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Kayode Akinmade: Dapo Abiodun’s road to ultimate judicial vindication

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YESTERDAY, in a supremely well argued judgment, Nigeria’s apex court validated the election of Prince Dapo Abiodun as the governor of Nigeria’s Gateway State. Leading a five-member panel, Justice Tijjani Abubakar threw the appeal filed by Ladi Adebutu, the governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the March 18, 2023 in the state, into its natural habitat: the trash can. Immediately the news filtered through, joyous celebrations erupted across the state. The people had endured a lot of tribulation from shameless characters who turned electoral contest into robbery, then sought judicial validation through comedy, infecting the airwaves with salacious stories meant to undercut the people’s governor but only putting their pernicious personalities into bold relief. The people endured the audacity, knowing that they had elected a performing government and confident that the courts would affirm their freely expressed choice. Hurray!!!

The ongoing celebrations across Ogun State have been richly deserved, but the road to victory was paved with thorns. In the last four and half years, Prince Abiodun has had to endure a path strewn with pebbles, murky waters and broken bottles. In 2019 when he first emerged governor, he had done so against all odds. His predecessor had fought him to a standstill, and he couldn’t campaign freely across the state. His campaign posters were torn and if you appeared in the yellow vest associated with his supporters, you were immediately pounced upon by thugs. He won the election, but the vehicle used during his inauguration on May 29, 2019 was borrowed from a neighbouring state: such was the Establishment’s onslaught on the Iperu-born prince and business mogul. And the battle from the tribunal to the appellate court and the apex court was nothing short of titanic.

Like in 2019, so in 2023 when, in a fitting testimony to his life-changing projects, the people rewarded him with another term of office. The year presented memories that will linger. As he crisscrossed local governments in the state campaigning vigorously for re-election, adversaries within and without mounted fierce opposition. His predecessor, Ibikunle Amosun, who had failed to install a crony in 2019 and who had mounted vigorous campaigns of calumny across the state for the four years of his (Abiodun’s) administration, anointed yet another failure in the build-up to the 2023 polls even while remaining in the All Progressives Congress (APC). As Amosun conducted his onslaughts, taking advantage of a climate of peace impossible in his own day, the main opposition party, PDP, perfected its own act, banking on vote buying. In order to manipulate the electoral process, the PDP candidate, according to the charges filed against him and his co-travellers by the Federal Government, allegedly printed over 200,000 ATM-like cards and suborned POS agents to carry out electoral fraud. And, what is more, dissidents within APC, including ex-leaders who collected millions to work against their own party, mounted roadblocks on his way. However, the people were determined to stand by their governor.

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And then came the court cases and the hate campaigns. The opposition, united by lust for power, called him every evil name under the sun. They robed him in the garb of a villain, spurned his people-oriented schemes as a gimmick, and sponsored write-ups by hack and hired writers to distract him, intent on aborting the climate of peace in the state. Indeed, they did not even spare members of his cabinet, some of whom they wrote salacious stories about as a way of derailing his government. The governor could not believe the audacity. He said: “I don’t know what moral standing a Ladi Adebutu would have to call my mandate freely given to me by the good people of Ogun State, a stolen mandate. Someone who did everything to buy the election, someone who went ahead and printed cards and was distributing them; someone who is facing criminal case, someone who has been arraigned!”

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The PDP and its allies indeed turned political opposition, a credible democratic institution meant to keep government on its toes, into pure mischief, deploying excoriation and demonization as articles of faith. They deployed character assassination, false allegations, innuendo, outright lies, accusing the governor and his team of the very things they had done in a satanically shameless manner. This makes Friday’s verdict such a sweet victory. The governor defeated Adebutu three-nil across the courts, replicating the 2019 pattern. Dissatisfied with the governor’s victory, Adebutu had approached the Elections Petitions Tribunal with his cancerous case, and the tribunal in a well-reasoned judgment had thrown it out for lack of merit, a decision later approved by the Court of Appeal in a majority judgment in Lagos. Friday’s Supreme Court verdict, then, is a glorious icing on the cake, a testament to Abiodun’s pact with the people. The battle was fierce but the governor was never distracted. Rather, he was firmly focused on delivering good governance.

It is no wonder, then, that Ogun State is first in many things: ease of doing business, growth in revenue, industrial base, etc. The Economic Confidential, a subsidiary of PR Nigeria, recently showed that Ogun State is Nigeria’s most economically viable state and topmost investment destination outside Lagos, Nigeria’s economic capital. Nigerians are aware that Ogun has consistently ranked among the three topmost revenue-generating states in the country since Abiodun came into office in 2019. They are aware of the huge, unprecedented infrastructure outlay that has made Ogun Nigeria’s top investment destination, and the key deliverables in the state’s Budget 2024 that will consolidate on the achievements.

The Gateway State now has one of the best airports in the country, not only for cargo but also for passenger traffic. It has an aerotropolis (airport city) with a globally certified raw materials processing centre meant to enable farmers and importers get standardization for items scheduled for export. Long before the Federal Government removed subsidy on PMS, Abiodun rolled out a gas-powered public transport system, with the state’s wifi-enabled buses converted from PMS to gas-powered vehicles, believing that with gas costing significantly less than PMS and offering better value, public buses would cost much less and offer the people relief as they commute from one point to the other. That was apart from the launching of electric motorbikes and tricycles all over the state. That was quite visionary. Abiodun’s economic strategy was further validated as Ogun State was ranked as Nigeria’s leading Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) state on Index A1 in the State of the States 2023 report by BudgIT. Ogun, which beat other states to emerge as Nigeria’s most improved state on Index A1 with an index point of 0.53, was closely followed by Kaduna (0.47), Bauchi (0.41) and Rivers (0.36) in the ranking. The Light Up Ogun State project is on course as Ogun becomes one of the first states to take advantage of the constitutional reform in electricity generation and distribution. This is besides the resuscitation of water supply in Abeokuta, the state capital, and around the state.

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As the governor himself said: “When we assumed office on the 29 of May, 2019, we were committed to a vision to ensure that we create an enabling environment for investments and investors to strive in Ogun State, believing that that is very fundamental to the economic development of our state and the individual prosperity of our people.” That is why the people re-elected him, a verdict which has now been affirmed by the Supreme Court, drowning the distractions of the opposition. Hurray!!

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