By Emmanuel Oladesu

Former President of Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) Chief Rotimi Akeredolu (SAN) emerged as the Ondo State Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) governorship candidate for the October 20 election at the party congress held in Akure at the weekend. Deputy Political Editor EMMANUEL OLADESU, who witnessed the exercise, highlights the challenges that would confront the opposition party after the primaries.

For six hours, Akure, the capital of Ondo State, stood still for the legal luminary and pro-democracy activist, Oluwarotimi Odunayo Akeredolu, who emerged as the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) candidate at the weekend.

After the party’s governorship primaries held at Swans Hotel, along Akure/Ilesa Road, the former President of Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) rode from the venue to his home town, Owo, the historic cradle of progressives in the Southwest geo-political zone with funfair. It was a miniature popularity ride in a state the Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) had served as Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice.

Akeredolu, who was decked in a white khaftan, stood out, not only by his white beard, but as the cynosure of all eyes and perceived by the masses as the symbol of a collective struggle for power shift in October. The flag bearer was not alone. Beside him was his heartthrob, Betty, who in her own right had tales of survival to tell. But the candidate was also accompanied by co-aspirants who endorsed his candidature, thus putting an end to the fabrication that they had all jumped the boat.

Other aspirants, including former House of Representatives member Dr. Jayeola Ajatta, activist lawyer Comrade Sola Iji, renowned businessman Segun Abraham, Senator Omololu Meroyi, former Finance Commissioner Wale Akinterinwa, Tayo Alasoadura, and Ifedayo Abegunde formed a shield around Akeredolu, as they reiterated their loyalty to the party.

Also in the mood of excitement were Olayato Arebo, Ayodele Adedipe and Atanlogun Iginla. Members of the ‘Omoluabi Group’ led by Dr. Olu Agunloye dissociated themselves from his defection to the ruling Labour Party (LP). They said they were not party to plans to make him running mate in the Labour Party (LP).Also, Senator Ajayi Boroffice, who was not at the venue phoned to debunk the rumour that he had abandoned ACN.

“The race has just started. We have a big task ahead of us. We are destined to form the next government and by the grace of God, we will form the next government”, declared Akeredolu in his short acceptance speech.

He added that “We will use the progressive platform to change Ondo State”.

Out of the accredited 61,246 party members, the ACN candidate polled 55,917 votes at the primaries held across the 18 local governments. Remarkably, he was the sole candidate and the unanimous choice. The Governorship Congress Committee chairman, Mr. Olawale Oshun, noted that more than half of the wards across the councils gave plural vote to Akeredolu, thereby affirming his fitness for the job.

One after the other, the Local Government Returning Officers tendered the results for collation at the congress. The analysis is as follows: Akoko North (5,990), Akoko Northwest (3,820), Akoko Southeast (3,117), Akoko Southwest (5,145), Ose (4,445), Owo (3,734), Akure North (2,700), Akure South (2,202), Idanre (1,644), Ifedore (5,267), Ondo East 1,343), and Ondo West (2,442). Other are Ese Odo (3,874), Ile Oluji/Okeigbo (3,083), Irele (1,707), Odigbo (1,366), and Okitipupa (3,674).

However, the motion for the acceptance of the outcome was moved by Iji, former Alliance for Democracy (AD) chairman, seconded by Ifedayo Abegunde. After the motion, Akeredolu’s nomination was ratified by delegates through a loud voice vote. With great delight, the South West ACN leader and national vice chairman, Senator James Kolawole, presented the Certificate of Nomination to Akeredolu, amid cheers by other congress committee members, including former federal legislator Uche Onyeagucha, Alhaji Abubakar Kari, Alhaji Abu, Adegboyega Adedipe, and Alhaji Habi from Kogi State.

Other party elders and leaders exchanged pleasantries. Many hugged themselves. At the event were former Commerce Commissioner Prince Olu Adegboro, Osun State Special Adviser on Environment Mr. Bola Ilori, Ekiti State ACN chairman Chief Jide Awe, his Osun State counterpart, Elder Adelowo Adebiyi, Ondo State ACN Women Leader Erelu Modupe Johnson, Pa Wale Akintimehin, Acting Chairman Chief Olusola Adesoji, Chief Idris Elemefe, Gboyega Adefarati, Alou Ayodele, Adewale Omojuwa, Femi Adekanmbi, Sola Akintanmi and state Publicity Secretary Rotimi Agbede, who was master of ceremony.

It was carnival-like shadow poll, which elements were beyond the ken and comprehension of the opposition. It was devoid of strife and rancour. From 10.15 am when the exercise kicked off, there was no dull moment. An atmosphere of peace and tranquility pervaded the venue. A contingent of policemen led by a Superintendent, Mr. Ebenezer Adegalu was idled throughout because there was no reported case of unruly behaviour. A team of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) officers comprising Mrs Pricilla Ezeigwe, Mr. Clement Osime, Mr. Surajudeen Junaid and Mrs. Adefunke Abiodun were impressed by the peaceful conduct of the congress.

The lot fell on Oshun to highlight the congress process. He conveyed the felicitations of the national chairman, Chief Bisi Akande, to a whole house he described as “a united party predicated on its expectation to win the governorship poll on October 20”. The former Chief Whip of the House of Representatives said “this is the beginning of a healthy process to drive away from Alagbaka House Labour Party and replace it with a more purposeful government led by ACN”.

Oshun reminded the delegates that the process of obtaining nomination forms ended on July 2 this year, adding that only one aspirant collected and submitted the form. He said ward and local government congresses results were being tendered by the Local Government Returning Officers.

Kolawole explained that the congress was designed in that way to keep moles in the party out of the show. He said the choice of the flag bearer was ratified because the odds favoured him. “All the aspirants are qualified and they are people of integrity. After looking round, we decided on him. He is known in the public affairs of the country. He is a professional. Akeredolu will become governor through the will of the people”.

