Ondo State must not throw caution to the wind and so should the Governor’s supporters!
I have just returned from a 3 week vacation in Nigeria. I spent much of my time traveling around the country, but I spent more time in Akure, my home base , while taking time to visit friends in Idanre, Okitipupa and Ilaje Ese Odo Local Government, Owo, Akoko, Ifedore and Ose Local Governments where I was among the special guests of honor at a Church service held at Idogun Anglican Church on February 27 to formally confer on the town’s most famous son, Barrister Omo Olorun Modupe a good friend of mine who had traveled all the way from his base in New York accept the Asiwaju title. I was going around in my search to finally pick a place in Nigeria I may want to retire to after my sojourn in America. If you think relocating back to Nigeria would be an easy proposition, you probably believe that some of the Maslow hierarchy of needs we take for granted in America would be there waiting for you on arrival. That you own a house or two in the country does not a difference make. If you are not mentally and physically prepared and ready, you could be singing your “Nunc Dimitis” before your time comes for all you know.
You would have thought that Akure, Lagos, Ibadan or Abuja would have been one of the obvious choices. I thought so too, but on a sober reflection. I had to know like most Nigerian returnees who had lived abroad for as long as some of us, are most likely to have a pretty rough time deciding on what to do. Making the adjustment upon my return home is tantamount shooting in the dark. You could be shooting at a loved one. The move carries the potential to shorten your life span in a way I cannot even begin to fully describe in this write-up. You need it to experience at a personal level to fully appreciate what I am talking about. I am harping on it at the risk of being immodest because I know I am only one of several hundreds of Nigerians facing such a dilemma. Those who had never left home would never really understand the full ramifications of what I am talking about here. Some Nigerians miss poke when they claim that home remains the best without going ahead to further offer a definition of the word “home” which may diametrically defer from person to person. For me, home is that place that offers you the best hope for that peace of mind, happiness and contentment you often need to make ends meet and to make life worth living if you get my point.
I am struck by the stark contradictions of the Nigerian situation right now. There were so many things I could have written about and would definitely write about as I reflect on my last trip to Nigeria, but the one that captures my fancy the most today is the one I choose to write about now. I choose to do that on a date, March 6, that many Nigerians and most Yorubas in particular have come to revere because it is the birthday anniversary of Obafemi Awolowo, one of the greatest Nigerian leaders ever born and arguably “the best President Nigeria never had” as eloquently noted by Odumegwu Ojukwu. The events marking the 102nd anniversary of Awolowo are underway in Nigeria and all over the world around this time by Nigerians who knew Awo by action or by reputation, like I do, and who have come to regard Awolowo as the gold standard for judging all of our leaders , past and present including Murtala Mohammed who ruled Nigeria for only 200 days but left a legacy too important to ignore because of what he did or did not do. Because I knew these two Nigerian leaders up close and personal because I served under both of them in the Federal Public Service of Nigeria, I am one Nigerian not to swallow, hook, line and sinker, all the hype and propaganda currently heaped on Governor Mimiko’s achievements in his first two years in Ondo State. Awolowo served as first leader of Government and later Premier in the old Western Region till 1959 before moving to the Federal as leader of the Opposition. He served again for some years as Federal Commissioner for Finance and Deputy Chairman to General Gowon as Head of the Federal Executive Council before resigning his appointment. Awolowo is looming larger than life today in the psyche of our people because of the lasting legacies of unforgettable achievements he has left behind as the champion of free education, free health for all, freedom for all and life more abundant that America, for all her greatness, is just now battling with in Obama Care, if you can accept that. There was very little hype on what Awolowo was up to when he launched his free education program in the old West that changed Nigeria forever. If you compare that with what is going on in Ondo State right now you will see a stark difference.
