Akeredolu’s second term hiccups and purported rapprochement with Tinubu
Governor Rotimi Akeredolu’s pathway to Alagbaka House was strewn with rocks and pebbles. It was definitely not an easy ride to the Ondo State Government House by the notable legal practitioner. Right from expression of interest in the gubernatorial contest to the primary election of All Progressives Congress (APC), Aketi, as friends and allies fondly refer to the governor, had raw tales to tell.
Barely one year to the end of his first four years in office, it is like the ancient demons that attended the governor’s journey to the Government House have begun their ugly return. Governor Akeredolu’s travails seem to be taking root anew.
The new headache began showing signs precisely on March 1, 2019 when APC National Working Committee (NWC) uncharacteristically fired him a query. At issue was the governor’s perceived anti-party activities, which the ruling party alleged greatly affected the fortunes of its candidates in the February 28, 2019 Presidential and National Assembly elections in Ondo State. As if preplanned, the party followed up the query by wielding the big stick. It suspended the governor. APC’s National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Lanre Isa-Onilu, was later to confirm what many people though was a hoax.
Akeredolu’s suspension followed the line of similar disciplinary actions earlier meted by the party on governors Rochas Okorocha and Ibikunle Amosun of Imo and Ogun States respectively.
However, shortly after his suspension, Akeredolu paid a courtesy visit on the APC national leader, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, with whom he had fallen out of step after losing the 2012 gubernatorial election to former Governor Segun Mimiko. Akeredolu visited Tinubu alongside former National Vice Chairman APC, South West zone, Chief Pius Akinyelure, perhaps in a bid to ‘atone for his sins’ having realised that he would need Tinubu on his side in his aspiration for a second term ticket ahead of the 2020 governorship election.
If Akeredolu’s visit to Tinubu was to seek rapprochement, then it calls to mind the biblical saying that ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone’. Akeredolu had on several occasions vilified the former Lagos State governor since he emerged governor in 2016. Has Tinubu suddenly become a factor to reckon with?
It was also not clear to observers whether the Ondo governor had persuaded Akinyelure, a close ally of Tinubu, to pacify the national leader. But prior to the governor’s visit to Tinubu, it was being insinuated that alongside Governors Yahaya Bello and Godwin Obaseki of Kogi and Edo States, Akeredolu may not likely get return tickets on APC’s platform for the coming gubernatorial elections in their states.
While it was alleged that Akeredolu has been scheming to avoid suffering a similar fate as the Lagos State chapter of APC visited on Governor Akinwunmi Ambode in the governorship primary, there are other reports that it may be part of the propaganda machinery of the party to further paint the governor in bad light.
Nevertheless, Akeredolu was said to have made uncomplimentary remarks about Tinubu some of which he denied and others he tried to explain away, after winning the governorship election at the instance of the national leader in 2016.
No sooner had he emerged governor than Akeredolu embraced the belief that as far as he had the ‘Abuja cabal’ that controls the presidency on his side, Tinubu seems of less relevance to his political career. Until his suspension from the APC and his chances of getting a second term ticket began to dim, Akeredolu had carried on like a lord.
Tinubu, Akeredolu’s romance
Not much is known about the point at which the love lost relationship between Tinubu and Akeredolu began before the 2012 governorship election in Ondo State, when the former governor of Lagos State singlehandedly imposed the incumbent as the party’s candidate over other aspirants. It was, however, said that Tinubu must have developed interest in Akeredolu way back during the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) when the party was enmeshed in many court cases, which the governor, as legal practitioner, usually handled with moderate legal fees.
There is also those who believe that the national leader decided to favour the governor in 2012 based on the recommendation of former President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Ayo Salami, who is regarded as one of Akeredolu’s mentors in the legal profession. Tinubu dropped not less than 25 aspirants and singlehandedly ‘imposed’ Akeredolu, a decision that nearly tore the party apart and also destroyed the national leader’s democratic credentials.
Among those in the race then were former Minister of Defence (Navy), Dr. Olu Agunloye, Second Republic Senator, Olorunnimbe Farunkanmi, human rights lawyer, Dr. Tunji Abayomi, Mrs. Jumoke Anifowose, Senator representing Ondo North Senatorial District, Professor Ajayi Boroffice, Akeredolu himself, former chairman of ACN in the state, Sola Iji, a former Senator who represented Ondo South Senatorial District, Omololu Meroyi and a former member of the House of Representatives, Jayeola Ajata.