The zonal leader knew that a titanic battle is in the offing. But he said the people of Ondo State would prefer a new governor who carries along all the stakeholders to a ‘one -man -show governor’.

Ajatta echoed the same feeling, saying that ACN will run an all-inclusive government. He also shed light on the emergence of Akeredolu. “I stepped down for the party and the party decided that he should be the candidate. So, I stepped down for both him and the party. Akeredolu is not the only one in the party. He will not form the government alone. We will do it together”.

The former federal legislator said the allegation of imposition was unfounded, urging critics to move closer to study and understand the way primaries are conducted in ACN. “We hold legal and legitimate primaries, not primaries where thugs will brandish cutlasses and broken bottles”, he stressed.

Iji agreed with him, explaining that party members always counted on the wisdom of elders who have benefit of hindsight. He was emphatic that this is a plus and not a minus to the fold, adding that the atmosphere of a guided congress is permissive of orderliness and peaceful conduct, which is to the credit of the party leaders. “This is how we conduct our primaries. We have leaders who are learned in the trade and experienced to know that there is need for moderation. Our democratic values must be thoroughly guided. It should not be at large. We need to avoid rancorous primaries”, he stressed.

Despite the successful congress, many challenges will confront the party in its bid to dislodge Governor Olusegun Mimiko, who key leaders of the party supported for the governorship in 2007. Observers contend that ACN have to work harder than it had done in Ekiti, Osun, and Edo states to install a progressive government in the Sunshine State.

A Muslim cleric, Alhaji Ade Oloruntoba, who rendered the opening prayer, alluded to the task of reconciliation that must be done. He prayed to God to pacify aggrieved stalwarts. Majority of the aspirants who stepped down in deference to party supremacy witnessed the ceremony. But the absence of party faithful, including Pa Wumi Adegbonmire, committed Awoist and Asiwaju of Akureland, Mrs. Jumoke Anifowose, and other committed local progressive leaders agitated some observers. However, party sources authoritatively said that Adegbonmire will remain a progressive for life. On Sunday, Adegbonmire said on the phone: “I remain in ACN. I will never jump from one party to another”.

The choice of a running mate is also an issue. Some women invaded the venue, demanding that a one of them should pair with Akeredolu. No fewer than 12 indigenes of Ondo State are scheming to emerge as deputy governorship candidate. Majority of them are from the South Senatorial District. Akoko, the fanatical sub-zone reputed for bloc votes believes in ACN. But since Owo, where Akeredolu hails from is part of the North Senatorial District comprising Akoko, the aggrieved sub-zone which produced many aspirants must be pacified by party elders and leaders.

It is not likely that the running mate will emerge from the Central Senatorial District where Mimiko comes from. Votes from Akure, Ondo and Idanre cannot be ignored. This is a major challenge to the ACN National Director of Organisation, Alasoadura. In 2007, Akure voted for LP, despite the fact that its son, Prince Adegoroye, was the ACN candidate, although he had an amorous dealing with the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Ondo, the vast territory of the Osemawe, is proud of producing the governor. But there are complaints that the governor has not fought the infrastructure battle in Ondo Kingdom as he had done in other towns. Will Ondo abandon Mimiko for ACN?

Akeredolu’s media spokesman, Idowu Ajanaku, said that it is possible, explaining that the people of Ondo State would assess developments based on merit. “Our people are sensitive. They know what is happening in Lagos, Osun, Ekiti and Edo states. They want prudent management of resources. They want good government. They want their state to move forward. People here vote based on competence, integrity, credibility and manifesto of the party. People want a progressive party in power to steer their affairs”, he added.

Observers have also contended that, on the slippery political field, Mimiko would be campaigning based on what he had done in the last four years and Akeredolu would be campaigning based on what he will do, if elected into office. Again, Ajanaku said “Ondo people are reconnecting with the progressive bloc”, adding that, “if they fared well under Action Group, Unity Party of Nigeria and Alliance for Democracy, they will fare better under ACN than LP”.

Some delegates from the South Senatorial District confided that, contrary to media reports, PDP is not totally dead in the zone. PDP candidate, Olusola Oke, a lawyer, is former Governor Olusegun Agagau’s associate. “If a deputy governor is coming from here, then, ACN should make sure that he is a man of clout”, said a delegate who declined being named. “If the two districts vote and they have not seen Ikale and Ilaje votes, forget it, the exercise is incomplete. Our voting strength is a factor, indeed, the deciding factor any time”, he added.

Many party leaders are conscious of these challenges. Adegboro stressed the need for massive mobilisation. “The first challenge is to reach out to all people and market our candidate. Our candidate has solid political and professional reputation. He is a candidate to beat. He is a great candidate with impressive credential”, he said.

However, Ilori emphasised reconciliation, which he said should be followed by mobilisation. On reconciliation, he said, may not be possible to pacify all, but 70 percent of the aggrieved will be pacified and that means that we are on course.

“We need to work hard, mobilise the people and come up with facts about why only ACN is a better alternative”, he added.

Akeredolu may have embrace the challenges on the spot. In his acceptance speech, he hailed the patriotism and commitment of co-aspirants, saying that they have made a great sacrifice for the party and state. In humility, he waved the olive branch to all. He called for unity and cohesion because he could not go through the hurdles alone.

The flag bearer urged members to intensify mobilisation in all the nooks and crannies of the state. He spoke on the core agenda of integration in the South-West, saying that Ondo State cannot afford to be left out. For the state not to be left out, he said ACN must form the next government.

Akeredolu rekindled the passion for power shift in October. He spoke as an activist committed to the vision and mission of pro-democracy movement that he is. “We will give all it takes to win the election”, maintained.