Ondo was ‘Battle of Agincourt’
The governorship election in Ondo State was not billed to be the biggest showdown in Nigerian political history in recent times. After all, there was the violence-ridden National Assembly re-run elections in Rivers State. There was also the governorship election in Edo State for the successor to outgone Adams Oshiomhole. None of these two portended wide-ranging, perhaps even unlimited, implications for the All Progressives Congress (APC) as a ruling party in the country and its leadership whether at Aso Rock or at the level of John Odigie-Oyegun’s national chairmanship.
Most unexpectedly, in view of the illusion all along, result of the election re-shaped all calculations (or miscalculations?) still within the APC in the run-up to 2019. So far away and yet so near now. Somehow, the various implications of the victory of new governor Rotimi Akeredolu are either being underestimated, ignored or covered up under false pretences. The realities are in effect being dodged. The main characters in this episode are President Muhammadu Buhari, APC national chairma, Oyegun, former Lagos State governor, Bola Tinubu, and Akeredolu, on the APC side, and outgoing Ondo State governor, Olusegun Mimiko on the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) wing.
The magnitude of the setback for Mimiko and Tinubu was best illustrated with the unusual acceptance by instantly congratulating the new governor-elect.
The onset was Akeredolu’s second attempt to be elected governor four years after losing to Mimiko. At that time, there was no APC presidency. The political might behind him was the (defunct) Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) leaders, Tinubu and Chief Bisi Akande. Unfortunately, for politically malicious purposes, that very might was most effectively twisted against Akeredolu by his opponents. If elected, as Akeredolu’s opponents poisoned the mind of the electorate, Tinubu would indirectly be governing Ondo State by determining who was who or who got what in every sphere of the administration.
Even if that was not feasible, the fear-mongering worked among the voters as Akeredolu lost to Mimiko, who was returned to office for a second term, and Ondo State thus seemed to have grabbed independence from South-West mainstream politics. That undisguised stance against external rule easily favoured Mimiko, known to no longer share political affinity with Tinubu. That seemed to guarantee an extended brighter political future for the PDP governor, until April 2015, when he could not deliver the state for former President Goodluck Jonathan seeking another term of four years.
Instead, the newly-formed APC (a merger of Buhari’s erstwhile CPC and Tinubu’s ACN) won the state. Mimiko fought back within weeks and won a considerable number of National Assembly seats. The APC, buoyed by its victory on the richest prize, the presidential election, weeks earlier virtually laughed off the Mimiko feat as worthless.
The 2016 governorship race was, therefore, a third contest between the two parties to determine who really controls Ondo State. Seeming equally matched, each party had its albatross. The first nut to be cracked by the two parties was the people’s choice as governorship candidate rather than somebody’s preference. That hurdle was more militating for APC and, obviously, still feeling hurt by the malicious campaigns against his person four years ago, Tinubu did not seem to be unduly involved in the primary election for his party’s candidate. Even then, his preferred candidate was to be known later, which is the right of any leading member of the party.
With his defeat four years ago still stalking him, especially the blackmail of being Tinubu’s puppet, Akeredolu again emerged APC’s choice. Ironically, he did not have Tinubu’s support this time and still defeated a rival contestant supported by Tinubu. Either because he was shocked or would not accept the fact that his candidate lost the primary or the message inherent in his preferred candidate’s defeat, Tinubu next took a risky step by openly culling for the resignation of his party’s national chairman, ex-Edo State governor, Oyegun, whom he accused of manipulating the primary. The demand for Oyegun’s resignation was all the more surprising because, initially, Akeredolu’s rivals, including Tinubu’s preferred candidat, accepted the result and congratulated the winner. It was obvious at that stage that the APC faced a potential implosion.
In response, the party chairman not only bluffed Tinubu but also re-affirmed Akeredolu’s primary election victory. Inevitably, questions arose. In calling for the party chairman’s resignation on account of alleged manipulation of the Ondo APC governorship primary, did Tinubu reckon with President Buhari’s position on the matter? Did Oyegun ensure Buhari’s support in defying Tinubu’s call for his resignation and also in re-affirming Akeredolu as the party’s choice for the governorship race? Amazingly, as Oyegun was defying Tinubu, another top-notcher with focus on Aso Rock in 2019, former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, came out in support of Tinubu’s call for Oyegun’s resignation.
