What informed your decision to join the governorship contest barely three months to the election when many people thought you were no longer interested in the race?
It is true that I came into the race relatively late but don’t forget I was a minister of the Federal Republic and I needed clearance from my principal before venturing into the race. I only entered the race when I received that clearance.
Did it ever cross your mind that you could be defeated, a situation that could have serious implications on your political career?
Not really! I wouldn’t have gone into the race if I wasn’t sure of eventual victory. But I knew there were going to be several hoops to jump on the journey. Certainly, if I had lost, it would have been seen as a huge negative on my political career. I learned a lot from the experience which exemplified the value of adequate preparation and strategic planning.
What were some of the challenges you experienced?
I actually faced many challenges but I saw them as opportunities. For example, there were many of my political associates who naturally would’ve been expected to be in my corner but who went in search of other pastures, either in the belief that I was unlikely to run or because they got irresistible offers from other camps. There was the issue of the kangaroo panel hurriedly set up to indict me by the Governor (Ayodele Fayose) in order to stop me from running which had a demoralising effect on party faithful. There was the issue of my purported intellectual aloofness against the notion that only a candidate fully subscribed to Fayose-like populism could challenge the PDP. I also had limited resources to finance a short but intensive campaign. But as I said, all these were converted to opportunities. Many young Turks, who were not seen to be first eleven, used the exit of some veteran politicians from my camp to develop and prove themselves as dependable workhorses. I also had advantages in sustaining the party structure since leaving office in 2014, running with a known track record of performance in office and also recent record of election management in neighbouring Ondo State. So, it wasn’t all bad.
How prepared are you to manage labour crisis since you are taking over power from a government that owed workers, a backlog of about six months of unpaid salaries?
During the campaigns, I gave a pledge that we would try and clear the backlog as soon as possible, preferably between six months and a year.
We do not know enough about the finances of the state yet and it would be irresponsible to count chickens before they are hatched. Once we get in, we will undertake a forensic review of the state, including a staff audit and that will give us a more accurate picture of the finances and where to get money to offset outstanding liabilities. I believe our genuine, long suffering workers and pensioners will cooperate with us in addressing this issue.
What are the things you would do differently this time?
I don’t know why I always get asked this question. There is no objective observer of Ekiti who ever said we didn’t do well in office. On the contrary, every serious minded assessor concluded we did very well in pushing our agenda of making poverty history in the state.
There was no community that we didn’t impact in a tangible manner in the course of our time in office. Equally, independent statistics from NBS, UNDP confirmed that when we left Ekiti in 2014, the state had the lowest maternal and child mortality, lowest HIV prevalence, the highest school enrolment and the longest life span in the country. One area that I admit we must work on is style rather than substance of governance. We are in an age where the works you do in the service of the people don’t often speak for you. You have to shout on the rooftop in order to ensure that people know what you’re doing. This I find somewhat problematic but I guess we must find the right balance between quiet efficiency and cheap populism. The important point is that we must not leave our people guessing. We must engage our people and ensure we do development with them and not to them and also ensure we communicate at every opportunity. That’s one of the key lessons of our past stewardship.
What agenda will you be pursuing this time round?
We used to have what was popularly known as the Eight-Point Agenda which we pursued religiously. We will still address all the issues captured in that agenda but we will concentrate a lot more on four drivers in this four-year term, we will focus on agriculture and rural development; expanding social investments; promoting knowledge economy, and improving infrastructure and industrial development. It is our expectation that the State Development Plan, which was developed in 2011, can be reactivated and reenergised, having been abandoned by the last administration.
How do you intend to boost the state IGR?
We did a lot in improving internally generated revenue in my last term in office. We did this by deploying technology as well as focusing on the informal sector where a lot of tax avoidance is prevalent. There was also a significant boost in mining contribution to the GDP during my period as minister. I do have a track record for expanding the tax net without overburdening the ordinary citizens. We shall be exploring a whole range of options that can help boost our IGR whilst improving the ease of doing business in the state, including the elimination of multiple taxation. In the last four years, many key investors like Coca Cola, GTB and Ecobank left the state because of unfriendly investment policies and practices. We will embark on a massive investment drive.
Will you probe the financial transactions of the outgoing government?
I have said that Ekiti people are entitled to know what transpired in government in the last four years. I don’t call that a probe even though I understand the journalistic sentiment for the sensational and the outlandish by focusing on semantics and not substance. Again, I repeat: we will review the state of the state.
