Ondo Assembly Crisis: The Inside Story
For the second time within a year, the Ondo State House of Assembly was in turmoil over the attempt to sack the leadership of the eighth Assembly headed by Princess Jumoke Akindele, representing Okitipupa Constituency 1.
Like a cat with nine lives, Akindele has always survived impeachment plots against her. She survived the first plot due to the intervention of the outgoing governor, Dr Olusegun Mimiko, who pleaded on her behalf. She was able to survive this time around because her opponents were unable to get the required number to effect leadership change. In the first attempt, 18 lawmakers signed the impeachment notice.
The lawmakers, in the "coup d'état" carried out late in the night of March 18, last year, elected Hon. Iroju Ogundeji, representing Odigbo Constituency 11 as the Speaker and Ayo Arowele as the Deputy Speaker. This time, the 13 lawmakers elected Malachi Coker as the Speaker and same Arowele as Deputy Speaker. Some lawmakers led by Ogundeji had penultimate Friday at a plenary session "impeached" Akindele as Speaker and replaced her with Coker.
They also 'impeached" the Deputy Speaker, Alhaji Fatai Olotu and Majority Leader, Mr Dayo Akinsoyinu. The rebellious lawmakers elected Hon. Olamide George as their Majority Leader.
Unlike the first impeachment plot which dealt with the personal life of Akindele, the allegation this time bordered on alleged fraud perpetrated by the leadership of the Assembly. The lawmakers said a sum of N15 million was found in the custody of the Paymaster of the Assembly, Mr. Makanju Adesina, without parliamentary approval.
Consequently, they removed Akindele and other principal officers over the alleged fraud. But the lawmakers loyal to the embattled speaker said the paymaster is the custodian of money in the Assembly and has not committed any offence being found with money in the Assembly complex. They also said the money was meant for the execution of project in the Assembly.
To political watchers in the state, the crisis in the Assembly was a plot to make sure that outgoing governor does not control the Assembly after he must have left office as the governor of the state.
Mimiko, who leaves office on February 24, has indirectly controlled the Assembly since becoming governor in 2009. The first step he took was to influence a gale of defections and a change of leadership of the sixth Assembly which he inherited from his predecessor, Dr. Olusegun Agagu. The new leadership was maintained in the seventh Assembly until the death of the then Speaker, Hon. Samuel Adesina from Odigbo constituency.
Mimiko's attempt to keep control of the House of Assembly explains the huge spending he made in the 2015 state Assembly election in which his Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) won 21 out of 26 seats in the House. The governor, expectedly, also influenced the election of the principal officers of the eighth Assembly, which produce its first female Speaker (Akindele).
Having single-handedly picked many of the lawmakers as candidates for the PDP ahead of the 2015 election without a primary election, it was easy for the governor to have his way almost effortlessly in the Assembly. This control, some of the lawmakers had complained, accounts for why he has refused to provide many of their entitlements and privileges since last year, including official cars and constituency project funds.
However, the governor's control of the House was put to test for the first time in March last year, when some of the lawmakers plotted the impeachment of the principal officers. Disturbed by how powerless the Speaker, Akindele, had been in pressuring the governor to accede to their requests for their entitlements, some of the lawmakers plotted her impeachment and carried out the plot during an overnight meeting at the residence of one of them.
Akindele and her deputy Olotu, were both impeached by a group of 18 lawmakers. The lawmakers appended their signatures to a notice of impeachment, which also announced the removal of other principal officers of the House including Akinsoyinu. The notice, which was on the letterhead of the House, showed that the Speaker was impeached as a result of "incompetence, high handedness, drunkenness, easy virtue, lack of focus, arrogance, lack of transparency and poor leadership."
The "rebel" lawmakers also elected Ogundeji and Arowele as speaker and deputy speaker, respectively. However, before they could put the gavel on the exercise the following day, they were summoned to an emergency meeting by the governor, who pleaded with them to reverse the action and promised to look into their demands, while Akindele was told to improve on her relationship with her colleagues. The removal of Akindele as speaker became imperative because of the zoning arrangement in the state.
The PDP had on November 26 last year, lost the governorship election to the All Progressives Congress (APC).With the Rotimi Akeredolu-led APC government coming on board on February 24, the arrangement of leadership positions in the House would have to change to reflect the new reality in the state.
Sources in the Assembly said Coker, who was elected as speaker would have spent less than a month in office as he is from the South Senatorial district with the Deputy governor-elect, Hon. Agboola Ajayi and the outgoing speaker. The major dispute in the Assembly according to sources is who between the pro and anti Mimiko camps controls the Assembly after his exits in few weeks time.
The coming governor, Akeredolu, is from Owo Local Government Area in the northern senatorial district of the state while his deputy, Ajayi, is from Ese-Odo Local Government Area in the southern senatorial district. This means that the rearrangement of the leadership of the House would see the new speaker coming from the Central senatorial district. The reality of leaving the Office of the Speaker made Akindele to say she was already preparing her resignation letter before the botched impeachment.
She said: "I am not desperate to continue to sit as speaker in the Assembly. I wish to place it on record and I have said to all that cares to listen that I was actually set to resign because the geopolitical configuration of the state had changed since the emergence of the governor from the north and the deputy governor from the south." Akindele however accused PDP lawmakers of attempt to show their loyalty to the incoming administration hence the move to remove her.
"I wish to state that the primary reason for the entire problem is because certain elements of the PDP caucus seem more interested in proving their loyalty to the incoming administration in Ondo State instead of their own party and are actively working hand in hand with their APC counterparts to destabilize what would have been one of the most peaceful transitions ever.
They are desirous of becoming speaker and deputy speaker at all cost and are therefore playing to the gallery to show the incoming government that they are 'disenchanted' with the outgoing governor," she said.
Since the exit of Akindele from the South senatorial district becomes inevitable, the central senatorial district, which has six local government areas and eight seats in the Assembly, is set to clinch the speakership.
Out of the eight members of the Assembly from the district, six are said to be interested in the position. They are Dayo Akinsoyinu (Ondo West I), Olamide George (Akure North), Kemisola Adesanya (Akure South I), David Oleyeloogun (Ifedore), Tuyi Akintimehin (Idanre) and David Olajide (Akure South II).
Already, alignment and realignment have started among the lawmakers even as some of them are on the brink of defection to the APC to brighten their chances of getting the position and the scenario of 2009 may likely play out in few weeks time.