Akeredolu’s Ill-health and the Scramble for Power in Ondo by Kazeem Akintunde

Lucky Aiyedatiwa, the Deputy Governor of Ondo State, and until a few days ago, the acting Governor of the state may need to pay a visit to former Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Raji Fashola’s school of politics to learn what it means to be loyal.

When eventually he takes the trip to Lagos State for that purpose, he should also spend some time with the former Deputy Governor of the state, Koroworola Bucknor-Akerele, to learn firsthand, why she was forced out of her seat by a ruthless boss.

After those two lessons in Politics 101, I doubt if he would have taken some of the steps he took when his principal was away in Germany, battling to stay alive.

Again, I doubt if Aiyedatiwa has read the book ‘48 Laws of Power’, because if he has, he would have been more circumspect in his handling of state affairs when his boss was out of the country on sick leave.

In the book, proclaimed as beguiling and fascinating, Robert Greene and Joost Elffers distilled three thousand years of the history of power into 48 essential laws by drawing from the philosophies of Machiavelli, Sun Tzu, and Carl Von Clausewitz, and also from the lives of figures ranging from Henry Kissinger to P. T. Barnum.

Some of the laws teach the need for prudence (Law 1: Never outshine the master), others teach the value of confidence (Law 28: Enter Action with Boldness), and many recommend absolute self-preservation (Law 15: Crush your enemy totally).

His lack of understanding of the rudiments of power may be his undoing as he has been shut out of governance now that his boss is back. Some hawks close to Akeredolu are even calling on the recuperating Governor to approve the impeachment of his deputy for being disloyal. This was not the story in 2020 however, when their political romance started.

In the first term of his tenure, Akeredolu worked with Agboola Ajayi as his Deputy. Ajayi also escaped being impeached by the skin of his teeth as the duo fell out due to political differences. An impeachment plan orchestrated by the executive almost cost him his job except for nine members of the Ondo State House of Assembly, who felt that Ajayi should not be impeached. He stayed put in office as Deputy to Akeredolu, but resigned from the All Progressive Congress (APC), to join the Zenith Labour Party through which he contested against his boss in 2020.

Although he lost the election, Ajayi remains grateful to Akeredolu for allowing him to complete his tenure of office.

 Aiyedatiwa, who was selected by Akeredolu as his Deputy for his second tenure as Governor, did all within his power to worm his way into the heart of the first family.

He styled his hair the same way as his boss and was almost becoming the lickspittle for the first family. But he ran into trouble when his boss came down with cancer and power was transferred to him by the Ondo House of Assembly following Akeredolu’s request for vacation to take care of his health.

Even before the latest journey to Germany, Akeredolu never joked about his yearly vacation, and on each occasion, he would transfer power to his Deputy without any prompting.

They were very close as Akeredolu believed that Lucky would never betray him. However, as his ailment progressed, there was the need for another round of treatment outside the shores of Nigeria that would take a far longer period than the normal 30-day annual vacation.

Akeredolu wrote to the Assembly, and power was transferred to Aiyedatiwa. But rather than remaining a loyal Deputy, Aiyedatiwa felt that he could step into the big shoes of his boss and started nursing the ambition of taking over from him.

In politics, while nothing is wrong with nursing ambition, it is an open secret that such an ambition must be done with the consent and support of your boss.

That is the context within which we play politics in Nigeria, and that was where Aiyedatiwa ran foul. Immediately after becoming acting Governor, Aiyedatiwa felt that he was not getting the needed funds to run the office and invited the Chief of Staff to the Governor to inquire about his boss’s security votes.

In his wisdom, being the man in charge now, the security votes allocated to the office of the Governor should be made available to him to effectively run the state. Of course, he was ignored, heralding the Era of unease and tension in the state.

Then came his tiff with the Commissioner for Finance, Wale Akinterinwa. Aiyedatiwa felt that the Commissioner was not releasing money for the running of the government and that rather than taking instructions from him, was still loyal to Akeredolu.

The relationship between the duos became so awry that Aiyedatiwa toyed with the idea of sacking Akinterinwa from the cabinet.

He was, however, forced to shelve the idea as it may jeopardize the peace in the state. Both Aiyedatiwa and Akinterinwa are from Ondo-South senatorial district, the zone that is set to produce the next Governor in the state. Interestingly, both parties are interested in taking over from Akeredolu.

With the cabinet divided between those loyal to Aiyedatiwa, and many who are still fiercely loyal to Akeredolu, nothing much was achieved during the almost four months that Akeredolu spent in Germany looking after his health.

Aiyedatiwa also committed a political blunder when he attended a meeting of the Governors’ Forum in Abuja to stand in for his boss only for other Governors to ask after his boss. He complained that he was not getting the expected cooperation from his Commissioners as he did not have the funds to work with. Even before the meeting came to a close, his boss was aware of the slip and it worked against him.

