‘Tunji Ariyomo, a Harvard and Sheffield trained engineer,is a gubernatorial aspirant on the platform of the All Progressives Congress in Ondo State. He recently spoke to journalists on aspiration and the upcoming governorship election the state. Zacheaus Somorin was there. Excerpt
Are you not worried about the high number of APC aspirants?
No. That aspirants are many in APC is an indication that the party is the most viable platform. Everybody knows that as far as Ondo State is concerned, the PDP is a one-man party. Its guber ticket is in the pocket of its owner. The APC is however a national party. Our leaders have promised free, fair, credible and transparent primary. There can’t be strife in a just society.
You have a robust credential. How can you translate this into good governance against the backdrop of several sound technocrats who failed the nation in recent times?
If I wasn’t familiar with my own work, I would be as concerned as you are on the capacity of an average technocrat to deliver in typical leadership positions. But I am different. My real life experience confirms that. Today, at the risk of being boastful, as far as utilizing public service opportunity to address the fundamental needs of the people, I appear the most experienced of the lot that have shown interest in the governorship. I have a robust combination of corporate, business and public service experience that is unmatched by the rest.
So, yes, we can be wary of just any technocrat coming on board. But I am not just any technocrat. I have actual verifiable history of pioneering several great initiatives in the sunshine state. I trawled the difficult terrain of governance to make things happen even when I did not ultimately call the shot. My people’s mandate will only make things easier because my team already has a clear idea of what we want done.
Let us flash back to some of the highpoints of your works as Coordinator of the State Information Technology Development Centre (SITDEC) under the late governor Dr. Olusegun Agagu
Thank you. See, there was no SITDEC when my team came on board. The fact that we birthed that organization, the fact that SITDEC led to the direct creation of hundreds of job opportunities, the fact that by 2008, SITDEC had directly intervened by automating revenue collection activities of the Board of Internal Revenue in Ondo State which led to massive increase worth over N4.7b in revenue within 6 months were sure evidences of my leadership qualities.
Outside technology use, some other great things in the state had my hand in them before they came to live. Some were in fact originally ideas in my head which I pushed to my boss the governor or to a committee I belonged to. These include the university in Okitipupa, the agency then known as Accelerated Poverty Alleviation Agency (APAA) now known as Wealth Creation Agency (WECA) and I was part of the foundation team of the state’s Project Pricing and Monitoring Unit in 2003. Only two of us, Mr. Ife Iji and I received the brief of the agency directly from the governor.
Within months, PPMU itself saved over N12billion for the government of Ondo State on infrastructure. So we can say that as far as my state is concerned, I have been thoroughly tested. There is none of those landmark accomplishments I helped brought about in Ondo State that is still not adding immense values today. That university in Okitipupa for instance is employing thousands.
SITDEC now renamed SITA still remains the star agency of government. I just told you they all existed first as ideas in my head. I could have done more but for the fact that I was not the chief executive. State leaders like Dr Mimiko, then SSG, will confirm to you that over 10 years ago, at the first leaders of government meeting in 2003, that I was the one that spoke professionally against the adoption of surface dressing by our government while offering clear alternative strategies. I was the one advocating a special delivery strategy to fast-track certain infrastructure projects that could help leapfrog our development.
Eminent people like Dr. Olu Agunloye, because he too contributed to the struggle, would confirm to you that I was a major architect of the dual carriageway extensions you see in Akure through rigorous advocacy wanting the dual carriageways that terminated then at Fiwasaye to go further and encircle Akure via Ijapo and the Owo-Ilesha expressway. Our leader, Engr. James Olusoga, now Prime Minister of Akure would tell you that I was pushing for a fly-over across some roads as far back as 2003 and that the extension beyond Ilesha garage would have been the first of such as Engr. Lucas and I then proposed and we received the full backing of Engr. Olusoga himself. So, yes, far younger, but I have been involved enough at the top-most level to learn and to know how to qualitatively deploy power for the benefit of the masses.
If you do win the election, what would be your agenda for the state?
My team has mapped out the development needs of the state and we have come up with specific initiatives targeted at the primary challenges confronting our people. For instance, one of our priorities if elected is to commence a massive agricultural revolution that would be characterized by street measurable indices of success. A genuine agricultural revolution must directly impart food security.
