IF THE RIGHTEOUS FAILS TO RULE, THE PEOPLE WILL MOURN – OKUNOMO.
Honourable Banji Ben, Okunomo is a leading gubernatorial aspirant of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party in Ondo State. He is a man of magnificent many-sidedness; ranking political phenomenon, business mogul, closet radical, community leader, orator per excellence, consummate administrator, and of course a happy family man. BBO (as fondly called in political circles) is a man with emotional intelligence that has many characteristics and the ability to deliver on mandates going by his experiences and antecedents.
In this interview with our man IBIKUNLE IKUYINMINU, the former Ilaje Local Government Chairman and former spoke person to the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in Ondo State bares his mind on the Akeredolu Administration in Ondo Stat, the 2020 guber race, why he is eminently the most qualified, and other issues.
It is a library material.
We got here this morning to see a Banji Okunomo who is really committed to this ambition of taking over Ondo State as the governor.
Thank you my brother.
Meanwhile, the starting point for this interview is a look at your political profile. Please give us a run down.
I’m Banji Okunomo. My full name is Okunomo Adebanji Benjamin. But people do call me BBO. That is why the acronym BBO is derived from my name. I have my primary, secondary and tertiary education all in Ondo State.
(Cuts in) We are coming into that sir. But quickly give us a run-down of your political profile.
I have been a local government chairman before. I was the head of a government. I was the Chief Executive Officer of Ilaje Local Government Area of the State for two years, between 2011 and 2013. For this period of time, I was able to use the opportunity to administer the affairs of the people at the local government.
You know the local government makes up the state and the state makes up the federation. And of the three tiers of government. And what is most important is service especially service at that level. When you have served meritoriously at that level and your service is still being appreciated after several years of your leaving the office, it is an attestation to the fact that you have indeed served well. And before I became the local government chairman, I was once the special adviser to a local government chairman. Let me also remarkably say that I was a spokesman to the PDP in Ondo State for four years. And it was a position that afforded me the opportunity to understand the needs of the people. It was an opportunity for me to (know) the needs of the people. It was an opportunity for me to the one to be the voice of the people, say it the way they are without mincing words. So those are experiences (political experiences) that we have gathered and which have been the basis, giving through the experiences, to say that we can actually govern Ondo State and do excellently well.
How about the NDDC? Was there a time you served in one capacity or the other in this establishment?
Of course, I served with NDDC in 2001, and I was retained on contract in 2002. I became officially absorbed in the services of the commission in 204 and when I was appointed chairman of Ilaje Local Government, I had to a leave of service to be able to accept that responsibility. And after the service as chairman, I returned to the system. And again, I was also appointed as SSA to the governor, until I was deployed to serve as the spokesperson of the party in our dear state.
The Akeredolu Administration in the state is almost running out its four-year term. How would you objectively assess the performances of the government these last three and half years or so?
The administration of the outgoing governor is a parochial administration. The administration is narrow-minded. The administration has been discriminatory. The administration has been father, mother and son administration. This is condemnable because it is unprecedented in the history of Ondo State. Every successive government in Ondo State will have a touch on the 18 LGAS in the state. The Mimiko Administration touched every local government. But for this current administration, you only feel its effects on three local government. As you need me to mention those local governments.
Please go ahead
Akure, Owo and Odigbo Local Government. Those are the only places. There is no sign of development in any of the fifteen other local government I the state.
Honourable Okunomo, is this not a sentimental assessment as people have applauded the administration especially on the network of roads? The Ore flyover project has received a lot of boosts from different quarters I know.
How can you call it a sentimental assessment? Is it not the Ore flyover project you mentioned? Have I not included Odigbo Local Government where we can feel the impact of this administration? And is Ore not in Odigbo Local Government? Go to Okitipupa Local Government, where is the presence of the government? Go to Ile-Oluji, where is the presence of the government there? Go to Ilaje, can you see anything there?
But are there things which ought to be done by the administration which he had neglected?
Of course, they are.
Please go ahead and itemize these.
