It was supposed to be an informal gathering, in which the governor and the visiting media men would merely share ideas on the state of the state of Ondo State, and on issues in the polity of the Southwest and the nation at large. Indeed, that was the setting when everyone took seat in the meeting room at the Government House, Akure on the night of September 25/26. But as newshounds have learnt repeatedly, such promises of informal meeting are hardly kept, especially with a guy like Dr. Olusegun Mimiko, whose cerebral bent is always on display even on the campaign stomp. And when you meet him in his lair, so to speak, you are in for all the ‘isms’, particularly in a state where everything is ‘Mega’ and ‘World Class’ both in conception of idea, vision and its implementation. Little wonder, for instance, that when the governor was describing his government’s programme on Education, he said: “We are building new infrastructure, facilities that are called Mega Schools — mega in concept, mega in size, mega in quality of learning, instructional material; it’s mega in terms of the vision behind it.” That was Governor Mimiko, who first gave a treatise on the achievement of his almost four years in office and the run-up to the October 20 poll in Ondo State. EHICHIOYA EZOMON presents below excerpts from the interraction.
WHAT are your expectations, regarding the election: from the INEC, from the police and from the people and the opposition parties? We ask this question because there has been tension about the election.
Let me tell you one thing; there are many variables in election, but the way the Nigerian federation is structured today, the most important variable for free and fair election is the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Whatever anybody tells you, number one, it’s so critical.
If the President commits himself to free and fair election, and actualises that desire by allowing a level-playing ground, and ensuring that there is security to man every aspect of the process, we have gotten more than 60 per cent of where we want to go.
Of course, there are other local factors, such as INEC officials, who can make themselves available for improper influence either through informal contact, kinship or naira and kobo. There is also the factor of how desperate the opponents of other political parties are.
What gives comfort in this election is that the President promised in Edo that he would ensure free and fair election. To a very large extent, Edo election was one of the best we have had in this country, and there is no account by anybody that had suggested that directly or indirectly, even tangentially, that there was partiality from the federal authorities.
Now, the President has promised again that he would even improve on the Edo performance, by ensuring free and fair election. What that means is that the security agents will be impartial; the fact we don’t belong to the party of the President will not matter in terms of biases of the umpire. So, that gives us a lot of comfort. I can tell you up to this point, to a very large extent, we cannot see any hand of any Emperor trying to thinker with the process.
Number two, that is very important, and that is peculiar in our circumstance because of some geopolitical considerations. One of our opponents is very desperate, and when a man is very desperate, especially when he is not on ground in practical terms, and yet he wants to win, that means that he would want to do things that are illegitimate and that means we have to take extra precautions, and keep our eyes wide.
I was at a parley recently. The good thing about elections in America; even now Obama and Mitt Romney, in a everyday poll, you have a feel of it; and at the end of the day, these are hardly wrong; in fact, some of them are as accurate as a two-point percentage.
Today, ACN, PDP, Labour Party, by any method, we’re not less than 70 per cent on ground; and this is three weeks to election. And yet, the opponents are still boasting that they will capture this state. Unless something near cataclysm, big happens in terms of either strategy or whatever, there is no other way other than illegitimate means for them to capture this state.
So, the desperation of the opposition is also a factor; and we know that if you are desperate in our clime that also increases your propensity to procuring violence, being purveyor of violence, hoping that you can use violence to alter the wishes of the people and many, many other untoward events. But I tell you that we are very confident; we think that we are vigilant; we are looking at all the possibilities, all the shenanigans that come from whatever source.
We also take comfort in the fact, that the President said in Edo, and delivered on his promise, and he has said it and all indications are suggesting that he will also deliver on his promise by ensuring, for example, 3,000 soldiers were mobilised for Edo, we are asking for 5,000 soldiers so that everywhere will be manned, complete restriction of movements so that we have a good outcome. It does not mean that we are sleeping, and snoring, we are sleeping with our two eyes open (laughter) because we know that we live a country where some people can turn a man into a woman overnight.
‘One Of The Opposition Parties Very Desperate’
INEC came up recently that it had cleared a lot of things, in terms of preparations for the election. From what you have seen, do you think INEC is actually prepared for the exercise?
