Senator Iyiola Omisore (pictured, top) will be licking his lips by now, thinking the defeat of Dr. Kayode Fayemi in the Ekiti governorship election is a good omen for his own bid to take over Osun State government house.
Nigerians have always seen the south-west as the impregnable stronghold of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and a no-go area for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) ─ at least since 2011. The Ekiti poll is changing this perception. There is now a real and present danger of the PDP eating deeper into the APC base.
PDP’s Omisore will be going head-to-head with APC’s Rauf Aregbesola, the governor of Osun State, on August 9, 2014 in an election that is generating more than a passing interest. With PDP sweeping out APC from Ekiti in what observers have described as a free and fair election ─ with protests, though, about the heavy security presence ─ all eyes are now focused on the Osun poll, which is the next item on the INEC agenda.
So we ask: will Osun return to the PDP or will Aregbesola rise to the occasion and deal with this threat?
Yes, PDP can take Osun
“Contrary to perception outside the state, Omisore is very popular in Osun,” said a Lagos-based political editor who just returned from the state. “It does not mean he will win the election, but to underrate him will be a big mistake.” Omisore’s major strength, it appears, is his Ife constituency which is one of the biggest in the state.
Aregbesola, having been adjudged as performing well in his first term, should ordinarily expect an easy ride against Omisore ─ but didn’t we say the same thing about Fayemi? One of the “sins” of Fayemi is that “he was busy tarring roads without tarring our stomachs” ─ in the words of some of the voters. In other words, performance is one thing; patronage is another.
In Osun, some of the market women are also complaining that Aregbesola “is busy building roads” and schools “while we don’t have anything to eat”. He has embarked on urban renewal in the state capital, Osogbo, pulling down houses in order to expand the narrow road that had been there before Independence. They accuse him of just pulling down houses without “giving us what to eat”.
Aregbesola also has his own problems with the civil servants ─ salaries have not been paid for a couple of months, and for a state where civil service is the biggest employer, there is discontent among the people. Civil servants constitute a significant portion of the electorate.
There is the little matter of federal might. In Ekiti, the heavy presence of federal forces affected APC one way or the other. The party’s “field marshals” were arrested and detained on the eve of the election. The man holding the purse was also arrested, severely limiting APC’s ability to disburse the necessary “support” for a last-minute push.
More so, security forces occupying every inch of the space is enough intimidation for voters not to come out the way they would love to. Nobody wants to be a victim of “accidental discharge”. But it can be argued that heavy security makes people feel free to come out and vote, knowing that their safety is guaranteed.
Finally, having made an inroad into the south-west through Ekiti, the PDP will want to strengthen ahead of the 2015 elections by playing harder in Osun. President Goodluck Jonathan won 16 of the 17 southern states in 2011, losing only in Osun State. He would not like to see that repeated next year.
No, PDP can’t take Osun
Unlike Fayemi, Aregbesola is a grassroots politician ─ that man who pops up in the market to buy roasted plantain and eat with the commoners. He has the common touch. He knows all the streets, all the markets and all the farms in Osun. He is therefore very well connected with the people and is as populist as Fayose ─ so Ekiti may not be repeatable in Osun.
In terms of the numbers, the most critical constituencies are believed to be in Aregbesola’s corner ─ Osogbo, Iwo, Ede, Ejigbo and Ilesa. There has been a big deal about religion in the state, but even that will play to Aregebsola’s favour. Osun is not only predominantly Muslim, even the predominantly Christian Ilesa is where Aregbesola comes from. As a homeboy, that is a big advantage for him.
Achievements should still count for something, even if Ekiti people ignored that fact in voting out Fayemi. The Ekiti outcome could be explained in another way ─ Fayose was governor before and had achievements to point to, no matter how debatable. However, Omisore has never been governor and cannot compete with Aregbesola in listing achievements.
Omisore has a baggage on his head ─ the assassination of former minister of justice, Bola Ige, in December 2001. He was engaged in a public showdown with the prominent Yoruba politician shortly before the assassination and many people continue to link him to it. He has consistently denied the allegation and has been discharged by a court of law, but public perception has not set him free. It may count against him in the election.
On performance level, Aregbesola has provided jobs for thousands of youths; he has built and rehabilitated roads; he has restructured the school system and provided the students with good learning materials; and he has brought a few factories to the state that are generating employment. Indeed, he is very proud to showcase his achievements as the reason he should be returned to power.
But perhaps the biggest factor in his favour is that having seen how things went awry in Ekiti, he has six weeks to prepare, strategise and make amends in Osun. He can appease the civil servants and the market women, and devise a counter force to the federal might.
On the balance of probability, Aregbesola should be re-elected in August.