The cold war between Governor Abiola Ajimobi of Oyo State and the Minister of Communications, Adebayo Shittu, has polarised the state chapter of the All Progressives Congress, APC. The Nation’s Assistant Editor, Leke Salaudeen examines the implication of the feud on the party’s fortune ahead of 2019.
The supremacy contest between Governor Abiola Ajimobi of Oyo State and the Minister of Communications, Adebayo Shittu, over the structure of the All Progressives Congress (APC) has taken a new twist. Shittu is seeking the APC governorship ticket to succeed Ajimobi, who will complete his eight year tenure in May next year. The minister’s ambition to rule Oyo State pre-dates the APC era. He contested the governorship election in 2011 on the platform of the Centre for Progressive Change (CPC) the same platform on which President Muhammadu Buhari contested 2011 presidential poll. The CPC was one of the political parties that coalesced into the APC.
The feud between Ajimobi and the minister became pronounced when President Buhari announced Shittu as Oyo State nominee in the Federal Executive Council (FEC). This did not go down well with Ajimobi, who consider Shittu as a political rival. It was learnt that the governor felt slighted by the appointment because he was not consulted by the President as the leader of the APC in Oyo State. The Ajimobi group viewed Shittu’s appointment as an attempt by the presidency to prepare him for governorship office in 2019.
The Ajimobi camp allegedly did everything possible to stall Shittu’s confirmation. Open letters and petitions were written against Shittu. Several newspaper advertorials sponsored by faceless groups were published just to stop Shittu from being confirmed by the Senate. But Shittu sailed through.
In what many people considered as a rare gesture, Ajimobi organised a reception for Shittu at Kakanfo Inn, Ibadan. Observers were taken unaware by the governor’s action. He proved those who thought he would have nothing to do with Shittu wrong. The impression created by the reception was that the fight had ended.
But, subsequent events have proved it was not. The two gladiators have not sheathed their swords. On many occasions, Shittu had accused the governor of trying to hijack the party and vowed to stop him. Though Ajimobi would not react personally to such allegations, his loyalists, to denounced Shittu’s allegations. The face-off degenerated to the extent that the minister alleged his inability to defend his ministry’s budget properly before the House of Representatives committee headed by a loyalist of Ajimobi. He described his experience with the committee as a proxy war.
The minister has incurred the wrath of the Ajimobi political camp by accepting a chieftaincy title conferred on him by the Olubadan of Ibadan land Oba Salihu Adetunji. Though analysts say there was nothing wrong in Olubadan honouring Shittu but that the timing that was inauspicious. A sociologist, Dr Kunle Oyedeji said the conferment of the chieftaincy title on Shittu has political undertone. Why should the minister an arch-rival of Ajimobi be honoured at the heat of controversy between the governor and the Olubadan over the crowning of 21 chiefs? He concluded that by accepting the chieftaincy, Shittu had pitched his tent with the Olubadan, a development that has further deepened the crisis between him and the governor.
Besides, the crisis was aggravated by the demolition of a Computer Based Test Centre being constructed by Shittu in his home town, Saki, in Oyo North by the Oyo State government. This prompted the minister to write a petition to President Buhari, the National Chairman of the APC, Chief Odigie Oyegun and the APC Natioanal Leader, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, on what he described the “unbecoming” behaviour of the governor.
Shittu stated in the petition that as his relationship with the governor deteriorated, he arranged a meeting at the Oyo State Government House, Abuja where two of them met to resolve existing misgivings. “At the meeting, I also mentioned to the Governor the outstanding issue of a Computer Based Test Centre under construction in Saki, which has become a subject of dispute between me and the local government. I requested for his kind intervention to see to the success of the project which to all intents and purposes would not only assist examination candidates in my hometown but would also be a boost to our party. The governor promised to intervene and lay the matter to rest, for which I expressed my appreciation for his brotherly promise”.
He said few days after he called the governor on phone to thank him for the reception and understanding on the issues discussed. During the telephone conversation, the governor reassured that he would provide official documents to revalidate his ownership of the land on which the CBT Centre was being constructed. The following day, the minister said he received a shocking news that agents of the state government invaded the site with a bulldozer that levelled the centre under construction and destroyed over 2,000 blocks on site.
But, a Town Planning official said the building was demolished because there was dispute over the ownership of the land on which the CBT was being constructed. The official who spoke on condition of anonymity said the demolition was not instigated by the governor. We don’t wait for the governor’s instruction in enforcing the town planning rules and regulations.
Although the governor had not responded to Shittu’s petition, an indication that both of them are not in good terms played out when the governor stayed away from the commissioning of the Southwest Zonal Office of the Muhammadu Buhari Osinbajo (MBO) Dynamic Support Group initiated by Shittu. Instead Ajimobi organised a sensitisation rally on local government election at the APC Secretariat in Ibadan. While all the Chairmanship and councillorship aspirants were at the rally, Shittu waited endlessly for the governor and other party officials for the commissioning of the office.
