From Priscilla Ediare, Ado-Ekiti
Ahead of the June 18 governorship election in Ekiti State, the candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), and former governor of the state, Chief Segun Oni, has said the people of Ekiti would continue to speak well of him as governor of Ekiti State between 2007 and 2010.
In this interview, he spoke on his ambition, his party and other issues.
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The SDP is believed to be populated by aggrieved politicians. This can be deduced from your party’s claim that people from the popular parties are joining it in droves; what can you say about this?
Of course, you have let out one open secret. There are lots of people that are aggrieved from various places, who have found a common ground in SDP; it is true. The problem we have in Nigeria is that democracy is badly managed. And with internal democracy badly managed, once some people get to the peak and take control of the party machinery, whatever they do becomes right until the party hits a cliff and begins to split. Badly managing internal democracy in Nigeria has led to a lot of dissatisfaction, and that is why a lot of people are looking for opportunities to move out of where they are and try other alternatives. I am one of such people. As far as Ekiti is concerned, quite a lot of people are dissatisfied with the two major parties. And I am sure you haven’t seen the end movement of people who are dissatisfied. Even many of those who are sitting in those parties are clearly dissatisfied; they are just waiting for the appropriate time to move. Some want to get back at the party that has done so much injustice to them while some others believe they have some entitlements they must take before they leave. In Ekiti, they have managed the fortunes of the two parties very badly and it has created the opportunities that we have.
Considering your political journey from the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) to the All Progressives Congress (APC), back to the PDP and now in the SDP; would you remain in the SDP regardless of the outcome of the election in June?
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Where do I want to go? I am already in the camp of freedom, a place where we want to institutionalise proper democracy. We are becoming role models within the SDP family so that people will look up to us and see hope in Nigerian democracy; the hope that has been a mirage would now begin to come to reality. So, we have an opportunity here to showcase what it should be and I am grateful to God for making me part of that opportunity.
As a former governor, what do you want the people of Ekiti to remember about your administration now that you are contesting to return as their governor?
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The first thing I think the people will always remember and will continue to remember is transparency. We ran a transparent government. We showed that you can run a government in a third world country without stealing. I can always beat my chest and say I did not steal one kobo of government money. So, transparency, that’s number one.
Number two is productivity. Government exists to deliver goods to the people and if you are transparent, it is also related. If you are transparent, the resources to be productive will be available readily and you can spend it once you have the right ideas. So, my government was the flagship of productivity. When we were a few years into the regime, there was a survey by the UNDP on human development. I love to quote from that human development report and I have been asking whoever believes he/she has a contrary view to come and challenge me to the facts. The human development report was at a time when Ekiti was shuttling between number 34 and number 36 in allocations. By the time you count three from the back, we would have been there in allocations. That time the per capita of Ekiti State was $316 but that was not the significant part; the significant part was that Ekiti was number 24 on the state ranking. If you are number 34 in allocations and you are number 24 in GDP per capita, it means you have done something appreciably well in terms of Internally Generated Revenue (IGR), which has made you climb the ladder faster than so many others. When our allocation was number 34, we were number 24 in GDP per capita, but not just that, the overall human development index as at that same period put us at number 10 out of 36. This is because if you are that high, people will also see it in their own livelihoods and lifestyles. No wonder when people kept talking about Segun Oni’ time because you can’t be number 10 in the human development index and it will not show in the lives of the people. This was the time when the average life expectancy in Nigeria was below 50. Ekiti was number one at 55. Go and check the human development report of 2009, which was published in 2010, and you will find that we had the highest life expectancy. We did not get the highest life expectancy by magic; we put in place health care delivery, which included the availability of drugs everywhere. If you needed any drug and you got to any government facility 19 times out of 20, it was available. If it was not available immediately in the remote place, where you might have gone, all they needed to do was to call the central medical store, and it would be delivered as emergency using power bikes. The power bikes would reach anywhere in Ekiti in under one and a half hours. It had never happened like that before and I am sure it is not happening like that again. Why I am so pained is that we created all these processes but they are no longer using them. If they were using them, there would have been no need for Segun Oni to contest the election again. So, it was not for free that we had the number one rating in average life expectancy. Before I came in, we had only one consultant in the employment of Ekiti State, but by the time I was leaving, we had about 44 or so medical consultants. Life expectancy was not a miracle that dropped from a religious revival; it came as a result of the effects of those processes and the hard work that we put into things. So those hard works brought those results, and those results brought those effects on people and people were able to rate themselves. They knew that their livelihood became much better. How did we ensure that people had money to spend? We also ensured that the government in its own spending made sense; not allowing the money to be put inside a briefcase to fly to Lagos or outside the country. People who are parking their money and flying outside the country wonder why people are saying there is hardship. The secret is that this money that stays in the environment also weakens the hand of hardship. I must say that we were very transparent to the limit that any government can be. We were productive also to such a limit; that’s the difference between us and the rest. A lot of them don’t know how to be productive. They don’t even know what productivity is in governance, and of course, they don’t have the tendency to be as transparent as we can be because you must be willing to make personal sacrifices for you to be that transparent.
One of the candidates of the two popular parties recently said the June contest is a two-party race because the SDP does not have the structure and popularity. What do you say about these two important factors? Do you see them working against your chances?
