Ondo State Governor, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko, highlights the successes recorded by his administration within three years and speaks on political developments in the state towards his re-election bid. He met with TheNEWS’ team of ADEMOLA ADEGBAMIGBE, TOKUNBO OLAJIDE and IDOWU OGUNLEYE
Q: What major achievements would you want to showcase to Ondo State people as you campaign for re-election?
What I have to showcase is based on the promise I made to them. I promised that I would work for them. That in all seasons I would work for them. That I would ensure that their everyday concern would be my concern. And that any time they rejoice, I will rejoice with them, and if otherwise, I will be there for them. It’s important to point out that part of why we came on board was that there was this palpable disconnect between the government and the people. To actually drive development, you have to create a synergy between the government and the people. They must key into the programme and you must be able to catalyse and release the creative energies of the people to drive development. These are clear promises I made to the people.
Three years on, I want to say with all sense of responsibility and beat my chest that the good Lord has been good to us. We have evidently worked for the people. Like the Americans would say, what we have on ground is self-evident!
We have tried, as much as possible, to demonstrate, programmatically, that we can translate all of these into real programmes that will touch the lives of our people, in every sector. Let’s take education for example. We have intervened to address the issue of fallen standard of education, accessibility and democratisation of quality education, especially for the downtrodden. These are everyday concerns which we have addressed through our Quality Education Assurance Agency. We have recreated the old time-honoured Inspectorate Division and the inspection and education measurement tools. We have started creating new-generation infrastructure, which we call Mega Schools. We have put together an “incentivisation” package for the teaching staff. Apart from the relativity allowance which we have paid, we have also paid a 27.5 per cent increment to teachers. We are, perhaps, the only state paying relativity and 27.5 per cent. We are ‘incentivising’ them; we are training and re-training them. We have exposed some of them to external (offshore) training. And for all of these, we have started having some empirical results. Examples are the Jets Competition, international competitions and science education competitions. We’ve come out tops in many of these competitions. The icing on the cake is the last West African School Certificate Examinations. An Ondo State student came first in the whole of Nigeria and West Africa.
For us, these are part of what we can see. And there is empirical evidence that our investment in education has started showing. If you talk to the man on the street, he would say they are excited about the prospects. An example is our Mega Schools, which would serve the interest, especially, of those who cannot afford private education. Private sector elites are even already falling over themselves to have a place in the Mega Schools. This is an evidence that we can showcase to the people.
In the Health sector, we have proved that it is possible to democratise access to free, qualitative healthcare, especially to the most vulnerable groups in the society – pregnant women and infants. We have targeted these segments and the result has been such that has been recognised even beyond the shores of Nigeria as a template. We are creating an emergency medical system that would be like no other on the continent of Africa. So, again we can show that we promised that we’d work for you, that your concern would be ours, that we’d make choices on behalf of the people. Government is about choices; the choices you make about what is priority is what is called governance. We can hold this up.
In Urban Renewal, we promised our people that Akure would be a modern city, that we would embark on a massive urban renewal programme starting with Akure, the capital. It’s a 30-year programme that we set up to renew our cities. I can hold up Akure and say ‘look at what we’ve done to Akure in three years.’ We have renewed our cities, and in doing that, we have also taken into consideration the socio-democratic platform – the mantra of our party. We don’t just destroy shanties and send people to the streets and deepen poverty. We have taken people off the streets, but we have taken them into a more commercially conducive world-class environment, especially the downtrodden. We have created this new environment. We are growing and renewing our inner cities and making life more meaningful for the people there. We can hold this up. And as we are doing in Akure, we are replicating same in other major urban centres in Ondo State.
Also, because we are very gender-sensitive, we can put our hand on everything that has to do with women development. The modern markets we are building, we are not just relocating the traders to the modern environment; we are making shops affordable and extending micro-credits to them to be able to improve on their commercial capabilities. We can hold it up in this and other sectors like Housing.
Since the Ajasin era, there has not been a new housing estate in this state, but we are facilitating the creation of three new housing states. All of them will be commissioned soon. These are things we can show the people to prove that we care for them. And they will believe me if I say I want to up the ante. I want to leverage a new Industrial policy to create more jobs. I can tell them that in these three years, we have created countless jobs, leveraging our relative advantage in agriculture. We have built three agro-business cities. We have made farming very attractive to our children and we have embarked on a well-positioned industrial development trajectory – agro-based, with multiplier effects. At the Tomato plant in Arigidi-Akoko, apart from those that will be engaged directly, we also have an out-growers’ scheme that will get more than 1,000 people engaged.
