One month after he was sworn in as governor of Ondo State, Oluwarotimi Akeredolu is having difficulty forming his cabinet because of the crisis in the state’s House of Assembly which was orchestrated by his party to frustrate his predecessor, Olusegun Mimiko. James Sowole reports
‘When you dig a pit for your enemy during a disagreement, do not make it too deep for you might fall into it in error’, is a popular saying to caution anyone who is plotting the downfall of his or her perceived enemy during a misunderstanding.
This popular statement of caution is now playing out in Ondo State as shown by the current trend of events in the leadership crisis which rocked the Ondo State House of Assembly in the twilight of the administration of Dr Olusegun Mimiko, whose second term as governor came to an end on February 24, 2017.
The crisis, which was believed to have been orchestrated by some leaders of the All Progressives Congress (APC) bent on preventing Mimiko from perfecting certain activities of his administration, is now affecting the current administration adversely.
As a result of the crisis, the governor could not present his nominees for appointment as commissioners and special advisers for consideration. This initial setback now threatens the governor’s ability to deliver on his promises to the people of the state. The longer it takes to resolve the crisis the more complicated it becomes to find a solution.
Following the outcome of the November 26, 2016 gubernatorial election won by Akeredolu, the political arrangement of the state makes a change in the leadership of the House inevitable.
The reason is because Akeredolu is from Owo in the Ondo North Senatorial District while his deputy, Hon Agboola Ajayi is from Ese-Odo Local Government in the Ondo South Senatorial District. In order to ensure for power balancing, the speaker of the House of Assembly should automatically come from the Central Senatorial District.
Since there is a convention in place, many people are therefore baffled on what could be the cause of the crisis that broke out in the Assembly on January 27 less than one month before Akeredolu was inaugurated as the governor of the state.
On that day, 13 lawmakers, five from APC working with eight of their colleagues from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) announced a change in the leadership of the 26-member Assembly.
The lawmakers announced the impeachment of the Speaker, Jumoke Akindele, her Dputy, Hon Fatai Olotu and the Majority Leader, Hon Dayo Akinsoyinu on a fathom allegation that the speaker conspired with his offcers to illegally approv the withdrawal of a sum of N15 million from the Assembly account with intention to embezzle it.
The faction said a new leadership had emerged with Hon Malachi Coker from Ilaje Constituency II for the position of new speaker, Hon Ayo Arowele of Owo Constituency as the Deputy Speaker and Hon Olamide George of Akure North Constituency as the Majority Leader.
The crisis quickly led to a disruption of legislative activities as each side claimed leadership of the house with each side justifying its position.
While the spokesperson of the Coker-led faction, Hon Ogundeji Iroju said they took the action because of the illegal withdrawal of the N15 million by the Akindele-led leadership, the Chairman of the House Committee on Information, Hon Siji Akindiose representing Ondo East Constituency said the action of the other faction was sponsored by the then opposition party (APC).
“It is a plot hatched, nurtured and executed by some elements in the APC with the conspiracy of some ultra-ambitious and unscrupulous members of the PDP who are desperate to become speaker and deputy speaker”, Akindiose stated.
He said impeachment of the speaker could only be done when at least two third majority of members of the house had endorsed a motion to that effect after processes stipulated by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,1999 and the House Rules had been complied with.
“We submit that it is mischievous, unwarranted, illegal and can therefore not stand. We affirm our confidence in the leadership of the house and wish to place it on record that we support them and demand that they continue to discharge the duties of their respective offices”, Akindiose said
The hard line positions of the two factions worsened the crisis on Monday, January 30, when the Commissioner of Police for the State Command, Mrs Hilda Ibuforo-Harrison acting on order from above directed that the assembly complex be sealed up.
The sealing of the asembly was sequel to a shouting match between the two factions when the two factional speakers openly confronted each other in the hollow chamber of the house with each claiming the leadership of the legislative arm of government.
The commissioner saw the confrontation and altercation between supporters of the two factions as capable of causing a complete breakdown of law and order. To forestall this, she ordered the lawmakers to vacate the assembly.
Temper rose again on Tuesday, January 31 when Mimiko gave a notice to present the 2017 Appropriation Bill of the state.
This notice by the governor rasied another rounds of questions. Which of the factions will the governor address? If the two factions agree to attend the session, who is going to preside, Akindele or Malachi? Why did it take the governor this long before he decided to present the budget?
