The situation in Ondo State arose from the mixture of politics with the law, writes Bolaji Adebiyi

The delicate balance of power in Ondo State has instituted a fragile peace, which no one can hazard a guess on how long it will last. Even President Bola Tinubu’s intervention has only helped to postpone the proverbial evil day as the gladiators are still baying for blood to the detriment of the people whose interests the combatants claim to be pursuing.

Hostility broke out in September when ailing Governor Rotimi Akeredolu who had been abroad in Germany on medical leave returned home. He had in compliance with section 190 of the 1999 Constitution as altered transmitted a letter to the state House of Assembly, stating that he was proceeding on medical leave in June. Power was subsequently transmitted to his deputy, deputy, Lucky Aiyedatiwa.

With the governor’s return, a fresh letter was transmitted to the legislature, intimating it that he had resumed office. However, rather than report at his desk in the governor’s office in Akure, the state capital, he stopped over in his Ibadan home and has remained there. As if that was not curious enough, a move to remove the deputy governor from office was immediately started, indicating a political dispute, which cause had remained foggy to the public.

Aiyedatiwa refused to go down and approached the court for reprieve He got a restraining order effectively tying the hands of the legislature for a moment. With that order, the chief judge of the state declined to set up the mandatory committee that would look into the alleged gross misconduct of the deputy governor. In the meantime, the embattled deputy governor launched a counter-offensive aimed at declaring the governor invalid. As the balance of terror in the state’s political firmament threatened to degenerate into a violent conflict, the president stepped in from Abuja.

Tinubu’s intervention established a middle ground where all the contending parties were required to berth. The status quo ante belum, he said, would have to be maintained. Meaning? Ailing Akeredolu remains governor even as he is incapacitated as he could not attend the peace meeting. Aiyedatiwa also remains deputy governor and must not make any move to upstage his principal. To secure the deputy governor’s compliance with the terms of the resolution, he was reportedly asked to submit an undated letter of resignation to the president.

Although the presidential truce has brought some calm to the storm, many knowledgeable observers say what exists is the peace of the graveyard that could be torpedoed shortly by the hard political permutations on the ground. Akeredolu is said to be terminally ill. Disappointed by Aiyedatiwa’s politics in his absence, he is said to be unfavourably disposed to his deputy succeeding him. There are also a couple of commissioners who are interested in the governorship contest scheduled for next year, who fear that the deputy governor will be conferred an undue advantage if he holds office in an acting capacity.

A lame-duck governor and an idle deputy is a sure recipe for a vacuum in governance, which can lead to social restiveness as the government becomes increasingly incapacitated and unable to cater to the needs of the citizens. It is against this background that some analysts have criticized the presidential truce as not only too tentative but also a pushback at the provisions of the 1999 Constitution as altered. Somehow, it has created a stalemate and truncated a constitutional process.

Following the almost constitutional crisis created by the long absence of President Umaru Yar’Adua from the country due to ill health between November 2009 and February 2010, the National Assembly in July 2010 effected the first series of alterations to the 1999 Constitution. To cure the mischief created by section 145 of the Constitution, which gave the president the discretion to transmit a notice of his absence from office to the legislature, the federal legislature altered the section and made the notice mandatory. It also added subsection 145 (2) which empowered the legislature to within 21 days of the absence of the president from office declare the vice president acting president.

The same alterations were made to section 190 of the Constitution concerning the office of the governor. A subsection was also added. It reads: “In the event that the Governor is unable or fails to transmit the written declaration mentioned in subsection (1) of this section within 21 days, the House of Assembly shall, by a resolution made by a simple majority of the vote of the House, mandate the Deputy Governor to perform the functions of the office of the Governor as Acting Governor until the Governor transmits a letter to the Speaker that he is now available to resume his functions as Governor.”

Although the alterations sought to cure the mischief of an ailing president or governor sitting tight in office, politicians have devised a way of undermining the intent of the law. President Muhammadu Buhari, after initially complying with the alterations, short-cut them by ensuring that he returned to office a few days before the expiration of the mandatory 21 days. Akeredolu would seem to have followed in the footsteps of Buhari, handing over power but refusing to yield ground even when it was clear that he was unable to perform the function of his office.

In fairness to Tinubu, he was handicapped by both politics and the Constitution. In his difficult bid for the presidential ticket of the All Progressives Congress, he found a pillar in Akeredolu, who vigorously leading the campaign for a southern presidency, backed him. It was only fair he protected an ally. Meanwhile, a charge of a breach of the Constitution would have to go through a rigorous court process to prove that Akeredolu has deftly complied with the provision of Section 149. The only outstanding issue is his absence from the state capital, which could be interpreted to mean incapacitation. How will that be proved?

When some agitators, incidentally including Akeredolu, mooted the idea of declaring Yar’Adua medically incapacitated in 2010, Babatunde Osotimehin, a professor of medicine and minister of Health, told them that it was a medical impossibility to declare a breathing human being incapacitated. That closed the move to use the executive council to resolve the logjam. This is not likely to change. What is to be done?

There has to be an undertaking by all political actors to commit to the rule of law rather than politics in matters of governance. Had this been the case, Akeredolu would have followed through with his adherence to the provision of section 190. But feeling betrayed, he diluted the compliance, in the belief that there was a legal possibility that his action could be proved to be lawful. This mixing of politics with the law has a way of lowering the standard of governance. That is what is happening in Ondo. It is not novel though, and it’s unlikely to stop given everyone’s propensity for opportunism.

Adebiyi, the executive editor of Western Post, is a member of the Editorial Board of THISDAY Newspapers  

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