Ondo State Governor, Dr Olusegun Mimiko recently spoke with select journalists in Akure on the need for the nation to hold credible elections next year and if this is to be achieved, Nigerians must get involved in the electoral process. He also called for stiff sanctions for election riggers to ensure that our votes count.
Dr Mimiko spoke on the controversial Fake SSS report and alliance between his party, LP and the ruling PDP on Jonathan’s Presidential ambition. Vanguard’s Dayo Johnson was there. Excerpts:
Can you foresee credible elections in 2011?
Well, I wish I could answer yes or no, but let me say this; one, the issue of voters register is very crucial, it’s very fundamental, so, for me, it’s gratifying that there will be a review of voters register so that the Voters’ Register of Ondo State where you have Goodluck Jonathan and Justice Legbo Kutigi and Michael Tysons of this world would be a thing of the past.
One can only seize this opportunity to appeal to our people that they must come out massively to register during the exercise, and not only to register, there is also a period for claims and objections where INEC by law must display what they have registered.
So it is important for you to go and see and be sure your name is there and to ensure that fictitious names do not appear, so that the Mike Tysons of this world, the Joseph Ayo Babalolas of this world, will no longer appear on the voters’ register of Ondo State, that is very important, for me that is very crucial, that we have a credible Voters’ Register.
Number two, the personnel that will ensure the free and fair election matter to the people.
Who is the INEC Chairman is also important. From all accounts, Professor Attahiru Jega is a man of integrity, he comes from a background of struggle and resistance, so we expect him to be socially sensitive to conduct a free and fair election.
But there are some things that should be clearly spelt out like the role of the Police must be clearly spelt out. What is the role of the police at the polling booth?
A situation, like we had in the last by-election in Ilaje local government area of this State, where a Senator stormed the town with 40 mobile policemen, where somebody, because he is a national officer of the party in power would move from one polling booth to the other with 20 mobile policemen is not acceptable.
Intimidations and harassments of voters cannot give room for free and fair elections in this country. If the police could be made to comport themselves, things will be better unlike the situation where they give cover to all manners of brigands to snatch ballot boxes and all of that.
It is very crucial for all of us to know that our fate depends on free and fair election, so we must get involved in the process that will make it less likely for brigands to take over.
Let me emphasise what Professor Jega said earlier that election riggers must be tried, we must criminalize election rigging, and this must be done before the next general elections, if we must discourage election rigging.
So by and large, in answering the I can’t say yes, I can’t say no, but I want us to get involved, to make the best of the situation that is available to us, to be assured that the more people that get involved, the better, we must define the role of the police, to ensure that government officials don’t use police to intimidate and harass people and anybody that snatches ballot box, for God’s sake, should end up in jail, anybody that in any improper way tries to influence the process must be made to face the law.
The general belief in the Labour Party in Ondo State is that when you scale through the primaries of the party, it is as good as winning in the election because, without being boastful, we’re the largest party in Ondo State.
I am an advocate of internal democracy, I have been a victim of being short changed in terms of internal democracy in political parties, so I have assured our people that, as the leaders of our party in this State, we will ensure there is internal democracy.
This does not mean there can’t be consensus, but consensus must be consensus, but even in the case of consensus, we’ll still go out to vote, to re-affirm the consensus. So we will try as much as possible to ensure internal democracy, because, this is where internal democracy starts as a matter of fact.
Will you say that your Labour Party is having an accord with PDP in respect of President Jonathan’s ambition?
Let me just say this straight away, I am not a member of the National Working Committee of the Labour Party, but in Labour Party like any other party, we are active, there are talks going on, but I will not like to prejudice whatever they are doing at the National Level for now, but I can assure you that we will also be a major player, moving the nation forward in the next election.
What is your view on the INEC’s clarification on re-run election?
Well, the good thing about this democracy is that the courts are always there to adjudicate, if you ask me for my personal view, my view is that I think INEC is right because if you stretch the logic, what they are saying is that a Governor can be there perpetually.
What I mean is this, conduct an election; deliberately create something, then the court rules that there should be a re-run, and then the re-run takes place. But in the course of the re-run, it was rigged, and then another rerun, what it means is that a Governor can be there perpetually .
That couldn’t have been the intention of the law. And I think the position of INEC is that once you are sworn in once, I think that subsists, but I am not a lawyer, I am talking of this, as a political practitioner, who is also a student of history and social happenings around me.
But I’m sure, eventually the court will rule on this, some cases are in the court, let the courts adjudicate, but if I were one of those Governors, I will be preparing for fresh election.
To what will you attribute the new cordiality between the Legislative and Executive arms of the State?
Anybody can say whatever they like, but I know that the people of the Assembly will not want to associate with the Labour Party if we had disgraced ourselves in terms of not meeting anything close to the expectations of our people.
