on all of us.” With this statement, it is not yet clear if the Deputy Speaker would work with the APC candidate or with Adeoti.
Speaking with Sunday Tribune,former Commissioner for Information in Osun State and chieftain of the ADP, Sunday Akere,hinted that Adeoti might be enjoying the support of the rank and file of the APC who had equally objected to the process that threw up Oyetola. He stated that though he would not let the cat out of the bag, there would be shocking news from Osun State in a matter of days. The news, Saturday Tribune, can report, might not be unconnected with a rumoured mass defection from one or two of the major parties in the state to the ADP.
Though the scenario among the three other major aspirants is different, as Omisore had dumped the PDP before its primary, a similar case of battling for the same support base exists. Renowned in Osun politics for his structure that cuts across all the 30 local governments of the state and the fact that he has become a veteran contestant, having come second in the 2014 election with over 200,000 votes in less than seven local governments, Omisore will be the greatest force Adeleke will face. This, Saturday Tribune learnt, is due to the fact that though Omisore’s structure in the PDP had moved to the SDP, his foot soldiers and sympathisers still in the PDP might ditch their party in the last minute to fulfill the saying that a devil one knows is better than an angel one does not know.
But Omisore will not be the only headache for the PDP. The party will face stiff test from Akinbade’s ADC, which appears to be a solid mass built on the structure of former Governor Oyinlola. Though political observers might be quick to dismiss Akinbade based on his record of polling less than 10,000 votes as the governorship candidate of the Labour Party in 2014, those who should know say the dynamics have changed and that Akinbade might turn out to be the thorn in the PDP’s flesh. This is not to say that Ademola Adeleke, who inherited the political structure and goodwill of his late brother, Senator Isiaka Adeleke, will not take his pound of flesh from Omisore and Akinbade; as their perceived support base might turn out to be a hoax if the PDP members and sympathisers in the state choose to put party above personalities. Depending on where the crisis in the PDP regarding the primary and the court cases against Adeleke ends, the fortune of one of the five major contenders will benefit greatly from this development.
The war of credentials, governance experience
The five leading candidates in the election are unique in their own rights. Each of the five candidates is coming into the race with one edge or the other in the area of professionalism, governance experience and party politics. The duo of Adeoti and Akinbade boast of composite experience in party administration and governance, having both been chairmen respectively of the AD/AC/ACN and PDP as well as serving in government in various capacities.
Adeoti began his politics from the scratch, having risen from being a councillor in Iwo Local Government in 1989 to becoming a local government chairman, state chairman of the AD, AC and ACN and finally SSG.
For Akinbade, the route was slightly different though the end was the same. He began his politics as commissioner for works in Osun State before becoming the state chairman of the PDP and later SSG. Outside politics, he is said to be a businessman of no mean standing, with interest in hospitality and real estate sector.
With Adeoti and Akinbade, experience and exposure to governance in Osun State will remain the greatest catch phrase and so will their deep connections with the grassroots.
As for Omisore, Oyetola and Adeleke, however, what they lacked in serving in government early like Adeoti and Akinbade, they make up for in their experiences and credentials as tested and proven technocrats with years of experience in the corporate world.
Oyetola cut his teeth in the business world as insurance professional, working with Leadway Assurance Company Limited, Crusader Insurance Company Limited and Alliance and General Insurance, among others before establishing his own company, Silvertrust Insurance Brokers Ltd. He is also said to have ventured into oil and gas and real estate business at some points.
Omisore, on the other hand, rose to affluence through engineering.He began his engineering career as a Project Engineer with Drake Gordharm UK Plc and was seconded to Nigeria as a Project Manager of Drake & Scull Nig. Ltd before becoming a General Manager in the company, a post he held when handled the construction of several projects such as the Federal Mortgage Bank headquarters, Bank of the North headquarters, World Bank assisted Health Projects for Plateau, Benue and Nassarawa states, among others. He was to later establish Chrisore Engineering Ltd and is till date, a principal partner at MECHELEC consultants. But apart from corporate experience, Omisore has what will appear the clearest edge in terms of governance exposure, having served in the executive a deputy governor in Osun State and then the legislature as senator representing Osun East District, a position where he had the privilege of being involved in the appropriation and budgeting for the country.
Senator Ademola Adeleke, despite the ongoing controversy on his West African School Certificate, is said to be a great business man and administrator, with several online sources stating that he had worked in different capacities at Quicksilver Courier Company in Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Pacific Holdings Limited; Origin International LLC, Atlanta, Georgia, USA and served as a director at Guinness Nigeria Plc when his brother was governor. He has also garnered an experience as a senator, albeit on a short term basis.
With these credentials, Osun voters will not be short of information and evidence needed to make an informed choice in the coming election.
