ADEWALE MOMOH reports on the intrigues trailing the legal battle over last year’s governorship election in Ondo State, which has so far been decided by the Governorship Election Tribunal and the Court of Appeal
Again, the victory of Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu in the October 10, 2020 gubernatorial election in Ondo state has escaped the legal snare of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its standard bearer, Eyitayo Jegede as the Court of Appeal sitting in Akure, the state capital, last week Wednesday upheld the decision of the Ondo State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal that validated Akeredolu’s reelection.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had declared Akeredolu of the All Progressives Congress (APC) as winner of the gubernatorial poll. The result announced by the electoral umpire showed that Akeredolu garnered 292,830 votes to win the race. Jegede of the PDP came second with 195,791 votes, while Agboola Ajayi of the Zenith Labour Party (ZLP) came a distant third with 69,127 votes. Not satisfied with the outcome of the election, Jegede, through his counsel, Onyekasi Ikpeasu, approached the three-man Governorshio Election Tribunal led by Justice Umar Abubakar, alleging that the exercise was marred by “irregularities, violence and intimidation of eligible voters.”
The PDP candidate also told the court that the nomination of Akeredolu and his running mate, Lucky Aiyedatiwa, by the APC was unconstitutional. According to Jegede, the governor of Yobe State, Mai Bala Buni, who signed the nomination form, is illegally occupying the seat of the chairman of the APC National Caretaker/Extraordinary Convention Committee. He, therefore, asked the tribunal to nullify the victory of Akeredolu and declare him the winner of the election. Counsel to Akeredolu, Akin Olujimi (SAN), however, asked the tribunal to dismiss Jegede’s petition, arguing that it lacked merit.
Surprisingly, the PDP standard bearer later abandoned his allegations of “irregularities, violence and intimidation of eligible voters,” leaving his petition to solely hinge on the claim that Akeredolu and Aiyedatiwa were not validly nominated as governorship and deputy governorship candidates of their party. Delivering its judgement virtually, the tribunal struck out Jegede’s petition, saying it lacked merit. The tribunal also said it did not have jurisdiction over the issues raised in the PDP candidate’s petition.
“Issues raised therein in this petition are settled issues of internal affairs and management of a political party which this Tribunal has no jurisdiction,” Abubakar, the chairman of the three-member panel, ruled. The tribunal declared that Akeredolu and his deputy, Aiyedatiwa, were duly nominated and sponsored by the APC in line with section 177 of the Constitution and section 31 of the Electoral Act. The panel also ruled that the duo demonstrated that they were duly sponsored by a political party, further declaring that the evidence of submission of their names to INEC at the instance of the APC National Executive Committee (NEC) was not disputed by the petitioners.
Justice Abubakar, who pointed out that Buni’s membership of the APC was not disputed by the petitioners, declared that the panel could not determine whether the Yobe State governor was illegally occupying the seat of the chairman of the APC National Caretaker/Extraordinary Convention Committee. Aside from that, the tribunal held that the nonjoinder of Buni as the APC National Caretaker Chairman rendered the case of the petitioners defective. Jegede, who was displeased with the verdict of the tribunal headed for the Court of Appeal to seek its nul-lification but the appellate court dismissed his appeal.
The Appeal Court panel headed by Justice Theresa Ngolika Orji-Abadua agreed with the declaration of the tribunal that the PDP flag bearer’s petition lacked merit. Thereby, the fiveman panel unanimously upheld the judgement of the tribunal, which validated the reelection of Governor Akeredolu. It was learnt that the judgment of the Appeal Court did not only dash the hope of the PDP and its candidate, who sought to dislodge Akeredolu and his party from the Alagbaka Government House.
It also frustrated the scheming of some unconnected forces waiting in the wings to benefit from their expected outcome of the legal battle. Informed sources disclosed that the expectation of the ZLP and its candidate, Agboola Ajayi, was that the Appeal Court would nullify the re-election of Akeredolu and order a re-run poll. This, according to the sources, would pave the way for Akeredolu’s estranged former deputy to try his luck again. His calculation was that APC and by extension, would be disqualified from the envisioned reordered poll.
Agboola, a former deputy governor of the state, jumped the APC ship to seek for PDP’s nomination. The former member of the House of Representatives, however, lost the PDP ticket to Jegede. Determined to continue with the pursuit of his governorship ambition, he defected to the ZLP to participate in the contest but came out of the gubernatorial contest with a performance considered as unimpressive by many observers, who had rated his chances very high ahead of the poll. The ZLP candidate, it was gathered, saw a ray of hope in Jegede’s case.
A source said it was this ray of hope that egged him on to surreptitiously work for the nullification of Akeredolu’s victory and a declaration that the INEC should conduct another election. He was said to have been holing up in Abuja and seeking support for his plot from those who are not favourably disposed to Akeredolu’s positions on certain national issues, especially open grazing and the creation of the Amotekun Corps. “Agboola is still nursing the hope of dislodging his former boss from power. He has been in Abuja trying to get a favourable outcome from the legal battle between Jegede and Akeredolu.
His wish is the nullification of Akeredolu’s reelection and a declaration that another election be conducted in which the governor would not be allowed to participate,” a source said. The source, who revealed that the recent judgement of the Court of Appeal was a serious setback for Agboola, said, however, that there are no indications that the former lawmaker will not continue with his game plan until the case of Jegede is finally resolved by the Supreme Court.
“Agboola has been meeting with some APC leaders from the northern part of the country with a view to shoving Akeredolu off the gubernatorial seat of Ondo State. These northern leaders are those who don’t like Governor Akeredolu’s strong views on some national issues.