Yet, the prices of rice, garri, beans on the streets remained either the same or even higher. So, in Ondo State, we shall be affecting existing farmers through activities designed to enhance their productivity and welfare while we shall also stimulate large scale intensive investor-driven mechanized agriculture across the state on lands connecting our towns and villages. Our people will see this revolution. Our people will feel it.
Our people will eat it. Our people will be part of it. Ultimately, we will be expanding the agriculture value chain in the state while also encouraging investments in processing and allied services across that value chain. Ours is going to be an agric revolution never before witnessed in West Africa. We want farmers to earn pension. We want to move farming from informal to formal sector.
Reading through your manifesto, this informal to formal sector shift is a key issue for artisans
I am glad you have gone through my manifesto. Now I am probably the only one in the race that has one at the moment. See, too many of our hardworking people operate outside the mainstream economy. This is a recipe for poverty promotion. So, a key direction articulated in my manifesto is a deliberate implementation of policies that would shift that boundary. For instance, I have made a solemn promise that if elected, within 3 to 6 months, I want every single certificate earned by artisans in Ondo State to be issued by our universities as special Artisanship Diplomas.
I am talking about folks learning trades; carpenters, hairdressers, tailors, road-side mechanics and so on. I want these skill-sets well defined by updated policies and weighted. I want those skills well-coordinated. I want the quality of the skills they acquire to improve. I want them to have professional development routes. I want some kind of official linkage between a mason, the guy who learned bricklaying, and the COREN chartered civil engineer especially for the former’s growth.
I want them to be exposed to re-trainings and workshops in their local dialects, in pidgin or in English without leaving their bosses. I want the state to have a comprehensive life-time file on each person. I want the state to maintain an automated registry or database containing all their records. My government will work towards ensuring that artisans can earn a form of pensions. Tailors in Ondo State without government’s help are currently trying to build an estate. With our support, their future will be better protected. I will lobby the state’s house of assembly to enact a law to protect them, the programme, their future, their contributions and activities. We will be adding dignity to their works. When what you do excites you, you will get exciting result.
We will be expanding the capacities of our institutions to provide the framework required to support this. We will be emplacing strong systems that work. I want the average furniture made in Ondo State to rival those made in England. That is why we must upgrade such institutions as the state polytechnic in Owo, streamline our tertiary education system, eliminate the current binary system and permanently solve the problem of university-polytechnic dichotomy.
Ondo is an oil producing state. But it is mainly an agrarian state so to speak, how do you plan sustaining these lofty projects?
Let me first put a caveat; my vision for Ondo State is not dependent upon its natural resources. Natural resources are just bonuses. Although I can boast that my team has better, quicker and more efficient means of harnessing these resources. We have better experience with technology use for the benefit of development.
Take for instance bitumen; my team has evolved a clever bypass that would help ensure that our bitumen plays crucial role in our infrastructure revolution as from 2017. Not long ago the Minister of Solid Mineral validated my position that this can be done. Before now, most people considered state’s direct investment or exploration of solid minerals as impossible. If the Minister is saying what I have said, it confirms that I am thinking right.
Aside cement for soil stabilization and steel as reinforcement bars, both granite and bitumen, two most important elements in road construction are abundantly available in Ondo State. Bitumen’s ROI is gravely lower than that of crude-oil. So, approaching bitumen investment from a crude-oil perspective can’t be a winner. But more important to your question is the defining spirit of my quest for the leadership of this state in the first instance. I have stated this before that the schools built by the incumbent governor in Akure which allegedly cost hands and legs per unit, that I would build five (5) of that same school with better quality and aesthetics from the exact same amount of money.
I like the mother and child hospital of the current government. But those who know my antecedents and my trainings as an engineer would confirm to you that I have the expertise to lead the building of 5 such hospitals from the exact same amount committed by the present government and with better standard. Go and find out how much I spent in building SITDEC and how much it cost other departments of government to put similar structure as at that time.
My point is that the level of prudent management of state resources that my team will bring to Ondo State will ensure that we are able to stretch our resources efficiently and cover more mileage with funds. This will make us have enough public works assets that will serve as future revenue earners for our state. I am an unapologetic believer in the conversion of public works or utilities to economic assets. Hence, sustaining our projects will not be an insurmountable challenge. That said, I want to emphasize that our ultimate objective is to ensure that Ondo State provides leadership in sustainable economic activities that transcends natural resources.
