Bamigbola Gbolagunte, Akure
The intrigues trailing the October 10 governorship election in Ondo State, have continued amid a temporary calm after the failure of the plot to impeach the deputy governor, Mr. Agboola Ajayi. For those who have been monitoring events in the Sunshine state, Ajayi must have heaved a sigh of relief as the House of Assembly could not hold its plenary where, it was learnt, a political mine was already being laid for him.
At the weekend, speculations were rife that 19 out of the 26 members of the House had planned to hold the plenary to execute the coup but were later prevailed upon by some powerful forces in the state to sheathe their sword.
The governor, many believe, had influenced the impeachment proceeding against Ajayi, his deputy. It was gathered that mistrust between those that wanted the deputy governor sacked and those in government circle was what delayed and frustrated the execution of the plot.
News that the state governor had given his nod to the lawmakers to commence the impeachment process spread across the state like wild fire over the weekend. Ajayi had defected to the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) after months of irreconcilable differences with his principal.
Following the face-off between the governor and his deputy, and tension in the state, security at the Assembly premises has been beefed up. The security details attached to Ajayi and his office were allegedly withdrawn on the order of the commissioner of police in the state last Wednesday.
But the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Mohammed Adamu, has ordered the Ondo State Commissioner of Police, Bolaji Salami, to restore the security details of Ajayi with immediate effect.
The IGP’s directive was contained in a memo addressed to the police commissioner through the deputy IGP (Operations), Force Headquarters, Abuja.
Predictably, the cold war between the two former political love birds(Akeredolu and Ajayi) may boil over if speculations in the public domain are anything to go by. The battle line was finally drawn last Sunday, July 21 as Ajayi formally announced his defection from the All Progressives Congress (APC) to the PDP.
Although the crisis between the two political gladiators had started a long time ago, Ajayi’s defection only exacerbated the already messy situation and climaxed into a battle of political wits between them.
Investigation by Daily Sun revealed that the major cause of the crisis was Ajayi’s ambition to contest the governorship election against his principal, Akeredolu, in October this year. It was learnt that the Deputy Governor’s decision to contest the governorship election was not just a recent idea. A close source revealed that he has been nursing the ambition right from his first day in office.
The two political titans, now at daggers drawn, were said to be cordial political allies before now. It was even rumoured that Ajayi supported Akeredolu to emerge the governorship candidate of the APC in the state both morally and financially.
The choice of Ajayi as Akeredolu’s running mate was a decision taken by the leaders of the APC in the state, with the consent of Akeredolu himself. It was gathered that the governor did not object to the choice of Ajayi, when his name was mentioned as his deputy.
It was also gathered that Ajayi was not the choice of some party leaders, but Akeredolu prevailed on them to ensure that he emerged his running mate.
Close political watchers believe that Akeredolu’s efforts were well rewarded by Ajayi, who worked assiduously for the success of the party, especially in Ondo South Senatorial District, his political base, where the APC was not too popular.
As a former member of the PDP who had won election into the House of Representatives, where he represented Ilaje/Ese-Odo Federal Constituency on the platform of the PDP, Ajayi is seen in some quarters as a strong political force to reckon with, particularly in Ondo South senatorial district and the state at large.
He also led many of his loyalists and supporters into the APC from the PDP, when he was made Akeredolu’s running mate in 2016. Sources said it was on the strength of his choice that the APC won in many parts of Ondo South senatorial district.
Ajayi is also seen by many as a politician, who has enormous influence across the 18 local government areas of the state. This is because of the various political positions he has held in the state.
However, Ajayi’s travails started less than two years in office when it was discovered by his boss, Akeredolu that he was nursing the ambition to contest the governorship election against him. Ajayi did not hide his ambition as he has been moving round the state to seek the people’s support on his ambition.
It was reliably gathered that Ajayi who hails from Kiribo in Ese-Odo Local Government Area of the state met with some traditional rulers in his area and some members of the state House of Assembly about his ambition. This particular action did not go down well with his boss, who obviously is also interested in a second term. The governor did not hide his second term ambition right from his first day in office, as he had openly declared it earlier on.
No sooner had Akeredolu emerged as governor than he launched his second term ambition, with the formation of different political groups within the APC to champion it ahead of the 2020 governorship election.
But Ajayi’s insistence to contest governorship election, which many political observers consider as an overambitious move, caused serious clash of interests between the two gladiators. The crisis also extended to the state Executive Council, the State House of Assembly as well as the party, as their loyalists always challenge themselves.
