Presidential nod: Ondo APC gov aspirants besiege Abuja for Tinubu’s endorsement

Peter Dada writes that ahead of the April 20 governorship primary of the All Progressives Congress, aspirants have intensified visits to Abuja for a presidential endorsement that may not come before the primary

As political parties in Ondo State prepare for the governorship primaries in the next few days, politicians are gearing up for free and fair primaries that will bring about popular candidates for the November governorship election.

It is a thing of note that the Independent National Electoral Commission had fixed this month (April) for all political parties in the state to conduct their primaries. The commission also scheduled November 16, this year for the governorship poll, hence the rigorous preparation by politicians and parties towards winning the election.

Recently, the INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner in the state, Mrs Oluwatoyin Babalola, disclosed that 19 political parties notified the commission about their interest in participating in the November governorship poll.

According to her, some of the parties include the All Progressives Congress, the Peoples Democratic Party, the Accord Party, the Action Alliance, the African Action Congress, the African Democratic Congress, the African Democratic Party, and the All Progressives Grand Alliance.

Others are the Allied Peoples Movement,  the Action Peoples Party, the Boot Party, the Labour Party, the New Nigeria Peoples Party, the National Rescue Movement, the Peoples Redemption Party, the Social Democratic Party, the Youth Party, the Young Progressives Party and the Zenith Labour Party.

Specifically, in the camp of the APC, which has fixed its primary for April 20, 2024, many aspirants are jostling for the ticket of the party in the forthcoming primary. As the race is ongoing it is on record that the party has the highest number of governorship aspirants. However, many aspirants believe that endorsement by the Presidency will boost their candidacy.

For this singular reason, it was learnt that the aspirants were working towards getting the ‘anointed approval’ of President Bola Tinubu, who doubles as the leader of the ruling party.

Some of the frontline aspirants are Governor Lucky Aiyedatiwa; a former Commissioner for Finance Mr Wale Akinterinwa; a former member of the House of Representatives, Mr Mayowa Akinfolarin, a former Special Adviser to Governor Akeredolu on Health, Prof Francis Faduyile and the National Vice Chairman of the APC (South West) , Mr Isaacs Kekemeke.

Among them are also a former governorship aspirant of the APC, Chief Olusola Oke, former Chairman of the Ondo State Oil-producing Areas Development Commission, Mr Gbenga Edema, the senator representing Ondo South Senatorial District, Jimoh Ibrahim and a retired army officer, Brig. Gen. Olamide Ohunyeye (retd.)

As it is now, the APC National Secretariat in Abuja, which has raked in millions of naira from the sales of nomination forms and the expression of interest forms to the aspirants, has shown its readiness for the primary, having set up a nine-man committee to conduct the exercise.

However, as the primary draws nearer, some aspirants who seem not to have a strong connection with the ‘Oga at the top’ are falling by the wayside. They have dropped their ambitions leaving the race for the more serious ones. From observation, some of the aspirants have reduced their door-to-door and ward-to-ward campaigns and according to reports they are not even bothered about the millions spent on the collection of forms they are planning to relinquish their ambitions and join their structures with those aspirants at the frontline.

Since the President’s body language is unclear to everyone, many of the aspirants are frequenting Abuja to lobby and get the endorsement of the party’s national leadership.

A source in the state Working Committee of the Ondo APC, who confirmed the development to The Punch, said some of the aspirants had tactically withdrawn from the race and merged with the ‘serious aspirants’ ahead of the forthcoming primary in order not to waste their time and resources on the uncertainty.

He said “ The road is getting clearer to know who is going to be the candidate of the party for the election. I know for sure that many (aspirants) are out today but very few would take the nomination form to contest the primary.

“Many of the aspirants are weak while the strong ones have slowed down their campaign for they are yet to get the signal from the Presidency on whom the anointed candidate would be. Many of them are waiting for cheap endorsement from the ‘power that is’. Some who have no strong link with the Presidency are in discussion to join and support the frontline aspirants for the primary.”

In the same vein, many of the party bigwigs in the state were reportedly confused about whom to support among the aspirants. They too were waiting for the obscure body language of Mr President to know whom to declare their support for.

Already there are many support gro ups coming up on a daily basis and working for some of the aspirants across the state, particularly, Governor Aiywdatiwa, Mr Akinterinwa and Chief Oke. The groups are doing their best to mobilise support for their principals, regardless of whom the presidential endorsement would favour.

But a source close to the Presidency informed our correspondent that President Tinubu had been mum on the Ondo governorship election. He claimed that all the aspirants claiming to have the Presidency’s endorsement were economical with the truth, saying that Tinubu had not declared support for any aspirant.

The source said, “ Tinubu cannot openly declare support for any aspirant, he is the leader of the party nationally and father of all. He can’t do that openly. He may have a preferred among them but he would have a way to do it not by supporting the person openly.

“All those dropping his name, saying he (Tinubu) would support them are deceiving themselves, many of them have not met with the President in the last four years and yet they are claiming to be closer to the President. Many are waiting for Tinubu to say this is the candidate the party should pick but he would not do that. Tinubu some years ago is different from Tinubu as a President now.  The party has set up a committee for the primary, let everyone go for the primary and if the party leadership has a preferred candidate among them, they would know how to go about it. But to say President Tinubu has endorsed anyone, I think it’s not true.

Meanwhile, the way things are, the weak aspirants are already aligning with some of the frontline aspirants as it is observed that some of them may not bother to obtain the forms but would join forces with the strong aspirants to win the ticket of the party at the forthcoming primary.

The Chief Press Secretary to the state governor, Mr Ebenezer Adeniyan confirmed the development, saying they had been discussing with those concerned.

“Discussions are still ongoing but No decision yet,” the CPC stated.

Similarly, the Director of Publicity of Lucky Aiywdatiwa Campaign Organisations Foot Soldiers, Mr Kayode Fasua, said, “The governor’s profile of achievements should intimidate the intimidateable and has been fascinating, and many and many are willing to join the winning train but we keep focused. In the long run, we are all brothers and sisters, we are in the same political family of the APC.”

In his comments, the spokesperson for the Wale Akinterinwa Campaign Organisations, Mr Segun Ajiboye, confirmed the alignment, saying many aspirants were willing to join their camp.

Ajiboye said, “ We are having many aspirants with us. This is because our principal (Akinterinwa) is busy building bridges. He is the most experienced among the aspirants in terms of public service. We have some who are professional contestants, they have experience in contesting but no experience in public service. That is the fact.”

Also, the Olusola Oke Campaign Organisation confirmed that its camp was gathering momentum already as one of the aspirants had already stepped down for Mr Oke, anticipating that more aspirants would still join their camp.

The spokesperson of the campaign organisation, Mr Ojo Oyewamide said, “For now, it is only Ayodeji Oritedi among the aspirants that has openly stepped down for Chief Olusola Oke. He announced his decision to step down as the leading aspirant about a week ago.

“We are still expecting some other aspirants to follow the same path because that’s the way to go for every Ondo State indigene who desires the best for the state. Also, very soon, some critical stakeholders in the party will make their minds known.”

Meanwhile, the state APC chair, Mr Ade Adetimehin has expressed optimism that the primary would be credible, free and fair saying the party was fully prepared. He however urged the aspirants to play the game according to the rules and should abide by the results of the primary in good faith.

“As a father of all, I think Ondo State is lucky to have all the sound people coming out. At the end of the primary, APC would present the best candidate that would win the governorship election for us. I want to use this opportunity to appeal to the aspirants to support whoever emerges as the candidate of the APC. All of us are members of the same family we should all work towards ensuring the party retains the governorship seat.”

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