Ondo: The Men Who Uprooted Iroko

Oluwarotimi Odunayo Akeredolu (SAN) is the Governor-Elect of Ondo State after a brutal 18 months political struggle with unpredictable twists and turns.

The battle that pitted political parties and individual interests against one another ultimately led to the demystification of one of the strongest political tacticians in the South-west of Nigeria, incumbent governor Olusegun Mimiko – popularly known as Iroko.

While it is trite that the Iroko of Ondo politics was wholly defeated – and ultimately prevented from attaining the political status presently only occupied by Asiwaju Bola Tinubu of Lagos State, who successfully installed his successors and is believed to maintain an indisputable grip on Lagos politics – what may not be in public knowledge is the profile of the men (and women) who demolished and uprooted the Iroko tree in Ondo State and rendered such a battle wary political machine a lame duck on November 26.

While it is impracticable to lists everyone, many men and women played crucial roles in the success of Rotimi Akeredolu and the defeat of the Iroko structure.

Nevertheless, profiled in this report are those whose roles were of such significance or whose prominences were too consequential to be ignored.

Bukola Saraki, 53

The position of the Senate President, Senator Bukola Saraki on the Ondo project was only fully known three weeks to the election. Many had assumed that the Senate President would stay away following the manner that some APC leaders had stayed clear of Ondo State after the primary election of September 3, 2016. Saraki, who is said to be related to Owo (same as Akeredolu) through his mother took the plunge to support the APC candidate and his presence was central to the building of public confidence that the full weight of the federal government was behind Rotimi Akeredolu of the APC. This was a major blow to the Iroko political structure that has historically relied upon federal might for its political successes. Saraki is rumoured to have mobilized other party leaders and prepared the ground for the unshaken support provided by President Muhammadu Buhari. Speculations is rife that the Senate President was instrumental to resolving differences with many aggrieved aspirants. Saraki’s presence mitigated the absence of Lagos while the ultimate intervention of President Muhammadu Buhari sealed the victory.

Kayode Fayemi , 51

Dr. Olukayode Fayemi, one time governor of Ekiti State was the arrowhead of “Operation Sunshine”, a codename for the political project of 2016 which sought to ensure that Ondo State was brought to the progressive fold of the APC without leaving any stone unturned. Fayemi, 51, with PhD in war studies from the University of London assumed the role of the tactical commander who plotted and managed the behind the scene activities of the APC with the support of other APC chieftains that included Governor Nasir el-Rufai and Babatunde Fashola. Fayemi, who held prestigious fellowship positions in several top institutions in the world, had earlier served as the Director of Strategies for the Buhari campaign in 2015. He distinguished himself in that capacity and became one of the most reliable men that President Muhammadu Buhari could count upon. Analyses appear unanimous that had the results of the November 26 governorship election in Ondo state gone otherwise, it would have been considered a negative referendum on the President Buhari-led federal government and an indictment of the APC. Fayemi’s strategic role prevented such fate. For the Ekiti born politician, it was personal. Up till 1996, Fayemi himself was a native of Ondo State. The highly cerebral tactician is credited for plotting the downfall of Iroko and other opposing factors on the path of the APC governorship candidate. It has been rumoured that he recruited most of the foot soldiers that did the serious on-site damages that caged the Iroko machine on Election Day.

Yahaya Bello, 41

Youthful governor Yahaya Bello is another person that played central role in the election. While Fayemi operated from the tactical headquarters, Yahaya Bello assumed the position of a field commander who led a boots-on-ground campaign that effectively entrenched Akeredolu in the hearts of non-indigenes in the Northern senatorial district of the state. Before the intervention of Yahaya, many had assumed that the refusal of key APC chieftains in Ondo State, such as Prof. Robert Ajayi Boroffice and Mr. Segun Abraham, to support Akeredolu would gravely affect the fortune of the party in the northern senatorial district. Bello however stormed the fringes of the district in solo or independent campaign efforts that saw him connecting one on one with the non-indigenous population of Agatus, Igalas, Ebiras who thereafter took the Akeredolu project personal. While other political parties focused on the main campaign by Akeredolu, Bello enjoyed unhindered freedom to market the APC candidate and turn the tide against Iroko. This is the first major political battle of Yahaya Bello outside Kogi State and he delivered effectively.

Rochas Okorocha, 54

His presence was short but tactical. He swayed the Igbo votes in Ondo State and took the steam of Iroko among the sons and daughters of Ndigbo when he engaged the leadership of the Igbos in Ondo State through their Eze Ndigbo. On that day, the Igbo’s support for Rotimi Akeredolu was sealed.

