The Ondo State House of Assembly has begun a process for the impeachment of Deputy Governor Lucky Aiyedatiwa, who, until a few weeks ago, was the state’s acting governor while Governor Rotimi Akeredolu was in hospital in Germany.
Mr Aiyedatiwa was severally accused by aides of Mr Akeredolu of disloyalty to the governor while he held sway but the offences cited by the lawmakers for wanting to remove him from office centre on alleged gross misconduct.
According to the notice served by the House on him, the allegations are: “(I) Gross misconduct (II) abuse of office with actions likely to bring down Ondo State Government. (III) Financial recklessness (IV) Publications in print media by your media aides maligning the credibility of the Governor, etc.”
Eleven lawmakers signed the notice of allegations which was sent to Mr Aiyedatiwa last week. After the House asked the state’s chief judge, Olusegun Odusola, to set up the mandatory seven-member panel for his trial for the allegations, the deputy governor obtained a restraining order from the Federal High Court in Abuja against the lawmakers, governor and chief judge of the state.
But the House immediately rejected the order, citing constitutional protection against the interference of the courts in impeachment proceedings.
“For the avoidance of doubt, the House is fully conscious of Section 188 (10) of the Constitution which clearly states that ‘No proceedings or determination of the panel or the House of Assembly or any matter relating to such proceedings or determination shall be entertained or questioned in any court,” the speaker of the House, Olamide Oladiji, said in a statement on Tuesday.
Mr Akeredolu has not stepped into the state since resuming from his three months-long medical leave, over two weeks ago, but his hands are visible in what is playing out at the state House of Assembly in Akure.
Ironically, his first deputy, Agboola Ajayi, had also faced impeachment proceedings at the House of Assembly. However, Mr Agboola survived the move in July 2020 when the then chief judge of the state, Oluwatoyin Akeredolu, declined the request by lawmakers to set up a panel because the deputy governor had a case in court over the process.
Does Mr Agboola’s experience thus offer any hope for his successor, Mr Aiyedatiwa? Or does he stand to suffer the fate of Ali Olanusi, who was removed from the same office by impeachment in 2015? It is noteworthy that the courts later voided the impeachment of Mr Olanisi, although that came long after the expiration of his tenure.
As of the time of writing this report, the chief judge has not stated her position on the issue.
Ondo and gubernatorial rifts
Ondo State appears to be prone to conflict between governors and their deputies. The phenomenon began with the first elected governor of the state, Adekunle Ajasin, and his deputy, Akin Omoboriowo, in the Second Republic.
Their rift eventually led to a tragic post-election conflagration in which many people were killed and properties razed across the state, after the electoral commission declared Mr Omoboriowo as the winner of the 1983 poll. The courts eventually voided Mr Omoboriowo’s return and declared Mr Ajasin as the winner of the controversial poll.
In the current Fourth Republic, the first reappearance of the phenomenon was under Governor Olusegun Mimiko who was sworn in in 2008 after the courts voided the return of Governor Segun Agagu as the winner of the 2007 governorship election. Mr Mimiko went on to win a second term which he completed in 2016.
Along the line, Mr Mimiko fell out with his deputy, Ali Olanusi, leading to the deputy governor’s impeachment in 2015 shortly after their party, the PDP, lost the presidential election.
Mr Olanusi had defected to the All Progressives Congress (APC) before then. He had not hidden his rift with Mr Mimiko and openly complained against his principal while still in office. Mr Olanusi was eventually removed from office after his indictment by a seven-member panel, headed by a chief magistrate.
Mr Mimiko had strategically delayed the impeachment move until after the state House of Assembly elections, which gave his PDP 21 out of the 26 seats in the House. Mr Olanusi was soon removed from office in May 2015 and replaced with Lasisi Oluboyo, who served out his tenure.
Akeredolu vs Agboola Ajayi
The flu of gubernatorial conflict infected the Akeredolu administration shortly before the end of his first tenure, when Mr Ajayi began to pursue an ambition to displace his boss.
He challenged Mr Akeredolu for nomination as the candidate of the APC. As punishment for his effrontery, the governor’s camp initiated the impeachment process against him, spearheaded by the then speaker of the House, Bamidele Oleyeloogun.
However, Mr Ajayi fought the process with the support of nine lawmakers who refused to sign the impeachment notice. The state’s chief judge eventually delivered the coup de grace on the process. The deputy governor remained in office until he voluntarily resigned to contest the governorship election on the platform of the Zenith Labour Party.
Endless tales of “disloyalty”
Mr Akeredolu won a second term with Mr Aiyedatiwa. He had presented him to the party faithful and the voters with the assurance that his new deputy would not betray him like his predecessor.
“This person has been with us since the beginning of this political journey in 2012, Mr Akeredolu said while presenting Mr Aiyedatiwa in 2020. “In arriving at this choice, some important factors assisted the leaders of this great party. We have decided to sever ties with mediocrity and treachery.
“A candidate with verifiable credentials and pedigree has been chosen to complete the last part of the gubernatorial race.