Governor Mimiko has just concluded a one week celebration of his first two years in office in a carnival like type of parades and celebrations that reminds me of some African dictators like Mobutu Sese Seko and the embattled Moammar Ghadafi of Libya to mention a few. For much of the two weeks I spent at Akure. Governor Mimiko and his handlers and supporters were busy going around commissioning one completed project after another or laying the foundation of others. The parade of supporters at the Arcade in Akure reminds me of Mobutu Sese Seko at a parade held at the Palace Du Merchand in downtown Kinshasha in 1981 where General Mobutu declared a one week holiday in Zaire celebrating his handpicking of 122 delegates to serve a Parliament to advise him following his years of dictatorship in Zaire. Chief Oluyemi Falae as Chairman of CAFRAD (African Training and Research Center in Administration for Development) based in Tangiers, Morocco and myself as delegate of Nigeria to the CAFRAD Board of Trustees were invited to the parade as the guests of President Mobutu who had spent millions of Dollars putting such a spectacle while millions of Zairians suffered in absolute penury. Only God knows how much Government money was spent to showcase the parade in Akure by the Mimiko Government and I am surprised that nobody raised a finger because. Nigeria has become a nation of praise singers where you can get away with murder once in power. We won’t get to know anything about the squander mania or the kleptomania of the Mimiko Government until he leaves office. Former Governor Olabode George recently out of prison for official corruption was a onetime popular military Governor of Ondo State who let the state treasury with trunks full of Naira and hard currency just because he could. No questions asked.
I am not knocking Governor Mimiko for wanting to consolidate the powers of the Labor Party in Ondo State by playing the Chairman Mao of that mini revolution and by trying to show that he is different from Agagu. My question is at what cost to the good people of Ondo State? Among the enviable achievements he has so far recorded, were the Mother and Children Hospital next door to Akure Commercial College at Oke Aro titun and the Maternal Pulse Initiative led by the Governor’s wife. Kemi Mimiko who creditably acquitted herself in a very impressive press conference with a woman moderator on OSRC TV while elaborating on the “Ise takun takun” his activist husband has been doing in Ondo State in his two years of getting his stolen mandate back from Agagu and the PDP.
You could see so much going on everywhere you look in Ondo State. I even saw contractors with caterpillars and steam rollers working round the clock past mid night on Oba Adesida Road, Akure pretending to be busy and to justify the billions of Naira spent by the State Government There is the newly opened ultramodern Auto Mart on the Ilesha/Owo Express in Akure. There is the state of the art Diagnostic Center in Ondo town named after the Human Rights champion and lawyer and the late senior advocate of the Masses, Gani Fawehinmi. There is also the Public Service Institute cited at Ilara Mokin which is supposed to perform basically the same role that ASCON the Administrative Staff College in Badagry or the Institute of Strategic Studies in Kuru were supposed to perform for the Federal Government.
The dualization of the Fiwasaiye/Ilesha Express Road which was awarded by the Agagu Government was a working progress and so is the proposed dualization of Arakale Road in Akure to link up with the Igbatoro/Oda Road and the road leading to Owena Motels and Ondo State Government Secretariat. Several houses along Arakale Road are being pulled down and fully paid for by Government with millions of Naira to make room for the construction. I am also aware that the Oba Adesida Road in downtown Akure is being widened to make room for Park and Ride type of improvisation and to facilitate the flow of traffic in the state capital during peak periods. I have heard about the State Governor’s decision to galvanize grass root support for himself and his Labor Party by joining in the 80th birthday celebration of the pioneer Anglican Bishop of Akure Diocese, retired Rt. Rev. Bolanle Gbonigi and the 90th birthday celebration of the State Iyaloja and the Iyalaje of the Amuludun group of women in Ondo State, the one and only Mrs. Ogunsusi, a priceless jewel of inestimable value with a Midas touch on women issues and involvement in the state. I took time off to observe the Merit Award Lecture delivered by Professor Kole Omotosho of Akure and the posthumous honor accorded some patriotic citizens of Ondo State like late Justice Akinola Aguda, and late Pa Fadayomi, the pioneer founder of the Redeemed Christian Church of God now the fastest growing Church in the world among others. I did not fail to appreciate the honors accorded some surviving Ondo State heroes and heroines and scholars like Professor Dipo Adamolekun, Professor Oluwole and Dr. Meshida to mention a few who have distinguished themselves in Nigeria and eminently deserved the accolades and recognition they were getting from the Peoples’ Governor.