I have not seen any major gap in their preparations. At this stage, it’s very difficult for us to see. The regulation says, 30 days to election, hey must give us voters’ register; they have done that. Now, as the milestone progresses, that’s when we can actually know. Since we don’t know what they are doing in their closet, it’s the deliverables that can help us to measure their level of preparedness.
The first major deliverable is the voters’ register; they’ve given electronic copies to everybody. They have done training, sensitization. I have a feel that they are busy but it’s the timely deliverables, delivered according to timelines, that can make us to say empirically these people are prepared, they are all there or not.
From the experience from Edo, we only hope they will be able to build on it. I think in Edo, because of minor difficulty in terms of delivery of materials to the Central Zone (senatorial district), which, I understood they quickly take action to ameliorate.
Me, I’m a very optimistic person; I will give them the benefit of the doubt while watching to be sure that all the milestones are used to measure, to see whether they are prepared or not.
Do you have fears, any fears at all, concerning the election?
The fears I have are that one of the opposition parties here has expressed their desperation. We have also seen some ugly signs that they may be ready to go to any length, including provoking, peddling incidence of violence.
I have spoken a lot about our achievements; that’s from my own perspective, but if you go out there and you interview people, I can bet you 85 to 90 per cent of the people you interviewed will tell you that biggest achievement of this administration is that there’s an atmosphere of peace; we’ve been able to have peace in the place.
So, the only anxiety I have is that people who are desperate, people who are not shy when it comes to using the instruments of violence for their desired ends when they keep boasting; and the facts on ground are too far from (their claims).
If they are on ground and we are talking of 40, 60, 55, 45, (presence) and you are keeping boasting that yes, it’s possible. But if you’re not there on ground, and you are just there on the pages of newspapers and you are still boasting that you will win, that will give us some anxiety.
The only anxiety I have is for people not to translate their desperation into a break down of law and order.
‘Winning By All Means No Longer The Case’
THERE’S the belief that a politician will do all within his power to win an election, and let his opponent go to the tribunal to prove otherwise.
And that is the do-or-die mentality that we are trying to run away from.
But justice is a long, sometimes a very long process…
But the Electoral Act is better now — from litigation, and within 90 days to 120 days, you can get your result (court judgment). I have been a victim, and I know of that. I had to wait for 22 months to get my mandate back. And even then, we just got it back in 22 months because they tinkered with the process to deliberately make it short by front-loading affidavit of witnesses. If it had been the routine thing of calling your witnesses one by one, we could still have been in court even by now.
Now, the amendment to the Electoral Act — the last one that was done — has also made it possible to shorten the process. I think as we go on and discover all of these problems; things would change. It used to be the wisdom in those days that just win by all means and the courts would never reverse any decision. That’s no longer the case.
And you see, we are getting gradually to a situation where performance wills start meaning a lot to our people. And until when we can sustain our democracy, along the path of credible election, the real people, the real leaders of the people will never get thrown up. And the day the real leaders of the people get thrown up by the system that’s as predictable as democracy, then, we have started on the path of irreversible development.
Some people have talked about benevolent dictatorship; that is unpredictable. For a society to develop, I think they need a dependable, reliable and predictable template. I have not known any other template than democracy. So, we just have to keep cleaning up our act.
My position is that today, our elections are more credible than the ones of 2007. I can even see us going back to that 2007 era again in our electoral process. And 2007 is just five years ago.
The more sophisticated the society becomes, the more people key into the political process; the more difficult it will be for people to rig elections. And we will be there. I believe that it’s democracy that can throw up, in a predictable manner, the real leadership that will develop our society. It’s not going to be like this forever.
I have this belief in the Nigerian nation; I believe that when we get our act together, what it takes other countries 50 years to achieve, we, Nigeria, can achieve in six, seven years. I believe we will get there, but everybody has to play his own part, his own bit.
‘I’m Not A Lone Ranger; I Have My People With Me’
AMONG the ACN governors Southwest, you’re a lone ranger; so, where are you getting your support?
From the people, from the energy that’s already unleashed in the society. You can touch it; it’s there. If I go out with you in the daylight (the interactive session was past midnight), in five minutes you would think we have organised a rally. I get comfort and support from that. It’s in the air, and you can touch it, and it’s strong; it’s stronger than all the money that Lagos can deploy.
