By Dayo Johnson
AKURE — HISTORY was made in Ondo State last Friday when a seamless transition took place in which two former students of the erstwhile University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University, exchanged batons as governor. Former governor Olusegun Mimiko handed over to Rotimi Akeredolu SAN, after serving as the longest executive governor in the annals of the 41-year-old state. Expectations of the people of the state are so high that Akeredolu needs to roll up his sleeves and hit the ground running.
There is no room for time wasting. However, his dilemma in making some required appointments immediately after his swearing-in is now a source of concern to his party members and political observers across the state. Although Akeredolu had denied his involvement in two major events in the twilight of the last administration that pull the rug off its feet, but not many believed he is innocent.
The House of Assembly uprising: An uprising was instigated at the House of Assembly to prevent the former governor from presenting the 2017 budget few days to the expiration of his tenure and pass some bills among which was a pension bill for past governors and their deputies which would inadvertently add more financial burdens on the incoming administration and the sudden disappearance of the state.
Disappearance of the state
The protracted leadership crisis in the state House of Assembly which had polarized the 26 members is another knotty issue for the new governor to resolve. He has reportedly turned down the request of one of the factions led Malachi Coker that the Assembly be re-opened after it was sealed up following a bloody protest by sympathisers of the ruling party insisting that the two factions should reconcile before the chamber is re-opened for parliamentary business.
Frustrating Mimiko at the eleventh hour: Accountant General, Laolu Akindolire barely a week to the swearing-in ceremony following an alarm raised by workers that the outgoing administration who couldn’t pay salaries was dolling out funds to its contractors to expedite action on uncompleted projects in order to commission them before the handover date .
Union leaders in the state had earlier asked the Accountant General not to honour any payment to contractors of the outgoing administration. Many saw these two stunts as a calculated plan to frustrate the former governor who made recurrent reference to them during the handing over when he said events in the last few days left much to be desired but that he “nursed no bitterness against anyone.”
Thinking-through key appointments: Party members as at Tuesday had started grumbling that if the three compulsory appointments were delayed thus far what will happen to subsequent ones under Arakunrin Akeredolu. There is a tradition of people of the state not being patient with their governors. They decide their fate within the first six months at most after which they will start singing either Hosanna or crucify him.
Unpaid salaries as albatross: Akeredolu’s first challenge is how to pay the seven months salaries owed workers by the last administration. At a meeting with the workers on his first day in office, he swung into action by telling them a committee to look into the backlog of salaries and how not to owe salaries would immediately be set up even as he pleaded with the health workers who are presently on strike to resume for work while government looks into their demands.
However, many of the workers who came with the expectation that the new governor would make a categorical statement on the outstanding salaries went back disappointed. He, however, said he would not take salaries until workers are paid. Many however did not buy the dummy as they knew that other perks of office would make up for him.
The magic he would deploy to offset these vexed seven months salaries issue will go a long way to endear him to the hearts of civil servants or nail his coffin even before his four years in office are up. He has, however, promised to go a-borrowing so as not to owe workers during his tenure.
Difficult decision on political appointments: The rat race for political appointments has pitched Akeredolu against many of the party chieftains angling for political patronage after the over eight years rule of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, led government in the state. He has, however, insisted that he would appoint only 12 commissioners, no fewer than 10 advisers and a sprinkling of Special Assistants because of the paucity of funds.
The calibre and pedigree of persons that would be appointed as his team mates would determine if truly he is on the road to redemption as he promised during his inauguration a week ago. Findings showed that the new governor may be in a dilemma over his choice of commissioners following the cacophony of interest across the 18 council areas of the state.
He is said to be finding it pretty difficult to pick one of the so many ‘appointable’ party chieftains in many of the 18 council areas. Findings by Vanguard showed that interests had slowed down the new governor in making some very important appointments he ought to have made at his inauguration. Although, the governor was said to have made up his mind on his choice for the Secretary to the State Government, SSG, Chief of Staff and the Chief Press Secretary but some interests are forcing him to keep tinkering with the list.
Few weeks to his inauguration, the governor travelled abroad to paper up the list of political appointees with the intention of making the announcement on the day of his inauguration but on arrival the song changed and this has kept party members guessing. The Abuja cabal who played a major role in his emergence is said to be pulling the strings on one side while some of his trusted friends who worked as foot soldiers during the primaries and the election are also voices he dare not ignore.
Findings show that barring any last minute change, the position of the SSG has been ceded to the central senatorial district area of the state.
A former House of Representatives member, Hon Ifedayo Abegunde is in contention. He is being sponsored by the solid minerals Minister, Kayode Fayemi who did a yeoman’s job during the election of the governor.
