Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Unnecessary thuggery in Ondo at APC restructuring forum



It is good news that the All Progressives Congress has finally set in motion the process of addressing the people ’ s clamour for restructuring the country for purposes of political , economic, and social equity , by setting up its Committee on True Federalism to refine the scope of restructuring and set the agenda for action .

However , there are fears that the ongoing public hearings organised by the APC may amount to overkill. It is felt that overwhelming evidence already exists on the need for restructuring and that different aspects of the restructuring project have been amplified in two voluminous National Conference reports as well as numerous commentaries on social and mainstream media.

It was this evidence that enabled the APC ’ s Committee to identify at least 12 key areas of focus for restructuring the country . They include the devolution of powers ; fiscal federalism and revenue allocation ; derivation principle; form of government; type of legislature ; and the nature of federating units.
One would have thought that the President Muhammadu Buhari administration would then go on to set up the process of restructuring the country , even if only along the six lines listed above, by enlisting the cooperation of key National Assembly leaders and tabling it at the National Council of State and Federal Executive Council meetings .

Instead, the committee decided to embark on public hearings on restructuring . “ It is an open invitation to all Nigerians ”, the committee said , “ to attend and make their views and voices to count ”. It didn’ t matter that the two conference reports mentioned above represented the views and voices of the people through their representatives .

At one of such public hearings , held in Akure , Ondo State, on Thursday, September 21 , 2017 , there was an unnecessary exhibition of thuggery in its most primitive form . A commissioner from a sister state , Bola Ilori , was invited by the press to give an interview outside the hall . As he was speaking, a thug brazenly assaulted him, questioning him on why he came to Ondo State , having previously worked for another political party during the last governorship election in the state . The thug also warned the commissioner against contesting the Central Senatorial District seat in the next election , because it had been assigned to his principal, whom he referred to as Abena .
Here ’ s how Saharareporters presented the story : “ The armed thugs that brutally attacked the Osun State Commissioner for Regional Integration, Mr. Bola Ilori , at a public hearing organised by the All Progressives Congress in Akure, the Ondo State capital, were part of a notorious political group known as ‘ Abena Boys ’ … the leader of the hoodlums that carried out the attack is known as Femi but popularly called “ KEF ”” (Saharareporters, September 22 , 2017 ).

My own investigation, including interviews with Ilori and some eyewitnesses , corroborates that of Saharareporters. However , Abegunde has yet to respond to my calls and my text message. Nevertheless, in his press interview after the incident, he denied any knowledge of the encounter : “ I didn’ t sponsor anybody and I don ’ t know where everybody is just calling my name … The person that is accusing me was even the one that brought thugs to the state from Osun State while they were brandishing the Oranmiyan logo with sticks in the arms threatening our people in Akure”. My investigation revealed that Abegunde was indeed inside the hall but he did not intervene after he knew about the incident.

Two quick comments about Oranmiyan Boys are necessary. One , they were in uniform, each carrying opa Oranmiyan with a flag wrapped around it . Thugs don ’ t wear uniforms by which they easily could be identified . Two, they were said to have been inside the hall when the assault began. They only came out to track down the fellow who assaulted their commissioner . They succeeded in handing him over to the police. However, curiously , he either escaped or was let go.

There are many reasons why the assault on Ilori was uncalled for . First, allowance must be given that Ilori is now a commissioner in a neighbouring Yoruba state . His portfolio , Regional Integration, warranted his presence at a restructuring forum . Besides, nothing can take away from Ilori ’ s natal origin in Ondo town . As such , he is entitled to attend a public hearing in his native state . As a native and resident of Ondo State myself , I would not like to see a commissioner from my state assaulted by thugs in another state , for whatever reason . Such action is below the bar of decorum in a civilised democracy .

I can understand the grudge borne by Ondo APC politicians , especially state officials , towards Ilori for his role during the last governorship election. That ’ s why my initial reaction to reports of the assault on him bordered on caution . Perhaps , I thought, Ilori should not have been Osun ’ s delegate to Akure on that occasion . This thought was reflected in my initial communication with the Osun State Governor, Rauf Aregbesola .

I also tried to reach the Ondo State Governor , Rotimi Akeredolu ( SAN ), to share my thoughts on the incident, but I soon realised that he was out of the country . I then called his Chief of Staff , Olugbenga Ale , who cautiously told me that he was not there when the incident took place and he refrained from commenting on it. My subsequent investigation corroborated his statement.

On further reflection, however , it dawned on me that Akeredolu had won the election fair and square, and he is now governor. True , he won on the platform of the APC , but he is governor for everybody in the state , including those who did not vote for him or even did not vote at all. He has a duty to protect them all, including visitors to his state .

It is for the above reasons that the assault on Ilori reflects negatively on Akeredolu and his supporters. Incidents like this one should never be allowed to suppress the ongoing efforts by Akeredolu to meet the government’ s obligations to workers and Ondo citizenry.
Even more generally , the incident reflects negatively on Ondo State , its officials , and security agencies, whose duty it is to provide security for everyone in the state , especially visiting official guests of the state . Besides, it is a dent on the peace for which Ondo State has been noted.

On a much bigger picture, the incident created a dent on the APC ’ s ongoing public hearings on restructuring . Such an incident should never have happened in Yorubaland , the bastion of the call for restructuring . It is also a dent on the regional integration project on which both governors are active participants .
It was the awareness of the negative effects of the incident on the state ’ s image that led the Ondo State Commissioner for Information , Yemi Olowolabi, and other Ondo media aides to plead earnestly with those who videotaped the assault , not to air the raw footage.

It is very important for the two governors to communicate with each other on the incident. Governor Akeredolu needs to pacify his neighbouring governor over the incident and assure him that Ondo is safe for his officials and other citizens of his state . At the same time, it is important that the Osun Governor hold back on his reaction to the incident and share his thoughts with his Ondo counterpart. Even more importantly, it is necessary to douse the doomsday prediction by the press of looming crisis between the two governors over the incident.

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