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Osun governorship primaries and the zoning war

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Lasun Yusuff

The political turf in Osun Sate is becoming increasingly volatile as the contending major political parties decide on zoning and other factors that can boost their fortune in the September 22 governorship election in the state, report AKINWALE ABOLUWADE and OLUWOLE IGE.


The stakes are higher now within the political circles of Osun State as various political parties elect their candidates in their various primaries in readiness for the governorship poll scheduled to hold in September. With the direct primary election of the All Progressives Congress (APC) held yesterday and that of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) holding today in the state, the main political parties in the ‘State of the Living Spring’ appear ready to step up the game from now. And, indeed, the participating political parties are determined to engage themselves in intense campaigns, using all available means to boost their electoral fortunes in the race to occupy the Abere Governor’s Office.

Interestingly, for all the political parties that are in the governorship race, zoning is a critical element that was considered in selecting who the cap fits. However, while the decision to cede the governorship slot to the Osun West Senatorial District, which felt it is the most politically marginalised part of the state, was warmly welcomed by some parties, it backfired and created a crack in some other political parties. At the forefront of the backlash effect of the struggle for zoning is the ruling APC in the state which is currently experiencing palpable tension. Those who were opposed to the idea of zoning had argued that giving opportunity to candidates from Osun West alone would narrow the frontier and shut the door against other credible aspirants from the other zones.

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While PDP and the other political parties in Osun State have been able to keep their folds calm and warm on the issue of zoning, APC is still facing a difficult time in managing the volatile issue without any immediate solution in sight. It was held in some quarters that the clamour for a governorship candidate from the Osun West Senatorial District was fueled by bigwigs from the zone against the interest of Governor Rauf Aregbesola of Osun State and his political godfather, Senator Bola Tinubu (APC National Leader).

Some aggrieved party loyalists are still expressing their angst over the reported decision of Tinubu to support a candidate from the Osun Central Senatorial District, rather than yielding to the voice of reason within the party. In their own view, the present situation has portrayed the governor and his godfather as selfish and overzealous individuals who gave no thought to divergent opinions and interests. While some party members applaud the idea of direct primary, other interests within APC are afraid that the option used in selecting the standard-bearer was capable of tearing the party apart. This, they said, could lead to the party’s defeat in the coming election.

Senator Felix Kolawole Ogunwale

In reaction against the direct primary election adopted by the party in Osun, some of the aggrieved governorship aspirants opted to dump the party for neutral platforms. For instance, the Secretary to Osun State Government (SSG), Moshood Adeoti, in a statement issued on Friday, expressed his decision to quit the APC primary and seek a greener pasture elsewhere.

The statement and signed by the Director of Media and Publicity, Moshood Adeoti Campaign Organisation (MACO), Kayode Agbaje, read in parts: “Alhaji Moshood Adeoti has formally withdrawn his participation from today’s (Friday) governorship primaries of the party. Alhaji Adeoti’s decision to withdraw from the race is hinged on his resolve to abide by a resolution of the Osun West Senatorial District wing of the party dissociating itself from the exercise. His withdrawal is (in order) not to add credibility to a skewed and jaundiced process already designed to favour an anointed aspirant.”

The statement, however, made it known that Adeoti was still in the race to contest the governorship election, come September 22, 2018.

Another prominent governorship aspirant in APC who preferred anonymity stated that he and his supporters decided to boycott the primaries in view of the fact that it was a slap on the integrity of the members of the party in the state. Describing the arrangement as kangaroo, he, liked Adeoti, also restated his resolve to seek the fulfillment of his aspiration on another platform, “having been denied the grace to serve in accordance to people’s will”. According to him, events in few days or weeks ahead would reflect the effect of the error of self-centeredness of the leadership of the party at the centre.

“Since the national leadership of the party has refused to see reasons with the majority on the possible danger associated with the direct system of voting to pick the party flag bearer, the best thing to do as a democrat is to find an alternative platform to realise my ambition,” he said and when pressed further to name the next party of his choice, he simply said, “Just wait till Monday.”

Osun APC Legal Adviser, Mr Adegoke Ogunsola, explained that the agitation for zoning of the party’s governorship ticket to Osun West was borne out of the desire of the people of the district to have the governorship slot zoned to them. He said: “Though I am not part of that agitation, I have to make it clear that I am not against it. If all the stakeholders are carried along, there will be no issue because Osun West Senatorial District has the strong desire to have the governorship”.

