Akeredolu and the dawn of new realities in Ondo State
Unlike the fiery speech of his predecessor, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko eight years ago, the inaugural address of the new governor of Ondo State, Oluwarotimi Odunayo Akeredolu SAN, delivered moments after his inauguration last Friday in Akure, was largely devoid of the motivational ingredients that could move a crowd to a frenzy.
Speaking at the same venue and on the same podium barely 24 hours after securing a favourable judicial pronouncement, Mimiko, with blazing eyes and clenched fists, told a mammoth crowd of Ondo State citizens that stood with him during a 22-month legal tussle, “I will work for you.”
The ecstatic crowd responded as one man and hailed their new hero who also pledged to know them one by one and their individual places of abode saying, “Henceforth, your problems will be my problems and I promise to carry them for you. Nobody will go to bed on an empty stomach in this state again. No child will cry of hunger. A new era of posterity has come. I will work for you.”
Riding on a wave of unprecedented popularity that was almost of cult-like dimension, Mimiko successfully created an impression that with his emergence as the governor, all the troubles bedeviling the polity will be automatically removed thereby raising peoples expectations to an all-time high.
He announced that unlike others before him, he would be in office to serve and serve only. For a start, he declared that as the peoples’ governor, nobody should prefix his name with high-sounding titles. He preferred to be addressed simply as “Mr. Governor.”
Indeed Mimiko’s and the peoples’ optimisms were not unfounded. As at the time of his taking over the levers of government, the economy of Ondo State was in a state of buoyancy with about 70 percent of annual budget servicing capital expenditure, a liquid cash of over N38 billion in the coffers and several multi-billion investments that were yielding good returns.
The administration of Dr. Olusegun Agagu that unceremoniously dropped the baton for Mimiko, had embarked on other multi-billion naira projects including the construction of a brand new university at Okitipupa, a Stadium at Akure, a multi-billion-naira water reticulation project at Igbara-Oke. For these projects, the state had deposited fifty percent mobilization fees for the contractors to guarantee completion. There were also great expectations from the multi-billion dollar Olokola mega projects along the coast, which included a refinery, deep-sea port, fertilizer plant and many others.
To underscore the effect of Mimiko’s speech and the “open door policy” of the new administration, immediately after the inauguration, hundreds of residents trooped to the Government House, located on a hilly part of Akure metropolis. A sizable number of the crowd made their way to the kitchen where they had culinary experiences reserved only for the privileged view while marveling at the opulence of the place.
Many of them, especially politicians who supported the new governor and were expecting to be rewarded with appointments, physically took residence at the Government House while some seized government cars from fleeing political office holders of the last administration, claiming that ‘our government has come.’
Realizing it had a problem at hand, it took several radio announcements laced with subtle threats and persuasions for government to retrieve the vehicles and dislodge hundreds of youths who always gathered at the Governor’s Office every morning to do nothing but hail their governor and follow his convoy around as he went about carrying their problems for them.
Of course it also took a while for people to realize that they were only put on a roller coaster oiled by the powerful oratory of a professional politician and that all those who play the game of politics, with a few exceptions, are only after power acquisition, using the people as the ladder to ascend a comfortable nest where the very essence of the whole exercise namely, bringing development to the land and the people, is often jettison in favour of self-aggrandizement.
Eight years down the lane, the socio-economic problems that Mimiko promised to fix have become worst with high unemployment and non-payment of workers’ salaries and allowances becoming new factors of hunger in a famished population. While the people are the only one bearing the brunt of a recessed economy, those in government created new highbrow neigbouhoods at the back of the Government House where multi-million naira mansions, owned largely by them, have sprung up.
A new Government House, described by those who have been there as more in opulence than the one which gates were flung open in 2009 has also been built.
Although the blame of economic recession and lower standard of living cannot be put entirely on the shoulder of Mimiko’s administration being direct fallouts of graft, revenue downturn and sheer incompetence of governments at all levels, critics blamed the former governor for his unbridled politicking, which many times took more of his attention than development issues.
Perhaps that was the reason why the biggest statement made by Ondo electorate in the election of Akeredolu last November 26, was the rejection of professional politicians who are capable of creating through the power of the tongue, an attractive option that at the end of the day, will disappear on approach like a mirage.
Before and during the campaigns that heralded the election, Akeredolu, though a second-timer in the quest to occupy the Alagbaka House seat of government, was generally seen as a professional in politics rather than a professional politician whose words majority of the people now take with a pinch of salt.
