JUST IN: My aspiration to govern Ondo State is now or never – Olusola Oke

Olusola Oke is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria and an aspirant under the platform of the All Progressives Congress in the forthcoming November 16 governorship election in Ondo State. Oke has contested for the governorship seat twice and has, again, thrown his hat into the ring to contest in the April primary of the APC in the state....READ FULL ARTICLE

In this interview, he speaks on his chances, problems confronting the state, and how he intends to tackle them and restore the lost glory of the ‘Sunshine State’. Oke is optimistic that President Bola Tinubu won’t impose aspirants on the party in the coming primary election. He declares that if given the ticket of the APC at the forthcoming primaries, there would be no opposition to the party during the main poll. Excerpts:

What inspired your renewed governorship bid in Ondo State, having contested twice in 2012 and 2016?

The reasons I contested then are still prevailing and multiplying, and I will be failing in my responsibilities if I do not come out at this time. The state is blessed with abundant natural, mineral, agricultural and human resources. Yet today, it is one state in Nigeria that is under the heavy burden of backwardness and burden of poverty.

We are in deficit in many respects; in the education sector, there is a wide gap; in the health sector, we are lagging behind. I was myself a living witness to this recently, when I was involved in a ghastly motor accident and was taken to the trauma centre. My experience during the very short stay there showed that Ondo State is far from the starting point in the health sector.

I know there is nothing happening in infrastructure in terms of the road network. We cannot boast of any dualized 10 kilometres road in this state.

I am running again because of the gap in development, unemployment. The gap is widening every day. We produce nothing less than 20,000 graduates yearly, yet not up to three percent of them are absorbed.

In the beginning, in this state, there was Ifon Ceramic, Cocoa Industry in Ile-Oluji, there was Oluwa Glass, Okitipupa Oil Mill and a host of others that were complementing the efforts of the government in terms of employment. All these have become history and new ones are not coming.

Our economy has remained a civil service economy and our lives depend massively on transfer payment and whoever money is transferred to adds no value to the society because it is not money earned from productivity.

Today, Ondo State is like a baby crying looking for a savior; it’s looking for a leader that would put a new song on the lips of the people. Our micro economy is almost not there anymore. In every society when there’s no micro economy, development is far from the people. Everywhere in the world, it is the micro economy that drives the macro economy. That is totally absent in Ondo State. So what we now have filling the gap is criminality.

If you look at our education sector, you would know that something is wrong, we are lacking in capacity. All our technical schools have shut down and that is where capacity used to be built. This is not in Ondo State alone; I think it affects the entire South West. So, what do we have? Unemployment, criminality; our youths indulge in crime.

The culture of begging, that is never part of our culture, has filled the vacuum and the state is crying for a new leadership; a leadership that will motivate the people; a leadership that will be able to harness available resources; a leadership that will be able to change the narrative.

Our people have lost hope in governance; our people have surrendered to willing politicians who want to buy their conscience; who want to mortgage their future by giving the joy of one day and taking the future of the people.

What are your plans to change the fortunes of the state for the better?
Ondo State is in a state of war and needs a leader with direction and mission, who will be able to change the narrative; that will be able to change the direction of our economy and development.

If you go to states that were created long after Ondo State, you would see the level of infrastructure, the level of development in terms of human development, and capacity building.

Ondo State has all resources and we cannot continue to use the same formula and expect different results. What is being done all the time is to develop the cosmopolitan or develop the township roads but our economy does not lie in township, it lies in the rural areas, in the farmland. What have we done since 1976? The rural areas still remain locked.

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I do give an example that when you engage a graduate who just left the university and you tell him to practice agriculture. In order to locate the farmland, he boarded an Okada.

In the morning, the dew fell on him; in the afternoon, the dust fell on his head; after two or three days, he would have become sick and would run away. But if you take another person there using a vehicle such that when he gets there, he has home to accommodate him, there is a solar light and borehole, and government opens land for him and gives him yielding products and at the end of the day he made N2.5 million, the next year, the guy would be encouraged; he would go there with his finance and spend two to three weeks and be targeting N3million to N5 million in the other year. Compare this one with the other ones who went on Okada. I believe that the government can open opportunities in a vast area of resources.