According to him, the Igbimo Agba, a group of elders of the party is also in crisis. He said: ‘The Igbimo Agba of APC has disagreement and they cannot hold their meeting now. Some of them support the Chief of Staff to the Governor, Alhaji Gboyega Oyetola, who is from the Osun Central Senatorial District, while others support the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Honourable Lasun Yussuff. As a result of that, they could not have a common front and that is why they cannot speak with one voice. Our own agitation is not whether or not it should be zoned to Osun West.

Adegoke Ogunsola (Osun APC Legal Adviser)

“What we are fighting for is that there is nowhere the State Executive Council (SEC) or the State Working Committee (SWC) met to decide on the modality for this primary election. There was nowhere we met and said we should have direct mode of primary election. We have never met, but they brought a document to us and that we should go and sign that particular document. They said the national leadership of the party requested for it but we rejected and said that we could not sign,” he said.

Ogunsola further said, “if the collegiate system was used in Kogi, Bayelsa, Ondo, Edo states and, of recent, Ekiti State, it should be used in Osun”. He lamented that the electoral chance of the party at the coming poll was already threatened adding, “If the present governor succeed in imposing his candidate on APC, I want to bet it that that particular candidate will not win. Our party is popular and people love our party. I want to say it loud and clear that they (the people) don’t want Gboyega Oyetola, but the governor and his leader want him”.

Dwelling on the contentious issue of zoning, Speaker, Osun State House of Assembly and a governorship aspirant of the ruling party, Honourable Najeem Salaam, said: “The agitation was based on fairness, equity and justice. It is no longer news that we have three senatorial districts in Osun State. All along since 1999 up to date, we have not governed the state. The little opportunity we had was given to us under military era, when the late Governor Adetunji Isiaka Adeleke governed over the state for just 22 months and we did not have full democracy then. But, since 1999 when we attained full democracy, we have not had the chance to govern this state.

“For fairness purpose, we are part of this state and we cannot be playing the second fiddle role and we have not even been given the position of deputy governor of the state before. It is now somehow permanent that the speakership and the SSG positions have been ratified to be the share of Osun West in their own arrangement. That is why we are clamouring for the governorship seat because we all contribute our own quota to the development of the state. When it comes to our turn, people should give it to us. They had been saying it before now that when Aregbesola leaves, it would come to Osun West. But when the time comes now, stories begin and that is the beginning of the agitation”.

Moshood Adeoti

Asked if zoning should form a credible topic of argument, Salaam said: “It is understandable that it is not in the constitution of the country, but we have the Federal Character principle in the constitution of the country, which says give fair share to all the parts and districts that make up the states, including the federation. There is always a political understanding. When Obasanjo [former President Olusegun] contested for the president of the country, we in the South West benefited somehow from the arrangement. That is our share. When we gave it to the North, if anybody contests from the East, we know that he can’t win. It is always like that and it is a political understanding between the major political parties in the country that we should give fair share to any part that is somehow in disadvantaged position.

“Are you now saying that there are people that are more competent in Osun Central and East senatorial districts? In Osun West, we have engineers, doctors, successful business men and other eligible people. I don’t agree. Why does it happen in state that we have a governor from Ijesaland that is from the Osun East Senatorial District and we have the deputy governor from Osogbo in Osun Central?

“What should concern our leaders at the national level is for APC to always be the party at the helms of affairs in this state and at the federal level. We should be mindful of whatever might give the opposition opportunity to displace us or have an edge over us as the ruling party. We should be mindful of the electorate and the generality of Nigerians that are voting for our party who are all involved”.


West failed to present united front —Aregbesola’s aide

Reacting to the agitation however, Special Adviser to Governor Rauf Aregbesola on Information and Strategy, Mr Semiu Okanlawon, said: “The clamour has been so strident, perhaps, more than any other time in the history of this state. It is premised on the belief that in the 27 years that the state had been created, the West zone of the state has produced a governor who served for only 22 months, with Osun Central having 11 years and Osun East having eight years. It is natural for the people of Osun West to desire to have another shot. We would be unfair to say it is not a legitimate agitation and I am quite sure that our leaders recognise this reality and respect the feeling and agitations of the zone.

“If you also look at the principle of Federal Character as well, you would realise that such clamours throughout Nigeria are to ensure that no part of the country is left to feel alienated and unimportant in the scheme of affairs. While I make no pretense in my support for such agitations, one must be mindful of other critical variables that come into play whenever and wherever offices are to be shared or people are to be elected. There might be occasions when such other variables take precedent above every other consideration. Sustained development, advancement of the good of the people must take precedent. We must never forget also that no zone has been asked not to give it a trial.