We are talking about your relationship with other Southwest governors…
When I said Lagos, should be the godfather of all of them is in Lagos (laughter); there’s no question about that.
Did these parties cross over and take their ticket to woo you?
Yeah! Those of them are abusing me now. My only offence is that they want me to cross over to their party. I must be a damn good brand; to you say willy-nilly I must cross to your party. And I said I’m not going. I have no problems with my party.
I am ready to collaborate with any political party on shared values and beliefs. I believe, for example, in the devolution of powers. I believe that the more we devolve powers from the centre to the periphery of our polity, the better for all of us, and the better for development. I believe passionately in that.
I believe that devolution of powers, especially to the periphery, will reduce this do-or-die contest for power in the centre. And I believe that Nigeria will grow from the periphery; I don’t believe that Nigeria will grow from the centre. These are values I share with many people, across party lines. So, if we have such shared values, we can all put together actionable plan to actualise them.
Those who are talking about integration of the Southwest are probably talking of political integration. I’m only interested in economic integration. Political integration that gives the hegemony of control to one man will not happen. If it happened, it would be minus Ondo State.
But you’re a lone ranger?
I am not a lone ranger; I have my people with me.
While the ACN is talking about capturing Ondo State, is there any hope that the Labour Party can capture other states in the Southwest?
In the words of Peter, Paul and James, ‘the answer is blowing in the wind.’ Let’s wait and see.
‘I Believe In State Police’
Given your fears about what the opposition might do in breaching security, would be a justification for state police? If the police were in your hand, would it have helped in curtailing any breach of the security?
The reason I believe in state police is not even political. I believe that the primary responsibility of the police is security. I believe that if there is an arrangement that makes it impossible for us to get the type of security we need form the police; we should not shy away from dismantling it.
Now, as you get focused on your primary responsibility, there will also be auxiliary considerations. What’s the possibility that state governors will abuse them? What are the checks and balances that we can put in place to ensure that we don’t get it abused? What is the possibility that it can lead to centripetal forces, pulling away from the centre, especially as people have said that our federation is fragile?
In the analysis of why it is very fragile, security is part of its fragility. And do we ensure that we can have state police without a governor arming the police to the extent that he can say, ‘to hell with Abuja; I want to go on my own; I have the forces?
These are the things we must unleash creativity and creative minds to do the checks and balances. But the primary goal must always be in focus. What is police about? It’s to enforce law and order so that there will be security of life and property in the society.
Now, the present structure, has it delivered on that? Is there a way we can create a structure that will admit of the fears of all our people who don’t want it? These are possibilities. I believe that policing should be a community thing; and I would rather invest in intelligence because without intelligence, the reactive policing may not deliver the results that we so desire.
Now, to your question: Does that mean that if there were state police, I would abuse it? It’s not talking as me. There are possibilities, and we cannot rule out those possibilities. Again, opportunity cost; we weigh those possibilities; we keep weighing things in the society.
And in every situation in life, there are options; there are choices to make. Because, a governor is likely to abuse state police, is that enough reason for us to live in insecurity that we are living in Nigeria today? I believe in discussion; all of these things can be put on the table, assuage their fears if we are on the same page that we want a country, called Nigeria, in which every component part will have fulfillment as the vehicle for our collective destiny and prosperity.
If we agree — what I mean is the irreducible minimum — if we first have our irreducible minimum well defined, it’s easy to build on it and have comfort for everybody rather thinking there is something too big to discuss. Nigeria is a big country: we are big in size, we are big in terms of our diversity; we are also big in terms of our possibilities if we get our act together.
‘I Have The Least To Gain From Violence’
YOU have expressed so much fear over security. Those that are likely to be used by your opponent to foment trouble are indigenes of this state. How much of this have you preached at the campaign ground, to be tolerant, and to avoid being used as tools to disrupt the election?
My brother, what we say on the campaign ground is not as important as what we do. Let me boast a bit. The peace we enjoy in this state today, in spite of all the provocations, is because of my irrevocable commitment to peace. For me, peace is central.
I did a small survey, and I found out that the number one achievement that more than 80 per cent of the people listed is peace. If I didn’t carry out that survey, I would be thinking of healthcare, education, urban renewal, agriculture and all of that. But no, peace!
