About two weeks to the governorship primary of the All Progressives Congress in Ekiti, no fewer than seven aspirants are jostling for the party’s ticket to succeed Governor Kayode Fayemi, whose tenure would expire on October 15 after his two terms in office. Correspondent RASAQ IBRAHIM examines the strengths, weaknesses and chances of the aspirants
Ekiti State is on the march again. Barring any unforeseen circumstances, the voters will troop out on June 18, to elect a new governor that would occupy the Oke-Bareke Government House when the incumbent Governor Kayode Fayemi completes his second term in office on October 15.
The governorship election timetable in Ekiti was altered when the legal battle between Segun Oni and Governor Fayemi over the 2007 governorship election was decided in favour of the latter. As a result, the Ekiti governorship election now takes place at a different time from the regular four-year cycle of general elections nationwide.
Following the release of the timetable by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), this year’s contest has been generating excitement, as well as tension within and across party lines. Within the two dominant political parties, the governing All Progressives Congress and the opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), there have been a series of alignments and re-alignments, as political stakeholders reposition themselves for the contest. Since then, they have been engaging in nocturnal and clandestine meetings for consultations ahead of the party’s primary.
The contest for this year’s election in Ekiti is dominated by agitations for power shift to the Ekiti South senatorial district, which has not occupied the number one seat since 1996 when the state was carved out of old Ondo State by the late General Sani Abacha-led military government. Nevertheless, the aspirants angling for the parties’ tickets cut across the three senatorial districts. Unlike Ogun, Ondo and other states in the Southwest region, Ekiti is a homogenous state where much emphasis is not placed on where the governor comes from. But, there are agitations nevertheless to zone the ticket to Ekiti South.
So far, the struggle for the plum position is fiercer within the governing All Progressives Congress (APC). No fewer than seven aspirants are jostling for the party’s ticket to succeed Governor Fayemi. Who among the array of aspirants eyeing the ticket for the election scheduled to hold on June 18 would fly the party’s flag?
Fayemi is said to be backing former Secretary to State Government, Biodun Oyebanji for the ticket. Unlike 2018, the battle for the APC ticket would not be a crowded contest; going by the number of those that have obtained nomination and expression of interest forms for the governorship ticket.
Aspirants like Senator Opeyemi Bamidele, Senator Dayo Adeyeye, Femi Bamisile and former Commissioner for Public Utilities, Bamidele Faparusi are believed to have virile political networks, the necessary background and experience for the epic battle for the APC ticket. The quartet cannot be taken for granted in the race. But, indications are that the governor has the party structure in his pocket and anyone he backs is likely to emerge victorious.
Other aspirants seeking to fly the party’s ticket are Kayode Ojo and Demola Popoola. The last two aspirants are perceived as political lilliputians that cannot clinch the APC ticket because they have no political structure, even in their respective wards.
All the aspirants are currently traversing the length and breadth of the 16 local government areas, soliciting the support of party leaders, individuals and groups. Given the calibre of the aspirants, especially their political background, experience and the belief by many that the APC is the party to beat in the forthcoming governorship election, the struggle for the party’s ticket is fiecer.
Governor Fayemi is already feeling the heat of the impending showdown for the ticket. Although the governor is not contesting, he is keenly interested in who succeeds him. It was reliably gathered that the governor is mobilizing men and huge funds for his preferred choice, Oyebanji to grab the ticket.
If there is anyone who knows Ekiti State like a walking encyclopedia, it is Biodun Oyebanji who hails from Ikogosi Ekiti in Ekiti Central senatorial district. Oyebanji has over the years served as a university don, senior banker, administrator and politician. He has been part of three progressives’ governments that have ruled the state since 1999.
Under the administration of his political mentor, former Governor Niyi Adebayo (1999 to 2003), Oyebanji served as the Special Adviser on Parliamentary Affairs before ending as Chief of Staff. During Fayemi’s first term (2010 to 2014), he served in different capacities, including as the Director-General of the Office of Transformation, Strategy and Delivery (OTDS), Commissioner for Integration, as well as the Commissioner for Budget and Economic Planning. He also served as the liaison officer between Ekiti State and the Development Agenda for Western Nigeria (DAWN) Commission, among other various briefs.
