By Vincent Obia
“Nicknames stick to people, and the most ridiculous are the most adhesive,” the British politician, judge, and author, Thomas Chandler Haliburton (1796-1865), once said. For the Ondo State Governor, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko, the nickname “Iroko”, which literally means hardwood, has not only stuck, but has also charted the course of his politics since it was fastened upon his person decades ago. The moniker has literally become his personality, as he has always tried to guard against malleability in his political beliefs. It has so far turned out to his advantage.
Mimiko, 58, again lived up to his nickname penultimate Saturday, as he won a re-election on his Labour Party platform by a landslide, against the expectations of many. It was not that people nursed any doubts about his victory in the governorship poll that was keenly contested by Mr. Rotimi Akeredolu of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and Chief Olusola Oke of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the ruling party at the federal level. But being the odd man out in the political equation of the South-west, where other states are governed by ACN, and contesting against the candidate of the party that controls the federal government, many had expected that Mimiko might just win by a lean margin.
The fierce electioneering of ACN, which mobilised enormous resources into its war chest from across the South-west to fight the election that its national leader, Senator Bola Tinubu, had seemed to take as a personal battle to avenge his “alleged betrayal” by Mimiko, did not make the contest any easy for the Ondo-born medical doctor. But he emerged tops at the poll against all odds, giving the ACN leader a bloody nose.
Mimiko secured an early lead, beating the ACN candidate even at his own polling unit, and maintained the lead, which continued to widen as the compilation of the results progressed. It was a sweet relief for the governor who had invested nearly two years of electoral litigation to secure his mandate and assumed office on February 23, 2009 after the April 14, 2007 governorship election. The Independent National Electoral Commission had declared the then incumbent Governor Olusegun Agagu of PDP winner in the 2007 election before Mimiko decided to pursue the matter to its logical conclusion at the Court of Appeal.
Mimiko, the first and only LP governor in the country, cut his teeth in politics in 1983, when he was publicity secretary of the Chief Obafemi Awolowo-led Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) in Ondo Local Government Area. He was twice Commissioner for Health in the state and Secretary to the Government of Ondo State as well as Minister of Housing and Urban Development, before becoming governor in 2009. A former member of PDP, he literally built LP in the state in the period before the 2007 general election, apparently, for use in the pursuit of his governorship ambition, having being frustrated in PDP.
Mimiko had served in all the administrations in the state since the Fourth Republic, from the government of Chief Adebayo Adefarati of Alliance for Democracy between 1999 and 2003, to that of Agagu, who succeeded Adefarati in 2003. The Ondo State governor was widely believed to have received help from Tinubu in his legal battle through the latter’s deployment of forensic experts that he had recruited to prosecute ACN’s legal battle in Osun and Ekiti states to help Mimiko in his case. The forensic analysis helped Mimiko in proving his case of electoral malpractices at the tribunal.
However, Tinubu’s insistence on cashing in on the assistance to force Mimiko to cross over to ACN pulled the duo apart. He tried to make political capital out of his assistance to Mimiko during electioneering for the just-concluded election and turned the whole exercise to a kind of vendetta mission. Many strongly believed that Tinubu’s stance, rather than attract votes to Akeredolu, turned off many of his sympathisers who were not die-hard ACN members and had wondered why they should enlist in a fight driven by a larger than life ego.
Mimiko, on his part, has received both criticism and acclaim for the outcome of his political dalliance with Tinubu. Some have upbraided him, describing him as an ingrate, and even a betrayer, while others have applauded him for his strong will and refusal to become a stooge of the ACN leader.
But there are doubts as to how long Mimiko would hold out as a lone ranger in the South-west. He is serving his last constitutional term in a state that looks set to be a fierce political battleground for ACN and PDP in 2016. ACN appears to have made great political investment in the state that may be ripe for harvest by 2016, when PDP would be eager to return to power, and Mimiko, as is the wont of governors, would be struggling to determine his successor.
Some analysts have predicted that Mimiko may succumb to pressure by returning to the PDP. It will be interesting to see how he manages the challenge of the next four years.
pic: Olusegun mimiko