Tomorrow, Ondo people will troop out to elect their new governor. As would be expected, the campaign has been hot even as some unique factors have emerged as possible determinants of the likely outcome of the crucial poll.
Investigation reveals that the voters are specifically worried over the continuous acrimony among the major candidates and their supporters resulting in an atmosphere of hostility and fear.
It is observed that the confidence of the electorate to come out and vote at election day would depend on the ability of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the security agencies to truly convince them of their neutrality and willingness to conduct a free and fair election, devoid of violence.
This is even as it has become clear that zoning arrangements that have so far operated in the state and the intricate relationship of the leading candidates before their current contest will combine to determine who will likely win the election.
It is uncovered that the election will be mainly local as each of the leading candidates have clear areas of strength.
After weeks of violent electioneering and media wars, pundits say the Ondo State governorship election, which will be held tomorrow , is a three-horse race among the ruling APC, the opposition PDP and the newest entrant, ZLP.
The three political parties have Governor Rotimi Akeredolu, Eyitayo Jegede and his deputy, Agboola Ajayi, as the candidates respectively. This is a replica of the 2016 race which had Olusola Oke as the third leg of the horse in the race on the platform of the Alliance for Democracy (AD).
Not a few analysts are predicting victory for Akeredolu on the strength of what they called the 'unwritten zoning agreement' operating in the state.
Mr Ambaliu Amudah, a chieftain of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and coordinator of Ondo Professionals in Politics (OPP), had recently thrown the groups' support behind Akeredolu based on what they described as the 'need to keep the zoning policy alive in the state.
" This election is not actually about performance or popularity. It is also not about political parties to most of the enlightened people across our state. Given the current situation, it is more about which zone of the state can produce the next governor and still keep the zoning arrangement alive.
Governor Akeredolu is the lucky beneficiary of this consideration. He is from Ondo North. He came in after Ondo Central did eight years of two terms with Olusegun Mimiko as governor. Before Mimiko, Ondo South had its chance with Olusegun Agagu as governor. Now, Akeredolu needs to do another term of four years so that Ondo South can come on board again. This is the permutation that will give victory to the governor ahead of others. If Jegede of the PDP wins, Ondo South will have to wait for eight years instead of four years, he explained.
Information pieced together indicates that in spite of the presence of the deputy governor, Agboola Ajayi, in the race, many prominent indigenes of Ondo South are of the opinion that the people of the area should support the re-election of Akeredolu by voting for the APC tomorrow. This position, it was gathered, emanated from fears that Jegede may steal the victory with the advantage of votes from his Ondo Central base should Ondo South fail to support Akeredolu. "And we know that Ajayi cannot win with our votes alone, our source said.
The prominent member of the Ondo South Advancement and Welfare Consultative Association (OSAWA) told our correspondent that though the people of Ondo South appreciate the contribution of Ajayi to the development of the area politically, they are not ready to take the risk of dashing Ondo Central another eight years in government house while Ondo South remains on the queue. "It is for this reason we are urging our people to vote Akeredolu and stop Jegede from winning the election. After Akeredolu's four years, it will be our turn, he added.
But PDP's candidate, Jegede, is downplaying talks of zoning, insisting that the people of the state strongly believe that power should not be by inheritance. The former finance commissioner said "It is not turn by turn; it is about democracy. It is about the choice of the people. The governor's constituency is the entire state; 18 local governments that we have in the state. The market woman, who is there, is not talking about where you come from. She is talking about who is going to perform; who is going to take away her challenges and problems.
Jegede, who is from Ondo Central, explained that zoning has never been a deciding factor in deciding governorship election in the state. He said tomorrow's election will shock those who want to hide under the shadow of tribalism to win elective positions. "I don't take refuge in ethnic considerations; I don't take refuge in zonal considerations. I take refuge in democracy. I want our people to make a choice. It is only a person who is weak and who is not acceptable that will take refuge in ethnic considerations, he said.
But supporters of Ajayi are also insisting that his chances of winning the governorship poll have been brightened by the agitation for zoning. According to Olushayo Abegunde, a chieftain of the ZLP and one of the coordinators of the deputy governor's campaign in Ondo Central Senatorial District, the choice of Ajayi, who is from the South Senatorial District as ZLP's candidate, is in recognition of the fact that the zone deserves to produce the next governor ahead of any other senatorial district in the state.
