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Today is the concluding part of the series on the Ondo governorship election which we started a few weeks ago. Last week we ended on the note of the allegations of nepotism against Gov. Rotimi Akeredolu. The allegations in that regard are four-fold. One: That Akeredolu has Owonised/Oghonised Ondo State, placing his Owo/Ogho people everywhere. That the unofficial language in Akure, the capital of Ondo State, has become Ogho/Owo). In that way, Akeredolu is said not to be better than Muhammadu Buhari. While Buhari’s nepotism is clear for everyone to see, however, the allegations of nepotism against Akeredolu have been hotly contested. Owo, legendary for its mindless marginalization in Ondo State, may have got its fair share under Akeredolu. Those not used to this are bound to see it as undue favouritism for Owo. I am from Owo and, truth be told, I need no one to tell me that Owo had suffered neglect for a long time. Our new template, however, is this: Let every part of Ondo State be treated fairly. Let equity reign supreme. Ondo State’s political elite must sign on to this.
Two: That Akeredolu has ceded Ondo State resources to his wife and her Igbo people; that after Ogho, the next unofficial language in government offices in the State is Igbo; and that in appointments and collection of taxes, Igbo people have been enthroned to the chagrin and dismay of Ondo State indigenes. This is a sensitive issue that, if we dwell too much on, we may open up old wounds, even if inadvertently. Besides, when people play politics, they exaggerate things and make a molehill look like Mount Everest. This is the time we should be building bridges and not burning them – we should be promoting the elusive handshake across the Niger. But my grouse has always been: Why is it only the Yoruba that are making the efforts while the others are not complementing us? Rather, in a very curious and regrettable manner, it is the same Yoruba that the other ethnic groups portray as tribalists! We accommodate them; they flourish on our land; we even appoint them into positions – things they will never do for us on their own land – yet, we are the tribalists and they are the nationalists and patriots! Witness Lagos! That rubbish has got to stop! Akeredolu must take another look at that sector and make the necessary amends. I sign up for “Ondo State for Ondo State people.”
Three: That Akeredolu has installed his in-laws as project executors and drain pipes of government resources through the execution of contracts in the State. Again, the quantum of the allegations and the staggering sums of money bandied about may have been grossly exaggerated. Nevertheless, there can be no smoke without a fire. Scripture enjoins us to flee from every appearance of evil. It appears an evil – even where no harm has been done – if we position our relatives as executioners of government projects. What if they are qualified? Two things: Let them go through public tender and let the process be transparent. Better, let them ply their trade elsewhere! It is a sacrifice worth making. If they are good to go in Ondo State, they should be good enough elsewhere; but if it is only in Ondo State that they make the kill, then, something may be fishy somewhere.
Four: That Akeredolu’s children hold important, indeed, critical positions in his government. Akeredolu reportedly even boasted that he could make his son chief of staff and the heavens will not fall! Of course, the heavens won’t fall and he has antecedents to fall back upon. In the US where we borrowed this presidential system; one of the most famous American presidents, John Fitzgerald Kennedy (JFK), made his blood brother, Robert Francis Kennedy (RFK), his Attorney-General. Here at home, Gov. Olusegun Agagu, now late, made his brother, Femi Agagu, chief of staff. In fact, Femi was the de facto governor while Segun Agagu was only the de jure governor. Ask anyone who knew those days in Ondo State. I witnessed it live and directly. But it was not – and still is not – the best thing to do. Someone whose person and views I respect so much because, always, he is faultless in his thinking; gave cogent reasons why younger Akeredolus have found themselves drifting into government, adding that they are not as rich as people allege: I agree; still, it is not the right thing to do. As wide and expansive as Ondo State is, home and away, Akeredolu should be able to find competent, qualified, and committed Ondo State people outside of the narrow confines of his family to work with. If he cannot, then, where is he different from Buhari?
The new template we must set in this regard – just as we have set templates in other sectors since this series began – is that the family members of anyone in government must rarely be seen and hardly be heard near government. Let them reserve their views, advice, support and whatever to when their man returns home from the office. They can do a lot behind the scenes. It offends our sensibilities when family members hijack the government and dance naked in public glare, like family members have done repeatedly in the Presidential Villa of Muhammadu Buhari without shame and without thinking of tomorrow. Where is Femi Agagu today? The last time I heard, he was an ordinary Commissioner in the same Ondo State, putting his hands behind his back before Gov. Akeredolu! And, yet, this was the same person who, when he sneezed, everyone in Ondo State caught the flu! No condition is permanent, said Nnamdi Azikiwe to the then Sole Administrator of the now defunct East Central State, Ukpabi Asika.
