The intrigues surrounding the emergence of Chief Oluwarotimi Odunayo Akeredolu (SAN) as Ondo State governor may be trite. However, what may constitute materials for history, which may not be in the public domain are the names of the political heavyweights whose efforts and contributions perfected the electoral success in favour of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).
These are men and women that were very much instrumental to the demystification of one of the strongest political tacticians and titans in the South-west geo-political zone, the incumbent governor, Dr Olusegun Mimiko, famously called the Iroko.
While it is hackneyed that the Iroko of Ondo politics and his political empire has not only fallen but also crumbled like a pack of cards, what may not be commonplace is the profile of the golden fishes whose actions and inactions uprooted the Iroko, rendering such a political machine a lame duck.
Although it is practically impossible to stretch the long chain comprising all those that played crucial roles in the Akeredolu’s success and the crumbling of the Iroko structural empire, nevertheless, there are however some of them whose contributions and roles significantly and prominently provided the talismanic wand to plot and execute the downfall of the Mimiko.
Such names include:
The APC National Chairman was the sacrificial lamb and the punching bag of the crisis that trailed the emergence of Akereduolu during the party’s primary election. He was maligned, allegedly accused of fraudulently collecting bribe, discrediting and compromising his office. Oyegun and members of his National Working Committee (NWC) were practically on the cross.
Oyegun did not only weather the storm but also stood his ground and mobilised all forces and party machinery around the party’s standardbearer. His unwavering support despite the attack was part of the game changer that saw the disgraceful crumbling of the Iroko political empire.
Governor Rochas Okorocha
The involvement of the Imo State governor may be short but it was eventful, instructive and tactical. He swayed the Igbo votes in Ondo State and rechanneled the steam of Iroko among the sons and daughters of Ndigbo when he engaged the leadership of the region in Ondo State. On that day, the Igbo’s support for Rotimi Akeredolu was sealed.
Soft spoken wife of Akeredolu was a formidable silent force that operated at the background throughout the campaign. She was rumoured to have quietly but purposely traversed the 18 Local Government Areas directly and through proxies -raising the roofs among her gender while connecting with different demographics that included young business women, market women and widows.
It was an open secret that she personally travelled to her home state, Imo to persuade Governor Okorocha to throw his full weight behind her husband. Meek and unassuming, her role cemented peoples’ love for her husband among such voters who saw an accessible First Lady that shared many things in common with them.
Now regarded as one of the President Buhari boys, the Fashola factor though subtle actually contributed in swinging the pendulum in favour of the APC candidate. Regarded as one of the men on mission to dismantle the Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu intimidating political structure, his underground operation hauled the projectiles and missiles that unsettled the Iroko.
Popularly called Araba in Ondo State politics, he has been dubbed the ‘spoiler in chief’ and undertaker. His legal tango with Eyitayo Jegede, the Mimiko annointed PDP candidate, successfully stifled the preparedness and concentration of the ruling party in the state.
Although his confidants affirmed that his original intention was to recreate the ‘Otedola episode’ of Lagos State, indication of that goal emerged when he tipped Ebenezer Alabi, a native of Akure, as his running mate in the hope that such a move would benefit from the identity politics that was driving the Jegede momentum.
Although the Supreme Court put paid to his ambition few days to the election with the substitution of his name with that of Jegede, he has however caused incalculable damage to the PDP mission.
Boxed to a corner, from that moment onward, Ibrahim was unchained and went all the way to achieve his aim. He was alleged to have directed his supporters to vote for the APC candidate as a way of ventilating his anger against the Supreme Court judgement that recognized the candidate of the Ahmed Makarfi faction of the PDP at his expense.
Senate President, Bukola Saraki
The interest and position of the Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki, on the Ondo State project only became evidenct few weeks to the election. Many had assumed that he would stay aloof considering the party primary crisis that forced some APC leaders to avoid Ondo project like leprosy.
Saraki, who like Akeredolu is said to be of Owo lineage through his mother, took the plunge to support the APC candidate. His presence was central to the building of the public confidence that the full weight of the Federal Government was behind the then APC flag bearer.
His presence at the mega rally dealt a major blow to the Iroko political empire that has historically relied upon the federal might for its political successes. Senator Saraki was rumoured to have mobilized other party leaders and prepared the ground for the unshaken support provided by President Muhammadu Buhari. Speculations were rife that the Senate President was instrumental to the resolution of the differences among many of the aggrieved aspirants. In reality, Saraki’s presence mitigated the absence of Lagos while the ultimate intervention of President Muhammadu Buhari sealed the victory.
Dr Kayode Fayemi
Dr. Olukayode Fayemi, may have been a victim of circumstance in the Ekiti State governorship election but he was certainly the arrowhead of “Operation Sunshine”, a codename for the political project to sweep the entire South West under the APC fold.
The former governor of Ekiti State, a PhD holder in war studies from the University of London assumed the role of the theatre tactical commander who plotted and managed the APC behind-the-scene operation with the support of other party chieftains comprising Governors Simon Lalong, Nasir el-Rufai, Abdullahi Ganduje and ex-governor Babatunde Fashola.
Fayemi, who had horned his skills, as the Director of Strategies for the 2015 Presidential election, distinguishing himself in that capacity, became one of the most reliable men that President Muhammadu Buhari could count upon. Analyses appear unanimous that had the results of the November 26 governorship election in Ondo State gone otherwise, it would have been considered a negative referendum on the President Buhari-led federal government and an indictment of the APC.
For personal reasons, Fayemi’s strategic role prevented such fate. The highly cerebral tactician is credited with plotting the downfall of Iroko and other opposing factors on the path of the APC governorship candidate. It has been rumoured that he recruited most of the foot soldiers that did the serious on-site damages that caged the Iroko machine on the Election Day.
Kogi State governor, Yahaya Bello
The youthful governor of Kogi State, Yahaya Bello, is another figure that played central role in the election. While Fayemi operated from the tactical headquarters, Yahaya Bello assumed the position of a field commander who led a boots-on-ground campaign that effectively entrenched Akeredolu in the hearts of non-indigenes in the Northern senatorial district of the state.
Before the intervention of the governor, many had assumed that the refusal of key APC chieftains in Ondo State, such as Prof. Robert Ajayi Boroffice and Mr. Segun Abraham, to support Akeredolu would gravely affect the fortune of the party in the northern senatorial district. However, governor Bello’s incursion into the fringes of the district in solo or independent campaign efforts connected him one on one with the non-indigenous population of Agatus, Igalas, Ebiras who thereafter took the Akeredolu project personal.
While other political parties focused on the main campaign by Akeredolu, Governor Bello enjoyed unhindered freedom to market the APC candidate and turn the tide against the Iroko. This is the first major political battle of Yahaya Bello outside Kogi State and he delivered effectively.
The interest and personal involvement of President Muhammadu Buhari in the campaign, was enough signal and bold handwriting on the wall to the security agents and allegedly the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) where the pendulum should swing.
The fall of Iroko became more obvious when he could not boast of total control of the security apparatus in the state. For many, the thinking is that the federal might was really unleashed on him resulting in his waving the white handkerchief in submission after the incalculable blow inflicted on him by INEC and the judiciary.
Like they say, the Iroko has fallen and then comes the end to the mysterious era.