"Those trying to use zoning in favour of Akeredolu and the APC are being untruthful by saying Ondo North deserves another term. They claim Ondo Central did two terms of eight years, yes that is true. But have they forgotten that Baba Adefarati, from Ondo North was governor between 1999 and 2003, for four years too? Do they need to be reminded that Agagu from Ondo South also did only one term before Mimiko took over? So, which zone, in fairness, should produce the next governor? The people will answer that question by voting Ajayi, he said.
Adding his voice to the debate on zoning, Banji Okunomo, former chairman of Okitipupa Local Government Area of the state and a 2020 gubernatorial aspirant on the platform of the PDP, said Ondo people are ready to punish both the APC and the PDP for breaching the zoning arrangement in the state.
"The PDP made the same mistake in 2016 by presenting somebody from the wrong zone. It lost. It will lose again because they fail to consider zoning, Okunomo, who recently dumped the PDP for the ZLP, said. Defending its decision to dump the zoning arrangement in its choice of candidate, the PDP said it considered competence above zone in picking its governorship candidate. Secondus, who expressed confidence that zoning will not be a major factor in the election, said the PDP in Ondo State had no history of picking its governorship candidates based on zoning.
Apart from zoning there is concern over persistent alarm of possible manipulation and violence. This apprehension is nurtured by the growing suspicion on the part of the opposition that having lost Edo State, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) may be desperate to retain Ondo State at all cost.
In fact, since INEC headquarters in the state caught fire in very mysterious circumstances, destroying valuable electoral materials, not many have expressed misgivings over the conduct of the October 10 governorship election in Ondo.
Even before the recent governorship election in Edo State, hostile disposition of candidates in both Edo and Ondo states created fear in the hearts of many observers. It got to a stage where even INEC contemplated postponement of the vital elections.
The electoral umpire threatened to discontinue the process of the elections in the two states "if the actions of political actors lead to verifiable threat and/or breakdown of law and order before or during the elections.
The national commissioner and chairman, information and voter education committee, Festus Okoye, who made the warning, at the end of one of the crucial meetings of the commission's management in Abuja, said the commission had observed "with deep concern, the escalating levels of violent actions and incendiary statements by political parties, candidates and their supporters in the run-up to the Edo and Ondo governorship elections, explaining that the offensive actions included "destruction of opponents' campaign materials like billboards, violent campaigns and use of offensive language.
So he warned: "The commission shall not hesitate to discontinue the process should the actions of political actors lead to cogent and verifiable threat and/or breakdown of law and order before or during the elections. Although the fear was considered relatively more in the case of Edo than Ondo, the governorship election in the South-South state remarkably ended on a peaceful note.
While some observers said if Edo's election would end peacefully that Ondo's election would follow suit, our checks reveal deep rooted concern because of allegation that INEC and the security agencies may be influenced by the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to manipulate the election.
Of the 13 political parties contesting tomorrow's governorship election in Ondo State, three, the ruling All Progressives Congress; the Peoples Democratic Party and the Zenith Labour Party, have stood out as the frontrunners.
However, three other parties have vowed to contest at the poll and make a difference in the race to occupy Alagbaka Government House. They are the African Democratic Congress (ADC), the Action Democratic Party (ADP) and the Social Democratic Party (SDP). Our investigation however confirms that these parties are no match to the three main political parties in terms of party structure, financial back-up and outreach. But one thing is certain, the 'smaller' parties, especially ADC, ADP and SDP, are not relenting in this election.
The candidates fielded by the parties are Prince Dapo Adelegan for the ADC, Prince Martin Olateru-Olagbebi for the ADP and Prince Oyeleye Fasua for the SDP. Their campaigns are taking a similar style in terms of reaching out to the electorate unlike the large campaign rallies of the three major parties. They adopted the door-to-door campaign or the evangelism style by knocking on people's doors and talking to potential voters on the need to vote for them.
Like Akeredolu, both Adelegan and Olateru-Olagbebi hail from Owo in Ondo North while Fasua hails from Akure in Ondo Central, same as the candidate of the PDP, Eyitayo Jegede.