Now, these shenanigans, like the numerous others enumerated in these series, are not limited to Akeredolu alone. That is why, rather than axe Akeredolu, my focus has been the system that spun him, that spun those before him, and that is waiting to still spin those coming after him. Individuals have their faults but the system or template, if it remains what it is, will corrupt any saint. Why do people kow-tow before governors rather than tell them the truth and put them in their rightful places? Why do the institutions of State, meant to hold governors in check, abdicate those functions and pander to the dictates of one man? Why are institutions so weak here? And why are individuals stronger than the State? Political theorists have fingered weak institutions as the bane of emerging and or developing societies. Just as we said here last week, the rains started beating us in this regard a long time ago, beginning with Gowon who squandered our riches on State wedding for his wife, Victoria.
After Gowon, we heard nothing about Ajoke, the First Lady of Murtala Muhammed; perhaps it was because of her nature (as she has maintained a low profile posture ever) or because of the short span of Murtala’s rule. Olusegun Obasanjo, who followed, maintained the same low profile. Mama Iyabo as Obasanjo’s First Lady was never in the public glare. Let me simply say that Shehu Shagari never had a First Lady. I cannot remember any. Muhammadu Buhari maintained a similar outlook as military dictator but the coming of the gap-toothed one, the self-proclaimed evil genius, Ibrahim Babangida, was a revelation in decadence and perfidy. He changed his title to president; ruined the economy and destroyed the Naira with his Structural Adjustment Programme, which Obasanjo rightly said lacked a human face. Babangida and his Mr. SAP, Chief Olu Falae, have a lot to answer for. They ruined this country beyond repairs. What with IBB also being the one who destroyed discipline in the military; placed junior officers above their superiors, instituted corruption a la welfare system and settlement syndrome; and it was under his watch that a cream of one of the best military officers perished in the Ejigbo plane crash!
Perhaps the worst shenanigans of his time was the way his wife, Maryam, turned the office of the First Lady into a money-guzzling, influence-peddling, and power-grabbing institution! Maryam remains, till date, the most flamboyant First Lady Nigeria ever had. Insiders said she never wanted them to leave office. As the Features Editor of The PUNCH newspapers, I led a team of Features writers to Ondo State to cover the State’s preparation for Maryam’s Better Life for Rural Women visit. Feyi, Gov. Bode George’s First Lady of the time, took my team to some herbalists and covens of the powers of darkness that Maryam was scheduled to visit. It was an eye-opener concerning the real reasons behind the Better Life programme, different from the pomp and colour and a smattering of projects here and there shown to the public.
Since Maryam, we have not had a First Lady as elegant until we now have Aishat Buhari. The other Maryam/Mariam, Abacha’s First Lady, was not outward going. The Abachas lacked finesse, making up for it with an unparalleled urge for the guzzling of public funds. Decades after the death of Abacha, his loots are being discovered, unearthed and returned to Nigeria from all the corners of the world. Fati Lami, the wife of Abdulsalami Abubakar, was a judge who held on to her office. As we have said here, it is important that only those with a second address are allowed to venture near public office. They may not be saints but some of them appear a shade better than their do-or-die counterparts. After Fati came Stella Obasanjo. This time, what Obasanjo lacked in his first tenure as military Head of State, he made up for in Stella who, unfortunately, died in office. According to some reports, she undertook tummy tuck procedures. Turai Yar’Adua reportedly was the head of the Kaduna/Katsina cabal that dragged presidential power with the then VP, Goodluck Jonathan. Only God knows how much this country lost during that interregnum. Northerners are seldom investigated unlike their Southern counterparts. Only Jonathan’s wife, ‘Mama Africa’ Patience, has been turned inside out by the EFCC. After their time out, Nigerians will want to have the corruption-fighting Buhari, his wife, and family investigated.
The new template, then, should be this: Let everyone in government insulate their family from governance. Its influence has been corruptive and corrosive. It has complicated issues for everyone.
LAST WORD: Gov. Akeredolu has tested positive to COVID-19 and gone into self-isolation. The State Commissioner for Health has reportedly died of the virus; the governor’s wife and many other top Government officials and or politicians have reportedly caught the virus. Plain as that might seem, it has nonetheless become subject to politics with some saying Akeredolu’s infection is a plot he has orchestrated to escape APC screening for the governorship primaries! Whichever is the gospel truth or lie from the pit of hell, the ways of our politicians baffle me! So, I really do not know whether to empathise with Akeredolu and wish him “soonest recover” or scold and order him to come out of hiding!