Law and politics in Ondo State: Governor Akeredolu’s appointment of non-indigene/ Akeredolu

Nigeria has experienced 21 years of uninterrupted democracy. To say it is still nascent is pedestrian. If democracy is a Nigerian, it must have been eligible to vote three years ago when it clocked 18. It will be matured to marry if it is a man and to be married out if a lady. Its parent would have declared independence. Nonetheless, here we are. Our democracy seems not to be growing; it is not developing. It is still a toddler learning how to crawl. This is sickening, saddening and pathetic.

It is what makes Governor Rotimi Akeredolu’s appointment of non-indigene as a special assistant a topical issue. Indigeneship according to Geschiere is the status of being a “native,” or “son of the soil,” in a particular locality in Nigeria, where it grants the holder the ability to claim historical belonging in contrast to “settlers” who originate elsewhere.” This notion of ‘son of the land’ informs the distress calls to the Governor’s office which keeps ringing unabatedly.

Indigenship explanation given by Geschiere is not supported by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The word or concept ‘settler’ is completely absent in the Constitution. So, constitutionally speaking, a Nupe man from Niger or Kwara State who resides in Kano or Borno State is not considered a settler. Also, the Constitution does not make a clear difference between ‘indigene’ and ‘citizen’. To buttress this point, indigene (or its derivative) appears three times in the Constitution. Section 318. (1) states that: “In this constitution, unless it is otherwise expressly provided or the context otherwise requires- ‘belong to’ or its grammatical expression when used with reference to a person in a state refers to a person either or whose parents or any of whose grand parents was a member of a community indigenous to that state”. Section 147. (3) reads that: “...President shall appoint at least one Minister from each State, who shall be an indigene of such State.”

This Section would have justified the common notion that every indigene of a state is by default a Nigerian citizen but not every Nigerian citizen is an indigene of every state in Nigeria. However, Section 14 (4) creates an ambiguity. How? It stipulates that “The composition of the government of a state, a local government council, or any of the agencies of such government or council, and the conduct of the affairs of the government or council or such agencies shall be carried out in such manner as to recognize the diversity of the people within its area of authority and the need to promote a sense of belonging and loyalty among all the people of the Federation.” If sense of belonging and loyalty will be promoted among all the people of the Federation in a state or local government council it means every Nigerian irrespective of state of origin will be entitled to hold office in any state of the Federation through election or/and nomination.

In Section 25. (1), it further says: “The following persons are citizens of Nigeria by birth-namely- (a) every person born in Nigeria before the date of independence, either of whose parents or any of whose grandparents belongs or belonged to a community indigenous to Nigeria.” These are the three places where indigene appears in the Constitution. If the action of Ondo State Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of appointing a non-indigene as a special assistant is analysed from the perspective of what the law says; he will be vindicated. Being a legal practitioner himself, he must have weighed this controversial appointment against the provision of the law. He must have found it justifiable before causing the ensuing hullabaloo. On the legal side, I am of the opinion that he has done nothing wrong. He is a lawyer and the law shall serve him right.

Let’s turn our lens to the politics. Was his action politically right? No. Big no; and here is why. Do not forget the parable of Nigeria’s democracy painted above. When we should be competing with advanced democrac(ies) after 21 years of experimentation, we are still learning how to crawl. We are yet to internalise some basic and noble concepts of democracy. We are still battling with the ‘we’ vs ‘them’ anti progress mind-set. Every politics, as they say, is local politics. This even more true of Nigeria’s politics which politics of patrimony where is considered to be transmitted from the godfather to the godson. Aside this, the Nigerian State is yet to recognize independent candidacy. What this means is that every public office holder who was elected into office must have got the position through the platform of a political party; and through the toil and sweat of the card-carrying members.  It is therefore a moral responsibility of a serving governor to ensure that those who labour for the party are well compensated. Rewarding an outsider when party loyalists are neglected to the fringe will be counter-productive. It is a political miscalculation.

The consequences of the Governor’s appointment will be highlighted shortly.

It is important to clarify some points. One, based on the lacuna of the Constitution for its inability to make a clear difference between citizens and indigenes; and its blindness to the concept of ‘settlers’, anybody can be appointed to any political position in the state. The political shrewdness of a governor will make his act excusable if he does it wisely. If he appoints non-indigene who has spent some years in the state as a resident. Two, such a person must have contributed in no small measure to the progress of the party. Three, in addition to the above, he or she is very loyal to the governor. Appointing this kind of person who is considered non-indigene will not raise an eyebrow. If it raises, it will be excusable and appeasable. The appointment of Ngozi Ugochi— a 26-year-old Igbo from Imo State— fresh graduate who has just completed her NYSC as Special Assistant on Gender, Research and Documentation is a misnomer.

She does not qualify those criteria that could make appointment of non-indigene excusable and justifiable. What intensified the dissatisfaction of party loyalists is that Ngozi has a close ties with the governor’s wife, Betty Anyanwu Akeredolu who also hails from Imo State. This is considered using public office for private gain. This is a form of corruption. When did governor’s office and government affairs become family affair? Some residents opine that since Mrs Betty is the Governor’s wife, her family deserves positions in the government of her husband. This is also missing the point. The point is that the government is not that of her husband (Akeredolu), it is APC’s government.

Examples of non-indigene holding top political positions in government of states other than theirs abound in Nigeria. The present Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osibanjo hails from Ogun State and served as the Commissioner for Justice in Lagos State under Asiwaju Bola Tinubu for eight years. Former Governor of Osun State, Ogbeni Abdurauf Aregbesola was prior his governorship the Commissioner for works in Lagos State. Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau, an eight-year governor of Kano State is a Native of Borno State and right now in the Senate representing Kano. In 2015, three Igbo candidates won election into the House of Representative in Lagos on the platform of PDP (an opposition party). They are Chief Oghene Egboh, Mrs. Rita Orji and Mr. Tony Nwoolu. I can give more examples. All the aforementioned are non-indigene in those states where they ascended to a political prominence. However, they have resided in those states (some by birth) and have contributed to the political economy of those states—at least as tax payers and party members. This is obviously not the case with Ngozi Ugochi.

By and large, the implications of the governor’s action are as follows: losing support of party loyalists. Campaign for re-election is ongoing as the election has been fixed for October 10; this may mar the chance of the Governor’s re-election bid. It can also lead to political apathy among the electorates. It is along this line of reasoning that Governor Akeredolu’s action will be adjudged right or wrong. Admittedly it is legally right but politically incorrect. This is a clear case of law and politics in Nigeria.

Abdulkadir Salaudeen writes from Federal University, Gashua. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. 08138391624.