In Akure, the capital of Ondo State, the dangerous game of power is on again and no one can predict the outcome. Governor Rotimi Akeredolu, 67, who will be completing his eight years in power next year, is ailing from a protracted illness. His deputy, Lucky Aiyedatiwa, is angling to save his job, which he had held for more than three years. The House of Assembly under the leadership of Olamide Oladiji, is in hot pursuit to deprive the deputy-governor of his job.
What is at stake is who will become the governor of Ondo State next year. So far, the state is on auto-pilot. The governor, back from a medical leave in Germany, is in Nigeria, but not in the Governor’s Office, Akure. Akeredolu is one of Nigeria’s leading lawyers, former President of the Nigerian Bar Association and he served as Attorney General of Ondo State during the military era.
He is proving that the governor’s power resides with him wherever he may be. Today, he lives in Ibadan, the only city in Nigeria that has two governors in-situ, a scenario that may be amusing to Oyo State Governor, Seyi Makinde.
Akeredolu is a long-distance runner. For many years, he had tried to become the governor of Ondo State, but twice he was checkmated by his predecessor, Governor Olusegun Mimiko, the Iroko of Ondo State politics. Then in 2016, he upstaged Iroko and his anointed successor, Eyitayo Jegede, also a red-cap chief of the legal profession and a reputable son-of the soil.
That election overturned all old calculations. Mimiko dismantled his old Labour Party and started what he called the Zenith Labour Party. The Tinubu-Buhari coalition had birthed the phenomenal All Progressives Congress (APC), which had uprooted the lumbering Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), from the centre.
Akeredolu secured the governorship ticket of the APC. Since he became the governor in 2016, he has shown that he is the new elected emperor. He has a firm grip on power and there is no doubt about his competence and executive capacity. He is supported by his obviously ambitious wife, Betty, a power-consort of the old school. Now Akeredolu’s illness is putting new dynamics into the race of power.
Despite his health challenge, his ambition is to coast home next year and hand over power to an anointed successor. His former deputy, Agboola Ajayi, once made the fatal assumption that he would be the anointed successor. That led to his harried exit from the power loop. Akeredolu was compelled by health challenges to write to the House of Assembly that he was proceeding on medical leave. That was how Aiyedatiwa became the Governor-presumptive. It is a delicate elevation that requires the balancing act of a well-schooled artist.
Aiyedatiwa is learning on the job, but as it is turning out, his knowledge and presumptions are not enough. Part of the problem may have been that many people actually started seeing Aiyedatiwa as the next Governor. He carries himself with quiet authority and majesty. He moves and talk with gubernatorial aplomb.
In August, I had attended the commendation service for Mrs Oluwakemi Arogbofa, wife of Bashorun Seinde Arogbofa, elder statesman and veteran chieftain of Afenifere, the mainstream Yoruba political and cultural movement. Aiyedatiwa was at the service where the congregation responded to him with enthusiasm. While this was taking place, the governor was battling with his illness in far-away Germany. Now he is back.
Aiyedatiwa’s regime as Acting-Governor must have recruited for him a lot of opposition. In most political calculations, the deputy governor is not regarded as a man of consequence. Therefore, during the initial calculations for 2024, few people were talking about the possibility of Aiyedatiwa becoming the governor. When the Akeredolu went on medical vacation, it became apparent that Lucky Aiyedatiwa, now the Acting Governor, is only one heart-beat away from the governorship. It is a possibility, which many of his colleagues in the top echelon of the party find difficult to contemplate.
I am not sure too that the governor has made up his mind about the post-Akeredolu era. It is apparent, however, that his relationship with his deputy may not be as chummy as it used to be. Since Governor Akeredolu set up shop in Ibadan, the deputy-governor has not been a frequent visitor to the temporary Ondo State Government House in the Oyo State capital.
The deputy-governor is not going to sit gently and wait for his immolation like a Buddhist monk on protest. He is ready to fight. He has gone to battle with his army of lawyers.
Of all elected governors of Ondo State, only one has ever held the precarious job of deputy governor before coming to office. Governor Olusegun Agagu, geologist and university teacher, was the Deputy-Governor to Evangelist Bamidele Olumilua.
They held office between 1992 and 1993 when General Sani Abacha seized power from the interim regime of Chief Ernest Shonekan. When politics resumed in 1999, Agagu tried to be Governor but was defeated by Chief Adebayo Adefarati of the Alliance for Democracy. He became a Minister under President Olusegun Obasanjo and then returned in 2003 to upstage Governor Adefarati, becoming the fourth elected governor of Ondo State.
Yet no deputy-governor has ever faced the kind of interesting scenario that is now attending Aiyedatiwa. He has to grapple with the uneven temper of a governor whose daily concern is his personal health and the herculean task of preserving his legacy.
There is no doubt that the House of Assembly is not working merely on its own script in trying to disrobe the deputy-governor. It is in bed with the governor or someone close to him. All these are happening at a time when the leadership of the APC in Abuja appeared to be standing aloof from a situation of possible combustion both for the party and the country.
Ondo State has an antecedent that should interest anyone who wants peace and stability in Nigeria. When I resumed in Akure as the Chief Correspondent of the National Concord in 1983, Ondo State was in the grip of anticipation because of the struggle for power between Governor Adekunle Ajasin of the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), and his erstwhile deputy, Chief Akin Omoboriowo of the National Party of Nigeria. Ajasin was then 75 while Omoboriowo was 51. Both had been elected to power in 1979 on the platform of Awolowo’s UPN.
Then Omoboriowo became ambitious. He did not agree that his principal should spend two terms in office. He was young, sprightly and handsome. In the beginning of their alliance, Ajasin gave his deputy a lot of power and Omoboriowo used that opportunity to put many of his loyalists in important positions. By the time Ajasin woke up to the reality of Omoboriowo’s ambition, it was almost too late.
The leaders of Ondo State were worried about the bad blood between Ajasin and his former deputy and they decided to do something about it. One of the first assignments I covered in Akure was a meeting of leaders held at the palace of the Deji of Akure, Oba Adesida. The meeting was called by leading obas in the state (including the present Ekiti State) Among those who attended was Major-General Adeyinka Adebayo, the second military Governor of the West, who was now a chieftain of the NPN.
Present at the meeting were also many other top leaders including Mr. Agunbiade, the Majority Leader in the House of Assembly and Dr. Falaye Aina, the new deputy-governor, who succeeded Omoboriowo. Adebayo warned the leaders present: “The drum of war is beating louder now than it was in 1966, especially in Ondo State.”
It was a timely warning, but many of the leaders present laughed it off as the evaporative rhetoric of an old soldier. Some of those who attended that meeting were to die in the carnage of August 16, 1983 when Akure and other towns exploded, following the declaration of Omoboriowo as the Governor-elect by the defunct Federal Electoral Commission (FEDECO).
Forty years after the 1983 riot, the leaders of Ondo State need to show more interest in what is happening within the government today. It is not entirely correct to say it is the problem of the politicians alone, and therefore, they should be left to solve it or bear the consequences. When heaven falls, it falls on both the innocent and the guilty. That was the lesson of August 16, 1983.
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