Two former governors and three former senators are among 33 governorship aspirants who will be testing their popularity at Saturday’s primaries of the All Progressive Congress (APC) in Ekiti State.
The journey so far has been rancorous and tension-soaked with the entrance into the fray of bigwigs in the party, such as former governor Segun Oni, who is also the party’s South-west Deputy National Chairman. He started his campaign early and has been consistent.
Mr Oni however has another former governor to contend with: Minister of Mines and Steel Development, Kayode Fayemi.
Although Mr Fayemi was a late starter in the bid for the ticket, his coming has altered the power balance and greatly tilted the advantage far away from earlier favourites.
Babafemi Ojudu, the Political Adviser to the President, is no less popular and has shown himself a crowd puller in the build up to the primaries.
A former senator and veteran journalist, Mr Ojudu has appealed to over 2000 delegates that he had what it takes to send the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) government out of power.
Ayo Arise is a former PDP senator, who now enjoys the cover of the APC. His ambition to be governor was nearly thwarted by his kidnap late last year. His chances on Saturday cannot be wished away.
Another aspirant, Gbenga Aluko, is a former member of the Senate. Twice, he had attempted to be governor of the state, but did not succeed. He was the Labour Party candidate in 2007 and in 2014, and also aspired on the platform of the PDP. His sojourn in the APC is bringing him close to the governorship race for the third time.
Other prominent contenders for the APC ticket include a former member of the House of Representatives and ex-Commissioner for Information and Strategy in Lagos State, Michael Opeyemi Bamidele; a former member of the House of Representatives, Bamidele Faparusi; a former Speaker of the State House of Assembly, Femi Bamisile and a former Commissioner for Information, Afunminiyi Afuye.
Others include: Wole Oluyede, Bimbo Daramola, Wole Oluleye, Adebayo Orire, Kola Alabi, Kayode Ojo, Muyiwa Olumilua, Victor Kolade, Debo Ajayi, Dele Okeya, Diran Adesua, Sesan Fatoba, Mojisola Yaya-Kolade, Olumuyiwa Coker and Adekunle Esan.
There are others like, Dipo Ogunkoyode. Bodunde Adeyanju, Sunday Adebomi, Bisi Aloba, Otunba Yinka Akerele, Charles Dahunsi, Ajayi Olowo, Tosin Olofinluyi and Taye Matesun.
As confirmed by the party, 33 aspirants have filled and returned the expression of interest forms making them eligible to contest. The party had earlier received letters of intent from 37 aspirants.
The large number of aspirants has been a source of worry to many political observers, but party spokesman in the state, Taiwo Olatumbosun allays fears saying that the number of aspirants ”underpinned the credibility of the APC platform and only fairness and transparency will see the party through the test now before it”.
Perhaps, the Ondo experience sounds a clear warning for the party. Over 23 aspirants sought the APC ticket for the Ondo State November 2016 election.
The outcome caused division in the party since the winner, Governor Rotimi Akeredolu, came into office. A legal battle resulting from the primaries held in September 2016 is yet to be rested, following allegations that the delegates’ list was doctored in favour of the winner.
Mr Ojudu, during his declaration of interest in Ado Ekiti, warned his party not to toe the line of the Ondo primaries.
He called for a “level playing field” for all aspirants, saying it was the only way the party could avoid crisis.
Mr Fayemi’s entrance particularly created some furore, as other aspirants expressed displeasure that he was ”already comfortable and needed not upset the applecart”.
There were also contentions and bitter attacks leading up to the primaries. The party issued new rules and threats before calm settled on the battlefield.