By Bolanle Bolawole
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The Ondo State governor, Arakunrin Oluwarotimi Odunayo Akeredolu, whom I praised to high heavens weeks ago as the “governor of governors” on account of his principled and courageous stand against the impunity and recklessness of Fulani herdsmen and their collaborators, is in the news again – but this time, unfortunately, for the wrong reason. Akeredolu can be labelled as “Double Chairman” – chairman of the South-west governors’ forum and also of the larger Southern Nigeria governors’ forum. In both, he has creditably discharged the onerous responsibilities placed on his very broad shoulders. Last week, however, he surprised many when he named his son, Babajide, to a very sensitive Ondo State Government appointment. But did he, actually, surprise anyone, judging by his antecedents and cantankerous statements in the past? Not only has Babajide’s appointment set tongues wagging and raised dust, it has also opened old wounds and resurrected allegations of arrogance, nepotism and insensitivity leveled at Akeredolu as he battled for a second term in office last year. Those who thought the travails of second term battle, not the least the Agboola Ajayi scare, have tempered and thought Akeredolu useful lessons will be sorely disappointed. But those who think the leopard never changes its skin will say “here we go again”!
The governor had been accused of running Ondo State as his personal fiefdom, handing it over to his immediate family and their cronies, allegations which many well-meaning Ondo State indigenes, however, deny. The First Lady, Betty Anyanwu-Akeredolu, especially was said to be influential and powerful, and Babajide Akeredolu, the same son in the eye of the current storm, was also fingered as someone who made things happen in the state. When Babajide was named into the State’s COVID-19 fund-raising committee, critics chorused “we said so”! Gov. Akeredolu aka Aketi’s best response has often been a rebuff of his critics. In the same manner that ex-President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan once shrugged off criticisms with a smug “I don’t give a damn”, Akeredolu has been reported as saying he does not care what anyone says! Is this evidence of the governor’s alleged arrogance and pride or a case of good conscience that fears no foe?
One of the stories that I read, titled “Disquiet, as Akeredolu appoints son head of government agency, names commissioners” stated that “There were disquieting signs in the polity … as Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State appointed his son, Babajide, as the Director-General of the Performance and Project Implementation Monitoring Unit (PPIMU)”. The appointment of the governor’s son was announced alongside that of 14 commissioner-designates and seven special advisers. The final comment of the report was very instructive; it said:”Last year, Akeredolu had boasted that he could appoint his son as Chief of Staff and nothing would stop it”. Such insolence! And such arrogance! Such impunity and audacity! Such insensitivity! Why, then, are we crucifying President Muhammadu Buhari for his celebrated nepotism and mindless insensitivity? Or are these birds of a feather?
But, to be sure, Akeredolu will not be the first governor to take his Ondo State people for such a ride. Gov. Olusegun Agagu before him did it, not only appointing his brother, Femi Agagu, as Chief of Staff but also actually installing him as the de facto governor. So, Akeredolu must have taken inspiration from Agagu, especially as the same Femi Agagu has been an important member of Akeredolu’s cabinet as a commissioner in the first term and whose name also resurfaced in the new list. To be specific, Akeredolu stepped back from his boast that he could make Babajide chief of staff and has only named him into the new (?) office of Director-General, Performance and Project Implementation Monitoring Unit (PPIMU). But there are those who ask, and with justification, what is the difference? For one, an office – any office – is as important, powerful and influential as the governor makes it. For another, the person who presides over the monitoring of projects and the evaluation of performance has been ensconced in the driver’s seat of government. He can do and undo. Practically anyone who wants to keep their job must kow-tow to him. Contractors must bend over backward to avoid his displeasure. Government functions can be divided into three broad categories: Payment of salaries; execution of projects; and security issues (security votes). There are those who add a fourth lever of power – the Office of the First Lady! It would appear the Akeredolus now keep all four in the house!
The United States from where we borrowed the presidential system experienced the problem of the nepotism of political leaders until they made a law to put an end to it in 1967. Prior to that, a plethora of US presidents had appointed close relations into sensitive government offices. According to “Fact Check by Ballotpedia staff”, John Adams was the first US president to appoint family members to executive branch positions. Adams appointed his son, John Quincy Adams (who later became the 6th US president), as U.S. minister resident to Prussia in 1797, a position equivalent to ambassador. Adams also appointed his son-in-law, William Stephens Smith, to the position of surveyor of the port of New York in 1800.
At least six 19th century US presidents appointed family members to positions in the White House or other positions in the executive branch, including James Madison, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, John Tyler, James Buchanan, and Ulysses Grant. (Source: National Constitutional Centre).
During the administration of Woodrow Wilson, a presidential appointee became a family member rather than vice versa. In 1914, William Gibbs McAdoo, who was then serving as secretary of the treasury and chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, married Wilson’s daughter Eleanor. McAdoo continued serving in both roles, and after the U.S. entered the First World War, Wilson appointed McAdoo to the newly-created positions of director-general of railways and chairman of the War Finance Board.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt appointed his son James to the position of administrative assistant to the president in January 1937. Six months later, James was promoted to secretary to the president. In October of that year, James’ responsibilities expanded and he became the White House coordinator for 18 federal agencies.
In October 1958, President Dwight Eisenhower appointed his son John as assistant staff secretary in the White House. At the time, John Eisenhower was a major in the U.S. Army. President John Fitzgerald Kennedy appointed his brother Robert as attorney-general of the United States in January 1961. Kennedy also appointed his brother-in-law, R. Shriver, as director of the Peace Corps in March 1961.
