2019: Politics of defection in Oyo
An unprecedented defection rally was held at the historic Mapo Hall, Ibadan last week to welcome former Oyo State Governor Adebayo Alao-Akala, former Senate Leader Teslim Folarin and other notable politicians from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the All Progressives Congress (APC). BISI OLADELE examines the implications of the defections for the 2019 elections in the state.
The last time the historic Mapo Hall witnessed such a huge crowd was in 2015 during the preparations for the general elections. Without any election coming soon, the All Progressives Congress (APC) pulled a surprise, not only on other political parties, but on observers and residents across Oyo State.
The event was to celebrate the 68th birthday of the governor, Senator Abiola Ajimobi. But, the celebrator and the party leadership used the occasion to make a point. The rally shook Ibadan and the entire state.
Astute politician and APC stalwart Asiwaju Bola Tinubu led top leaders in the state and some national officers to a rousing welcome at Mapo that afternoon. He is a man party faithful and ordinary folks love to see and hear at such rallies. His presence and that of Osun State Governor Rauf Aregbesola accentuated the pull.
The defectors, who are notable politicians in the state, also pulled crowds of supporters from across the state.
Coming at a time the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) just succeeded in regaining its feet in Oyo State, the December 16 rally has forced it and other parties back to the drawing board.
Those who left PDP, Labour Party (LP) and Accord include Adebayo Alao-Akala, Senator Teslim Folarin, Alao-Akala’s deputy while in office, Taofeek Arapaja, the only Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) member of the House of Representatives from the state, Hon. Dokun Odebunmi, former Secretary to Government, Ayodele Adigun, the immediate past PDP Chairman, Yinka Taiwo, and Accord party members in the House of Assembly.
Others are former permanent secretary, Rauf Olaniyan; former Speaker of the House of Assembly, Ashimiyu Alarape; a former member of the House of Representatives, Kamil Akinlabi; a former Chairman of Oluyole Local Government, Kehinde Olaosebikan; Senator Brimo Yussuf; former PDP woman leader Mrs. Olanrewaju Otiti, Folake Olunloyo, Lukeman Oorelope and Kemi Jaiyeoba-Olorunsogo.
Addressing the crowd of party supporters and others who defied the scorching sun to catch the fun of the event, Tinubu assured them that the party has all it takes to accommodate all the poltical heavyweights joining its fold.
With the calibre of new members, Tinubu and Ajimobi said the opposition was dead in the state.
Tinubu said the APC has “a stainless kitchen” that is large enough to accommodate as many cooks as possible.
Allaying fears on how to manage the political differences of the heavyweights joining the party, Tinubu noted that the APC has a variety of menu in the political kitchen for the future of the country.
He said: “We have a stainless kitchen and we can accommodate as many cooks as possible and because we have a variety of menu in the political kitchen of planning this future, we love those bigwigs and we can accommodate them all. It is in the same forest that you find a hippo that you find an elephant and you will find a rabbit. In political platforms, you must look for the addition not the minus.
“You can see that the opposition is dead in Oyo State. Today is important for us because it is the birthday of the Governor Ajimobi and things that have never happened in the history of Oyo State have started happening. Thank God for my friend Alao-Akala and the others for seeing the light. All of you that joined will also join in building the party. The APC house is great for all of us. We are proud of you for joining us. APC is the only progressive party in NIgeria and Africa.”
He pointed out that it has become very clear that APC would win in 2019.
The rally was attended by Aregbesola and his Ondo State counterpart, Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, the National Vice Chairman (Southwest), Chief Pius Akinyelure and his Northeast counterpart. Also in attendance was the Deputy National Chairman (South), Segun Oni.
How the defection will change the game
In the 2011 and 2015 elections, the three key players in the governorship race in Oyo State were Ajimobi, Alao-Akala and a former governor, Senator Rashidi Ladoja. The three candidates garnered about 80 per cent of the total votes cast in the two elections. The situation has not changed with regard to their support base.
While Ajimobi and Alao-Akala now cohabit in the APC, Ladoja, who ran on the platform of Accord in the last two elections, has returned to his former party, PDP, as the leader.
But, the defection has altered their support base and influence.
With Alao-Akala in the APC, Ajimobi is now further confirmed as the most significant politician in Oyo State today. He won the last two elections convincingly, defeating both Alao-Akala and Ladoja. Now that Alao-Akala has come into the APC with his followers, Ogbomoso zone is now added to the kitty for the leading party. In the 2011 election, Ajimobi won in Ibadan, Oyo and Ibarapa zones while Alao-Akala won in Ogbomoso and Oke-Ogun zones.
In the 2015 election, the governor had added Oke-Ogun Zone by reasons of his performance.
Now that Akala cohabits with him along with his supporters in the APC, the party clearly has stronger support base across the state.
Though Ladoja had his best outings only in Ibadan in the last two elections, Ajimobi defeated him in the city.
Aside building political profile for himself, the defection has put the APC in a more comfortable position for the 2019 elections.
After losing twice, Akala’s defection to the APC will strengthen his relevance in Oyo politics. His lieutenants will gain patronage while he will remain highly influential, both in Oyo and national politics.
He will retain his hold on Ogbomoso and parts of Oke-Ogun while wining and dining with national political figures. For him, the defection will mark the beginning of the revival of his political relevance.
Although Ladoja is now the leader of the PDP in Oyo State, the fortunes of the party had plummeted since 2011 due to implosion. The top party leaders in Ibadan moved against Alao-Akala, who was then the governor. Some of them worked against his candidature in the 2011 election without leaving the party. Since then, the PDP has been unable to regain its strength in Oyo State. The same crisis made Ladoja abandoned the PDP for Accord.
But the party’s dissenting voices recently come together on the calculation that their coalescence would produce a majority over the APC. They argued that Ajimobi won the last election by scoring only 35 per cent of the total votes. Their thinking was that combining forces together would help send the APC packing in 2019.
But with Alao-Akala and Folarin out of the PDP, the permutation of the leaders may have been punctured from the start. Several followers of Ladoja who also refused to join PDP are also in the APC now. Some members of the House of Assembly as well as Mr Ademola Ojo, who was a staunch Ladoja’s supporter in Ibarapa, are now in the APC.
With the defections and the APC at the federal level, Ladoja and PDP will struggle hard to wrest power from the APC in 2019. They will need several policy somersaults by Ajimobi and the rejection for the APC at the national level to spring a surprise.
Although Ibadan may remain highly divided as experienced in 2015, the APC will most likely coast into victory in other zones to defeat other parties. The APC will require divine wisdom to manage the various interests in the enlarged party to prevent what has afflicted the PDP since 2007.