“The bait Agboola is dangling is the promise of his return to the APC if the party can back him in case Akeredolu’s reelection is nullified and a fresh poll declared in which the governor will not be allowed to contest,” the source said. Reacting to the development, the media aide to former deputy governor, Allen Soworo said that “after the election, the former deputy governor did not go to the tribunal.
It was Jegede who went. Jegede who is the petitioner is not meeting with APC; it is now the former deputy governor who did not go to court that is meeting with APC. How is that possible? “The former deputy governor who is not even a member of APC or PDP; he is a member of ZLP which is not even one of the one of the big parties in Nigeria.
Is it the same Agboola Ajayi that they collected all his vehicles.” Also, a former governor of the state and National Leader of ZLP, Olusegun Mimiko, has been mentioned as one of the forces scheming for the dislodgement of Akeredolu from the Alagbaka Government House. Since he exited power in 2017, Mimiko’s political influence and relevance has considerably waned. Besides the fact that the former governor failed to install his preferred successor, he could also not realise his senatorial ambition in the 2019 general election. His party, ZLP, has shown its inability to fly in the Sunshine State.
It was on the platform of the party that Agboola contested the last governorship election and performed woefully. In his bid to return to political relevance, Mimiko is said to be mulling the idea of defecting to the APC. A couple of weeks ago, he was reported to have concluded plans to dump his ZLP for the ruling party. According to the report, Mimiko held series of meetings in Abuja with the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami. The report also said he met with Buni and two other governors.
The meetings were reportedly held to prepare the ground for Mimiko’s defection to the ruling party. It was gathered that part of the reasons the APC leadership wanted Mimiko to join the party, is because they feel Akeredolu is opposing the Federal Government on some national issues.
“From the look of things, our man (Akeredolu) appears not to be on same page with the Villa owing to his recent stance on certain national issues. So, we are working hard to ensure the former governor joins us because we cannot afford to toy with any state in the southwest,” the report quoted a source to have said. Ho w e v e r, Mimiko, in a statement signed by his Special Assistant on Media, John Paul Akinduro, denied the defection plan, describing the report as a piece of “fake news.”
He said the country was tottering on the precipice as a result of widespread insecurity, adding that his major concern was to fashion out workable solutions, especially through the plank of restructuring. The statement read in part: “Dr. Mimiko has been in Abuja in the past one week or so to attend some events, including the meeting of some NGOs with ethnicnationality leaders, all hinged on heartfelt concern for the deepening insecurity in the land; and how to fashion out workable solutions, especially through the plank of restructuring.
“He, within the days of his stay in Abuja, actively participated in the programme tagged ‘Nigeria’s 2023 Presidential Transition Inter-Ethnic Peace Dialogue,’ held at the Transcorp Hilton, Abuja, on Monday, and the 71st birthday celebration and book presentation of his party stalwart and friend, Hon. Iranola Joseph Akinlaja, held at the Shehu Yar’Adua Centre, on Tuesday, June 1.
“It is noteworthy that at Hon. Akinlaja’s book presentation, Dr. Mimiko harped on the theme of security, by advising the President on the centrality of the security challenge to his legacy. He also had many informal meetings with Nigerians across ethnic, religious and political divide, on the need to find lasting, just and fair solutions to the orgy of violence and bloodletting across the country.
“Nowhere was any mention made or discussion held on any possible defection to any party. Dr. Mimiko remains in the Zenith Labour Party and his hope has been a collaboration of left leaning political groups to offer a real ideologically driven alternative in the nation’s political process.” But not a few keen observers of the politics of the state took Mimiko’s denial with a pinch of salt.
To them, the former governor is a politician who sees keeping his cards close to his chest as an effective political strategy. According to them, the antecedents of Mimiko did not in any way support his denial of the plan to, once again, jump ship. It is their contention that it would be foolhardy for any APC leader to buy the idea of displacing a politician like Akeredolu for the likes of Mimiko. Akeredolu, they argued, is not a politician who sits on the fence. “You always know his position on any issue. He is not someone who runs with the hare and hunts with the hounds,” a university don, Dr. Oladrlr Akinkunmi, said. Also, it is the belief of some political analysts that Jegede’s case should be seen as a battle against the APC. Akinkunmi further said: Jegede’s legal battle may be seen as against Akeredolu.
But it is more against the ruling party. Jegede and the PDP are not saying the incumbent governor did not win the election; what they are trying to benefit from is that Buni, being a state governor, should not have signed the nomination form of Akeredolu and his deputy, Aiyedatiwa, as the National Caretaker Committee Chairman of the APC. They are arguing that it is unconstitutional for Bunu to be governor of Yobe State and the APC Caretaker Committee Chairman at the same time.
“If eventually the case does not favour Akeredolu, the APC would be the bigger victim. All the decisions taken by the Buni committee would become null and void. That would increase the misfortunes of the party. So, it will amount to foolishness if any leader of the ruling party is conspiring with those who are not members to ease Akeredolu out because of his positions on national issues.
The party should sanction such a leader. “That Akeredolu is fighting insecurity in his state does not mean he is against Aso Rock. He should even be commended for what he has achieved in his state in terms of security. I am bold to say that President Buhari has done very well in some areas, but the growing insecurity in the country has blinded a lot of people to the good aspects of his government. “So, if a governor is doing well in tackling insecurity, he should be praised instead of conspiring with enemies of the party who are posing as friends to dislodge him.”