All that, however, changed in 1967 when Congress included in the Postal Revenue and Federal Salary Act a section containing restrictions on government officials appointing family members to federal government jobs. That section of the act is commonly known as the Federal Anti-Nepotism Statute. Maverick President Donald Trump had a hell of a time trying to appoint Jared Kushner, married to daughter Ivanka, and Ivanka herself as senior advisors to the president. Both reportedly had to forgo pay. To overcome similar blatant nepotism here, an anti-nepotism law such as the United States may become an absolute necessity.
Whether the person so appointed is qualified, competent or capable for the assigned role is not the issue; the point, to quote Sarah Blumert, is that “too much power afforded to one family may result in an imbalance of governmental control” As our people will say, “Na dem alone?” Awon nikan ni won da ile aiye fun ni? Enikan o kii je ki ilu fe! But there is another way to look at it: The story is told – in fact, many stories are told – of an olden-days warrior king of the Kingdom of Owo, Olowo Ajaka; an account said he overawed the more favoured claimant to the throne to succeed his father, Olowo Ajagbusi Ekun. One day as he sat by the fireside with one of his babies on his lap, the baby kept struggling to be let loose. Ajaka obliged. As the baby crawled towards the fire aides rushed to snatch him away but Ajaka forbade them, saying the baby would soon discover that the “person” he was going to “meet” was not a coward. The baby got near the fire, hesitated for a while and then reached out and grabbed a life coal! Oh my God! He yelled and beat a retreat! Ajaka said: Didn’t I tell you?
Another story Grandma told me goes something like this: Ajaka the warrior-king needed the head of a new-born babe to make a powerful spiritual or magical potion; rather than go to town or procure the consignment from his retinue of slaves, he harvested the head of his own new-born babe, giving as justification the belief that his own blood and flesh will not deceive or betray him! Hence the saying to this day in Owo! Gov. Akeredolu hails from Owo and, like Olowo Ajaka, may believe in the efficacy of appointing his own blood and flesh into the important portfolio of projects monitoring and performance evaluation. Politics is full of deceits, disappointments, and betrayals. Who can you trust? With less than four years left for him as governor, Akeredolu may be desperate to leave a mark on the sands of time. One of Akeredolu’s fellow Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) told me he challenged the governor after his second term victory to seize the opportunity to leave legacy projects behind.
I have it on good authority that Babajide Akeredolu is cerebral, competent and passionate; he was also described as a workaholic who applies himself whole-heartedly and diligently to tasks set before him. Perhaps, these are the qualities that endeared him to his father. Father and son, then, may mean well for Ondo State. But the burden – and onus of proof – now rests on them. Time, as they say, will tell!
For Dr. Adewale Adesoji Adeeyo
I never met Dr. Adewale Adesoji Adeeyo but this tribute by a long-standing friend and colleague, Olumide Lawal, says it all. I have also read tributes in other fora singing the praises of Dr. Adeeyo. There must, therefore, be something unique about him, which made his demise a sad loss. Please read:
“For the immediate and extended family members as well as associates of Dr. Adewale Adesoji Adeeyo (OON), an illustrious son of Edeland and a global phenomenon, our world stood still when we learnt of his transition on October 15, 2021. Fondly called SIR EYO by his friends, Adeeyo flew home in a blaze of glory like the eagle that he was, his earthly journey coming to an end at the age of 73.
“Kudos to the late Papa Aminu Adeeyo who gave you the best education money could buy during your time! You were at the prestigious Children Home School, Molete; Olu-Iwa College (now Adeola Odutola College), Ijebu-Ode, and Ibadan Grammar School before you proceeded to New York City, USA for further studies, where you excelled.
Edeland has lost one of its very best! The world has lost an effervescent boardroom guru, corporate colossus, administrator par excellence and an educationist of no mean repute. The late publisher of ANCHOR newspapers came, saw and touched many lives, inclusive of the scholarships he awarded to many students of Adeleke University, Ede. Little wonder, then, that there have been testimonies galore since he changed mortality for immortality.
Adeeyo showed tremendous dexterity and drive in the management of human and material resources in all the places he was opportune to serve. His academic prowess was readily made available to the Adeleke University, Ede where he was a leading light of its Governing Council. The immediate past chairman of the Federal Mortgage Bank was an unquenchable fountain of knowledge. A detribalized Nigerian who saw every part of Nigeria as home, Adeeyo always was impeccably dressed and elegant in carriage. A good mixer, witty debater and prolific writer, his commencement speech at the maiden convocation of the Adeleke University in 2015 titled “Enchanting real world” remains a reference point on how students should live after graduation.
He had said: “You morally have no choice but to cede compassion and benevolence to whomever you may encounter in your life trek, so that none shall be the weakest link”. On power and its use, he told an impressive gathering in August 2007 at the Sheraton Hotel, Abuja on the occasion of the valedictory ceremony for a retired Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Salihu Modibo Alfa Belgore, that power should be applied with dignity. He said:
“True men of power do not pace the earth wildly or trudge any path clumsily. So deep and mysterious is the nature of power that we may never grasp its staggering complexity. Real men of power never yield to blind arrogance and delusional self-importance. And they always recognize that the source of their capricious influence can only be ratified by God’s mercy”
Adeeyo made the Almighty God his pillar of strength. He maintained a weekly strip column (Barka Jumat) in the Vanguard newspaper for years, through which he served spiritual diet to the Muslim Ummahs. The human race will say of Adeeyo: You mastered your moment! You were an invaluable asset to national growth and development. Adewale Adesoji Adeeyo: Wishing you Al Jannat Fridaus!