|Mimiko And Supporters Celebrating Victory|
By Kayode Ajulo
Ondo state has witnessed lots of political developments in the past years particularly since the return to democracy in Nigeria on the 29th of May, 1999. These developments have featured prominently the activities of one man – Olusegun Mimiko – who has transformed from the administrations over the years.
Dr. Olusegun Mimiko, fondly called “IROKO” has been part of the system over the years. He served as a commissioner for health under the Adebayo Adefarati administration and the Secretary to the State Government under the Olusegun Agagu regime before his elevation as a Minister of the Federal Government under the Olusegun Obasanjo regime. The events surrounding these are better left out since these are within the knowledge of watchers of the events as they unfold back then.
Dr. Olusegun Mimiko contested the gubernatorial elections on April 14, 2007 against the incumbent Olusegun Agagu. He contested under the platform of Labour Party, a relatively unknown political party with no political structure in the State when the leadership of the PDP shut the door arrogantly against him and prevented him from running even at the party’s primaries.
He however, lost the contest according to the result released by the Independent National Electoral Commission(INEC) as Dr. Olusegun Agagu was returned elected by the Commission having polled the highest number of votes cast at the election and thus fulfilled the constitutional and other lawful requirements at the election. This no doubt was the verdict of INEC as the verdict of the votes of the people shows the contrary because the people had spoken in one audible voice and pronounced Mimiko governor at the election but this common choice was greatly prejudiced and muffled by the evil machinations of the wielders of political power at the time. The pronouncement of the INEC was challenged at the Ondo State Governorship/Legislative Election Petition Tribunal and the Court of Appeal and both judicial bodies returned a verdict of victory as they invalidated the election of Olusegun Agagu and pronounced Olusegun Mimiko the duly elected governor of Ondo state having scored the highest number of valid votes and he assumed office on February 24, 2009. This judicial validation speaks of the mandate which the people earlier gave Mimiko about two years back at the polls which was manipulated. The overwhelming support he received from the people during the struggle to reclaim the stolen mandate is a clear evidence of this fact.
Upon his assumption of office, Governor Mimiko in his inaugural speech promised to work for the people of the state and to serve them at all times. True to this, he set out a 12-point developmental programme of his administration encapsulated in the acronym, A CARING HEART (Agriculture and Food Security, Community driven City and Coastal Region Renewal and General Development Initiatives, Aggressive Capitalisation of Land Resource, Roads and Infrastructure, Industrialisation, No-to-Poverty Programme, Gender Equality and Women Empowerment, Health Care and Housing, Education and Capacity Building, Artisanship Development and Empowerment Programme, Rural Development, Tourism, Sports and Youth Development).
In the area of health, the governor has revolutionalised the health care sector in the state through his Abiye (Safe Motherhood) project whose initiative was conceived in 2009 but launched in 2010, the establishment of referral centres, called Mother and Child Hospital (MCH) across the State, and Gani Fawehinmi Diagnostic Centre in Ondo.
The Abiye (Safe Motherhood) had been lauded by the World Bank as “a role model and a benchmark for the African continent in tackling infant and maternal mortality rate” in African Continent. Also, the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Africa Programme in Washington DC lauded the programme as a promising home-grown effort to building “a comprehensive, sustainable, and evidence-driven approach that ensures that women have reliable access to quality maternal health services.” It added that: “The Ondo approach is … an example of how broad principles of maternal health, on which there has been widespread agreement for several decades, can be tailored to local circumstances and implemented in a concerted, organised way.” The effect of this is that pregnancy no longer meant ‘death sentence’ to the pregnant women as more than 2,000 women delivered in health facilities and, this was increased to 6,000 in the second year. Through this, the infant/maternal mortality rate was greatly reduced.
