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Thursday, 07 December 2023 15:13

[OPINION] Ondo Back Story Imitates Insanity - Azu Ishiekwene

Ondo is one of Nigeria’s most enlightened states. It is, perhaps, side-by-side with Oyo, one of the most significant political bellwethers of the South-West. Apart from Olusegun Agagu’s four-year spell as governor, that state has maintained its progressive credentials in the last 24 years. But that illustrious tradition has fallen on bad times.

And you know this when the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which has governed the state for only four of the last 24 years, begins to suggest to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) how to manage what is obviously a delicate intra-party power transition. With nothing left to do in the wilderness, PDP is pleased to hold the beer while APC turns on itself.

It’s not the opposition’s fault, though. The tenure of Governor Rotimi Akeredolu will not expire till 2024, but his illness, especially in the last six months, during which he has been virtually absent from the state, has created an opening for forces within and without.

There are suggestions that Akeredolu who has reportedly been in Oyo State since he returned from a medical trip abroad in September, is terminally ill. No one is sure. The suggestions, worsened by his physical absence from the state, has fueled a proxy war between his loyalists and those of the Deputy Governor Lucky Aiyedatiwa. There are already comparisons to similar dark episodes in the country’s not-too-distant past.

Deja vu

Umaru Yar’Adua’s presidency, for example, was a troubled one. Whether or not Yar’Adua had properly transmitted power before he went abroad for medical treatment, as is required by law, and whether he had the presence of mind to continue discharging his duties as his condition deteriorated, remained a matter of feverish speculation traded on by vested interests.

The National Assembly had to improvise the “Doctrine of Necessity,” to remove him, paving the way for his deputy, Goodluck Jonathan, to become acting president.

Two years after the death of Yar’Adua, Governor Danbaba Suntai of Taraba State, who, like Yar’Adua, was elected in 2007, survived an air crash that, sadly, incapacitated him. But power brokers in Taraba preserved him like a sacrificial totem, exploiting his mummified image. As long as he could still be wheeled around and papers shuffled in his name, it was good business. Suntai, who had spent less than two years into his second term, was shunted between German and US hospitals at considerable expense for 10 months, while the state was left stranded.

When the puppeteers could no longer sustain the hideous drama, or perhaps they had just about made enough out of it, they wheeled the governor back into the country and left him in a limbo. His estranged deputy remained “acting governor” until Suntai’s tenure officially ended in 2015. Two years later, Suntai died.

Siamese asunder

I have been reliably informed that Akeredolu’s relationship with Aiyedatiwa is not, ordinarily, one that should warrant the insane stalemate that has made fools of the state’s wise men and women. After Akeredolu fell out with his former deputy, Agboola Ajayi – who remained in position even though he switched parties, following a failed attempt to impeach him – he chose Aiyedatiwa as his running-mate for his second term. The pair have been like six and seven.

Although cloak-and-dagger is a popular currency in politics, anyone who saw Aiyedatiwa’s pictures until June this year, would remember how difficult it was to spot the difference in physical appearance between him and the governor. With every inch of carefully manicured grey stubble, caps, glasses, and even posture, both of them looked like political Siamese twins.

But the remoter the chances of Akeredolu’s return seemed, the greater the pressure Aiyedatiwa came under to discard his beard and nurture his own path to power. How long before he would step out of the shadows and live up to his name, Aiyedatiwa (the world shall become ours)?

Loyalty tested

“Loyalty is at the heart of the matter,” one source close to both parties told me on Tuesday. “People began to suggest to Aiyedatiwa that he could actually get power if only he could be his own man, and soon enough. To plot his way, he began to hobnob with Abuja politicians and some of Akeredolu’s arch enemies.”

But “loyalty” to who? To a person or to the constitution and the law of the land? Anyone who remembers former Governor Babatunde Fashola’s words when, during his ministerial nomination screening, he was asked about his spectacular fallout with then former Governor Bola Ahmed Tinubu, might agree that “loyalty” is one point on which politicians pray never to be tested.

“May your loyalty not be tested,” Fashola replied to uproarious laughter from senators. But what is happening in Ondo is not a laughing matter. Especially the suspicion by Akeredolu’s camp that the deputy governor is in cahoots with some notoriously dangerous politicians in Abuja and elsewhere.

It’s fair to ask why Akeredolu – or those who claim to speak for him – cannot set aside personal grudges and put the interest of the state first?

Why? Some personal grudges run deep. I’ll mention two shared by insiders.

One, in June, the governor was said to have signed some papers and returned them to his deputy for action. Upon receiving the papers, his deputy was alleged to have said, flat out, that Akeredolu could not have signed the papers; not in the mental state he was believed, or suspected, to be in at the time. The buzz from then on, magnified, repurposed and retailed in several salacious versions, was that there was no further need of proof that Aiyedatiwa wanted the governor dead. The world was, indeed, nearly his.

The second point, according to sources, has nothing to do with Aiyedatiwa directly, but with his new company. The governor’s wife, Betty Anyanwu, a most robustly active political wife, if ever there was one, had set her sights on the Senate in the February general elections in her native Imo State.

The problem was how to get past her state governor, Hope Uzodimma, who before the presidential primaries had pitched tent with Ahmed Lawan against Akeredolu’s preferred candidate, Bola Ahmed Tinubu. In fact, it was Uzodimma and Senator Orji Uzor Kalu, who submitted Lawan’s nomination form.

As for the Owerri senatorial district, Uzodimma, an enigma, had other plans. He wanted Alex Mbata instead. Betty was forced to withdraw from the senatorial primaries in humiliation.

By the time Mbata lost to the Labour Party candidate, Ezenwa Onyewuchi, the damage had been done. The Akeredolus, still smarting from that defeat, are now also trying to get used to the fact that their man, Aiyedatiwa, is in bed with their foe, Uzodimma. Yet, if a politician sleeps with three women in one day, you can only thank God it was not four.

Dumb wars

For a state with Ondo’s political sophistication, it’s a bit of a travesty to suggest that petty squabbles have held it hostage for months now. But that would be naïve. From the Spanish marriages to the Crimean War over the right of access to a church key, history is full of battles fought for the dumbest of reasons. President Tinubu’s last-minute intervention has kept the fragile peace in Akure. But no one is sure how long.

The longer it takes for the parties to find a sensible, common ground, the worse it would be for citizens whose interest they claim to serve. All said, if Akeredolu were in a position to make the call today, I’m not sure he would take a position different from the principled one he took as president of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) when Yar’Adua was in a similar situation. He should resign.

If Akeredolu cannot make this call, those who can should do so for the sake of his legacy and the wellbeing of the citizens of the state. That is the painful but proper and necessary thing to do.

Azu Ishiekwene is the Editor-In-Chief of LEADERSHIP. 

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