A former president of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Akeredolu by attitude, especially his blunt remarks on issues without minding whose ox is gored, does not possess the qualities of an average politician who, in a bid to convince the people, says things that are sweet to the ears.
Although Olusola Oke, who resuscitated the Alliance for Democracy (AD) to contest the election, is a lawyer of reputable standing, his main vocation, for which he is known and on which mainly he has been presenting himself for service to the people, right from the aborted Third Republic when he was elected as a member of the House of Representatives, is politics.
While the same cannot be said of Eyitayo Jegede SAN, candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) who only surfaced on the political scene when he was appointed as Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice by Mimiko, the antecedents of the latter, who played godfather to Jegede’s ambition, is enough to exclude him from the list of professionals in politics.
The former governor once described by his younger brother and Professor of Political Economy, Femi Mimiko, in an interview with The Guardian as a ‘dye-in-the-wool politician,’ is a man gifted with the power of mass mobilization and conviction who, for most parts of Nigeria’s current political dispensation, bestrode Ondo like a Colossus.
Although unlike Mimiko’s February 24, 2009 speech that moved the crowd to frenzy, Akeredolu’s inaugural address was not as drab as some analysts would want people to believe because it brought “a message of hope, a clear agenda of prosperity and a vision of life abundant.”
Akeredolu told a rich gathering that reflect a possible new chapter in South West and national politics that the people of the state should look forward to a new dawn of possibilities and greater heights in the delivery of dividends of democracy.
He urged the people not to be bogged down by the despondency of the present economic downturn that manifested in several months of salary backlog, infrastructure decay and high unemployment rate and create an optimistic spirit that would take the state out of the woods.
According to him, “We can rise out of this dust and build a new Ondo state where honesty, prosperity and confidence can once again be our self-identity. We can pull ourselves by the bootstraps and shake off our current frustrations and disappointments. We must recognize the need for a cohesive platform, indispensable to an effective and efficient implementation of policies and programmes of both government and party, respectively.”
However unlike Mimiko who seemed to have been carried away by the euphoria of the moment to make heaven-on-earth promises that raised peoples’ expectations beyond the ordinary, Akeredolu in his speech titled “Journey to Redemption,” told the people that the road would not be smooth and that they must be ready to make sacrifices with hopes that light will shine at the end of the tunnel.
He said, “Make no mistake about it; our journey to redemption will not be without stress and undulating curves. There are mountains before us to climb. As we climb up these steep mountains. Sometimes we may trip or slip, we will get back up. We will focus on the journey. We will never stop. We will never stop. We will never stop. In the end we will reach our goal, which is to bring back jobs to our youths, food to families, safety, confidence and prosperity to this land.”
Akeredolu promised a new direction in governance having identified not only the people but also government’s attitudes as clogs in the wheel of progress saying, “We shall not subject ourselves to any specious and unproductive stereotypes, which find expression in the usual egregious celebration of the passage of time spent in office as achievement. We will be too busy to notice the pace of the itinerary of the administration.”
He lamented the socio-economic realities hampering development and put the blames “not in our stars but in ourselves that our fortunes have dwindled, considerably, and we have become underlings. We have transited, regrettably, from a producing economy to a basically consumptive society, which depends, almost solely, on handouts to survive. The resultant effect of this unproductive attitude is grinding poverty, desperation and hopelessness among our people.”
With a blunt speech devoid of the sweet talk of a professional politician, Akeredolu has lived up to his public image of a no-nonsense administrator that could bring a new lease on government without the rhetoric of a politician in power. The new governor is expected to act like a statesman who thinks about the next generation rather than the next election, a virtue that is always scarce whenever professional politicians are in power.
Apart from the circumstances of their emergence as governors, where one went through an excruciating legal battle to retrieve a mandate and the other not having even one suit challenging his victory at the polls, analysts also point to the different socio-economic milieu that produced them.
Unlike Mimiko, Akeredolu inherited a prostate economy and a government burdened by seven-month workers’ salary arrears apart from indebtedness in loans and other contractual obligations, the details of which have not been made public by the new administration. Besides the number of unemployed youths has increased tremendously and expectations from Federal Allocation have dropped to an extent that the continuity of the state as an entity is being threatened.
With a clear vision of the direction to be followed and focusing on human and physical developments instead of trying to curry the favour of the high and the low through politicking and sustenance of political power, Akeredolu should be able to take the state to a new level.