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Unease in Ondo as Muslims protest alleged marginalisation by Gov Akeredolu


A dangerous trend is gradually brewing in Ondo State, which might escalate into religious face off between the Christian and Muslim faithful under the Governor Rotimi Akeredolu-led government of All Progressives Congress (APC), unless concerned stakeholders address the issue on time.

While it looks as if both sides are waiting for the inauguration of the President-elect, Bola Ahmed before they perfect their game from what The Guardian gathered, some observers described the development as ‘a storm in a tea cup’ that will subside immediately after the incoming government might have finalised its appointments.

A group, under the aegis of Muslim Students Society of Nigeria, Ondo State Area unit, recently raised an alarm that is spurring the Muslims into a sort of rebellion against the incumbent governor.

In an open letter to the governor, President of the Muslim group, Engr. Olaleye Sulaimon, said Akeredolu’s political appointments are skewed and it precipitated injustice and unprecedented inequality against Muslims in the state.

Although the group commended Akeredolu’s brilliant outing in the last general election, which it described as unprecedented. The group however said it was surprised that the Ondo State governor came out boldly to challenge the zoning formula of the ruling party in regards to the elections of principal officers of the National Assembly.

The group said, “You did not mince words when you described the zoning formula as a “skewed arrangement that reinforces Injustice and enhances inequality. You believe that the content, intention and motives of the zoning formula represent early signs of steps aimed at attempting to cabin the hard-earned Presidency” of Bola Ahmed Tinubu by a few individuals with eyes on Aso-Rock Power Button.”

It said the governor openly criticized the zoning formula for the National Assembly leadership position proposed by APC because to him, it is dangerous and the move is on the behest of interested personalities with perceived closeness to the president elect, you believe it will manifesting lays the dangerous foundation of distrust (and) needless suspicion in the party.

But coming to the brass tacks, the group said it was surprised over what the governor believes in but at the same could go all the way out to openly articulate his mind “when it could be done one-on-one with the president-elect who, without any doubt, you are very close to. We are equally dumbfounded that you believe that a political formula, which is skewed against some groups or individuals, can lay a dangerous foundation of distrust and suspicion, Mr. Governor, what do we say about your formula which has deliberately been skewed against the Muslims in the state?”

It continued: “It is on this note that we the Muslim Youths in Ondo State feel the need to dispense the huge burden of keeping silent in the face of your skewed political appointments that has precipitated injustice and unprecedented inequality against the Muslims in Ondo State.

“We know you as a courageous and fearless governor. You were outstanding when other governors were wavering on National issues. We salute your candor that is garnished with point blank articulation, but your Excellency, he who will call for equity must come with a clean hand. The way you have treated the Muslim Community in this state in the last six and half years reflects a deliberate attempt at not only excluding this Community from all critical appointments but also frustrating the political prosperity of this traumatized segment of the state.

“As of today we have only three known Muslims in your 22-man cabinet. All critical government officials are Christians. This includes You Mr. Governor, the deputy governor, Chief of Staff, Secretary to the State Government, Speaker, deputy speaker and the Majority Leader of the House of Assembly.The Chief Justice as well as all the judges in the state. The Head of Service, Chairman Civil Service and Teaching Service Commission; all Permanent Secretaries, all board chairmen, all Senators, including that of Ondo North, which has an absolute majority Muslim population; members of House of Representative elect. The only Muslim from the state who is a House of Representative member, who won his election as a lone ranger in the Social Democratic Party (SDP) lost in the last general election even after joining APC.”

The group also said all nominations to federal appointment from Ondo State are skewed against the Muslims. It stressed: “You choose to nominate less competent individuals who are Christians even when we have more qualified and competent Muslims within your party. Even the party structure is not left out of the dangerous formula. The party chairman, his deputy, Youth leader and women leader are all Christians. This is just to mention a few of how your formula has been skewed against the Muslims in things that matter in the State.”