June 18 is just a few weeks from now, so let’s wait to see who will swallow his or her words. We are all on the field. If anybody has made a statement that will portray him/her as stupid, we will all see in a couple of weeks.
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It has been said that a third force has never won an election in the state. What exactly is your party depending on to win the June contest?
We are depending on the affection of the people; the people’s love. I have been telling you where the love and the affection come from. They come from transparency and productivity. The people can see it; they can feel it. They know that in our time, they were not hungry. In our time, they went to hospitals and there were drugs and so on. In our time, we even had free surgical festivals regularly. In our time, we had an eye hospital that was the best on the continent of Africa, churning out health care delivery services that people were already coming from even outside Nigeria to receive. In our time, unemployment was at its lowest. We employed people in the public sector. We also encouraged the private sector to employ people. If you are a contractor, before you can get a contract in Ekiti State when I was here, you must have an office and that office must have at least one or two staff on permanent basis. I don’t know whether they still do that now but all those that were employed in those processes have faced the hardship of having nothing to do and not having anything to depend on. I hope one of these days our people in the university system will do research and construct models to show how thinking of a government can impact on the indices of wellness and welfare in the environment. We did not do more than just ordinary things which we consciously did and I am very happy that people are talking the way they are talking. I didn’t say anything when they said we should go other than to say that I know that if after everything we have done, if the people rated us badly that it was going to be very difficult to get people who will get good ratings here. In my lifetime, we are now seeing that nobody got a good rating. Nobody got a better rating than us, and we are very happy that so many years later, people are talking about us. If any of them did well, by now they should have forgotten us, and I won’t be contesting but they didn’t do well. And it is not what you say that people must say about you; it is what people see and know about you that they will say and all those people who believe they can achieve it by browbeating are now discovering that they did not achieve anything in the first instance.
Do you have any prediction for the coming poll?
We are going to win by a landslide, not by a few hundreds of votes but by a very wide margin. There are people who believe that they will rig the election. We are just going to warm them that the people that will cast those votes are not going to fold their arms to allow shenanigans to overwhelm transparency. So, we will meet on Election Day.
What can you say about the administrations that came after you and the current administration? What should the people expect from you in terms of administration if elected?
First, let me start from what the people should expect. What the people should expect from me is a standard that is at least the level of where I left it, probably, a standard much higher than what I left in transparency and productivity. I won’t rate them because rating them is not necessary. The people are rating them. If any of them disagrees with the people’s rating, he should go on the streets with a bell to say you said I didn’t do well as Segun Oni; here am I and I want to call you to a debate. The people passed judgement on them and the judgement of the people is based on what the people got. It is not based on any sentiment. It is not based on the money they spent on Public Relations (PR), and so on in newspaper houses, televisions, radio stations and online platforms. No, it is not based on that; people will relate and we should begin to teach new basis for political science based on these experiences. I believe the people in the universities should come and update their books from what the people are saying and so on and know that if you plant cassava as part of a political process, you are not going to reap guinea corn or plantain. whatever you do is what you get even when you put money in PR and so on to dress it up to make some people write articles for you, what you put is what you will get and I am very happy and I thank God. You see, let me tell you, even if it is possible to have all that we are doing now and be asked not to contest in the election, I am already satisfied because this has brought my records to the fore, and very few people can be as proud of themselves as I am now in the terrain called Ekiti. And I am proud of my people of Ekiti because even the way we were quiet and silent, politicians didn’t know that the people were watching us that much and they were recording us and I can tell you the value of our education and literacy is coming out crystal clear. We are not a people that you can serve wishy-washy and get away with it.
What is your advice to Ekiti people?
Yes, we are appealing to our people to go out en masse and vote because democracy thrives on participation. Democracy is not that we should get PVC and keep it at home and say you don’t want to go and stay long in the queue or in the sun. No, democracy is participation and you will have to be there to participate. I am begging everybody to leave that day as a sacrifice for democracy. Leave in the morning, go and queue and don’t be afraid. They said some people are saying they will shoot to scare people away. Nobody will shoot; anybody who carries a gun to shoot at people will shoot at himself. On that day, people should have confidence, God will preserve and protect everybody that comes with good intentions but we cannot guarantee that those who come with foul intentions will be alive by the time the results come out. So, let us all have confidence. Let us all go out there and vote. They said INEC will not disclose some polling units and that will be their joker point, we are waiting. I believe the way it is now, election will even be more difficult to rig beginning from this next one than it has always been.
Past elections were characterised by vote buying, and cannot be ruled out in the June poll; do you have any comment here?
We got the bad reputation of being the place where vote buying and all sorts of manipulations started in Nigeria. They said it was here (Ekiti). We want to ensure that Ekiti will now come alive with a new name. We will do as much as we can to appeal to the conscience of stakeholders across board.
I listened to a sermon by the Catholic Bishop of Ekiti Diocese, Most Reverend Felix Ajakaye, telling the people that they should not sell their votes. We need more of it and every church denomination, Muslim denomination, every social club, every trade union group, town unions and so on should make strong and powerful statements and should all come out now to disown vote buying and to put to shame anybody who is found doing it, either by receiving or by giving.
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