As All Progressives Congress prepares to elect its 2019 governorship candidate in Oyo State, Sunday Oguntola reports on the ongoing intigues to challenge Governor Abiola Ajimobi’s alleged bid to install a preferred aspirant
MINISTER of Communications, Barrister Adebayo Shittu and Chairman of the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), Prof. Adeolu Akande, are believed to be leading forces bent on frustrating Oyo State Governor Abiola Ajimobi from installing his successor in 2019.
Ajimobi, who has not declared his anointed aspirant, has been engaged in an intense battle for the soul of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the state with Shittu, Akande and several other bigwigs in the party.
Incidentally, Shittu and Akande, the two most senior political appointees from the state at the federal level, are nursing the ambition of succeeding Ajimobi in May 2019. It is however said that the governor is seriously opposed to their ambitions and prepared to snuff them out politically.
Investigations revealed that the two federal political appointees have teamed up with other forces within the APC to wrest power from the governor and truncate plans to install his preferred aspirant. Though Ajimobi has not been forthcoming on his choice, the coalition believes he is grooming Adebayo Adelabu, the grandson of late Ibadan strongman, Adegoke Adelabu, popularly known as Penkelemesi.
The younger Adebayo retired as Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) recently and has been engaging in several empowerment projects in the state. He has also built businesses in Ibadan, the capital, to dispel the notion that he is more of a ‘foreign-based’ politician. The businesses, including event centres, hotels and factories, have provided employment opportunities to youths, shoring up his image as a grassroots politician.
Though Ajimobi, privately or publicly, has not declared his preference, it is widely believed among members of the Shittu/Akande coalition that Adelabu is the governor’s candidate as successor. They claim Ajimobi’s widely reported support for power shift to Oke-Ogun is just a gimmick aimed at shielding his real choice.
Incidentally Shittu and Akande are from Oke-Ogun region of Oyo-North that has never produced a governor since the creation of the state. The situation has created a loud cry for power-shift to the agricultural bastion of Oyo State. Shittu is from Saki in Saki West local Government Council while Akande is an indigene of Otu in Itesiwaju Local Government Area.
Our correspondent gathered that the duo is behind the Unity Forum, a splinter group in the state APC. The group held a parallel congress in May with the Chief Akin-Oke-led group backed by the governor.
The APC National Working Committee (NWC) however recognises the government-backed faction, forcing the unity forum, which also comprises loyalists of former Governor Lam Adesina, to ditch the APC last month.
It boasts of nine of the 14 House of Representatives members, two of the three senators and several members of the House of Assembly, including the Deputy Speaker. Spokesman of the forum, Dr. Wasiu Olatunbosun, said its members were joining the African Democratic Congress (ADC).
Olatunbosun said: “We had no option than to look elsewhere for opportunity. We ventilated our anger through the appropriate channel but President Muhammadu Buhari reportedly said the party’s soul should be delivered to the governor and that we in the Unity Group should apologise to the governor.
“We considered this as an insult despite all we have done to make the party leadership see reason. This is someone who has done us and the party so much harm. So, we concluded to seek solace in ADC.”
But it was learnt the defection to ADC is only one of the several measures to stop Ajimobi from having the upper hand in the power struggle. While some members of the forum have left the party, many others are still within the APC to block every move of the governor.
The Unity Forum members who left were said to be disposed to the idea of winning tickets for their different political ambitions in ADC where they have been more or less guaranteed support. But even though they are in the ADC, they have been briefed to maintain regular contacts and interests in the happenings within the APC.
Among them is Akande, who is strongly tipped to pick the governorship ticket of the ADC, all things being equal. Akande served as Chief of Staff to Ajimobi in the first term. The Professor of political science is Director of Centre for Presidential Studies, Igbinedion University, Okada, Edo State.
It is believed he is pretty close to bigwigs at the Presidential Villa, a factor that got him chairmanship of NITDA. His posters and bill boards are the most visible in Ibadan, fuelling speculations he has many moneybags backing him.
Many other aspirants are also in the ADC to pick up tickets before slugging it out with those backed by the governor at the general election. For them, it appears they are out of the APC but retain several structures and components in the ruling party to spring surprises at the deadliest moments.
Those who remain with the APC are also said to be aggrieved and shut out of contests by the governor and his men. But they have an understanding to play along and not give away the fact that they are enchanted. This is to enable them serve more or less as moles, while gathering intelligence that could give the APC much troubles in the weeks ahead.
They are expected to give Ajimobi’s men a big run for his money, especially since the party structure appears to be firmly in their grips. This segment is allegedly headed by Shittu, who has remained confident of picking the governorship ticket given a level-playing ground. The Minister has a long battle ahead, considering the party’s delegates are not loyal to him. He is believed to be working on convincing some of them to switch camps through constant engagements and dialogues.
Shittu’s biggest asset is his closeness to President Muhammadu Buhari, dating back to their days in the defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC). The Minister according to a source, considers himself the only man Buhari admires and finds trustworthy in Oyo State.
He also claimed to be the most experienced politician in Oyo State, having served as a local government chairman, Commissioner, House of Assembly member and Minister. But there is the perception he is not a generous politician despite his deep pocket.
With him still in the APC, Ajimobi won’t find it easy to install his preferred candidate. A member of theUnity Forum, who spoke with our correspondent under strict anonymity, said: “We won’t concede the party to them at all. We will stay put and fight from within.
“We are eager to see it whatever they plan to do will materialize with our number and influence. The truth is we are far more than them but they are using state powers to appear like the more popular. When it comes to the time to decide who gets what, I assure you we would emerge victorious.
“You know they appear to have won round one. But there is still round two and round three. That is where our strength lies. You will be amazed how much swings we would pull at that moment. Then the governor will be shocked to realise he is not as popular as he thinks he is.”
The gang-up within and without against Ajimobi, it was learnt, will receive more impetus in the coming days and weeks with several planned defections and unexpected twists within the APC.
“We are more than determined to pull the rugs from under them. You know they are under the delusion they are in charge but we will let them know who the master here is really,” the source further stated.
Checks revealed that the governor’s camp is fully aware of a few of the measures. It was gathered there is an ongoing onslaught against those considered to be inimical to its interests within the APC fold. This, it was learnt, was responsible for last week’s expulsion of Deputy Speaker Musah Abdulwasi by Saki West chapter over alleged anti-party activities.
But Abdulwasi has denied the purported expulsion as a laughable ruse. He said he remains a bona fide member of the party and cannot be expelled without recourse to the dictates of the APC’s constitution.
A source in the governor’s camp said: “The weeding process is ongoing. We have identified those who are with us and those against us. In the coming days, we shall give them the appropriate treatment they deserve.
“You can be rest assured we would do the needful as we discover them one after the other. Everything they plan is within our view and earshot.