The 2014 humiliating loss in Ekiti to the Peoples Democratic Party was the jolt the All Progressive Congress, which held sway in all the states in the South-west except Ondo, needed to snap awake from its complacency.
Three months after the election was another in neighbouring Osun State. For a new party hoping to wrest power at the centre from the behemoth that the PDP was, two electoral defeats in three months in a region where it enjoyed its strongest support would have been irreparable. Whatever zeal its supporters had that time would have gone under like a torpedoed warship.
While other members of the APC might have looked at the newly-formed party with some uncertainty at the time, a former governor of Lagos State, and by far the most influential South West politician, Bola Tinubu, was not fazed.
He swung into action, rallying all top APC members, especially to turn their attention to Osun. Apart from the fact that one of his loyal proteges, Rauf Aregbesola, was running for re-election, the fate of APC, a party which he had been instrumental in its creation was on the line. Mr. Tinubu had so much at stake. Had the APC lost in Osun, he knew his days as a politician of note in the country would have been numbered.
His call was what other members of the party needed to get their act together and stand up to the PDP deluge which had washed the APC government away from Ekiti.
On August 5, 2014, every member of the APC worthy of note gathered in Oshogbo the state capital for what till date is perhaps the largest campaign rally held for a governorship election in the country.
Among those present were Mr Tinubu, the party’s national chairman, John Odigie-Oyegun, former interim national chairman, Bisi Akande, a former governor of the state and former senator, Isiaka Adeleke, former governor of Kwara State (now senate president), Bukola Saraki, a former PDP acting national chairman, Abubakar Baraje, and three former governors of Ekiti State, Niyi Adebayo, Segun Oni and Kayode Fayemi.
Governors present at the mega rally, as the event was tagged, were Adams Oshiomhole, (Edo State), Abiola Ajimobi (Oyo), Ibikunle Amosun (Ogun), Rochas Okorocha (Imo), Abdulfatah Ahmed (Kwara), Adejoke Oorelope-Adefulire (Deputy governor, Lagos State).
The rally had thousands of people in attendance. The crowd at the event was so large that the PDP, which had a somewhat unsuccessful rally four days earlier, dismissed the crowd as “rented.
It was not just about the crowd, the party also scored some symbolic victory during the rally. A former governor of the state and a prominent member of the PDP, Olagunsoye Oyinlola, seized the occasion to announce his defection to the APC.
Even Mr. Odigie-Oyegun was not expecting the huge turnout of supporters he saw on the day.
“In Osun, I have seen love and passion for Aregbesola. In Osun, I have seen what it means for a governor to be popular,” he said pumped up by the energy in the crowd.
“For those who have ears, let them hear and not tamper with a single vote in Osun. From now on, the battle line is drawn. The APC would not recognise any government with stolen mandate, it must not happen again,” he said filled with renewed confidence.
Like many predicted after the rally, Mr. Aregbesola won a convincing victory over his closest challenger, Iyiola Omisore of the PDP. The incumbent polled 394,684 votes, winning the highest number of votes in 22 of the 30 local government areas of the state.
With the victory of the APC in Osun, the party, which three months earlier was facing an uncertain future, turned its fate around and continued to soar after. The victory in Osun was the beginning of the end of the PDP. Six months later, the APC in the biggest political upset in the history of the country, defeated the PDP in the Presidential election.
After getting to power, the APC had wasted much of the goodwill it acquired after that remarkable victories in Osun and during the 2015 general elections. The country slid into its worst economic recession in over 30 years. Insecurity is at all-time high across the country. Even the Boko Haram insurgency which it often takes credit for surmounting is making a return like an hydra-headed monster.
So the APC went into Saturday’s bye-election in Osun West Senatorial district with much of its support atrophied. But just like the 2014 election, the bye-election is significant to the party’s future. During the party’s grand rally for the election, Mr Odigie-Oyegun reiterated the importance of the election.
He pointed out that since the party’s 2014 governorship election victory in the state, the APC has not lost a major election in the country. Reminiscing on the 2014 victory, he said the state was a major ground from which the party launched itself to national prominence.
Mr. Odigie-Oyegun, who is clearly aware of the dwindling support nationwide, again blamed the PDP for the country’s economic woes, like the party is wont of doing. He promised that the APC is doing everything to solve the problem.
Clearly, his message did not resonate well with the voters as the party’s candidate, Mudashiru Hussein, suffered a humiliating loss to the PDP’s Ademola Adeleke.
Whether the defeat of the APC will mark the party’s decline at the national level just like its remarkable victory in 2014 announced its rise to prominence is left to be seen.
However, despite its public show of confidence prior to Saturday’s election, it was clear all was not well with it. The senator-elect, Mr. Adeleke defected from the APC to the PDP to contest the election after his brother, Isiaka, who was the elected Senator of the district died under controversial circumstances. Some supporters of the late Mr. Adeleke accused the state government of complicity in his death, a claim faulted by an autopsy report.
In his reaction to his victory, Mr. Adeleke promised to help PDP defeat the APC in next year’s governorship election in Osun. Also, in their reaction, the PDP House of Representatives caucus claimed the APC’s loss was a sign it would lose the 2019 general election.
However, observers believe that while some voters who voted for Mr. Adeleke might have done so in protest against the hardship in the country, and against Mr. Aregbesola who has had seemingly unending run-in with civil servants and pensioners due to backlog of unpaid salaries, others may have just voted in sympathy with the younger Mr. Adeleke to succeed his late brother.