Mimiko Must Get Ondo State Off Her Knees

RIGHT now, the whole of Nigeria is celebrating the recent judgement by the Justice Garba Nabaruma-led Election Petitions Tribunal in Akure, which rightly declared that Dr Olusegun Mimiko won the 2007 gubernatorial election in Ondo State and should be immediately sworn in as governor.

In a clear-cut case, the tribunal easily came to the conclusion that Dr Mimiko won the election and there was no dissenting judgment from any member of the five-man panel. Having studied the evidence before it, the tribunal stated that Dr Mimiko was able to prove his petition that Dr Olusegun Agagu did not score the highest number of lawful votes cast nor did he meet the constitutional requirements of scoring 25% in at least two-thirds of the state's local government areas.

In a 70-minute verdict, the tribunal declared Dr Mimiko the winner of the April 14,2007 governorship election with a total number of 198,269 votes while Dr Agagu, who was declared the winner by the Independent National Electoral Commission (Inec), only scored 128,669 votes. Justice Nabaruma also ordered Inec to issue a certificate of return to Dr Mimiko.

Across the length and breadth of Nigeria, the verdict is being hailed as not only a victory for democracy but also a relief that there is still hope for our judicial system. After the recent verdicts involving David Mark and Olagundoye Oyinlola, many Nigerians had begun the question the independence of the judiciary, so this Mimiko victory was a welcome relief.

While the rest of Nigeria celebrates and the likes of Afenifere, the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties all issued statements hailing the verdict, the people of Ondo State have no time to join in the celebrations. Yes, it is nice to get your vote counted and the candidate you elected named as your governor but that is only the first step in a journey of thousands of miles.

For starters, even Dr Agagu knows that he did not win that election, so he should please do the honourable thing and stand down. Ondo State probably had the most clear cut election in 2007, in which Dr Mimiko won by a landslide, so taking the matter to appeal is only going to prolong the agony for the Ondo State people.

If Dr Segun Agagu wants to redeem himself for his mismanagement of Ondo State and occupy the moral high ground, he should do the unthinkable and refuse to appeal. Imagine how he will go down in the annals of Nigerian history if he accepts the verdict and refuses to challenge it.

I also wonder if those around Dr Agagu ever tell him that he did absolutely nothing during his first four years as governor and that in an ideal democracy, his party would not have renominated him in 2007. By my estimation, Segun Agagu was by far the worst governor in Nigeria between 2003 and 2007 and I challenge him to point to one single solid achievement he can boast of during his first tenure.

For those who do not know, Ondo State receives the fifth largest oil allocation in Nigeria. It has everything a state could wish for including cocoa, palm oil, kolanuts, rubber, timber, cassava, maize, bitumen, tourism potential at Idanre Hills, a massive transport industry at Ore, one of the highest number of skilled and graduate workers and the potential or a high-tech economy.

I have spent the last 10 years working in commodity trading in the UK and know for a fact that similar regions to Ondo State in other parts of the world generate at least $50bn in foreign exchange earnings. I wonder is Segun Agagu has ever been to Bahia in Brazil, Sumatra in Indonesia, Borneo in Malaysia, Entre Rios in Argentina, India's Uttar Pradesh or Punjab in Pakistan.

Does he know that Malaysia makes $10bn from palm oil exports alone? I take it that Dr Agagu is aware of the fact that Malaysia originally got their palm oil seedlings from Nigeria.

Is Dr Agagu also aware of the fact that every commercial survey so far has shown that Ondo State is sitting on $10bn worth of annual bitumen exports? I find it hard to understand how Dr Agagu, a professor of geology from my alma mata UI, cannot come up with a means to make bitumen a cash cow for Ondo State.

Even if the Nigerian economy is bad and in a terrible state, Ondo State should be immune by simple virtue of its natural resources. Economic regeneration aside, what has Dr Agagu done when it comes to the provision of basic social and physical amenities?

Just cross the border in neighbouring Ekiti State and you will think you are in another country when you see how Ayo Fayose kept the street clean, installed public bins, put in street lights, etc. For all his faults and his corruption, Fayose at least appreciated the need to keep people motivated by providing a few signs of government presence in his state.

If you want to go further, cross the border westwards and see how Gbenga Daniels turned Olumo Rock into a tourist attraction. What stopped Agagu from doing the same at Idanre? Do you know that Idanre has more potential than Obudu?

Given all this and the lamentable fact that Ondo State has simply refused to make any use of its natural resources, now is not a time for celebration but one for sober reflection. Dr Segun Mimiko has got to show that he will make a difference, or replacing one hapless governor with another represents nothing more than a beauty contest.

I for one will be keeping a close eye on Dr Mimiko's cabinet. His appointments will give us an indication of what direction he intends to take our beloved state. Will we see radical changes or the typical chop-make-I-chop politics of the status quo?

Dr Mimiko also has to come up with tough targets for his commissioners. For instance, the education commissioner has to cut class sizes to 35 within a year or lose his job, the works commissioner must tar 500km of road a year or lose his job, the health commissioner must cut infant deaths by 10% a year or lose his job, the water resources commissioner must give 5,000 people potable water a year or get kicked out.

Dr Mimiko must also come up with revenue generating programmes designed to make Ondo State self-sufficient without any federal allocation. He should have projections that look like this: cocoa - $10bn; bitumen - $10bn; tourism - $10bn, palm oil - $5bn, timber - $5bn; transport - $5bn; kolanuts - $5bn; cassava - $5bn.

In Nigeria, we are very good are sharing revenue in Nigeria but poor at generating it. Mimiko should stand up and say: "Ondo State will be different. We do not want Abuja handouts."

What we need to do here is put together programmes to make Ondo State the agro-industrial powerhouse of Nigeria. For starters, how do we get the Ile-Oluji cocoa processing plant, the Okitipupa oil mill, the Ondo Nirowi timber plant and Idanre Hills earning Ondo State money?

Dr Mimiko, enough of the jubilation now. Let us get on with the serious business of turning Ondo State around. We need to get cocoa, timber, palm oil, cassava, kolanut, bitumen, etc processing up and running. We need to get Idanre Hills turned into a tourist attraction and the unique status of Ore as a major transportation hub needs to be exploited.

Ondo State should easily generate $20bn a year in foreign export earnings a year by the end of your tenure. Only time will tell if the man nicknamed Iroko is as sturdy a character as his name suggests.