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Things fall apart as Gov Akeredolu, deputy battle over succession

Ahead of the 2024 governorship election in Ondo State, it appears there is no love lost between Governor Rotimi Akeredolu and his deputy, Lucky Aiyedatiwa, as they are entangled in a succession battle, Daily Trust on Sunday reports.

After months of denial, the crack in the relationship between the Ondo State governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), and his deputy, Lucky Aiyedatiwa, became manifest last week Tuesday as the governor sacked all the media aides of the latter and disbanded the press crew attached to his office.

The ugly development is coming barely a week after Akeredolu returned to Nigeria from his three-month medical vacation in Germany, where he had travelled to attend to his ill health.

Governor Akeredolu, it would be recalled, had jetted out of the country in June after he took ill and handed over power to his deputy in acting capacity.

The return of Akeredolu to the country was greeted with jubilation among civil servants, residents and youths, even as congratulatory messages  poured in from politicians, associates, religious groups, traditional rulers and professional associations.

Since his arrival, Akeredolu has been taking decisions at his private residence in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital and meeting his cabinet members who are briefing him on the activities of government while he was away..

However, his absence from governance was dotted with political bickering and intrigues,  especially the politics of succession  among his cabinet members, who formed themselves into political cleavages and caucuses in the governing All Progressives Congress (APC) in the state.

Akeredolu’s vacation had provided the opportunity for politicians and a number of his cabinet members to test the waters and draw the political graph in preparation for the horse race of the 2024 governorship election.

His absence had created cracks, tension, uproar and mistrust among members of the cabinet, party members, political aides and associates who were not satisfied with the deputy governor, particularly those eyeing the governorship seat. They believed the deputy governor was gaining the upper hand considering his perceived ambition to contest.

Shortly before Akeredolu travelled to Germany, there were reports that he was incapacitated and might not likely complete his tenure due to the nature of his undisclosed ailment.

The governor’s health became a big issue in the state with different opinions and interpretations from critics and opposition parties.

Part of the issue was his failure to transmit power to Aiyedatiwa, who is seen as a loyal deputy. The gap angered a lot of people, particularly loyalists and supporters of the deputy governor and critics in the opposition party, who recalled that the governor had once criticised the late President Umaru Yar’adua for not transmitting power to his then vice president, Goodluck Jonathan while he was away.

Political opportunists in the state were said to have capitalised on the vacuum to pursue their agendas and ambitions by fueling embers of discord.

While the argument was going on, there were rumours that Mr Akeredolu had died. However, this was quickly dispelled by the state government through the Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Bamidele Ademola-Olateju.

“We enjoin members of the public to ignore the rumour. Aketi (Akeredolu) is very much alive,” Mrs Ademola-Olateju had said, stressing that the state government had chosen to ignore the lies until it appeared that certain persons sought to draw political mileage from the disinformation,” she said.

The main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) became worried and challenged the state government, including the handlers of the governor, to prove that he was alive.

The publicity secretary of the PDP in the state, Mr Kennedy Peretei, had asked the government to stop playing politics over Akeredolu’s ill health by revealing his true condition.

“As mortals, any human being can fall sick, whether in public office or private life. Rotimi Akeredolu is employed by the people of Ondo State and maintained with taxpayers’ money, so it is criminal and a great disservice to keep mum over his health status and whereabouts,” Peretei said.

But in a swift reply, the APC slammed the opposition parties, saying their attacks on the health challenge of the governor were needless.

Ade Adetimehin, the chairman of the party in Ondo, said what the governor needed was prayer for support for quick recovery and not an attack on him.

There were also claims that Governor Akeredolu’s death rumour was sponsored by mischief makers, particularly aspirants for the party’s governorship ticket.

Aiyedatiwa had severally been accused of desperation to take over from his boss, but Akeredolu’s loyalists had also been doing everything possible to deplete the popularity of the deputy governor.

One of the kites against the deputy governor was the sudden emergence of reports on the social media three months ago, accusing him of domestic violence against his wife, Oluwaseun Aiyedatiwa.

The Society for Women Empowerment (SWE) had alleged that Aiyedatiwa assaulted his wife and inflicted injuries on her, forcing her to escape to the United Kingdom to save her life.

The group had also asked Governor Akereolu’s wife, Betty, to intervene in the matter and represent the interest of the Nigerian woman.

But Aiyedatiwa denied the allegation, describing it as fabricated lies sponsored against his personality. He challenged the group, which he described as faceless and blamed political gladiators seeking to succeed the governor.

The sack of the deputy governor’s aides, citing disloyalty, has further fuelled disaffection between him and his boss.

But according to Aiyedatiwa, since the governor is back and has started working, he is committed to his duties and not bothered by the activities of desperate politicians and their agents.

Speaking on the situation, the Senior Special Assistant on Special Duties and Strategy to Governor Akeredolu, Doyin Odebowale said that “ruthless politicians” and their loyalists who benefitted immensely from the governor had portrayed his ill-health in bad light while he was away for medical attention in Germany. He said desperate politicians heated the political environment in the state by spreading falsehood.

“I can tell you that when the governor was away, there was little governance in Ondo State as people were more interested in succeeding him.  It is within their rights but they were distracting us.

“There were postings of the obituary of the governor more than five times. They wanted power and not to serve the people. They created the impression that the governor was not in charge of anything,” he said.

Daily Trust on Sunday reports that apart from Aiyedatiwa, no fewer than 20 aspirants are eyeing the governorship seat as the 2024 election draws near. Prominent among them are the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Princess Oladunni Odu; Commissioner for Finance, Mr Wale Akinterinwa; Special Adviser to the Governor on Health Matters, Dr Francis Faduyile.

Many of the aspirants and gladiators have been holding political meetings, both within and outside the state to strategise, while those outside the state have started returning home to contribute to the social and political development of their various communities.

As the scheming continues, analysts said the ruling APC would face conflict of interests among aspirants and gladiators.

It is no longer hidden that President Bola Tinubu, who has consistently been a major force to reckon with, particularly in South West politics, will play a big role in the succession plan in next year’s governorship election in Ondo State.

In 2016, Tinubu supported his political godson, Segun Abraham against Akeredolu, after both men fell apart.

Speaking on the political situation in the state, a political commentator, Adedayo Alewi said, “What is happening now is new because originally, political activities ought to have been picking since the election is next year and we are already drawing closer to the end of 2023. I expected that we should have seen posters of aspirants everywhere in the streets.

“Although the absence of the governor might have also caused this delay, what about aspirants in the other political parties? The intrigues in the government, we understand, might have led to the delay in the APC, but I am sure that since the governor is back now, activities would pick. And we expect that politics would be played according to the rules.”

Another analyst, Jimoh Adeleye revealed that the power play in the APC ahead of the primary election would be tough, noting that the gladiators seem to have intimidating profiles and connections.

“Funny enough, Akeredolu is back, but several people have been running to Abuja to get blessings from one political father or another. I am sure  that Tinubu’s role would want to come to play. He has always shown interest in Ondo election.

“So, it depends on who is in the good books and who can manoeuvre his or her way. But what is sure is that whoever is getting the ticket would have to sweat it out, even financially,” he said.

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