Jamiu Afolabi: Nigerians Should Understand the Dynamics of Restructuring a Prostrate Economy

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Alhaji  Jamiu Afolabi is a Chartered Accountant  and  member of the Board of Trustees of the All Progressives Congress (APC). He is one of the frontline governorship aspirants of APC in the forthcoming election in Ondo State. In this interview withHammed Shittu in Ilorin, he discusses the political situation in Ondo state, his ambition, and the Federal Government’s ongoing war against corruption, among others. Excerpts:

As one of the members of the Board of Trustees of your party, APC, what really motivated you to want to contest the governorship position of the state in the next election?
Firstly, I am a member of the Board of Trustees (BoTs). Let me take it to mean that a trustee is somebody to whom much is given, because you are trusted with the lives and destiny of people. That is the meaning of being a member of the Board of Trustees. Trustees of an organisation like in the corporate world are those who can sue on behalf of the organisation and can be sued as well. So, APC is a human being in Law and members of the BoT are the personification of that organisation. At the state level, I am more or less the custodian of the party and, if Ondo State is endowed with numerous natural resources, including oil, then we shouldn’t be where we are today. But the state has not been lucky to have the progressive leadership that will mobilise resources for the good of the people. For instance, if in 1979/80, a person like Chief Ajasin could establish industries and most of these industries are now dead, the question is why? It is because of the type of leadership we have! So, APC, as a progressive party, therefore will want to see a state like Ondo being one of the most viable states in Nigeria because of the resources available. Consequently, as a member of BoT, I am compelled not to fold my arms and see the state go down. Also, as a citizen of the state, from time immemorial, Ondo State has never had an opportunity of being in the government at the national level; we have always been in the opposition at the national level. This will be the first opportunity because as a member of the party, we all worked together to ensure we installed a credible government that will bring progress into this country by fighting corruption, and by fighting insecurity. In view of that, Ondo State should not lag behind in this instance. That is the number two reason why I find it compelling to contest. The third reason is that Ondo State has enormous resources from Bitumen to limestone and other mineral resources. Then, it is an agrarian state blessed with the best type of weather and afforestation that can make it a food basket for Nigerians. Also, in terms of tourism, from beaches to high mountains and so on, tourism is there. If Ondo State is properly managed it will compete with Lagos State in terms of resources. Unfortunately, we have never been so lucky to have anybody that will do that. Rather than the state progressing, we can see that it is one of the 27 states that cannot pay salaries in Nigeria. If there are nine states that are paying, then Ondo State should be among the nine. It, therefore, becomes a responsibility on people like us to act. If we decide to fold our arms and allow things to keep going this way, then we are not going to leave this world a happy people; we would be regretting that had we known we would have intervened to ensure that the right thing was done to make the state progress properly. These are the reasons why I am compelled to come in, because I know that I have the capability to be able to bring Ondo State back to the path of progress.
Considering the perceived power of incumbency in Ondo State, how do you see the chances of APC in the forthcoming elections?
There are two ways to look at it, yes the state has power of incumbency, but APC has power of incumbency at the national level. But, bear in mind the ferocity, the intensity and the do-or-die way PDP had conducted themselves in the previous few elections, one must be worried particularly when you look at the antecedents of the incumbency in respect of the fact that he has so many things to lose by losing the forthcoming election. He has a lot of tracks to cover; you understand what I mean. There is no doubt that what he did after the presidential election, as you know APC had 54.6 per cent, but we could not achieve that in the House of Assembly election because he (Governor Mimiko) really came out forcefully, using force and money. Now, going into the next election, which is the gubernatorial, APC would not be caught unaware. Let me assume that we rested on our oars. A sitting Senator of the party then, said we were going to impeach him after the election. But we have to win elections; we have to have members of the House of Assembly first before you can threaten an incumbent! That comment further infuriated him into more action. But whatever the case is, the stake now is about the future of the 3.4 million citizens of the state. Everybody in the state is now aware of the fact that there is a need for a more progressive government in Ondo State, bearing in mind that the state with all the resources God has bestowed on it, an oil producing state, as at end of March 2016, the government had not yet paid November 2015 salaries. It is becoming very clear to every citizen of Ondo State that there is an urgent need for a more dynamic and progressive government that will bring more development and dividends of democracy to the people of the state.

