A legal luminary, Chief Niyi Akintola (SAN), is among the aspirants itching to succeed Oyo State Governor Abiola Ajimobi on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in next year’s election. He will face other 23 aspirants at the primary later in the month. Can the eminent lawyer overcome the hurdles and pick the ticket? Group Political Editor EMMANUEL OLADESU writes on the succession battle in the Pacesetter State.
As a lawyer, he knows his onions. Vocal, versatile and hardworking, Niyi Akintola (SAN), can be described as a genius. He is bold, brave and courageous. His legal advocacy has been deployed to the sustenance of the democratic order. But, after many years of successful practice, the legal luminary is now changing his gear. “I want to be governor of Oyo State and I know what it takes to be governor,” he said.
Akintola has been in politics for long. In the Third Republic, he was elected as the deputy speaker of Oyo State House of Assembly. He had to resign from the position when he failed to bow to the shenanigans of the Ibadan strongman, the late Chief Lamidi Adedibu. At the beginning of this dispensation, he worked actively with his leader, the late Chief Bola Ige. When the former Oyo State governor was writing the constitutions of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the defunct All Peoples Party (APP) and the Alliance for Democracy (AD), Akintola was beside him.
Although he had an opportunity to seek for elective positions, he never did so. Instead, he embraced the role of assisting victims of electoral fraud to recover their stolen mandate. The legal fireworks took him to tribunals in Ekiti, Osun, Ogun, Ondo and Edo states.
Nineteen years after the restoration of civil rule, he is throwing his hat in the ring. “Governor Abiola Ajimobi has performed well in the last seven and half years. There is the need for a government of continuity. If elected as governor on the platform of the APC, I will build on his achievements,” Akintola added.
Akintola is a household name in Oyo State and Nigeria. At home, he is not treated as a foreigner. The lawyer is a community man. Little did he guess that he would be vying for a public office when he ploughed back to Ido, his cradle. Apart from participating in many community projects, he has personally sponsored some social programmes which have impacted on the community and Ibadan city state.
Many believe that Ajimobi has actually recorded many achievements. But, his greatest achievement will be his ability to hand over to a government of continuity on May 29, next year. Will the lot fall on Akintola to continue from where the governor will stop?
No fewer than 24 APC chieftains are in the race to succeed the governor. The contenders are from the three senatorial districts.
Apart from Akintola, the contenders include former Governor Adebayo Alao-Akala, Soji Adejumo, professor of animal physiology and former chairman, Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB), Adebayo Adelabu, former deputy governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, Ayo Karim, engineer and Chief Executive Officer of Costain West Africa Plc, Joseph Tegbe, a senior partner with KPMG Professional Services, Dr Olusola Ayandele, Director of Integrated Energy Distribution And Marketing Limited, Dr. Azeez Adeduntan, Commissioner for Health, Soji Eniade, former Head of Service, Abimbola Adekambi, Commissioner for Finance, Senator Abdulfatai Buhari from Oyo North District, and Alhaji Adebayo Shittu, Minister of Communications.
Others are Akeem Agbaje, Chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Oyo State, Dr. Babalola Owolabi, former Commissioner for Health, Isaac Omodewu, Commissioner for Land, Housing and Survey, Temitope Olatoye, who represents Lagelu/Akinyele Constituency in the House of Representatives, Alhaji Kehinde Olaosebikan, journalist and former chairman of Oluyole Local Government Area, Otunba Moses Alake Adeyemo, deputy governor, Senator Soji Akanbi from Oyo South District, Dada Awoleye, member of the House of Representative from Ibadan North Constituency, Debo Adesina, a journalist, Zacheaus Adelabu, former Commissioner for Finance, and Prof. Adeolu Aknde, a political scientist.
There are rumblings in the party hierarchy over who succeeds Ajimobi. The succession battle may be taking its toll on the State Executive Council. There is growing suspicion and mistrust among commissioners and special advisers. Succession has become a divisive issue. Six members of the cabinet are in the race. They are Deputy Governor Adeyemo, Eniade, Omodewu, Adeduntan, Special Adviser on Political Matters, Morounkola Thomas, Commissioner for Finance, and Adekanmbi. The governor has not anointed a candidate. So far, he has been silent on the succession struggle. His only intervention is limited to the admonition to the people of Oke Ogun to put their house in order and endorse an aspirant. The sub-zone is pushing for zoning, although zoning is not in the APC constitution.
Until recently, eyes were on two aspirants, who were believed to be the governor’s choice: Adelabu and Chief Adeniyi Akintola, (SAN) The latter has since lost out following a careless talk attributed to him which filtered to the ears of Governor Ajimobi. Adelabu is said to be close to Ajimobi. His associates were boasting that he could get the ticket on account of close ties. But, sources close to the governor confided that the anticipated pay back time for cordial friendship may not come.
Since the governor may not be looking in the direction of Adelabu, some people came up with the permutation of a titanic contest between Akintola and Tegbe, another Ibadan indigene, who is believed to be Ajimobi’s business partner. Observers have said that Tegbe will defend the governor’s legacies and cover his tracks.
