The tussle over the rightful candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for the November 20 governorship election in Ondo State assumed a new dimension at the weekend, when the candidate of the Senator Ali Modu Sheriff-led faction of the party, Mr. Jimoh Ibrahim, alleged that an official of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) demanded a bribe of $1 million from him.
Ibrahim, who recently got a court order declaring him the PDP candidate, said that an INEC official had asked him for $1 million in order to list his name as a candidate ahead of the poll.
But, in its response, the Chief Press Secretary (CPS) to the INEC chairman, Mr. Rotimi Oyekanmi, described the allegation as uncharitable and ungodly.
The INEC chairman’s spokesman explained that the two members of staff of INEC who witnessed the encounter between Ibrahim and the said INEC official confirmed that the politician had tried to impress it upon her to collect the court judgment.
Ibrahim and Hon. Eyitayo Jegede had emerged as separate candidates of the two factions of the PDP in Ondo State. But a Federal High Court in Abuja on Friday, presided over by Justice Okon Abang, ordered INEC to recognise Ibrahim as the candidate of the PDP.
Addressing a press conference yesterday in Abuja, Ibrahim alleged that the acting Legal Adviser of INEC, Mrs. O.O. Babalola, demanded the $1 million bribe from him to effect the judgment of the court which certified him as the candidate of the PDP.
Ibrahim, who said he had reported the incident to the Chairman of INEC, Prof. Mahmud Yakubu, also made available a petition he had written to President Muhammadu Buhari on the allegation.
Ibrahim’s petition dated October 21, 2016 and addressed to the president stated in part: “This petition is written to inform Your Excellency of the demand by one Mrs. O.O. Babalola of INEC for the payment of one million US dollars before she would obey a court judgment marked exhibit A attached.”
Ibrahim insisted that he remains the authentic candidate of the party in the upcoming election, adding that INEC was not an Appeal Court and therefore could not determine who the PDP candidate in the election should be.
He expressed concern that INEC, which had said it would obey the court judgment immediately it was served, suddenly started to change its earlier stance.
“After the service, the music changed. INEC should not allow one governor to destroy its reputation. We are not saying that INEC will not obey the court judgment. One of the officials demanded for one million dollar bribe from me to process the court judgment,” he alleged.
Apart from the bribery allegation, the PDP chieftain also curiously demanded the removal of the Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) in Ondo State, accusing him of being a card-carrying member of the PDP.
Jimoh said he could not be trusted to conduct a free and fair election in the state.
However, INEC has reacted to Ibrahim’s allegation, describing it as “utterly false and ungodly”.
Oyekanmi, who spoke to journalists yesterday, said that it was not true that Mrs. Babalola demanded $1 million from Ibrahim.
“It is not true that Mrs. Babalola demanded $1 million from Jimoh Ibrahim. Two other officials of INEC witnessed the encounter between Mrs. Babalola and Jimoh Ibrahim.
“Jimoh Ibrahim brought a copy of his judgment and wanted to impose it on INEC to accept it. But we told him that we already have it.
“It is uncharitable and ungodly for a businessman of his stature to make this kind of allegation,” he said.
As if PDP’s problems in the state were not enough, THISDAY also learnt yesterday that mass defections may soon hit the party in Ese-Odo Local Government Area, which is the Ijaw-speaking area of the state, following the rejection by political leaders from the area of the choice of the deputy governorship candidate of the PDP.
The PDP had submitted the name of the former Commissioner for Information in the state, Mr. John Mafo, as Jegede’s running mate.
However, the threat of mass defection from the PDP to the All Progressives Congress (APC) was contained in a statement signed by a PDP leader from Ese-Odo, Hon. Sunday Tundigha, on behalf of aggrieved Ese-Odo PDP Leaders’ Forum.
The statement faulted the emergence of Mafo, saying it “defied all known logic and political justice”.
Ese-Odo Local Government Area is a PDP stronghold and accounted for over 60 per cent of votes the party garnered in the 2015 general election.
“Our local government is the only Ijaw-speaking local government area and delivered thousands of votes for the PDP in the last presidential and National Assembly elections with over 90 per cent of the votes cast in the local government area.
“We were, however, surprised that the leadership of the party decided to turn logic on its head by giving the deputy governorship slot to a local government without any voting value for the PDP.
“This is more so that Alliance for Democracy’s Olusola Oke is from the same local government area. This defies logic and every known political justice.
“We are therefore giving Governor Olusegun Mimiko and the leadership of the PDP 48 hours from now, to withdraw Mafo and replace him with an indigene of Ese-Odo. Anything short of this will result in mass defection from the party.
“It is sad that an individual from Ese-Odo could sell out this golden opportunity for our people just because of his future political ambitions. We will resist this selfish and short-sighted political calculation,” he said.
According to Tundigha, the aggrieved leaders of the PDP had resolved to work for the success of the APC candidate, Chief Rotimi Akeredolu.
“Between now and the expiration of the ultimatum, we have put all our supporters on notice to mobilise for Chief Rotimi Akeredolu of the APC. This is because his running mate, Hon. Agboola Ajayi, the ambassadorial nominee, Mr. Sola Iji, as well as the Senior Technical Adviser to the Minister of State for Agriculture, Mr. Donald Ojogo, are distinguished sons of our local government,” he added.
One of the deputy governorship hopefuls from Ese-Odo, prior to Mafo’s emergence, Chief Pere Ganfo, had also warned that the PDP might face dire electoral consequences over the decision it took against the Ijaw-speaking area of the state.
“Honestly, since the announcement of Mafo, I have received several complaints from our people who feel short changed, used and dumped. They are unhappy because the party did not deem it needful to consider our current electoral value to the PDP.
“It means we are not needed in the party. But as a party man, I have been trying to assuage their feelings, trying to calm them but I doubt if I will continue to have such capacity to do that, and you know what that means,” Ganfo said.
Meanwhile, Ojogo and Senator Heineken Lokpobiri have urged all Ijaws in the state to vote massively for the APC in the coming election.
“The people of Ondo State are well informed and conscious of the fact that the present administration in the state under Dr. Olusegun Mimiko had impoverished the state long before now.
“The deceit and self-serving style of the governor and his cohorts must be brought to an end and only a massive turnout for Akeredolu can rescue the state from further impoverishment, hunger and directionless leadership.
“I believe all Ijaws in the state will key into this agenda that is aimed at connecting the state to the centre,” he said.