I have known Ondo State for quite some time. As a man whose immediate elder brother found a beautiful wife there thirteen years ago, I have had cause to know the state well.
I knew the condition Ondo State was in those years and I know the kind of monumental advancement and transformation it has undergone under the enigmatic leadership of Olusegun Mimiko, a man whose birth resonates today among his people, thanking God for his birth to their ancestry, and what he has achieved not for himself but for his people; a man with the divine burden and mandate to go and set his people free from every form of socio-political and economic encumbrance and create for them a land flowing with milk and honey.
I was captivated by this man on one of my visits to Ondo and somewhere in one of the markets in Akure, I saw a mammoth crowd of market men and women who left their wares and were walking beside a vehicle that just drove into the market. While I was wondering why these people and for whom they could so leave their wares and troop out, the shout of Iroko, Iroko, Iroko, rent the air and the people went into wild jubilation and broke into different songs of joy as someone alighted from the vehicle and was almost mobbed by the people. My curiosity made me ask someone who was that that the people were rushing to, and I was told it was the governor. Another elderly woman quickly quipped and said “Iroko niyen, gomina rere wa” (that is Iroko, our good governor) and quickly resumed her own shout of Iroko. In excitement, and without asking her, another woman told me that that is how the governor usually visits them to ask after their welfare and to know if there was anything specific they wanted him to do to improve upon what is on ground.
At that point, I noticed another elderly woman approach the governor while other women gave way for her and like a people already used to the situation, without any one motioning to them, silence fell on the market to enable the governor hear what the woman had to say. It happened that this woman was the market leader. She had passed the message of the people to the governor directly, and all the while she was speaking, the governor bore the inconvenience of bending towards her so he could hear her better as age was already telling on the woman’s voice. I noticed the governor kept nodding in deference and in acquiescence to whatever she was saying. Immediately she finished, the shouts of Iroko exploded into the air like a volcano, and the governor who drove himself with two other occupants in the car, drove quietly out of the market without the usual gra gra and retinue of aides, security personnel and needless blaring of siren as it is with most political leaders and security chiefs in our clime. That got me really captivated.
This development led me into making my independent findings on what could have endeared a governor so much to his people that he feels safe enough to regularly walk in their midst without security personnel and without fearing for his safety, and my findings were quite revealing.
I used to know how unkempt the city was before Mimiko became governor, how the streets, markets, parks and such other places were littered with heaps of rubbish and smelly waste. How the people ran their day to day businesses in squalid environment and so on. But Mimiko decided to change all that, progressively and for the people’s benefit, in one fell swoop.
Like what is obtainable in a majority of other states, urban renewal usually came at a cost to the masses. We know of situations and places where government displace people with naked force using with koboko, baton, gun-wielding and fierce looking security personnel including soldiers in the name of urban renewal only to render millions homeless without providing alternatives for them. Almost all the times, markets are pulled down for expansion or remodeling or for whatever reason, and when they are rebuilt, the original occupants, old market men and women are priced out of the new markets thereby making the poor get poorer and roam the streets hopelessly.
But it is not so in Ondo where Mimiko’s Caring Heart Initiative has ensured that the needed renewal of Akure and other cities in the state do not impoverish the people but empower them. For example, when markets are demolished and rebuilt to modern standards, the first set of beneficiaries are always those who had been trading in the markets for ages no matter their status. Mimiko recognizes that government interventions must not excluide the poor.
It is the same in the health sector. Under the Caring Heart initiative, the governor provides free health services for children under the age of five, and free child delivery services even if by caesarean section, to pregnant indigenes and residents with the state’s kaadi igbeayo which is an all-encompassing social welfare card. For non-indigenes and non-card holders, delivery by caesarean section can cost as low as N10,000.00 (ten thousand naira only). It is therefore not a surprise that the state has the lowest in infant and mortality rates in Nigeria, and non-indigenes flock the state for medical attention.
This Initiaitive has also seen the governor dramatically turn around the state’s previously ramshackle schools to mega schools where even primary schools boast of modern classrooms with exotic ambience for learning, well-equipped ICT centres, functional giant generators, administrative blocks that can be mistaken for university senate buildings, well-stocked libraries and highly motivated teachers.
In addition to this, the governor has provided free shuttle buses that convey students to and fro school without discriminating between students of public and private schools. This has gone on in the state for four good years uninterrupted. This, apart from saving what would have been additional expenses on transport fare for the parents/guardians, eliminate the stress associated with trekking to and fro school by these students.
Ondo State being a major corridor for travelers from across the country usually experience accidents associated with such corridors. A majority of people usually involved in such accidents are not even indigenes of the state but travelers from other places, yet, this has not stopped the governor from providing well trained rescue personnel including paramedics operating with state-of-the-art facilities under the auspices of the Ondo State Emergency Medical Services. With this agency, accident victims can receive help within 12 to 15 minutes any where an accident happens in the state. This has helped tremendously to increase the chances of survival of accident victims.
The Caring Heart Initiative of Mimiko did not just happen. It is something that has always been a part of the governor’s life even while he was growing up. His mother once said that whenever he was returning from school, he would come home along with no less than 12 of his fellow students for the purpose of sharing his food and other provisions with them. With this development, his mother was left with no option but to always prepare food for Mimiko’s “crowd of witnesses” as he would always bring them home.
This is the spirit that “drove” him into politics. Ever since he was young, Mimiko has always sought for platforms through which he could care for a larger number of the people. It was this same spirit that he used in running his privately-owned hospital then where he practiced his profession as a medical doctor before going into politics. As a result, his hospital, the Mona Medic Clinic, Akure, was a Mecca of sorts for the sick as Mimiko was ready to treat patients who cannot afford their bills free of charge.
It is this desire to do more for the people that made him contest for the governorship of Ondo State in 2007. Although the electoral result was skewed against him, he challenged the results in court and after a 2-year energy-sapping legal battle, he got justice and was installed as governor of the state on February 23, 2009.
A compassionate go-getter and dogged fighter, Mimiko has remained the only governor to have done two terms till date despite being in an opposition and relatively less fancied party, fighting against the might and tide of the then ruling party. He is not called Iroko for nothing! Given the option, Ondo people would have even wanted him to do a third term. That is how good he has been to the people as a governor!
Today, it is the people of Ondo that are the greatest beneficiaries of this icon who is the cynosure of all eyes and who the outspoken Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Sokoto, Hassan Kukah, recently used as a standard of governance while urging other governors to learn from him.
It is this enigma, the one who has been so blessed that whatever he touches turns to gold that the world is celebrating today as he clocks 62. We pray that God would continue to strengthen him and give him larger platforms to continue to touch the lives of a greater number of people even as we say happy birthday to His Excellency, Dr Olusegun Mimiko.
Jude Ndukwe is a political analyst who lives and works in Abuja, Nigeria. He is a member of The Trent’s Elite Columnists. His column is published every Friday. He tweets from @stjudendukwe.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.