A former council chairman, Solagbade Amodeni and a grassroots politician and former political appointee under the late governor Adebayo Adefarati who is a close allay to the new governor, Ade Adetimehin, a former banker and hotelier, Timehin Adelegbe are being touted to be the governors, Chief of staff, however findings showed that the governor may want to settle for a non politician so as to limit the powers usually wielded by past occupiers of the office in the state.
The position of the chief press secretary, CPS, to the governor is yet to be decided but a senior journalist from the southern area of the state is said to have been offered the position but is yet to give his consent. The fear now according to some party leaders spoken with was that whether Akeredolu would not follow the footsteps of his colleagues in the south west state especially Osun where Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola who for years did not appoint any commissioner and other political aides simply because of lack of funds.
Vanguard learned that in the last one week, some of his party leaders who defected to the Alliance for Democracy, AD, before the governorship election have been making frantic efforts to come back to the party after the victory but have been resisted by those who labour for his emergence as the governor.
Nagging politically sponsored cult war: No fewer than eight persons have reportedly died in the politically sponsored cult war in Ondo town after the swearing in of the governor last Friday and the reprisal attacks on Sunday while over15 suspects have been apprehended by police detectives as the town was literally turned into a war zone by those who defected before the election to another party and those who remained and worked for the new governor’s success at the polls.
The members of both Eiye confraternity and Afee cult during the clash freely used dangerous weapons. Meanwhile, the state chapter of the party had distanced itself from the bloody clash in Ondo town over the leadership/supremacy battle among rival cult members/groups. The party publicity secretary, Abayomi Adesanya condemned the killings in their entirety and warned mischief-makers against drawing APC into the crisis.
Also, the Olusola Oke campaign Organisation in the state through its Director General Bola Ilori have distanced themselves from the killings in Ondo town insisting it was a supremacy battle between the two leaders of the ruling APC in the town.
Alleged plan to dissolve LG administrations: Also, controversies had since trailed the alleged plan by the new governor to dissolve the 18 council areas of the state at the Court of Appeal. Akeredolu has, however, openly disowned a suit filed on his behalf seeking to upturn a verdict of an Akure High Court which validated the election of 18 Local Government Chairmen and 203 Councillors in the state.
Addressing civil servants on his first working day in office the governor said he did not authorize any appeal filed at the Court of Appeal on his behalf as he was not aware of the suit. According to him, he was scandalised by a report that he sought to sack the Local Government Chairmen through judicial process as the suit or the appeal had not been brought to his notice as the governor of the state.
“There was a news item that I caused an appeal against the judgment. I am not aware of the judgment and I could not have asked the appeal to be filed. It is unfortunate that people carry rumours, I as the governor is not aware of the case. I only became the governor on Friday, if I ordered an appeal against a judgment, it is the one I will take being the first day in office. I could not have ordered an appeal before today,” he said.
The governor had to disown them following the futility of such move and knowing fully well that such action was not expedient now.
The all-important NURTW factor
Another challenge that Akeredolu needs to tackle before it boomerangs and disrupts the existing peace in the state is the leadership tussle in the state’s National Union of Road Transport Workers, NURTW, where a faction loyal to him and his administration planned to forcefully hijack the union. The union had been divided into four factions over the leadership tussle.
But to forestall any break down of law and order, the national secretariat of the union during the week swiftly dissolved the state council and put in place a four member caretaker committee to run its affairs. The faction which has the sympathy of Akeredolu is led by Jacob Adebo a.k.a Idajo who rolled over the erstwhile state chairman Ariyo Adetula who hurriedly threw in the towel when he was overwhelmed by a sponsored attack from Idajo’s faction.
Ariyo Adetula was installed by the former governor Olusegun Mimiko last year as the state chairman. He resigned two years into his four year tenure citing the need to allow peace to reign in the union. It took common sense by officers from the unions national secretariat who came to mediate in the crisis after the Idajo faction threatened to unleash violence in the state if he was not declared the state Chairman of the union to include his name as a member of the caretaker committee.
His name was added to the list of three caretaker members approved from Abuja to make four at the venue of the meeting when his supporters threatened to go on rampage.
How Akeredolu would sustain the peace that reigned supreme across the state in the last eight years which he inherited from the last administration remain unknown as street urchins are back after the long break. Even the tension within the ruling party in the state which came on board exactly a week today is worrisome as party members are impatient and interestingly Akeredolu looks unperturbed.
He likes doing his things his own way. Maybe his party members and the people of the state will eventually get used to his style or not, time will surely tell.