What economic challenges does the state still face and how do you plan to address them?
Ekiti is a rustic, landlocked rural backwater. Geography can play a positive or a negative role in the development of any state or nation depending on the use we put Geography to. It needs not therefore be a death sentence because it is a landlocked state. There is no gain saying the fact that a key vehicle for rapid transformation is the opening up of these rural backwaters through an effective internal and interlinking transport infrastructure. Interestingly, it is well positioned right in the middle between Abuja and Lagos and could provide an effective terminus on that journey. So, that’s a challenge that we must overcome and we started this during my first term in office. With the coming of the rail extension to Ekiti and our determination to reduce the journey time to Akure airport by dualising the Ado Ekiti-Akure road whilst improving on the fibre optic link in the state – something we also started in my first term – I’m sure our job is cut out for us. Investments will come to the state once we have addressed these challenges relating to ease of doing business for those bringing investments to the state. We plan to address the impediments against economic growth by also investing in the people and strengthening human capital through functional education andpromotion of Ekiti as a hub of the knowledge economy, enhancing social investments whilst strengthening the agricultural base for food and job security.
Many people have accused you of running an elitist government during your first term. What are we to expect this time?
What is elitist about free and compulsory education for children up to senior secondary schools or social security benefit for the indigent elderly citizens? On the contrary, my government during my first term, was people centric and people driven. Our budgets were drawn up in a bottom-top manner after extensive consultations with all the communities in the state and projects drawn from these communities. We are a social democratic, left of centre party and our people should expect the same people-driven policies that we believe will help lift our people out of poverty. In terms of what we will likely do differently, we definitely will communicate and communicate and communicate all the time about what we are doing. During the first term, we felt our work should speak for us but we learned a tough lesson. Now, we would speak at every opportunity about our deeds.
What’s your take on the stomach infrastructure? This seemed to be an effective governing policy in the last four years.
I find it utterly contemptuous and disrespectful of Ekiti people. It has significantly diminished our brand in the public eye. Our social investment programme is geared towards lifting our people out of poverty without making them lose their sense of self worth. That’s why it is important to me that we reclaim our land and restore our values. It seems to me that the outgoing government was more interested in promoting poverty in perpetuity instead of helping to lift our people out of misery. So, I do not intend to retain the structure.
Until May this year, you were the Minister of Mines and Steel Development. How would you use your exposure at the federal level to help Ekiti State?
You will notice that I’ve gone round my old colleagues in the federal cabinet to solicit their assistance for Ekiti since I emerged victorious in the election. We have received very positive responses from them and we are looking forward to a profitable working relationship with many of these ministries and agencies. Besides, unlike my first term when I didn’t fully understand the inner workings of the Federal Government, I’m certainly at an advantage now and I intend to put this to good use on behalf of our people.
Would you say that the playing field has changed since you entered politics?
I think so. I think the citizens are better informed and more demanding of their politicians. The field is also gradually witnessing a lot more professionals in politics and the weeding out of what I call professional politicians – those who see politics as business and not as service. Also, elections are more keenly contested and the votes count a lot more than when I came into politics in the mid 2000.
The recent elections in Ekiti and Osun have shown that the votes are real unlike in the days when figures were just written and landslide victories declared. I believe this will help change our winner takes all mentality and encourage the dawn of coalition politics in the country.
What are the most significant personal and professional decisions you had to make to get to where you are now?
Well, I think it’s only fair to talk first about choices made for me by my parents which had lifelong impact. For example, my strict catholic upbringing is still very impactful in my life. Two, I could have gone to high school in Ibadan where I was born and grew up but I was sent to boarding school in Ado Ekiti and this deepened my connection to my native Ekiti. My involvement in democracy and human rights activism also broadened my horizon beyond the cloistered life of an ivory tower academic and brought me in close contact with the leading lights in the human rights and democracy struggles.
Inevitably, the likes of Professor Wole Soyinka, Chief Antony Enahoro, Ken Saro Wiwa, Alao Aka Bashorun, Beko Ransome Kuti, General Alani Akinrinade, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, John Oyegun became my mentors and teachers while I was in my 20s. My decision to return to Nigeria immediately after the demise of General Sani Abacha and the establishment of the Center for Democracy and Development also brought me in contact with policy makers and politicians early on. So, all of these personal and professional decisions must have contributed to my life’s journey so far.
This article was first published in The Punch newspaper
Source: Ekiti State News
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