The political crisis in the South-West State of Ondo seems to have refused to go away. It appears that even the intervention of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who is the leader of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), has failed to douse the tension.
The months-long crisis is rooted in the strained relationship between the state governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, and his deputy, Hon. Lucky Aiyedatiwa, but also borders on constitutionality.
Governor Akeredolu, after three months of absence, returned to Nigeria in September from a medical leave in Germany, but instead of resuming at the Government House in Akure, he has since then been in Ibadan, Oyo State capital, from where he carries out his duties, leaving Ondo State like sheep without a shepherd, according to Benson Enikuomehin, a legal practitioner.
“We can’t hear him. He cannot talk to us either by telephone or by conversation. If the governor is not present, did we vote for him to be a spiritual father who will be issuing orders from Rome? Of course not. He should be in Akure, the Ondo State capital,” Enikuomehin said.
This is even as the deputy governor, Aiyedatiwa, has been under threats of impeachment by the state House of Assembly, while forces loyal to the deputy governor have been calling for Akeredolu’s resignation.
In a bid to resolve the impasse and restore political stability in Ondo State, President Tinubu on November 25, 2023 summoned all warring factions in the crisis, where he advised all opposing parties to bury the hatchet and embrace peace, eliciting commitments to this effect.
This followed marathon negotiations between the President and the deputy governor, representatives of Governor Akeredolu, federal and state lawmakers of Ondo, officials of the state’s chapter of the APC, and other stakeholders in the state at the State House, Abuja.
The Speaker of the Ondo State House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Oladiji Olamide, who read the details of the resolution, said, “Our resolution is that one, we shall embrace peace. Secondly, there would be no more dissolution of the cabinet, and the Deputy Governor would maintain the status quo as far as the House of Assembly leadership is concerned.
“We will maintain the status quo as far as the party leadership in the state is concerned and maintain the status quo as far as the leadership of the State House of Assembly is concerned. Thank you, Mr. President.”
On his part, Aiyedatiwa declared his decision to maintain the status quo and unite all the factions, pledging to put behind all that had happened.
“I’ve let go and also let God, just as the President has advised us. And I want to say that with no offence, no guile in my mind whatsoever. All that has happened is politics. Impeachment is part of politics. If you survive it, it is also politics. It has come. I’ve survived it, and every other thing is in the past,” the deputy governor said.
“It is one big family and our father has intervened to bring all the children together to remain under the same family and with the position that I occupy, I will carry every one of you along in every decision that needs to be taken and in everything that we do, we will work together; the executive and the legislature will work together to ensure that governance is on the right track,” he said.
He pleaded with all members of the State Executive Council to rally around the governor and himself to “bring the dividend of democracy” to the people of Ondo State.
“And I want to assure the party structure that we will work together because the party is supreme. We will always give you your due respect,” he said.
Analysts disagree over Tinubu’s ‘political solution’
Meanwhile, analysts are divided over the propriety or otherwise of President Tinubu’s intervention in the Ondo crisis.
Speaking last week on Arise Television’s The Morning Show, which was monitored by The Nigerian Observer, an APC stalwart, Dele Fulani, commended President Bola Tinubu for intervening in the political crisis rocking the state.
Fulani also admonished all warring political leaders to embrace the resolution brokered by Mr President in order for peace to return to the state so that focus can return to governance. He said it is not every time that constitutionality comes to play and that sometimes political solution is key to achieving political stability.
But a legal practitioner and human rights activist, Adedayo Samuel Adesheila, disagreed, saying what the current situation in Ondo State needed was a constitutional rather than political solution.
“This situation is entirely laughable when you hear that a political solution is being brokered by Mr. President or anyone else over the current political imbroglio in Ondo State. This is a democratic state, we have a Constitution governing us and the Constitution is not silent on the present issue, so on what basis is the political solution being talked about?” said Adesheila, who is an indigene of Ondo State.
