Posted By: ODUNAYO OGUNMOLA On: June 26, 2017 In: Politics
The political atmosphere in Ekiti State is getting charged by the day, as next year’s governorship election draws nearer. Given that only Ekiti South has not produced a governor since the return of civil rule in 1999, there is a debate on whether the number one office should be conceded to the zone or be thrown open to all aspirants. ODUNAYO OGUNMOLA reports.
THE 2018 governorship election in Ekiti State is one year away. The last election was conducted on June 21, 2014. Though the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is yet to roll out the guidelines and the timetable for the contest, indications are that the election would hold sometime in June 2018.
One of the major issues expected to shape the poll is zoning. The debate over zoning is raging ferociously as the day of decision draws nearer. Like other states across the country, Ekiti has three senatorial districts — Ekiti North, Ekiti Central and Ekiti South.
Since the state was created on October 1, 1996, the only zone that had not produced an elected governor is Ekiti South. Ekiti North has produced governors twice: Chief Segun Oni, from Ifaki in Ido/Osi Local Government Area, who was in office between 2007 and 2010 and Dr. Kayode Fayemi from Isan in Oye Local Government Area who was at the helm from 2010 to 2014. Ekiti Central had enjoyed the privilege of producing the state chief executive on three different occasions: Otunba Adeniyi Adebayo from Iyin in Irepodun/Ifelodun Local Government Area held the reins from 1999 to 2003; he was succeeded by Mr. Ayodele Fayose who occupied the number one seat between 2003 and 2006. Fayose staged a dramatic comeback in 2014 and the current tenure is expected to terminate shortly after the 2018 poll.
It should be noted that in the old Ondo State (before Ekiti State was created), an indigene of Ikere in Ikere Local Government Area, from the present-day Ekiti South senatorial district, Evangelist Bamidele Olumilua, was governor for 22 months, before the Gen. Sani Abacha dismantled the democratic structures put in place by former Military President Ibrahim Babangida on November 17, 1993, through a palace coup.
The controversy on zoning came to the fore before the conduct of the 2014 governorship contest, especially in the camp of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The party then had an array of formidable aspirants, but its ticket eventually went to Fayose from Ekiti Central.
In the APC then, Fayemi who hails from Ekiti North had no problem securing the party’s ticket, as he was the incumbent governor seeking a second term. Former House of Representatives member, Opeyemi Bamidele, who was seen as his challenger for the ticket had left for the Labour Party (LP) where he emerged as the party’s candidate.
The Ekiti South agenda is occupying a front burner again, as the 2018 governorship election beckons. This explains why Ekiti South has the highest number of governorship aspirants in the race; the number keeps increasing everyday, especially in the APC. But, the question is: will the senatorial district get the nod to produce a governor this time around?
While zoning of offices is an official component of the PDP constitution, it is not in the APC constitution, even though the party still carries out the principle “one way or the other”.
Ekiti today has proponents and opponents of zoning; people who are arguing for and against it, based on which side of the divide they find themselves. To the proponents of zoning, it is just, equitable and fair for all parties to concede their governorship tickets to Ekiti South, to give the zone a sense of belonging. They argue that the other two zones have had their turns in governance and should be ready to allow the only zone yet to produce a governor to do so, through the next governorship election. They believe that the zone has quality aspirants who can pilot the affairs of the state after 2018 and thus end the perceived “marginalisation”.
But, the opponents of zoning would have none of that; they believe that the governorship seat should be thrown open to all aspirants, irrespective of their senatorial districts of origin. Some of them hinge their argument on the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Electoral Act, which stipulate conditions and requirements a person vying for the office of governor must fulfil before being elected to the position.
While arguing that “power is not served a la carte”, the opponents of zoning believe that principle breeds indolence and mediocrity and could throw up an ill-prepared and incompetent person as governor.
Whatever method the parties adopt in choosing their flag bearers, it is the electorate that will decide the eventual winner. Some observers are of the view that the propriety or otherwise of the zoning principle could make or mar the chances of some parties in next year’s election in Ekiti.
Speaking on the controversy, the APC Publicity Secretary, Taiwo Olatunbosun, said the party has rules and norms, as to how a candidate could emerge and that the party’s constitution is supreme on the issue. He said: “Our party has rules and that is the norm; the party has provided for a process that will not only provide a guideline, but also one that will provide a process that is devoid of controversy.
“A process that will provide for transparency, fairness and level-playing ground for every citizen of Ekiti State to aspire to any position to serve their people; the governorship is not an exception. The party constitution is not designed in such a manner that will deprive anyone desirous of participating in the electoral process either to vote or to be voted for.
