Thursday, July 18, 2024




*Government Money Must Be Held in Trust: A Story of Integrity in My Experience with Hon. Lucky Aiyedatiwa, the Governor of Ondo State

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Governor AIYEDATIWA of Ondo State

In the gradual recuperation of the global pandemic in 2020, I was engaged to carry out a recovery on behalf of the Ondo State government. An older friend had recommended me to one of the commissioners, who then entrusted me with the brief. As a legal practitioner, I requested a formal letter of instruction and a notarized power of attorney from the affected ministry to act on their behalf, given the complex nature of international financial transactions. Although the specifics of the task remain confidential, they involved navigating intricate legal and financial terrains to recover substantial funds from Switzerland. With the proper documentation in hand, my firm commenced work immediately.

By mid-2021, my team had successfully completed the recovery. We had the option to route the recovered funds through our firm’s account as the solicitors, deducting our professional fees before forwarding the payment to the state government. However, we wanted a more transparent transaction. The entire sum was recovered and was transferred directly to the affected government agency’s account provided.

The following week, without any delay, we submitted our demand letter for the payment of our professional fees. This is where the bureaucratic maze began. At that time, the then-Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of blessed memory had been sworn in for his second term in office and had dissolved his cabinet. Our contact persons were no longer in charge of business in the ministry we were engaged with. Our request moved from one office to another, each layer of bureaucracy adding its own delays and demands for justifications. For a modest transaction of one hundred thousand Swiss Francs, the process became unnecessarily convoluted, dragging on for months. It began to appear that even I, as a lawyer, now needed another lawyer to recover my fees.

The matter dragged on so long that my firm gradually began to lose interest in pursuing the payment. Often, to recover money from the government, you need to reach out to prominent individuals close to the head to put in a word on your behalf, even for a job you have dutifully executed.

In a bid to expedite the process, I realized the Attorney General was still occupying his office, I contacted the then-Attorney General of Ondo State. I introduced myself and outlined our predicament, highlighting our successful recovery efforts and the fairness of our fee. He was very kind in his response, but I told him we had written more than nine letters and were soon left with no option but to approach the court to get our fees. The Attorney General made it clear that the payment would have to be scrutinized, questioning how the decision to pay us the amount and how the Ministry involved would engage us without his ministry’s input. It felt like we were arguing basic principles of contract law. He was obviously resistant to our claims.

As the situation grew increasingly tense, I learned that the Governor had directed the agency to report to the Deputy Governor, who is now the current Governor, Hon. Lucky Aiyedatiwa. I contacted the Deputy Governor and complained bitterly about how almost a year had passed and our legitimate fees were still being denied. He was humble and humane in his response. He explained that he had received petitions and counter-petitions regarding the money and stressed that public money must be held and spent in trust. One day we may be called to account for it, no matter how long it takes, he emphasized. He therefore informed me that he had directed all parties concerned, including the agency and previous officers involved in the brief, to be invited for a meeting.

The meeting held, and it took the speedy intervention of the then-Deputy Governor, now the Governor of Ondo State, to resolve the matter. He ensured everyone put pen to paper. At the close of the meeting, he gave instructions for the immediate release of our payment. Amid threats of legal action and escalating frustration, his approach was one of understanding and fairness. He reviewed the situation, acknowledged our efforts, and facilitated a peaceful and amicable resolution.

One thing got me impressed, the Governor is very conscious in his work that Government positions are occupied in trust and one must be ready to give account one day. The experience was a testament to his leadership and commitment to justice. While bureaucracy and the transition of government had threatened to overshadow the success of our recovery efforts, his decisive action ensured that our firm was compensated fairly for our work. It was a defining moment that reinforced my respect for his problem-solving acumen. Hon. Lucky Aiyedatiwa later became the Governor, and I am aware he is now contesting in the coming Ondo State Governorship election. I wish him well.

In an era where trust in public officials is often questioned, my experience with the Governor of Ondo State stands out. See you next week Sunday.

Pelumi Olajengbesi Esq. is a Legal Practitioner and Managing Partner at Law Corridor.

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