If you go out even tomorrow and interview 10 people, eight of them will tell you, ‘ah, Mimiko, e fi okan bale o’ (literally, ‘has rest of mind,’ ‘not perturbed’). What that means for me is that I am bending over backward.
Don’t forget that as I said: if the elections are held, free and fair, I am the one who has the chance of winning big. So, I am the one person, who has the least to gain from violence.
Apart from that, I’m the one who has sworn to keep the peace irrespective of the fact that we have no control over forces of coercion, but we are still the Chief Security Officer, quote and unquote. So, I have gone to extraordinary length to ensure peace. People have been provoked, but I try and make sure that people appreciate. And as I tell my people, if you play tennis or any game, the coach will say, eyes on the ball. Don’t divert your attention; just keep your eyes on the ball and that ball is October 20.
And like I said, my comfort is that we will have so much presence of security forces. So, we go all out in extraordinary length not only in what we say but what we do behind the scene.
Now, you say they (potential thugs) are my boys (Ondo people). If they were my boys (from Ondo State), it’s easier. But the intelligence is that they are bringing people from the neighbouring states. So, all we can do is to keep our eyes open, get our intelligence gathering beefed up so that the street corners, the beer parlours and all the dingy spots in town, we put them on focus. That’s what we can do.
But if a people are determined — and don’t forget that we are not favoured by geography in this place. We are sitting in the middle of these people; so, they can come in through many footpaths. It has honed our information gathering capability. But then we cannot always be perfect, ultimately. The thing that doesn’t make it happen is to ensure peace with all our individual human efforts.
‘There’s No Pact To Join ACN’
WAS there any pact between you and the ACN?
Absolutely not! Directly, indirectly, tangentially, there was nothing like any pact, absolutely nothing. And there couldn’t have been any pact. Look at it this way. I was virtually chased out of the PDP by Baba (Obasanjo) . In fact, he made it clear to me that PDP was not available.
God bless this old man’s soul, I’m not castigating him any way; he used to be my boss, but he made it absolutely clear that they did not want me to contest the election. He didn’t hide it; he said it publicly, everywhere.
I was virtually chased out of the PDP. Four months to the election, I had no party. ACN was there, as an option, and I didn’t go to ACN. The existing parties were there — ANPP; at least parties that had structures on ground. We went for a new political party, absolutely unknown in this state four months to the election.
In four months, we built it. Built the structures, built the candidates and contested elections; eventually we won. Now, what will be the justification for saying I want to go to ACN? The question should be; why did I not go to ACN in the first instance after I left Abuja? I was virtually chased out (of the PDP). So, why? There was nothing like that. They (ACN) know it wasn’t right; they know there was no such pact.
In fact, the most ridiculous aspect was that they even put a specific time to it: that I said within 30 days. People are free to dream dreams but there was nothing like that. I have never gone back on any pact in my career, and I am very careful in making a pacts. There was nothing like that.
I have said it; there are areas of belief — if they believe in what they are saying — that we share in common. I believe in true federalism; I believe that Nigeria should be structured along that path. I believe in devolution of powers, in a true federal state.
I believe in heavy and massive investment in education, as a tool to future development. We all grew up in the Awo tradition of free health — democratisation of access to education and health. I still believe it. For me, it’s not just a theoretical belief; I have translated it into reality.
I believe in agriculture as a tool for mass employment. I have taken it from the theoretical realm to establish Farm Cities — three of them in three years.
So, why should we be fighting if we share all of these values? If all these efforts are about development, we shouldn’t be fighting. But if it’s about the ego of the individual, as I said, who wants to exercise hegemonic dominion over the Southwest, it will be minus Ondo State.
‘There Will Always Be Limited Resources’
ON the way to Akure, there’s a signboard somewhere, which says, ‘you are welcome home, pay your tax.’ Is it not like robbing Peter to pay Paul?
Rob in quote and unquote. You have to rob Peter to pay Paul. You have to! (Laughter). Ideally, we tax people who can afford it to give services to those who cannot. Of course, everybody pays tax.
Yes, we need enormous resources, but let me tell you our experiences in the health sector. We’ve proved that it is not the quantum of money alone that does the work; it’s more of efficient application.
