Stalemate over Ondo deputy governor’s impeachment

HAKEEM GBADAMOSI looks at the moves to sack the deputy governor of Ondo State, Agboola Ajayi, by the state lawmakers over his defection to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

AFTER many months of denial,  the rift between Ondo State governor,  Rotimi Akeredolu and his deputy, Agboola Ajayi, came to the fore penultimate week,  when the latter was stopped from moving out of his official quarters.

The heightened speculation over the possible defection of the deputy governor from the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was laid to rest as he officially dumped the ruling party.

The crisis between the governor and his deputy which had caused a gulf between the two leaders and their supporters defied all resolutions, with both leaders keeping sealed lips on the matter. Prominent politicians and leaders across the South-West region and beyond had tried to wade into the crisis but it remained “to your tent oh Isreal” after every intervention failed.

Before the friction between ‘Aketi’and his deputy came to public focus, the Ekiti State governor, Kayode Fayemi, was said to have travelled down to meet the two warring leaders to settle their differences. The duo had been denying the friction but it was obvious that there was no love lost between the first two citizens in the state.

Ajayi’s absence was noticed in most public functions while he had been turned to titular head and kept a sealed mouth until he officially declared for the PDP but never resigned his position as deputy governor of the state. The deputy governor defected to PDP from APC and affirmed his loyalty to PDP dumping the vehicle on which he rode into office on February 24, 2017.

Ajayi, who had pointedly said he was not resigning his position as deputy governor of the state, maintained that he was elected by the people of the state and his supporters had not advised him to resign his position.

This prompted speculations about the impeachment of the deputy governor and members of the State House of Assembly who had been on recess abruptly called off their holiday to attend to state issues as claimed by the speaker of the Honourable Bamidele Oleyelogun, who directed the lawmakers to resume for legislative duties in an advertised statement.

The lawmakers converged on the floor of the House on Tuesday July 7, with 14 out of the 26 members signing the notice of impeachment of the deputy governor and nine kicking against the plot. The deputy governor was accused of gross misconduct, abuse of office, with action likely to bring down Ondo State government, financial recklessness, abandonment of office, official duties and other assignments, among others.

But Ajayi had preempted the lawmakers and instituted a suit before an Abuja High Court to halt his impeachment process by the lawmakers of the state and enforce his fundamental right of association. The suit filed by Mr I. Olatoke, SAN, seeks to enforce the fundamental right of the deputy governor to retain his position having defected to the PDP.

Apart from this,  Ajayi, after receiving the impeachment notice wrote to the state Chief Judge,  Mrs. Oluwatoyin Akeredolu, not to partake in ‘the illegality’ embarked upon by the state lawmakers, urging her to uphold the integrity of her office.

He explained in the letter that theimpeachment process was initiated by 14 out of 26 members of the Ondo State House of Assembly, while nine jointly signed a resolution dissociating themselves from the whole process, and described the process as dead on arrival.

He told the judge that the lawmakers might not refrain from the illegality of removing him as the deputy governor.

He said “the implication of the action of the nine parliamentarians is that the planned impeachment of the deputy governor cannot proceed beyond the signed notice of impeachment.”

Ajayi referred the CJ to Section 188(4) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which clearly states that ‘A motion of the House of Assembly that the allegation be investigated shall not be declared as having been passed unless it is supported by the votes of not less than two-thirds majority of the all the members of the House of Assembly.’

He argued the vote of not less than two-thirds majority of all the members of the House of Assembly of 26 is 18.

“All discerning minds in Ondo State know that the next line of action is that the governor in his desperation will bring into full force the enormous power and influence of his office to bear on Your Lordship to join in this illegal arrangements to oust the deputy governor.

“He will attempt to force Your Lordship to appoint a panel of seven persons to do the hatchet job,” Ajayi had said, appealing to the CJ, not to compromise the integrity of her office.

As rightly predicted by the deputy governor, the House of Assembly forwarded a letter to the CJ requesting for the setting up of a seven-man panel to investigate the allegation of gross misconduct levelled against Ajayi.

The letter, which was signed by the speaker, Oleyelogun, said the demand of the House became necessary in line with Section 188 (5) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended.)

But the CJ turned down the demand of the House of Assembly, calling the attention of the lawmakers to the required number as stipulated by the constitution for setting up of such a probe panel, noting that the requirement had not been met.

She noted that the House of Assembly acted in a hurry, not waiting for the 14 days stipulated for the deputy governor to respond to the allegations, which should be debated on the floor of the House before calling for the constitution of a seven-man panel.

She said “a motion by the House of Assembly that the allegations be investigated shall not be declared as having been passed unless it is supported by the votes of not less than two-thirds majority of all members of the House of Assembly.”

Though,  Oleyelogun  assured that the error noted by the CJ would be corrected and the House would do the needful, political onlookers were quick to point out the fault in the lawmakers’ action, saying the development showed that the lawmakers were acting a script they had little or no knowledge about.

Some political pundits said the actions of the pro-impeachment legislators confirmed the allegation of N10million financial inducement leveled against them to append their signatures to impeach the deputy governor.

But the lawmakers described the allegations as unfounded, reckless and a ploy to drag the lawmakers into the crisis between Ajayi and his boss.

The House Committee Chairman on Information, Gbenga Omole, described Ajayi as a drowning man who would hold on to anything for his survival, saying the lawmakers did not receive any inducement before exercising their constitutional responsibilities.

“This allegation smacks of naivety on the part of the deputy governor and intended to cast aspersions on the noble image of members and drag the integrity of the House in the mud,” Omole stated.

Analysts, however, said the defection of the deputy governor was not well handled and managed by the two parties involved, while they claimed that the lawmakers messed up the whole process by not following the normal procedure.

They are also of the opinion that Ajayi should have resigned and leave the party peacefully to pursue his political ambition in PDP, rather than stirring political waters, as Akeredolu is expected to turn the heat on him to force his exit through removals by the legislature.

The implication of the situation at hand in the state is of political abnormality, as an observer sarcastically, put it that Ondo State may still be described as a state ruled by APC and PDP.

 

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