The outcome of last Saturday's governorship election in Ondo State offers a critical lesson in Nigeria's money-driven politics.
"The people of Ondo had shown that we are not second class citizens to be dictated to. We have shown the way for other South-west states to let go of the grip of the god of Bourdilon.
The strategy is called Yahoo politics- collect their money and vote your conscience."
Those were reportedly the words of an elated Dr. Olu Agunloye, a member of the Labour Party (LP), following news that the first set of results that had trickled in as counting progressed in the Ondo State governorship election last Saturday were in favour of their candidate and incumbent governor, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko. Agunloye who had been away and back in the Labour Party, found it impractical to cope with the Action Congress of Nigeria's (ACN) brand of politics.
His obvious mockery of the opposition was soon followed by series of other satirical comments designed specifically to demystify the myth around the vociferous opposition ACN. Imagine this for instance: "Stupidity is when you dare cut an iroko tree with a broom." That was just one of the many humiliating coinages that pervaded the social media in the aftermath of the Saturday election.
In traditional parlance, iroko is reputed as one tree found in the African forest and which resists cheap felling, either by deforestation or any other bush clearance method. This is the appellation Mimiko has adopted for distinct political identification, the same way his arch rival from Osun State, Mr. Rauf Aregbesola, is often referred to by political admirers and supporters alike as Oranmiyan, the fabled king from Ile-Ife in Osun State and heir of the mythical Oduduwa.
There are several other politicians like that from the east, west, south and north of the country that enjoy even much weird appellations, perhaps, to keep the opposition at a distance. Something of a scare tactic!
The choice of iroko by Mimiko may not be far-fetched. With a well-off profile of both his political and professional careers, the need for distinction in the crowded turf was commonplace and this had helped sustain his structure in a clime where bitter political rivalry takes precedence over and above constructive engagements that are tailored towards good governance.
However, the grit to not just differ but in a unique context appeared to have provided the much needed tonic for Mimiko's survival in the roughly contested October 20 governorship election. According to observers, events preceding the exercise did not say that the election would be an easy bite for the governor but that the odds were in his favour. From his performance rating to popularity check, Mimiko, findings showed, was on ground more so as a grassroots politician that the people of the state could identify with.
Yet, given the popularity rating of the opposition ACN - a party believed to have hinged its survival in the harsh political environment on resounding strategy informed by thorough research work as well as rich propaganda, the kind of push it gave the Ondo aspiration, analysts say, was obviously not informed by any research exercise. Otherwise, it would not have gone all out with as much bitterness and inciting disposition to challenge in an environment where it was not welcomed. Analysts are of the view that it speaks more to political wisdom, the ability to analyse one's strengths and weaknesses and go ahead to determine what is obtainable, in the light of the prevailing situation and at a particular point in time.
Take for instance, during the Second Republic, the re-election of former Lagos State Governor, Alhaji Lateef Jakande, analysts had concluded, was a fait accompli. With the groundswell of performance put up by LKJ as Jakande was called, it was considered suicidal for anyone to challenge him in the 1983 re-election bid. Common sense and opinion poll would have told such person that Jakande had not only dazed the people of the state with the innovation, discipline and charisma that he brought to governance, his brilliant performance soon became the yardstick to assess his contemporaries, even till date.
His popularity notwithstanding, opposition still dismissed some of his projects and labeled them with many condescending tags. Of note were his schools tagged poultry sheds. But it didn't change the fact that he was primed to clinch re-election because the coast was evidently clear for baba kekere as he was otherwise known to return to then Round House, Alausa, Ikeja.
Owing to the various independent political analyses, researches, investigations and opinion polls, the Ondo governorship election had been ceded, both in theory and reality, to the incumbent, Mimiko. A critical number of such submissions had based their inferences on the performance of the governor, a position that also showed that the tirade of the opposition was not predicated on constructive engagement geared towards genuinely wresting power from the Labour Party but a personal cum ego fight the ACN leadership was willing to give its all and on the altar of reason.
In its front page endorsement of Mimiko last Thursday, THISDAY had recommended another term of four years for the governor and canvassed vigorously for his return. Since the newspaper had never hinged any of its endorsements on sheer sentiment, its preference for Mimiko was therefore research-based and predicated on clear conviction that the governor had delivered in his first term of four years. At least, a similar endorsement given ACN's Edo State Governor, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, during the July 14 governorship election was a pointer to this genuine tradition by THISDAY.
THISDAY had argued that immediately Mimiko's mandate was restored by the court after about two years of tensioned legal battle, "the political climate in the state was quickly transformed from that of insecurity and rancour to that of peace and order. The relatively peaceful atmosphere leading to Saturday's election is a telling testimony to the new order. It is in this climate that Mimiko's government has recorded remarkable achievements especially in the social sectors, namely education and health.
"It is consistent with social democratic ethos that the LP government in Ondo State has invested heavily in quality healthcare delivery as well as primary and secondary education. The most significant thing is that Mimiko's health and education programmes have enabled the poor have access to quality social services. This is the spirit of the Mother and Child Centre and the Abiye projects as well as the mega schools. It is also the spirit in the job-creation content of the massive agriculture programme, urban renewal projects and the rural development projects. The emphasis on genuine poverty alleviation is quite evident in the programme implementation of the Mimiko administration."
