Ondo gov election: Answering Mimiko’s successor question

As the Ondo State governorship election inches closer, the arena is getting prepared, spectators are, with tip-toe expectancy, ready to throw their caps in the air to cheer, even as the gladiators are sharpening their weapons, testing their armours and flexing their muscles…

One of the gladiators is Mr Eyitayo Jegede, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), who was, until recently, the Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice in Ondo State. He resigned his appointment on Friday, 22 July, 2016 to pursue his ambition in the November gubernatorial election.

That day, Jegede, in a statement he personally signed, said his exit was to enable him to focus more on his desire “to seek higher office in service of his people, which will obviously demand a lot of energy, time and sacrifice.” Apart from thanking his boss, Governor Olusegun Mimiko and the people of Ondo State for the unique opportunity to serve, he noted that his appointment gave him an opportunity to “work in various sub-committees of the State Executive Council and effectively and efficiently represented the interest of the state in various boards as directed by the governor.”

His declaration penultimate week threw the entire state into a sort of frenzy, as wild jubilation broke out  across the state, from Akure to Owo to Okitipupa. If the jubilation that erupted in  Irele in the southern senatorial district of the state could be described as spectacular, the mass rallies in the street of Akure, the state capital and those of Owo and Ipele in the Northern Senatorial District are better termed ‘wonderful.’

Notwithstanding the upbeat mood of a majority of the electorate, such expression of interest in the number one seat in Alagbaka, Akure, where the Ondo State Government Office is situated, cannot but attract condemnation, a disposition that could stem out of mischief or ignorance or a combination of both. In other words, opponents, critics and cynics have started crawling out of the woods, engaging in acrimonious debates.

The accusation against the candidacy of Jegede is that his coming flies against the face of zoning principle. Before Jegede declared his intention to contest the governorship position of  Ondo State, it was difficult to guess who the cap truly fits among the legion of aspirants jostling for social media space to sell their aspiration, especially from the All Progressives Congress (APC). Identifying a potential governor among the lot was difficult, mainly because the aspirants have no credential to flaunt other than their ethnic background.

Before now, the idea was for an aspirant to declare interest in the gubernatorial race because of the need to represent his area as governor of the state. Hence, those who declared their intention to

run rely heavily on the zoning card, but  the more they declare their intentions, however, the more it became difficult to figure who among the lot possesses the required experience, knowledge, exposure and comportment to move the state forward with the kind of expertise being used by the  incumbent Governor, Dr Olusegun Mimiko.

Little wonder then that what looked like an unending search for a competent Mimiko successor ended when Jegede, a detribalised Senior Advocate of Nigeria resigned his position as the Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice in the state to signify his intention to succeed his boss. Critics would not let go of the zoning mantra, the above notwithstanding. However, Jegede’s supporters would not allow the ethnic argument missile to hit target before intercepting it mid-air. In Ondo State, zoning has never been the basis for electing a governor. What has benefited the people has been the competence of the governor and what he can deliver. Olusegun Agagu was from the Southern Senatorial District. Chief Adebayo Adefarati was from the North. After that, Agagu and Olusegun Mimiko slugged it out and Mimiko triumphed eventually.

What has come clear is that beyond zoning, Mimiko’s performance, which overshadowed the others, has shown that what the people need is service, visionary leadership, a bridge-builder and a governor with depth since, according to the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, “only the deep can call to the deep.”

As it is, Ondo state is one of the states in Nigeria where governors have been emerging on merit as against zoning being practised by some others as it has been argued severally that zoning only promotes mediocrity. Little wonder that the two major political parties in the state, the PDP and APC have distanced themselves from zoning their candidate to any particular ethnic area in the state. Not a few have argued that no state would be able to produce its best with zoning, even as it has been randomly mentioned  that what Ondo needs now is a governor who will see every ethnic group in the state as his own.

In fact, Jegede fits the role. He is not a stay-at-home-village headmaster politician or an anus-scratching community champion who cannot relate with people across ethnic and sub-ethnic divides.  Rather, Jegede is a bridge builder. And this did not come out of a vacuum. He started his law practice in the North. He worked in the law firm of Murtala Aminu & Co. Yola. After a 12-year practice in the law firm, six years of which he was the Head of Chambers, he established his own law firm, Tayo Jegede & Co in 1996. He was heading his law firm of Tayo Jegede & Co in Abuja and Yola before he took appointment as Chief Law Officer in Ondo State. Thus, through his professional practice, he has friends across the country. For instance, he cannot fall into the trap of favouring a particular section of the state above the other as governor because by birth, he belongs to no one but all as he represents more than one of the three Senatorial Districts in the state by virtue of the parents’ places of birth. One is from the Northern Senatorial District and the other from the Central Senatorial District.

Another factor that will stand Jegede in good stead is that he is adjudged the only aspirant so far who qualifies to succeed Mimiko on the basis of competence, track record of achievement, integrity and honesty. In fact, it is often said at public discourses in the state that if he emerges governor, Jegede would have assumed office on the same basis of merit upon which Dr Mimiko became governor. He has the advantage of continuity, having been working with Mimiko since 1999.

Jegede has been identified to be strategically involved in  the almost concluded Omotosho power plant, the Ilaje deep sea port and Free Trade Zone projects as well as the PPP initiative that turned the moribund Owena Motel to a money generating venture in the Akure City Mall. Jegede said notable achievements of his stay in office include supervision of the review and publication of Laws of Ondo State, the first since the inception of the sunshine state, signing into law the Administration of Criminal Justice Law 2015 by Governor Olusegun Mimiko as prepared by the Ministry of Justice in addition to other novel measures that have helped to revolutionalise the administration of justice.

Before him, Ondo State used to lose cases. When Jegede came on board, that became history.

Eyitayo Jegede was born to the family of late Chief Johnson Bosede, the Odopetu of Isinkan, Akure, and Mrs C.O Jegede (nee Asokeji) from Ipele town, near Owo.

Adepoju writes from Akure, Ondo State.