Interview With Governor Mimiko
With Governor Mimiko. As the only Governor elected on the platform of the Labour Party in Nigeria, the demands on him have no doubt been enormous, but the Ondo State, Governor Olusegun Mimiko, has remained popular among the masses after three years in the saddle. In this Interview With David Akinadewo, he speaks on the innovative strategies his government adopted to transform the fortunes of the state and its people, the South West integration and the struggle for his seat, among other issues.
Your Excellency was celebrated by workers during the May Day rally in Akure. This is unusual for a sitting governor. How were you able to achieve this?
It is by the grace of God Almighty because at the end of the day everything a man does, and he does right, is by His grace. I also have the privilege of being engaged in the system for some time. So I can say With all sense of modesty that I have an idea of the aspiration of the average worker. I have an idea of how to motivate the average worker. I know his strength, I know his weaknesses, I know the limitation of the system, having been through it, and having had the privilege of living in Ondo State for some time also. I also have an idea of the everyday concern of the average man on the street, be it worker or market woman. I know the challenge of putting food on the table. I have an idea of the quantum or percentage of income they would require to get their children to decent schools. So With that background knowledge, it is easy for me to engage Labour, meet them at the point of their anxiety and create a synergy between what we are doing ultimately as a government and their expectation.
Number two is that, and I am saying this With all sense of modesty, there are some things we put on the ground, like the Americans will say, that are self-evident. In the last three years, the workers have seen unequivocal evidence of a government working for the people. They have seen a government that has been striving in every department of government and human engagement to add value. Don’t forget that they live in the communities. So they can feel the pulse of the people, and they can see themselves that this government is committed to socio-economic development of the state. All of these engender the type of cooperation we have.
Why is the government investing so much in the health sector when it is not directly contributing to the economy?
We are spending money on health the same way we are spending money on education. It marvels me that people complain that we are spending so much money on these two sectors. We believe that the human capital is the ultimate of all the variables you need to develop society. In a global economy driven by knowledge, we think the future is the investments we can make in our children. So, for us, there is no amount of money that we spend on our children that is too much. We are securing the future of a generation, the future of the state and ultimately the future of our country.
How is this reflected in the performance of students of the state in external examinations?
In the last two years or so, we have had very encouraging results. At the Junior Engineering Technical Society (JETS) competition, we have had very credible showing. Our children have brought laurels to the state. In every competition, even the recent science quiz competition and the Shell Competition, we have always come either first, second or third. Our kids have represented Nigeria in Atlanta in the United States and in Brazil in different competitions in the last two years. But what I think is the icing on the cake for now is the fact that our student came first in the last West African School Certificate Examinations (WASCE). She not only came first in Nigeria, but was the overall best candidate in the exams in the whole of West Africa. For us, that is some empirical evidence that what we have put in place is yielding results. That may not be enough for us to beat our chest but I have no doubt that what we have done in the Quality Education Assurance Agency, which is now an autonomous elite agency deliberately so crafted, is bringing the old inspectorate back and also creating a very credible tool of education measurement and impact assessment. Also, the type of investment we are making in new generation schools, training and retraining of our teachers, the incentive package which include the payment of 27.5 percent salary increment apart from the relativity salary increase, the totality of these have started showing results. We believe that in the next few years, the results will continue to show.
With the huge recurrent expenditure, how do you manage to execute capital projects in the state?
I can tell you we get value for money. For example, if you visit our Auto Mart on the highway, most people will tell you it will cost over N1billion but we actually spent about N300million on the project. The totality of the Isinkan Market Phase1 & 2, including the asphalt laying, channelisation and reclamation cost about N300million. So we are getting value for money, and that is very important. We are also very creative in the way we craft our projects. From my experience, I have found out that a lot of money is expended on what we call miscellaneous capital items - buying refrigerators, cabinets and the likes in offices. You will be amazed that there are some budgets where this takes as much as 50 percent. But we have deliberated crafted our projects. In our first year, we put miscellaneous capital at 7.5 percent. This year, it is just five percent. So everything on the capital item has credible deliverables. That released a lot of our funds for credible deliverables on capital items. We also ensure, as much as possible, that our contractors are credible and they deliver on time so we don’t have abandoned projects. I think the totality of all of these have made us have a lot of mileage on our capital expenditure.