The group said if Akeredolu could reject the party’s zoning formula at the national level on the ground that: “it is skewed and targeted against some zone and identified individuals, we are made bold to say your appointment is skewed and targeted against the Muslims in Ondo State and identified individual Muslims within the APC family. If you have a strong conviction that what your party has done at the national level will breed dangerous, needless suspicion and distrust then this your formula of appointment and nominations to federal offices, will not only be dangerous but catastrophic to the political relevance of the Muslims in the state. We say this unworkable arrangement has reinforced injustice and enhanced inequity against the Muslims that constitute 40% of the population of the Sunshine state.”

The group urged the governor to follow the path of purity and justice, which he is advocating. “There is the need to redress this injustice against the Muslims of the Sunshine state.

We have notable Muslims who have hugely contributed to the success of your party in Ondo State. These Muslims have consistently put everything on the line to ensure victory for your party not only in previous elections, but most importantly the last general election. We are made bold to say that you could not deliver the state to APC presidential candidate in 2019. However in the 2023 general elections the doggedness and commitment of the Muslims in your party came through for you.

These Muslims in APC invite like minded Muslim even outside the party and they jointly aggressively mobilise the Muslims (and non Muslims) across the state to vote massively for all candidates of your party especially the President-elect. Skewing them out of your formula of appointments into the state administration and nomination to federal offices will amount to being far from the justice and equity which you are advocating.”

Sharing a similar view with the group, former National President, Muslim Students Society of Nigeria (MSSN), Abdulazeez Folayemi, said the ongoing marginalisation against Muslim is not in Ondo State alone but generally in the South.

He said there were serious reactions from the Churches against the selection of Tinubu/Shettima presidential ticket on the APC platform. “ Today we do not have any Muslim governor in the entire South except some controversial ones like Nurudeen Jackson Ademola Adeleke of Osun State. Is it as a result of lack of Muslims with the capacity to run the state or a deliberate plan. This is a serious question people must ask and in South South and Southeast, we only have one Muslim commissioner in Imo State.”

If Akeredolu condemned the zoning formula of the apex body of APC on the ground that the formula was skewed then we Muslim will start casting doubt the way he relates with us in Ondo, today we have 22 member cabinet in Akeredolu’s cabinet in which only two are Muslims despite the fact that we have two members of the Board of Trustees (BoT), who are Muslims in Ondo, a former Deputy Governor, Alhaji Ali Olanusi and Chief Jamiu Ekungba, why are these people not meriting appointment at the Federal level. Akeredolu otherwise nominated someone, whose track records cannot be compared with that of Ekungba and Olanusi, for appointment at the Federal level.”

APC lost the presidential election in Ondo in 2019 despite the senators and members of the House of Representatives then. The same scenario would have repeated itself in the last election if not that the Muslim stood up to the situation. We know where the Christians voted. Why is it that Ondo has never produced a Muslim Minister or is anyone saying Muslims do not have the capacity to be a minister? We know how the Muslims have been making sacrifices for the Ondo chapter of APC.”

Folayemi also disagreed with those saying Muslim population in the Sunshine State is infinitesimal, compared to the huge population of Christians. To him, “The peace in Ondo State has always been at the mercy of Muslims. I also disagreed with the argument that our population is small. Go and check the figures of the census conducted by former Head of State, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida in 1990, Muslim are about 40 percent in Ondo.”

However, Folayemi’s claim differs from the 1952 population census figures which says Muslims constitute about 13% of the total population of the Ondo people whereas Christians constitute 73 percent.

IN the reaction of the former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Oba Olu Falae said, “I am not in Akeredolu’s government and not a Muslim and neither on either side so why is my view important?”

The traditional ruler of Ilu-Abo in Akure North Local Council of Ondo State, said he never served in Ondo as a public or elected officer “I gave my service to Nigeria. My entire career started and ended in the Federal Government but that notwithstanding, I can tell you one thing our people don’t believe in meritocracy but in ‘special pleading’ to get what they want. A Christian who doesn’t even go to Church, if claiming to be a Christian will enable him to get what he wants will become vociferous about marginalisation of Christian. It is not because he is a Christian but because the claim will enable him to achieve what he wants to get. Special pleading, that’s what they do. In Yoruba land it has always been the case that our culture has harmonised and internalised the various religions. There are hardly any families in Yoruba land; we don’t have Christians and Muslims including my own. I don’t know why this is becoming an issue now.

