Recent developments in Ondo State has caught many unawares and sent tongues wagging about what is about to play out before and during the October 2024 gubernatorial election in the state.
It is beyond the comprehension of political pundits, how a once upon a time cordial relationship, with bonds which seems unbreakable between Governor Rotimi Akeredolu and his deputy, Lucky Aiyedatiwa could break so soon and easily; in a manner that is looking like bridges will be burnt as it has reached an height where it appears that the centre can no longer hold.
Over time, loyalty has remained a prominent term and a valuable virtue in various socio-political and economic contexts while disloyalty, on the other hand, has been associated with divisions within political and business establishments.
Loyalty is a lexicon frequently used in Nigeria’s political space and people holding executive positions demand absolute loyalty from people working closely with them.
No doubt, it is glaring that the three months absence of Akeredolu, has revealed the deep rooted political and administrative divisions in his government. While the governor was away on medical leave, there have been an array of issues and conflicts in the government with various narratives flying about in the public domain.
At the centre of this controversy is the deputy governor, Aiyedatiwa, who was the acting governor during Akeredolu’s absence since June 6, when he embarked on a 21-day medical leave and transmitted power to him as acting governor of the state.
No sooner had Aiyedatiwa assumed the role of acting governor that stories of division within the cabinet started flying around. Infact, Aiyedatiwa had to debunk the claims of division within the cabinet few days after taking over as acting governor.
However, the governor’s failure to resume and start performing his constitutional duties on July 6, 2023 as expected following the extension of his medical leave through a letter addressed to the Speaker of the state House of Assembly, Hon Olamide Oladiji, asking that Aiyedatiwa should continue to act as governor until there was a written declaration to the contrary, in line with Section 190 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), led to claims of further polarisation within the cabinet.
The governor’s long absence and the perceived severity of his ailment led to a power struggle in his cabinet as his officials sought vintage positions ahead of next year’s governorship election in the state. Indeed, some individuals seized the vacuum created by Akeredolu’s absence to pursue their political ambitions, thereby creating tension within and outside the government.
Emblematic of the crisis was a pervasive rumour in the state of a rift between the deputy governor and the family of the governor, with allegations that the first lady, Betty, had illegally made herself a proxy governor.
This was believed to be connected to the sudden emergence of reports on social media accusing Aiyedatiwa of domestic violence against his wife.
The deputy governor grappled with his new role as acting governor while also fighting to deflect the alleged smear campaign aimed at destroying his political career. And as much as he denied the allegations of wife battery, the reports persisted in the media for weeks.
There were also reports of a cabal within the cabinet. As if that was not enough, social media was full of complaints regarding the stagnation in Ondo State; people complained that things have been grinded to a halt in the state as there were reports that the acting governor could not operate smoothly due to the division.
The lack of clarity over the governor’s illness also fuelled the created factions. It was a case of when the cat was away, the mice playing and dancing around the house, creating all manners of mess.
Akeredolu’s return last Thursday after three months appeared to have calmed the storms, albeit temporarily. With his return, the insinuations and bickerings were suspended, as his officials and political factions joined the other various groups in celebrating.
But his presence may only have taken the competition for power and advantage in his government and the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) into a new chapter as the governor upon his arrival, immediately wrote to notify the House of Assembly of his readiness to resume his duties.
“I am back,” he declared as he officially reclaimed the mantle of authority.
But in all the drama and despite the challenges and the intrigues that surrounded him, the deputy governor has always maintained that he is loyal to the governor.
On Tuesday, Aiyedatiwa reiterated his loyalty to his boss, Akeredolu. He said some reports making the rounds in recent times about his purported disloyalty to the governor were lies and aimed at causing disaffection between him and his principal.
But on Tuesday evening, Akeredolu sacked all the media aides attached to him and directed members of the Press Crew attached to the deputy governor’s office to report back to their various ministries and stations.He further directed the Ministry of Information and Orientation to provide adequate coverage for the activities of the deputy’s governor office henceforth.
Despite the current cheerful mood, there is an uneasy calm within the government concerning Aiyedatiwa’s governorship ambition. The deputy governor is from the southern senatorial district and he is expected to run in 2024. His rivals are however, questioning his loyalty to the governor.
Some have even claimed that the deputy governor has shown less loyalty than his predecessor, Agboola Ajayi.
Aiyedatiwa was accused of rejecting the decision of the governor on important issues and not protecting his interest while Akeredolu was away. He was also accused of planning to reshuffle the cabinet and wishing the governor did not return so that he could serve out the remainder of his tenure.
Speculations are rife that Aiyedatiwa may not survive what lies ahead following the sacking of his media sides on Tuesday.
However, a source indicated that the governor is not in the mood to fight anybody at the moment.
“If the governor wanted to penalise him, he would not have allowed him to visit him in Ibadan on Friday, he would have just asked him to stay away. You know the governor does not know how to pretend,” the source said.
With just over a year left before the next election, many are watching how events unfold in Ondo State.