Eventual battlelines were soon more glaring. Plateau State Governor Simon Lalong, who was also the APC campaign co-ordinator for the Ondo State governorship polls, led Akeredolu to Aso Rock for Buhari’s blessing and acclamation. To top the visit, Buhari assured them that he would be in Akure, Ondo State, to present Akeredolu to the electorate as the party’s candidate. He kept that pledge and attended the final stage of the campaign.
All against Bola Tinubu’s presumed political influence in the South-West? In his defiance, Buhari must have seen himself in the mood of King Henry the fifth on the eve of the Battle of Agincourt between England and France in 1415, during the One Hundred Years War. In every aspect, the English army was handicapped. Winter was approaching, English troops were depleted and ill-equipped, with massive defeat imminent. In that moment of disillusionment among the troops, one of the commanders, Westmoreland, who was also a cousin of King Henry, called for strong reinforcements from England to stand any chance with their French enemies.
In stubborn determination, Henry the fifth turned round and affirmed “Cousin Westmoreland, who wishes for reinforcement from England? If we are marked to die, we are enough to do our country losses. And if to live, the fewer men, the greater share of honour.” One British author was later to describe England’s victory at Agincourt against France as England’s finest hour that was a battle for supremacy between two staunch rivals, if not enemies.
As an illustration, that significance can be applied to the Ondo governorship election won by APC’s candidat, Akeredolu, supported by Buhari and opposed by one of the party’s major leaders, Tinubu. In effect, it was a battle for political supremacy between both men. The showcase was all the more significant since both men threw in everything. In publicly rejecting Akeredolu’s candidature and calling for the resignation of Oyegun the party’s national chairman, Tinubu meant to re-assert (if there was any doubt on) his unchallengeable dominance or even monopoly of South-West politics.
In a counterpoint, Buhari, especially if he is contesting in 2019, as a rebuff to the threat of his erstwhile confidant Buba Galadinma not to support him, for once dared to sustain Nigeria as his constituency rather than a section as his stronghold.
Both Buhari and Tinubu, therefore, knew what was at stake and went for the kill. Former President Ibrahim Babangida is on record that “in the military, officers are trained to dominate their environment.” Henceforth, that alert will be taken seriously by other APC leaders in hoping to challenge Buhari, especially on an all-or-nothing basis. On that score, Buhari might have been grossly underestimated as a “saftie” by his political contemporaries within and outside the APC. Against the future, a showdown such as Ondo will not be easy in coming.
Witness how his APC party and even security personnel, SSS, mobile police, soldiers and even youth corps members, were mauled, ridiculed, disgraced and murdered in various parts of Rivers State throughout the campaigns and especially on the day of the re-run of the National Assembly elections. The culprits, according to the Rivers State government, were cultists. No room was created for such criminals in the Ondo State election. Apart from that, the election solved, in a way, a couple of lingering issues.
Unlike in the past, Tinubu’s support for any aspirant at whatever level is no longer an unavoidable asset, especially if the Ondo resistance spreads through the South-West zone, where his influence was largely recognised in 2015 for Buhari’s and APC’s victory in the presidential election. For Akeredolu, like King Henry the fifth’s gamble in the battle of Agincourt that “… The fewer men, the greater share of honour,” only Buhari and those who stood by him for the victory of Ondo State shared the glory, especially the sole governor from the South-West, Ibikunle Amosun. Others were APC governors from other parts of the country, Oyegun, Lalong of Plateau State and the almost forgotten hero who conducted the Ondo State APC governorship primary election, Jigawa State Governor Abubakar Badaru.
Before the Ondo showdown, there was an undeclared dispute over the “national leader of the APC” title loosely conferred on Tinubu by the media. The ex-Lagos State governor put a stop to all the nonsense when he congratulated Akeredolu as the governor-elect of Ondo State.
Noticeably, in his lette, Tinubu partly wrote “I must express profound congratulations to President Muhammadu Buhari, the National Leader of the party, whose stature and dignity helped guide the APC to another victory that should advance the progressive aims of the party and the people.”
To accommodate that concession of national leadership of the party to Buhari, a section of the media loyal to and closely identified with Tinubu, referred to him as an APC stalwart, which must not be seen as distasteful, given the circumstances that Buhari and Tinubu could not have, at the same time, been jointly identified as the “national leader.”
For outgoing Governor Mimiko, it is the end of the break-up of alliances of convenience. So subdued was Mimiko that, in place of the traditional legal battles, he instantly congratulated his successor even when the PDP candidate, Eyitayo Jegede, was still studying the result.
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