By Banji Ayoola
A governorship aspirant in Ondo State on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Prince John Ola Mafo, has unfolded his plan to focus on agriculture, industrialization and other areas to generate money in several billions monthly to fund education, health and other vital sectors to boost the state’s economy and govern the state in a unique way if elected governor of the state in the coming election. He believes that he has all the special qualities to govern the state with a difference and rapidly transform her economic fortunes. He also explains why the people of the state should vote in a PDP administration in the election, apart from other interesting issues. He spoke with Banji Ayoola.
Why do you want to govern Ondo State?
Thank you very much, Banji. I want to serve the good people of Ondo State at this point in time because I am convinced that I am equipped with all it requires to govern this state. For anyone to govern Ondo State, that person needs certain requirements, and characteristics. Certain yardsticks have to be applied to assess that person.
First and foremost, he must be a God fearing person in the sense that if you have the fear of God at heart, there are so many things that politicians do to deprive and deny the people that a God fearing man would not do. A God fearing man would not keep the state allocation under his table with a view to stealing part of it. He would not deny the people the services they require, the dividends of democracy that would make the greater number of people to be happy, satisfied, that would improve their living conditions. He would not deny them such services.
Apart from that, the person must be a man of the people, not by mouth but by conduct in so many respects, tested, tried and trusted. He must be someone with integrity, not someone that would tell you something is black and you find that that thing is red. Integrity is important. He must be a man of his words. His yes must be yes, and his no must be no. He must be a man that is disciplined. When a lot of people go into government, they have the intention of doing A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H. But when they get there, they find out that they are doing something else. It has to do with discipline.
If you are disciplined, you would follow your budget. Nobody can bring any white elephant project to derail you or to change your focus midway. You would be focused on what you want to do. You would be determined. It’s about discipline. A man who has no discipline would bring out a budget and end up not implementing it even up to 30 percent because he won’t have the focus. So discipline is required. The lifestyle of that person must be checked, properly x rayed. Is he the type that could easily be attracted with unnecessary factors? Is his lifestyle appropriate to the right quality of leadership required?
The man, like Chief Obafemi Awolowo said that when he would be at his table thinking about how to solve the problems of society, some others were about town looking for something else. That lifestyle; then the character; is he humble, honest; is he the proud type, arrogant. If you give power to an arrogant man, there is going to be problem in that state. Power ordinarily intoxicates. When that man holding power is an arrogant fellow, that state is in trouble. He would believe he doesn’t need to consult anybody before he takes decisions, because he would think that he is wise, he knows it all. That is what arrogance does to a man.
We are in the realm of things that I believe I possess which makes me think that I am the right person to govern Ondo State. I am consistent in my actions. I have been in the PDP since August 31st 1998. I have never looked back. That is consistency. I am loyal. I have been loyal to principles, my party, ideology and service to the people. I am knowledgeable. I am experienced. I can say without being immodest that I am about the most experienced aspirant on the field. Talk about any party whatsoever.
I have been in politics effectively since the Second Republic when I was the youth coordinator for Unity Party of Nigeria, UPN in the old Aheri/Etikan Ward. So you can imagine someone who has been in politics since then, rising gradually. I find it difficult to see a politician that has the kind of experience that I have, right from the local level; I have been chairman of a council; up to state level, I have been two terms commissioner in this state, I have been Special Adviser. I have been Chairman of Board in the state. At the federal level, I served in the administration of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo as a member of the governing board of the National Research Institute of Chemical Technology, Zaria for four years from 2000 to 2004. I have been the ambassador of Ondo State to Abuja, the Liaison Officer. I served in that capacity from September 2003 to December 2004. So you can imagine that my service has cut across all levels of public administration. So the experience is there.
Some people come from other backgrounds to govern Ondo State; this leads to capital flight and other disadvantages for the indigenous people of this state. I am home grown politician. Nearly all my political friends are in Ondo State here. I know the people of this state; the people of this state know me. So talking about my background, I am suited to serve. It is not as if our people in the Diaspora would not benefit from our administration. But to govern the state in such a way that the people would be disadvantaged and then outsiders, external forces would be calling the shots is a disservice. That cannot happen under me as the administrator of the state. We can go on and on in terms of why I think I am qualified, why I think I am best suited. Don’t forget I have hammered the issue of consistency, integrity, character, experience, knowledge and the fear of God. These are factors that you cannot toy with when you are looking for a man to govern a state.
With your experience which you have reeled out, what are the main problems confronting the people of Ondo State which your administration, if you are elected, would tackle?
When you are talking of the main problem confronting the people of Ondo State, by my own reckoning, from my own assessment, the main problem is lack of leadership essentially. Leadership in what respect? When you have a leader who cannot ensure that available scarce and limited resources are judiciously expended, are judiciously allocated to the various sectors, who cannot guarantee such allocation, that’s a problem to start with. So the major problems include how to manage what is available.