He said the provisions of Section 1(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) made the Constitution supreme and its provisions have binding force on all authorities and persons throughout the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“The present imbroglio in Ondo State is what the Constitution envisaged can happen during the course of governance, hence the provisions of Section 189 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended); no one should talk about political solution, rather the stipulated procedure should be followed in determining the capacity of the Ondo State Governor Oluwarotimi Odunayo Akeredolu SAN; the applicable section should be activated.
“Firstly, the Ondo State Executive Council should converge and try to see if they can pass a resolution supported by a two-thirds majority of all members declaring that the Governor is incapable of discharging the functions of his office; again where the declaration is verified, after medical examination as it may be necessary, by a medical panel established under subsection 4 of the section and the report submitted to the Speaker of the House. The medical report is expected to make a finding and where its findings are that the Governor is suffering from such infirmity of body or mind as may render the Governor permanently incapable of discharging the functions of his office, a notice stating such would be signed by the Speaker of the House and the same shall be published in the Official Gazette of the Government of Ondo State. On this note, the Governor shall cease to hold office,” he said.
The legal practitioner said the wording of the Constitution is clear and unambiguous and that the situation in Ondo does not warrant a political solution.
“This is strictly a constitutional matter and it should remain so. The provision of Section 1(2) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) is also of help in this regard. The said section provides for the manner this country should be governed and that no person or group of persons shall take control of the Government of Nigeria or any part thereof, except in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution. In Section 189 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), the manner to go about the imbroglio in Ondo State is clearly spelt out. Political solution is a strange language and does not have its roots in our Constitution, hence constitutionality and nothing more should be strictly adhered to,” he said.
A gale of rejections
Some leaders of the APC in Ondo State rejected Tinubu’s “political solution”, insisting that the deputy governor, Lucky Aiyedatiwa, should be empowered as acting governor.
The APC chieftains, under the aegis of Ondo APC Progressives Stakeholders, insisted that Aiyedatiwa should take over as Acting Governor in accordance with constitutional provisions towards resolving the political imbroglio in the state.
The Ondo APC stakeholders, after their meeting in Akure, expressed concerns over the continued absence of Governor Akeredolu, stating that it has adversely affected the governance and economy of the state.
In a statement issued after the meeting and signed by the Chairman, Hon. Afe Olowookere, a former member of the House of Representatives, and Secretary, Hon. Raman Rotimi, a former APC Secretary in the state, the group stressed the urgent need for the House of Assembly to empower Aiyedatiwa to assume the responsibilities of the acting governor.
The group also wants APC members to be allowed to participate and determine those to be appointed or elected into political and party offices, and elders and leaders of the party to be recognised and given their pride of place in the party, rather than being neglected and ostracised by the party.
“The system of writing the names of party executives and candidates without due process will be objected to and resisted with all political and legal means possible,” the group said.
Also, human rights activist and convener of #RevolutionNow, Omoyele Sowore, rejected the intervention of President Tinubu, saying it failed to provide concrete solutions.
Sowore, in a post via his X account on Sunday morning, described Tinubu’s intervention as unacceptable and said it was high time the state governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, resigned.
“Let’s remind @officialABAT that his so-called intervention in Ondo State to prop up an obviously incapacitated Governor @RotimiAkeredolu is unacceptable, and hereby loudly rejected! Akeredolu must resume or RESIGN!” Sowore said.
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Kayode Ajulo, also faulted Tinubu’s intervention, reckoning that the President did not carry along the Attorney General of the Federation.
“I say this with the fact that President Bola Tinubu today happens to have one of the best lawyers as the Attorney General, as a chief law officer that should advise him. This is someone I have high regard for. I am very sure and I want to believe he is not being carried along to advise him properly,” Ajulo said on Monday while speaking on Arise Television.
“The President has made a mistake. The President should have allowed the constitutional provisions to take its course. Ondo State people are sophisticated. The right thing needs to be done,” he said.
Furore over alleged forgery of Akeredolu’s signature
Ajulo also claimed that the signature of the ailing governor was being forged by some officials.
