A video has emerged showing the Ondo State commissioner of police, Bolaji Salami, preventing the state’s deputy governor, Agboola Ajayi, from leaving the government house with an official vehicle.
Mr Salami said he recently caught wind of Mr Ajayi’s moves to defect from the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, an action he said should render him unqualified for some official benefits.
But Mr Ajayi pushed back against the assertion, saying he should still be allowed to enjoy the perks of office as an incumbent deputy governor. He said he used his personal funds to buy the Toyota Hilux truck from which he was being denied access.
The encounter, which reportedly lasted several hours, came as Mr Ajayi intensified his push to contest against his boss, Rotimi Akeredolu, at the upcoming governorship election, according to those familiar with the matter. Mr Ajayi was Mr Akeredolu’s running mate in the 2016 governorship election in Ondo and has served as his deputy since assumption of office in February 2017.
How the rift between the governor and his deputy began was not immediately clear, but their fallout has broadened and became increasingly public ahead of party primaries.
The video, which emerged on social media overnight, contained both Mr Salami’s reason preventing Mr Ajayi from entering into the vehicle and the deputy governor’s counterargument.
In the video, the police commissioner said: “We are not saying you should not go out. Since you are defecting, even your letter was brought to me in my office this evening that you are doing it (decamping) on Monday. What the government is saying is that you cannot go out with official vehicles. This is politics, I am not saying it is right. This is a government house, the governor is the one talking, give me a few minutes, let me talk to my boss.”
In his response, Mr Ajayi said: “I have tried all constitutional and acceptable means to prevent this crisis. You are being used by the governor to deprive me of my constitutional right. I am highly disappointed that a policeman of your calibre can be used like this.
“I personally paid for this vehicle. You should not have put yourself in this mess. Let me tell you, you cannot repeat what happened in this state in 1983 because Ondo State people will resist you and your emperor with everything.”
Tope Okeowo, a spokesperson for Mr Ajayi, confirmed that his principal was the one in the video. He told PREMIUM TIMES the deputy governor was told to come back on Sunday if he wanted to remove any of his vehicles from the government precinct.
“The two gates to the Government House was under lock and key while the stern-looking policemen were positioned at the gate to prevent the deputy governor from leaving the premises”, he said
Mr Okeowo also confirmed to PREMIUM TIMES that his principal will decamp to PDP this week, but declined to clarify whether it was for the purpose of contesting for governor.
The police’s handling of the matter was roundly criticised on social media Sunday morning, with commentators slamming the commissioner for seemingly allowing himself to be used by political interests — rather than upholding the longstanding principle of the police as an impartial institution.
Mr Salami rebuffed the criticism on Sunday morning, telling PREMIUM TIMES he was only at the scene to keep peace amongst opposition supporters of the governor and deputy governor.
“I was there to maintain law and order after hearing that the governor’s supporters were outside the deputy governor’s residence to prevent him from going out in a vehicle they said belonged to the state,” Mr Salami said.
The police chief added that when he got to the scene, he met many supporters of the governor and placated them with assurances that the police were only there to ensure that no damages were inflicted on humans and property.
The commissioner said he asked the deputy governor to provide paperwork proving his ownership of the vehicle, but this was not immediately done.
He also denied being used by the governor, saying the deputy governor called him on Sunday morning during which the issue was further properly addressed.
“The deputy governor called me this morning, and he understood that I am a commissioner of police and I know the right thing to do whenever we encounter tensions between politicians,” Mr Salami said.
A spokesperson for the governor, Yemi Olowolabi, did not immediately return requests seeking comments Sunday morning.
Party primaries for Ondo election are expected to hold between late June and early July, while the election proper has been fixed for October 10.
Mr Akeredolu has already signified his intention to seek re-election on the APC platform.