“As a matter of fact, there are two aspirants from the Osun East where the current governor comes from. While I agree that the desire is not out of place, we must bear in mind that democracy does not permit restriction of the space for what is supposed to be a democratic contest. The party could not have asked other zones not to field aspirants, if truly we want to have a governor whose popularity cuts across the entire state and not just a product of the desires and agitations of his own section of the state. That was why I felt it was not too strategic for many aspirants to have come from Osun West. Perhaps, the best strategy would have been to present a united front. But with a proliferation of ambitions and aspirants, Osun West appeared to have created opportunities for any other zone to win more votes and therefore emerge as the candidate of the party.

“But if you have a governor coming from the West, it is not as if he is going to be the governor of Osun West Senatorial District or cause all development works to be diverted to the zone he comes from. For instance, Governor Rauf Aregbesola is from Osun East, but his government has done more work at the Central, especially Osogbo, the state capital, than any other part of the state. And this is understandably so. Osogbo is our showpiece; a place we can present to the world as our masterpiece to which we can bring agents of development for the entire parts of the state to grow. But it [zoning] is a legitimate desire and no one can say it is wrong to so desire. But I can assure you that it won’t tear our party a bit.

Soji Adagunodo

“I also believe that Osun voters have become so sophisticated to a point that they are on the lookout for service delivery more than any other consideration. And you would agree with me that no other party flaunts such credential of good governance that APC parades. Those you think might be embittered to the point of leaving are those I foresee leading the campaigns of whoever emerges as the candidate of the party at the end of the day. Only one person will succeed Aregbesola as the next governor. Bearing that in mind, whoever is pursuing a governorship ambition is doing so with the flexible position that if it comes his way, fine, but if not, it won’t be enough to turn his back and move to another party.”

A former Commissioner for Information and Strategy in the state, Mr Sunday Akere, said: “Considering our political history, out of 20 years, Osun Central has ruled for 11 and half years. Osun East, by November this year, will be ruling for eight years, while Osun West ruled for just 22 months during the military rule of General Ibrahim Babangida. Since we came back to full democratisation in 1999, Osun West has not had the opportunity of being governor. That is why some of us are agitating that they should be given the opportunity to have a share of ruling the state now.

“We are all partakers in this struggle and we have all committed a lot into it and that is why we are saying Osun West is supposed to be given the opportunity now. We have quite a number of people that are qualified in the zone. There are academics, administrators, business gurus and people that have carved a niche in their field of endeavours, which we have in other zones too.”

Commenting on the chances of APC in the September 22 governorship poll, Akere said: “I am not only worried about this issue; it is crystal clear that it would affect us. What we have placed in our hands now was the same scenario that played out when we were preparing for Osun West Senatorial by-election in July, 2017. Our leaders should listen to the voice of reason, instead of using primordial consideration to pick our candidate”.


PDP chooses candidate today

Meanwhile, while some political parties have already unveiled their standard bearers: Eyes are on Osun State today as PDP elects its governorship candidate in a keenly contested primary. Long before the primary election that is holding today, aspirants hold that the decision of the PDP National Working Committee on how the party’s standard bearer emerges is supreme. As the party primary holds, most of the aspirants have reiterated that they were ready to accept the party’s decision, whether the pendulum swings in their favour or not. Speaking on PDP primary in an interview with Saturday Tribune, Senator Kolawole Ogunwale, who is a governorship aspirant in the party, said all the aspirants maintained high sense of cohesion since the dangerous elements within the party had departed.

According to him, zoning is not a threat hence, it cannot tear PDP apart as being witnessed in other political parties. He said: “A lot of poisonous people happened to have left PDP, making the party to enjoy peace now. Some of them are back when they cannot say anything that could be appreciable. Even if they are shouting now, nobody hears them. So, God just cleared PDP of poison.

“Now we (PDP aspirants) go to the house of one another. If you are drinking, I will take it from you and drink the remaining. It is happening now, but that was not happening before because we used to have very poisonous and dubious people. We are enjoying so much peace among us now. All of us are working to promote our party to make sure that we win the governorship election. If the party says this is what will happen, all of us will fall in and the hullaballoo will end there and everybody will be surprised”.

Asked if that could affect the fortune of the party in the September election, he said: “If we are together, then we must win when we do not allow anybody to divide us. All the people that used to play the game of division are no more with us. Some of them are back in the party but they cannot be heard again”. He added that APC had lost the trust that it enjoyed when it initially got to power, adding that PDP was determined to take its place as the party in power.

