Hopefully, the western portion of Ogun State would think twice this time around on April 11 and reconsider its misplaced support for Mr. Buruji Kashamu, its son and PDP chieftain, against General Buhari and other APC candidates as indicated in the loss suffered there by APC in the March 28 elections. Such loss seemed inconceivable until that fateful day even with the bombardment of ads and visible inducement engaged by PDP in Ogun State. In fact, the breezing through Abeokuta by Mrs. Namadi Sambo, wife of the outgoing vice president, on behalf of ‘Mama Peace’ few weeks before the April 11 hardly caused a stare. At that time, I was not alone in thinking that Ogun State, known for producing some of the smartest or creative folks on the African continent, had made up its mind about not changing a winning horse locally without conceding the need for a change at the centre. But the conceived overwhelming support for APC and General Buhari was nearly thwarted by voters sympathetic to their local champions.
Contrary to what I deemed a walk in the park contest for APC because of the popularity enjoyed among voters by incumbent Governor Ibikunle Amosun who is contesting for a second term with an unprecedented record of achievement; it seems some part of Ogun State still believe that familial affinity holds sway over a promising future. I am referring to Imeko-Afon LGA, the Ogun West home of Mr. Gboyega Isiaka, the Ogun State PDP gubernatorial candidate; and almost the entirety of Ogun East home of Mr. Buruji Kashamu, the PDP senatorial candidate. The loss suffered by APC in both places could not have derived from any factor other than from misplaced loyalty to individuals considered “sons of the soil” in light of the overwhelming support received by the APC in other APC controlled states in the Southwest. Mr. Kayode Oladele, the APC House of Representative candidate in Imeko-Afon successfully overcame the irresponsible outpour of sympathy votes attracted by Mr. Isiaka, but Mr. Dapo Abiodun, APC senatorial candidate lost to Mr. Kashamu. But sad as that may seem, it would be worse, and perhaps send Ogun State back many years, if Mr. Isiaka, the PDP candidate, were to win on April 11 as governor because of sympathy votes for him and Mr. Kashamu as on March 28. I don’t know how voters, whether or not hometown sympathizers, don’t consider Mr. Isiaka’s candidacy audacious judging by his obvious complicity in the inefficiencies of the former administration of Mr. Gbenga Daniel. That will come later but first, my story.
Empathically, should any government in Nigeria deserve continuity, it must be that of Ogun State led by Governor Ibikunle Amosun. I am not a political hack and most likely classified as nonpartisan or independent as I hold no membership of any particular political party, but I try to be reasonable in my assessment of political activities. Also, I have been careful to maintain an arms-length relationship with Nigerian politicians; they scare me to no end. Therefore, my reasonable admiration of the Amosun government is based on my personal experience and less on peddled adulation for obvious infrastructural achievements of the administration in several urban areas of the state. More on the achievements later, but I don’t know how previous administration officials would not be embarrassed by their own failures walking the street of those urban areas and seeing the successful renewal projects as acknowledged even by he outgoing President Jonathan. But that is beside the point for me because I have concluded ordinary existence in Nigeria cannot be taken for granted, it is laden with many unforeseen travails; and so any administration that tries or attempts to alleviate such travails deserves a credit. That simply is what I have experienced personally with the way Governor Amosun handled the affairs of the state so far. He is not perfect, but I am not about to risk this certainty for negative certainties or uncertainties of an Isiaka-led PDP administration.
Mine is a personal story of real, not concocted deception that caused me inordinate anxiety. I consider myself an Egba man, ancestrally from Ago-Odo, Abeokuta North, though born and bred in Lagos; and since my frequent childhood holiday visits to our village of Wasimi, and a brief teaching stint in the town, residency in Abeokuta has always been a relished retirement priority even after returning to Nigeria from a long overseas spell and discouraged by unpleasant experiences with rowdy Lagos. I made this preference known to connected friend associates during my frequent visits before permanent relocation home. So, I was not surprised when early in 2010 we received a “Letter of Allocation” for a sizeable plot of land on Hillcrest Estate. It is a proposed government-backed estate on a golf course almost within the vicinity of Oke-Mosan in Abeokuta. Though the allocation was unsolicited, I figured one of my friends out there must have thought about me when the opportunity arose; I was quite pleased and had no problems convincing my ever-sceptical self especially as the estate includes a golf course! The only condition attached to the allocation was that payment must be made within a very short time. I scrounged around and made the payment, a substantial amount really!
The housing estate project looked attractive on paper. I was given a map showing my allotment, the golf course, and several facilities, all indicated a comfortable living package. But it was a 419. A government-sponsored 419 scheme calculated to raise money to further the political fantasy of the former governor Daniel, perhaps to finance his protégé, Mr. Isiaka, in pursuing the governorship of the state then in 2011. That evil scheme would have been successful resulting in irretrievable loss of money, except for the timely intervention of Governor Amosun soon after assuming office.
