Governor Olusegun Mimiko speaks on Ondo State home grown Mother and Child Hospital recently adopted by the World Bank as a model to stem infant and maternal mortality in Africa. Mimiko also sheds light on the state’s Agricultural Villagers and mega schools, and says his administration is bridging the class gap in Ondo.
How do you feel about the Labour Party, the fact that Ondo is the only state where it has a governor and its role in Nigeria in general?
I feel challenged. The challenge is first to prove that we are not Labour Party by name but that we represent the true value of social democracy which is the foundation of Labour Party. I feel challenged that as a truly democratic party, every decision we make must reflect the interest of our people so that we can convey the tenets of social democracy to real active programme in the society.
We want to create a new template for ideological content of politics in Nigeria. It is a one in a lifetime opportunity and we are not ready to let it slip by. Part of it is that the choice we make will always be tied to the society.
Government is about making wise choices on behalf of the people; it is about creating programmes that will have overall effect and trajectory that would have impact on the whole community. We believe in LP as the progressive wing of politics in Nigeria.
You can discern ideology from the choice people make, it takes ideological conviction to make the kind of decisions we took in the health sector, it takes ideological conviction to see the connection between the woman in the remotest part of the state and the delay she goes through to access medicare and doing something about it.
It takes commitment to social re-engineering to build world class health facilities and make them available to the less privileged at no cost to them. You need to see the schools we are building to appreciate the fact that we are fast bridging the class gap in Ondo State and creating new opportunities for those in the lower rungs of the society ladder.
There is the belief that there is a gang-up against your party as being spearheaded by the Action Congress of Nigeria. How do you react?
In this game, there are possibilities. Things come up but I have learnt in the course of my engagement politically over time that you will win if you are with the people and using the machinery of power to serve the interest of the people.
We came into this state twenty two months after we won the election. And since we came on board, we have never forgotten that ultimately it is the people that matter. So, whatever gang-up exists, God will see us through?
Is it possible to be on the side of the elite and be on the side of the masses at the same time?
When you talk about being on the side of the elite, then you must define the elite. There are those who, by virtue of their education and professional calling, are the elite. They are different from the rapacious elite whose focus is taking from the society without giving nothing in return.
If the desire of the elite is to have an environment that will create the right ambience for self actualisation, then I am all for it but if the goal is to take advantage of the disequilibrium and to the disadvantage of the masses, then I am ready to be at the top of my act to resist that.
Where is the connection between these lofty ideals and your involvement in agriculture?
At inauguration, we said we will use agriculture as an instrument of job creation, of food security, and as well an avenue to provide raw material for industrialization. We will be deceiving ourselves today if we fail to recognize that our greatest challenge today is mass unemployment, critical graduate unemployment and a mismatch between what we are able to produce and what we need; a mismatch between curriculum and employable graduates.
It is a whole complex problem. What is beyond doubt is that we must tackle unemployment if Nigeria must remain in peace and as a nation. Again, if we look at how to confront unemployment, we have to look at areas of relative advantage. One such clear area is fertile land.
For us, the most critical area of employment generation is agriculture. The challenge however is how we recreate farming to encourage young graduates and convince them of the possibility of sustainable living from it. As a way out, we have moved beyond routine support to farmers like provision of improved varieties of seedlings, fertilizers, chemicals, cutlasses and training and extension services.
We believe we must create a new generation of farmers and our approach is to recourse to a well planned system of farming called Agriculture Villages, which are marked improvements over the farm settlement initiated by the revered Papa Awolowo.
The Ore Agricultural Village, the first of the first batch of villages, has 250 fish ponds, more than 24,000 birds in the poultry and more than 1,500 hectares of cultivated arable land.
The farm in Epe, in the central senatorial district, is almost completed; same for the one in Auga-Akoko in the north senatorial district. We call them Agricultural Villages while indeed they qualify to be called cities because all that is needed for quality life is provided: modern residence for the farmers with modern ICT systems; all equipment for mechanized farming and ready market for products.
In Ore, over 1,000 graduates are working as participant owners of the farms. The concept of participant ownership is to encourage total commitment and it is working as the enthusiasm of the graduate farmers can attest. One interesting thing about the Auga farm is that it combines crop farming, fish farming and a ranch.
Cocoa was a great money spinner in the western region, but cocoa farming has since become a preserve of old and tired hands. Even existing trees are old and not much is being done to replace them. Are you thinking in that direction at all?
We have a cocoa revamp programme. Essentially, it is about replacing old plantation with new hybrid crop. We also are planning to create new plantations. One of the challenges we have had is about convincing people to cut down their old trees and plant new ones.
But we will get round it. In the next budget, we plan to create a buffer fund for those who will accept to cut down old plantations to plant new plantations.
Ondo State is known for its rich cultural heritage. What have you been able to do to promote it as a money spinning venture?
When you talk about culture, you talk about how people used to live, about their value system, about things that they do about themselves, about their responses to the environment overtime. That is why from people’s culture, you can actually discern their level of civilization.
We have had the misfortune of going through colonial rule in Africa and you know what it does to the mind. There was a deliberate policy of the colonial masters to make you forget the past. Because if you don’t know where you are coming from, you cannot appreciate where you should be. Colonialism creates a slavish mentality in the subject.
It was not a policy that propelled the subjects to want to be the best globally. So, we believe that for us to recreate the type of psyche that will be able to drive the government, we must look back at our rich cultural heritage and see how we can leverage on what we used to do in the past. We are looking at how we can leverage on our heritage to free our mind.
That is why we are investing in culture. Apart from the short term benefits, it is a money spinner in the long term. We have paid the right attention to the State Cultural Troupe such that it has posted unprecedented results in the last two years.
We excelled at the 2010 Abuja Carnival, represented Nigeria at the South Africa Dance Carnival the same year and just returned from Brazil as the representative of Nigeria in Sao Paulo.
Two years ago, you had Mare Festival. There seems to be a…
We have upped the ante in Idanre and have had two successful festivals of culture and tourism tagged ‘Mare,’ with potentials for huge return on investment. Mare is leveraging on geographical and topographical realities in Idanre.
It is leveraging on nature’s free gift, there are not too many places like Mare, it is a natural city and it is completely surrounded by very exotic hills. We thought we should get the attention of the world to these exotic places, look for some ways to package and bring in international cultural competitions. The whole idea is to redirect the attention of the world to Idanre.
There are some other natural endowments that can be sources of attraction for tourism. What are you doing about them?
There are other rich cultural heritage we want to expose to the world. For example, the just concluded Igogo Festival in Owo, the costume and the cultural elegance is what we want the world to see. But we want to take them one at a time.
Ultimately, we hope to have more private entrepreneurs involved as we want to make Ondo State one of Nigeria preferred destinations for tourism.
There was a time CHAMS got you involved in the production of some Fagunwa Plays. There was the impression that Ondo State will sponsor the next one. What happened?
It is supposed to be a partnership between CHAMS and Ondo State government. We have indicated our interest. We are waiting for CHAMS to fix a date. It is a partnership that will take the state to the forefront in the promotion of literature and theatre in particular. Our commitment remains the same
On sports, Sunshine Stars, owned by Ondo State, is doing well in the Premier League…
It is not Sunshine Stars alone. I don’t want to sound boastful but I have to say we are the best football state in Nigeria today and this can be empirically