“I have it on good authority as a lawyer. Some of the commissioners, about five of them, sent memos to the governor, and they all returned with approval,” Ajulo said.
“Going through the approval compared to what the governor had approved when he was hale and hearty, there are notable disparities in them.
“The Police and Administration of Justice Acts has made it clear that there can be private investigators into the issue as such, and they have been contacted, but their results after the investigation are so damning.
“The purported signature is not from the governor. It is so apparent,” he said.
But in a swift reaction, the Ondo State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr Charles Titiloye, described the allegation as baseless and mischievous.
“It is very sad when lawyers are saying these kinds of things because as a lawyer, you should know the implications of spreading misinformation. You must have your facts with you before you spread such information. The only person who can claim the signature is forged is Mr Governor; nobody can say that on his behalf,” Titiloye told the PUNCH.
“I think these rumours are politically motivated and a lawyer should not be part of this scenario, because a signature is personal, and nobody can speak for Mr. Governor. All these are aimed at causing political commotion in the state.
“Nobody is a computer; it is only a computer that will write and everything will be the same. There are a lot of variations when we append our own signature even on the spot, that’s why recognition of signature can only be asserted by the owner of the signature. Mr Governor has not alleged that his signature has been forged.
“Mr Governor has two types of signatures. These people are not acquainted with the signature of Mr Governor. He has the short signature for a quick memo and he has the longer one that is official. There is no way that signature can be forged, and the memo that goes to Mr Governor to sign cannot be taken to somewhere else to sign.
“These are baseless allegations. Unless if they say those documents are not taken to Mr Governor, they should come out straight so that we can know where they are coming from,” he said.
The state Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Mrs Bamidele Ademola-Olateju, also denied the allegation, insisting that the governor’s signature was not forged.
“Nobody forges the signature of Mr Governor. As of today, we have to work for the progress of the state. Those mischief-makers should desist from doing so,” Ademola-Olateju said.
But a lawyer, Mr Allen Sowore, called on the Ondo State Executive Council to investigate the allegation of forgery of the governor’s signature.
In a statement on Monday, Sowore stressed the need for the state EXCO to investigate the allegation and bring the perpetrators to book.
“I strongly urge the State Executive Council to establish a technical panel promptly, initiating a comprehensive investigation into this disconcerting situation. This step is crucial in uncovering the circumstances behind the existence of multiple signatures purportedly belonging to the governor on sensitive government documents,” Sowore said.
“Furthermore, it is imperative for all accounting officers, heads of agencies, and establishments in the state particularly, the Accountant-General to exercise greater diligence and caution in the discharge of their official duties.
“Emphasis must be placed on the fact that public office holders in Ondo State exploiting the governor’s temporary absence for personal enrichment will inevitably be held accountable for their actions and stewardship,” he said.
Not yet uhuru
Meanwhile, a socio-political group in Ondo State has alleged that some notable politicians in the state were bent on frustrating the peaceful truce brokered by President Tinubu, between governor Rotimi Akeredolu and his deputy, Hon Lucky Aiyedatiwa.
The group, Ondo State Redemption Initiative (OSRI), alleged that some supporters of the deputy governor “have declared a total resistance to the peaceful solution proffered by the President”.
The group in a statement said supporters of the deputy governor were allegedly procuring the service of some prominent lawyers to push for the enforcement of Doctrine of Necessity to declare Akeredolu incapacitated and so declare his deputy as the Acting Governor.
“We are very aware that it was true that Aiyedatiwa was asked to sign an undated letter of resignation in the Abuja resolution in the presence of the President,” the group said.
“But to our surprise, the deputy governor attended and chaired the state Executive Council meeting on Thursday and told the cabinet a different story.
“We want to once again restate that peace must reign in Ondo State. We repeat, it is time for peace to reign.
“We want to urge the deputy governor to respect the terms of the peace brokered by the presidency,” it said.
The group also alleged that some of Aiyedatiwa’s supporters were still making efforts to polarise the state House of Assembly for his political gain.