It would soon be revealed by real evidence that the former administration had embarked on a massive land grab and allocation scheme. Vast amount of land had been seized from villagers for “economic development purposes” and allocated at nominal prices to political friends and at premium prices to vulnerable victims such as me. Bad as that may sound, the scheme went beyond that. Our own Hillcrest Estate was excised from an original allocation to Abeokuta Golf Club, a non-profit recreational outfit, with an original Certificate of Occupancy issued by the government. Through a scheme involving powerful friends of the former governor, the Certificate of Occupancy and the survey on the allocation of land were illegally manipulated with ownership converted to the benefit of a commercial enterprise known as the Abeokuta Golf International Club. A substantial part of the converted allocation formed the Hillcrest Estate which was subdivided and sold to me and other unsuspecting subscribers. The malevolence would have been manageable except that the subdivision sold to us was the worst part of the whole allocation, with difficult terrain making it inappropriate for residential purposes. For the most part, we have been sold useless plots of land by the government intentionally!
So it was a crucial step taken by Governor Amosun, upon assuming office in 2011, to empanel the Ogun State Judicial Commission of Inquiry to investigate all land allocations and government assets concession executed by the former administration of Mr. Daniel. It was during the several hearings held by the Commission that the several of the evil scheme were revealed. The report issued by that Commission articulated an extensive unscrupulous corrupt intentions by the former administration and certain powerful friends. This action by Governor Amosun convinced me of his wisdom and more importantly, it saved the state from an impeding fiscal woe and political embarrassment because the scheme went beyond land allocation alone; it also involved ill-considered concession of some of the most profitable government-owned enterprises and valuable real estate to cronies and entities of personal interest. One of the most important actors in that scheme at that time is the same Mr. Isiaka, currently known as GNI, seeking my precious vote to replace Mr. Amosun as the governor of Ogun State. If Nigeria was a country of accountability, Mr. Isiaka would be too embarrassed to even show his face in his village, talk more of attracting the villagers sympathy votes against the reasonable “change in Abuja, continuity in Ogun State” mantra.
It is now common knowledge that the former governor established Gateway Holding in 2004 supposedly as the investment arm of the government and to manage government enterprises. Mr. Isiaka was installed as its managing director based on the then existing relationship between him and the governor. And so the story of woe began because, according to the Commission’s White Paper, it was through Mr. Isiaka’s active involvement and persuasion that Gateway Holding began the selling off of valuable assets through ridiculously disadvantageous concessions arrangements. For instance, there was the case of Lomiro Palm Oil Plantation concession arrangement with one JB Farms Limited under which the concessionaire was required to invest N450 million over 10 years without any specifics but allowed to make over N360 million in 2 years while remitting only N18 million to the government. The same crookedness was repeated consistently in the concession of Remo Rubber Plantation, Apoje Farms, and Gateway Hotel, Ota. Consequently, the Commission was left with no choice but to recommend the outright recession or renegotiation of the concession. Governor Amosun accepted and executed the recommendations and Ogun State today as a consequence enjoys a new status of being one of the most investment-friendly states in Nigeria.
As the head of Gateway Holding, Mr. Isiaka was the same individual who engineered the borrowing of N1.6 billion under state guarantee, supposedly to construct a super-headquarters for Gateway Holdings. It is still unclear what happened to that money because not even the foundation of the headquarters was completed anywhere in the state! The company defaulted and he bolted leaving the state to bear the burden of repaying the loan plus interests. Truly, and frivolous as it sounds, he had attempted to explain that unexpected oil price fluctuation was responsible for the default; the fact remains however that the state is now burdened with the repayment of the principal amount and the humongous interest. Also, does it not say something for lack of foresight on his part to enter into such obligation disregarding economic and fiscal eventualities? Surprisingly, this lack of foresightedness is consistently displayed when Mr. Isiaka, in trying to convince voters like me, condemns the active engagement of the governor in building roads and bridges, as useless and unnecessary priority not befitting the immediate needs of the population. Contrarily, I think it is wise for Amosun not to wait for traffic congestion before improving road conditions and building traffic bypasses as he is doing in the urban areas of the state.
So for me, Governor Amosun acted wisely with the step to empanel the Commission to inquire into the allocation of land which affected me, and the concession of valuable assets to conflicted private handlers which affected the state as a whole. The Commission recommended, as a matter of public interest, that those of us who paid for the allocation should be allowed to retain the plots with provision for reallocation because, as the governor himself showed us on an inspection tour of the estate, most of the allocations were inappropriate for residential construction. During that tour, the governor offered a refund for those who may opt out of the allocation because of the condition of the plots. He advised that those who choose to retain the property would not regret the option. I believed him and chose to retain the allocation.
Now, naturally my choice for 2015 governorship contest between Governor Amosun and Mr. Isiaka, should be less of a rocket science. Apart from his key participation in the administration that tried to dupe me, in my opinion, Mr. Isiaka, knowingly harmed the state with the over-ambitious concession scheme which he engineered; and perhaps apart from his failure to properly calculate the effects of future fiscal eventualities on the huge loan, he unwittingly burdened the state with a debt of N1.6 billion not for the construction of schools or hospitals but for an office building with little or no benefits to the people of Ogun State. So he does not deserve my vote or that of the majority of the people of Ogun State. But not so with sympathetic Mr. Isiaka hometown voters who run the risk of being ostracized should they repeat the performance of March 28. Their votes may become useful only for a bragging right because from the lessons learned on March 28 by Ogun West voters, the whole Ogun State and I are coming together to maintain continuity of the Amosun administration.
Muyiwa Sobo, Esq., writes from Lagos