If by now we are unpopular with the people, if by now we cannot deliver on what we promised, nobody would want to touch Labour Party with a long pole. The fact that people are associating with Labour party and the people at the House of Assembly are saying come, these people are doing very well, and if we are here for the interest of the people and in any case, there is factionalization in our party, let’s join these people… Perhaps because the government I’m running is doing well.
Could you throw more light on the allegation of getting verdict at the court through the use of a fake SSS report?
Let me tell the people of Ondo State that there is nothing so called, for me it’s an act of desperation.
We went to the tribunal to challenge Agagu and the PDP that we actually won, that they did not win, then they responded to our petition and they pleaded unequivocally and clearly that in trying to prove that what we said in our petition was false, that they will provide security reports that corroborate the fact they won the election.
We got to the tribunal but they could not produce that security report. Please let us appeal to Agagu and PDP to bring forward this security report that they promised, that they stated clearly in their response to our petition to produce to corroborate the fact that they won. You see, the logic is this, they got the security report but they found out that this was not in their interest then they kept it in the drawer.
But somehow, this security report materialized in the tribunal, and the judges, using their own judicial discretion after cross examination and a subpoena to the Director of SSS to produce this report which they didn’t produce. Will it not be abnormal for SSS to say they had no security report about the election when they were present in every poling booth and every local government? If they deny the existence of the report, then something must be wrong.
But I think Nigerians should ask Agagu, where was the security report that they pleaded so copiously in their petition that they would produce? I think that is where to start.
I understand they petitioned the Presidency, but they should give us, in black and white the security report they said they will produce to corroborate the fact that they won the election.
Three years down the line, after 22 months of Judicial process, with the service of about 10 Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs), they just woke up suddenly to say some reports were faked. But I think that is meant to be a distraction, we will remain focused. Anybody in Ondo State knew what happened in the Southern Senatorial District during the recent by-election into the Ilaje House of Assembly; do you need security reports in that?
Even look at the last election that we had there, the Civil Society Organizations that were accredited by the Presidency to monitor the election, they came out with the report on the level of brigandage put up by PDP, they mentioned PDP’s name, they went further to mention Senator Oguniya, Olusola Oke, Hosea Ehinlanwo as people who came to terrorize the people with policemen. It is in the report; the report is in the Presidency. These people are just looking for a straw to hang on to, but we are on course, it’s meant to be a distraction.
This is why I still insist that credible election is the future of this country. Until we criminalize election rigging, if election riggers are cooling their needs behind the bars then people would know this is serious business: that this is about the lives of people; that this is about the destiny of a nation as a leader of nations. We are a country of 140 million plus, God created Nigeria to be a leader but because we cannot even organize ourselves and produce leaders that will emanate from the will of the people; leaders that will be accountable by virtue of credible elections.
Look at where we are in Nigeria today, graduate unemployment is more than 80 percent, more than eight out of 10 graduates from Nigeria in the last 10 years have no employment. So this is a serious business, this is about our future. And this is why I said initially there must be mass participation and in appealing to the youths of this Nation to rise up like one man.
Credible election is about their future, is about unemployment, is about being gainfully employed, it is about their self worth in the society. And I think we should not spare any effort to ensure we have credible election in Nigeria.
How is Ondo State Government coping with the nation’seconomic situation ?
The issue is purely about planning and priority. To me, it has always been what I call greatest interest of the greatest number of our people. What are the critical areas of need of our people?
Before we started building markets, it never occurred to people the extent of impact we can make on the lives of our people, it hardly ever occurred to many people as a priority that majority of our women everyday interface with market, and one way to boost commercial activities is actually to have good decent market structures for our people. For me, this is a priority area and we are investing in it.
Roads will always be a priority, and talk about education for example, actually for me, this is a key to the future, the instrument of bridging the gap between the rich and the poor. Quality education is the only way through which the majority of our people who are wallowing in poverty can escape from generational poverty by acquiring quality education, so for me, this priority. Creation of jobs.
In spite of resources, looking at the balance of probability, we have employed people. We are going to resuscitate Akunnu Cattle ranch for example and we hope to be able to gainfully employ a lot of people. We are working on an Agric Village in Ore, we are going to work on another Agric Village in the central zone to be able to use agriculture and agro-allied industries to create jobs for people, so it’s a matter of priority.
And one other thing is that we also look at our cash flow projections so that we don’t start any project that we will not be able to finish. We also have some encumbrances, we inherited some projects, some of them may not have been our priority, but because government is a continuum, we also plan for all these projects to continue. So it’s a matter of deliberate planning, not the type of planning that will take ten years.
Can you tell us some of the efforts of your administration at taking Ondo State to the next level in the last one and half years?
Thank you for this opportunity to tell our people what we are doing, our challenges and further raise hope. Like Ialways say, we thank God for where we are.