How are you tackling the problem of unemployment which has become a national crisis?
I agree With you that it is a very big crisis and I tell our people that it is the biggest challenge of our generation of politicians. We must creatively engage our youths if we want to take them off the streets. To do this, we need to generate mass employment. For me, the most credible route is to leverage on areas where we have relative advantage. Because we have fertile land and incredible range of vegetation here, we thought agriculture was one primary area where we can engage the youth massively, not in the routine or conventional salaried employment. We want to encourage our youths to get engaged in productive agriculture and that is what we have done. We have put in place three Agro Business Cities, which are essentially patterned, though modified a bit, after the old farm settlement schemes in the old western region. The first of our farm cities in Ore, for example, was designed to make farming attractive, acceptable and comfortable for graduates. We provide them With modern accommodation and the machines that will drive mechanised farming. Under a participant owner scheme, we give all the inputs - land preparation, seedlings, chemicals and all of that, to them and whatever profit they make in the scheme will ultimately be their own. And we amortize our investments over time so that they can start getting good results. Like I said, we have built three; at full capacity we expect these to employ at least three thousand youths.
Number two, we also know that ICT and renewable energy are two other areas where we can get a lot of youths gainfully employed. And under our Tech View Project, we have trained a set of young men and women in renewable energy - how to assemble inverter, do solar power audit etc, and all of them are gainfully engaged now. Of course, we’ve also tried to renew our capacity in the civil service because for more than six years before we came in, there was a sort of embargo on employment. So when you look at our structure in the civil service, it is an inverted pyramid. We have a lot of people up there at the top, but at the base of the pyramid, because we haven’t been employing for some time, we have only a few people. So we are deliberately bringing in young people especially in the areas of critical need. We have engaged new engineers, quantity surveyors, architects, doctors, lawyers and some administrators into the system. At the last count, we have engaged about a thousand and we are still engaging depending on the availability of funds and our perception of the areas of need. Our intention is to be able to create the top management force that will drive the economy that we are building.
We also started what we call the volunteer scheme. The scheme is three years old now and the whole idea is to get a lot of our young men and women away from the streets, from desperation and the precipice. We get them gainfully engaged.
As we grow the economy, we also deliberately craft our industrial policy to be mass employment-focused. I give you an example. The tomato factory at Arigidi Akoko fits classically into our industrial development paradigm. One, it is agro-based so; the raw materials are there. Two, it also creates a lot of indirect engagement throughout-growers scheme. So apart from those working in the factory, there will be like a thousand outgrowers who will be feeding the factory. We have already brought Israeli experts who have trained the first 500 of these outgrowers. Soon the second batch of 500 will be trained, too. It also has a backward integration that will further engage quite a number of our people. That is the type of industrial development we are trying to engender to grow our economy and engage our young ones.
The bane of industrial development in Ondo State, like every other state is power. When you go round the state, you’ll see that most of the old industries are down because they are no longer competitive due to the cost of power. So we are trying to solve the problem of power in a multi-faceted way. First, we know that geography favours us in Ore because the Lagos-Escravos gasline passes through Ore. So one of the first things we did when we came onboard was to engage Shell Gas and some other stakeholders to craft out a gas master plan for us. Having got this, we set out to have three industrial hubs; one in each of the three senatorial districts of the state - south, central and north. To create these industrial hubs, we must get gas into industrial parks. When this is done, we can get an IPP going, have a fertiliser plants and other ancillary industries that are gas dependent. As I speak With you, we’ve completed the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) and the licences we need to bring gas to Ore is almost complete. As soon as that is through and we get gas into Ore, we are starting, on our own, a 35-mega plant and there are others who are interested in setting 50 megawatts plant and when we put that in place, it will create the industrial revolution we are looking at in that axis of the state; industrial in the sense that With gas, more industries will spring up. Ultimately, we can even get some industries to relocate from Lagos to Ore and create the type of employment that we are all yearning for.
What is the timeline for the power project?
Don’t let me give a timeline, but I am sure we are not more than one year away.
What is the latest about the Ok-LNG project involving Ondo and Ogun states and the federal government?
The OK-LNG project is on course. There are many issues - political, economic and what not. Quite a number of these have been sorted out. We are also solving the issue of the source of the gas.
Don’t you feel lonely being the only Labour party governor?
