Abuja, Benin City, Akure — No fewer than 28 aspirants are jostling for the jobs of Ondo State Governor, Chief Rotimi Akeredolu, and his Edo State counterpart, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, in the forthcoming governorship elections in the two states, THISDAY's investigation has revealed.
Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) yesterday released the elections' guidelines stipulating the mode of campaign approved for contesting political parties, given the restrictive protocols of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) on public gathering in an era of COVID-19.
The guidelines favoured electronic campaigns and discouraged rallies that could lead to large gatherings that could endanger the health of the electorate.
THISDAY gathered that as the race for the October 2020 election peaks, at least 20 aspirants have indicated their interest to challenge the re-election of Akeredolu.
The major aspirants are from three political parties- the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), the main opposition, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the African Democratic Congress (ADC).
However, only one person, Prince Eniola Onajuni, a native of Ilaje Local Government Area of the state has indicated interest to run on the platform of ADC.
In the APC, strong aspirants comprise those who contested the 2016 primary against Akeredolu and new entrants while the PDP has both the former candidate of the party and also new entrants.
Prominent among the APC candidates is Mr. Olusegun Abraham, a Lagos-based businessman, who contested against the incumbent in 2016 and came second in the primary.
Abraham is from Ikare in Akoko North-East Local Government in Ondo North.
A major obstacle against Abraham, who is close to the party national leadership is the insinuation that he usually leaves the state after every election and comes back when another election approaches.
He is a member of the Unity Forum of APC opposed to Akeredolu.
Another aspirant, Chief Olusola Oke, is a grassroots politician, with structures across the 18 local government areas of the state, having contested twice as a candidate in 2012 and 2016 on the platforms of different political parties.
Oke, who belongs to the Unity Forum, is from Ilaje Local Government Area in Ondo South Senatorial District and is said to be the most experienced among the aspirants.
Another aspirant, Mr. Ife Oyedele, is the Executive Director (Technical) of Niger Delta Power Holding Company (NDPHC) and hails from Okitipupa Local Government in Ondo South.
Oyedele is from the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) bloc of the APC like President Muhammadu Buhari.
Mr. Isaacs Kekemeke, another APC aspirant, is an experienced politician from Ese Odo Local Government in Ondo South District.
Kekemeke and Akeredolu fell apart during the build-up and after the APC primary of 2016 over his support for Abraham against other aspirants.
Mrs. Jumoke Anifowose, a lawyer, is a daughter of the first governor of Ondo State, the late Pa Adekunle Ajasin.
She is an indigene of Owo like the incumbent governor.
The President of the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA), Dr. Francis Faduyile, is also said to be eyeing Akeredolu's job.
He is a native of Okitipupa Local Government Area.
Ambassador Olusola Iji, an indigene of Igbobini in Ese Odo Local Government of Ondo South like Kekemeke is also said to be in the race.
He is currently Nigeria's ambassador to Togo.
Chief Olayide Adelami, a former deputy clerk of the Senate, and an indigene of Owo, is also said to be in the race.
Chief Banji Ayiloge, a native of Ijare in Ifedore Local Government and a former commissioner for information during the tenure of the late Chief Adebayo Adefarati is also slugging it out with other aspirants.
He was Akeredolu's Campaign Director-General in 2012 during the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) era.
As at last count, no fewer than 15 aspirants from the PDP have shown interest in the governorship seat from the three districts.
Chief Eyitayo Jegede (SAN), a former Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, was the party's candidate in 2016.
He came second in the 2016 poll won by the incumbent.
A native of Akure, the state capital, Jegede is the only PDP aspirant from the Ondo Central.
Another aspirant, Dr. Eddy Olafeso, is the current National Vice Chairman (South-west) of the party. Olafeso is a former commissioner for information in the state.
Olusola Ebiseni is also an aspirant in PDP. He was the Chairman of old Ilaje/Ese Odo Local Government at 27 and a three-time commissioner in the state.
Mr. Boluwaji Kunlere, a native of Igbotako in Okitipupa Local Government, is believed to be the most experienced among all the PDP aspirants, having won the election in all the three tiers of government at different times.
Kunlere was the Chairman of the Okitipupa Local Government, a member of the state House of Assembly and senator that represented Ondo South from 2011-2015
Mr. John Mafo, another aspirant on the platform of PDP, was the deputy governorship candidate in the 2016 governorship election in the state. The Ilaje-born politician is a former commissioner for information in the state.
Hon. Banji Okunomo, another aspirant, is the former publicity secretary of the PDP in the state.
Mr. Bamidele Akingboye, another aspirant from the Ondo South District, is a Lagos-based businessman. He showed interest in the PDP ticket in 2016 but never purchased the nomination form.
Hon. Bode Ayorinde is a former member of the House of Representatives. The Owo-born politician, who is the founder of Achievers University, Owo, contested in the 2016 primary of the APC and lost to Akeredolu.