Others are former Commissioner for Finance in the state, Chief Tayo Alasoadura, former commissioners for finance under Adebayo Adefaratie, Segun Ojo, and Saka Lawal, who is a former aide to Mimiko, Olusegun Abraham, representing Akure South/Akure North in the House of Representatives; Ifedayo Abegunde, Rawa Felix, former Commissioner for Finance in the state; Wale Akinterinwa, a former director of Trade Bank, Alhaji Jamiu Ekangba and Olayato Aribo. However, having spent enormous resources ahead of the primary, Tinubu ordered the aspirants, during a meeting held at the Lagos Government House, Ikeja, that Akeredolu was the party’s candidate.
Embittered by Tinubu’s decision, Agunloye and others defected to other parties. Although Akeredolu later denied that Tinubu imposed him as ACN candidate in 2012, the popular notion was that he got the governorship with the full backing of Tinubu. Similarly, Boroffice, Ekungba and others who stayed back in the party despite the humiliation did so with subdued complaints that Tinubu also promised them the party’s ticket. Whatever the case, Akeredolu’s governorship candidacy on ACN platform in 2012 was not without the support of Jagaban.
There are three major reasons that could explain the frosty relationship between the national leader and the governor after the 2012 gubernatorial election. Not long after Akeredolu lost to Mimiko in 2012, a stakeholders’ meeting was held in Lagos to reposition the party in Ondo.
At the meeting, which was ostensibly convened to discuss sharing formula of party positions in preparation for the 2016 governorship, Akeredolu was told to install 14 ward chairmen from Owo. The chairmen were to be part of the delegates to the governorship primary, while Anifowose and her group were told to produce the local government chairmen.
Akeredolu was, however, not favourably disposed to the sharing arrangement. He allegedly did otherwise when he returned to Ondo, which triggered reactions from Anifowose’s camp. When Akeredolu couldn’t have his way he allegedly took the party to court and the matter remained in court even till the party’s 2016 governorship primary.It was also speculated that Akeredolu started fraternising with some northern elements in the defunct Congress for Progressives Change (CPC) before APC’s merger in 2014. His interaction with them was one of the reasons he got emboldened to contest against the party’s zonal arrangement of national executive positions during APC’s first national congress. The party zoned the position of national vice-chairman Southwest area to Ondo State and that of National Legal Adviser to Lagos, but the incumbent governor decided to contest against the zoning arrangement by indicating interest to run for the post of legal adviser, which irked Tinubu. The national leader did not only consider Akeredolu’s action as an affront to the party but also a direct insult to his person (Tinubu).
There is, however, the belief that it was Tinubu that wanted the two major positions occupied by his people in Lagos, which Akeredolu rejected and rather decided to vie for the post of legal adviser. What perhaps led to the final division between them was when Tinubu showed interest in contesting as running mate to Buhari before the 2015 presidential election, some northerners in the party suggested and also pushed for Akeredolu. It was at that point Tinubu allegedly confronted the governor and labeled him a traitor and vowed not to tolerate or support him for any political office. Added to these developments was the allegation that Akeredolu misappropriated about N4.6 billion funds meant for the 2012 gubernatorial election in Ondo, one of the factors that caused the party the victory.
Although Akeredolu did not hide his displeasure against Tinubu after the party won the presidential election in 2015, his name has been constantly associated with the ‘Abuja cabal’ that worked relentlessly to shut Tinubu out of the presidency after Buhari assumed office.
The governor is also perceived as one of the Southwest stakeholders that truncated Tinubu’s plan of installing James Faleke, one of his political proxies in Lagos as governor in Kogi State, when the party’s candidate, Abubakar Audu, died a few hours to the announcement of the Kogi gubernatorial election result. The cabal in collaboration with the former National Chairman of APC, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, manipulated the process in favour of Governor Yayah Bello. Tinubu was made to eat the humble pie although he was accused of anti-party activity when he encouraged Faleke to seek redress in court just as he (Tinubu) went to the press to accuse Odigie-Oyegun of corruption.
When APC held another national convention in 2018, Akeredolu was accused of being among those who did not support the candidature of former governor of Edo State, Adams Oshiomhole, who was Tinubu’s preference to emerge national chairman. It was at that point that the national leader made up his mind that Akeredolu is stubborn, not reliable and does not deserve his support for a second term.
Tinubu’s hand in Akeredolu’s emergence
Following the frosty relationship that existed between Tinubu and Akeredolu from 2012, the governor again indicated interest to contest the party’s gubernatorial ticket in 2016 but not with the national leader’s support. Tinubu, however, supported a business mogul, Mr. Segun Abraham. Ironically, Tinubu’s wife, Senator Oluremi supported Boroffice while another close ally of Tinubu in the party, former Governor of Osun State, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola backed Chief Olusola Oke. But due to the relationship Akeredolu had built over the years with the ‘cabals’ in the party he won the governorship primary of September 3, 2016 and went ahead to win the gubernatorial election.