We have reduced the cost of care of a pregnant woman, from conception to delivery, either normal delivery or caesarian session — for the mother and child without compromising quality is N6,000. What a woman needs is N6,000 and we are still developing ways of improving on efficiency to reduce this cost without compromising standard. So, when we say it’s free, people don’t know that the quantum of money is not as much as they imagined; it is the efficient application of these resources.
But there will always be limited resources. If resources were limitless, there won’t be any need for government; everybody would just go there and pick it, and it will be party time for everybody. So, if there would always be limited resources, choices have to be made. So, it depends on who is making the choices and on behalf of which people you are making the choices.
In my inauguration address, I said that all times, I would make choices by my own perception; the choices that would translate into the greatest interest for the greatest number.
So, back to your question; yes, taxation is part of it. We’ve been able to increase our IGR enormously, and I’m looking forward to the coming years. We also know that our people now know that government is serving their interest, and I expect also that our internally generated revenue will continue top improve so that we can up our quality services to the people.
Mimiko On His People-centred Programmes
THOSE that could plant landmines for us in the press have found out that, perhaps, everything is not about money, the size of the depth of your purse; at times, relationship can actually give you the desirable dividend in terms of what you desire. We’ve had a very buoyant relationship (with the Press), for which we are grateful.
The next few weeks are particularly important to us because we are in the last lap, as it were, of the preparations for our election. We know one thing for sure; that if elections are held today, free and fair, we will win big. If I sound immodest, you can pardon me, but that’s the empirical evidence we have on ground.
Somehow, God has helped us in the last three and half years. Also, we’ve been able to make our people have a taste of a new paradigm, a new shift in governance. We have virtually redefined governance of this place.
At inauguration, I said that there was a palpable disconnect between the people and the government, and that I was out to bridge it. With all sense of modesty, I can say, to a large extent, that I have bridged all the process, which is an irreversible movement. There’s no question about it; that when you go around the state and interact with the people, they refer to their government as we, and with very uncommon passion when people talk about government.
And this is because we have been able to impact their lives; we have been able to take progressive government from the theoretical realm and put it in the realm of practical impact, in terms of policies, and well-crafted programmes, well-delivered for maximum impact.
In every sector, we’ve made people the centre of our governmental activities. In education, which is very important to us in this state — it should be important to every state in Nigeria because the quality of learning will definitely determine the quality of human capital in future and, therefore, the rate of our development in the state.
But most importantly, we have looked at education not only from the point of view of enhancing standards, but also of ensuring social integration; an all-inclusive educational programme that will make sure everybody is carried along, especially those who, by the circumstances of their birth, may not ordinarily compete in the society.
What I mean is, through our Mega School Concept, for example, we are building new generation schools, starting from the foundation now, because we looked at the totality of the education sector, and to reverse the ugly trend, we thought that it was better to start from the foundation.
So, we are building new infrastructure, facilities that are called Mega Schools — mega in concept, mega in size, mega in quality of learning, and instructional materials; it’s mega in terms of the vision behind it.
These are schools designed to be globally competitive, to produce kids that are globally competitive. But the exciting thing about it in terms of the political and ideological trajectory of that policy is that, perhaps, in this state — I don’t know of any other state in Nigeria for now — where people, who can afford private education, are hustling applying, lobbying, leveraging on connection to move their kids from private to public schools. For me, that’s a lot stated.
These are public schools that are accessible to — the poor is an emotive term; the underprivileged is quite a better term — accessible to the under-privileged in the society. What that means is that there is a level of social integration where the child of a multi-millionaire, a chief executive of a bank or a commissioner is, by choice, sitting in the same classroom with the child of a messenger by choice.
I believe in inclusive development; let me start from there. I don’t believe in trickle-down hypothesis, trickle-down theory — that you got to grow the economy and hoping that as the economy grows, it will trickle-down to the under-privileged. I believe that we can carry everybody along.
We’ve done that in the health sector also — the Abiye Programme, which, with all sense of modesty, again, has entered in the global health lexicon. It is designed to improve quality; to universalise access. And if you want to universalise access to quality care, the affordability is a major factor. And nothing can be more affordable than free services.
We have developed a homegrown programme that ensures that every pregnant woman, from conception to delivery — and that’s delivery through normal virginal delivery or through cesarean session — has access to world-class quality service, free of charge.