“So, in this case, the governorship of Ekiti in 2018 can be contested for by all indigenes of Ekiti State who are qualified as provided for in the Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria and the constitution of the party. People asking for zoning are entitled to their personal opinion and they are free under the law to express themselves. Our party has not made any pronouncement on zoning and I don’t have any authority to say otherwise.”
The PDP Deputy Chairman, Hon. Olasunkanmi Ogunbiyi, said the party has not come out with guidelines on where the governorship slot would go to. Ogunbiyi, whose faction is loyal to Senator Ali Modu Sheriff, described the demand for the zoning of the governorship position to Ekiti South as a “legitimate one” which should not be ignored.
He said: “This is my own personal opinion as the party is yet to unfold its guidelines, but the groundswell of opinion in our party favours zoning of the governorship to the South, because the zone has been marginalised. Ekiti South is the largest in terms of land mass and has the highest number of local government areas. It has six local government areas, while the other two senatorial districts have two five local government areas each.
“Apart from not producing governor, Ekiti South has not produced the Head of Service since the state was created. Besides, all federal institutions and other major institutions are located in Ekiti North and Ekiti Central. The only tertiary educational institution in the South is College of Education, Ikere.”
The Publicity Secretary of the PDP faction loyal to Senator Ahmed Makarfi, Mr. Jackson Adebayo, agrees with Ogunbiyi. He said the preponderance of opinion in the party favours a shift to the South. Adebayo, who described politics as a dynamic game, said if Fayose who is the leader of the faction sees reason in the call for power shift, he would align with the wishes of the people.
He said: “For PDP in Ekiti State, the issue of zoning is natural and fundamental. Number one, there was consensus among the elite in the past, unless when they thought the governorship should go to the North and this produced Oni on the platform of the PDP and Fayemi on the platform of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN).
“Some people are of the opinion that it should go to South; our leader (Fayose) came out to contest in 2014, because his first tenure was truncated. Because he was acceptable to the people, he won the primary and he won he main election. The consensus in the party is that the South should take a shot at the governorship and our position has not shifted. Politics is not a game where one plus one equals two, but if our leader sees reasons to shift position on it, it is still accommodated in politics.”
The Chairman of African Democratic Congress (ADC), Prince Tunji Ogunlola, said zoning is not in the constitution of the party, but that people usually make room for it to accommodate interests. Nevertheless, he said: “The Nigerian constitution is superior to any party constitution.”
The National Conscience Party (NCP) Chairman, Comrade Kunle Omotayo, said the issue of zoning is not the issue. He said: “Ekiti people need somebody they can rely on. In the name of zoning, somebody who is not a good leader can be picked so our people need a person who will serve them passionately and diligently and give them good governance and better standard of living.”
The State Chairman of KOWA, Pastor Ade Ogunkolade, said his party does not believe in zoning. He said: “If we want the best candidate to emerge as our governor, we have to throw the race open. If we zone it to the South only, we may not get the best candidate. To get the best, our party desires to throw the race open to all aspirants, irrespective of the zones they are coming from.”
An APC governorship aspirant, Mr. Kola Alabi, who hails from Ikere, maintains that it is high time the South produced a governor to allow all zones the opportunity of tasting power. He said: “It will only be fair if we allow somebody from the South to become the governor. The North and Central have had their fair share of the governorship and the time to show that Ekiti is homogeneous and believes in equity is in 2018 and our party leaders must support this.
“Though being governor will not be for the South alone, but there are so many people from the zone who can lead Ekiti well, so it won’t be out of place to give us the chance. I want to appeal to our party to be fair and transparent in the conduct of the primary, so that the most acceptable aspirant would get the ticket.
“So, I am not against the campaign for Ekiti South to produce the next governor, as long as the idea would not rob the state or the party of credible candidate. Any idea or move, aimed at ensuring equality, justice and equity for all, must be supported by all lovers of progress and democracy.”
But, another APC aspirant, Captain Sunday Adebomi, who incidentally hails from Ekiti South, urged his party to give equal opportunity to aspirants from the three zones, to test their popularity. He said: “Though, I am from the South and I want the zone to produce the next governor, but only a weak aspirant would be rattled by the presence of other contestants from the North and Central. All we need to do is to put our house in order to be able to win the primary.
“Our party shouldn’t shut out anybody from the primary. But, what we need is a level-playing ground, so that whoever emerges can represent the wish of the people.”
The zoning debate in Ekiti rages on, but party primaries are expected to hold between February and March 2018 and the picture will become clearer when the parties hold their shadow polls