The controversy over the Peoples Democratic Party’s flag bearer in the November 26, governorship election in Ondo State is causing confusion as the Independent National Electoral Commission lists Jimoh Ibrahim as the party candidate, thereby prompting supporters of Eyitayo Jegede, a much favoured candidate, to go on wild protests across the state
| By Olu Ojewale | Nov 7, 2016 @ 01:00 GMT |
MAJOR cities and towns in Ondo State were virtually brought to a standstill on Friday, October 28, when supporters and sympathisers of Eyitayo Jegede, SAN, factional governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in the state, trooped into the streets in mass protests. All commercial activities were halted as banks, private and corporate businesses were forced to close down as protesters took over the streets, making bonfires with used tyres and other available inflammable items. The protests were staged in Akure, the state capital, Owo, Ondo and Ore towns while protesters set bonfires at many major roads in the towns, making vehicular and human movements difficult.
The spontaneous demonstration followed the declaration of Jimoh Ibrahim, a businessman, as the candidate of the PDP in the Ondo governorship election. The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, on Thursday, October 27, had removed the name of Jegede from the list of the candidates of the political parties that would participate in the November 26, governorship election and replaced it with that of Ibrahim as the candidate of the PDP.
The protests began as early as about 6.30am in Akure where major roads like Oyemekun, Oba Adesida, Arakale, Araromi among others were barricaded. Thus, to avoid loss of lives and property, the Ondo State Police command deployed security personnel in various strategic places in various parts of the state in order to maintain the law and order.
Femi Joseph, Police public relations officer, assured that the police were committed to the protection of the lives and property and that they would do everything possible to prevent loss of lives. Joseph said: “We are trying to coordinate our men so that the incident will not escalate.”
Jegede, on his part, urged his supporters to remain calm, saying he would explore every available legal option on his candidacy. Jegede, in a press statement, issued in Akure by Kayode Fasua, his spokesperson, said he had gone to the Court of Appeal to upturn the decision. He expressed optimism that justice would be done eventually and urged his supporters to remain calm and steadfast in the struggle.
He said: “Eyitayo Jegede, your son and brother, has not in any way abdicated the general consent given to him by the law-abiding members of the PDP to seek election into the office of the governor.
“Like I have always said, I am guided by the Almighty and the shared vision to transform this state to a land of wealth and prosperity. You remain my priority as we, in faith, match on to the Promised Land.”
While Jegede headed for an appellate court, Governor Olusegun Mimiko whose state was suffering from unrest took the matter to President Muhammadu Buhari. After his meeting with the president behind closed-doors, Mimiko told State House reporters on Friday, October 28, that the INEC’s action could cause a serious conflagration in the state. The governor, who said he had received an assurance from the president that he would look into the matter, said that there was no moral justification for what the INEC did describing Ibrahim’s declaration as injustice and mischief.
Indeed, some of the protesters, who spoke to the press, warned that the scheduled governorship election in the state might not hold if the INEC should insist on Ibrahim as the PDP candidate in the state governorship election. They argued that Ibrahim was not a member of the PDP and should not be the one to fly the party flag in the governorship election. Some of them accused the opposition party of sponsoring Ibrahim to destabilise the party in the state.
Actually, the controversy over the candidature of the PDP did not start on Thursday, October 27, when the INEC released the full list of those who would take part in the November 26, gubernatorial election in Ondo State. It has been an ongoing thing. But the confusion over who gets the party ticket was given an impetus on Thursday, October 27, when Justice Okon Abang of the federal high court in Abuja, refused to grant stay of execution to the Ahmed Makarfi-led faction of the PDP over Ibrahim, governorship candidate of the Ali Modu Sheriff faction of the PDP.
Abang had earlier declared Ibrahim the legitimate candidate of the PDP, a move that was greeted with uproar by the PDP members in Ondo State. The judge’s rule of Thursday, October 27, was at variant with a ruling acquired by the Makarfi faction on Wednesday, October 26 at Ondo high court, which granted an order stopping the INEC, from removing the name of Jegede as the party candidate for the election.
Olusegun Agbaje, Ondo State resident electoral commissioner, REC, absolved the INEC of any wrong doing. In an interview, Agbaje said that Ibrahim was picked as the PDP candidate based on an order from Abang, a judge of the federal high court in Abuja.
Abang had on October 14, declared Ibrahim as the authentic candidate of the PDP. On Thursday, October 27, the judge rejected a plea by Jegede seeking to be allowed to appeal the October 14, court judgement.
Agbaje said it was based on the two court rulings that the INEC approved Ibrahim as the PDP candidate. The REC said if a superior court should upturn Abang’s ruling in favour of Jegede, the INEC would have no choice but to drop Ibrahim.
“That is why we put in front of the name ‘court order,’ to show that the name was picked as a result of an order of the court. The situation will continue that way until the matter is decided by the Supreme Court if the parties choose to proceed to the apex court,” he said.
Jegede had emerged as the PDP candidate in the primaries held in the state on August 22. The Markarfi faction of the PDP conducted the election in which the former attorney general and commissioner of justice of Ondo State emerged as the PDP governorship.
The Sheriff faction held parallel primaries a week later at Premier Hotel, Ibadan, on Sunday, August 28 to 29. The primaries, apparently conducted outside the state, were not observed by any official of the INEC as prescribed by the law. At the primaries, Ibrahim was adjudged as the winner, which made him the PDP candidate of the Sheriff faction on Monday, August 29.
Since the emergence of the two factional candidates of the PDP, it has been one problem after the other, especially from the camp of the Sheriff faction.
Recently, Ibrahim drew the ire of the INEC for claiming that the electoral body tried to collect $1million bribe from him. The businessman also accused the REC of proposing a meeting with him in London, to discuss the Ondo election. The electoral body has denied the allegations and even released a press release questioning Ibrahim’s motives for making such accusations.
Irked by the allegations, Agbaje said he had sought to sue Ibrahim for defamation. The REC, who spoke on Thursday in Akure, at the stakeholders’ meeting with the leaders of the political parties participating in the election, said he was set to file a court case against lbrahim for assassinating his character.
He said: “I intend to sue him (Ibrahim) for defamation but when our national headquarters has a step in that direction, I stepped down my action. The INEC will not do anything that will reduce the credibility it has built through the years.”
He, however, assured that nothing would stop the INEC from conducting a free and fair election in Ondo State on November 26, adding that he would not allow the allegation against him by Ibrahim to distract him from performing his lawful duties.
The REC also assured the public that the commission had no anointed candidate and would be fair to all political parties that would participate in the election.
That may be true. But some members of the PDP believe that the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, is using both the court and the INEC to ensure that Ondo State is wrestled from the hands of the PDP which has been the ruling party in the state for more than 12 years.
In the time being, as both Jegede and Ibrahim continue to lay claim to the PDP, nobody can say with certainty who the candidate of the party is for now.