It looks like a paradox in term, but that paradox is a reality in Ondo State here now. We’ve developed this homegrown, all-inclusive health care paradigm again, which the people have keyed into. For those people, government is alive, it’s real; it’s about their need delivery.
It is about somebody, who had lost five periods of pregnancies, due to a combination of factors, difficulty of terrain, inability to access care, and ignorance, who now gets carried into a world-class environment like a queen, who delivers, free of charge and even goes home with a starter-pack for the kid. It’s a new world; it’s like somebody is just dreaming. That’s the reality of our situation now.
Our Mother and Child Hospital is well celebrated globally now. It’s two years the busiest maternity in Nigeria, taking in 11,000 deliveries; we take in 20 to 25 deliveries everyday; more than 3,000 caesarean sessions in one centre in two years, all free of charge, and in a world-class environment.
We have been able to prove that you can actually have affordable care without compromising quality. And affordability in this sense is actually totally free.
In our Urban Renewal Programme — and that is one of the reasons the United Nations Habitat has invited me, with all sense of humility, to the UN Scroll of Honour — we have also debunked the myth that deliberate, aesthetic urban renewal may not be able to go on hand in hand with the empowerment of hitherto people who were displaced in the effort to renew our cities.
What I mean is this; like I tell my people, if you want to renew the city, it’s easy to just, by around this time (past 1am), get the bulldozers and bulldoze those shacks off the streets. Yes, there will be some wailing in the morning, and we manage that two, three, four days, it’s all over. The civil society groups make their own noise; you hire also counter-noise and it’s all over. And you will be justified in your heart these people cannot co-exist with development of a modern city and all of that.
But we have proved that we can do it the other way: get people off the streets and relocate them to a better alternative (abode). So, as the city is growing in development, they are also growing. You take people off the streets, you take people off their shacks and relocate them to world-class market environment, commercial environment, affordable but top of the notch.
As the city is growing, the poor, the under-privileged, those who ordinarily are in the fringe of the society, are growing with the city. That’s an inclusive city renewal programme, which we have done very successfully here. And in three and half years, we have transformed Akure from a glorified village into a burgeoning beautiful city right before everybody.
We’ve got street traders off the streets and relocated them to good markets; we’ve gotten these auto dealers off the streets and relocated them into an international automart, purpose-built; according to Elizade and Chocharis, perhaps, the first purpose-built modern automart in Africa.
So, while you renew the cities, getting these people off the streets, some of them can give you testimonies that in one year, their sales had tripled because we have now created a new economic hub of auto sales. So, the city is getting better, and the people are getting better. It’s economic empowerment pari passu with city renewal.
In every sector, what runs through our programme is empowerment of the people, creating wealth for the people; getting people to key in into the programme. And I promised at the inauguration that I would leverage on existing communal structures, to get the people to release their creative energy and drive development themselves.
That we have demonstrated in our 3i Programme, which is an integrated rural development programme, which involves getting the people themselves to determine their priorities, building capacity of governance institution at community level and getting the people to actually implement their own programmes; after training, and disbursing funds directly to them.
The exciting outcome: in three and half years, we have worked in more than 450 communities; we delivered more than 644 projects. If you looked at the video clips of my campaigns, there is no community that I go to that I don’t commission projects. If I commission projects everyday for one year, I will not have the time to complete the projects that are already down there. So, we have created a synergy between the people and the government; we’ve bridged that disconnect.
When I stood at that podium on the 24th of February 2009 at my inauguration, I just looked at the crowd — incredible enormous sea of heads, and you could touch their hope, touch their aspiration. There was this ecstasy about — look — a new dawn had come.
There is no human being that would not have trepidation, and I had trepidation that day. But I prayed to God Almighty quietly in my heart that, ‘I appreciate you Father for this, for the ultimate glory that would go to you and the blessing that would go to me, is that three and half years after, if I had cause to call the people out, that I would have this level of enthusiasm.’
I want to say that people have said we have surpassed their imagination; and people are much more passionate today than they were three and half four years ago.
And that is my story; and that is why I call on you today to be part of our success this coming October, to help us where we have deficiencies in terms of contact. Our opponents have deeper purse, our opponents have deeper contacts with the press, but we have deeper impact on the lives of our people.