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Monday, September 26, 2016

ONDO APC: DISPUTED PRIMARY AND ELUSIVE RECONCILIATION

The Ondo State All Progressives Congress (APC) appears to be in disarray. The bone of contention is the outcome of the governorship primary. Although the Primary Appeal Panel has recommended a fresh shadow poll, the option has been discarded by the National Working Committee (NWC), to the consternation of aspirants who had cried foul over the irregularities. The National Chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, has reportedly forwarded the name of the winner of the controversial exercise, Mr. Rotimi Akeredolu (SAN), to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as the flag bearer. But, other aspirants – Dr. Segun Abraham, Chief Olusola Oke and Prof. Ajayi Boroffice – are kicking. Nation Newspaper Group Political Editor EMMANUEL OLADESU examines the implications of the post-primary crisis on the party.

The Ondo State All Progressives Congress (APC) is warming up for the governorship election in crisis. The division over the outcome of its disputed primary has persisted, following the dumping of the Primary Appeal Committee report by the National Working Committee (NWC) that set it up. Although there were opportunities for reconciliation, its national leadership has failed to explore them. Unable to put its house in order, the trouble chapter wobbles on to the poll as a divided house.

Little did the stakeholders guess that the shadow poll will bear fruits of discord. Today, the chapter is more divided than before the primary. At the Dome, Akure, the state capital, the exercise organised by Jigawa State Governor Abubakar Badaru was peaceful. One of the candidates, Mr. Rotimi Akeredolu (SAN), who polled 569 votes, was declared winner. There was jubilation among his supporters. After a moment of sober reflection, some aspirants accepted their fate and congratulated the candidate.

But, the celebration was short-lived. Reality dawned on contenders who had already congratulated Akeredolu that they did so in error. Allegations of irregularities filled the air. According to the aspirants, the primary was manipulated to achieve a pre-determined outcome. Many chieftains called for the nullification of the results and a fresh contest.
In response to the complaints, the NWC set up the panel as a platform for the ventilation of grievances.

In its report, the committee recommended the cancellation of the disputed shadow poll. The panel headed by Mrs. Hellen Bendega also recommended that a re-run primary should be held immediately to beat the deadline set by the INEC. In its 16-page report, the panel also suggested that the national leadership of the party should revert to the earlier delegates' list, which was distributed to aspirants in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), shortly before the controversial exercise. The report was signed by Bendega, the Secretary to the committee, Mallam Musa Umar, and another member, Nikky Eze.

According to the committee, a final and properly harmonised list acceptable to all contenders should be compiled after elections, adding that delegates' list should be released, not on the eve of the primary, but much earlier to give sufficient time for the take off of elections and avoid being used in favour of any aspirant.

The panel pointed out that, although there was substantial compliance with rules during the primary, "that consideration may not be sufficient reason to ignore such serious and weighty, identified irregularities."
"In view of the change mantra of this administration, it is pertinent that the party blazes the trail by refusing to condone a less than perfect exercise. We, therefore, formally submit our recommendations for the National Working Committee (NWC) to use its discretionary powers in line with the APC constitution and the Electoral Act to arrive at a final decision," the panel said.

No fewer than 24 aspirants participated in the primary. But, the committee received six petitions during its sitting. The complaints came from Oke, Abraham and Boroffice; the Chairman of Ondo Central APC, Mr. Adegboyega Adedipe, his Ondo East counterpart, Mr. Akintunde Temitope, and Mrs. Toyin Ajinde, a delegate.
On the eve of the primary, Oke had submitted a petition to the party, alleging a rigging plot. He said the delegates' list was suspicious. He submitted the same petition to the panel. "Prior to the elections, all aspirants met at the National Secretariat f the APC, Abuja and were issued with a delegates' list. However, on the eve of the election, precisely 11.30 pm, I received another list from Dr. Tunji Abayomi. I discovered that the new list was completely strange and different substantially from the other one," he said.
Oke, a lawyer, alleged that, in the new list, the names of over 200 delegates loyal to him were omitted. Instead, the list bore strange names, which did not emanate from any congress as required by the law, the constitution and the APC guidelines. Also, the aspirant faulted the accreditation of delegates, saying that all manners of identification, including students' identity cards, were used. According to the panel, Oke said "delegates' tags and manifest were released to Akeredolu's agents with which they used to convey illegal delegates to the voting centre."

