How Oyebanji Won Ekiti Guber Race
In this report, Raheem Akingbolu, who has been following the political trends in Ekiti for six months before the Saturday, June 18 election, writes on the factors that aided Biodun Abayomi Oyebanji’s victory
Since the early hours of Sunday, June 19, when the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Biodun Abayomi Oyebanji was pronounced winner of the June 18 governorship elections in Ekiti, the result has been attracting mixed reaction from criss section of the society. To many political observers, especially those who don’t reside in Ekiti or not in tune with the happenings on Ekiti political terrain, Oyebanji’s emergence was like a miracle because he was not constantly in the news like many traditional politicians.
But to home based politicians and observers, Oyebanji, popularly known as BAO, deserved his day in the sun. And the sun shone on him on Saturday, June 18.
Unknown to many people outside Ekiti, Oyebanji has been involved in political activities in the state since 1994 when he was appointed Secretary of the Committee for the creation of Ekiti State, a position that endeared him to many and enabled him to mingle well with the traditional institution and prominent leaders in the state.
In the build up to the 1999 election, Oyebanji joined the mow rested Alliance for Democracy (AD) and tied his apron to that of Otunba Adeniyi Adebayo, who later became the first executive governor of the state. He later became the Personal Assistant to Adebayo and subsequently served as Special Adviser and Chief of Staff. That was the beginning of his active participation in politics and elections in the state.
Though he didn’t contest for any elective post, the Ikogosi Ekiti born former Political Science lecturer, was not only actively involved, he was part of three administrations, including serving as commissioner and Secretary to State Government, until October 2021, when he threw his hat into the ring.
Among other attributes, the Ekiti governor-elect knew early enough that politics is majorly local and he played it locally by meeting his people periodically and addressing issues that affect them.
After winning the January 27 primary election, Oyebanji hit the ground running immediately by assembling a sizeable number of intellectuals, who also understood Ekiti politics and the challenges facing the state like the back of their hands and came out with a workable blueprint for his campaign. First, he identified the need to build his campaign on Governor Kayode Fayemi administration’s record of performance having been part of the first and second term administrations of Governor Fayemi. He also insisted on giving priority to campaigning around continuity of projects and regular payment of salaries and pensions, which was a major attraction to workers who could not trust the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Social Democratic Party (SDP).
In March, Oyebanji and his team, at a carnival-like event, which was later followed by a road show unveiled his manifesto titled; ‘Together with You’ where he itemized his six- point agenda which include, Youth Development & Job Creation, Human Capital Development, Agricultural & Rural Development, Infrastructural & Industrialization, Tourism & Culture and Governance.
Under governance, the APC candidate said he would design a sustainable programme to clear outstanding salary and pension obligations and ensure full compliance with the contributory pension scheme policy going forward. He also emphasized his determination to provide logistic and equipment support to existing security agencies.
However, while the campaign lasted, Oyebanji was perhaps the only candidate who insisted on running an issue based campaign without maligning, denigrating or attacking any of his challengers for six months. He met about 500 groups and associations in Ekiti, preaching the gospel of all round development via his manifesto, while others were throwing jabs on social media.
One major edge he had during the campaign was that the elderly and Ekiti youths identified with him because of his past record as a quiet philanthropist who reaches out to the youth. The elderly also believe that the monthly stipends for elderly citizens and Onje Arugbo which provided food items for indigent old people will continue under his administration.
Another game changer was the women campaign, which was unprecedented in Ekiti politics. This was led by the wife of the Governor, Erelu Bisi Fayemi and Oyebanji’s wife, Dr Olayemi Oyebanji and the deputy Governorship candidate, Mrs Monisade Afuye. They were later joined by APC National Women leader, Mrs Neta Udu. The women campaign activities went to the farmsteads and interlands and major and local markets to engage women for over six weeks while other people focused on party convention and primaries. None of the other parties had such initiatives.
Then the homeboy factor through which the promoters of the APC candidate played up the fact that Oyebanji had his primary, secondary and university education in Ekiti. He started work as a young lecturer at the state University before joining Politics. The locals identified with him for this because they knew his origin. The alumni association of the state University also launched a massive campaign for him in the hope to realise the emergence of an alumnus as governor of the state. To them, the 40 years old Ekiti State University was ripe enough to produce the governor of the state. Again, through this, they helped with roadshows as well as producing many campaign materials and mobilising members to achieve the dream.
However, the trend changed for the better with the emergence of the APC national leader, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu as presidential flag bearer of the party. At this stage, the supporters of the former Governor Segun Oni, who had been campaigning that SDP was Tinubu’s creation and ‘Plan B’ for the actualization of the presidential ambition of the former Lagos State governor became dumbfounded. Tinubu didn’t only come to Ekiti to campaign for Oyebanji, he, alongside 13 governors from different states, expressly stated that APC would go to the election as a unified party. The role played by Governor Fayemi at the mega rally and weeks before the election also helped to unite the various tendencies within the party and ended the speculation that the governor was not in support of Oyebanji’s aspiration.
In a way, Oyebanji’s record as Secretary to the Committee for the creation of Ekiti State creation, was also a connecting factor with Ekiti people. The Saturday, June 18th election thus turned out to be a payback time for the 54 years old Oyebanji who served the committee when he was barely 27 years old, working with the elders and Ekiti obas to agitate for the creation of what became Ekiti State in 1996. In towns and villages, Ekiti elders and obas indicated that they had confidence in Oyebanji’s ability.
As stated by an elder statesman and PDP stalwart, Chief Tom Ikimi, at a recent forum that PDP is in comatose in Ekiti and that the party wasn’t expecting anything better from the election because there wasn’t any strong plan and national campaign council, PDP was literally nonexistent during the preparation for the election. According to Ikimi, PDP failed not because it didn’t have followers again but simply because the man that was supposed to lead it has chosen to be its undertaker! Therefore, the hollowness of the SDP and PDP campaign made the journey an easy ride for the ruling party. The PDP and SDP campaigns were believed to have been built on empty electoral promises. SDP was banking on emotional blackmail and positioning itself to profit from internal wrangling within APC without addressing issues. Once the internal wrangling was resolved, it had nothing else to talk about.
Above all APC campaigned massively and strategically by going round the markets and farmsteads and structuring its campaigns along 14 directorates and 20 committees, headed by strong political leaders. With this background, all APC candidates in the 2023 elections took the election as a referendum on their ability.
In a way, the involvement of spouses of candidates in campaign mobilization also helped the party to appeal to female folks. BAO’S wife led a campaign to appeal for votes in her Ado Ekiti town and Aisegba, her maternal home. She is a princess in Ado and that earned her royal blessings and endorsement from the palace.
Chief Segun Oni was expected to make an impact but could never have won that election because of poor party structure. Political observers believe that SDP has no tap root in Ekiti. For three months, most of the people the party parade as leaders are without followers. They are people who have transverse different parties.
For PDP, its primaries created enough bad blood to practically make it impossible to win. Therefore the election was Oyebanji’s to lose. The crack in PDP was to his massive advantage while his own party was able to manage the post-primary election furore very well.
Oyebanji should get down to work when he assumes office. If he wants a second term, his work will be the deciding factor. And not any deep pockets or ruling party’s might! In his previous assignments, he has shown he has the capability. Now he has the opportunity to prove that at the biggest stage of his career so far. Oyebanji is believed to be a gentleman to the core and very level-headed. All these will play a role in the years ahead.