‘Too late to talk about consensus arrangement in Ondo PDP’
Otunba Benson Bamidele Akingboye, an industrialist, is among the contestants for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) ticket for October governorship election in Ondo State. In this interview with OLUWASEUN AKINGBOYE in Akure, he says the state has no reason not to be self-reliant. In this interview, he also speaks on zoning system, consensus option and the challenges the state has faced since its creation 1976
You are contesting at a period when the economy is shrinking. Are you not afraid of the apparent overwhelming task ahead if elected governor?
I’m not at scared at all. I am not afraid, because I love challenges. That is why I have consistently said that we need someone that can think out of the box at these trying moments in the history of the land. The price of crude oil in the international market has tumbled. Therefore, a governor that cannot think clearly to see what to do in order to boost the internally generated revenue of his state is bound to be in a quagmire perpetually. I am propelled by my vision and mission statement already captured in a blueprint designed to buoy the economy of the state and herald a new dawn. Ideas rule the world and they are the catalysts for huge successes being recorded by genuine investors in the real sector of the economy.
I live and do a lot of business transactions in Lagos every day. Dealers in that state sell N300 million worth of timber in form of planks. Do you see any timber plantation or forest in Lagos? No; so why can’t we have the finished products in Ondo State and only market them in Lagos? We just have to use what we have to get what we need. Malaysians make more than $17 billion now every year from the export of palm oil all over the world. Sadly in Ondo State, we are not doing anything tangible that can bring about value addition to the sector towards achieving a similar feat. The rubber industry, cocoa production, cassava cultivation and other arable crops are all begging for attention. We have no excuse to say Ondo State does not have the capacity to generate more than enough Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) to sustain it. We need a governor with business acumen, background and pedigree to harness all these resources. He must be a sane individual that can think outside the box, a governor that is creative and transparent. Right now, I do not think that as an oil-producing state we are getting what we deserve because the largest bitumen deposit has not been tapped. Besides, the state is facing serious ecological issues and not getting the necessary attention from the Federal Government.
The issue of zoning the governorship ticket is dominating the political space right now in the state. Do you share the sentiment that the office should be zoned?
I believe the best material should be put forward in every election. My party would have won the 2016 governorship election in the state but for some acts of indiscretion on the policy of zoning, especially the way it was handled by those in power then. It cost us a well-deserved victory. I believe we have learnt some useful lessons and will allow the best material to lead us to victory at the poll this year. That is why those us from Ondo South Senatorial zone are agitating for the ticket.
An attempt by you and other aspirants from your area to produce a consensus contestant ended in controversy. Don’t you think you need such arrangement now to avoid any slip as a zone?
Number one, let me dismiss certain misinformation about the meeting. The truth was that some people were just looking for cheap popularity in the state. You know, in politics a lot of people tend to play pranks in a deliberate attempt to frustrate others with altruistic intention. Their motive was to edge me out of the race because I am the most serious and reliable contestant. Anyway, I think it is too late for us to say we want to negotiate, because we once tried it and it didn’t work. Let all of us go to the field and test our strength. You don’t have structures in the state; you want to win an election through the backdoor, it will and can never work. Politics is about grassroots.
For you to survive in your business, you must be a good politician. I have been in this trade for 17 years in the state and I am the only person that has run primaries twice and the only person that contested election in the state, and I am the only person that, as at today, has 18 advisory committee of leaders in each of the 18 local government areas of the state; 18 local government coordinators and 203 coordinators in the state as a whole. So, I will work with the grassroots being the only contestant that has structure across board.
What do you intend bringing to the table that could make a difference from what Ondo State has never had in terms of governance and other democratic gains?
If by the grace of God I am elected as the governor, I will be the youngest to serve in that capacity in this state. I am not here to condemn any of our leaders or past governors or even the present governor in the state because they have all done their best. You can only do what you know. From 1976 till date, all our able governors that have served this state have put in their best. I have been an entrepreneur for about 35 years, doing personal business in public and private companies. I have never taken any government contract. I have been doing my own personal business, which is marine dredging, oil and gas and properties.
So, I am coming with enormous resources and will take the state to a marvelous height in the scheme of things. I have travelled all around the world and I have seen what it takes for a country to be developed. I have gone through the bad, good and ugly sides of business.
Generally speaking, Ondo is still not what my state should be. It should be a business-oriented state, investors’ destination, commercial hub of the country and the most viable among the 36 states. We are heavily endowed with mineral resources, human capital and capacity, as well as experienced and brilliant people. All we need to do is to tap into them for the overall benefit of the citizens. I will be pragmatic, focused and forward-looking in my policies and programmes.
For example, the Olokola project has been there for long. I remember a meeting I had with some Britons, who said they were ready to inject about $18 billion in Nigeria. We must revisit it; it is a game changer. Ondo remains the only place in Africa, even in the entire universe, with a virgin 1.47km shoreline. What that means is that nobody has ever touched it. I have travelled all over the world for holidays and I know what people make from such shoreline. I will declare an emergency in that sector and bring the best hands and stakeholders, the best town planners to design the 1.47km shoreline to a paradise.
