The Punch

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Ekiti senatorial ticket: Battle of the bigwigs


Although they are political allies, the battle of aspirants of the Action Congress of Nigeria for Ekiti Central senatorial ticket was bitter. FEMI MAKINDE writes on the acrimony that trailed the party's primaries in the district

Former Governor Fayose -also e


The primaries of the Action Congress of Nigeria in Ekiti Central Senatorial District have come and gone, but the dust raised by the crisis which trailed the elections is yet to settle. The gladiators in the contest refused to concede defeat as none of them was ready to give in the battle dubbed "No Retreat No Surrender."

Although it was predicted that the contest, which pitched three close associates of former governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and an incumbent senator against one another would be a tough one, it has only turned to be tougher and messier than predicted.

The former Commissioner for Information and Strategy in Lagos State, Mr. Opeyemi Bamidele, his predecessor, Mr. Dele Alake; the incumbent senator representing the district, Bode Ola; and former Managing Editor of The News Magazine, Mr. Babafemi Ojudu, all contested in the primaries on January 10, but while candidates have emerged in other districts that of Ekiti Central Senatorial District is yet to produce a winner a month after. The local government areas which make up the Ekiti Central Senatorial District are: Ado-Ekiti, Irepodun/Ifelodun, Ijero, Ekiti West and Efon local government areas.

While the result of the primaries in three local government areas were upheld, the results from Ado-Ekiti and Irepodun/Ifelodun where Ojudu and Bamidele hail from respectively were cancelled and the party fixed the rerun primaries for January 13, but it never held.

The primaries of January 10 was trailed by crisis as the Chairman of the ACN in Ekiti State, Chief Jide Awe, was almost killed by thugs who invaded his office. One of the aspirants was also reported to have been invited and quizzed by officials of the State Security Service following an allegation of shooting by his supporters.

The non-declaration of winner in the primaries forced many members of the party to stage a continuous peaceful protest for a week, asking the party to declare the winner of the election. While the protest was still in progress, Ojudu, who also led a faction of protesters to the Governor's Office on solidarity rally, announced at a press conference preceding the rally, that he was the winner of the primaries. Although he did not state how many wards he won, he said that his name had been submitted to the Independent National Electoral Commission as the candidate of the party.

According to Ojudu, "My name has been with INEC as the candidate of our party from Ekiti Central Senatorial District. If you are in doubt you can go to the INEC office and confirm."

However, the Deputy Governor, Mrs. Funmi Olayinka, was quick to debunk the claim saying at another press conference that the party had not submitted the name of any candidate to INEC.

To educate the public on the position of things, the Chairman of the party in Ekiti Central Senatorial District, Mr. Jide Ajayi, declared the following day that Bamidele was leading in the inconclusive primaries with 19 wards while Ojudu won in seven wards, Alake won in two wards and the incumbent senator won just one ward.

Ajayi, who warned Ojudu to stop parading himself as the winner of the primaries, said that the crisis arising from the primaries would be resolved soon.

Ajayi said, "Babafemi Ojudu should stop parading himself as the candidate of the ACN in Ekiti Central Senatorial District. The list of candidates who will represent our party is yet to be forwarded to the INEC. I also appeal to our lawmakers at the state House of Assembly who are threatening to defect not to do so. The challenges arising from the primaries would soon be resolved at the national level."

But while many were waiting for the name of the candidate, their hopes were dashed as none of the four aspirants was included on the INEC list, which was displayed in Ado-Ekiti last week.

But the name of Senator Kolawole Olagunju was displayed as the candidate of the ACN in Ekiti Central. His name was also displayed as the candidate Ekiti North Senatorial District.

Reacting to the INEC list, Ojudu said that he remained the candidate of the ACN in Ekiti Central, saying a committee of the party had resolved the crisis and they agreed that he was the candidate.