The impact of the Mimiko administration is also felt in the educational sector through his Caring Heart Mega Schools project which is aimed at bringing quality education to the doorstep of the poor and the vulnerable in the society at little or no cost. It is also directed at bridging the gap between the poor and the rich in the State. Pupils in these schools (both from the poor and rich homes) which are established across the state, enjoy free tuition, and free uniforms. The schools with an average capacity of over 1,000 pupils are equipped with modern facilities, such as resort centres, computer centre, e-library and standard recreational facilities, thus competing favourably with most elitist private schools in Nigeria and in the world. The pupils in both primary and secondary schools, especially those in Akure, Ondo, Ikare, Owo and Okitipupa, at designated pick-points, are provided with luxurious buses to and from school free of charge. Also important is the creation of the Quality Education Assurance Scheme (QED), as an agency to ensure that schools are well managed for qualitative and better performance, thereby rescuing the educational sector from total collapse.
The agricultural sector also received the attention of the Government. The Mimiko administration established very large modern farm villages in each of the three senatorial districts of the state (Auga-Akoko (Ondo North), Ore (Ondo South) and Epe (Ondo central) as part of the measures to reduce the rates of graduate unemployment in the state and return the State to an agrarian State which it was known for. The graduate farmers are expected to be trained in mechanized farming. Accommodation with necessary facilities have been provided in each of the modern villages for the graduate farmers and are been paid monthly stipend in order to encourage them to continue to be in business, Government has equally promised to be buying proceeds from these farms as a form of encouragement.
The Mimiko government also scored high in the area of community development as the administration has embarked on programmes that touch the lives of the rural communities by ensuring that they enjoy the dividends of democracy. In this regard the Mimiko administration has successfully completed several modern day Caring Heart Neighbourhood markets equipped with modern facilities, like potable water supply, good sanitary system, administrative offices, car parks, etc in Akure and some major towns in other Local Government areas of the State. This was in a bid to discourage hawking along the roads and by so doing, has converted many poor market women to entrepreneurs. This has helped a lot in enhancing trade and commercial activities across Ondo State. In addition, it has constructed the first ultramodern motor park, in Akure with modern facilities, to make life comfortable to both the passengers and the drivers. This has also contributed to towards reducing touts and other criminals who used motor parks as their hideout to perpetuate crimes in the State.
It is against this background of unprecedented performance that the people endorsed the man called “IROKO” for a continuation of his developmental strides in the state. This was a unanimous decision of the people through the length and breadth of the state – the elites, the farmers, artisans, market women, civil servants, students and youths, road transport workers and ‘okada’ riders, royal fathers, religious leaders, captains of industry – as all had made a common position having felt the touch of good governance under the leadership of Olusegun Mimiko in less than four years he was given the mandate to lead. Within this period, he demonstrated that governance is about sincerity of purpose, about keeping faith with the people, about an all-inclusive and demand-driven development. He changed the perspective of people from government being for the rulers and their cronies but to the perspective of the people’s welfare being the primary essence of government. This is because he ran a credible, trustworthy and reliable government which turned the fortunes of the people around for the better.
But the undiscerning, abused this conscience of the people, they rejected again the common verdict which the people had given Mimiko, they forgot that democracy is now at work where it is the people that decide who governs them. They rode roughshod on the intelligence of the people who based their endorsement on nothing more than good performance and good governance. This was the events leading to the election. At that point it was clearly a battle between the people and them as the people were with the governor. The key contenders with the people, ACN and PDP were bent on sinking the ship even when the ship was sailing well to good destination; they were bent on thwarting the developmental efforts which the people so much cherished.
Matters were made worse by these parties in the run up to the election due to the lack of credibility of their platform which resulted in the failure to appeal to the people. In the first place, there were no transparent and democratic criteria for the selection of the flag bearers of these parties as what obtained was the imposition of a chosen aspirant by the god-father or we may call it the emperor of the party, and in a case where there was primaries it was carefully designed to produce a particular candidate and the result as would be expected was the disenchantment of the aspirants who were denied a fair chance of fulfilling their ambition. Thus, they moved, and when they moved, they moved along with the yearnings of the people for the continuation of good governance to deliver more dividends of democracy to the people of Ondo State which Dr. Olsegun Mimiko epitomizes.
