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Translating a Governor’s slim win

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Governor Akeredolu and his deputy, Aiyedatiwa doing victory dance…last week

For Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, what words cannot explain, his recent Supreme Court victory conveys. Not many politicians would understand what it means to have a governorship mandate cut short. To lose a second term mandate out of a political trifling beyond one’s making, most assuredly, could open the floodgate of frustration, possible depression and sundry harmful emotions.
   
That explains why in Nigeria, state governors do all manner of things to ensure that they secure a second term in office. Available indicators show that governors see their second term as the glory hour of their political progression.
    
However, in the case of Arakunrin, a loss to his brother-lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Eyitayo Jegede, at the Supreme Court would have been not only devastating, but excruciating.  
 
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Unlike his colleagues that romanticize the idea of political elevation to either the Senate or Presidency, Aketi has not exposed any latent or obvious signs of such political intentions.
  
But, perhaps as a way of reciprocating the decision of Ondo people to reward him with the governorship in 2016, after a disastrous outing in 2012 on the platform of defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Aketi brought back the experience of his activist days to bear on the expression of his programmes as governor.
  
It is not only members of the legal profession that remember that the current governor of the Sunshine State was a President of Nigeria Bar Association (NBA). Nonetheless, not everybody would recall how he carried out the duties and responsibilities of the office of NBA President with panache and religious insistence that the law rules and nothing else.
 
As NBA President, Akeredolu, at a lecture stunned Nigerians when he declared that no amount of electoral reform or judicial system would give Nigeria free and fair elections unless Nigerians themselves resolved to take practical steps to ensure that their votes count.
 
In 2009, when politicians were speaking with tongue cheek, Akeredolu asserted that President Umaru Yar’Adua should have handed over to Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan to serve as acting President during his illness.
 
Perhaps, it was in recognition of his courage and forthrightness that the NBA named its new secretariat in Abuja after him.
  
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Credit for the wave making political and electoral triumphs of ACN as a veritable opposition political party, especially the post-election legal victories in court, is reserved for the former NBA President and his likes.

Power beyond ballot
BUT, refusing to say die, especially given that the courts have become the final umpire in electoral contests, Jegede, espied a very auspicious gap in Aketi’s nomination and proceeded to challenge his victory, first at the Governorship Election Petition Tribunal, then at the Appeal Court and finally at the court of last instance, Nigeria’s Supreme Court.  
  
Nearly! That was the loud exclamation of Nigerians, when the apex court delivered a split judgment that re-affirmed Akeredolu’s victory by a ration of four to three justices.
 
The pronouncement on the chairmanship of All Progressives Congress’ (APC), Caretaker/Extraordinary Convention Planning Committee (CECPC), also known as the interim management committee of the party, raised public apprehension.
    
As lawyer, Jegede left out the issues of whether the election complied with the Electoral Act or the question of spread. He did not claim that he won the election, rather the plaintiff prayed the court to determine “the legal validity of Akeredolu’s nomination” by APC’s CECPC headed by Governor Mai Mala Buni, of Yobe State.
 

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The issue was actually “whether Buni, as a sitting governor, could double as national chairman of APC to sign Akeredolu’s nomination form for the governorship election” in view of section 183 of the 1999 Constitution as amended.
 
Section 183 stipulates: “The governor shall not, during the period when he holds office, hold any other executive office or paid employment in any capacity whatsoever.”
     
Although the Court of Appeal panel headed by Theresa Orji-Abadua, dismissed the case, it admitted that the issues raised by the appellants had constitutional implications, even as they refused to join Governor Buni as a party in the suit.
       
That observation emboldened Jegede to proceed to the court above to subject the findings to further judicial scrutiny. They prayed the Supreme Court to determine whether it was a necessity to join Buni in the suit, considering that state governors enjoy constitutional immunity as per section 308 of the 1999 Constitution.
  
But for a single vote difference that separated four members of the panel led by Emmanuel Agim and the three others led by Justice Mary Peter-Odili, the prayers of those who wanted Aketi to go into history as a one term governor would have been answered.
     
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Justice Agim and three others held that the non-joinder of Buni rendered the appeal incompetent, while Peter-Odili and co declared that since APC, headed by Buni, was a party in the case, there was no need to include him as a necessary party in the appeal against Akeredolu.
  
It takes a single goal to lift the world cup in a football tournament. Same sentiment explained Aketi’s dance of joy at his recent reception in Akure. His joy transcended mere electoral victory. It represented something deeper.
  
As he began his second term, Akeredolu shunned political correctness to stand with his people by boldly declaring the occupation of Ondo State forest reserves by undocumented herders as illegal.
    
Donning his activist garbs, Aketi was all over the place defending the ancestral land of his forefathers, damning whatever political consequences may befall him from the holders of the levers of federal might. As the Chairman of Southwest Governors’ Forum and Chairman of Southern Governors’ Forum, which recently drew a redline to open grazing and insistence on presidential power shift to the South in 2023, had Aketi fallen out of power, he would have become the butt of ribald jokes, both at home and abroad.  
  
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