Also in the race is Dayo Fadahunsi, now a businessman and farmer. He is a former Chairman of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Ondo State. He is an indigene of Owo like Akeredolu. Fadahunsi also indicated an interest in the party's ticket in 2016 but like other aspirants was persuaded to concede the ticket to Jegede who was the party's standard bearer.
Edo Race Heightens
Although there are many political parties that are likely to field candidates in the governorship election coming up in Edo State on September 19, only the APC and the PDP are firmly on the ground.
From the PDP end, three aspirants have so far indicated their interest to contest in the party primaries.
They are Hon. Omoregie Ogbeide-Ihama, the member, representing Oredo Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives; Mr. Kenneth Imansuangbon, a lawyer and Abuja-based school proprietor; and Mr. Gideon Ikhine, a retired senior staff of Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC).
In APC, five aspirants have emerged namely: Obaseki and former Secretary to Edo State Government and 2016 governorship candidate of the PDP, Pastor Osagie Ize-Iyamu.
Others are retired Executive Director (Upstream), Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and former Minister of State for Works, Dr. Chris Ogiemwonyi; immediate past Deputy Governor of Edo State, Mr. Pius Odubu; and Maj-Gen Charles Airhiavbere (rtd), who was the candidate of PDP in the 2012 governorship election.
From the guidelines released by the national leadership of the two parties, APC fixed its primary election for June 22 while PDP slated its race for 23 and 24 of June.
It's on this premise that the battle of who clinches the party ticket, especially in the APC has become more fierce as the day draws closer because of the crisis in the party, which has led to factionalisation with one camp supporting the National Chairman, Mr. Adams Oshiomhole, and the other belonging to Obaseki.
To achieve their quest of ensuring Obaseki is defeated at the primary election, some leaders of APC made a move to have a consensus candidate to face Obaseki, which ended in a deadlock as the meeting was postponed.
However, it was gathered that consultation is still ongoing and a fresh meeting was rescheduled without any date given.
The meeting, which held at the residence of a former deputy governor of the state, Mr. Lucky Imasuen, was allegedly disrupted during the process of trying to agree on modalities to be used for the shadow election.
It was learnt that trouble started when some persons queried the rationale behind the inclusion of the 14 members-elect of Edo State House of Assembly who are yet to resume sitting to vote in the meeting.
Eventually, when they were allowed to vote, another controversy erupted as most of them were said to be supporting Ize-Iyamu.
It was gathered that the contest was fierce, especially amongst the trio of Ize-Iyamu, Odubu and Ogiemwonyi.
It was also gathered that Ogiemwonyi left the meeting for his home shortly after the meeting was disrupted.
According to a source close to the meeting, "The consensus meeting was presided over by Prof. Julius Ihonvbere, member, representing Owan Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives.
"Another concern raised at the meeting was the number of delegates from Edo Central and Edo North some of whom were said to have stepped down for Ize-Iyamu to boost his chances while others raised the issue of sponsorship of delegates to the meeting that eventually led to its postponement to another undisclosed date."
INEC Releases COVID-19 Compliant Guidelines, Adopts Online Operations
Meanwhile, INEC yesterday released the guidelines for the conduct of the governorship elections in the two states and subsequent elections in the country.
The commission said that it derived its authority from Section 160 (1) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and Section 153 of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended).
In a 17-page document signed by the INEC's Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, the commission said it would ensure that pre-election preparations (PEP) activities shall be conducted online preferably, adding, however, that where face-to-face activities become necessary, the protocols for COVID-19 prevention should be followed.
The commission explained that the guidelines contained the pilot changes to the electoral process in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic in a by- election prior to the Edo and Ondo governorship elections in order to learn lessons where necessary.
According to the guidelines, the commission shall conduct an immediate evaluation of its key election facilities to ensure that they are fit-for-purpose, including polling units (PUs), registration area centres (RACs) and collation centres.
These facilities will be reorganised to make them more optimal to health and cost considerations.
Also, it said in order to support improved planning and deployment during the COVID-19 pandemic, two key spatial and mapping activities would be implemented namely, geo-referencing of RAC locations and mapping of COVID-19 prevalence.
According to INEC, in handling and delivery of election materials, it shall reduce the number of contacts during distribution and when non-sensitive materials are procured, they will be delivered directly by vendors to states or purchased by states requiring the materials and packaged according to the quantity required by each registration area.
It added that this will reduce the level and number of contacts during distribution.
The commission said: "Ballot papers and result sheets (sensitive materials) shall be packaged to registration areas (RAs). Production of sensitive materials shall commence early to give adequate time for proper packaging and delivery.
"The COVID-19 pandemic is likely to adversely affect staffing for elections. Consequently: The commission will engage immediately with NYSC and INEC's state offices to evolve modalities for corps members to serve as ad hoc staff in elections during the pandemic. The commission's state offices will commence identification of alternative sources of ad-hoc staff in line with the commission policy, in case there are shortfalls."