And when campaigns and electioneering began, the political gladiators scored very low with the people. While Mimiko continued his campaigns by addressing issues of development of the state, by promising to leverage on his past achievements and do more to surmount the challenges and overcome the failures of the past years, the other parties missed this important point in a democratic order as they turned it into a personal war with the governor. They failed to address what good fortunes they will bring to the people of Ondo State if given the mandate to rule and were rather content with openly castigating the good works that have been started across the State and in some cases they promised to destroy some of the projects embarked upon if elected into office! The height of this came at the final rally of the ACN where Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, the emperor, openly declared that the people of Ondo State do not deserve a mega school for their children! In essence, he clearly made known his treatment of Ondo State as a second class state. Even in the face of this provocation, the people remain calm and civil and refused to be incited.
In this event, the people went to poll and across the local governments, renewed a mandate of another fresh four years for Governor Olusegun Mimiko on October 20, 2012 in the election acknowledged by local and international observers as the best in the country. With this, Governor Mimiko became the first governor in Ondo state to win a second term election and I make bold to add and quickly too that Governor Mimiko is the first governor to have brought so much development to the state in just so short a space of time.
But as expected the opposition parties were dissatisfied with the result and went to court on the allegation that the election was manipulated and marred by irregularities, that there were injection of over 100,000 names into the voters’ register, that there was over-voting, ballot stuffing and falsification of election results among others. Their petitions were duly filed before the Ondo State Governorship Election Tribunal and they claimed certain reliefs from the tribunal. Their reliefs in summary as contained in their separate suits were that they be declared the winner having scored the highest majority of lawful votes cast at the election and in the alternative that the court should cancel the election and make an order for a fresh one.
It however took the court no time to discern that the allegations were spurious and unsustainable as both the Ondo State Governorship Election Tribunal and the Court of Appeal upheld the governor’s victory over the candidate of the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria(ACN), Mr. Oluwarotimi Akeredolu(SAN) and Chief Olusola Oke of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and dismissed their petitions for lacking in merit.
Dissatisfied, they both proceeded to the Supreme Court to reverse the two earlier judgments. The appeals which were earlier scheduled for September were rescheduled for hearing and determination on August 27 and 29 respectively. This was a significant gesture by the Supreme Court which had to break its yearly vacation temporarily to hear this case in order to beat the 60-day period allowed by the Constitution for the determination of appeals on election matters. And this marked the first time in the 50 years of judiciary in Nigeria that the Supreme Court justices would be recalled from vacation to hear any case.
And as would be expected, the appeals suffered similar fate as they were both dismissed by the apex court and the decision of the two lower courts affirmed.
Justice Sylvester Ngwuta, who delivered the lead judgment in the case of Akeredolu, rejected the allegation of the ACN candidate that the voters’ register used for the poll was manipulated. The apex court held that the governorship candidate failed to produce the alleged manipulated voters’ register in court and also failed to show whether the 100,000 voters allegedly injected into the voters’ register engaged in multiple voting or any other malpractices.
Besides, the court held that Akeredolu could not substantiate how the alleged injection of new voters into the register substantially affected the election to warrant its cancellation as requested in is petition.
The learned Justice further held that even if the 100,000 voters allegedly injected into the register had voted and counted for the ACN candidate, he would still not have been declared winner because Mimiko defeated him in the poll with over 100,000 votes.
The court said Akeredolu’s claim on voters’ register manipulation was strange, having claimed in his petition that the voters’ register was not made available to him and was not published or displayed in the public and therefore, held that his petition was baseless having been founded on hearsay and was dismissed without cost.
Similarly, the appeal of Olusola Oke of the PDP was dismissed in the lead judgment delivered by Justice Mary Peter Odili as his lordship held that the candidate of PDP failed to prove how the alleged illegal entry of new voters into the register used for the election affected the credibility of the election. The court further held that most of the complaints of the second appellant were criminal in nature which ought to have been referred to security agents for action.
