OSAGIE OTABOR reports on the root causes of the lingering misunderstanding between Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State and the Deputy Governor, Agboola Ajayi
In December last year, when Deputy Governor of Ondo State, Hon Agboola Ajayi, declared that there was not disagreement between him and his boss, Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, not many people believed him. Agboola had said the news about the so-called disagreement was peddled by political jobbers who wanted the government to patronise them.
The Deputy Governor, who made the denial at a church service, said talks that he was fighting Governor Akeredolu were mere rumours. In his words: “You must have been hearing one or two comments here and there about a conflict between me and the governor. Don’t worry yourself.
It is a normal thing in politics. Gov Akeredolu and I are doing very well. We are brothers and we are working together for the progress of Ondo State. Be mindful of job seekers whose stock in trade is cheap blackmail and political propaganda.”
To those in the know however, things have long fallen apart between Akeredolu and his deputy. In recent times, the deputy governor has not been seen in public functions, especially in the ongoing fight to curb spread of COVID-19. He has been absent at many of the press briefings held by the governor to give updates on steps taken to keep the people safe.
Sources however said Akeredolu has ruled out pushing for impeachment of Agboola or asking him to resign from his cabinet. It was gathered that the idea was mooted last week but Akeredolu reportedly told his aides to let the deputy be and allow posterity be the judge.
Some chieftains of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the state told our reporter that there are already signals from Akeredolu that he might drop Agboola after the party primaries unless certain powerful forces intervened.
The chieftains, who pleaded anonymity, said the quarrel between Akeredolu and his deputy was an open secret. They said what started as a rumour or speculation has gotten to a level where both men now avoid each other.
Akeredolu is currently facing re-election battle. Some chieftains of the APC under the auspices of the Unity Forum and another group led by Ambassador Olusola Iji have vowed to unseat him.
The governor on his part has ruled out any reconciliation with the groups and has opted to face them at the party primaries. Akeredolu, therefore, according to one of his close associates, a top government official, “needs people he could trust and his deputy is not one of them.”
Several factors, largely due to 2024 permutations, were said to have caused the feud. A source closed to the deputy governor said politicians from Ondo South Senatorial District, where Hon Agboola hails from, caused the crisis because they feared Agboola might become too powerful in 2024 if allowed to run another term as deputy governor. The source added that “the governorship slot is expected to be zoned to Ondo South in 2024 and Agboola, from minority Ijaw tribe, might want to succeed his boss.”
Another APC chieftain blamed Akeredolu for causing the crisis by not empowering politicians in the state. This, the chieftain said, led to several lies being peddled against the deputy governor.
According to him, “I do not think the governor believed those lies initially. But when same things were said about a man for so long, the man had to change his mind. The politician had to go through the governor’s wife to get him to believe what they were saying about his deputy.
You know the wife has great influence on the governor and so the seed of discord was sown. The matter has become so bad that the wife of the deputy gave birth to twins after 20 years of childlessness, the First Lady did not visit her or give her a call.”
The source also said: “Initially, Hon Agboola always took time to explain himself until he got tired and allowed the governor believe anything peddled about him.”
But a top official said Governor Akeredolu felt betrayed by his deputy after he entrusted on him so much political powers. He said Governor Kayode Fayemi has intervened twice where he caused the deputy governor to prostrate twice to beg Akeredolu but after each intervention, other issues came up.
According to the source, Akeredolu gave his deputy control over Ondo South in terms of political appointments and decisions when they were just sworn in. The sources said all appointments from Ondo South were nominated by the deputy.
Akeredolu, according to our source, noticed activities of his deputy during the national and state Assembly elections. It was gathered that the choice of candidates the governor wanted, especially in Ondo South, were opposed by his deputy.
“Akeredolu was careless politically and he over trusted his deputy. It was that time the deputy governor started nursing ambition to succeed Akeredolu. He wanted to be governor at all cost. He took advantage of Akeredolu’s political carelessness and his actions caused a lot of people to be angry with the government.
He succeeded in installing 80 percent of council chairmen and they were weaved around his new found friends from the PDP. These actions weakened the APC in Ondo South.
“All political structures in the South were weaved around the deputy governor. He started building political structures without Akeredolu’s knowledge. The governor even fought some people when they gave him signals about activities of the deputy governor.
“Unknown to many people, it was the deputy governor that sold the idea of going into talks with Action Alliance to Akeredolu ahead of the elections. He tried to weaken the APC from the outset as he was the engine room. He also tried to pitch Akeredolu against the national leadership of the APC. That was to lead to the suspension of Akeredolu.
“When the governor had problems with the national leader, it was the deputy governor that was sent to meet some allies of the leader. He went there and rather told them to plead with the leader to make him the next governor. The same allies of the leader later informed Akeredolu.
“There was also the time the governor went to Germany for surgery. The deputy governor started meeting with political leaders and the House of Assembly members suggesting to them to make use of the doctrine of necessity to declare him Acting Governor. There was a time he attempted to remove the Chief of Staff.
The last straw that finally broke their relationship was when a prominent PDP youth leader wanted to join the APC. The deputy governor rather encouraged the boy to contest for the Secretary of the Ondo PDP,” the source said.
On whether the governor has asked the deputy governor to resign, the source said the governor said the deputy should be left alone.
“Governor Akeredolu is not interested in impeaching his deputy. Majority of the Ondo lawmakers are loyal to the deputy because he single handedly picked majority of them. During the election, Akeredolu was not interested on having loyal lawmakers.
Attempts to obtain comments from the deputy were unsuccessful but a close associate, who pleaded not to be named, described all the allegations as false and untrue. The source said the truth would be unveiled.
Akeredolu however believed his deputy has a hand in the gang up against him by some leaders of the APC. Many aspirants seeking to contest against the governor at the party primaries are from Ondo South where the deputy hails from.
