by Niyi Akinnaso
Several mediators appealed to him to leave Governor Olusegun Mimiko alone, that he was too popular in Ondo State to be dislodged, that Ondo politics was kind of unique, and that a Mimiko victory might dent his political stature and expose his vulnerabilities. But the National Leader of the Action Congress of Nigeria, Bola Tinubu, insisted that he would teach Mimiko a lesson by capturing Ondo from him, if he did not join the Action Congress of Nigeria, which Mimiko insisted he would not do.
But after all the hype, after all the negative propaganda, and after leading many campaign rallies to various parts of Ondo State, Tinubu and his ACN were roundly and unapologetically rejected by the people along with his anointed candidate for the October 20, 2012, governorship election, Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, SAN.
The rejection was emphasised by two symbolic acts. First, of the three major contenders, the ACN came last with 143,152 votes; the People Democratic Party came second with 155,961 votes, while the Labour Party won convincingly with 260,199 votes. Second, and more importantly, Akeredolu lost his own ward and polling unit to Mimiko, even as the ACN candidate sat tight in the ward during the polls. A politician’s standing is in serious doubt when his neighbours look him or her in the eye and vote for an opponent.
There was hardly anything ACN party leaders did not do to win. Several ACN governors were brought to the campaign rallies. Thugs were allegedly imported. Crowds were allegedly rented. Voters were allegedly bribed. Even voter cards were reportedly obtained or purchased from some Ondo citizens. Moreover, plenty of negative propaganda was employed.
Lagosians were fed with false information about Mimiko and Ondo State, based partly on manufactured lies and partly on data obtained from a few turncoats in the LP, who were ready to tell the ACN leadership whatever it wanted to hear.
There are interesting lessons to learn from ACN’s failed attempt to “capture” Ondo. To start with, the whole project was like the proverbial house built with saliva, which quickly unravelled under the morning dew. Not only was the project’s advertised foundation false, its execution was faulty. The tactics employed during the campaigns changed as the reasons for the Capture Ondo State project.
Regional integration was the original advertised agenda. It was argued that political unification of the Yoruba states under the ACN was critical to the integration project. But the integration project began to fizzle out as unification under one party became its focus. Although the integration project later came up in the governorship debates, many Ondo citizens had come to view it as an empire-building venture for the ACN leadership. Thus, ACN’s use of regional integration as a political tool came to undermine its possible merit to which Mimiko himself subscribes, namely, the need to develop a template for shared development projects that would leverage on the geographical contiguity of Yoruba states and their resources.
The focus shifted to a campaign of calumny. A typical negative propaganda was provided in a lecture purportedly given to Ondo citizens in Los Angeles by one Banji Alabi, a Lagos-based lawyer. He falsely stated that Ondo “has fallen on spells of under-development, under-performance and mismanagement due to mediocre and unimaginative leadership” (The Guardian, October 5, 2012). Alabi spoke on behalf of Ondo citizens “resident in Lagos” and not on behalf of the World Bank, the Governors’ Forum, the Minister of State for Education, and a cross-section of citizens resident in Ondo State, who have applauded Mimiko for his remarkable achievements in various sectors.
Unfortunately, falsehoods such as Alabi’s formed the theme of Akeredolu’s campaign. This was particularly evident in the governorship debates during which Akeredolu was either raising false allegations or spinning spurious figures. The calculation was that some Ondo voters might be convinced if enough falsehoods and distortions were spread around.
This was taken a step further in the final days of the campaign when Tinubu himself denigrated Mimiko at a campaign rally in Akure by calling him a “beggar” and a “traitor”, who “came to me and begged me to support him, rolling on the ground … I spent millions of pounds sterling but he betrayed me … (he is) a serial traitor”. We have now come full circle from “integration” through “underachievement” to personal vendetta.
But Tinubu did not say that some of his nominees were hired when Mimiko formed his government. He also did not talk about the pressure he put on Mimiko within the last one year to join the ACN. Why, you would wonder, would he want a traitor to join his party?
It is clear that Tinubu might have assisted Mimiko in his mandate fight in 2007 on the expectation that Mimiko would become one of his subject governors by crossing over to the ACN. The matter was moot for some time. However, as ACN’s fortunes spread across the South-West after the 2011 elections, Tinubu renewed his overtures to Mimiko to join the ACN, apparently in his bid to control the entire geopolitical zone.
Be that as it may, Tinubu’s Akure traitor pitch did not go down well with Ondo voters, who quickly viewed it as a replay of former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s traitor stump about Mimiko in Akure in 2007. Both attempts to put down Mimiko before his people fired up his supporters.
There are two hidden transcripts in all of this. First, Tinubu truly desires to include Ondo on the ACN map. It would be simplistic, however, to conclude that the desire was limited to political control. There is also an economic dimension–Ondo’s oil revenue is an object of desire. That’s why informed Ondo voters objected to the external control of their state and its resources.
Second, Tinubu truly believed that his party would win the Ondo governorship. However, so many mistakes were made along the way, from candidate imposition to excessive negative campaign, which gave little room for policy discussion. Above all, the traditional strategy of rigging elections was thwarted by extra-ordinary security, efficient INEC personnel, vigilant polling agents, and an electorate determined to make their votes count.
It is ironical that a self-styled “party of democrats” is the only one among 12 political parties that still refused to fully accept the results of an election universally acknowledged as free, fair, and peaceful. This says something about the ACN leadership. Either the party leaders are not getting proper advice or they think they know it all. Above all, they seem to lack self-criticism. The reckless pursuit of the “Take over Ondo” project was a clear demonstration of these deficiencies.
*This piece was first published in The Punch