Voters in Osun State, South-west Nigeria, will on Saturday file out to elect their governor for the next four years, beginning from November when the tenure of the incumbent, Isiaka Oyetola, will end.
But Mr Oyetola has again been presented by his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) for reelection. And his closest rival in 2018, Ademola Adeleke, a former senator and younger brother of the state’s first governor, Isiaka Adeleke, is also again the candidate of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Three other candidates in the race are also popular. They are Akin Ogunbiyi of the Accord Party; Goke Omigbodun of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and the former deputy speaker of the House of Representatives, Lasun Yusuf, who is flying the flag of the Labour Party (LP).
With the atmosphere charged a day to the contest, PREMIUM TIMES has identified some key issues and developments that may likely determine where the scale of victory may be tilted at the end of the poll.
The situation on the ground indicates that the contest may again be a two-horse race between Governor Oyetola and Mr Adeleke, with the other candidates sharing the ‘leftover’ votes.
Neither the ruling APC nor the opposition PDP has fully recovered from the controversies that marred their primaries.
It was only on Thursday that the governor heaved a sigh of relief after the Federal High Court in Abuja dismissed a suit challenging his nomination by the APC.
In the party’s controversial direct primaries held across the state on February 19, a former secretary to the state government, Moshood Adeoti, and Mr Yusuf (who is now the LP candidate), emerged as first and second runners-up.
The controversy was an offshoot of the rivalry between Mr Oyetola and his predecessor, now Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola. The latter supported Mr Adeoti in the primaries and continues to oppose Mr Oyetola’s bid for reelection.
Mr Aregbesola is behind The Osun Progressives (TOP), a splinter group of the ruling party that is pushing the opposition against Mr Oyetola in the party.
But with the verdict delivered at the court on Thursday, it is not clear if Mr Adeoti would be appealing the judgement. His suit was predicated on the argument that Mr Oyetola had taken part in the primary without resigning his membership of the ruling party’s national caretaker committee then led by Yobe State Governor, Mala Buni.
However, unlike the APC, which organised a single primary with all the stakeholders participating, the PDP conducted two parallel primaries on March 8.
One was held at Women and Children Development Initiative Foundation (WOCDIF) centre, Osogbo, and attended by major stakeholders and founding members of the party. In contrast, the faction led by the Adeleke ‘dynasty’ held its own at Osogbo City Stadium.
The primary at WOCDIF was attended by two former deputy national chairmen of the party, Shuaib Oyedokun and Tajudeen Oladipo; former Governor Olagunsoye Oyinlola and his deputy while in office, Olusola Obada; former secretary to the state government, Fatai Akinbade; factional chairman, Wale Ojo, and his predecessor, Soji Adagunodo, and also Mr Adeleke’s cousin and then governorship aspirant on the platform of the party, Dele Adeleke.
Also at the event were former senator Olu Alabi, and Dotun Babayemi, who won the primary.
But at the stadium where Mr Adeleke was nominated were a factional chairman of the party in the state, Sunday Bisi; former national secretary of PDP, Wale Oladipupo; the senator representing Osun East District, Adenigba Fadahunsi; four-term member of the House of Representatives from Oriade/Obokun Federal Constituency, Wole Oke; former chairman of the Association of Local Government of Nigeria (ALGON), Lere Oyewunmi, among others.
This was, however, the faction that hosted both the representatives of the national leadership of the party and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
But since the recognition of Mr Adeleke as the authentic candidate of the party, members of the other faction have not thrown in the towel. Not even a loss of some of the cases challenging Mr Adeleke’s emergence in court has settled the rift.
Therefore, while APC seems to have been able to manage the crisis relatively better, the PDP, though popular on the streets, could be more affected by the fallouts of its own.
As a fallout of their acrimonious primaries, the two leading political parties have suffered gales of defections, exchanging prominent members while some other fringe political parties also claimed some of their members. But the ‘casualty’ on the side of the PDP seems to be higher than that of the ruling party.
Apart from the defection of Mr Yusuf to LP, the only significant member of APC who left for the opposition PDP was the former commissioner for local government and chieftaincy affairs under Mr Aregbesola, Kolapo Alimi.
But while Mr Ogunbiyi left the PDP for the Accord Party, other prominent PDP members including Mr Adeleke’s running mate in 2018, Albert Adeogun; factional chairman of the party, Wale Ojo; former member of the House of Representatives, Ayodele Asalu, and a House of Representatives aspirant, Soji Ibikunle, among others, defected to the APC.
