Rotimi Akeredolu, Governor of Ondo State, has ordered the withdrawal of all the branded vehicles he donated for the re-election bid and campaign of President Muhammadu Buhari ahead of the 2019 general election, SaharaReporters can exclusively report.
The vehicles donated by Akeredolu before the election were presented to some leaders of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the state in order to increase the victory chances of Buhari and the party's candidates, mostly those contesting for the House of Assembly seats in the state.
SaharaReporters learnt that buses were "given" to party chairmen while the Sienna cars were handed out to elected members of the Ondo State House of Assembly, in December.
Some of the branded vehicles were also given to all candidates of the party and party chairmen across the 18 local government areas of the state at an elaborate event held at the open field beside Nigeria Prison Service, GRA, Owo.
As of press time, the motives behind the withdrawal of the branded campaign vehicles were not known to the party leaders/members, who have been grumbling underground since the decision was effected.
To further confirm withdrawal of the branded vehicles, SaharaReporters exclusively obtained a terse memo calling on leaders and members of the party in possession of the branded vehicles to return them.
The memo, signed by Isiaka Yusuf, the Senior Special Adviser on Political Matters to the Governor, was sent to both the elected lawmakers and the 18 LGA chairmen.
“I have been directed by Mr. Governor to withdraw the branded Sienna in your possession,” read the memo. “You are required to submit the vehicle to the office of the SSA (Political Matters) on or before Friday 12th April 2019. Please, kindly comply. SSA (Political Matters)."
Multiple sources in the ruling party in the state, who spoke with SaharaReporters, expressed great dissatisfaction with the order for return of the vehicles.
These sources wondered why Akeredolu would abruptly call for the return of vehicles that were given to them as gifts with so much fanfare.
“Yes, it is true they have withdrawn the branded vehicles, as they informed us that the Governor asked for them; I have returned the vehicle and the keys to them,” said a member of the party who has just been elected into the Ondo State House of Assembly.
"I am not surprised if the Governor is asking for the vehicle. Thank God I have been elected into the House of Assembly elected, so I can easily get money to buy the same type of vehicle if I want to. In fact, happenings now in the party show that our Governor is no longer on the same page with the presidency and APC at the national level, especially with Oshiomhole.
“The call for the return of these vehicles is almost two weeks old. I gathered that our party leadership in Abuja got wind of this action and this also made them to hasten the suspension of the Governor from the party.”
Also, a high-profile member of the party confirmed the withdrawal of the vehicles to SaharaReporters on the phone, saying: "The branded campaign vehicles have been withdrawn from us and we were told it was an order from Governor Akeredolu himself, since the election is already over.
"It was a surprise when we started to receive calls and messages from the Governor's aide that we should submit the vehicles and keys in our possession for validation. These cars were given to us as donations. For me, I have returned the Sienna vehicle in my possession to them.
"We were not expecting that from Mr. Governor and whoever gave him the advice was not helping him but just creating more enemies for him, as a new election is coming. It is this same set of people that will lead him to downfall.
"The bad advice being given to him by these idiots forced the presidency to withdraw the invitation for him to represent the President at an event in Ado Ekiti few days ago while Senator Ajayi Boroffice was called up instead.”
Another freshly-elected state lawmaker queried the withdrawal of the vehicles, saying: “It is true they told us to return the vehicles in our possession and many of us have done that. I have since returned the one with me, with the keys and some other documents.
“But you know our people, they are asking why the Governor will take such a step after the wide media publicity that he presented the cars to us to boost our election. It shows that he just used that to make a name for himself and attract cheap publicity… to deceive those people in Abuja into thinking he has been working for the party, whereas he was only playing second-term games.
"Just imagine that, would Akeredolu be the first to donate vehicles to the party and its candidates? We have lot of people who give to the party and never collect them back. I know some governors who are in APC in other states who donated vehicles and other material things to the party and never requested for them back.”
An APC official in the state who asked not to be named justified the action of the Governor. The official, who is also part of the state executive council of the ruling party, described the matter as “a dead discussion”, adding that Akeredolu has the right to retrieve the vehicles
"What exactly do you want to know?” he asked.
“These vehicles were given to them during the election and the Governor has decided to collect them back. So, what is the big issue about that or is it an offence to give something to someone for a purpose, and later collect them back after the use?
"Ordinarily, this should not even be an issue to talk about, or are those given the vehicles complaining on why the Governor is collecting them back? If the Governor wants to contest for a second term in office, won't he make use of those vehicles again? I feel the issue on the return of these vehicles are dead. So, let us discuss something else.”
When SaharaReporters contacted Alhaji Yusuf Sanya Isiaka, the Senior Special Adviser on Political Matters to the Governor, he said the vehicles were not really "gifts" but were only given out to aid campaigns.
"What the Governor did was to give those buses for campaign purposes; it was not a gift," he said.
"It was just to aid their campaign programme during the electioneering period, and the arrangment was that after the election, it should be return. So, that was the arrangment between them and the MHAs (members of the House of Assembly).
"So, they were aware... before these buses were handed over to them, they were all told that they would return them after campaign. And they have actually complied. If it was a gift, nobody would comply. it was not a gift."