Also, our efforts in bringing gas to our industrial parks and building power plants will start coming to fruition very soon. We will follow these things up and we’ll continue to do more. Our vision is clearly stated: we want to make Ondo State a cynosure of all eyes. We want to create benchmarks not only for Nigeria, but for the continent of Africa. We want to prove that we can handle our own affairs efficiently. Ten, 20 years down the line, there’s nothing preventing Ondo State from looking like any other place in the world. In every sector that we have made promises, to a large extent, God has helped us.
Your administration’s attention on education appears to have been focused more on the basic levels. Has any effort been directed at the tertiary institutions?
When we came on board, we had one university, one polytechnic and a licence to establish another. What we did was to set up a committee headed by the late Professor Ifedayo Oladapo, who incidentally was the first Vice Chancellor of the former Ondo State University (now Ekiti State University). We empowered this panel to look into the totality of tertiary education. Part of why we did that was because we had trepidation whether we would have the capacity to run three tertiary institutions, and to look at how best we can drive this to be able to create globally-competitive tertiary institutions. We came up with some recommendations. Part of the recommendations, which are very critical, is that there should be zero interference in the admission process. It is now absolutely merit-based. You may not believe this, but it’s become 100 per cent merit-based since we came on board. And that includes the fact that there is no concession list for Governor, Vice Chancellor or anybody. I believe this is one of the most critical and revolutionary steps we have taken. We also created a conducive environment. We were one of the first, if not the first state university, to actualise the ASUU-recommended salary 100 per cent. We also put a lot of funding into infrastructure. Also, the selection of the Vice Chancellor was absolutely merit-based. All of these created a conducive environment to attract reputable scholars. We have increased the number of professors at the Adekunle University by more than 60 per cent since we came on board. So we have a university now that is merit-based, that is conducive and where scholarship is thriving. And there are other empirical evidence that things are looking up there.
We also looked at the Polytechnic and we found out that when we came, the ratio of humanities courses versus science was about 80:20. We have now deliberately crafted our admission policy to skew on the side of technology and science, and we are putting a lot of money into infrastructure. We also decided to let the university of Science and Technology take off immediately, rather than wait for a permanent site to be ready before the take-off point – which would be an aberration anyway. Most universities that I know took off from temporary sites. We got a temporary site and we shopped around for a professor – somebody of repute – to be the Vice Chancellor. We brought in Professor Odugbemi, who was then the immediate past VC of the University of Lagos. He is a son of the soil, who has a good reputation in the academic world. He is turning the place around and creating a new university with emphasis on entrepreneurial skills. Whatever you are studying at OSUTECH, you also engage in farming skills. They are into fish farming and a whole lot of entrepreneurial things, as part of the new university development paradigm. These are the things we have done.
You have been implementing a free healthcare policy, especially for pregnant women and infants. What plans have you to ensure the infrastructure doesn’t become overwhelmed, and do you really think the ‘free health’ model is sustainable on a long term?
We are expanding. We have designated more Primary Healthcare facilities as Abiye (maternity) centres. We are increasing the capacity of these centres to handle different levels of medical engagements. Apart from the Mother & Child Hospital in Akure, the Ondo centre will soon be commissioned, and very soon we will build others. That is about expansion. About sustainability: one of the exciting aspects of the Abiye programme is that we have put actual cost to care. If we have not achieved anything at all in the health sector, we have demystified the notion that financial consideration can stand between our people and quality healthcare. We have put real cost to care – and this is not conjectural. We have empirical evidence, and we have gone through it. As I speak, the cost of care for a pregnant woman from conception, up to two, three weeks after delivery, is less than N6,000. In fact, by the end of this year, we hope to reduce it to about N4,500 without compromising standards. So, you need to have this kind of structure in place before you talk of sustainability. .
By a very creative drug procurement and distribution system, we have also proved to Nigerians and the whole world that free healthcare does not necessarily mean perpetual, chronic out-of-drug syndrome. At the Mother & Child Hospital, Akure, where, in two years, we have recorded almost 11,000 deliveries and about 3,000 Caesarian Sections, availability of drugs has been 100 per cent – and it’s free of charge. Also, in most tertiary health institutions in Nigeria, talk about drugs, wastage is in the dimension of 60 to 65 per cent. We’ve cut all of that here. Demographically, the figure of pregnant women in Ondo State should be about 36,000, maximum. We have found out that that is less than N200 per capita. So we’ve decided to have a health tax.