He has been serving the state since his 20s in a private capacity. He was the youngest member of the Movement for the Creation of Ekiti State in 1996 where he served as the secretary of the group that lobbied the late General Sani Abacha for the creation of the state. He was the immediate past secretary to the Ekiti State Government.
Those close to him say Oyebanji is completely committed to public service and would not mind going out of his way to be of altruistic service, as long as it will promote the growth and development of the state. He is seen as a generous and level-headed personality, a bridge-builder and a consummate technocrat that has a thorough knowledge of the workings of government.
There is no doubt that his rich experience would add value, if given the APC ticket and if he eventually wins the poll. But, the perception that he is a lackey of the Minister of Trade and Investment, Adebayo and that he is the preferred choice of Governor Fayemi may work against him.
Michael Opeyemi Bamidele, fondly called ‘MOB’, needs no introduction in Ekiti. His popularity may not be unconnected with the fact that the lawyer-turned politician was a key player in Lagos politics where he served for two terms under former Governor Bola Tinubu, as Senior Special Assistant (SSA) and Special Adviser and Commissioner.
Bamidele also served as Commissioner for Information during the first term of former Governor Babatunde Fashola before he returned to his native Ekiti State to seek the party’s nomination to represent Ekiti Central in the Senate. But, he ended up in the House of Representatives tor represent Ekiti Central Federal Constituency 1, after a serious political horse-trading that saw Babafemi Ojudu emerge as the senator representing Ekiti Central.
Bamidele, who later showed interest in the governorship ticket before the 2014 race, had dumped the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) with his supporters, for the Labour Party (LP), after he was denied the ticket of the party. He came a distant third in the poll in that year’s election. Nevertheless, he teamed up with Fayemi again ahead of the 2018 governorship election and served as Director-General of Fayemi’s campaign organisation. He survived gunshot injuries which nearly took his life during a major rally in Ado Ekiti. He later won the Ekiti Central senatorial seat he had earlier sought.
There’s no doubt that the Iyin-Ekiti born politician has concrete experience. He is believed to have a good grasp of the affairs of the state, including the political intricacies and peculiarities of the Ekiti electorate. Based on these factors, sources said Bamidele is highly favoured for the plum job.
The Ise-Ekiti born lawyer turned politician is understandably considered another major aspirant in the race. Adeyeye is one of the longtime politicians with vast experience as a journalist and lawyer. He started politics as a student activist and a loyalist of the defunct Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) led by the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo in the Second Republic. He was the spokesman of Afenifere and also served as the National Publicity Secretary for the Alliance for Democracy (AD).
In 1999, he contested for the Ekiti South senatorial seat but lost to the PDP candidate, Gbenga Aluko. He also contested for the AC governorship ticket ahead of the 2007 general elections but lost narrowly to Fayemi. He later alleged that the primary was not free and fair. Adeyeye and 13 other aspirants that contested in the primary defected to the PDP and worked for the emergence of Segun Oni. Oni later appointed him as the Chairman of the State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB). Under former President Goodluck Jonathan, Adeyeye served as Minister of State for Works.
Adeyeye was also the National Publicity Secretary of the PDP National Caretaker Committee led by Senator Ahmed Makarfi and on the conclusion of the assignment, he returned home in time to take another shot at the governorship in the 2018 election. He narrowly lost the PDP primary to Prof. Kolapo Olusola and later returned to the APC where he won the Ekiti South senatorial seat in the 2019 general elections. Adeyeye was in the Senate for five months before his election was nullified by the Election Tribunal, which declared his opponent, Senator Biodun Olujimi as the winner. He is currently the coordinator of the Southwest Agenda for Asiwaju 2023 (SWAGA), networking for the emergence of Asiwaju Bola Tinubu as president ahead of the 2023 presidential race.
Adeyeye’s greatest challenge, according to keen observers of Ekiti politics may be his intractable frosty relationship with Fayemi and his public support for Tinubu’s presidential bid.
Femi Bamisile is a seasoned grassroots politician from Kota Ekiti in Ekiti South senatorial district. An experienced politician known across the length and breadth of the state, Bamisile is a vibrant politician with street credibility and mass appeal.
Currently, he represents the Emure /Gbonyin/Ekiti East Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives where he serves at the Chairman of the House Committee on FERMA. Bamisile’s political career began in Lagos where he served as Special Adviser to former Chairman of Surulere Local Government, Hakeem Dickson.