Now that Akeredolu is back in the country and running Ondo State from Ibadan – an indication that all is still not well with him – one of the first actions he took was to sack the entire media team of his Deputy, comprising of his Press Secretary, Kenneth Odusola; Special Assistant (New Media), Okunniga Oladipupo; and Special Assistant (Photography), Abayomi Samson Adefolalu.

In other words, the three media men became the first set of casualties in the crisis between the Governor and his deputy. The trio became pawns in the power play, as it was gathered that they were accused of insubordination and flagrant disregard to the appropriate authority.

In one instance, the Deputy Governor’s photographer was alleged to have openly abused the Governor on his WhatsApp status and the screenshot was sent to the Governor’s people, which was later shared with Akeredolu on his return.

Aside from that, the Deputy Governor’s Press Secretary, Odusola, was investigated and found to have engaged in planting some negative stories against the Governor. The rumoured death of Akeredolu had been announced on five different occasions and this was one of the reasons why the trio had to go.

However, the hawks with Akeredolu are still not satisfied with the sack of just the trio and are baying for the blood of their principal, Aiyedatiwa. There has been calls on the Deputy Governor to either resign or be impeached by the Ondo State House of Assembly.

However, Aiyedatiwa has insisted that he is loyal to his principal, and that he is ready to serve out the remaining period of their tenure of office. The Governor is however said not to be interested in either of the options and has chosen to isolate the Deputy from governance.

What has fueled the rift in Ondo is the October 2024 Governorship election in the state. With just a year before the poll, the APC is set to conduct its primaries early next year and that seems to be the top priority for Governor Akeredolu aside his health issue.

He is determined to ensure that a competent hand among the hordes of those scheming for office is elected the flagbearer of the party and one that would continue his legacies. Already, there are over 10 candidates who have come out to declare their intention to run and have started campaigning for the office.

What seems clear is that many of the gladiators recognize the fact that it is the turn of Ondo-South senatorial zone to produce the next Governor. While Ondo-North ruled the state through Adekunle Ajasin from 1979 to 1983, Adebayo Adefarati who took over from him was also from Ondo-North senatorial zone and he was in power between 1999 and 2003.

The same Ondo-North produced Akeredolu between 2016 till date, while Ondo-Central ruled through Olusegun Mimiko from 2009 to 2016. Although Ondo-South was also at the helm of power between 2003 and 2009 through Olusegun Agagu, the fact that he could not complete his tenure before death came calling has shifted the pendulum in favour of the zone, and that is where many of the candidates are from.

Among those that have signified their intention to contest include Aiyedatiwa; Wale Akinterinwa, the current Commissioner for Finance; the Secretary to the State Government, Princess Catherine Oladuni Odu, and Mr. Olugbenga Edama, a member of the just dissolved Governing Board of the Niger-Delta Development Commission (NDDC), and Chief Olushola Oke, a renowned SAN and politician in the state.

Others are Dr. Soji Ehinlanwo; Isaac Kekemeke; National Vice Chairman of the APC, Senator Jimoh Ibraheem; Dr. Paul Akintelure, and Engr. Ife Oyedele amongst others.

While politicians are busy plotting their next moves, indigenes of the state are left holding the short end of the stick as governance has almost ground to a halt in the state due to the ill-health of their Governor.

There have been subtle calls on Akeredolu to resign on health grounds when he returned to the country a few days ago, only to head to his private residence in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, from where he wrote a letter to inform the State House of Assembly that he is back in the country. Is it proper for Akeredolu to rule Ondo State from Ibadan?

Already, a group in the APC known as Ondo Solidarity Forum, has described as “a show of shame”, the relocation of governance from Akure, the Ondo State capital, to Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, to enable Governor Akeredolu to resume office.

The group, in a statement issued by its acting chairman, Femi Ogunleye, and Publicity Secretary, Kayode Fasua, described the mass movement of members of the executive and legislative arms of government from Akure to Ibadan “to make Akeredolu resume office”, as a mockery of democracy and a master plan by the cabal in the state.  

“While we wish Governor Akeredolu well and pray for his quick recovery, our people in Ondo State are not dunces to know that the function of the legs is to walk and not that of the head.

Yes, the recuperating Governor is back in Nigeria and has settled in at his Ibadan, Oyo State residence to take a deserved rest.

Why, therefore, the hurry to make Governor Akeredolu resume office when he is not yet fit? It is indeed a show of shame for the cabinet members and other aides in the executive arm and the entire members of the House of Assembly to be loaded in a coaster bus like Boy Scouts, to form a long convoy of vehicles from Akure to Ibadan, to go and proclaim that Akeredolu, who is still on vacation, has resumed as Governor.

We are all human beings and are susceptible to one ailment or the other, so we particularly feel for Governor Akeredolu and pray for his full recovery. However, if the Governor was truly fit enough to resume office, he would have stormed Akure and be ushered to a tumultuous welcome or show up at the Governor’s Office in Alagbaka to continue his duties.”

For now, the ding-dong continues as Akeredolu is holed up in Ibadan, while Aiyedatiwa licks his wounds, hoping and praying for a ‘miracle’.

See you next week.

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