We have put in place many sustainability factors. One, training. We are in the process of getting accredited as a training centre. We are about signing an agreement (if it has not been signed) with the UCH, Ibadan. This is with a view to bringing in resident doctors. We are already a research centre for the London School of Tropical Hygiene. They are doing a clinical trial for post-partum haemorrage. There is a group from South Africa with whom we are also doing something that is new that would ultimately bring money to sustain all of this. Also, development partners are excited and are coming on board.
If people have tasted one thing and they know it’s good, they would do anything to make sure it is sustained. In our Mother & Child Hospital, statistics have shown that 20 per cent of our patients come from outside Ondo State. In the next one month or so, our multi-application smartcard, which every citizen will carry, will be ready. Anyone who doesn’t have the card will pay premium for our services. So, there is no question about the fact that we will sustain the system.
Promises fulfilled, you said. But what were those hurdles that you had to cross to record the achievements in the last three years?
In my inaugural speech, I said I would work with the people, but there was a caveat. I said that if I had to step on toes, that I would go ahead and do so. These are toes that would act as encumbrances. These are toes that are principalities that want to stand between us and the development of the people.
There have been challenges; no doubt about it! When we came on board in February 2009, we came into a government with a minority in the House of Assembly. And there were lots of arm-twisting from the PDP-dominated legislative arm. They were holding on to our budget and all of that. But because we serve a God that turns seasons and times around, by October, we already had a majority in the Assembly, including the Speaker. But we lost critical time, almost seven to eight months, bickering with the Assembly and all of that. They were deliberately trying to block us because they thought that was a good thing for them to be able to bring their party back to reckoning, not minding that it was a double-edge sword. Eventually, when the people complained that they had become a hindrance to them, they said wait, ‘let us team up with these people.’ There was also a time we had issues with Labour. Again that slowed us down a bit, but I thank God that we have overcome all of that.
What of the challenges in terms of tangibles like financing, in the face of shrinking government revenues across the states?
I must admit that the wage increases in the last two years have bloated the recurrent part of our expenditure and has also reduced the quantum of money available for capital projects. But looking ahead, we have gone to the capital market to source for funds – N50bn. The first tranche is N27.5bn, which was over-subscribed, and it is, in itself, an expression of the confidence in our economy. We have had our challenges, especially wage increases, health sector, relativity allowance, special teachers’ allowance, special judiciary allowance. We carry a workforce of almost 62,000, and spending almost 80 to 90 per cent on recurrent expenditure.
One thing that has done well for us is the way we have crafted our capital projects. Because I’ve had some experience in governance here, and I have seen through many budgets, there is what we call miscellaneous capital or intangibles – buying cabinets, air-conditioners, etc. At times, in some budgets, it’s as high as 40 per cent. So if you have intangibles of 40 per cent and your budget is operating at 50 per cent, those intangibles are the areas the bureaucracy always concentrate on, unless you redirect it. For instance, this year in our budget, we deliberately ensured that all those intangibles constitute just 5 per cent of our capital projects.
So we were able to carve capital projects targeted at tangible deliverables. This is part of the creative financial engineering that we have been doing that has made it possible for us to put a lot of projects on ground.
How far has your administration gone in the area of attracting investments, both local and foreign?
To be able to get investors, especially industrial, you must get power right. If you don’t get this right, you won’t get anything done. When you even talk of new investments, what about the existing industries? Are they thriving? Aren’t some of them folding up? And a common denominator, because of the cost of power, they are no longer competitive. When we came on board, what we did was engage Shellgas, which is the biggest gas company in Nigeria, to do a gas master plan for us. Of course, that would have to dovetail into the national gas master plan. And from that we created three industrial hubs in the centre, north and south (of the state). Starting from Ore, which is the south because the line passes through Ore, we want to take gas into the integral parts of the industrial sector. Of course, as simple as that statement sounds, it is something you might not be able to actualise in the next two years. The environmental impact assessment, EIA, part of it alone has to be two seasons, that’s two years. But we are almost there now. Once we get the gas in, on our own we will put up a 35 megawatt plant there and others will bring in theirs. Some people want to build a 50MW plant there. That will be a major industrial hub – fertiliser plant and ancillary industries. And I can see industries moving away from Lagos because of the relative advantage that Ore has. Even the infrastructure in place on its own will attract a lot of investments into that place.
