Three weeks after his inauguration, Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State is yet to make any major appointment, unlike his predecessors. Nevertheless, the rumour mill is agog about those who may occupy key positions in the administration. DAMISI OJO reports.
MORE than three weeks after taking his oath of office, Ondo State Governor Rotimi Akeredolu (SAN) is yet to make his principal appointments. This is the first time such appointments would linger for weeks.
Since the return of civil rule in 1999, previous governors of the state, which is also known as the Sunshine State, usually make key appointments, such as the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), the Chief of Staff to the Governor, the Chief of Protocol and Special Assistants within the first two or three days. This development is already being compared with the slow take-off of the Muhammadu Buhari administration at the centre in 2015.
Although Akeredolu himself has kept sealed lips, some of his close associates have been speculating about the possible candidates for the position of the SSG and other key appointments. The list for the SSG job has been narrowed to three key party stalwarts: Tunji Light Ariyomo, an engineer and pioneer Coordinator of the Ondo State Information Technology Development Centre (SITDEC); Sunday Abegunde, a former House of Representatives member; and Bankole Oluwajana, a lawyer. Erelu Bisi Fayemi, who was initially believed to have been pencilled down for the position, has been publicly exempted by her husband, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, the Minister for Solid Minerals, who stated at Akeredolu’s inauguration that his wife was not interested.
If merit, cognate experience and the desire for sterling performance were the sole considerations, it would probably be a no-contest between Ariyomo and the rest. This is because the position of SSG would have been better for a man with proven pedigree of service that includes strong organisational skills as demonstrated by Ariyomo over the years. Ariyomo is a Harvard-trained policy expert with a Master’s in Engineering from the University of Sheffield, England. In an interview with reporters in 2016, a former Minister of Environment, Laraba Mallam, revealed how Ariyomo secured over N22 billion in overseas development partners’ finance for the Federal Government. His days of managing civil servants payments in Ondo State witnessed reduction in payroll processing time from over 20 days to less than two hours, while all members of the state’s civil service were mandatorily trained. Analysts believe a radical thinker like Ariyomo would make a good SSG at this time of recession.
His consistency is also an admirable quality. He is one of the few Agagu loyalists who stayed completely away from the Mimiko administration throughout its eight years. His youthful energy, calm temperament, level headedness and professional network are assets that could make a great difference. Throughout the campaign, it was observed that the old order within the APC refused to assign him any prominent role.
Ariyomo, however, raised a separate team called the Akeredolu Support Organisation and became the face of the campaign in the Central senatorial district. This provided a rallying point for indigenes and residents of Akure, the state capital, who could not access the main campaign organisation. His strategy paid off as his team provided the momentum that changed the dynamics of the campaign in the state capital and eventually delivered to the APC a town originally conceded to Eyitayo Jegede of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) by pundits. Nonetheless, there are apprehensions in some camps about his possible emergence as the SSG. Already, some stakeholders have launched what is termed a ‘community effort’, which amounts to an underground campaign to stop the Akure-born engineer.
If politics were the sole consideration, Abegunde would be the best choice for the position. Abegunde, popularly called Abena, is an alumnus of Oyemekun Grammar School, Akure. He is seen as one of the most committed members of Akeredolu’s caucus since 2012 when the latter first contested the governorship. Abegunde is considered the major rival to Ariyomo. Their rivalry dates back to 2005, when they fought for the PDP House of Representatives’ ticket for Akure South and North Federal Constituency. The rivalry reached its climax in November 2006, leading Abegunde to ditch the PDP for the Labour Party (LP). Abegunde is a consummate politician and has a good grip of the APC political machinery in Akure South. He is believed to have been cheated out of the senatorial ticket of the party ahead of the 2015 general elections in favour of Senator Tayo Alasoadura. He is also believed to be the closest person to Akeredolu from the local government – this could be an advantage.
However, his biggest disadvantage is the general perception that he lacks the requisite organisational and management skills required to coordinate the state’s programmes and organise or drive the direction and institution of governance, which happens to be the primary duties of an SSG. Some from his local government point to his insipid backbencher role during his eight years at the National Assembly as proof of their fears.
Bankole Oluwajana is a lawyer, an estate developer and a pastor in the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG). He graduated from the University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile Ife in 1975 and was called to the Nigerian Bar the following year. He has garnered rich managerial experience from the banking sector. He is in private practice. Oluwajana was on the Board of Afforestation in Ondo State in 1992. He was also the Chairman of Ondo State Development and Property Corporation (OSDPC) in the PDP administration of Dr. Olusegun Agagu.
If Oluwajana is appointed, it would comfortably put the triad of executive leadership of the state under a single professional banner since both governor and deputy are lawyers. This will make for ease of communication among the three. Nevertheless, this would rob the administration the advantage that diversity offers.
Oluwajana, like Ariyomo, is also seen as a technocrat who is brilliant and level-headed. He is thus Ariyomo’s main rival on the intellectual tuft, in case the governor is hoping to assign the role to capable hands with intellectual muscle. Oluwajana also possesses the calm temperament and cognate experience needed to deliver on the job. Although he does not have the reputation of being a very active member of the APC, he nonetheless worked for the emergence of Akeredolu in the main election. He was also a member of the transition committee.
Other positions, such as the Chief of Staff (COS) are also not without strong contenders. Solagbade Amodeni and Ade Adetimehin are some of the names that are actively in public consciousness as potential COS. Amodeni and Adetimehin are strong backbones that supported Akeredolu through the thick and thin of the election. An insider, however, recently informed that the role of COS when eventually announced may shock many, as Akeredolu is said to be looking in the direction of people who can deliver on the job. It is said that he prefers that Adetimehin help to manage and hold the party together, should the incumbent state Chairman, Isaac Kekemeke resign. While this should brighten the chances of Amodeni, the possible emergence of a dark horse cannot be discountenanced.
Given the long wait of President Buhari which eventually did not pay off, because there were no surprises in the end, analysts are not favourably disposed to waiting for too long for Akeredolu’s kitchen cabinet. The people expect the wait to produce A-list appointees who can really help Akeredolu drive transformational government, as against political hangers-on. The people of Ondo are expectant. Akeredolu is expected to jettison sentiment and be his own man, by going for a good blend of technocrats and people with sound political experience.
The governor cannot also afford to delay his appointments, as this will slow down productivity and guarantee a continuation of the Mimiko era policies since the top echelon of the bureaucracy are beneficiaries of the latter.
Akeredolu is, however, perceived as a principled man. Regardless of pressures from party leaders who are scheming to control certain layers of his government, he is, ultimately, expected to listen to his own inner mind.