I am aware that many investors with deep pockets are willing to come to invest in the state. But they are only waiting for a conducive environment where their money and other forms of investment are not imperiled. Many multibillionaires, within and outside Nigeria, will bring their businesses to Ondo State once I become governor, because of my international business connections, coupled with my cordial relationship and partnership with them in business and commerce. I have been to the Philippines. About 20 to 30 million people travel to that country monthly, just to see and feel the beautiful and serene terrain of the islands. We can replicate the trend in Igbokoda, Igbo-Nla and Aiyetoro. These places are beauty to behold. We have natural lakes and islands. We need to open up the tourism and hospitaly sector for the whole world to enjoy. It is when they are fully developed that the whole world will come to Ilaje and Ese-Odo to savour the richness of our culture, tradition and conviviality.
The other thing I will do is in the area of bitumen. The state has eight blocks from the bitumen deposit that is in my backyard and I wonder why this has not be developed. We have more than enough resources to do it. I am already discussing with genuine investors that are interested in developing the sector. I can tell you as the chairman of a maritime company, I have signed a pact with a company in China to develop this but I have told them to hold on because it will cost about $15 billon and I cannot stake that kind of money without being in charge of the state. If we develop it in the southern district, the revenue from it will surpass the current huge revenue Lagos State generates.
I have always said governance is about serious business. Ondo is the only part of Nigeria, nay Africa and even in the entire universe, with a virgin 1.47km shoreline. When I said virgin, it means nobody has ever touched it. I have travelled all over the world for holidays with my family and I know what people make from such shoreline. I will declare emergency in that area and bring the best hands, the best town planners to design the 1.47shoreline to a paradise. If Liberia as a country can declare free education from the primary school to the university level, I see no reason we can’t do same. The only thing we do well here is to read and learn. That’s fantastic and best for development and progress. However, we must complement it with ingenuity, industrialization, and rural integration.
By the time I become governor, this is one of the things I will look at critically, because the basis of success in life is education. When you invest on the education of your children, you are happy to say this is my child. I will look at it critically; we will declare free education from primary to university level. I will look into it because that is the only way we can move on. A lot of money has been squandered and stolen from this country. I don’t want to say it but I might end up declaring free education during my years in office as governor.
My philosophy is this: if a country called Belgium doesn’t plant one seed of cocoa and they are best known for selling the best chocolate in the world, Ghana has stopped exportation of cocoa; they are producing it now. They do at least semi-finished product before taking it out; we have to create employment for our people. We want to go into massive farming.
How do you see your chances of emerging as the candidate of PDP, in the midst of a seeming crowd of contenders for the ticket?
I began this journey 17 years ago and it was not by accident. I have friends across board and I have been working very hard and conscientiously as a young man. I have clear-cut ideas about my mission, vision and the fundamental needs and aspirations of the majority of the people of Ondo State. I have paid and O’m still paying my dues as an entrepreneur and politician with a human face. This is my time, the appointed time by God. I am 100 per cent sure that I will get it. Our people are among the most conscious and sophisticated when it comes to politics. They are wise and know what they deserve as opposed to the difficulties they have been made to pass through over the years, despite the enormous opportunities God has given Ondo State.
Let me state here that I am the first person among the lot to write a letter to my party that I want to run as its candidate and after I have taken my prayers from the state executives and they allowed me to hit the ground running. The truth is that I have passion for this state and for my people. My people cannot be living in abject poverty when we are sitting on wealth. This is the richest state in Africa. I am urging them to vote for an entrepreneur as the governor of this state and they will be happy to know that it is true that business is government and government is business. It is not about speaking good English or collecting free money from Abuja. We need to think out of the box and make our money and boost the Internally Generated Revenue (IGR.) of our state. My word shall be my bond.
To what extent will your promises be your bond with the people, as many are always skeptical because of past experiences?
The only thing I want to say is that my mission is to campaign and work for the good of my people. In the marketplace, if you take your Quran or Bible to preach to people, they will only listen and not do what those holy books says, because there is anger in the land. Jesus cannot come back and start preaching the word; there are still some people that are righteous. I am going to be the Joseph of this state. I will come and save this state from distress. I will work with everybody so that we can run an all-inclusive government.
You should be worried that Ondo State is no longer famous for agriculture, especially large cocoa plantation and bumper harvest. Or do you think otherwise?
We are already looking at policies that will correct all what has gone wrong in the agricultural sector in the state. We will start planting our cocoa back. My philosophy is this: if a country called Belgium doesn’t plant one seed of cocoa and they are best known for selling the best chocolate in the world, then we need to go back to the drawing board to rediscover ourselves as a people. Ghana has stopped exporting cocoa; they are producing it now; they do at least semi-finished product before taking it out. We are capable of achieving such feat and even better and bigger.
We have to create jobs for our teeming population and boost the revenue base of the state, as well as establish industries that will use the huge and diverse human and natural endowments of the state. We want to go into massive farming. We want to be the food basket and the commercial hub of the nation because we have the potential. All that is required to achieve the aim and objective is a leadership imbued with business acumen, vision and conscience.
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