SMOKE billowed from the bonfires made by protesters across the major towns in Ondo state to express their displeasure over the substitution of the governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Mr Eyitayi Jegede, SAN, last week Friday.
The riot that erupted was spontaneous and happened immediately the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, made a u-turn following a court order directing it to do “elimination by substitution” of the governorship candidate of the PDP in the state.
Palpable tension had enveloped the state for about three days before the final sledge hammer was wielded.
Both the Ali Modu Sheriff and Senator Ahmed Makarfi factions in the state boasted that the Court of Appeal verdict would be in their favour.
But when INEC finally spoke, the Makarfi faction was thrown off balance. The hitherto bubbling Eyitayo Jegede Campaign Organisation was thrown into disarray as confusion and uncertainty reigned.
Jegede, who had toured many of the 18 council areas to seek for votes ahead of the November 26 governorship election had to apply the brakes abruptly.
The crisis in the state PDP less than a month to the governorship election is an indication that the situation in the ruling party remains turbulent.
Revabration of the legal tussle over the national leadership of the party has filtered into the state creating confusion and uncertainty over who becomes the candidate of the party in the coming election.
Few weeks back the INEC had published Eyitayo Jegede’s name as the party’s candidate for the election but the Sheriff faction ran to the Federal High Court and obtained an order from Justice Okon Abang asking the electoral body to substitute Jegede for Jimoh Ibrahim.
This came despite the pendency of appeals against the decision of Justice Abang and other counter orders from the State High Court restraining INEC from substituting the name of Jegede but INEC on October 27 listed the name of Ibrahim as the candidate of the party.
The Resident Electoral Commissioner, Olusegun Agbaje explained that the decision would stand until there is a decision from higher court in the land.
Agbaje said: “We received a court order from the High Court in Akure but there was a subsisting ruling by Justice Abang and we have to comply with the order”.
Agbaje however said that another court order can upturn the situation and said “the situation will continue that way until the matter is decided by the Supreme Court if the parties choose to proceed to the apex court.
“We do not have any candidate but we will always abide by the laws guiding the process.”
Since the order had been obeyed, the state had been witnessing series of protests from PDP members across the 18 council areas.
Violent protests had taken place in Akure, the State capital and others towns in the state with protesters rejecting the choice of Ibrahim as the candidate and they have vowed to make the election impossible if Jegede who emerged through the primary held in Akure on August 22 is not returned.
The riot that erupted that Friday paralyzed both economic and social activities across the state as protesters stormed the streets chanting war songs.
The protesters who took to the streets and major roads in Akure, as early as 6:30am barricaded all the roads leading into the state capital.
Workers and students were turned back while commercial vehicle owners disappeared from the street.
They called on INEC to reverse its decision by removing Ibrahim’s name declaring that Jimoh is not a member of PDP in the state but of the Accord Party.
The protesters made bonfires on all the major roads in the state and defied all attempts by the security agents to disperse them.
Commercial banks and shops hurriedly closed their doors over the protest, as many of the traders believed the protest might be hijacked by hoodlums.
Their spokesman Akinwunmi Ilori, accused the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) Federal Government of working with the electoral body and the court to shut out Jegede to pave the way for Akeredolu’s candidate in the election.
Ilori said: “the APC is using Jimoh Ibrahim to cause crisis within the PDP. It is an open secret in Ondo State that Jimoh is no longer a member of the party. They are only using him to clear the ground for their candidate and this will not work.
“This is Ondo State and its a very volatile state when it comes to politics. we want them to remember the 1983 saga, we don’t pray for such but if our rights and the mandate of our candidate is trampled upon, this election might be another war.”
He, however, said with the turn out of people of the state protesting against the emergence of Jimoh Ibrahim signified that he was not a popular candidate in the state.
Similar protests were recorded in Ondo town, Ore in Odigbo local government area, Ilara, Idanre, Owo, Okitipupa and in Ilaje local government area, Isua Akoko, Ikare Akoko, Ipele and many other towns and villages in the state.
Some of the protesters also stormed INEC office and were addressed by the REC, Olusegun Agbaje, who explained the reason behind the removal of Jegede as the PDP candidate.