One thing is very clear and this reverberated throughout the Sallah period at different prayer ground that God has given us peace, though we have some challenges, security challenges, but overall, we have peace in this land.
People, to a large extent, have gone about their normal business without being molested by street gangs and all manners of brigands that took over almost all the streets in the past. That, for me is a major, major achievement.
In every sector, we have tried as much as possible to impact on the lives of our people. We’ve put together programmes; packages targeted at people. One clear example that you know is the Mother and Child Hospital.
But we started operation in March, and till date, the Mother and Child Hospital has taken over 2000 deliveries, 20 per cent of them through caesarean section. As a matter of fact, in the last two months, an average of 15 deliveries is taken per day.
In all, Mother and Child have taken care of over 15, 000 people. All these have attracted national attention to what we are doing here. For example, University College Hospital (UCH) Ibadan is thinking of designating Mother and Child Hospital as a Training Centre, because of the processes. And that is just part of the Abiye (Safe motherhood) programme of our Administration.
In the pilot programme, when we started, we found out through survey that only 16 per cent of registered pregnant women in this State end up delivering in those facilities where they registered which means almost 84 percent of them deliver in faith homes and other weird places.
When we started the pilot programme in Ifedore local government area, we registered 1,250 patients, it is very gratifying to tell you that few months down the line, 800 of them have delivered safely in the provided facilities . We have upgraded the facilities and provided ambulance services empowered the pregnant women with free cell phones which are toll free with which they can contact Health Rangers, their doctors and others.
Let me add that we are replicating this Abiye project in other parts of the State; we are building more hospitals, Mother and Child Hospitals across the state. And on Urban Renewal, asides the NEPA Caring Heart Neighbourhood Market, go to Isikan in Akure today, you see the holistic urban renewal that is going on there, we’re not only building modern market with modern facilities, we’re also doing channelization of the drain there, we are really renewing that place. To me, we are only impacting our people positively and that really makes me happy.
And by the time I was talking to you in February that was about the 3Is initiative, (Institution, Infrastructure and Industrialization) that is our community development programme.
We started with Quick Win projects in 80 pilot communities and because of clamour from every corners that they want such replicated in their communities, we had to scale up and now we are working in 150 additional communities and, my information, as I am speaking with you is that the Needs Assessment had been completed and the real project implementations started and very soon, we willl commission those projects to make 230 projects at the community levels, again, you need to visit these communities to see the impact of what we are doing.
In February, I was talking about Quality Assurance Agency in the Education sector, and it was like just a theoretical framework. In those days, anytime inspectors will visit a school, everyone would be on his/her toes, but they are no more, the Quality Assurance Agency is meant to bring inspection back to the Education sector. We have created the Agency and have formally launched it which is the first of its kind in this country; the Quality Assurance Agency which will impact on education. We saw the result of General Certificate of education (GCE), 25 per cent of our people nationwide only passed 5 subjects including English and Mathematics.
We have also embarked on massive rehabilitation of schools, mega school concepts are still on going, in the next two or three weeks, we’ll flag off mega school in Okitipupa, in Ikare and very soon we’ll flag off Mega School in Ondo. We are doing all these because we believe education is very key to the future, if we’re talking about development without talking about education, we’re deceiving ourselves.
And on Infrastructure, we inherited a lot of road projects from the previous administration; there is not one road that we inherited that we have abandoned. As a matter of fact, we still keep paying contractors, the problem we have; with some of the contractors is the quality of jobs that they execute.
For example look at the Owo Junction – Fiwasaye Road, well to be a bit fair, they have improved a bit. When we came in, these people, I mean the contractors, had no equipments and like I said, when we got to the road, it was like a block-making industry, they had no equipment, but these people have been paid 50 per cent, all we did was to redesign the road, for instance, the drainage, we increase the depth of the drainage, we incorporated a round about and we’ve been paying contractors, there’s not one road that we’ve abandoned, we’ve kept paying contractors and work is going on all over the state and we are even awarding new roads.
We have also done so much in Agriculture; we’ve started the e-mobile agriculture. As I speak with you now, the Bank of Industry in partnership with Ondo State Government, we have giving a whopping sum of 2 billion naira as soft credit to small scale industry.
On job creation, we are doing a whole lot, in the six years of the last administration, they never employed anybody, there was this thing they called embargo on employment; we have since lifted that embargo, between the last time we spoke and now, in the core civil service, hospital management board, we have employed over one thousand people and we also have 1, 500 youths under our Volunteer Scheme, as Traffic Control Officers, Waste Management Control Officers, 1,500 youths, usefully engaged.
And in the mainstream service, recently, we did a sensitization workshop for a group of young people, because when we look at the service structure, it is top heavy because for more than six, seven years, fresh people have not been brought in so every body is up there without level 8 and 9 officers at the base. We’re doing a whole lot to bringing in new generation civil servants.