Ondo State Governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, SAN is seeking a second term in office in an election slated for October 10. In this interview with Chuks Okocha, the governor speaks on his re-election challenge and sundry other issues. Excerpts:
You are seeking a second term in office, therefore, it’s legitimate to ask: on what record are you asking the people to vote for you again?
Well, I have a lot to show people that we have done in our first term. I can point to a number of our schools. We have touched over 600 primary schools; we have renovated and built new classrooms all over. There is nowhere in the state that is not touched on the issue of schools.
Now, on issue of roads, as I mentioned to you about infrastructural deficit, I have always believed in what one of the American leaders said, I think it was John F Kennedy, that the roads that you have or the infrastructure is what has made America, it’s not because of the money, it’s because America has infrastructure that she has money.
I am one of those who believe in the ideology that with good infrastructure the state idea on money will improve, and because of that, I had gone out to work on major roads in the state and one of the key areas that I believe it will last for long or forever is the fact that we had broad section, that is, the redemption bridge, which we have in Ore today. If you drive by Ore, you will see it.
For me, that’s something that everybody will see forever. It has changed the landscape of the whole of Ore. Many months before now, when we came back that very spot used to look like a place, where road accidents occur. But today, it’s clear everybody just moves freely; everyone is happy about it.
I believe that, that is the legacy and the issue of industrial development is also a legacy and we are working on bringing up issue of bitumen that over the years, everybody has been mouthing that we want to start mining, bitumen operations.
Nobody has ever done it, but today, we have Southwest bitumen off on Irele. They have started modular refinery and one other key one that I’m working at and I pray when I have another opportunity after this election is to have Port Ondo.
What is Port Ondo?
Port Ondo is our Deep Seaport and on the Deep Seaport, we have done a lot of studies and we have read the business outline and this has gone through ports authority and we are waiting that it will get to SRC Infrastructural Concessionary Regulatory Commission. If it gets there, we should be able to pull it through, because a lot of job has gone through it.
What difference will Port Ondo bring to your economy?
Well, the difference port brings to any economy is huge. It will change the total landscape of Ondo State. If the port moves in fully, Ondo State will not need to go anywhere again. Lagos State, what do they live on? They don’t have oil; they live on port and industries. And we believe that when we have the port, industries will spring up along the corridors, then, the economy of this state is built forever.
And I believe that it will not be this state alone and I can assure you that the economy of Nigeria will improve with Port Ondo, because it will be a deep seaport, where you have drought of over 15meters – where mother ship can park. Today, can they do it in Apapa? No! But if you have a deep seaport, where we can a crown – where a large ship can come in, and so for me, I have always made a case that it would be the best for the West African coast.
So, the only one in West African port, where everybody comes in and goods move and development will keep coming from the Hinterland. So, we will be able to do that if we have the opportunity of one term continuity; we will press for it with everything we have to make sure that the port comes in.
Is that’s a promise you are giving the people?
People say Ondo is an oil producing state and therefore, should not complain when it comes to finances and revenue. So, what is happening?
It’s because we are oil producers that our VAT can come to over four. If we are not, we will be about two or three. It’s the oil that’s giving us a little edge, although we are number 5 in the country. There’s an analysis I try to make people see. There was some payment that was supposed to be made at a point.
The number one state was greater than $500m, number two is above $400m, number three is above $300m, number for is also above $200m and we that are number five is about $90m.
Why we have problem is that most of the oil found around Ondo State are offshores. All the money goes to the federal government. If, for instance, the nautical miles between us are extended so that we can be everywhere, then, our oil will change.
Let’s talk politics. What exactly is going on in your party as at today and how are you doing?
Well, there’s not much I am doing. I have said it openly everywhere; with what I am doing, I have not done less at any given time. So, if there’s result now, it’s because my colleagues, members of our party have resolved to want to work with us, to work together, so the credit should go to them not me, because the last time I contested, I did the same thing. I went round.
But when people were not convinced that we should work together, there were still some crises but today, I thank God Almighty. It’s not me, the Glory goes to God and I want to thank my colleagues, who were the co-aspirants then.
