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Date Published: 07/19/10

Brazing Up for the Big Fight in Osun in 2011 By Gbenga Ojo

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Going by signals from President Goodluck Jonathan, the 2011 general election in the country is not going to be business as usual. Although, one may argue that it is too early in the day, but there are signs already that the massive rigging that has been the hallmark of the three previous elections conducted since 1999 when the country returned to democratic rule would be drastically curtailed. The signs include the removal of the much maligned Professor Maurice Iwu and his replacement with Professor Attahiru Jega, whose choice has been hailed by all. The ongoing reform of the electoral process and the unwavering disposition of Jonathan to the conduct of a free and fair election, which will be acceptable to Nigerians and the international community have remained strict reminders of the changing order.

Nigerians have come a long way in the fight for the enthronement of a credible electoral process. Since 1999, political parties, civil rights groups and the international community have been in the vanguard, clamouring for the minimum acceptable standard in the conduct of elections in the country. This clamour is not unconnected to the realisation that the perverted electoral system has led to the emergence of many characters at the various levels of governance who are not worthy to be the representatives of the people.

In recent past, merely taking possession of the nomination paper of a political party as candidate is enough assurance of victory. The new realization is that real contest must take place. Power must return to the people.

.In the South West, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), was able to make an in-road for the first time in 2003 with victories in Ogun, Oyo, Ondo, Ekiti and Osun states through the influence of then President Olusegun Obasanjo. However, there are fears that with Obasanjo off the scene and the PDP may be unable to retain the victories due to the stiff challenge from the Action Congress (AC) and the Labour Party (LP). The truth is that unless the party PDP fields the right candidates it faces a huge challenge in the South West. The PDP can only repeat its electoral success in the region by fielding  the right and popular candidates  for the various elective offices.

This brings me to what is likely to happen in Osun State , which is the subject of this write up, come 2011. The State of the Living Spring has been a political hotbed since the beginning of this democratic dispensation in 1999. It started in 1999 with Chief Bisi Akande and Chief Iyiola Omisore angling for the ticket of the then Alliance for Democracy (AD). Akande eventually became the governor and Omisore his deputy. In 2003, the current occupant of Okefia Government House Osogbo, Governor Olagunsoye Oyinlola upstaged Akande on the platform of the PDP. Oyinlola’s retention of the seat in 2007 was not without a serious challenge from the AC.

Before the 2007 election, the opposition party went back to the drawing board by repackaging itself. Not only that, it presented a formidable personality in the person of Rauf Aregbesola, then Commissioner for Works in Lagos State as its governorship flagbearer. A fiery politician, Aregbesola, combined with Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s support mobilized  and made things difficult for the PDP at the elections. But the PDP triumphed and Oyinlola retained his seat. Unfortunately, the fallout of that election is still reverberating in the judiciary, just few months to the next election, with the Court of Appeal in Ibadan recently ordering re-election in some Federal Constituencies and a Senatorial zone.

With Oyinlola completing his constitutionally allowed two terms in 2011, the stage is definitely set for a battle royal between the PDP and the AC. For the ruling party to hold on to power, it needs a formidable figure that cut across the political divide in the state. It would be foolhardy for the PDP to rely solely  on the performance of the incumbent and the support of the traditional rulers in the state for winning the election. An array of aspirants is already jostling for the plum job. At the last count, about 14 aspirants are lining themselves up for the battle ahead. They are former Aviation Minister, Femi Fani-Kayode, former Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Fatai Akinade Akinbade, former Chief of Staff to Oyinlola, Peter Adebayo Babalola, the Managing Director, Nigeria Wire and cable, Lateef Bakare.

Others are Akinrogun Tunde Odanye, Chairman, Senate Committee on Appropriation, Senator Iyiola Omisore, Remi Olowu, a member of the House of Representatives, Gbenga Onigbogi, Special Adviser to Governor Adebayo Alao- Akala of Oyo State on Special Duties, Diran Odeyemi, Wahaab Toye, Senator Segun Bamigbetan, Dosu Fatokun, Fatai Sarumi and Prince Akin Jegede.

But if the truth must be told, few of these aspirants have what it takes to face the formidable machinery of the opposition. If the PDP must remain in power in Osun after 2011, the leadership of the party must be prepared to go a step further to outsmart the opposition by presenting a man capable of attracting to it the grassroots as well as a substantial section of the progressives, with substantial resources, structures and the wherewithal to pull and mobilise crowd in all the nooks and crannies of the state.

This is where Senator  Iyiola Omisore comes in. The two term Senator, who is representing Osun East Senatorial District in the National Assembly, has been nursing the ambition to rule the state since 1997 when he was picked as the candidate of the United Nigeria Congress Party (UNCP). With  the emergence of General Abdusalami Abubakar in 1998 and the  foating of the transition to civil rule programme, Omisore and his followers teamed up with the Alliance for Democracy (AD). Although, he had his eyes on the apple pie, he was persuaded to accept the deputy governor slot  because of the insistence of the AD leaders to make all State Chairmen of Afenifere the governorship candidates of the party in the South West states. Because Omisore is a politician who is desirous of serving the people rather than self, he accepted to serve as Chief Akande’s deputy.

When he crossed over to the PDP, Omisore won the senatorial seat of Osun East in 2003 and 2007. He has remained a prominent figure in the Nigerian Senate the Upper Chamber of the National Assembly  since he was sworn-in. In 2007, he emerged the Chairman of the Appropriation Committee and the Chairman, Joint Committee on Appropriation of the National Assembly. The experience garnered through interaction with policy makers at the federal level, through his chairmanship of the Appropriation Committee, his knowledge as a lawmaker and his position as former deputy governor are a resume that cannot be matched by any of the other aspirants, and which would come in handy in not only winning the election, but also in running the state successfully for the next four years.

Omisore had said in a recent interview that he actually registered the AD on the instruction of Afenifere leaders including the late Senator Abraham Adesanya and Chief Bola Ige. That goes to show his closeness to the leaders and the longevity of his service to the Yoruba race. That he is schooled in the politics of our revered contemporary leaders is a huge plus for his competence to step into the big shoes in Osun. The PDP cannot but get it right.

DR OJO IS OF SOCIOLOGY DEPARTMENT, OBAFEMI AWOLOWO UNIVERSITY, ILE IFE, OSUN STATE.

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