Candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), in Saturday’s governorship election in Ekiti State, Mr Segun Oni came a distant second to the winner and governor-elect, Mr Abiodun Oyebamiji of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).
His (Oni) adherents across the senatorial districts are struggling to understand what went wrong despite their high expectations as the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) declared he came second with 82, 211 votes behind Oyebamiji who scored 187, 057. As members of SDP in Ekiti searched for answers, what they did not make obvious is their anxiety for the candidate’s next move. ‘What next for Segun Oni’, they muttered in unbelief.
Their calculation is that if Oyebamiji were to spend just one term in office and Oni decides to join the fray, the SDP candidate would have turned 71 by 2026. And if by providence Oyebamiji decides to push his luck a little more for another four years to make it two terms, Oni would have turned 75 years as at 2030.
Would age still be on Oni’s side to allow him take another shot, or he would take a bow and become an elder statesman? This is one concern Oni’s political adherents were bothered about as they reflected on their huge loss.
Another concern that bothered them is what platform would happen to their platform, the SDP between now and the next election and if the former governor will continue to galvanise and sustain membership. SDP was struggling to survive before Oni joined and boosted its image and membership in Ekiti. The intervening years before next election could test their capacity to endure, especially in the area of funding, which only ruling parties enjoy.
Among the four former governors that have ruled Ekiti State from 1999 – Niyi Adebayo, Ayodele Fayose, Oni and incumbent governor Kayode Fayemi, the SDP candidate is the only one that has changed platforms four times.
He was governor on the platform of PDP and later joined APC. He returned to PDP and later left PDP to contest the last governorship election on SDP platform.
His political journey in Ekiti is well known. He is one of the four major actors that bestride the landscape and have remained major players for about two decades.
The four politicians have rotated power among themselves since 1999. Adebayo was elected governor of Ekiti on the platform of the defunct Alliance for Democracy (AD), which later transformed to APC and he has remained in the party ever since. Fayose ruled on the platform of PDP and has since remained in the party, while Fayemi has also been a member of APC from day one unlike Oni, who has toured all the three parties to achieve his ambition.
His political journey took off from the legal battle that ensued between him and Fayemi, which lasted for three and a half years. Oni was the governorship candidate of PDP in 2007, while Fayemi was the candidate of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), now APC, and at the end of a keenly contested election, Oni was declared winner. After spending three and a half years in office and after two rounds of runoff elections, he was removed on October 15, 2010 by an Appeal Court sitting in Ilorin, Kwara State, presided over by then President of the appellate court, Justice Ayo Salami.
In 2014, Oni, who was the vice national chairman Southwest of the PDP, left the party, citing irreconcilable differences with Fayose and the national leadership as reasons for doing so.
He joined Fayemi in APC, where he rose to the position of Deputy National Chairman (South) of APC. He resigned the position to participate in the 2018 APC primary, where he came second behind Fayemi. Dissatisfied with the conduct of the primary, Oni headed to court to challenge the candidacy of Fayemi, whom he alleged refused to resign from the Federal cabinet appointment within the stipulated time and also over allegation that he was indicted by the Judicial Panel of inquiry set up by Fayose’s government. He eventually lost the legal battle at the apex court. For taking the party to court, his supporters were schemed out of both appointive and elected positions by Fayemi’s government. He was later suspended indefinitely for anti party activities in APC, which forced him to return to PDP in 2019 to activate his governorship project.
In the PDP primary election held on January 27, 2022, he came second behind Mr. Bisi Kolawole, who was elected candidate, but Oni and others faulted the conduct of the shadow election, which they alleged was manipulated in favour of Kolawole. He again dumped the PDP and joined SDP.
But based on his popularity and the goodwill he enjoys among Ekiti people, within three months he joined SDP, Oni was able to lift the party from point zero to become a strong force to reckon with. In fact, his personality in SDP affected the party positively that he was able to attract credible personalities from both APC and PDP, who joined forces with him to strengthen SDP.
About a month to the election, the euphoria that surrounded the Oni/SDP combination appeared like a threat to both ruling APC and PDP.
To an average Ekiti voter, Oni was perceived as the candidate to beat. Powerful stakeholders who left PDP and APC allegedly joined forces with him to fund his campaigns but their financial power could not match that of the ruling party.
One of the challenges Oni had in the last exercise was inadequate funding to appropriately prosecute the election.
Another major blow to Oni is the masterstroke Fayemi deployed during the APC presidential primary, when he (Fayemi) suddenly dropped his presidential ambition for the National Leader, Bola Ahmed Tinubu.
Before the presidential primary, there were insinuation that Tinubu was supporting Oni underground to frustrate Fayemi, especially when the likes of Senator Dayo Adeyeye, who was the coordinator of SWAGA, a support group for Tinubu’s 2023 presidential ambition had left APC in Ekiti to join Oni in SDP. But immediately Fayemi made that U-turn, the table changed.
Another factor that also worked against SDP and Oni is the level of poverty among Ekiti electorate, which encouraged the ‘see and buy votes’ situation.
Although all political parties were accused of vote buying, the ruling party allegedly had upper hand. Again, the case of PDP and SDP was like a house divided against itself, which the ruling party capitalised on. But the outcome of the election does not justify that argument because if the scores of SDP and PDP are added, it does not add up to that of Oyebamiji of APC. Except for those who are looking at the psychological impact of the divided house, which left both parties malnourished and unable to put up a formidable fight.
Reacting to the outcome of the poll, Dr. Olu Agunloye, a national officer of SDP, told The Guardian that the party would challenge the result in court, at least to establish the fact there was vote buying by the ruling party.
According to him, “We are not satisfied with the process, especially that vote buying was very obvious. The ruling party turned the entire process into money bureau exchange drama. The dignity of Ekiti voters was degraded to money value and the security agencies became helpless. We will challenge the outcome in court.”
But a Chieftain of Ekiti APC, Mr Karounwi Oladapo dismissed the sentiment about Oni’s popularity. He said it was an emotional belief by his supporters over the years.
He said those who understand the facts and figures of elections in Ekiti State knew that such sentiments would not translate into vote.
According to him: “We really don’t see someone who has never won an election in his life as a threat. I challenge anybody to dispute this, Oni has never won an election in his life; be it party election or general election. Even when he became governor, the court ruled that he was never a governor, that Fayemi won the election. He was never a governor in the face of the law. The primary election that brought him to that office, he came third.”