All of us in the party believe that the party must come together. That’s where we are now. Everybody believed, saying, let’s all come together. Let’s work together. And I believe that we have every reason to work together – we cannot lose Ondo State; it’s not possible. We cannot.
Looking back, are there mistakes that were made and you felt shouldn’t have been, and that going forward, this is what we are going to do, having learnt your lessons?
Oh, there were; there must be. But, when you talk about mistakes that were made, there must be. There were mistakes.
Mistakes made from all sides?
From both sides – from all sides, it cannot be only for the governor’s sides. With all respect to my colleague in the party, I have always been open, that’s my own belief. It might be that people don’t believe that you are open enough. But you see, when we ran the primaries then, the party almost bifurcated and some people moved to another party.
There’s no way we won’t have such crises. But this time around, we have had primaries and all of us have put the primaries behind us. As it is supposed to be that, when the dust of primaries settles, all of us will come together to work for APC. And I want to thank all of them, that all of us have now agreed that we will come together and work for our party, because we cannot afford; our part cannot afford to lose this election.
But, one man has remained difficult for you work with and that’s your former deputy. What really was the problem?
Well, he will be in a better position to answer that question on why he had to leave, not me. But if what we have seen happen over the time he left is any reason to go by, I assume that his problem is ambition and he is entitled to it.
That is why he left from here went to PDP, where he didn’t stay more than two to three weeks, left from there, he’s gone to ZLP. I am sure by the time he suffers that great loss in ZLP, he will now be moving to another party to be able to contest in another election. So, I don’t see anything that we have done; we have not wronged him and I believe so and I can say so.
Is that what you think?
We have not wrong him, but he is right to be ambitious. It’s good. What over ambition can cause you is this, and that is his case. He will face it. But it’s better for him to answer why he left.
Still on the former deputy governor, at what point did you start to notice the crack between both of you, and how were you able to carry on with governance, when you had a deputy you were not in good terms?
Well, I never knew that we were not in good terms.
You never knew? How?
I never knew. I am a plain person.
You didn’t get security report in that regard or what?
I didn’t, and even if they had given me, I probably would not believe it, because I felt I had somebody that I expected to work with me; to be loyal to the ticket, but at the point, what I got to know later was that even from the day he became the deputy governor, he had been planning. So, there’s nothing you can do – you can’t stop those people with ambitions. One of the most difficult positions to occupy in life is to be deputy.
Why did you say that?
I am telling you now. You see, it’s difficult, because it could be tempting except you have the grace of God. If you were somebody that did not really believe in God, you don’t serve God, you would not be at peace. There would be other things that would push you and they would push you to make mistakes. So, for me, why I believe it’s difficult, in that since we came in, people have been complaining.
I discountenance it. I didn’t even listen to them. And I let him know and he would be there and he would tell me, oh, don’t worry sir and I will say, look, you will be the one to gain. At the end of the day, there’s that sort of problem you would have as a deputy. Not every deputy will be like Philip Shuaib, who felt that look, this is a ticket and he stood in it.
But this is somebody (you can ask all the governors, deputy governors), I gave him all the opportunities and he himself, to my colleagues, when he sees them would say, “help me thank my oga o, he has done so well to me”. But with the issue of ambition, there is nothing anybody can do.
Many thought that former Governor Mimiko was your friend, but how do you feel that a man you call friend is not supporting you?
No, I do not. I really don’t feel bad, seriously, because what is there is simple: you need to see my friends’ path in life and in politics. You need to look at the path he’s followed. If you expect him to change, then, you are the one that’s a fool.
How do you mean?
I will tell you. Look, I didn’t expect Mimiko to do otherwise. He cannot do otherwise. He worked with Adefarati; he betrayed him and left. He worked, thereafter, with Agagu; he betrayed him and left. Right? So, his case as some has said, people tried to describe it and I hope people would follow.
It’s like that of a scorpion and a toad and both of them were at the bank of the river and storm was coming and the scorpion said to the toad, ‘you know I cannot swim, why don’t you take me across and the toad said to him, I know if I take you, I know you will sting me. The scorpion said, I am begging you, don’t let me die. I will never sting you. By the time he took him, before he got to the bank…’
Did you know this of him all the while you were friends?