On education, a particular section that we pride high in Ondo State, the government look at the tuition fees, how it has been hiked, increased beyond what it was, I believe that a government that is people-driven, people-oriented and people-governed should know that education is the basic need of the society which must be provided by the government and any government that fail in that areas, or tampers with the good situation of same before it came on board, that government is not worthy to be applauded. If hitherto students were paying between twenty-five and thirty thousand naira, and are now paying two hundred thousand naira or close to that, so what can you say of that? Is that an improvement or a non-improvement? Then look at the free bus shuttle that was in operation under the Mimiko Administration. Under this administration, the buses turned to be vehicles that are used for entertainments and for parties, social engagements so to say. Some were taken to the eastern part of the country and they got grounded there. The mission for introducing the free bus shuttle has been bastardised and have been banished by the government in power. So, to say that this government has done any improvement in that sector is a complete lie, white lie. So I don’t call black white or call white black. This is the way they are. Now look at the health sector, the health sector of Ondo State is in a worrisome state. It could have been better for the government to leave the sector the way it met it rather than worsening the situation. Our hospitals are not in good conditions. Apart from the dilapidated conditions of the facilities, the charges that people are paying, you know, patients in the hospitals, who were getting almost everything free, now find it difficult to cope because the government we have in place derives so much in exploitations, exploiting the people, exploiting the downtrodden, exploiting the poor masses, exploiting the people that are in need. Again, I believe that the government should look beyond taxation, taxing people, taxing peasants, taxing ordinary people on the streets all because you are a government. I am not saying that payment of tax is not a civic responsibility of the people, but I am saying that you don’t over-tax these people. In a situation whereby you have to pay into dual accounts, one account belonging to the government and the other one belonging to the contractor. The total amount that goes to the contractor’s account is higher than what goes to the government’s account, this is fraud. And again, I must say it that there is no accountability of this government. I’m here issuing a statement that I will ensure that I give a periodic account of the income and spendings of the government, ensure there is a balance in the account every month; not that a government will just be living on luxury at the expense of the tax payers in the state. Look at what happened to the money that was said to be in a secret account.
That money was not in any secret account. It was government’s money. You may want to know that the money has been there for more than eight years. The money, as it was, will still remain the same after eight years. Where is the interest on the money? Let them disclose this. They think they can just sweep it under the carpet. You can’t sweep it under the carpet o because the people are going to ask where is our money. The money was not in the budget; it just disappeared. And they are finding a way of blocking the public from making further comments on that. But I can tell you that that is not good enough for any government. A good government should be accountable to the people. A good government must be answerable to the people. A good government must utilize, no matter how meagre the resources are, for the betterment of the people. And if we look at the various sectors of Ondo State, you cannot confidently say that we are faring well in the state. Our situation is worse than anything in the state. No recruitment into the civil service. They just have to recruit when the election is about a month. This I call window dressing employment. These are employments that are not genuine in intentions. It is an employment that is being targeted at the electorates whom they will deceive. I mean before they can complete the process of recruitment, the election would have come, and would not have paid anybody any salary. These are the things we are going to do. On industrialization,
(Cuts in)We are coming into that sir. Hitherto, we had rumours that you are running for the office of the governor using the PDP’s platform, and since then, we have been running after you to hear from the horse’s mouth. Your eventual collection of expression of interest and nomination forms has cleared the air. But what informed your decision to run in the first place, Hon. BBO?
You see, by my very nature, I am not a very ambitious person. In my entire political history, I have been supportive. Rather than aspire into positions, I would always prefer to support others to get to positions.
But you never rejected the Council Chairmanship when you were offered.
Yes, I sought to be Chairman when I needed to be. I wanted to be Chairman because I saw what was happening. Every Chairman that was appointed in Ilaje Local Government would have nothing to showcase as his own achievements. And I said let me be Chairman to make a difference. For example, there are three roads connected together at the secretariat. Your editor can attest to it.
You mean my boss?