It said the commission would "ensure the use of electronic and non-contact means to recruit ad-hoc staff by deploying its INEC's portal, as well as in notifying ad hoc staff of invitations and postings (for example, use of SMS) to prevent large gatherings at INEC offices during staff deployment.
"The Electoral Operations and Logistics Department (EOPs) will harvest all past ad hoc staff from its databases and send to each state preparing for elections.
"All ad hoc staff databases in the commission will be harmonised for better management. To reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19, the commission shall reduce to a minimum interstate ad hoc staff, for off-season and by-elections. The rule shall be that only shortfalls requested by the states are filled from outside the state. As much as possible, all election staff will be sourced in-state and transportation of election staff shall comply with COVID-19 containment protocols."
Also, the guidelines reduced the number of passengers in each vehicle on Election Day from 14 to seven for buses, and from 12 to six for boats.
It warned against the use of motorcycles and tricycles, saying they "must be used sparingly with one passenger per motorcycle and two per tricycle."
All passengers and drivers are, however, to wear face masks while vehicle owners are to provide hand sanitisers for the passengers.
For its registration area centre activities, INEC said its state offices would assess RACs to determine their suitability for elections.
The commission said COVID-19 awareness would be included in RAC briefing, while handouts, flyers and information kit on the pandemic would be distributed to electoral staff.
Also, election staff may be checked by RAC managers or supervisory presiding officers (SPOs) for COVID-19 symptoms such as high temperature and coughing while staff showing symptoms will receive medical attention and be replaced immediately.
In the establishment of voting points, the commission said in order to reduce the number of points in a polling unit to be monitored and controlled for COVID-19 compliance, the threshold for voting points would be increased from 500/750 to 1,000/1,250.
The commission is also to redesign the polling unit layout to ensure substantial compliance with the protocols established by health authorities, especially by ensuring compliance with social distancing, general hygienic conduct and enforcement of COVID-19 prevention protocols.
INEC said there would be a two-tier queuing system at the polling unit - one outside and the other in the voting area while voters will be brought into the voting area periodically to prevent overcrowding.
Tags and twines may also be used to ensure crowd control and maintenance of social distance.
To accommodate additional activities in setting up the PU due to COVID-19, INEC said polls would now commence at 8.30 am and close at 2.30 pm, while anybody on the outer queue by 2.30 pm would be allowed to vote, in line with the commission's regulations.
It said face masks would be mandatory at polling units and all election locations, adding that any voter without a face mask would be turned away from the polling unit.
However, it permitted an Assistant Presiding Officer (APO) II in checking the register of voters to request removal of the mask to prevent impersonation.
According to the commission, there will be periodic disinfection of chairs, tables and work areas, as well as adequate ventilation at the polling units.
INEC said that P e r s o n a l P r o t e c t i v e Equipment (PPE) and other safety materials would be provided for polling staff.
"There shall be two metres (six feet) queuing distancing for all seeking to enter the collation hall.
"There shall also be six feet sitting spacing arrangement within the collation hall.
"In order to prevent overcrowding during collation, only one polling agent of a party on the ballot (or the candidate in person) for the election(s) shall be allowed into the collation hall.
"It is now mandatory for designated election staff to collect and deposit all electoral operations copies of results with their supervisors within the prescribed time. Non-compliance shall be treated as a dereliction of duty.
"All post-election debriefings shall preferably be done electronically. Where face-to-face debriefings take place, the protocols for COVID-19 prevention shall be followed," the commission said.
On training, INEC said that the methodology for election training would combine face-to-face and electronic approaches.
The commission is to suspend the continuous registration of voters (CVR) for the time to prevent the health risks associated with it in the context of COVID-19.
It said it would continue to make available its electronic channels for voters to check their registration status and pilot the use of electronic voting machines at the earliest possible time and also work towards the full introduction of electronic voting in major elections starting from 2021.
On voter education, the commission said it would liaise with the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and other health authorities to develop messaging on COVID-19 and the electoral process.
The commission will also make extensive use of radio and television broadcasts in several languages on COVID-19 and the electoral process in a manner that balances the health risks of the pandemic and the civic responsibilities of Nigerians.
On political parties' election planning, the commission said it would create e-platforms for the following activities: "accreditation of observer groups and deployment of their field observers; submission of nomination forms by political parties for candidates. Tracking and reporting of campaigns and campaign finance by/for candidates and political parties."
It said accreditation and deployment of observers and party agents would be online.
The commission will also reduce the number of accredited observer groups to reduce crowding and, therefore, health risks at election venues.
It will also encourage political parties to develop appropriate guidelines and regulations for the conduct of party primaries that take into account the COVID-19 prevention protocols.