Ojudu, who spoke with our correspondent on the telephone, said that Olagunju's name was used as a dummy by his party. He said Olagunju was expected at the INEC office in Abuja the following day to withdraw his nomination form so that his name (Ojudu) would be submitted.

He said, " It is true that the name of Senator Kolawole Olagunju is on the INEC list. But he is expected in Abuja tomorrow to come and withdraw his nomination form so that my name can be submitted as the candidate of the party.

"The complaint committee of the party met last night (Sunday night) and resolved the crisis and they all agreed that I am the candidate of the ACN in Ekiti Central Senatorial District."

The party chairman in the state, who declined to make any categorical statement on the candidate in the primaries, explained that the dummy name was used pending the time the crisis over the election would be resolved.

The incumbent senator, who decried the way the party handled the primaries, said that since election failed to hold, he should be given the ticket because he would have spent less than two years in the office by May. He explained that he started the legal battle which eventually led to the ouster of Mr. Femi Kila of the Peoples Democratic Party from the Senate at the tribunal and he fought it through the Court of Appeal before he was declared the lawful winner of the poll. He, however, predicted failure for the ACN in the general election if the party did not present him as its candidate.

He said, " I am at a loss over how they are treating me. We preach one man one vote in our party but they are practising another thing. Our leaders are trying to destroy the party in Ekiti here.

"I may take a legal action against the party for excluding me and I may not. People out there are also complaining that the party is not fair to me. Because of the way they are treating me, the ACN may likely lose this election. Their action portends a capital failure for the party."

But Ojudu who claimed victory the second time in a text message sent to our correspondent, said that the crisis had been resolved in his favour.

According to him, "The controversy over who represents the ACN in Ekiti Central Senatorial District was laid to rest on February 9 in Abuja. Senator Kolawole Olagunju whose name was used as dummy pending the resolution of the appeal filed by Bamidele signed off at 3:40pm at the party secretariat and Ojudu was substituted. Present at the event were Senator Kolawole, the party's South-West vice-chairman, Mr. Bayo Isowu, the Ekiti State secretary of the ACN and Mallam Abubakar Kari, the National Organising Secretary of the party.

"Bamidele took his appeal to all the organs of the party such as the Complaints Committee, the Governors' Forum as well as the National Caucus and the case was resolved in my favour at all levels."

Efforts to get the chairman of the party in the state to confirm Ojudu's latest claim proved abortive as the chairman refused to answer calls put across to his phone. However, a source within the party confirmed that Ojudu had been awarded the ticket.

Ojudu may have eventually emerged as the ACN candidate in the senatorial district but the battle in the real election will be tough as he will have to fight both enemies within and oppositions from other parties. One of the candidates the ACN may find a difficult nut to crack is former Governor Ayo Fayose who is contesting on the platform of the Labour Party.

Ojudu had in an interview granted some national dailies, said that Fayose was no match for him but residents of the state are aware that Fayose, despite his impeachment and removal, remains a grassroots politician.

But sources close to Fayose told our correspondent that Fayose preferred to contest against Ojudu because the former governor was aware that Ojudu "who is a political neophyte has no structure on the ground to win the race."

Although Fayose's associates said that there was no doubt that Ojudu, being a candidate of the ruling party, will enjoy the support of Governor Kayode Fayemi and will have resources at his disposal to prosecute the election, but they cautioned that many members of the ACN may give Fayose their votes because of his support for Fayemi during the rerun governorship election and because of the cracks that the ACN primaries had caused in the party.

The real election will be very interesting because it will provide Fayose an opportunity to confront Ojudu, who played a major role in the removal of the former governor from office in October 2006.

Fayose, who is obviously waiting on the wings may capitalise on the divisions in the ACN except the party starts a fence mending mission immediately to pacify politicians such as the state chairman of the ACN; MOB, Ola, Alake and former Governor Niyi Adebayo, who Ojudu openly attacked verbally during the crisis which trailed the party's primaries.