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Ondo: The constitution should prevail

More than two and half months after Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State returned to Nigeria on September 7, 2023, from a three-month medical leave…

More than two and half months after Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State returned to Nigeria on September 7, 2023, from a three-month medical leave in Germany, he is yet to perform any function required by the Office of the Governor of the state. Governor Akeredolu, who has been in his residence in Ibadan, Oyo State, has only been seen once publicly when governors of the South-West region visited him. Governor Akeredolu’s absence from Akure, the Ondo State capital, and his deputy’s inability to act have grounded the state’s administrative machinery. The quagmire in the state was further compounded when state lawmakers moved to impeach the deputy governor.

The attempt by Akeredolu’s Chief Press Secretary, Richard Olabode, to defend the present political stalemate in Ondo State is untenable. Olabode said, “Those calling for Akeredolu’s resignation are wicked and hypocritical because he has not failed in the discharge of his responsibilities.” Olabode claims the governor has continued to give prompt attention to files and documents, including approving funds for projects.” The question is: should Akeredolu be doing that from the Government House in Akure or from his country home residence in Ibadan? Being a governor goes beyond attending to files or signing of bills into law.

It would be recalled that Akeredolu had, as President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) in 2010, called on the then-ailing President Umaru Musa Yar’adua to resign and hand over power to Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan. He also supported the adoption of the doctrine of necessity by the National Assembly, which initiated the transfer of power to then Vice President, Good luck Jonathan in acting capacity.

Meanwhile, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s meeting with stakeholders from Ondo State on Friday November 24, 2023, did not actually change the situation. Reading out details of the resolutions after the meeting, Speaker of the state House of Assembly, Olamide Oladiji, said, “… There would be no more dissolution of the cabinet and the deputy governor would maintain the status quo as far as the House of Assembly leadership is concerned.” The ‘status quo’ in this case simply means an extension of the existing stalemate, and therefore, cannot be a viable solution.

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We condemn the position taken by the president on this matter as it is strictly a constitutional matter, which he cannot just resolve by holding a meeting.  The constitution has provisions for issues like this and that must be respected.  The president swore an oath to uphold the Nigerian Constitution in everything he does. This is a litmus test of that oath.

Section 190 of the country’s 1999 constitution explicitly states that “Whenever the governor transmits to the Speaker of the House of Assembly a written declaration that … or that he is otherwise unable to discharge the functions of his office… Such functions shall be discharged by the deputy governor as acting governor.”  We urge Governor Akeredolu to immediately act according to this provision of the law. When he fails to oblige, Section 189 of the 1999 constitution should be allowed to prevail.

Section 189(1) affirms that the governor of a state shall cease to hold office if (a) “By a resolution passed by two-thirds majority of all members of the executive council of the state, it is declared that the governor … is incapable of discharging the functions of his office.” However, this would require, as contained in sub-section (b) of this section, verification by a medical panel appointed by the Speaker of the House of Assembly. Section 189(2) further provides that where the medical panel certifies in its report that in its opinion the governor “Is suffering from such infirmity of body or mind as renders him permanently incapable of discharging the functions of his office”, a notice signed by the Speaker shall be published in the Official Gazette of the state government. Section 189(3) maintains that the governor shall, from the date of publication of the notice, cease to hold office. Section 189(4) under subsections (a) and (b) give details of the composition of the medical panel.

Now that neither the Ondo State Executive Council nor the House of Assembly has initiated the constitutional procedures that would have forestalled the current comatose situation, the state assembly yet has the obligation to evoke the doctrine of necessity to enable the deputy governor to take over in an acting capacity. The doctrine of necessity is the basis upon which extraordinary actions, which are designed to restore order or uphold fundamental constitutional principles rest. This same doctrine was once deployed when, on 9 February 2010, the Nigerian National Assembly passed a resolution making Vice President Goodluck Jonathan the Acting President.

While we berate Akeredolu’s colleagues in the Nigeria Governors Forum for not speaking out, we also condemn the Ondo State House of Assembly as well as the state executive council for allowing the state to suffer from the lacuna created by their collective inaction. Whereas, no one as an institution or individual would wish Governor Akeredolu out of office before the end of his tenure, his ill health should not continue to hold the state to ransom. The task to resuscitate Ondo squarely rests on the state House of Assembly. In their attempt to quickly resolve this matter, the leadership of the state House of Assembly is advised to ensure that the country’s constitution remains supreme.

For these and other reasons, the status quo cannot be allowed to persist in Ondo State.

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