A lot of investors are also coming into agriculture. But again, we are very careful because land is still a major asset that we have, and we want to be sure that whatever investment anybody wants to make in any area, we would build sustainable equity into it. We have signed an MOU with a group that is interested in a cement factory in Oke Iluse, in the northern axis of this place. For our ceramics industry, some Italians are on ground; they want to revamp it. But until we get the power right, it may be difficult to get the type of massive investment that we want. I know that one year down the line, once this power project thing is ready, we can move quickly. We have obvious advantages here. This is the most peaceful state in Nigeria. We also have an edge in terms of human resource, and technical knowhow. In terms of per capita human resource, we are the highest in Nigeria. In terms of even geography, we are just sitting between the East and West. We are a gateway to the East and to Abuja. We have the longest coastline in Nigeria. By last week, we were talking, as a stop gear, with investors on a deep sea port between Ogun and Ondo states. We have an airport. All of these are veritable attractions for investors. Once we get the gas and the power right, everything will fall in place.
Let’s talk politics. With the governorship election about five months away, and with many candidates gunning for your seat, are you, as the incumbent, losing any sleep?
I only lose sleep when I’m working for the people. It is legitimate for people to eye my seat. It’s expected and it’s part of the beauty of democracy. Some people love the sound of sirens, and whatever. But what I can tell you is that we are working for the people, and they know this. We have a very enlightened population that is politically conscious. Come election, our work will speak for us. So, I don’t lose sleep over people wanting to contest election. But I lose sleep when I think about what we still have to do to battle poverty in this land.
There’s been an exodus of Labour Party stalwarts joining the opposition. How would this affect your re-election bid?
There is a lot of propaganda in this ‘exodus’ thing that you talk about. I can tell you that in terms of quantum, in terms of political weight, we have had much more people coming into the Labour Party than those going out of it. And you can cross-check this. If you saw a rally we held days back, where we received tangible political heavyweights into the party, you will have an idea what I’m talking about. People who are grassroots people, who have contested elections and have won before. Labour Party remains the biggest political party in the history of this state, and it is increasing and expanding every day. We have not only expanded Labour Party, we have expanded beyond the realms of all of this propaganda. Given the consciousness, and the conscientisation that have gone on, everybody is just waiting for October. They want the good times to continue. So there is no exodus; it’s propaganda on the pages of newspapers.
What is your current relationship with the opposition Action Congress of Nigeria, especially given your history with some its leaders?
The disagreement we have is that the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, said I should leave the Labour Party and join ACN, and I have insisted that there is no reason I should leave the Labour Party. I have been very fortunate; I have changed party twice. And yet I’ve not lost the people. It is because there were reasons for me to change party. When I was leaving the Alliance for Democracy, it was clear to everybody in Ondo State why I had to leave. When I left, some people left with me. When I was leaving the PDP, it was clear to everybody that I had to leave and look for another platform. I have no reason now to leave Labour Party for ACN. That is the point of disagreement.
And I have always pointed out that if there are areas where we share same values, we can collaborate. I believe in state police for example. Whatever coloration of party you are in, if you believe in state police, I would be able to collaborate with you for us to be able to actualise it in the course of constitutional amendment. I believe that we must decentralise power to a very large extent in Nigeria. I believe the smaller, the better. I believe that the resources of the federal government can be devolved to the states and local governments for better and effective utilisation.
And when we talk of economic integration, the point I have always made is absolutely clear. When we talk of integration, what are you talking about? The sub-structure. The sub-structure in the integration is that we are all Yoruba people, we speak the same language. Because of common history and heritage, our worldview and value system are the same. The aspirations of an Ekiti, an Ondo and an Ogun man are the same. They are ready to give everything they have to educate their children, so they can be greater than them.
Then we have geography. Because of these common features that integrate us, we can create an economy of scale in some of our economic endeavours that would improve our fortunes. But it’s not the same thing as political integration. And this must be made clear. Even if there is going to be any political aspect of this integration, it must be a recognition of the fact that the people must be given the right to determine who leads them at any point in time. Once we agree on all of these, then we can collaborate. But when people say, willy-nilly, they are going to capture a state, I think that belongs in the realm of the past. We should develop the democratic mindset and let the will of the people prevail.