How has the office of the governor been in the past one year?
The work of a governor is a solemn occupation and you must keep your seat warm. Despite being in the hot seat, I find it cool and warm with the cooperation of the people of Ondo State and I’m enjoying it.
You are a senior attorney and now a governor. Which one is less difficult, being a critic or being a governor?
Well, it is very easy to criticise because when I was the President of the Nigerian Bar Association, I always had something to say on government programmes and policies but when I became a governor, the story changed. After all, I can’t carry placards against myself. However, I have become tolerant of every criticism coming from different milieu.
Have you been able to implement significant capital developments despite the severe economic realities in the country?
It is because of my philosophy of life, which is to take a lead and believe. I am a man of faith and anything I find worthy of doing I just kick-start such. Even if they cannot touch heaven, they should be able to lift above the earth.
The last one year have shown me conspicuously that if you take a leap, you will land safely. Despite the financial situation of the state, we have been doing our best. What has been propelling me and the hand that is moving me on is faith. All the projects we executed are not my handiwork; I am just a tool in the hand of the Almighty. In achieving this feat, I have to be optimistic and I don’t just look back. Records have shown that no administration has been able to achieve this much in its first year. Sometimes, my people in the cabinet accuse me of not being willing to do enough publicity so that people can know what we are doing. But I always insist that the people will know what we are doing for them without spending money on publicity. I don’t like to make noise about what we are doing. I was even surprised when we went round to supervise and commission (inaugurate) projects and I saw the number of projects that we have done.
Most of the contractors volunteered to embark on our projects, even without mobilising them with funds, and we now pay them as we get funds. Most of the contractors started the projects with their own money because they believe in our vision and our determination to develop the state. Some of those projects have been completed; many are ongoing and many are in the pipeline. We have been paying them as soon as we get money and they have been assisting us to get the job done. Something fundamental is happening in Ondo State because God is on our side.
There is an imprint that you are a very firm and uncompromising person and this makes it difficult for people to find you. How true Is that?
I am a very simple and very interesting person to deal with if you get to know me. But if there is an issue to be critically looked into, I always take my time and if you persuade me with a better argument and I am convinced, I will dance to your tune. I must not yield ground if the issue is not of benefit to the people of Ondo State. I am a man of vision; I don’t just act anyhow. The interest of the people is first. If ideas are put before me, instead of taking them up immediately, I pay more attention and study.
At the State Executive Council, we do engage in debates over issues and when I’m persuaded with a superior argument, I yield ground. So, I’m not difficult to work with. Though some people take me as what I used to be as President of the NBA to present position. If I see your cause as reasonable, I will call you and we will discuss.
The state is blessed with cocoa, which used to be the mainstay of the economy in the South-West some years ago, but it has been neglected and your government seems not to have done anything in that regard in the last one year. Does your government have any plan to revive that sector?
We are very particular in putting cocoa where it belongs. Many countries have taken over and are producing more cocoa than us because most of our farmers are as old as the trees. Although they have devised another method of making the old trees produce fruits, our government is not relenting in turning this around.
The Federal Government is also determined to improve cocoa production in Nigeria. They started what is called Cocoa Revolution and with the last time they (the Minister of Agriculture and the President) had a discussion, they said the flag off of cocoa revolution will take place in Ondo State. We are working on our farms and clearing them for cocoa production and we want to involve many of our youths because they are the ones that will plant. We are going to give a hectare to each person to farm. The moment we have cocoa plantation, we are going beyond producing what we can consume to what we can export.
We have got a lot of competitions and we have talked to people and they realised the best chocolate they can have in Nigeria is in Ondo State. I took a bar of chocolate made from our cocoa out of town some time ago. When tasted, it is different from the chocolate that has been mixed with sugar because it is more of cocoa than sugar or other items added. What they eat out there is not more of cocoa but a bit of cocoa and much of sugar. But our factory at Alade Idanre will soon start full operation.
During the campaign, you promised to support local government independence. Do you still maintain your stand?
During the campaigns, I never promised to support local government self-rule. Being a lawyer, who understands the principle of true federalism, I can’t support that kind of move. We must handle local government autonomy with care because Nigeria has only the federal government and state as federating units. That is the practice of federalism all over the world. I don’t know what they mean by local government autonomy. Does that mean the Akure South Local Government will stand on its own and be above the state government?
Local government autonomy is not practicable in Nigeria.
Despite paying salaries up to date you still owe the 2017 leave bonus of workers. When are you going to pay it?
On the agitations for the 2017 leave bonus payment, government will pay when the state is buoyant. The most important thing is for us to pay salaries and we are doing that; leave bonus is an addition. It is not a right but a bonus. So, when we have more money, we will pay because we can’t use the money meant for salary to pay leave bonus.
There is an impression that you are shielding your immediate forerunner, who is also your acquaintance, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko, over the debt portfolio you inherited.
Yes, former Governor Olusegun Mimiko is my friend. We have been friends since our university days. We got to the university the same year, 1974. We were both involved in student union politics. So, I cannot deny him. I cannot allow politics to destroy everything between us. Your friend will remain your friend in and out of government. I will never deny him; I won’t, because politics will come and go. He knows me and I know him. He knows my beliefs; he knows that there is no way I would cover up or hide anything. So, it is not a case of ‘he is my friend, so I am covering up anything for him’. No.
I made a clear statement when we appointed commissioners. My work cannot be hindered by what anybody is. I enumerated the financial deficit I met on the ground that came up to N220bn including so many gratuities and pensions, among others. The state was in debt. I do not have to cover anybody, but my friend and I still talk. Though when I said I met nothing on the ground, his commissioner for information said no, they left money. And I asked, will the government that has money owed workers seven months’ salaries? I restated that what I met on ground was over N220bn debt. So, it is a misconception to say Olusegun Mimiko left money. If they had money, would they owe seven months’ salaries?
President Muhammadu Buhari recently appointed Asiwaju Bola Tinubu to reconcile angry members of the party across the country. Do you think you need such intervention to resolve the worries in the party here in Ondo State?
What I can say on that is that all is well with the APC in Ondo State. We are waxing stronger. We don’t have any crisis here. Those who left the party have returned. Mr. Olusola Oke just came back. We have been receiving defectors from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and other parties. I don’t think we need any intervention in our party in Ondo State. There’s firmness in our party here. Those who have been appointed as peacemakers may not have work to do here. But that does not mean if Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu former governor of Lagos state wants to come to Ondo state, he is not welcome. No, he is welcome anytime, any day, but I just want to repeat that all is well with us in Ondo State and the All Progressives Congress (APC).