By Zainab Suleiman Okino
The lingering political crisis in Ondo State over Governor Rotimi Akerodolu’s health appeared to have thawed last week when President Bola Tinubu waded in to find an acceptable and amicable settlement. Despite the “good intentions” behind the president’s engagement with the warring parties, some of the clauses in the adopted resolutions might elicit, or even fuel more feuds in no distant future. What the president achieved in the temporary truce was basically to uphold party supremacy under “one family” and keep the crisis off the prying eyes of the opposition, at least for now. However, the issue is not even about party rivalry; it has more to do with the constitutionality of the truce and how far it can endure and keep the ruling party intact ahead of the state’s 2024 off-cycle governorship election.
Governor Akerodolu has been in and out of hospital in the last few years. His return after his last three-month medical leave abroad has not been smooth sail either. While he is expected to reside and govern from Akure, the state capital, the governor is recuperating, probably under the supervision of his doctors in Ibadan, Oyo state.
Yet, from that position of vulnerability, the governor could instigate an impeachment of a man he once publicly declared his anointed successor, after he ditched his former deputy, Agboola Ajayi, before their second term election in 2020. It is also not impossible that Aiyedatiwa might have got something up his sleeves in the sinister game of thrones in Ondo state. Not that the speaker of the state’s House of Assembly too is not culpable, after all any tilting of the delicate balance in the unfolding intrigues can put power in his hand literally, because if Aiyedatiwa is out of the way and Akerodolu is pronounced incapacitated, the speaker takes charge as governor.
All these and more elevated the stakes of the political crisis before President Tinubu’s intervention. As part of the deal to nip the crisis in the bud, the House of Assembly led by Speaker Olamide Olajide called on all to embrace peace and maintain the status quo while impeachment plans against Aiyedatiwa were terminated.
The peace agreement became absurd when the speaker added that “an undated letter of resignation must be written, signed by the embattled Deputy Governor and submitted to the President,” while he “continues to perform the functions of office as Deputy governor and that three enforcers including the State chairman of APC, Engr. Ade Adetimehin, the speaker of the State House of Assembly Olamide Oladiji and Secretary to the state government, Catherine Oladunni Odu were appointed to monitor compliance with the foregoing resolution.” This clumsy arrangement is not a solid solution, it is a recipe for more crises. It is tantamount to giving with one hand and taking from the other.
I dare say this is where the ship of optimism may sink. Too many cooks spoil the broth, is a popular saying that fits perfectly into the so-called peace deal. A ship does not sail well with four or five captains. Therefore, asking the deputy governor to remain as such and do the work of the governor, but to be oversighted by three “enforcers” and “monitors” including one each from the legislature, the executive and the party structure is an invitation to chaos that could engender more confusion.
The question to ask is, who is in charge? I do not want to believe the President’s imprimatur was on this mess called resolution, for this is messy and out of sync with the letters and spirit of the constitution and there is no guarantee that it will or can even work. The days ahead will reveal individuals’ intentions and secret wishes.
The normal thing is for the deputy governor to take over from his principal, the governor in an event of failing health as so constitutionally provided. But with Ondo, intrigues and individual ambitions have further polarized the state, and I would be surprised if any form of governance is still taking place. Besides, in this season of budget preparation and presentation, Ondo people deserve to see an improved and purposeful budget preparation with regards to their welfare in various sectors such as health, education, and infrastructure development, and not squabbles among ambitious political gladiators.
This has further raised the question of the place of the deputy governor and vice president in our form of liberal democracy. This phenomenal mutual suspicion is historical. Starting from the first republic when Chief Obafemi Awolowo and his Deputy, Chief Akintola’s bitter quarrels led to their separation, to Olusegun Obasanjo-Atiku Abubakar feud and Umaru Yar’adua- Goodluck Jonathan’s, the deputy governor/Vice President is hardly allowed to breathe. It is worse when the president or governor is sick as in Yar’adua’s and now Akerodolu’s cases, which in most cases makes it difficult for one to be judgmental.
But why is it such a big deal to resign and hand over when the office concerned is not an inheritance. Don’t they know that handing over properly or resigning from your position due to ill-health is honourable and could stop opportunistic hawks from speculation and fighting one another? Are individuals now bigger than the state? How a governor on sick bed could instigate the impeachment of his deputy over purchase of a bullet proof car in a politically volatile environment beats my imagination? Is it his money? Even if it is morally reprehensible on the part of the deputy governor, what about political expedient and security imperative? Are there no better ways to sort things out than this brawl over a position that is so transient?
By the fragile nature of the deputy governor’s position, I wonder whether it is still relevant. We need amendment of the constitution or a national debate to determine the fate of these two positions, because the way we are going, even the spare tyre role of the deputy may no longer be necessary.
More universities or more funding for universities?
There are bills before the National Assembly seeking the establishment of 32 more universities in the country. This is in addition to the existing 52 federal universities, 63 state universities and 147 private universities. There are also 40 federal polytechnics, 49 state owned and 76 privately owned among other higher institutions, according to a Punch newspaper report. Meanwhile our universities at both federal and state levels are underfunded.
Universities are supposed to be centres of excellence but ours just graduate half-baked students and throw them into the already saturated unemployment markets. There are no industries to absolve the graduates from these universities. The MSMEs available are closing shops because of the high cost of petrol, electricity, and unavailability of forex.
The taxes generated are diverted to fund the lavish lifestyle of the elite in government. That is why we can afford to send “only” 422 delegates to COP-28 from a nation that does not care about environmental degradation in the oil producing communities, gas flaring and desertification. As inconsequential as refuse disposal is, Abuja the nation’s capital is littered with heaps of refuse.
Instead of starting new universities, what we need is more funding, manpower development and infrastructure. Government should fund research for the betterment of the country in universities, so they can compete globally.
Zainab Suleiman Okino is a syndicated columnist. She is the chairperson of Blueprint Editorial Board and can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org