Of the 11 aspirants in PDP, six are from the West. If the party uses zoning, Ogunwale as well as other prominent aspirants within his party who are not from the zone would lose the ground to contest, He said, though it would be painful for him to bear, but he would have no option but to respect the choice of the party. He stated: “You must be aware that if PDP uses zoning, I will be affected but reading through the constitution of PDP, I do not see where we entrenched that clause. However, if the leadership of the party says we are going to the West, I will only tell them that during Obasanjo administration, the West produced minister but the Central did not produce any.

governorship election
Sunday Akere

“During the Jonathan [former President Goodluck] administration, the West produced the only minister while Central did not have any, West produced the Speaker, but the Central did not. So many appointments went to the West. Today the governor is from the East. I will only ask what offence has the Central committed? If they now say that is what they want to happen, I will wish them well. APC has outlived the trust that people had in them. I will call them ‘expired’. The best thing for anybody is to leave the scene when the ovation is loudest. They (APC) have refused to do that and now it dawns on them that the popularity they thought that they had is no more there.”

For former Speaker of the state legislature, Adejare Bello, it would only be fair to give Osun West space to contest the governorship election. Bello, who said he was exploring all legitimate means to clinch the governorship ticket, explained that the senatorial district has never enjoyed the opportunity to occupy the position since the creation of the state. Notwithstanding the pressure that was mounted on the party leadership to concede the governorship slot to the West, he said: “As an aspirant, I am doing everything humanly possible to emerge as the party’s standard bearer. We have moved round the 30 local government areas and the area office, Modakeke and we have seen the party leaders, officers of the party and we trust God that we will coast home to victory on Saturday by the special grace of God.

“But we should not forget that it is not winning the primary that is the ultimate but winning the governorship poll on September 22. To present a candidate as a party in opposition, the candidate that should be presented should have credibility as well as acceptability to win, at least, 35 per cent of the votes in the election. The party should field a popular candidate. I spent 12 years in the Osun State House of Assembly. That goes a long way. I don’t think that anybody else among the aspirants can tell a better story. The candidate that the party presents will tell whether we would have victory in the governorship election or not. It should be the turn of Osun West. It is not that we are better than others from the Central and East, but we are saying that it should be our turn now”.

On the possible emergence of an aspirant that is favoured by the national headquarters of the party, he said only PDP of yesteryears would impose a candidate on party members, adding that the experience under the chairmanship of Prince Uche Secondus did not indicate that the party could subvert democratic ideals. “After one of us might have emerged as the party candidate on today, I don’t think that any of the remaining 10 candidates will jump the boat, so far the arrangement had been transparent. So, there is no basis for any of the aspirants to suspect foul play. Once the exercise is transparent to the last point, I don’t see any problem at the end of the day. I don’t see any reason why anybody will want to leave the party,” he said.


SDP in factional primary

Conflict arising from party primary is also taking a toll on the Social Democratic Party, Osun State with the emergence of two governorship candidates, Senator Iyiola Omisore and  Muniruden Atanda. The two candidates are products of two separate primaries conducted by the two factions of the party in the state.

Omisore who is a former deputy governor of Osun State, defeated two aspirants to win the governorship ticket with 125,485 votes in a primary conducted by the Dr Bayo Faforiji-led faction of the party using direct primary   on Wednesday.

Yet in a parallel primary held earlier and organised by another faction of the party, Atanda, an indigene of Iwo had defeated two other aspirants to win the governorship ticket of the SDP faction led by the state chairman, Chief Ademola Ishola.

Omisore, who noted that the idea of zoning might not be an ideal way of selecting candidate, said emphasis should be placed on the credibility of an aspirant, rather than citing mere excuses. The former senator who defeated the two other aspirants of his party, Chief Yemisi Oladeji and Kehinde Atanda in a factional primary, held that his emergence as the SDP governorship candidate would end the possibility of a governor coming from other political parties because he was sure of victory.

Omisore, said: “Much of the hope of our people lies in the outcome of this election. Our primary election has been overseen by an incorruptible five member governorship committee. Every Nigerian, especially the Osun State indigenes, is agitating for a new order which is SDP. The issue of major party is not by name, but by population. What makes a party win in an election are the population and the membership of the party; it is not about name or acronym. The reality is that my followers are following with dedication, as if this is a religion. There is no contending the fact that with my emergence other political parties would be defeated arms down despite their plan to zone. My emergence as the candidate of SDP is unprecedented. If I could win an election with overwhelming margin from prison, I shall defeat all other candidates, irrespective of their political parties or strategies.”

The post Osun governorship primaries and the zoning war appeared first on Tribune.

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