“I think it is a special pleading gimmick to enable them to get what they want. I am completely in support of fairness to every group in the society. For instance what about the other religious group, the traditionalists, who are more in population than both the Christian and Muslim? What about those ones, it is not part of our consciousness to marginalise anybody in Yoruba culture, we are a very inclusive set of people. It is those who want special pleading that are flying religious sentiments.”

A stalwart of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Dr. Eddy Olafeso Eddy Olafeso said all he could say is that efforts must be made to ensure that everybody is carried along.

“I don’t know what Akeredolu’s appointment and cabinet formation are but in a plural society, he has to just carry everybody along. I am not speaking for or against him; I am a PDP member. To me it is the duty of the leadership to ensure there is balance. Those that are complaining must understand the fact that what is important to the government is service delivery and the greater thing is that you don’t use the parameters of tribe or religion to measure efficiency and performance. Whatever it is, there must be a balancing act. The Akeredolu that I know is aware of the fragile nature of the plural society we are.”

Also appealing for caution, Pastor Bankole Oluwajana said Ondo has never known a religious crisis and it would not augur well to introduce such now.

According to him, “The behind the letter must be on their own. I am aware that the Grand Imam of Akure, Sheikh Abdul-Hakeem Yayi Akorede, is one of the closest that the governor relates with. We have Muslims in the cabinet. The percentage of Muslim is minimal and that’s a reality. In the nomination for federal appointment, Muslims have their own share. I don’t know why some set of people want to introduce religion into the politics of Ondo State?

After several efforts to get the Ondo State chairman of APC, Ade Adetimehin to comment failed, the state’s Publicity Secretary of APC, Alex Kalejaye, said the letter must have come from a group, not the authentic leaders of the Muslim community in Ondo.

According to him, “We have been receiving letters from Odigbo, Ikare, and others appreciating what the governor has done for the state and particularly for the Muslim community. If there is any governor who has identified with the Muslim community in the history of Ondo State, it is Akeredolu.

According to him “Mr. Governor identifies with the Muslim community in all their activities and he made it a priority at the beginning that all the abandoned Muslim primary schools be renovated.

According to him, “One of the key positions in the government is the Hon. Commissioner for Works. You will agree with me that no governor can excel without giving more attention to infrastructure. Infrastructure is key, and it is handed over to a Muslim brother.

“Apart from the Commissioner for Works, Hon. Raimi Aminu, the Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Hon. Amidu Takuro, is also a Muslim. The Commissioner for Water Resources Hon. Fatai Olotu is also a Muslim. Barr. Jimoh Ibrahim, whom we willingly gave the mandate to represent us in Ondo South, is not a Christian; he is a Muslim. He has a Muslim name. So it is not true that all of them are Christians. Before now, Senator Boroffice had held sway in Ondo North, and nobody raised an alarm.

“Our candidate for the House of Assembly for Akoko North West is a Muslim. His people voted against him, but we gave him the ticket. Out of the four education secretaries in Akoko, three are Muslims.

In one of his recent public engagements, Akeredolu had said there was no religious discrimination among the people of the state.The governor noted that religious tolerance was firmly rooted in Ondo State, adding that both Christians and Muslims as well as traditionalists were given equal treatment in the Sunshine State.

Akeredolu disclosed this on Saturday in Akure at the Housewarming Ceremony of Albarka Lodge, built by the Grand Imam of Akure, Sheikh Abdul-Hakeem Yayi Akorede.

He said the religious tolerance in the state was largely responsible for the peaceful co-existence of the various religious leaders. Ekungna on his part said as a member of the party’s BoT, he is not in the best position to make comments since the board will sit to address the issue when necessary.

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