The point here is that Governor Mimiko whose cause I championed with everything I got as a one man battalion when he was fighting tooth and nail to take back his stolen mandate from Obasanjo and Agagu and the PDP, had done a masterful job in good and effective public relations by turning the Labor Party into a political power house to reckon with in Ondo State. I will be the first to admit that. I used to think that Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu Wazabanga of Zaire had no rival in using propaganda to build a cult in make-believe popularity to galvanize or build grass root support for his political machine in Zaire. With what is emerging now in Ondo State under Governor Mimiko and his smooth and dynamic commissioner for information in Ranti Akerele, I believe Governor Mimiko and his Government have dome pretty good and they deserve some commendation which cannot be denied them in all fairness.
What gets me worried, however as a historian and as the pioneer director of Rural Development in Ondo State and as a concerned citizen with some stake in the future of Ondo State is the fact that people may get easily carried away by excessive adulation and praise- singing for the Governor thereby forgetting to ask pertinent questions as needed in a vibrant democratic form of Government. They must not wait till the governor is out of office to start doing their job. Many have wondered aloud where Governor Mimiko has gotten all the money he is spending in an era of austerity in our country. It is a legitimate question to ask and I ask it here in this write-up with all the emphasis at my command because I love and respect the Governor and I want him to succeed. Above all, I love Ondo State and I am not one Nigerian to tell the Governor only what I think he wants to hear, but what he needs to hear loud and clear before it is too late.
Agagu his predecessor was my junior at Ibadan Grammar School. I supported him when he was trying to dislodge Adebayo Adefarati because I thought he was going to do a better job than he did. He proved himself to be a total disaster in office as time went by. I was persuaded he did rig the elections long before the Appeal Court had cause to defrock him because his vote tally just did not add up in that election as far as I was concerned. I challenged Agagu ‘s Government for suppressing the voice of the opposition and using the OSRC/TV to effectively do so.
The same pattern is emerging under Mimiko as we speak, and I am concerned about that. A vibrant opposition such as the one offered by Adelabu Penkelemess against the Awolowo Government in the old West in the 50s were part of the things that kept Awolowo and the Action Group on their toes to perform better. Awolowo as leader of the Opposition in the Federal from 1959 had kept the Balewa Government on their toes and forced Major Chukwuma Nzeogwu and his colleagues to intervene in 1966 before the coup was taken over by Aguiyi Ironsi and his cohorts who did not have the fire in their belly to do what the coup plotters initially set out to do.
Nigerians have a deplorable habit of praising our leaders to death while still in office but deserting them and exposing them only after they leave office. Two or 4 years in office is too short a period to start rushing to judgment or declaring any Governor the Messiah the State has been looking for. A case in point is Gbenga Daniels of Ogun State. His first 4 years in Ogun were very impressive. I cannot say that about his last 4 years, given all that we know about him today. Governor Mimiko like his counterparts in Lagos, Governor Fashola would appear to have started very well going by all we have been privileged to see and observe. There is a lot more going on in Government that many outsiders would never see or clearly understand. Either way, too much praise-singing is likely to do more harm than good, all things considered, because the Governor may now start believing he is a tin god of some kind, and could get away with anything. Power is transient and those who exercise it must be awfully aware of it as Olabode George and Olagunsoye Oyinlola should have found out. A thousand thanksgiving services and huge bribes or donations to God will not do the trick.
Some of the precedents Governor Mimiko is setting today in Ondo State may be very difficult to duplicate or sustain by his successors in that office. The role of Government has to be properly defined and demarcated. Governor Mimiko, by some of the things he is using Government funds to finance or support, does not appear to me to fully understand that distinction or the separation of powers. He may have been using his security vote to do some of those things but I doubt if he is using his personal money to dole out some of the charity money he frequently gives away as loans with no collaterals to guarantee a payback. I see his Government has been giving out loans to market women at random and anybody who will support his Party and Government. The Governor and his handlers would be well served to pay attention to all of these observations before they become a major problem down the road
Need I say more at this pont? I rest my case.