Gbenga Elegbeleye, a former Director General of the National Sports Commission, was a member of the Peoples Democratic Party before he decamped to the All Progressive Congress (APC) in Ondo State He is a member of the Akeredolu Transition Committee. In this interview, he told The Guardian why his former party lost the election, and sets a target for Akeredolu in his first 100days in office.
A lot of people were shocked to see you on the podium queuing behind Rotimi Akeredolu shortly before the election; people had thought you would stick to your old friend, Governor Olusegun Mimiko, what went wrong?
You know that was my first time of changing a party, I have never been involved in carpet crossing, but unfortunately, Governor Mimiko came from Labour Party and bastardised PDP – beyond repairs. So, it became very impossible for people like us to stay in that party. Because I realised his mistake when he was in Labour Party, he was truly an Iroko but surrounded with termite infested grasses, so, he was not being challenged by anybody, nobody could challenge him, but when he came to PDP, it was a different ball game and he failed to realise that.
I was with Makarfi. I went to Senator Makarfi and told him the implications of what Mimiko was doing in Ondo State. I met with Chief Dayo Adeyeye; I met with Senator Abdul Ningi, who are leaders of the Party at the national level. I also met with Senator Modibo Sheriff, I let them realise what was happening in Ondo State; and that with Mimiko we will not win any election. But the impression given to me by the Makarfi group when I met him was that they seem to be powerless. I told them to come and supervise the delegates' election ward by ward and if you don't do that, the government would just write the delegates' names and give to them to accept and that was exactly what Mimiko did.
What do you think worked for Rotimi Akeredolu this time and why he lost in 2012?
In 2012, ACN was not a popular party in Ondo State, and that is the plain truth, but now APC has become one of the popular parties in Ondo State, and again Governor Mimiko made things very impossible for the PDP to attract the sympathy of the people. Then most politicians left to join APC with a better atmosphere, than this dictatorial arrangement of Dr. Mimiko. Give it to Chief Sola Oke, who is a popular candidate but unfortunately, AD is not a party known to us, it has not root in Ondo State, so it couldn't have won any election in Ondo State. But if you look at the person of Akeredolu, four years ago, he contested; he was commissioner for Justice in Ondo State and Attorney General over 20 years ago. So, those age groups now know Aketi very well.
Governor Mimiko owed the just 16,000 civil servants in the state about seven months arrears of salaries; he couldn't pay, an oil producing state. You may have to remember that in spite of all the huge support Mimiko and PDP got from the Presidency during the 2015 presidential election, PDP lost to Muhammadu Buhari of the APC. That is to tell you that the people have long deserted Mimiko.
When you now see the character and quality of Rotimi Akeredolu, the people of Ondo State had no difficulty in settling for him, who is known not to be deceitful or greedy. If Akeredolu does not like something, you will see it in his face; he is a very plain person. Very compassionate, he will not tell people lies, he will not play games with the career of people. Tell me, why would the populace note vote for him? It was a vote for Aketi based on the realisation that they made the mistake four years ago. And people like us contributed to that mistake.
Now, the election has been won and lost. In your view, what are the immediate challenges this governor-elect will likely face?
The challenges before Akeredolu are very enormous, he must find a way to harness our untapped resources for Ondo State to make progress, rather than waiting for federal allocation alone. That allocation will never be enough. Imagine, Akeredolu is going to inherit a state with huge salary arrears, except Mimiko pays before leaving office.
Akeredolu needs to know that he is going to inherit a myriad of problems. I believe in his ability to right the wrongs, I will want him to start immediately.
In the area of infrastructure, what are the essential things he needs to tackle to re-start the state economy?
Let me tell you one thing, we need to look elsewhere now. We need to look first at the issue of youth employment and empowerment. We don't need the young ones to seek employment from government. The younger ones in Ondo State are very intelligent, it is good for them to be self employed, because we are in computer age, this is the age of internet, there are so many businesses you can do to get money, government must provide the conducive environment, it must give them the impetus to start-up. Government should be looking toward agriculture for the youth.
I am happy that Lagos is selling 50kg rice bag at N12, 000, it is called Lake rice, in partnership arrangement with Kebbi States. Akeredolu has the capacity to do that in Ondo state because we have many places we can produce rice in the coastal areas.
There are many abandoned industries in the state, with huge potential to generate massive employment. How would you advise Akeredolu to go about them?
Mimiko made so many promises and fulfilled virtually nothing; we have these industries created by Pa Ajasin, Premier Metal Industry in Ondo town the Nigeria/Romanian Wood Industry, also in Ondo town, the Ile-Oluji Cocoa Industry. We also have Ifon Ceramics, Okitipupa Oil mill, Oluwa Glass etc. Why spend billions of Naira on a dome, abandoning revenue-generating ventures like Oluwa Glass.
All a governor needs is to provide funds and partnership for the private sector to come and revive those ailing industries. A private sector driven industry will always survive because the idea is to make profit. But government business is nobody's business because you cannot trust those people you put in there, they will always be looking for opportunity to make money from the system, but the private sector will want to monitor their investment, if it is profit driven.
It is very funny to see that Mimiko was not able to complete Agagu's projects. Agagu started this new Akure Stadium, it is abandoned, also the Golf course in Idanre is abandoned, several road projects Agagu started are now abandoned; the Okitipupa-Irele long bridge is also abandoned, the water project to serve four local governments in the Central Senatorial District areas is abandoned. I now ask myself, is government not a continuum? You abandoned laudable projects started by your predecessor, then went ahead to start fresh projects and which you yourself refused to complete, is that not funny?
So, you advise the in-coming government to revive these industries?
Yes, Akeredolu must tackle those industries as a matter of urgency. I am very particular about Oluwa Glass. Iso Glass a privately operated factory in Ibadan is still working till today. So, Oluwa Glass has the capacity to serve the entire South West. Akeredolu should seek private partners to revive all of them in a way that it would not be a drain to the state's treasury.
Any need to review the state's taxation system.
Let me tell you one thing, I will advise him not to even think of increasing taxation, if he does that, he will be increasing the burden of the already pauperized people of Ondo State. He should look at the system of generating revenue and the method of collecting that revenue. There must be leakages for him to block.
In the first 100 days of Akeredolu, what target are you setting for him?
I know the economic situation in Nigeria now, and that of Ondo State in particular; I will like to see small, small projects that will alleviate the suffering of the people. For example, in Akoko, we don't have electricity for the past one and a half years. The entire Southern Senatorial District down to Ore has not seen electricity for more than three years. Yet, we have a government in place. I want Akeredolu to do that one first in his first 100 days, not building housing estates, no, those who are living now, let them have a better life.