The absence of Ajimobi and party officials embarrassed former Abia State Govenor Orji Uzor Kalu and former Senate President, Ken Nnamani, who were among special guests invited by Shittu for the inauguration of the office. Kalu could not hide his displeasure over the development when he said: “If anybody in this house today would say it is good for these two elephants to continue quarrelling, I and my senior brother (Senator Nnamani) would disagree that they should be quarrelling. The minister and the governor should be the best of friends, and we are going to make that happen.
“I cannot understand. The minister is very close to me and the governor is very close to me. They are also close to Ken Nnamani. We came here to honour both of them. I am not very happy with what I have seen here, that the governor is not here, the party officials are not here, the Commissioners are not here.
“The minister and the governor should be the best of friends and we are going to make that happen. If both of them should be quarrelling, there will be no peace and progress in this state. We don’t want to lose any vote in Oyo State. We have already agreed that we are going to take it upon ourselves to the highest of our party so that the leadership should wade into the internal crisis in Oyo State between Governor Ajimobi and the Minister of Communication, Adebayo Shittu in order not to jeopardise the chances of the APC in the 2019 elections.
With the growing animosity, can the minister win the APC governorship ticket without Ajimobi’s support?
The governor had expressed support for the Oke-Ogun zone to produce the next governor in 2019. Analysts say it was this undertaken that excited Shittu to believe he has the governor’s support. He had declared himself as the most qualified and experienced among the governorship aspirants from Oke-Ogun because of his experience in governance, having served as commissioner and now a minister.
But Ajimobi support for Oke-Ogun stemmed from the massive support he got from the area in 2015 governorship election Ajimobi said: “I can recall vividly that during the 2015 governorship election, I won nine out of the ten local governments in Oke-Ogun, and this aided my emergence as the first governor to secure second term in office in Oyo State. Without prejudice to the competence and legitimacy of other aspirants from other zones nursing the ambition of succeeding me, I can say the people of Oke-Ogun deserve my support.”
The support is with a caveat. Ajimobi advised the Oke-Ogun people to seek support from other zones. You must win them over to win a governorship election. For instance, Ibadan people alone constitute about 52 per cent of the population and Ajimobi is an Ibadan man.
Analysts blamed Shittu for allowing his relationship with the governor to degenerate at this crucial time when he needs his support. Public affairs commentator Ayo Ololade said the minister goofed in confronting the governor, who could have helped him in winning the party’s governorship ticket. According to him, you can’t rule out the governor’s influence on who wins the party primary.
He said: “The governor controls the party machinery; most of the delegates that would vote at the shadow election are loyal to the governor. The governor appoints party chairmen and executive members at the local government level; members of the state executive council, chairmen and board members of state parastatals and agencies. These political appointees will form the bulk of delegates that will vote at the primary.
“The number of delegates from Oke-Ogun zone where Shittu comes from will not be enough for him to win the ticket even if all delegated from the zone decide to cast their votes for him. Oke-Ogun controls 21 per cent of the total voting strength compared to Ibadan’s 52 per cent. It seems Shittu is banking on President Buhari to influence his emergence as the APC candidate. This will not work because the APC members in Oyo State will choose the delegates. Shittu should learn from his immediate mistake on the inauguration of the Southwest Buhari/Osinbajo re-election office which was poorly attended due to the obvious crisis between him and the governor. You can’t handle such a programme successfully in isolation of the Oyo State APC and South West APC stalwarts.
“I am not saying Shittu should turn into Ajimobi’s stooge because he wants to be governor but he should be less controversial in his quest to succeed the governor. I don’t expect him to allege the governor of trying to hijack the party. The governor is the leader of the party in the state; he controls the party structure. To say he has hijacked the party structure is stating the obvious. It is not too late for Shittu to normalise his relationship with the governor if he is convinced that Ajimobi will beneficial to his course.”
However, an APC stalwart, who spoke in confidence noted that the feud didn’t start today; both the governor and Shittu have been political arch rivals. He recalled that Shittu was the CPC governorship candidate in 2011 while Ajimobi contested on the platform of Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and won. Shittu was able to garner about 2,000 votes because CPC was not popular in the South West. He said the rivalry became pronounced when President Buhari announced Shittu as Oyo State nominee in the Federal Executive Council without Ajimobi’s consent. Ajimobi supporters did everything possible to rubbish Shittu but they didn’t succeed. What is happening now is a continuation of the battle of supremacy in Oyo APC, he said.
“One thing is certain Shittu will contest for the APC governorship ticket with or without Ajimobi’s support. What I don’t know is whether Shittu will emerge or whether Ajimobi can thwart Shittu’s governorship ambition.”
Culled from The Nation newspaper –
Writer – Leke Salaudeen