To some Ibadan indigenes, Akintola is not a push over. He has so many factors working in his favour. As one of the Ibadan and Oyo State leading lights, he is known to the social gatekeepers, including traditional rulers; the Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi, the Soun of Ogbomosho, Oba Jimoh Oyewumi, the Aseyin of Iseyin and the Olubadan of Ibadanland, Oba Saliu Adetunji. These monarchs are from the three senatorial districts.
The political capital accruable from Ibadan could be enormous. Ibadan controls 54 per cent of the voting population in the state. Akintola’s aspiration has received the blessings of the influential umbrella body in the ancient city, the Central Council of Ibadan Indigenes.
Akintola is a political war horse of sorts and not a latter day opportunistic progressives. His legal career is interwoven with the history of the Fourth Republic. Many have showered encomiums on him for deploying his legal service to the cause of the progressivism. In those anxious and uncertain years when the defunct Action Congress (AC) was robbed of electoral victory by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Akintola rendered invaluable legal services that led to the recovery of stolen mandates.He was the lead counsel in the case instituted by Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, who challenged the victory of PDP candidate, Professor Oserheim Osunbor in Edo state.
Akintola was involved in historic electoral cases involving Ajimobi and Alao Akala in Oyo State, and Dr Kayode Fayemi and Segun Oni in Ekiti state. He was also the lead counsel in the titanic case between Chief Rauf Aregbesola and Brig-Gen Olagunsoye Oyinlola in Osun State.
When Senator Rasheed Ladoja was impeached as Oyo State governor and Alao-Akala became the ‘governor,’ Akintola handled the case up to the Supreme Court without collecting legal fees, to the surprise of the Central Council of Ibadan Indigenes. His sagacity, candour, resilience, fidelity and selfless contributions endeared him to Southwest leaders, including Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, Chief Bisi Akande and Ajimobi, who now holds the ace on who becomes his successor.
Akintola is feared and respected by the Oyo PDP as a great and principled fighter. Thus, the party believes that the rejection of his candidature by the APC family will be a blessing in disguise to the likely PDP candidate, Seyi Makinde, an engineer.
But, is the zoning agitation not a threat to his ambition? What is the assurance that Ajimobi will prefer him as successor? Many also believe that the lawyer is too independent-minded and cannot be controlled by any party leader.
Akintola said zoning will not be a factor. He said he enjoyed cordial relations with the governor. He said Oyo State is made of historically and culturally linked towns and villages. The said the bond of kindred exists up to now. He delved into history, emerging with evidence of many prominent Ibadan indigenes who came from many surrounding Oyo, Oke-Ogun, Osun, Egba, Ijesa and even Ekiti towns. He noted that a former Ibadan monarch, Baale Aliwo Balogun, came from Iwo, the Alayandes came from Oyo, Ladoja came from Iseyin, Olunloyos have links with Owu and a former Timi of Ede, Oba Laoye, a pharmacist, even wanted to be Mogaji in Ibadan in the past. In his view, Oyos are Oyos, whether they are from Ibadan, Oke-Ogun and Oyo, the territory of Alaafin. Besides, he pointed out that zoning is not in the APC constitution.
Akintola was born in Ibadan on January 21, 1960. He attended I.D.C. Primary School Seni Village, via Omi, Adio Ogunsami Primary School, Ogunsami and Ebenezer African Church Primary School Salvation Army Road, Ibadan. He later attended Nigeria Army School of Education, Ilorin, Ogun State Polytechnic, Abeokuta, the University of Ibadan and the Nigerian Law School, Lagos.
The lawyer holds a Master’s degree in Political Science. He taught briefly at Mac-Job Grammar School, Abeokuta between 1979-8. In 1984 the late Chief Toye Ogunyemi, his adopted father and mentor, assisted him in getting him a scholarship to go to the Law School, Lagos through an Ibadan Social Club, the Lagelu Sixteen under the leadership of Alhaji Tunji Bello. On his graduation day, he could not afford N4.00 to pay for his photograph. He could not even afford the Wig and Gown for practice. Yet, he became a SAN at 41.
Akintola is conscious of his past. He is always willing to plough back to society through numerous philanthropic gestures on his 50th birthday in 2010, he awarded scholarships to 50 indigent students of higher institutions. He singlehandedly built a cottage hospital for Omi-Adio, Ibadan and donated same to the Nigerian Baptist Convention.
In the legal profession, he is a star. He is a member of Benchers, a director of Nigerian-reinsurance PLC, adjunct lecturer, Department of Political Science, UI, member of the NBS Disciplinary Committee, Fellow of the London Court of International Arbitration, former Vice Chairman of NBA, Ibadan Branch, Fellow of Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, Nigeria and UK, and members of Africa Bar Association and International Bar Association.
Akintola was a member of the Presidential Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution. He was counsel to the Federal Government on the Judicial Commission of Inquiry appointed to probe NIGERDOCK N81 billion fraud.