Based on these submissions, THISDAY maintained that "Mimiko deserves another four years to consummate a development process already set in motion. The all-round development of the state is certainly a work in progress," arguing further that "Mimiko's ambitious infrastructure renewal programme will need to be completed within the framework of his administration's policy plans. Having proven himself in giving focused leadership, Mimiko should be trusted by the electorate to consolidate on the achievements of the last four years with better management of limited resources."
Unfortunately, the opposition did not heed any of such advice much less buy into the swing of public opinion on the prevailing equation. Instead, it was convinced that the Ondo assignment was signed, sealed and delivered, at least, as sycophants had allegedly told the leader. "We'll take Ondo," they all seemed to have concluded. It was, perhaps, in lieu of the aggravated tension and sustained pressure that the Ondo people were said to have devised the idea of yahoo politics- collect their money and vote your conscience since the opposition was believed to have relied considerably on heavy financial war-chest, allegedly provided by other sister states in the region to forcibly bring to their fold, the 'deviant state of Ondo'.
But as it turned out, the science of politics has prevailed. Not only have the many predictions come to pass, ACN's bitter politics has also aided Mimiko in breaking the jinx of re-election in the state as no governor had returned for two terms of eight years. Immediate former governor of the state, Dr. Olusegun Agagu, who would have earned the credit, was chased out by court on February 23, 2008, nine months after the 2007 election was held.
More instructively, the import of the outcome of the Ondo election is grave and of course, noteworthy. First, it is trite to say that the ACN lost last Saturday election the day it imposed its standard bearer, Mr. Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, on nearly 40 other candidates determined to fly the party's flag.
What this means, analysts say is that unless the political parties genuinely imbibe a resounding internal mechanism at deciding its choice of candidate, a revolution of this nature might become an integral part of the polity. Analysts believe that even if Akeredolu was the preferred candidate, the party could still have managed it in such a way that the other candidates would not feel strongly about it. But ACN stuck to its old ways and ended up with a bloody nose from Mimiko's LP.
Second, that the fight was clearly not between Akeredolu and Mimiko signaled a thorough thrashing and demystification of the ACN National Leader, Senator Bola Tinubu. Coming a few weeks after same Tinubu was deflated right in his backyard following a Lagos State Local Government Election Petition Tribunal which awarded victory to rival Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate, Babajide Obanikoro- a development council area that houses the home of Tinubu- the Ondo election sure came at a bad time for the party and a further cursor to the fact that it was all a myth to Tinubu's political invincibility.
The Mimiko victory is all-encompassing as it did not just end with Tinubu but governors of other South-west States- from Lagos to Ogun, Oyo, Osun and Ekiti. They all put in as much effort, determined to unseat the governor, but ended up disappointed. The Osun governor, Aregbesola had particularly taken the Ondo affair personal such that he once confronted the governor at a private meeting and told him to his face that he would personally see to his removal- God willing, he added. Coming from this tough, uneasy run up and eventual victory, the implication is that Mimiko single-handedly defeated the South-west.
Importantly, the ACN would have to return to the drawing board and analyse the Ondo experience with a view to getting it right in Osun and Ekiti- its two states that are due for election in 2014. If they thought it was possible to unseat an incumbent Mimiko despite his popularity and performance rating, they certainly would face even tougher challenges in their re-election bids. Besides, the fact that the PDP had
also begun to close ranks in the South-west states and perfect strategy ahead of those elections are signs of a fiercer election in 2014. What more, the PDP gave a dose of what it was capable of dishing out in Ondo on Saturday when it came second in the hotly contested election while the almighty ACN came a distant third. Technically, with the result, the rush to court as is the culture of the ACN may have been stymied.
And of course, the 2014 elections in both Osun and Ekiti State would be mere prelude to what will play out in 2015. Across board, there is the belief that the ACN is now suffering from what social scientists refer to as "Audience Fatigue". People are believed to be tired of its monolithic leadership and the baba sope (leader has said) disposition. In other words, analysts believe that the tendency to want to try something new by the sophisticated electorate in the region and indeed, the country at large is high.
However, for ACN to wade through the thick uncertainties that lie ahead, analysts say, is to get the politics right and reposition its leadership attitude. It is believed that the ACN must learn to allow for a genuine internal democracy in the choice of candidates. Observers believe that the party must also keep under check, its irritating intolerance for dissenting views in opposition politics and pave the way for participatory style as against its somewhat liberal authoritarianism.
Particularly noteworthy is that in subsequent elections, apart from embracing internal democracy which will determine the choice of candidates and selection process, the performance of the governors is sacrosanct and this is where analysts suggest that the ACN should buckle up and get strategically tougher but reasonably too.
The implications, indeed, are plethora and like a close observer of the system has noted, "at least, BRF now sees that it is possible to defeat Asiwaju in a contest. So, if there is a crisis over choice of successor in 2015, we will slug it out squarely." While the governor of Lagos State, Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola, has obviously not assigned anyone to run his or her mouth on his behalf, those are certainly the issues that would dot the power game in Lagos 2015.
Observers, therefore, see the hint as a correct temperature of what lies ahead in the journey to Lagos 2015. At least, both the Lagos LG election and the Ondo exercise, had unwrapped the myth around the ACN and its leader. It is, therefore, imperative that the ACN rethinks, repositions, restrategises and reworks its already failing approach to its mystified progressive politics because it might fail again. And that time, the damage might be irreparable. Afterall, it is a new era; the age of yahoo politics.