Sorry, your boss. One of the reasons I said I wanted to be Chairman was that I said I would do these roads if I become the Council Chairman. The construction of the three roads was accomplished by me as the Council Chairman. Not only were these roads contracted, they we’re constructed with sophisticated technologies othewise referred to as interlock. I also had the vision to a motor – park for the road users because the one in the middle of the town created some traffic logjams for the people. We introduced a motor park system at the entrance of Igbokoda. It is there for every eye to see till today. It was my own project. I built a modern Civic Centre in my community
, that is Etikan. Go there and see things for yourself. I did a lot of bridges there. I employed 344 number of people into the services of the local government. But today, why I want to be governor is that I have come to realize that if the righteous fails to rule, the people will mourn, because the alternative is for the unrighteous to be in government. And if the unrighteous ones are in authority, the people will weep. And that is what the All Progressive Congress stands for all over the country. In fact, APC at the national level. As somebody with a righteous mind, I believe if I go into power, I will guide myself with the dictates of the Almighty God, because the Almighty God cherishes when you do something and you do it for the betterment of humanity. The ultimate goal of a government, the focus of every government, the aim of a good government is to do what will make the people to smile, not for the people to weep or to cry. That is why I have chosen to be governor. And then, when you also want to be a governor in an environment or in a society where amongst the people with different ethnic backgrounds, you must also study the political ways or culture of the people of that environment or that society. I’ve come of age to know a lot about the politics of Ondo State. I’ve been actively involved since 1999. Hence, to be a governor in this state, there is this thing, you know, an overbearing principle of equity in the sharing of the governorship position which is a very scarce position in four years. And the composition of Ondo State is such that we have three Senatorial Districts. These Senatorial Districts are artificial creations, a sort of geographical expression, to borrow Meternik’s famous description of England. In other words, within each of the Senatorial Districts are some ethnic nationalities. For instance, in the South, we have the Ikales and the Ilajes. In the Central, we have the Akures and the Ondos. In the North, we have the Oses, the Owos and the Akokos. These are all major ethnic groups with each of the Senatorial Districts. And the existence of these major ethnic groups does not foreclose the existence of other minor groups. Now in Ondo State, each of these major ethnic groups is distributed along the Senatorial Districts. From 1999till date, regardless of party affiliations, what has remained constant in who becomes a governor is where is that governor coming from. In 1999, the governor emerged from the north, from the Akoko axis . In 2003, the successor of the governor emerged from the south. That was Dr. Olusegun Agagu. After Dr. Agagu, Mimiko from the central took over. And Mimiko’s situation was unprecedented because he enjoyed 8 unbroken years, an uninterrupted be 2 terms. Now you will recall that it was expected that power would shift from the south to the Central and from there to the north or south, but our party, the PDP featured it’s candidate from the central. And this bad decision violated the political culture of the people of the people of Ondo State. And that was what failed the PDP in the last election. And come to think of it, in the politics of Ondo State, there has always been an invisible political hand that regulates the swing of the governorship position over time. When Chief Adebayo Adefarati who was from the northern senatorial district was there as the governor, the deputy governor came from the south. And you will recollect that the successor to Baba Adefarati was from the south. Again, when Dr. Segun Agagu became the governor, his deputy was from the central. And when Agagu left, his successor emerged from the central. I’m talking of no less a person than Dr. Segun Mimiko whose deputy (or may I say deputies?) came from the north. And don’t forget that the current governor who I will succeed (by His grace) is from the north. It goes to say that the logicality of any emerging governor coming from the senatorial district of the outgoing governor’s deputy remains so. And this is what I mean by the invisible hand. When a party fails to respect this age-long rotational policy, the electorates will do it. You will recall also that from the days of Adefarati, let’s not talk about Baba Ajasin, the north has enjoyed two terms. That was Chief Adefarati plus the current governor. Mimiko from the south, like I told you, enjoyed two terms. He is from the central. It is only the south which Dr. Agagu represented that has been there for only one term. So, going by zoning, it is only logical that a southerner should take over from the current governor. And I make bold to tell you that based on these two very sensitive factors of zoning and competence, I am eminently the most qualified for the governorship.