Mimiko’s notice to present the budget generated another rounds of cat and mouse game between the two camps as they both tried to outwit each other.
THISDAY however, learnt that the main motive for those behind the house of assembly crisis was to make sure that Mimiko did not get a chance to use the lawmakers to pass some bills that were of interest to him. Those who were used to create the crisis merely latched on to the allegation of illegal withdrawal of N15 million as a as a plot to hatch their plans.
As if acting a script, suspected thugs and protesters stormed the premises of the Ondo State House of Assembly the day Mimiko was billed to present the Appropriation Bill.
The thugs and protesters who arrived the assembly premises as early as 7:00am carried placards with various inscriptions condemning the governor for trying to present budget few days to his exit from office. They ensured that the budget was not presented.
THISDAY gathered that after his inauguration, Akeredolu held separate meetings with the two factions of the assembly with the aim of resolving the crisis in view of the legislative approval he needed to make appointments into his cabinet.
It was learnt that when the Coker’s faction went to Akeredolu and requested that he should give directive that the Assembly be opened for legislative duties, he rejected the request and insisted on a full reconciliation with the entire members of the legislature so that the matter could be resolved once and for all.
However, Akeredolu made a tactical error of judgment when on Friday, March 17 at the swearing in of the Secretary to the State Government (SSG) Hon Sunday Abegunde and the Chief of Staff, Mr Olugbenga Ale, when Malachi Coker was recognised and addressed as Speaker by Akeredolu.
Coker, was said to have acted smartly as he sat at the front side of the Cocoa Conference Hall of the governor’s office (venue of the inauguration) before the governor arrived for the event.
The action of the governor did not go down well with the Akindele’s faction, which insisted that Coker was never a speaker stating that it was not possible for 13 lawmakers to impeach a sitting speaker (Akindele).
“The House of Assembly, under the law, remains under the leadership of the Speaker Jumoke Akindele and other principal officers of the House.
“The purported tactical recognition of Malachi Coker as speaker by the protocol of the government is a setback for the ongoing reconciliation efforts of stakeholders in which Mr. Governor is a mediator.
“In line with our resolve to bring to an end the crisis in the Assembly, we have participated actively in the reconciliation process which led to the withdrawal of the case in court in deference to the intervention of the Governor.
“It is therefore strange to us to see that the protocol of the government would recognise a wrong person as speaker of the House while reconciliation is ongoing”, Akindiose said.
However, a major move towards final resolution of the crisis was taken by the Akindele’s group on Monday, March 20 when the speaker (Akindele) and other principal officers announced their resignation as principal officers of the assembly through a letter addressed to the Clerk, Mr Bode Akinyelu.
Other officers that resigned with Akindele are the Deputy Speaker, Hon Fatai Olotu, the majority Leader, Hon Dayo Akinsoyinu, the Chief Whip, Hon Kemisola Adesanya.
The resignation THISDAY learnt came on the heels of efforts by leaders of thought to reconcile the warring factions.
It was gathered that the decision for Akindele to resign was taken on the agreement that Coker and his other officers would also resign by Wednesday, March 22 which means he would have acted as speaker for three days.
It was expected that Coker would resign while the Clerk would preside and call for nomination for the new speaker and other principal officers in line with the existing political arrangement.
In a twist of fate however,, as at the time of filling this report, Coker and the other principal officers of his group were yet to resign their positions as all moves that were taken to pave the way for the emergence of new leadership remained unsuccessful.
Another obstacle stalling the emergence of new principal officers for the house is that going by the current composition of the Assembly which has 21 PDP members and five APC members, the speaker and his deputy would no doubt emerge from PDP. The APC-led executive appears uncomfortable with that.
Political watchers believed that recognition of Coker as the speaker was of no use in the true spirit of reconciliation. It is the opinion of the people that Akeredolu should have provided an avenue for Akindele to come to the House plenary, preside and announce her resignation as the speaker.
They said the recognition of Coker and his group amounted to giving approval to illegality.
“More confusion had been created now. Akeredolu as a person would have respected the rule of law but professional politicians around him are the one creating more problems. As it is now, he cannot present nominees for the positions of commissioners and special advisers because the assembly is not sitting.
“An action you take today which works for you due to the prevailing situation, may be counter- productive later, that is what is happening now”, a chieftain of APC lamented.
It is a plot hatched, nurtured and executed by some elements in the APC with the conspiracy of some ultra-ambitious and unscrupulous members of the PDP who are desperate to become speaker and deputy speaker