He had contested twice for the House of Reps seat he presently occupies on the platforms of Alliance for Democracy (AD) and National Conscience Party (NCP) in 2003 and a by-election in 2004, but was unsuccessful. But luck smiled on him in 2007 when he won the House of Assembly seat to represent Ekiti East Constituency 2 on the platform of the PDP and was consequently elected Speaker. He stepped down as Speaker, following a row with aggrieved lawmakers in the assembly. As a result, Tunji Odeyemi was elected as his replacement. After finishing his tenure in the assembly, Bamisile was elected as the PDP deputy chairman in Ekiti. But, he later left the party for the APC after a bitter disagreement with former Governor Ayo Fayose.
As he did in the 2018 governorship poll when came fourth, Bamisile was the first APC aspirant to commence the campaign for the 2022 governorship election. Bamisile, it is said, spices his campaign with the distribution of free fuel to okada riders across the 16 local government areas.
Keen observers of Ekiti politics are of the opinion that Bamisile’s no-nonsense style of politics would be his greatest undoing. Party leaders are of the view that he could dismantle the current structure of the APC which currently serves Governor Fayemi and former Governor Niyi Adebayo if he is elected governor.
The Ode-Ekiti born politician is not a greenhorn in Ekiti politics. His name has become a household name in the state. He is a grassroots mobiliser and notoriously popular for his philanthropic gestures and closeness to the masses. Known for his quintessence wherever he finds himself in political office, Faparusi is seen as an emerging politician who has carved a niche for himself politically.
Faparusi who resigned his appointment as Ekiti State Commissioner for Public Utilities to contest the governorship poll founded GreenPower Overseas Limited, a leading power and renewable energy solution providing company in Nigeria. It majors in the design and application of solar energy, biogas and power systems.
Between 2011 and 2015, the engineer-turned politician was in the House of Representatives where he represented Emure/Gbonyin/Ekiti East Federal Constituency. He was one of the 33 APC governorship aspirants in the run-up to the 2018 governorship election but was compensated with commissionership because of his loyalty and for working for Fayemi’s victory at the poll.
The Ministry of Public Utilities under Faparusi is said to have witnessed a massive transformation of public infrastructures, especially in water and electricity sub-sectors. Owing to the turnaround of Ero and Egbe Dams, public water supply has been restored in places like Egbe Ekiti, Imesi Ekiti, Ikogosi Ekiti and some parts of Ado Ekiti for the first time in about 15 years. Besides, work is also in progress for the construction of two power sub-stations in Ijesa Isu Ekiti and Ilupeju Ekiti under a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) to save the people from perennial blackout. The state is also embarking on an ambitious Independent Power Plant (IPP) which Fayemi hopes to bequeath to the state as a legacy. All these are pointers that Faparusi is a man to watch ahead of the Ekiti APC 2022 governorship nomination.
Kayode Ojo, an engineer and a Lagos-based businessman hails from Ikoro Ekiti in Ekiti Central senatorial district. He is not new to Ekiti State politics; at least as far as the APC is concerned. He was a governorship aspirant in the 2018 election. He came third in the primary, behind Fayemi and Segun Oni.
Ojo, also known as KO, has declared his interest to vie for the ticket of the party ahead of the 2022 election. His financial war chest puts him ahead of all the potential candidates, as they see him as their biggest threat. Ojo does not believe in the agitation to zone the seat to Ekiti South. Ojo says he will concentrate on infrastructural development if elected without neglecting human capital development.
Although he is well known within the state chapter of the APC, he does not appear as someone who has gained the trust and confidence of stakeholders for the governorship race.
Otunba Ademola Popoola, who is from Oye Local Government in Ekiti North Senatorial District, is a successful aviation consultant. Popoola who is new in the political terrain of Ekiti State is making inroads with his philanthropy work and the recent grassroots football tournament he set up across the 16 local government areas.
He had declared his ambition to take over from Governor Fayemi and has commenced vigorous campaigning. He has a wide network of influential friends across the length and breadth of the country. His governorship bid appears to be generating some sort of momentum across the state. This is quite impressive, considering the fact that he is new to the APC family.
Popoola is considered a neophyte and a greenhorn in politics because he has little or no experience. Observers are also of the opinion that the governorship ticket cannot go back to the same local government that Fayemi is from and this might hinder Popoola’s ambition.