Our mineral resources are there; the coastal resources are there; most of the land map process Dr. Olusegun Agagu initiated has been abandoned, the Owena Multipurpose Dam which could have provided many people water was abandoned.

I was told the government has to push a $200 million loan to re-jig it; about 50 percent has been paid and it has been abandoned. The 11,000 capacity stadium was abandoned, the cassava processing in Ikoya project which would have added value to the economy, generated employment, generated income for people, all these projects were abandoned and new ones are not implemented.

The state is in total decay and collapse, all of this I believe a man with vision, with dreams and who has been part of it will understand the feeling of the people, and God has given me the opportunity to acquire experience which I can bring up. I believe I am the right man for the job.

The governor of Ondo State must be determined; he must be focused. I want to bring my own ideas. Our children are going out of the country because there is nothing to do here. We produce not less than 25,000 graduates yearly; not up to five percent have been absorbed.

Unless we change direction, we make up our minds that we want to change things, he must be a hard working human being and I think with my experience and age, with my commitment and closeness to the people, I believe that I am the best person for the job.

But all the challenges you identified have been with the state for many years.
Let me say that these problems did not start with the APC government; they have been there. Agagu came in to address some of those fundamental questions; he lost the opportunity to accomplish his mission because his second term was truncated. I was not part of the government that succeeded him for eight years.

Let me say that everybody running for position has his own ideas, dreams and perspective towards governance, irrespective of your own ideas, they have to go according to their own philosophy and every opportunity we had to interact, I did not shroud my ideas in any secrecy, I share them, but they may not listen, though I have been a member of this party, I have not be part of the government, I can express my view, if the view and the mission do not tally, certainly it would not go far.

The leadership of the APC, at the national level, seems to be interested in who picks the party’s ticket. Do you think you have a chance?
There is no doubt the leadership of the party and the leadership of the nation would be interested. If this contest were to be influenced and determined locally, I probably would not have to sweat because I believe very strongly that the people of Ondo State are craving for my leadership in this state, but it involves people other than the people of this state.

But I want to believe that President Bola Tinubu who is the leader of the party and the president of Nigeria, is one man that would not sit at the comfort of his private room and drop or pick an aspirant or candidate of the party, he would consider acceptability, capacity and many factors that would not make only the party to win but to make the party excel in governance. I am confident that when these factors are put on the table, I am higher than other aspirants.

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So, what do you think will determine the choice of the next governor for the state?
I believe very strongly that what would determine the next governor of this state would be aspirants’ antecedents, what you have been able to do with power when you have the opportunity, the level of acceptability to the people of the state, your contribution to the party.

When Akeredolu was contesting, I supported him; the current president knows my virtues. If I am given the ticket today, there would be no opposition in Ondo State, the PDP would rally their support for me, the Labour Party would do the same.

You seem to be optimistic of winning but if you fail….

I am sure I will win, but in the most unlikely event, if I do not win, I am a party man, I will accept the will of God and face my profession. I know the people desire my service, if the accident did not truncate my ambition, then I believe that it is a will of God for me to contest, I am talking about the primaries, because I am very optimistic that I cannot lose the general election in Ondo State.

There’s black out in the southern Region of the state and coincidentally, you hailed from there, what are your plans to restore power to the communities in the area?

It is a very sad situation that almost the entire South has been in dark for decades, some over, during this period I must report that I have never held any public position, but as a leader, what we could do was to bring to the attention of those who are in the position of finding solution to it.

I was very instrumental to the water project in Omotoso, unfortunately that project has being concluded but the distribution has been the issue, all the roads to distribute has been bad, we would continue to agitate, we have made recommendation to OSOPADEC, to do something, we have spoken to Power Holding Company. It is easier to influence these things when you are in government.

I remembered that it was part of the campaign of Senator Jimoh Ibrahim, I have not spoken to him recently to know what step that he has made in that regard, but I can tell you it is part of my plan if God willing, gives me the mantle. This was not just in the south alone but in the entire state, I can assure you that this project would be my priority; the power outage would be looked into.