Religious sentiments may also be a major factor in the election, especially following the raging war over the choice of a running mate by the presidential flag bearers of the ruling APC. With the stiff opposition of the Christian communities to the Muslim-Muslim ticket, voters in Osun, where Muslims are the majority, may have issues with the candidate of the PDP.
Mr Adeleke introduces himself on his posters as Nurudeen Ademola Jackson Adeleke. Despite the “Nurudeen”, a Muslim name, Mr Adeleke is seen more as a Christian with his constant appearance in western attire and is popularly known as “Jackson.” He was never publicly addressed as Nurudeen.
Meanwhile, the choice of Kola Adewusi, a Christian and former chairman of Ife East Local Government Area, may have further stirred the hornet’s nest.
But on his part, Mr Oyetola, a son of an Islamic cleric from Iragbiji, headquarters of Boripe Local Government Area of the state, has a Christian from Ikire, Irewole Local Government Area, Benedict Alabi, as his deputy. This “balance” may earn them the sympathy of some voters.
It would be recalled that in 2018, Muslims Rights Concern (MURIC), an Islamic organisation, expressed concern over Mr Adeleke’s promise to return mission schools in the state to their old owners. MURIC accused the PDP candidate of taking Muslims for a ride in the state.
Though the governor may not have performed poorly, given the resources available to him and when compared with other state governors, the poor performance of the APC federal government led by President Muhammadu Buhari may affect Mr Oyetola’s chances.
The global economic crisis occasioned largely by the plummeting oil prices and the coronavirus pandemic is one of the reasons advanced by the government for not being able to do better.
But the governor’s aides said he deserves commendation for keeping Osun afloat, especially with the regular payment of salaries to workers, unlike his predecessors.
Speaking with PREMIUM TIMES, the senior special assistant to the governor on students’ affairs and social mobilisation, Kehinde Ayantunji, said Mr Oyetola promised to pay workers their full wages and has kept the promise.
“Despite the dwindling resources and the debt being repaid, the governor has insisted that he would not renege on his promises. He has consistently told those of us working with him to bear the brunt while he fulfils his pledge to the workers and the pensioners,” Mr Ayantunji said.
But apart from salary payment, many residents of Osun have claimed times are hard and are seeking a change in power, with the belief that a new leader may lead to a new lease of life.
While many voters may not be unhappy with the incumbent, they are also not impressed by Mr Adeleke, the leading opposition candidate, over his academic qualification and competence.
Each time Mr Adeleke speaks in English in public, social media is awash with derisive posts by members of the public, either ridiculing his pronunciations or grammar.
Mr Adeleke’s certificate issue had been on the front burner in 2018, forcing the flag bearer to publicly announce his purported graduation from Atlanta Metropolitan College in America in May 2021.
Since his intervention in 2018 during the supplementary election between Messrs Oyetola and Adeleke, deploying his third force to give victory to the former in the keenly contested election, Iyiola Omisore, has remained a pillar of the ruling APC.
Therefore, with his emergence as the national secretary of the ruling party, Mr Omisore, a founding member of the Alliance for Democracy, APC’s legacy party, before joining the PDP where he won a senatorial election from detention, has never had it so good with the so-called progressives.
It will be recalled that Mr Omisore garnered over 128,000 votes in the 2018 election on the platform of the SDP, thereby contributing greatly to why the election went into a rerun.
The popularity of Mr Omisore may improve the fortunes of the APC after joining its fold as a national leader of the party.
Tinubu’s emergence as APC presidential candidate
The emergence of Bola Tinubu, a former Lagos State Governor, as the presidential candidate of the ruling APC is another factor that may help the incumbent to retain his seat.
It would be recalled that as soon as he was announced the winner of the party’s presidential primary in June, the outgoing governor of Ekiti State and Chairman of Nigeria’s Governors’ Forum (NGF), Kayode Fayemi, described him as a game changer.
Many of Mr Tinubu’s followers and allies who had threatened to work against the candidate of the party at the poll in Ekiti, especially the leadership of the South-west Agenda for Asiwaju (SWAGA), quickly embraced dialogue and worked for the party’s candidate following Mr Tinubu’s intervention.
The same scenario seems to be playing out in Osun already, as some of the members of Mr Aregbesola-backed TOP have sheathed their swords, and have resolved to work for Mr Oyetola.
One of them is the former speaker of the state’s House of Assembly, Najeem Salaam, who is said to command a large following in Ejigbo, and other major towns in Osun West Senatorial District, where Mr Adeleke also hails from.
With the various realignments in the state, this election is unlikely to repeat the controversy of the last one in 2018, which was decided by 442 votes after Mr Oyetola overtook Mr Adeleke in the controversial supplementary polls conducted in seven polling units.