Talking Point

June 23, 2009

Mimiko’s burden

By Rotimi Fasan
A COUPLE of weeks ago, Olusegun Mimiko, the Governor of Ondo State marked his 100 days in office and he listed among his achievements the execution of a few capital projects:

The on-going construction of a multi-million Naira Mother and Child Satellite Hospital, the construction of two housing units in Akure and Oba-Ile, and the establishment of neighbourhood markets to halt the menace of street trading, etc, etc.

The government also set aside the sum of N50 million to be disbursed as soft loan to traders across the State.  These are very modest achievements indeed. There might be little to quarrel with, though, about the performance of an administration that came into office barely four months ago, in the wake of the failure of an administration with a capacity far less than is needed to run a local council.

But there is definitely much being expected from a popular politician, a governor and a government, whose emergence was preceded with promises of better times for the people.

In addition to its lacklustre performance, the Agagu government operated on a stolen mandate for two of the six years it spent in office. This was the view of many in Ondo State.

That view, happily, was shared by the Electoral Tribunal that sacked Agagu’s government and restored Mimiko’s mandate to him in Benin earlier this year.

The point really was that Ondo State had come to a cul-de-sac under the immediate past administration, and the people were in desperate need of a change after Agagu’s first term.

But that change was not to be, no thanks to the irregularities that marked the election, where names of prominent and notorious Nigerians, not indigenes of Ondo State, and foreigners featured on ballots as participants in the election.

It would take the revelation by MEND (one early indication that the group had missed its way) that it was being owed some half a billion Naira for helping to rig the election in favour of the PDP government in the State before other Nigerians would have an inkling of the fraud committed against the people of Ondo State.

MEND threatened to make the state ungovernable for the government if it did not pay up and made good on that threat by abducting a senior member of the administration.

That episode with MEND was faithfully highlighted in this column under the title MENDing Agagu’s skeleton. That was two years ago.

Now Mimiko has had his mandate restored, and it is as much a measure of the level of support the Ondo State people had in him as a politician and their disenchantment with the Agagu administration, that they voted for the Labour Party, a fringe party that had no solid base in Nigeria as a whole to say nothing of Ondo State.

One might even theorise that the marginality of the Labour Party was the reason Adams Oshiomole, labour activist and former NLC President now Governor of Edo State, chose to stand for election on the platform of the Action Congress.

Today, Ondo State is unique as the only state under the control of a party purportedly established to champion the interest of the masses of the people of Nigeria.

Given the present reality that political parties in Nigeria lack any serious form of ideological grounding separating them, one from another, personal performance is the only meaningful index left by which to judge any politician.

And it is on that basis rather than the ideology of the Labour Party that I and, I imagine, the people of Ondo would assess Mimiko in the fullness of time.

He came into office with a lot of goodwill, a goodwill which extended beyond Ondo State as was evident when he made a late appearance, days after being sworn-in, at the Obafemi Awolowo Centenary Lecture that was delivered by Professor Wole Soyinka at the NIIA in March.

Looking at him with his present Commissioner of Information, Ranti Akerele, who was between the mid 1980s to the early 1990s one of the rising presenters on the Ondo State Radiovision Corporation, I could see Ondo State entering a new phase with a new crop of leaders.

Which would seem to increase the expectation on Mimiko, a politician who rose through the ranks, in the grassroots of Ondo politics, becoming commissioner twice, secretary to the government of Ondo State and eventually minister under the Obasanjo government.

Yet, a few incidents have given me worries about the direction in which the government is headed. It is not so much what it has done as what it has not done.

These incidents have been reinforced by the LP/PDP violent clash and the abduction of wives of two members of the government, a permanent secretary and a commissioner, last week.

The first and last time we heard of abductions of this kind was the one involving MEND two years ago.

Prior to this the Governor came into office battling local government chairmen who came into office in controversial circumstances. The matter is still in court.

Then came the constant baiting by the PDP opposition. In all, the administration seems to be taking too long settling down, much time responding to the PDP and far less time at work.

These are distractions it would do well to avoid if it is to execute its mandate. No less confusing is the rationale for the appointment of 22 commissioners, up from eighteen, in a “middle-income” state with but 18 local government areas. Can the work begin now, Governor Mimiko?