Abraham, who was Tinubu’s preference, challenged the result of the primary in court while Oke defected to Social Democratic Party (SDP) to pursue his governorship ambition. The former National Legal Adviser of PDP allegedly received financial support to execute his governorship election on SDP platform from Tinubu. Oke later returned to APC after Akeredolu had won the election and he was appointed as South West Coordinator of Presidential Campaign of Buhari in the last general elections.
As soon as Akeredolu became governor in 2016 without the support of Tinubu, he did not hide his disdain for the national leader. In fact, during his inaugural speech, he deliberately failed to recognise Tinubu as one of those that helped him become governor. He, however, justified omitting Tinubu’s name as contributing to his election victory in his speech, saying mentioning Tinubu would have amounted to mentioning the names of 36 or 37 leaders of the party and that having acknowledged President Muhammadu Buhari for the role he played in his emergence and John Odegie-Oyegun, chairman of the party “for standing by the truth”, there was no need to be “looking for leaders all over the place.”
The governor also had another altercation with Tinubu in February 2018, when President Buhari appointed the national leader to mend cracks and unite the ruling APC across its state chapters that were ruptured by crisis. Akeredou was among the first to say that Tinubu had nothing to mend in Ondo, although he recanted when the media took him on over the statement.
Party structure, management issues
Despite the fact that APC’s NWC and the presidency pretended not to be aware of what was going on in Ondo and the frosty relationship between Akeredolu and Tinubu, what perhaps nailed the governor and pitted him against the presidency was the defeat of President Buhari in the last presidential election and the poor performance of APC in the National Assembly elections in Ondo. A member of APC Board of Trustees (BoT), Alhaji Ali Olanusi, decried the level of anti-party activities of some members of the party, stressing that Buhari lost in Ondo due to the anti-party activities that members engaged in before the general election.
He accused Akeredolu of ‘initiating the members of APC in the state into anti-party activities after failing to secure the party’s tickets for his preferred candidates in the National Assembly election. He said Akeredolu orchestrated anti-party activities by directing members of APC in the state to work for some candidates of Action Alliance (AA). Olanusi noted that though the stalwarts of the party had raised the alarm over the governor’s anti-party activities, the party leadership failed to quickly act before the election.
He said if Buhari had won the presidential election in Ondo, the governor would have gotten the credit despite working against the party, adding, “And we had envisaged this problem in Ondo State, and that is why we cried to the national leadership of the party on the anti-party activities of Governor Akeredolu. But they failed to listen to us, and didn’t recognise our voice then.”
Although APC recorded 54 per cent in the 2015 presidential election when it was not in control of the state, it performed below that figure in the last general elections. Former APC state chairman, Isaac Kekemeke accused the governor of diverting the funds disbursed to the state by the party’s national leadership, alleging, “Akeredolu was the major financier of AA in Ondo State, and called on the party’s leaders to intervene before the 2020 Ondo governorship election. The governor is also at loggerheads with Senator Borrofice, whom he did not want to be reelected to the senate.
Buhari’s defeat in Ondo State appears to be the final undoing of Akeredolu, which ultimately pitted him against the presidency and the perceived ‘cabal.’ Beyond his feud with Tinubu, his present ordeal must have been orchestrated by the presidency and there is little the national leader, whom he has supposedly gone to beg, could do for him against the coming storm.
The incumbent governor may have his reasons for putting up a hard stance against Tinubu just like other political prodigals of the national leader are currently doing. For instance, Governor Kayode Fayemi got Tinubu’s backing to emerge as governor of Ekiti State in his first term before he lost to Ayodele Fayose; his return to the Ektiti State Government House was without Tinubu’s support. Former National Legal Adviser of the party, Dr Muiz Banire, is another example of Tinubu’s political progeny that distances himself from the national leader for unknown reasons.
PDP’s Publicity Secretary, South West, Mr. Ayo Fadaka, however, said it remains a rumour that the governor is attempting to join PDP, but said it could not be totally dismissed due to Akeredolu’s manifold challenges within APC that are threatening his second term ticket.
However, Oke, who is a two-term governorship candidate, acknowledged his defection from the party due to the gross malpractices that marred the 2016 primary election and the decision of the former national leadership to pervert justice. He recounted that five members of the National Working Committee (NWC) of the party had recommended that the primary should be cancelled but the former national chairman, Odigie-Oyegun, did otherwise.
From all indications, the chances of Akeredolu getting APC’s return ticket appear hopeless in the same manner that Ambode lost a similar opportunity last year. The question now is, will Tinubu save the governor after the purported rapprochement?
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