With the array of governorship aspirants seeking the slot of your party, how will you see your chance of emerging the candidate of the party?
Every Ondo citizen has the constitutional and birth right to want to be a governor of the state. In the process of that, you will just discover that a lot of people will come out and, as time goes on, maybe by the time they say pay for nomination fee, some people will drop out. Then the rest will now face the primary. Everybody in Ondo State has now come to realise one basic thing that Ondo State should have been better than what it is now. We are presently confronted with two problems; one is the national economic crisis which is caused by international economic situation. Nigeria is a mono-economy, depending only on petroleum and with the price of petroleum dropping from $100 to $20, $27, the economy went prostrate, no doubt about that. The second problem which is peculiar to Ondo State is the maladministration. Let me give you an example, in the health sector, Ondo State is acknowledged to have done very well, and what is being quoted is mother and child care – a comprehensive maternity home. I believe you don’t criticise for criticising sake. I don’t like it, and to be frank and sincere, the mother and child care hospital in Ondo State is of international standard, but there are only two; one in Akure and the other in Ondo. Akure to Owo is about one and a half hours, what happens if a woman goes into labour in Owo, you start carrying her to Akure? Those are the two maternity homes our government has been showing to the international community; is that the only thing we are entitled to in Ondo State? When I was young, the last child of my father will be about 55 years old, but there was a maternity in my town when he was born. I was not born in a maternity home but my younger brother was born in a maternity home. Now in Ondo State, we have only two standard maternity for the whole of the state. So, how much money accrued to the state government; we have the records, but it is not time to discuss it. And what did they use it for? You see, an average Ondo man knows that we are in trouble and this is the right time to look for the right man who can do the job; the right man not only in academic pursuit but also in demonstrable antecedents; what was this man’s yesterday? Now everybody is out, they want to do this and that, promising Ondo State that they are going to build for Ondo State a castle in the air. People should ask that person if he has been able to build a hut on the ground. Now, what Ondo people are now looking at and looking for, and searching for is a man who has antecedents that can match the type of person that will take up from this government and be able to turn around our lives from the present state of deceit government to a progressive government of truth and fairness. And here is Jamiu Ekungba, who is the most befitting of the job. I am an accountant, not just an accountant, I was a banker, not just a banker, I was member of the Governing Council of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN). I was once the vice president of the West African Bankers Association and I am a financial expert. I have raised up to N20 billion for a private individual to build infrastructure in Nigeria. These are demonstrable evidences that are available. And my past is available for everybody to see; I don’t have anything hidden, I have never been involved in shady or messy business that cannot be discussed in the market place. I can give account of everything I have in my life. The point I am trying to make is that Ondo State is looking for that person that has the capacity, capability and the integrity to turn around governance in Ondo State, similar to what President Muhammadu Buhari is doing at the national level.

What is the vision you have for the people of Ondo State if eventually you emerged the candidate of your party?
I see an average person in Ondo State as very hard working, very committed and very loyal. Consequently, what I want to do is encapsulated it in my Philosophy which goes thus: “For the good of the land and more of everything that is rightfully yours, let’s work and walk together, let’s stand and serve together.” Consequently, what I want to do is to provide leadership for Ondo State people so that they can rediscover themselves. That is why, in my brochure, I put it thus: “Your goal is to reach for the top; My determination is to lift you even higher.” People of Ondo State are very ambitious and very daring in pursuing their goals; we are therefore going to provide for them a leadership that will allow them to explore their potential. Secondly, I am going to bring to bear my experience in the private sector, in which case, we are going to ensure that we put value on every aspect of our life, from education to health, to infrastructure so that everybody would be able to realise and rediscover themselves. Thirdly, we would provide liberty for the men and women of integrity of Ondo State. The state has produced for Nigeria, professionals, technocrats that are very deep and have excelled in all walks of life. So, there is no reason why we cannot put all these people together and work together as a team to rebuild this state. In doing that, we are going to involve the private sector in the building of industries in the state. What the state needs to do is to provide a safe haven for people, because where there is peace, investments thrive. Consequently, we are going to spend a lot of our resources in maintaining peace and safety. Once we start our projects – social projects, security projects, educational projects – there will be tranquility in the state that will attract private investors because these mineral resources are there for tapping. So, we will provide a level playing field and a robust enabling investment environment for both local and international investors. Recently, Aliko Dangote wanted to start a refinery in Ondo State in Olokola, which has become moribund because of lack of visionary leaders running the government at present. For whatever the reason was, Dangote was driven away to Lagos, and the refinery is almost ready in Lagos now. We are going to ensure we stop all those type of things that will drive away investors from Ondo State. As long as we are using our resources to build stability and peace, an enabling environment, people will come and invest.

As a chieftain of the APC, how would you assess APC at the center in the past nine months? ​
People say we don’t have petrol to buy, and I say, yes, you people sabotaged the pipelines when the refineries were working, because you want the present government to be subsidising. The people crying that the government has not done enough are the people who are either part of that corruption that has brought us to our knees or they are members of their family, or they must have benefitted one way or another from the corruption. I always give people this example when they say things are hard in Nigeria: I was eating with a friend in a restaurant, and asked him (he was eating pounded yam) when was the yam with which the pounded yam he was eating planted? And he said over a year ago. So, I told him that whatever economic policy APC has put in place cannot be assessed until after 24 months. What we are suffering is caused by the bad administration of the last 16 years. What the government is trying to do is to recover from the enormity of the damage that had been done to our economy, psychology, and infrastructure and so on. After all, President Buhari is not a miracle maker. If the oil price had remained at $100 per barrel, we still would have had this problem because the new government came to change all the bad things that were there. For example, if you want to fix a house that has been damage beyond repair, the first thing you need to do is to bring down the house to start all the way from foundation, and that is exactly what Buhari is doing.
The budget had just been approved and a substantial part is earmarked for capital projects and for infrastructural development and this is to jump-start the economy, to stimulate the economy because when there is construction going on, then there will be development and employment will be provided. There will be more economic activities; there will be more money to spend and that is exactly what this government is doing. The previous government had been stealing this money as if stealing is a culture of Nigerians.