What further confirmed the feud was the interview granted by the lawmaker representing Ese-Odo State Constituency in the Ondo State House of Assembly, Hon Success Torhukerhijo. In the interview, Torhukerhijo accused Akeredolu for the marginalisation suffered by the minority Ijaw group.
The lawmaker, who is seen as a political allay of the deputy governor, also complained that the Ijaws were excluded from being members of the committees set up to raise funds and provide palliatives for the people.
According to him, “this is not an APC issue. It is beyond the APC. It is affecting my people. Anybody that is doing anything against those people is not trying to be friendly with me.
I would expect the governor to also reason with me as an APC member. I think I have to cry out so that my people will not continue to suffer.
“I have been to the governor’s office several times to say I want to see him but the response I get is either that he is busy or not even available to see me. It is not so easy to see the governor.
“My people are not happy, that is just it. The man signed a social contract with them and I’m advising him (Akeredolu) that he still has the opportunity to do the needful for the people now.
The APC is the party that is on the ground there but the activities of the governor and the neglect and rejection of the people do not give them a sense of belonging again.
“The governor needs to do the needful. Our people there are highly sensitive and politically sophisticated. So, if a particular government is not doing their bidding and nothing is done for them, in terms of development, then I’m afraid. To every action, there is an equal opposing reaction.
“It is saddening and highly worrisome that in the whole of Ijaw land, you cannot point to a government project worth N50m done within the last three years of the Akeredolu administration. Projects that were embarked on by the former administration were abandoned; new ones are not being initiated, so there is nothing to show the presence of government in this place in the past three years.”
But the Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Donald Ojogo, who is also from the Ijaw area, in his response said the Deputy Governor should be blamed for any perceived marginalisation of the Ijaws.
“The truth of the matter is that it will be wrong for him to say that this is the only government, unlike previous governments, that has marginalised the Ijaws in Ondo State. Yes, I want more development for my people; you cannot but stop lobbying for projects to be taken to your area. But again, we must be able to differentiate between proper representation and activism.
“What I’ve seen is not proper representation. It is blackmail at play. When he said less than N50 million worth of projects have been attracted to the area, well I don’t know if he was informed of the cost of the Sabome/Igbotu Road that was constructed by this current administration.
It was constructed at a cost of over N600 million. Ask him who owns ITDC, the contractor that executed the job; a high-ranking official of the government from that area. I wouldn’t know if he also has information about the road linking Agadagbaobon and Amapere that is almost 50 percent completed.
I also would not know whether he is aware of the 12 primary schools that are either being reconstructed, renovated or rehabilitated by the current government in Ese-Odo Local Government Area, out of which eight were handled by the same official who I suspect is the lawmaker’s source of inspiration.
“Then what do you think is the missing link? We are all Ijaw from Ese-Odo. I’m a full-blooded Arogbo-Ijaw man. My mother and my father are all Arogbo. So nobody can claim to love Arogbo more than me. When you talk about the governor not liking Ijaw people, I laugh because this is a governor whose mother is also an Ijaw woman and deputy from Ese-Odo.
That was the reason the governor handed over everything concerning Ese-Odo to his deputy to handle. Nobody can claim to be more Ijaw than Governor Akeredolu who is from Ese-Odo. His mother is from Igbotu.
“So what are people trying to insinuate? The truth over the matter is that from what I have seen, it is a proxy battle and it is unfortunate that my brother will make himself available to start this rehearsal, which I feel enriches some self-delusions.
If he was properly informed maybe he would have known that this is the first time Ijaw will properly represent themselves on the board of OSOPADEC on the basis of oil production status. Previous governments have never done it before. It had always been on the basis of senatorial representation, but this time around, this is the first time someone for Ese-Odo will be Secretary of OSOPADEC board.
Perhaps, he may have forgotten that this is the only governor, the first and only governor, who stood his grounds and insisted that enough of this marginalisation of the Arogbo-Ijaw and that it is time they must go to the National Assembly even when he knew that they were powerful forces who didn’t want the Ijaw to get the ticket of the House of Representatives.
“He insisted that the Ijaw have not had a fair share and that for the first time, a governor provided the platform for the Ijaw by ensuring the House of Representatives ticket of our party, the APC, was given to them.
But we should now ask ourselves, what happened to that laudable platform that was provided by the governor who they claimed does not like the Ijaw people? The same Ijaw of Ese-0do, who are inspiring the lawmaker to be careless and tactless, sabotaged the great efforts of the governor because of their primordial interests. So, who is blaming who? The cry of marginalisation is not peculiar to the Ijaw people.
Yes, we will continue to cry for even development and equitable representation, but it didn’t start today. It is out of the desire to blackmail a sitting governor that he has come out to make the statement that this is the only governor who has marginalised the Ijaw, unlike the previous governments.
Are you saying the lawmaker knows all these but decide to be economical with the truth about the governor and the party? He even knows more than these.
If he is talking about the marginalisation of the Ijaw, I expected him to ask a pertinent question: why did we not have at least one of the big OSOPADEC projects out of three that were given to Ese-Odo, in Arogbo? OSOPADEC earmarked to embark on seven major projects, very good projects, that won’t be less than N100 million each; four in Ilaje and three in Ese-Odo.
In the whole of Arogbo none was considered. The three that came to Ese-Odo, the deputy governor out of hatred for the Arogbo people, ignored us. So much for Ijaw marginalization; not even one was given to us because he decided the citing of the three projects.
I can tell you that rather than blame the governor, we should ask the deputy governor how fair has he been in the exercise of the privilege given to him by Governor Akeredolu? The deputy governor has been most unfair to Arogbo-Ijaws. Blame not Akeredolu,” Ojogo said.