“We may not have chosen a saint and the best but let it not be said that we, either wittingly or otherwise, settle for an avowed hater of human beings and good things, an enemy of his own people and a serial forger. We owe our people the duty of care in this regard.”
But the story has changed. History is being repeated just as the election season approaches again.
Mr Aiyedatiwa has been accused of disloyalty and seeking to bring down the government of Mr Akeredolu. The House of Assembly sums up his transgressions as “Gross Misconduct.” The details are not contained in the notice of impeachment, but feelers from the government offer clues.
One of these is that Mr Aiyedatiwa allegedly procured a N300 million bullet-proof SUV for himself as acting governor from funds set aside for the procurement of fuel subsidy removal palliatives for the people of the state. The chairman of the House Committee on Information, Olatunji Oshati, confirmed this to PREMIUM TIMES.
Mr Aiyedatiwa is also alleged to have sought to induce lawmakers to impeach the governor who was then on medical leave in Germany.
But he denies any wrongdoing. In his motion before the State High Court seeking to stop the impeachment proceedings, the deputy governor said he was wrongly and falsely accused.
In the affidavit in support of the originating summons, he accused the lawmakers of embarking on a media trial to scandalise him and incite public opinion against him.
He also accused the House of Assembly of persecuting him without lawful basis in conspiracy with certain persons who are gladiators in the political circles.
Court to the rescue?
Aside from some weak voices coming up to raise the morale of the deputy governor, the courts appear to be his main hope for survival. He has secured an order of the court restraining the House of Assembly. But the lawmakers have ignored the order.
In Mr Ajayi’s case in 2020, the then chief judge, Mrs Akeredolu, declined to constitute a panel of inquiry to conduct the trial. Mrs Akeredolu gave two reasons for her decision – that the assembly had not completed the process of impeachment as stipulated by the Constitution and that the matter was subjudice, as it had been challenged in court.
It would be recalled that Mr Olanusi had been impeached by the House and removed from office under Governor Mimiko, despite also obtaining a restraining order from the court. However, his impeachment was eventually declared null and void by the courts for not meeting the requirement of fair hearing. But that reprieve came too late to return him to the office.
A serious question
So, can Mr Aiyedatiwa survive this onslaught? This is the question on the lips of political observers. For members of Mr Akeredolu’s kitchen cabinet, the sack of the deputy governor’s media aides is an indication that the governor has reached the point of no return on the issue.
Sources close to the ruling party said politics will determine Mr Aiyedatiwa’s ultimate fate. “Those who should speak for him have their political interest and would not want to fall out of favour with the governor and the cabal,” a source who does not want to be named, said.
“His situation is completely different from Agboola’s because the latter had a strong backing from the House of Assembly and at the time he was being wooed by other political parties to run on their platform, so he could do what he wanted.
“The current deputy governor has no such advantage. He is alone and he is dealing with chiefly the APC. The opposition will not speak for him, even in the House. The few members of the opposition there will see this as purely an APC affair, so the impeachment is no doubt a done deal.”
However, Kunle Adeyemi, an Akure-based political analysts, said the situation has big consequences. “To impeach the deputy governor in this present situation is to erode the goodwill left for this administration,” he said.
“A lot of people had been praying for the governor to recover, and we are still praying right now. He is yet to fully regain himself. Instead of praying and thanking God for mercies and grace to be alive, the governor is finding time to be vindictive. This could further erode the goodwill of the APC in the coming elections.”
A few voices have risen up to speak out against the impeachment move. One of them is the Ondo Redemption Front (ORF), a group of professionals in the state.
The group on Monday called on the National Assembly to intervene in the overriding interest of the people of the state and the country at large.
Its chairman, Ayodeji Ologun, said the impeachment move was not about accountability but about vendetta by a “class of crass opportunists who have unfettered access to the resources of the state occasioned by the incapacity of the governor.”
2024 in view
The coming election is the major reason for the altercations. Election was the reason for the fight between Messrs Mimiko and Olanusi; It was also the basis for the war between the governor and Mr Ajayi.
“It is all about the election and the governor is not contesting again,” Senior Special Assistant on Special Duties, Doyin Odebowale, captures the mood of the time when he spoke on Channels TV recently.
“People want to be governor. It is within their right, but they were distracting us and were recruiting people to be distracting us. No governor will sit down and see that happen.”
Messrs Akeredola and Aiyedatiwa have 17 months left of their tenure, having both been sworn in on 24 February 2020. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has already announced 16 November, 2024 as the day for the next governorship election in the state.
The consequences of an impeachment are dire. Those who suffer it labour hard at the courts to upturn the legislative verdict several years after, even when doing so had become ceremonial.
An impeached deputy governor, for instance, will lose their retirement benefits and may not be eligible for election to a public office for a long period of time. The indictment itself lowers the reputation of the affected public officer.
This is why the ongoing attempt to impeach Mr Aiyedatiwa threatens his political future and why he has to fight it with all his might.