You were not able to get the whole of the Ilaje sub-ethnic nationality to endorse your candidacy. Why is this position so in spite of your acclaimed popularity?
Politics is a game in which the majority has its way. My brother, your position here is wrong, absolutely wrong. I can tell you without the fear of any contradiction that my aspiration enjoys the support of more than ninety percent of our people in Ilaje Local Government. That means directly or indirectly, I have the endorsement of my people.
If elected, what will you do differently as the governor of Ondo State?
If I am elected the governor, my administration will banish hunger from the state. Ondo State has no business to be poor. I shall look into agriculture and technology to turn around the economic fortunes of the state. I will effectively bridge the gap between the suspecting higher generation and the flexing lower generation of politicians using the efficacious instrument of my experience in public relations and my undaunted native intelligence.
And on the youths, you may want to know that the hope of any nation is still in the hands of the youths; that the breakthrough of any nation, either in academics, religion, politics or what have you has invariably been in the hands of dedicated youths. How do you hope to integrate the youths into your administration?
You do not, I think, need a soothsayer to tell you that I represent the youths. That does not however mean that with a youth as the Governor of the state, the elderly will be neglected. Our administration will be an all-inclusive government. We will empower the youths in every way that is humanly possible while we ensure as well that the old ones get their fair share of the dividends of the government. Unlike the present administration in the state, we will provide not just employment, but indeed gainful employments for our youths.
You we’re quoted to have said at a function a short while ago that women are the problems of themselves in politics. Look, many women have the right credentials and all that it takes to compete with the men in politics, but they lack the funds to pursue serious political agenda, and hence the reason they file behind the men in politics.
How do you to empower them if elected as the Governor?
Yes, I said that women are the problems of women, and men take advantage of this to rob them of their rights. But the remedy to this is simply this: if a man is in position and that man does not have the flair for women, he will join the retinue of men to keep cheating these women. If I have my way, it is my desire that one of the women becomes the deputy governor.
On health care delivery, what would you do differently?
Thank you. When he was Governor of the state, Dr. Segun Mimiko delivered greatly on health care delivery. The Mother and Child Hospital initiative, in particular, was a model. I marvel at his achievements in this particular sector. Of course, one would not be surprised given his background as a medical doctor. But look at it today, the present administration came and rubbished all of that. So what we will do is to go back to the Mimiko’s standards, follow it and even improve on it.
And that teminds me. Dr. Mimiko was a man you admired very much when he was the governor of Ondo State. Now that he is not in government, has your admiration for him gone?
I must tell you I admire his health programmes, and I just told you I am ready to build on same.
How about social insecurity rendering lives and property unsafe in the state?
Let me tell you, Kunle, unemployment breeds frustration, resentment and anti-social tendencies that poverty breeds. An undeveloped or underdeveloped mind is the kingdom of ignorance and error, and the congenial abode of false interpretation, confused memory, disordered imagination, and so on. In other words, an idle mind is the devil’s workshop. So with gainful employment, these youths will get engaged. We will work on industrialization, reviving all moribond firms in the state. And we we improve on the security architecture of the state so our people can begin to go to bed with their two eyes closed.
Finally, your message to the people of Ondo State now that the elections are around the corner.
My message to the people of Ondo State, particularly members of our great party, the PDP, is to jettison any strange element that has come with the intention to trap where he did not sew. My message to the people is to reject any emergency governorship aspirant who left the party when all was not well and who just came back after some of us had sacrificed a lot. They should know that anyone who joins an organization when everything is already in place has no place in it’s history. They should resist any attempt to hand over the party’s ticket to someone who fought us in the last election as an enemy remains as such. The people should reward loyalty and perseverance in their determination of who flags the party’s ticket in the October 10 gubernatorial election in the state. They must really demonstrate that patience and morality really pay. They should have a serious thought on the sacrifices some of us have made to make the party the beautiful bride they now run to today. If we had deserted it the way they did, would it have been this popular today? The people should look at our antecedents and support Banji Okunomo to grab the party’ s ticket, and Ondo State will shine again.
Thank you for this warn interview sir.