Agboola Ajayi, 57

Agboola Ajayi is the Deputy Governor elect to Akeredolu. A former member of the lower arm of the national assembly, Ajayi is a behind the scene operator who knows how to get results and make things happen. It has been rumoured that he was instrumental to securing the support of many high net-worth individuals that came to support the campaign with the needed financial muscle.

Betty Akeredolu

Soft spoken wife of Akeredolu was a formidable silent force that operated at the background throughout the campaign. She was rumoured to have quietly but purposely traversed the 18 local government areas directly and through proxies – raising the roofs among women while connecting with different women demographics that included young business women, market women and widows. Her role cemented people’s love for her husband among such voters who saw an accessible first lady that shared many things in common with them.

Victor Olabintan, 57

Honourable Victor Olabintan, a former school teacher and Speaker of the Ondo State House of Assembly stood by Akeredolu throughout the campaign as the Director General of the Akeredolu Campaign Organization. Olabintan, an Akoko born politician and former member of the Federal Civil Service Commission utilized his experience as a political organizer to bring the contending interests together. Starting from the first campaign which took place at Ore-Odigbo, Olabintan ensured that the campaign was able to match the opponents in all department of the political game. Olabintan contested the September 3rd, 2016 APC governorship election alongside Akeredolu. He was however one of the first sets of aspirants that congratulated the winner and put the primary events behind them.

Tunji Ariyomo, 44

Popularly called ‘Imole’, Tunji Light Ariyomo, is an infrastructure and energy engineer who once served as Special Adviser on Technology to former governor Olusegun Agagu in the state. The highly cerebral Akure born politician was also one of the 24 APC guber aspirants that contested the September 3rd 2016 primary election with Akeredolu. He was however quick to congratulate and align with the winner while making his structure available throughout the state. Analysts believe that the defeat of Eyitayo Jegede in all parts of Akure land was traceable in no small measure to the precision politics of Ariyomo and his group that outmanoeuvred the PDP candidate among key stakeholders such as women, youths and traditional institutions. While Olabintan led the official campaign, Ariyomo led the Akeredolu Support Organization which has been described as a guerrilla arm of the main campaign with special focus on Akure kingdom and the central senatorial district. Three days to the election, he rolled out what he called ‘Brain Infrastructure’, the largest empowerment programme for market women, widows, indigent youths and small businesses in a period when civil servants were yet to be paid salaries in 8 months. Over 600 beneficiaries went home with hair driers, generators, small business grants, interest free loans and scholarship grants. It worked, as feelers in the state capital on the eve of the election clearly indicated a massive preference shift for Akeredolu despite the presence of Jegede on the ballot. Ariyomo also added class and colour to the campaign. He brought leading Yoruba celebrities with the largest following in the state to endorse Akeredolu and unleashed very creative media onslaughts that helped to galvanize momentum for the APC and successfully matched the ubiquitous media dominance of the Olusola Oke campaign.

Jimoh Ibrahim, 49

Popularly called Araba in Ondo State politics, he has been dubbed the ‘spoiler in chief’. Jimoh Ibrahim CFR is an Oxford and Cambridge trained business mogul whose tango with Eyitayo Jegede, the Iroko sponsored candidate of the PDP, successfully stifled the preparedness and concentration of the latter. Although those close to him have affirmed that his original intention was to recreate the ‘Otedola episode’ of Lagos state. Indication of that goal emerged when he tapped Ebenezer Alabi, a native of Akure, as his deputy governorship candidate in the hope that such a move would benefit from the identity politics that was driving the Jegede momentum. The Supreme Court however put paid to his ambition few days to the election when his name was substituted with that of Jegede. Boxed to a corner, from that moment onward, Ibrahim was unchained and went rouge! He was alleged to have directed his supporters to vote for the APC candidate as a way of ventilating his anger against the Supreme Court judgement that recognized the candidate of the Makarfi faction of the PDP at his expense.

Tunji Abayomi, 66

Dr. Tunji Abayomi’s strategic role was in rallying support for the APC candidate at the trying period when the primary election was in dispute. His epic confrontation of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu emboldened supporters of Akeredolu. He too contested the September 3rdgovernorship primary of the APC.

Tayo Alasoadura, 67

Senator Tayo Alasoadura stood firmly behind Akeredolu and was instrumental to the victory recorded by the APC in Akure North Local Government. He too contested the September 3rdgovernorship primary of the APC.