Do you think it is possible to unseat the incumbent who is also in this race, considering the power of incumbency and other factors?
The death of late governor Akeredolu has caused elevation and de-elevation. We all seem to agree that the leadership would be interested. It takes a long time to build structure; you need structure to win elections, of all the aspirants.

I want to say that of all the aspirants eyeing the governorship seat in the state, I am the only one with structure in this state. I share from the structure of others to add to my own, it is not going to be who has more money or who has the largest resources, it is going to be the man who can do the job for the people of Ondo State.

I might not have enough money, but the race would not be determined alone by money, there would be other considerations which would be in my favour.

Do you have the governor’s blessing on your aspiration?

Before Akeredolu traveled out, I met him in Ibadan to brief him about my aspirations and desire to succeed him. When I came back to the state I went straight to Ayedatiwa to inform him too, he said he knew that I am serious about it, though he has not briefed me about his, but whether or not he told me, I know it is his constitutional right to also aspire for the position, I believe that he has the right, I grudge him not.

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What mode of primary do you think the party might adopt in picking its candidate?

We have always elected our candidate in APC through an indirect primary mode. It has fairly worked with us here; we are yet to know the mode of primary that would be adopted. If you ask me, I think what we have practiced and has worked for us is a good mode to adopt.

And let me tell you, whatever mode the party decides is acceptable to me, if it is direct, let it be truly direct, once it is free, fair, it is good for me, I am very serious about this aspiration, it is either now or never.

You’re a known grassroots politician. Do you see this working for you in your aspiration to rule the state?
I did not bother to give the account of myself because I believe virtually everyone knows me here. I have spent a good part of my life in public life, after graduating from the Law School I came to Lagos to practice and I returned to Ondo State, I have been around here.

I served the people at the level of the National Assembly; I served the people at the committee representing Ondo State at the Planning Board of the Niger Delta Development Commission.

I can say without any form of contradiction that the project structure that I put in place during this period speaks volume. In the last election, both the People’s Democratic Party and the All Progressives Congress are using those structures as campaigns because after then, nothing has been put in place.

The road that connected Igbokoda I put that in place, every facility you see, I put it up. I served at the highest level as a ruling party at that time, I didn’t just become national leader advisor, I served at the lower level at the Social Democratic Party, I was the legal adviser at the local government. I served at many levels; I served as the chairman of many boards. I was a member of the technical committee of the NNDD that recommended the amnesty programme in the Niger Delta.

I have served as the South West Director of the campaign for President Muhammadu Buhari. Even in the last one, I was a member of the Presidential campaign council, the Deputy legal Director and I was also a member of the legal team for Tinubu.

I could go on stating all of these as part of the opportunity I have had to acquire experience. My decision to still continue to be in politics is not borne out of any gap in my life.

I have live the peak of my career as a legal practitioner and I believe that I am a successful legal practitioner, but my involvement in politics, I have been able to make name to be one of the best ten lawyers in Nigeria in my career, I have served the people in many diversity in my communities, I believe that I owe a duty to bring this experience to the governance of Ondo State, that is why I have been involved in the aspiration of leading this state.

Three of us started in my generation, myself, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko and the late Akeredolu. Akeredolu was the youngest of the three, Mimiko was one and half year older than me, I am three months older than Akeredolu, the two of them have had the opportunity of actualizing their aspiration, God who created us not to come from the same senatorial district certainly has a purpose to open opportunity for me to still be able to aspire, otherwise I would have come from the north or come from the central where it is no longer their turn, but I am from the south, where it appears agreed or settled that the next governor would come from.

I have seen the status and caliber of others coming out, and no doubt, anything of this nature many people would be interested but Ondo State needs a leader with vision, with directions, with commitment, and not a leader just coming to fill any gap but the state needs a leader who is ready to serve the people.

What I am looking forward to in life now is legacy, because whether we like it or not, our grave is already descending, I have not seen anyone being celebrated because he wore the best of material or many cars, people are celebrated when you deliver people at the hour of their need....READ FULL ARTICLE

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