No, I feel challenged to prove to the people that we are standing on a social democratic mantra. We think it is a wonderful opportunity to show that though we live in a uni-polar world now, there is still some ideological content in decisions that have to be taken in driving the economy. We believe that we can provide classical examples of social democratic products that can drive our economy and lift our people from the morass of poverty. It is a wonderful opportunity, standing on labour platform, to be able to re-create and re-engineer the health sector, the education sector, and bring the connection between government and the people With a caring heart. For so long, our people have been brutalised psychologically, they have been marginalised by the very people they elected to hold power on their behalf so much that they have never really felt part of governance.
We have been able to prove that government can engage the market women in a very useful way to stop street trading. You don’t just bulldoze shacks and send people to deeper poverty. What we have done is to take inventory of those on the street, build for them a modern and world-class market and relocate them there at affordable rates. In those modern markets you see, we charge as little as N50.00 per day. I told my people, our goal is not to recoup our capital investment, our goal is to create the type of environment that would; one, encourage commercial life; two, give the fillip to the downtrodden that they are part of government and government cares for them. It also goes to make them more responsible citizens and ultimately, in the long run, that investment will be recouped by getting more responsible, more responsive, more engaged citizens. These are social democratic projects that the Labour Party provides us the wonderful opportunity to provide. Rather than feeling lonely, I think the feeling is challenge.
Do you have any special relationship With President Goodluck Jonathan?
We have a cordial relationship. One, I am Governor and he is the president of Nigeria. That is a relationship. We unequivocally gave our support to him during the election because in our judgement, given the socio-political climate, the history of Nigeria, where we were coming from, where we were and where we should be going in the future, we thought the circumstances were such that he was the choice candidate for us. Even now, we try to encourage him and he encourages us. There are some of his programmes that are exciting to me. For example, in agriculture, I think he is doing a lot of new things and I think we should key into this. Ultimately, I think he should be encouraged. There are challenges in Nigeria, yes, but we need to encourage him in the overall interest on the country.
Are you opposed to South West integration agenda as being propagated by some leaders of the ACN?
Let us strip this agenda of its politics and propaganda. The southwest agenda that I know and I think should be promoted is an economic agenda. Like I always say, the average Ondo, Ekiti, Oyo, Ogun, Lagos and Osun men have the same worldview. They invariably have the same aspirations. Their value system that has developed over the years is the same. Geography links us, language links us, and culture links us. So there is absolutely no reason why we can’t leverage on these to create an economy of scale which ultimately will benefit everybody. For example, I’m talking of a power plant, we could leverage on the geography of Ondo because we have gas here. I think it will be easier to tap gas here in Ondo than in Ekiti. We can also create a rail network that will ease transportation and boost our economies. We can do a lot of things together to enhance the quality of life of our people. That has nothing to do With political party.
Part of our agenda should also be the recognition of the fact that the people have the right to determine who rules them. But when you want to create a political monolithic entity, it will never happen. This is why the integration we are talking about must be an economic integration. We must never take away from the people the right to determine who rules them and that is the minimum condition for democracy. If we agree that we take democracy as the most acceptable form of government for development in spite of its headaches, then we don’t need to create Fidel Castros or foster a command rule before we integrate our economies. We want an economy that is sensitive to contemporary time while we do not lose focus of what we want to achieve. Like I said, you can’t take away the right of the people to determine the government they want. For example, you can talk of Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and Labour Party today, but we don’t know what may happen tomorrow. Hypothetically, there may not be ACN or Labour Party tomorrow. But ultimately, our commitment should be to the development of our people and we must be able to leverage on things that unite us to achieve this. That is what integration is all about and that is what I am committed to. I am not part of anything short of this or any arrangement that contradicts the democratic principles and processes that I subscribe to and that brought me into power in the first place.
It is said that you are reneging on the pact you had With ACN while trying to reclaim your mandate, hence the quest to unseat you; how true is this?
Directly, indirectly or tangentially there is nothing like that. There was no pact to join the ACN. As for the challenge for the governor’s seat, it is a legitimate aspiration. For us in government and for me in particular, I believe what we need is free and fair election. Let the people determine who occupies the seat. I don’t have any doubt in my mind that With the type of things we have put on ground in the last three years and the type of bonding we have With the people of the state, unseating the Labour Party, With all sense of modesty, will be an uphill task.
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