The battleground territories
Traditionally, the electoral battleground territories in Osun State are Osogbo, Ikirun, Iwo, Ede, Ejigbo, Ilesha and Ile-Ife. Depending on where a governorship candidate is from and the popularity of his party, these territories bring out the most votes, with the fate of candidates often sealed with the margin of loss or victory in any of these key places.
The 2018 poll, will however, present a more serious scenario. This is because for the first time in 19 years, Iwo and Ede will have their sons as governorship candidates while Ile-Ife has its sons as governorship and deputy governorship candidates respectively on the platform of two major parties. With these developments, it might be difficult for Osun West to produce a block vote in support of a candidate like it did in the senatorial by-election that saw Senator Ademola Adeleke replace his late borther. Interestingly, while Ede may retain its customary one-way voting pattern in support of Adeleke, albeit with some sorts of difference given the increasing distaste with the family’s domination of the city’s political life, it is in Iwo that the battle will be fiercest, as Adeoti will seek to gain the maximum advantage while Akinbade, with the support of the Oyinlola structure headed by a former Secretary to the Osun State Government, Alhaji Kazeem Adio, will also seek to own the votes in the city. All things being equal, the voting spoils in Osun West are expected to be shared between Adeleke, Akinbade and Adeoti. The fact that Adeoti will have to share votes from the APC base in the zone is an albatross he will face and so will Oyetola.
In Osun Central, the strong presence of former Governor Oyinlola and his structure will reduce the onslaught of the APC candidate, while Adeleke, Omisore and Adeoti are also expected to post an encouraging result. However, depending on the unfolding developments in Osun Central, such as the defection of the member representing Ila Orangun State Constituency, Honourable Clement Akanni Olorunwa and the pulse of the densely populated state capital, Osogbo, at the time of the poll, Oyetola is expected to poll higher than the other aspirants in this zone.
Osun East will be another spot for the royal rumble. This zone, unique for its two captains in one ship, with Ilesha and Ile-Ife almost always going in opposite directions politically and having strong voting powers, will be of great interest to political watchers. But while Ilesha has nothing at stake beyond ensuring the continuity in power of a party that gave its son the governorship platform for eight years, Ile-Ife will be the place to watch, as the duo of Omisore and Adeogun will, for the first time, be on different teams on Election Day. With the PDP deeply established in Ife, which is Omisore’s stronghold, it is expected that there may be no winner take all in the zone for the former deputy governor, though those who should know have maintained that Ife’s determination to have one of its own as the governor might override party affiliations.
While these five leading parties will battle for votes in their traditional catchment areas and beyond, analysts are of the view that the major battlegrounds will be Ilesha and Osogbo, which are capable of delivering the swing votes in the poll that bookmakers note, might be the keenest since the 1999 governorship election.
The parties speak
Speaking on the chances of their parties’ governorship candidates, the trio of the Osun State SDP chairman, Dr Bayo Faforiji; the Commissioner for Innovation, Science and Technology and member of the Oyetola campaign team, Mr Oluremi Omowaiye and Akere, all boasted that the each of their candidates was the one to beat in the election.
Faforiji, in an interview with Saturday Tribune, said: “Senator Iyiola Omisore, the candidate of the SDP is the man to beat in that election. It is Omisore and the others. He has been tested especially when he served as deputy governor to Chief Bisi Akande. Civil servants in Osun State will not forget his intervention in their matter and are ready to repay him with their votes and those of their families, friends and associates. His achievements as a senator for eight years are also speaking for him, most especially his timely assistance in shoring up the inflow of statutory and non-statutory income into the coffers of Osun State, aside other intervention in siting life-saving constituency projects all over his senatorial district.”
Speaking on the chances of Oyetola, Omowaiye stated that Oyetola has an advantage over others because of his resume and qualifications as a technocrat per excellence. “He has worked in the insurance, oil and gas sectors for about 30 years before becoming the Chief of Staff. And Osun, being a state with a lot of learned people, they will want a governor who has the capacity and has demonstrated that capacity to continue where Governor Rauf Aregbesola will stop. And Oyetola has demonstrated that as the Chief of Staff for eight years,” he said.
Similarly, Akere maintained that a vote for Adeoti would be a vote for freedom and new lease of life, noting that the alleged misgiving of Osun voters on continuity would not affect the ADP candidate despite having worked with the Aregbesola government for years.
According to the former commissioner, “what the people insist that they do not want again is an Osun indigene from abroad as governor. They want a governor who they can identify with, who can identify with them and know them by their names. The problems we have had in the state is that some of the governors are Osun indigenes from abroad and that is the bane of the state…I am assuring you that the 22 September election is the election of freedom for a new lease of life. The ADP is taking back power and bringing it to the people.”