Mr Phil Aragbada, a former newspaper editor and retired banker, in this interview with SULAIMON OLANREWAJU, speaks on the strides recorded by Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State over the last one year.
Ondo State governor, Mr Rotimi Akeredolu, has been in office for a year. How do you rate his administration?
Well, over the last one year, the administration of Mr Rotimi Akeredolu has been trying to improve life and living for people of Ondo State. He has brought transparency to governance. He has brought integrity to governance. He has brought compassion to governance. He has shown in many ways to the people of the state that they matter and that he will not betray their trust for voting him as their governor.
But some Ondo State indigenes are complaining about the slow pace of the government.
The slowness is the outcome of taking time to plan. Development does not happen in a day. What some people term as slowness is actually taking root downwards. All along, he has been consulting with local and foreign investors on how to turn around the economy of that state. Those who are complaining about slowness do not know about the efforts being made by the governor to improve the state. That is why I think the government needs to publicise its activities a bit more. The people need to know what the government is doing so that everyone can be on the same page. The truth about governance is that it requires a great deal of planning.
Still planning one year after inauguration? He contested for the same office in 2012. So, he should have come prepared. Shouldn’t he?
The truth of the matter is that the plan is ready. So many foreign investors are coming to the state but people’s expectation is so high because of their past disappointment. Do not forget that this is a man who defeated an incumbent party. If the performance of the past government had been so fantastic, the party should have retained power. By replacing the former administration with this new governor, the people have high expectations. That is not to say that the government is not meeting the people’s expectations but the people want more, which is okay. But this is a governor who is so methodical. He believes in having a proper foundation for whatever he wants to do. So, he is laying the foundation for a greater Ondo State. I am sure that starting from the second year, the fruits of those efforts will begin to manifest.
After a year in office, what do you think the governor should focus on?
I think the government should pay more attention to employment generation. This is not just about Ondo State, it cuts across the whole country. The army of unemployed youths is growing and this is not in the interest of the nation. We should harness the abilities of our young people for the development of the nation. So, talking specifically about Ondo State, I think the governor should find means of generating employment. The government can look into the aspect of its natural resources. Ondo State is well endowed in natural resources. The government should look at the possibility of inviting foreign investors into the state to explore these endowments for the purpose of creating employment for the indigenes of the state.
But the constitution hampers the state from exploiting all these resources…
The state can put pressure on the Federal Government. It is even good that both the governor and the President belong to the same party, so it should not be difficult for the governor to make the President see that the failure to exploit these resources is causing people of the state untold hardship and deprivation. I am sure that something can be worked out. If these resources are properly exploited, Ondo State will not need to wait for federal allocation to pay salaries or embark on any developmental project. My own concern really is the youth. So many of our young people are jobless and we have resources buried underground. What is the purpose of resources? Resources are meant to create wealth. How can the resources be used to create wealth if we do not exploit them? The state should use what it has to solve its problem.
As an oil-producing state, should Ondo owe workers salaries?
Unfortunately, that is the tradition, but the current governor is trying to correct it. By the time he got into office, the state owed workers almost 12 months salary arrears. But I think he has reduced that now to about three months. The cause of this is that the state is heavily indebted. The past administration borrowed money for projects that could not generate employment or give returns to the state government. The borrowed money was put on cosmetic projects that do not impact strongly on the financial well-being of the state and its people. But there is a new direction in the state now. Even if money is borrowed it would be deployed to projects that will generate revenue and create employment opportunities.
What should the government do to help those in the hinterland?
The government should provide the necessary amenities for them. There should be pipe-borne water, roads and schools. But beyond all that, most of these people are farmers. So, what the government should do is to give them farmer-friendly facilities to improve on their business of farming. The government should facilitate for them loans that will not attract more than five to six per cent interest rate. The government should also ensure that the loan is not hijacked by other people. Doing this will produce two results; one, the farmers will be able to do more. They will get better result and will be able to take better care of their families.
Two, when the farmers do more, there will be more food. That will ensure food security and will also generate more revenue for the state. Chief Obafemi Awolowo and his team were able to do all they did in Western Region because of farmers’ output. Ondo State is the home of cocoa farming. So, if the state government is able to encourage farmers, it will position itself for more revenue and its people for more prosperity.
Where do you see Ondo State in another year?
I see the state in a much better situation. Like I said, what Governor Akeredolu is doing now is laying the foundation of greatness for Ondo State. In a very short while, the effort will start producing results and we shall all see. I want to assure the people of the state that their decision to vote Akeredolu as their governor was the best. It is a decision that generation unborn will be grateful to them for.
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