Aiyedatiwa: What next after the storm; coast clear for two terms?

The death last year of Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu has no doubt paved the way for a new helmsman and may have changed the political calculus in Ondo state; KEHINDE OSASONA writes.

Fire on the mountain

After the tragedy that struck in Ondo state leading to the death of Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu last year, current happenings and ensuing in-fighting in the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) family has heightening the stakes ahead April primary election and the 2024 governorship poll in the state.

His death came at a time when the crisis in the state was yet to be doused and now, it might be more intriguing as ambition, alignment, realignment and betrayal takes over the political atmosphere of the sunshine state.

The ill health of the governor and his subsequent death may have greatly affected plans that had already been outlined to canvass party stalwarts and members ahead of the next poll in the state.

Aketi as he was fondly called in the political parlance was a legal luminary and Senior Advocate of Nigeria turned politician.

Formerly president of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), and former the Attorney General of Ondo state, Akereedolu was not only a second-term governor, but also served as the chairman of the South West Governor’s Forum before his death.

Although after Akeredolu’s death, his deputy, Lucky Aiyedatiwa, emerged the new governor, his coming, as findings by this medium revealed, has stirred up new controversies for the progressives’ family and upcoming elections in the state.

Aiyedatiwa is expected to complete the remaining tenure of Akeredolu which will end on February 23, 2025. As the new leader of APC in the state, he will now oversee the preparations for next year’s governorship election.

Ondo, Edo, Bayelsa, Kogi, Anambra, Osun, Ekiti and Imo, are among the eight states whose governorship elections are held outside the cycle of the general elections due to the outcomes of previous litigations.

The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had last year announced that the governorship election will hold on November 16, 2024, while party primaries will hold from April 6-27, 2024, as provided in Section 178 (2) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended).

Before now

Prior to the cracks that later widened the good working relationship between Akeredolu and Aiyedatiwa, the latter’s names had propped up many times as the favourite to succeed Akeredolu after his two terms of eight years.

Blueprint Weekend recalls that during his inauguration for his second term, the late Akeredolu was quoted as saying, “The name we give our children or the name we bear at times matters a lot. You (Aiyedatiwa) have been loyal and consistent. You are worthy of this position (deputy governor), and I want to thank you for being considered to complete this journey with us.

“I have a maximum of four years; maybe you can proceed from there. It is for me now to calm down and for you to grow. I must come down for him to grow. I have done my own little bit; I must congratulate you.”

However, pundits believe that emerging forces and mounting opposition being currently witnessed by Aiyedatiwa may have started with the statement made by Akeredolu.

Observers who follow keenly the Ondo political transition are of the opinion that Akeredolu loyalists and some other politicians who showed interest in succeeding the late governor saw the ‘controversial’ endorsement as an affront ahead the 2024 elections.

The late Akeredolu emerged against all odds when he contested the party primaries against political gladiators like Olusola Oke, Senator Ajayi Boroffice, and Senator Tayo Alasoadura, among others. After the fiercely contested election, Akeredolu won the primaries with 669 votes, while Abraham polled 635 votes in 2016.

His travails

Shortly after the second term journey had kicked off, the rift between Akeredolu and Aiyedatiwa became widened with allegations from the former loyalists that Aiyedatiwa was making moves against him.

After a while when the face-off escalated further, Aiyedatiwa was faced with impeachment proceedings, a development which almost took his seat and chances of contesting for the ticket of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in April 2024 away from him until President Bola Tinubu intervened.

However, as it were, attention has now shifted to the 2024 election as all gladiators are back to the trenches. While dissecting the situation in Ondo, Political analysts were of the views that apart from a handful of Akeredolu’s loyalists from across the state, especially Ondo South Senatorial district, the new Sheriff also has perpetual contenders and new entrants to contend with to clinch the seat.

Investigations by this reporter also revealed that already aspirants are aligning and re-aligning across party lines to wrest power from Aiyedatiwa, who they considered as a green horn in politics.

In an exclusive interview with this reporter, a political commentator, Comrade Olu Apata, described Akeredolu’s demise as “shocking,” adding that it has not only triggered new permutations, but has brought unforeseen interest into the system.

Apata, who described South-west politics as “unique and sophisticated,” added: “Every situation is peculiar and we need to know that western politics is particularly unique and Ondo is not an exception.

“The current scenario has brought an unforeseen interest into the system and stringent measures are needed to manage it. Thankfully, President Tinubu is so interested in what is going on in the state.

“For some hawks, Aiyedatiwa is not in the political calculation of who becomes next governor as fear of the unknown is making them want to ease him out so as not to give him an undue advantage over others. And if he insists, they will give him a run for his money.

“If you recall, Tinubu compensates loyalties and someone like Olusola Oke might be compensated this time; I mean when chips are down. So, it is not going to be an easy ride or a walk in the park for the new governor. Aiyedatiwa, if you observe, is also threading softly because he knows they will tackle him frontally should he show any aggressiveness and unless he warms himself into Tinubu’s heart, I see a lot of fire on the mountain for him to succeed.”

He said further, “You saw people resigning voluntarily and re-strategising after Aketi’s death right, does that not say something? They did in lieu of their next political move if you must know.

“Don’t also forget that the Field Marshall of South-west politics is now the president and he has interest. He would be living in a fool’s paradise to think power of incumbency can do the magic or that Tinubu is not interested in who becomes what after the demise of Aketi because the structure that brought in Aketi is still there only to be oiled for actions.

“However, there could be a soft landing for him if he lobbies the president and plays his game well.”

Landmines and 2024

Following the defeat of Tinubu’s candidate in the primary that produced Akeredolu who became governor eventually, Oke moved to the Action Alliance (AD) where he was backed by Tinubu to contest the 2016 governorship poll.

Oke later became stranded after Tinubu allegedly withdrew his support at the request of former President Muhammadu Buhari.

With the new scenario, Akingbami Olalere, a political analyst believed that it is indeed a payback time for Oke, who according to him is a political war horse, calculative and patient politician who had painstakingly bided his time to govern the sunshine state.

Also, in an exclusive chat with this medium, a top member of APC in the state who asked not to be mentioned, said there was an “unwritten” zoning agreement in the state that Akeredolu’s successor should emerge from the south senatorial district where Aiyedatiwa hails from. However, he punctured the arrangement, saying with the presidency indicating interest now, it could be anybody’s game.

Lately, indications emerged that that other contestants from the zone included the Commissioner for Finance, Wale Akinterinwa; Mrs. Oladunni Odu, Senator representing Ondo South Senatorial District, Jimoh Ibrahim; Olusola Oke, a governorship candidate in the state during the 2012 and 2016, Ifeoluwa Olusola Oyedele; APC national vice-chairman (South-west), Isaac Kekemeke.

Meanwhile, another landmine that might hinder Aiyedatiwa’s emergence, according to findings, has been shopped for a deputy governor.

A source said the governor would have ordinarily picked one of his loyalists as deputy governor but that he was merely watching Tinubu’s body language as he does not want to be in the bad book of the president at this inception.

It was further learnt that Aiyedatiwa had relaxed meetings with political stakeholders in his search for a suitable and loyal deputy governor.

As the state heads for primaries in April, it remains to be seen how Aiyedatiwa plays his game to become the sole candidate of the ruling APC.