Before now, there had been altercations between Akeredolu’s loyalists and those of Ajayi. Some members of the state executive council had been sacked as a result of their loyalty to Ajayi, while others of the APC also suffered intimidations; a development which made many of them to defect to the PDP ahead of Ajayi.
This, however, is not the best of time for the embattled deputy governor as plots to impeach him by the state House of Assembly, following his defection to the PDP thickens. This is even as his defection is already causing serious scare within the PDP. It is clear that some governorship aspirants in the PDP are not comfortable with his return to the party, as they believe that he may be imposed on the party based on his political influence and wealth.
The leadership of the APC in the state was the first to call for Ajayi’s resignation, but he has insisted that he remains the Deputy Governor, and that he would not resign. He also boasted that the House cannot get the required number of members needed to impeach him as he enjoys the support of some members of the House.
But, the APC’s Publicity Secretary in the state, Mr. Alex Kalejaiye has advised him to resign as there is no moral ground for him to remain in office as the deputy governor, having left the APC on which joint ticked he was elected alongside the governor.
He described the current development in the state as worrisome and an unfortunate one, saying, “It is disturbing that the journey which commenced in one accord a few years back could go awry this soon.
“We wish Ajayi had not taken this decision, after series of efforts and attempts by royal fathers and party leaders, from within and outside the state were made to forestall this migration,” he said.
He added: “The state Working Committee of our party is taken aback by a reported statement credited to Ajayi that he would remain the deputy governor as long as his people have not asked him to quit. This statement is vexatious.
“It is imperative to remind Ajayi that he ran on an APC ticket given to Mr. Akeredolu and both were sponsored by the party. Now that he has chosen to defect, the party is advising him to toe the path of wisdom, and resign honourably as the Deputy Governor of Ondo State.
“Ondo State APC wishes him and his followers a safe trip to the PDP. We will, however, be willing to reabsorb them whenever they opt to retrace their steps,” he added.
But, the Deputy Governor, who spoke through his Chief Press Secretary, Mr. Babatope Okeowo, insisted that he had not committed any offence that could warrant his resignation, just as he said that the House of Assembly has no basis to impeach him since he has not committed any impeachable offence.
Okeowo said: “The Deputy Governor is a tested politician of note, who is not unprepared for kangaroo and infamous move from the desperate and drowning Governor of Ondo State, Mr Akeredolu and his group. By joining the PDP, Ajayi has not committed any impeachable offence. He has only exercised his constitutional right of freedom of association as provided by section 40 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), which states that every person shall be entitled to assemble freely and associate with other persons, and in particular, he may form or belong to any political party, trade union or any association for the protection of his interests.
“For the avoidance of doubt, we state unequivocally that the governor and his allies do not have, and cannot muster the required majority in the House of Assembly for the removal of the Deputy Governor under the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in any free, fair and transparent process.
“We remain undaunted in the move to throw off the combined weight of those kneeling on the neck of Ondo State. Our state shall not be allowed to suffocate. At the appropriate time, the people of Ondo State shall decide the right person, who will serve as the arrowhead of the bid to save the state from the nepotistic clique kneeling on her neck.”
Reacting, the chairman, House Committee on Information, Gbenga Omole, who denied the alleged plot to impeach Ajayi based on financial inducement by Governor Akeredolu, said: “The allegation smacks of naivety on the part of the Deputy Governor, as it is intended to cast aspersions on the noble image of the House of Assembly members and drag the integrity of the House in the mud.
“It is on this premise that we, the members of the Ondo State House of Assembly, state unequivocally that this is nothing but a blatant lie and politics taken too far; least expected of the caliber of the Deputy Governor of the Sunshine State. But we are not surprised because he is a drowning man and he will hold on to anything to survive.
“As Lawmakers and elected representatives of the people, we are aware of Akeredolu’s efforts to reposition the state, and make it enviable among her equals across the country, even in the face of obvious dwindling resources.
“How then can someone imagine the Honourable members to compromise their mark of honour all in the pursuit of selfish gains in this period of global recession, which places daunting challenges on the economy of states around the world?
“Much as we are not ready to trade words with anyone, we are adequately aware of our constitutional rights and would never hesitate to exercise same when occasion demands. We do not need any inducement of whatever kind from any quarter to exercise our constitutional responsibilities as elected representatives of the people.”
However, with the current political situation in the state, no one can rightly predict who would blink first between Governor Akeredolu and his deputy. Who shall win the epic battle only lies in the belly of time.