Ekiti State, one of the country’s smallest statesin size and revenue allocation from the central government, is to the surprise of many Nigerians tremendously endowed in human and economic resources.
It has produced colourful politicians like Ayo Fayose, Olusegun Oni, and Kayode Fayemi, but with all three so different in temperament, style and worldview.
Mr Fayose has lived all his life in the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), at one time even cloaking himself as the godson of ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo, but has acted and spoken as if he was forever poised to defect to the camp of the progressives, whether Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) or the All Progressives Congress (APC).
Dr Fayemi started out with a preference for the PDP, but was finally persuaded, or persuaded himself, to camp with the progressives in the ACN. And Mr Oni, an engineer, was essentially a pragmatist in the PDP who was never averse to the camp of the progressives, but in fact until a few days ago a leading but much mistreated member of that illustrious camp.
But like Nigeria’s 35 other states, Ekiti’s politics and politicians are not quite cast in granite. They operate on very fluid tectonics, defecting and aligning with political parties as their emotions drive them. Mr Fayose had feigned defection, particularly during his fight against Mr Oni and in the closing months of his second term as governor, when, it was believed, he sought means of evading harassment by anti-graft agencies. At least he romanced the APC, even if he never really thought of concretising his disguised political lightness.
Since setting up camp with the progressives, and being a natural progressive himself, though of the grainy variety, Dr Fayemi has stayed put, determined to fight his way through or plot his way to the peak of the party. Mr Oni, on the other hand, though a pragmatic with an unmistakeable hue of progressivism, has shown himself more fleet-footed in defection, first moving from the PDP to the APC, and now from the APC back to the PDP. As always, there are reasons for defections. In the case of Mr Oni, it is on account of what he now describes as mistreatment.
Mr Oni rose to an enviable peak in the APC, after defecting from the PDP due to Mr Fayose’s errant and capricious ways. A gentleman par excellence, the engineer could simply not stomach the atrocious and disrespectful manner Mr Fayose ran the PDP, riding roughshod over the legislature and the judiciary. No gentleman could accommodate such tactics and manners.
And since he came with a lot of political capital, having ruled the state from 2007 to 2010, some three years and about six months, it was natural that if the APC wanted victory subsequently, they would have to reckon with Mr Oni, preferably with him on their side. They managed to entice him into their ranks, fought the governorship race together in 2014 but lost, and eventually retook it in 2018. But between 2014 and 2018, a bitter struggle had ensued between the troika of Mr Oni, Dr Fayemi and Opeyemi Bamidele, now a senator but previously a House of Representatives member.
Mr Oni in fact rose to become the APC’s deputy national chairman (South), but was curiously and unfairly treated like a leader without a base and a pariah. The 2018 governorship poll merely finalised his disenchantment and hastened his exit from the party.
Mr Oni’s exit was rumoured for months. He had been left holding the short end of the stick, principally because he questioned and litigated the victory of Dr Fayemi in the 2018 poll. What was not acknowledged before Mr Oni took the extreme measures attributed to him was that the APC crowd and leaders in Ekiti State made no substantial overtures to him worthy of his rank and standing, at least not to his estimation.
But having lost all the cases he brought against Dr Fayemi, it was clear to the APC leaders in the state, and to himself as well, that a place could no longer be found for him. Hence his proposed exit, a measure he says will be finalised in a couple of months. He justifies his proposal, and pinpoints the reasons for the exit, thereby erasing any ambiguities about his political direction. However, his support within the state has remained solid and largely unaffected by his peregrinations and alienation. He will cause a nightmare for the APC in the months leading to the next governorship poll, and he will be heard from in a way that should trouble and consternate his enemies.
Here is how he rationalises his impending exit: “It is true that I am leaving the APC for the PDP. I actually planned to address the Press on the issue later this week, but now you have made me touch on some of the issues that informed our decision. It is not about me, but about my political family, most of whom have their own lives to live and a political future they must protect. They are not been treated well in the APC in terms of appointments. Is that how to run a party? You leave out some people when you are giving out appointments all just because they belong to the Segun Oni political family?
When I was the APC deputy national chairman, some of them said they suspended me from the party. Up till this moment, the issues surrounding the so-called suspension have not been attended to. We have to fight against the tyranny of the minority that is existing in the party.” And to erase all doubt as to what has led him to that avoidable pass, he continues: “How can some people, who are not even party excos at the ward level gather together to announce the suspension of a party leader?
When I was the APC deputy national chairman, some people gathered and said they have suspended Clement Ebiri, a former governor, from the party. But I told them to apologise to Ebiri who became a governor when most of them were nobody. I can assure you that we are definitely pulling out of the APC. It is not about consulting to take a decision. We have decided on that and it is about the political future of my political group.”
Mr Oni’s exit was not inevitable. Despite litigating Dr Fayemi’s 2018 poll victory, the party should still have made definite and substantial overtures to him. But neither the party nor Dr Fayemi is made in that accommodating, liberal and empathetic mould. Mr Oni’s complaints were genuine and indisputable. The ruling party in the state, which as Mr Bamidele can attest to is very often not inclusive, should have done its best to win Mr Oni over.
They have not, partly because they made up their minds to call his bluff. They must hope for the sake of the next governorship election that they can fill the vacuum that will be left by Mr Oni. Dr Fayemi nearly did not win the last governorship election despite the atrocities and incompetence of Mr Fayose. It required an alliance with Dayo Adeyeye, a prince and until recently a senator, to clinch the poll.
Had that alliance not been formulated, Mr Fayose’s foolish style would still have been rewarded. Sen Adeyeye, it is learnt, has regretted the alliance he entered into with the leaders of the APC, especially seeing how they have acted mala fide after their slim victory.
The last has not been heard from Mr Oni. He is probably the steadiest hand and most even-tempered governor that has ruled Ekiti State since 1999. The state remembers him for his sense of moderation and openness, not to say his abjuration of any form of political grandiosity. They recall with fondness how he carried his party and the state along, and how he treated the council of chiefs preferentially.
Should he attempt again to run for the governorship seat on the platform of his new party, he will complicate matters for the APC, and it will require herculean efforts to best him. But of course, Mr Oni himself has a herculean task ahead to overcome Mr Fayose who is still making trouble in the PDP, not to say neutralise the only senator whom the PDP controversially produced in the 2019 National Assembly polls, Abiodun Olujimi, a vocal and sometimes cantankerous woman and politician. Nothing is guaranteed for anyone or party in the coming years in Ekiti. It would indeed have been far better had APC leaders in the state not been as hotheaded as they postured, and irreconcilable as they seem determined to be.