When Oke was asked to appear before the committee, he brought along a witness who confessed that he was hired by a food vendor and paid N10,000 to vote for Akeredolu. The interloper confessed that he was not a delegate, adding that he and about 16 others were conveyed in a bus marked "official." Delegates tags were distributed to them while they were inside the bus and these tags enabled them to vote. "Many who wanted to vote for me were disenfranchised, making me to lose much votes. Therefore, since the election was not free and fair, it should be nullified," Oke said.
Rejecting the results, Abraham called for a fresh poll, saying that 157 fake names were injected into the delegates' list. He also alleged that some delegates voted twice because of lack of thumb printing ink after voting. "Twenty six people who should not be on the list voted as Owo delegates; 15 fake delegates appeared on Idanre list. In my constituency, Akoko Northeast, 39 names were removed from the delegates' list. The vice chairman of my ward, Mr. Jimoh Umaru, and the Akoko Northeast Women Leader could not vote because their names were substituted. In Ward 3, Akure South, the names of 13 members of the executive committee were deleted from the list.

On what he described as "irregular accreditation and voting," Abraham said: "Delegates were conveyed from the respective accreditation centres to the voting centre in vehicles unaccompanied by aspirants' agents or representatives. At the voting centre, some delegates got access into the venue without undergoing further screening. Some delegates were able to vote more than once due to lack of thumb printing ink after voting." Also, the aspirant alleged that while other aspirants' agents were locked outside the voting centre, the agent of a particular aspirant was allowed free movement into the voting arena and was relating with election officials at will.

Abraham urged the panel to deduct the unlawful votes obtained from Idanre and Owo from Akeredolu's votes. If that is done, Akeredolu's votes will drop to 626. Therefore, the panel should declare him winner. If that option is was feasible, Abraham said the result should be cancelled and a fresh primary should be held.
Broffice said the primary was not credible because the delegates' was fraudulent, adding that the new list was grossly corrupted and compromised."

Adedipe said the primary was "not anywhere near the true reflection of the opinion of the party in the state." He alleged that the delegates' list was padded, pointing out that 50 per cent of legitimate delegates did not vote in Ondo Central. He wondered why the Primary Committee came up with a new delegate's list, contrary to the earlier agreement that the old list would be used. Noting that voting by non-delegates was possible through the connivance of security agents, he said the exercise should be cancelled.
In his petition titled: 'A call for the nullification of the fraud-ridden primary,' Temitope alleged that 64 fake delegates from his zone voted during the exercise while 47 names were omitted on the list. In his view, the list was adulterated, adding that strange names assumed the positions of chairmen in wards 2, 4, 6 and 7. He said accreditation and voting should have taken at the same venue to prevent fraud.

Ajinde, the Ondo South Women Leader, said it was unimaginable that her name was omitted on the delegates' list, adding that she was prevented from voting.

However, Akeredolu, who also appeared before the committee, said the delegates' list was authentic. He also denied tampering with the accreditation process, saying that he had no hand in the distribution of delegate tags. Also, Abayomi and Senator Tayo Alasoadura, who appeared before the panel, denied that the list was fake.

To observers, the Bendega Committee did a thorough job. In its findings, it observed that the delegates' list was a bone of contention. Its content was disputed and its late distribution enraged many aspirants and party members.

The committee frowned at the late release of the list. It said: "The late distribution, the aspirant claimed, didn't afford them sufficient time to lobby delegates. The situation was further compounded by the appearance of strange names of persons they couldn't easily locate."

On the accreditation process, the panel said that the confession of non-delegates on the television that they were hired from the streets to rig for a particular candidate cast doubt on the credibility of the process. It added: "Equally disturbing is the public perception of the primary. There have been so many negative reports on this exercise all over the print, electronic and social media. A party founded on a platform of due process and which prides itself with zero tolerance for corruption and fraud, cannot be seen to condone illegality."

Last week, it was evident that the work of the committee was in vain. Its suggestion that the result should be cancelled to pave the way for a fresh primary fell on the deaf ear. A chieftain, Olu Akinola, said the rejection of the report was embarrassing to the Ondo APC family. "We are protesting to the APC National Executive Committee and the Presidency so that they can wade in," added the lawyer.

Many observers believe that the disputed candidate, Akeredolu, is not a unifying factor. If he has initiated reconciliation, it has not resulted into a truce.

After the primary, a former member of the House of Assembly, Hon. Tolu Babaleye, had warned that the party may risk defection, if there is no opportunity for the redress of the injustice. At the weekend, fears were rife that the party may be decimated in Ondo State. Party sources said that some aggrieved aspirants have opened discussion with some parties. "There is still room for the substitution of candidates. If popular candidates are edged out, they will take refuse in other parties," said a chieftain.

Also, a source at the APC secretariat, Akure said an aspirant may declare himself winner, based on the report of the panel. "His supporters feel that the irregularities highlighted by the Appeal Panel show that the APC does not have an authentic candidate yet," he added.

A chieftain from Iju/Ita-ogbolu axis, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said: "The battle may shift to the court. I can confirm to you that, if the national leadership fails to do the right thing, aggrieved people are willing and ready to seek judicial intervention."

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