I knew that of him. That’s why I am saying he can never change. So, by time the scorpion knew he could go on his own, he stung the toad. And the toad now said, but you said, ‘you won’t sting me. He said, ‘please now forgive me. It’s in my character’. So, I will forgive him; it’s in his character. Who am I to now worry about such a man?
Mimiko is considered a formidable grassroots politician. Do you think you can withstand his force in the election?
Let’s us talk something serious. Mimiko has no force anywhere. I am saying it in the open, plain to him. He is no force. If he were to be a force, he wouldn’t run to be senator and lose all the local government except one. Six local governments he could not win. He came third and they say he is a force. Which force? He is a spent force.
His own is that he has no structure. He has a vehicle that has no engine and he now got a willing buyer and that one has bought that vehicle and he cannot move. They cannot move! We are not boasting. Mimiko has no structure. He is not a grassrooter anywhere. Maybe if I say this to him to encourage him to say pray more. Let him come…
But he said he has a lot of things to say.
We know, that’s what I am saying. Let him say it – say everything he wants to say. In 2019, he lost his senatorial election; he came third.
Back to you, your election is around the corner and you have the PDP, the ZLP and other political parties to deal with. Can you tell your people again what you have for them in the next dispensation?
Well, what I want to say to the people of Ondo State is very simple: you have seen me in the last three and a half years. You can feel the impact of our service. It’s there for you to see and people say even if you’re blind you can feel it, because when you’re driving and it’s smooth you would ask, why is this place this smooth. It’s because Akeredolu has improved on those infrastructure.
And if it’s deafness, you cannot hear, you can see it with your eyes. So, I want to tell our people that it’s been a wonderful time serving them and I take delight in doing what I am doing. In being straight with them, in being honest with them and in serving them, and if I had the opportunity of another term, which I am begging them to give us. We’ve gone all out to campaign, begging them to give us another term.
They should be assured that we would do more than what we have done in this first term, because we are now more sure-voted. We now have the experience. We already have plans for the next 4 years. We have things that are in the office; we have things that we have not completed and the only way we can complete it is through continuity.
So that the state will not fall prey to another governor, who would take over and abandon a whole University for 8 years. They should know that these things can happen, so, continuity is important. Continuity, not only for Akeredolu, but continuity for a progressive party like APC is important.
Talking about the APC, your party is so challenged that you recently removed your former national chairman and rumour has it that you were part of the forces that worked against him. Is that true?
Worked against him, how?
I mean to get him out of office.
The only force I belong to is a force that believes in APC. That’s all
What does that mean?
What I mean is that APC must survive, so, whatever it takes us, whatever it takes the APC members to ensure the survival of the party, I am part of it and I support it.
Even if it means somebody has to go, you still will support it?
No, what I am saying is this, it is clear to all of us when you talk about the issue of survival, when you talk about the interest of a party, whether we like it or not, you cannot make an omelet without breaking an egg. There are people who would make sacrifices. So if there are people to make sacrifices, so be it.
But I am saying to you that there’s no way I will sit to plot to say anybody should go. What I am saying is that what is happening in the party will continue as we have one chairman today, another chairman tomorrow, acting chairman this day. Is that how we will continue to run the party? And I believe that Mr. President and others took a right decision to say let us save this party from ruins.
Why do people call you ‘Mr. Talk and Do’?
Why don’t you ask the people, but if ask me…?
Probably you will explain better.
The reason they say this is that, I have always kept my words. No matter what it is, I am a bit measured in promises. So, when you come to me saying you want this, when I believe I can’t do it, I will tell you straight. I am not going to say okay, we will look at it. But if it’s something I can do, I will tell you yes, take it to the bank; we will do it. So, people in the state, when they found out that if I say it, I’ll do it, now call me Mr. Talk and Do.
So you’re not the typical politician?
I don’t want to be one. I want to be myself. I know what you mean by a typical politician. I don’t ever want to be a typical politician. I want to be true to my people and to my conscience.