The outcome of this Supreme Court decision elicited widespread jubilation across the State as people trooped to the street to celebrate the deserved victory at the court. The jubilation was hinged on the relief brought by the fact that the court was convinced about the credibility of the process and its respect for the decision of the people of the state expressed through the ballot.
Reacting to the judgment, Mimiko described it as a vindication of his position that the people of the state actually voted for him during the election. The governor, who addressed the people of the state at the Democracy Park in the heart of Akure, the state capital, said the victory was a call for him to serve the people of the state better. He said if the judgment had gone otherwise, it would have been a disservice to democracy in Nigeria because both the local and international observers had adjudged the election as the best in the country.
While calling on the people that contested against him to join hands with him in the task of moving the state forward, Mimiko said the job at hand is enormous and that any lover of the state should cooperate to do.
However, dissatisfied with the judgment, Oke said the court’s verdict has obviously prevented the mission of good governance he has for the people of the state. Oke, in a statement signed by him and made available to journalists said:
“This final ruling marks the end of a titanic battle to challenge and invalidate the result of what we are convinced was a heavily compromised and highly flawed October 20, 2012 governorship election.”
“This Supreme court judgment constitutes a brazen defeat of the expectations of the people of Ondo State who had desired light after four years of total darkness. It also demonstrates a serious shatter to the sensibilities of the people who had expected a lease from the shackles of poverty, want, disease, unemployment and frustration.”
While thanking his supporters and the entire PDP members in the state, Oke charged them to “keep the peace and walk tall through the rest of the days ahead.” The governorship candidate of the ACN also expressed dissatisfaction with the Supreme Court verdict as he said:
“Impelled by an undying belief in the democratic process, we were determined to prosecute this matter to its logical conclusion. We were, and are still, convinced without doubt that a heavily tainted process cannot produce a credible choice, the judgment of the Supreme Court notwithstanding.”
He went further:
“As Walter Montdale said in every defeat can be found the seeds of victory; it is the nature of politics and is proven by history. I ran for office because I’m concerned about Ondo State. This judgment puts paid, albeit for now, to my hopes to lead the State in a different direction.”
He nonetheless congratulated the governor for this victory. “Betty and I congratulate the Governor, Dr. Rahaman Mimiko and earnestly pray for him and for our State.”
In the ultimate, it is clear that all issues relating to the election has now been laid to rest by this decision of the Supreme Court. The criticisms notwithstanding, the Supreme Court possesses the finality of decisions and as Justice Karibi Whyte once remarked about decisions of the Supreme Court as decisive when he said : “we are final not because we are infallible but we are infallible not because we are final.”
However, the lessons learnt cannot be lost on us. In the first place, the Ondo people have displayed a high level of intelligence and electoral understanding in the aspect of determining competent leadership and rewarding same. The election showed in clears terms that the people’s vote and conscience can no longer be bought over by money or money’s worth but rather by a real commitment on the part of the political gladiators to better their lots. Additionally, the trend of the electoral process affirms the independent mindedness of the Ondo people that appreciates the virtue of honesty, integrity, and sincerity. We do not have to turn a blind eye to significant and positive achievements only because we are on the other side of the political divide.
What appears more important now should therefore be the overall development of the state which is a joint effort of all the parties concerned. We cannot but appreciate that Ondo remains our source and regardless of party differences our interest must remain the progress and development of our dear state. This is the best time for the parties to come to the support of the governor of the state as evidence of their love for the state by assisting in whatever way they are capable of.
The validation of Mimiko’s election must not end the pursuit of democratic tenets in the state. The onus lies on the governor to work more for the people of the state as the best is yet to come for the state. Our best will only come when we are able to guarantee every child access to affordable quality health care, when there is affordable quality health care services especially for the vulnerable – pregnant women, infants and the aged, when every youth desirous of working is able to find work to make a decent living, when education is affordable to all children of school age regardless of their financial standing, when lives and properties are guaranteed and secured.