ONDO state Governor Rotimi Akeredolu has been out of the state for nearly six months (171 days) since he was flown out of Nigeria to receive care for an undisclosed ailment.
The issue has evoked criticisms from the opposition parties, who believe his absence leaves a governance vacuum in the state.
Besides, his relationship with his deputy, Lucky Aiyedatiwa, has been in tatters over who controls the government.
The ICIR reports that there have been cracks in his cabinets as the feud between him and Aiyedatiwa splits the state executive council.
Apart from the ongoing legal fireworks between the governor and his deputy over the former’s insistence to get the Assembly to impeach the latter, it remains unclear if the ruling party’s – the All Progressives Congress (APC) – intervention in getting the leaders to bury their hatchet is yielding desired results.
Since his return to Nigeria in September, the governor has been in Ibadan, Oyo state capital. He had handed over power to his deputy in June but took it back upon his return to Ibadan, and crisis erupted in their camps days later.
The ICIR reports that since September 7, when he returned to Nigeria, Akeredolu has governed the state from Ibadan, where he has decided to stay.
His team said he had no befitting residence in Akure, adding that he would only return to the state when work on a new place being ‘arranged’ for him is completed.
On November 16, the state executive council passed a vote of confidence in the governor.
These developments have been widely condemned by the major opposition party in the state – the Peoples Democratic Party and other concerned Nigerians.
While the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) argues that governance remains uninterrupted by the governor’s absence in the state, many residents in the state disagree.
Residents displeased with the situation say governance has been slow, and Akeredolu’s unavailability causes rancour in his governance and lack of checks that could encourage, bolster and incentivise corruption.
Opposition parties, including the PDP and Social Democratic Party (SDP), civil society organisations, and concerned people in the state have alleged that the governor’s family and some cabinet members have been managing the state affairs instead of the duly elected Deputy Governor, Lucky Aiyedatiwa, empowered by the Constitution to act in Akeredolu’s absence.
The ICIR reported how, after weeks of speculation surrounding his health and his prolonged absence from the state, the governor officially transferred power to his deputy, Lucky Aiyedatiwa, on Monday, June 13.
The Speaker of the state House of Assembly, Olamide Oladiji, confirmed that the governor would be on a 21-day medical leave abroad from June 7 to July 6, 2023.
In July, the governor again wrote the lawmakers, extending his leave indefinitely.
Days after he returned to Nigeria, Akeredolu moved to impeach his deputy – a move that the deputy has vehemently resisted through litigations.
Meanwhile, in 2009, when he was the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) president, Akeredolu called on the then-ailing late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua to hand over to his deputy Goodluck Jonathan.
He had said: “The prayer of the association is that the President should recover fast, return to his office, and resign. No matter how much you love your country, it should not be to the detriment of your health.
“It is not your party or your wife that will decide whether you are capable of handling state matters; it is only your doctors that can decide that. The bar is not asking the President not to come back and take his seat, but the right thing must be done.”
The doctrine of necessity is the basis of satisfying the exigencies created by certain situations outside the contemplation of the Constitution or the rule of law and, thus, designed to preserve political stability.
For instance, in February 2010, the National Assembly, upon a joint resolution from both chambers and at the request of the Governors’ Forum, authorised the Vice President, Goodluck Jonathan, to act as the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces due to the prolonged illness of the substantive President, preventing him from fulfilling the constitutional duties of the office.
PDP continues protest, demands governor’s removal
A press statement titled “Akeredolu’s cabinet dances naked in the market square,” which the PDP shared with The ICIR on Saturday, November 18, showed the party expressing worry over the state of affairs in the state.
The party alleged that the governor’s son, Babjide Akeredolu, was seen in the Oke-Ijebu area of Akure, the state capital, inspecting a government project with a full complement of the governor’s convoy and security apparatus.
It also expressed displeasure over what it described as a ‘meaningless’ communique by the state executive committee, passing a vote of confidence on Akeredolu whose whereabouts have been unknown for months.
Part of the statement read: “Last week, Babajide Akeredolu, the governor’s heir apparent, was seen in the Oke-Ijebu area of Akure, inspecting government projects with the full complement of the governor’s convoy and security apparatus. Things have never been this bad in Ondo State. Who voted for Babajide as governor, or his mother, Betty, both of whom have held the state by its jugular?
“Now that the state executive committee has decided to come and dance in the marketplace naked, it is clear the days of this government are numbered.
“The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Ondo state chapter wishes to advise Akeredolu’s appointees to be honourable in the discharge of their responsibilities instead of making a mockery of themselves in the eyes of the people.”
Meanwhile, this wasn’t the first time the party had called out the governor, the state House of Assembly, and the APC to lead according to the Nigerian Constitution.
Some legal practitioners who spoke to The ICIR said Nigeria’s Constitution had loopholes exploited by politicians.
They argued that the Constitution did not explicitly specify the extent to which leaders could be away from office due to illness before they could be removed from office.
One of the lawyers, Olu Olaniyi, also a public affairs analyst, explained that in the event of the governor’s incapacity to discharge his duties, the state House of Assembly has to impeach him.
Impeaching the governor, he said, requires a two-thirds majority in the Assembly after verifying the governor’s incapability through assessment by the governor’s physician and a medical panel formed by the same Assembly.
“Now, if the representatives of the people, the members of the House of Assembly, are not asking about the medical well-being of their governor, then there’s nobody else that can mediate.
“Even if we go to court, the court will simply direct the state House of Assembly. This is possibly what anybody can do, including private citizens, to get the court to disclose the health status of the governor and direct the House of Assembly within days to play its role as stipulated under section 189 of the Constitution.
“Take note that the Speaker still has the prerogative of determining who goes in the medical panel. Absolutely no requirement other than those that are eminent in the field. That’s all.”
He also argued that the Constitution failed to indicate that a governor could only govern from the state, adding that it’s also silent on whether he could lead from any part of the country.
“There’s a difference between he is dead, he is of unsound mind as the Constitution says (he can only be removed) if he’s a ‘lunatic,’ or he has infirmity of body or mind and cannot perform his functions. Since he is not dead and yet to be proven unsound, there is nothing yet to warrant his resignation or removal from office according to the Constitution,” he added.
Similarly, quoting section 189 of the Constitution, another legal practitioner, Abiola Kolawale, explained that the Constitution did not specify how long a governor could be on a sick bed before being deemed unfit to continue.
He, however, noted that if it was established that the governor had not been discharging his duties due to his continuous sickness, the House of Assembly might have violated the Constitution by failing to move for his removal.
Governor’s goodwill to state lawmakers, permanent secretaries
In August this year, the governor presented each of the 26 members of the state House of Assembly with an SUV worth millions of naira while on a sick bed.
The governor also extended a similar gesture to 30 permanent secretaries in the state.
State’s governorship election months away
Akeredolu’s second term tenure of four years apiece ends in February 2025. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has fixed the state governorship election for Saturday, November 16, 2024.
It remains unclear if the governor clings to power because of the election.
Some politicians in the governor’s camp are jostling to succeed him.
The ICIR could not independently confirm from Aiyedatiwa if he would seek to succeed his principal.
But an impeccable source from his camp told our reporter he would make his position known at the right time.
The ICIR reports that Akeredolu was sworn in for a second term of four years on February 24, 2021.
He is the 18th person to lead Ondo State since its creation in 1976 and the sixth elected governor of the state.
He has been the most vocal governor in Nigeria’s southern region against atrocities committed by non-state actors, including herders, kidnappers, insurgents, and bandits, who killed many people during former President Muhammadu Buhari’s tenure.