Editorial: Governor Akeredolu puts Democracy on trial in Ondo State

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The ongoing crisis in the Ondo State House of Assembly rooted in the bid to remove the Deputy Governor, Agboola Ajayi, who defected from the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), has once again highlighted the incontrovertible diagnosis that there can be no democracy without democrats. The crisis has already consumed the majority leader Suleiman Maito, who resigned his position in protest against the move to remove the deputy governor. Three other casualties - Deputy Speaker, Ogundeji Iroju (Odigbo 1), Adewale Williams (Ondo West II) and Semilore Tomomewo (Ilaje II) have been suspended. The APC also expelled Success Torukerijoh (Ese Odo) for opposing the planned sack of Ajayi. Many more heads are expected to roll as the crisis unfolds.


Iroju has accused Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, and Ondo state APC chairman, Ade Adetimehin, of masterminding their suspension because of their refusal to back the removal of the deputy governor. Expectedly, Akeredolu has denied any involvement but suffice to say this brigandage is a pointer to the abysmal political leadership in Ondo and its immaturity. Trying to emasculate lawmakers is totally against all known norms of political decency and a meaningless show of executive power. As Akeredolu mounts his assault on democracy as he faces re-election, it is trite to say the hapless Ondo people deserve an apology for being so disappointed by a governor to whom much has be given; and from whom much is expected.


The act that built up the drama to this crescendo is public knowledge. The standing view is that Akeredolu, against good advice, made a profound political miscalculation and error of judgment in overreacting to the defection of the deputy governor to the PDP, where he has been cleared to contest the July 22 PDP gubernatorial primary election against 11 other candidates. Despite official denials, it is an open secret that Akeredolu who has suffered a rash of resignations from his cabinet and close aides is facing the real possibility of losing the primary election; with an even greater prospect of losing the general election against Ajayi; the potential PDP flagbearer. No one is fooled when Akeredolu and his handlers say the governor has no hands in the happenings in the Assembly. In the present circumstance, Akeredolu might leave office with the stigma of leaving behind a crisis ridden House of Assembly.


The crisis is another display of executive lawlessness that offends the sensibilities of Nigerians and raises fundamental questions about the average Nigerian’s definition and perception of political office. The situation is nothing but a manifestation of the deepening culture of impunity that has held the country hostage. It is bewildering because it is happening under a supposedly democratic dispensation. For the avoidance of doubt, Akeredolu and Ajayi were both elected on the same ticket; and the law does not mandate that their continuous stay in office on their membership of the APC on whose platform they were elected. The watch phrase should be that a man might leave a position, but the institution stays, having entrenched the right culture and ethos.


Akeredolu remain addicted to do-or-die politics. In the wake of Ajayi’s defection to the PDP, the deputy governor was prevented from leaving government house using his official car; as if to say he stopped being the elected deputy governor of Ondo state because he resigned his membership of the APC. The fact that the police held Ajayi hostage in his office until past midnight is unacceptable and should be treated as a serious breach of the law. After over 20 years of democratic experiment, there should be no more room for such conducts. This impunity must not be allowed to stand and it is just as well that Ajayi has written an open letter to the chief judge of the state, advising her not to compromise the integrity of her office in the move by the Assembly to remove him.


In the open letter entitled: “Uphold the Integrity of Your Office” and signed by his media adviser, Allen Sowore, Ajayi said in an ideal democracy, all power, especially state power must be exercised under the law and according to the dictates of the law. According to him, as the chief judge of Ondo State, the move by Akeredolu to remove him from office through the Assembly should give her a vital opportunity to uphold the integrity of Ondo State judiciary and its independence. “It’s needless mentioning the level of desperation, which Mr. Governor has shown on this vexatious matter because history already has a place for his hypocritical stance in the law profession being a former president, Nigeria Bar Association (NBA). But your lordship, you have a name and integrity to protect. The cerebral Chinua Achebe once said that: ‘One of the truest tests of integrity is its blunt refusal to be compromised.’


On the face of it, Akeredolu, even before he was governor; has been a successful lawyer and should know the legal implications of a breach of the relevant laws and regulations. Nonetheless, holders of public office are so entrusted with the justified expectation of the public that they act at all times in an exemplary manner that sustains trust and respect. It is more than a matter of the letter of the law: it is, above all else, a moral issue. Akeredolu has understandably come under fire for his needless display of ostentation and conspicuous consumption in the face of the raging poverty in Ondo state. Specifically, within the last two years, Akeredolu has celebrated the weddings of his children broad, in Canada, USA and Mauritius, without any sense of respect to the Ondo people who continue to languish in poverty.


Undoubtedly, Akeredolu, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) is a successful lawyer and former president of the Nigerian Bar Association and is undeniably a man of means. The jury is out whether the governor and his cabinet and close friends and family members attended these weddings abroad at their own expense. But few would argue that organizing the weddings of his children in Akure or Owo or any other town would certainly have boosted the economy of that environment. Imagine the value-chain those weddings would add to the local economy of whichever town hosts the wedding. Why take the local wealth to expend in foreign lands? Is this a judicious way of spending money instead of holding the events here in Nigeria?  We think not.


Rather, it is insensitive to the point of bad taste and even provocative that a man like Akeredolu who is elected to serve and improve the lot of Nigerians in Ondo would not see the impropriety in flaunting wealth to the face of the suffering masses. This is even more pathetic as his government owes billions to Ondo pensioners. The Ondo chapter chairman of the National Union of Pensioners, Adedapo Salami was quoted as revealing that the government owed N50 billion in pensions and gratuities since 2011 besides not implementing the 33% increase to the pensioners. What is more, Ondo State government has not settled all the inherited salary arrears from the Mimiko’s administration.


High public office demands moral leadership. Indeed, the most effective leaders are those who lead by example with moral authority. When the governor of a not-so-rich state as Ondo displays affluence and disdain for his own people, it is his moral leadership that is impugned. And Akeredolu should worry because he leads a generally well-educated, perspicacious and bold people. The great people of Ondo have a history of not condoning betrayal of public trust. Under Akeredolu, the culture of service to the people, which appreciates that after politics comes governance, has taken flight as the governor is now abusing the instruments of state power to emasculate his political opponents as he fights for his own political survival. Akeredolu is one governor the people of Ondo should never have had and the signs herald the end to a career politician, who has lived on the system instead of living for it. There is a time for everything. Whenever democracy is under assault, all Nigerians of conscience must stand up and defend it. The time to rise in defence of democracy in Ondo is now!