I was coming to that because the present economy is wholly dependent upon oil with the drop in oil revenue to about $40 per barrel, what are our options?
Yes, but let me first explain that profligacy, wanton corruption and outright stupidity led us to our present state. If you build a kilometer of road for N1billion as we have learnt, you can never have enough to do other things. That must change. We must literally be able to think without a box for the future of this state and even that of Nigeria. That is also why outside agriculture revolution and our programmes for the health and education sectors, we want to ensure that Ondo State becomes the leader in responsible use of technology and responsible investments that are knowledge driven. Our focus shall include activities like automotive engineering.
I want us to embrace a compulsory grassroots technology acquisition and technology products’ commercialization schemes which is a key item in my manifesto. The number of successful knowledge driven enterprises springing up in the state will enhance our viability. I want us to corner the taxi cab market for instance by stimulating tech-entrepreneurship towards locally produced cabs. If we have London type black cabs, they should be made in Ondo State vehicles.
Ondo State will pioneer and continue to promote local production, commercialization and consumption of local products. We will earn more from that than we earn from crude-oil. We will create more jobs from that than we are creating from crude-oil. Unlike crude-oil with terminal date, what we do with our brains is somewhat eternal as long as we remain competitive.
It is how we have converted this brain resource that would determine our efficiency in managing natural resources. That is when we would see our long coastline as a critical asset to promote commerce, industry and tourism. That is when we can plan, as my team has done, to convert our fascinating geological formations and geography into major advantages. That is when the sandy shoreline of Araromi in Ilaje can make sense to us as an untapped asset. That is how we can escape being in the resource-curse loop.
Ogun State today is cleverly leveraging on its proximity to Lagos to enhance its development. Yet, Araromi to Lagos is just about 30minutes by boat but the beaches in Ilaje-land remain mostly deserted despite the added advantage of beautiful coconut trees, massive fish farming opportunities and palm oil plantations. Imagine what happens when I construct a 7 toll-point super turnpike with dual gauge rail lines from Ikare Akoko to Igbokoda with the goal of making a quasi-single mega-city out of the entire state. Imagine what happens when I prove to brother governors that we can collaborate to create a cost-effective cross-regional modern rail transport system across the South West and that we can do it quickly. We would be creating super-efficient public utilities that are in themselves potential investment for our people.
There is so much talk about the Akoko agenda, zoning agenda, Owo agenda and the Akure agenda which the Deji in Council recently gave strong support, what is your position?
That is why we call it a democracy. It gives opportunity to every stakeholder to ventilate their preferences. But like I have told my supporters, by the grace of God, mine is the Ondo State agenda. That is why the focus of my development plans covers the entire state. The Akokos have the democratic rights to desire one of theirs.
Kabiyesi the Deji of Akure Kingdom and the Akure people have the democratic right to remind everyone that all the ethnic divisions that originally formed Ondo State have all taken turn to democratically lead Ondo State with the exception of Akure division. But in this entire melee, I want it on record that mine is the Ondo State agenda. I am from Akure. My better half is from Ilaje. My late uncle, Pa Joseph Aladesanmi was from a ruling house in Ogbagi Akoko. So, I am a complete Ondo State person. Youths from Akoko were the first to invite me to contest. Although I am from Akure kingdom, my development outlook requires harnessing all our rich potentials across the 18 local governments to make rapid and tangible difference in our state and set the state apart so other states in Nigeria can have a clear example of what leadership entails.
How would you rate the performance of General Muhammed Buhari so far as president?
Let us be frank, President Buhari met a big mess and has been trying to fix the mess. Impunity in official quarters has declined drastically. Of course, I concede that there are rooms for improvement. Nigerians have the legitimate right to be angry at us if they think we are slow.
But we must remember that global shrinkage in oil revenue affected our domestic economy gravely. I have forwarded observations and ideas to the Vice President that can help us fast-track our getting it right quickly, cost effectively and sustainably. I have also held meetings with certain top officials on these. I was privileged recently to help out as part of an expert team that worked on the reconstruction plan of the North East for the President.
Regardless of the state of our economy, I see a massive opportunity to make tremendous progress in infrastructure, agriculture, general productivity, catch up on science, technology and innovation as well as make symbolic statements with our attitude and choices as government leaders. The specific things that I am passionate about have been forwarded in my notes to the VP. Overall, President Buhari must succeed. He will succeed. It is in our interest as a people for him to succeed.