The biggest problem which is even more serious than inability to allocate available resources in the right way is the issue of reliance on allocation from the Federation Account. You have a situation whereby the governor relies on allocation from the Federation Account and what I call traditional methods of taxation – tenement rates, land use charge, personal income tax, paye and all that. When we talk of revenue generation, and you rely on those traditional methods, that’s a failure abinitio. Government and governance is about boosting the economic base of your domain, country or state. You must go over and above what is readily available. You collect tenement rates, land use charge, paye, personal income tax, withholding tax, VAT. Those are perennial things, traditionally guaranteed.
It is the ability of the governor to go beyond that to generate funds for the state. And what are these ways in which funds can be generated? The major one is through Agriculture. Move back to early sixties, up to seventies, even before the sixties, Agriculture was the mainstay of the Nigerian economy. There was a time when palm oil was accounting for about 80 percent of our foreign earnings. At that time Nigeria was producing about 635 metric tons of palm oil which was about 43 percent of total world production. At that time too we had other products like groundnuts, talk of the Kano pyramids of those days, cocoa, bauxite, solid minerals, a lot of them. They were fetching a lot of funds for the country.
But the moment Nigeria discovered the black gold, petroleum, Nigeria went petroleum crazy. Petrodollar intoxicated the leadership of the country to the extent that in the early seventies, the Head of State said the problem of Nigeria was not money but how to spend it. At that time we did not save anything for the rainy days. And then we also allowed the petrol craze to get into our heads in such a way that we forgot the geese that were laying the golden eggs for this country – Agriculture, Solid Minerals.
In addition to petrol resources, if we had retained our drive towards agricultural productivity and development of solid minerals, the quest to be one of the 20 leading economies in the world which brought about the Vision 2020 Agenda would have been achieved way back even before the 21st century. I am talking of a situation whereby we are exploring and exploiting our petroleum resources, we are also busy on the agricultural field producing what Nigerians know how best to produce. In the world, we are the biggest producer of shea butter; we are one of the biggest producers of cassava, cocoa and so on and so forth. We abandoned all those things. So we became poor.
For a state to make a headway, to become stable and more viable economically, and in terms of capital to implement projects, that state has to look beyond allocation from the Federation Account, look beyond the traditional sources of revenue generation, and bring about innovations. And one of them is what I call agricultural productivity. Bring about a revolution in agricultural productivity.
Let me give you an example. The CBN recently tried to encourage the states with the correct climate and soil for the production of palm oil. In Nigeria, experts have submitted that Nigeria has about three million hectares of land suitable for the production of palm oil. And most of these three million hectares are in the South-south, the South-east and part of South-west Nigeria, Ondo state being a major one of them. The CBN invited the governors of these various states to donate 100,000 hectares of land under a programme whereby CBN would help to boost the production of palm oil in this country.
What drove the CBN into this? The CBN discovered that Nigeria pays about $500 million every year to import palm oil into this country. This is an anathema considering the fact that we started as the leading palm oil producer in the world. Countries like Indonesia and Malaysia came to Nigeria in the early sixties to borrow technology or the production of palm oil. They even took away seedlings from here to start their own plantations. Therefore we have no business importing palm oil from anywhere. So the CBN got cracking. They have an organization known as Nigeria Incentive Based Risk Sharing System for Agricultural Lending, NISER. That body tries to encourage farmers to source funds for agricultural purposes, tries to help them to secure loans, tries to help them with incentives, insecticides, input and helps them in terms of products standardization, documentation.
It’s one thing for you to produce cassava, if your cassava is not well graded, well packaged and well documented for export, you would make very little. That’s one of the major problems with our agricultural products. We export them raw instead of adding value. That’s another story entirely.
Agricultural productivity, that’s an area where we can boost the economy. You encourage farmers. Those 100,000 hectares of land, I say I want to use it as an analysis to make a very solid point. If a state now donates 100,000 hectares and the land is cultivated and planted, do you know how many metric tons of palm oil that farmers in Malaysia produce per hectare of land? It is average of 16 to 25 metric tons. In Nigeria we do two tons, three tons maximum because we don’t use the best business practice, we don’t use the latest technology, we don’t use the latest seedlings. Most of our farmers still allow their farms to be weedy, full of grass, full of all manners of other plants growing side by side with the palm oil trees. Then the method of harvesting all these combine to reduce the number of tons we can make from an hectare of land.
But with the CBN initiative, I calculated that 100,000 hectares of land, if you could produce about ten metric tons per hectare, that would definitely give about one million metric tons. If you look about the price of oil in the international market, the least you can talk of is about $600 per metric ton. I did a quick calculation. If we have 100,000 hectares of land for palm oil production that you can produce ten metric tons per hectare, that would give you one million metric tons. At $600 per metric ton in the international market, that would give you $600 million. When you calculate $600 million even at N300 to a dollar, that would give you N180 billion. If you divide that by 12, that would give you N15 billion per month given that you harvest just once in a year. The whole of N15 billion of course would not belong to government. There would be small holder farmers and there would be major stakeholders. But at the end of the day, give and take, at least N10 billion of that would come to government from one product.
Look at Kebbi state. Kebbi state made about N150 billion from the production of rice in 2018. And the money generated from rice by Kebbi, part of it flew from Lagos to Kebbi. What land does Kebbi have that we don’t have in Ondo State, in Ogun state? After all Ogun state has been the home of Ofada rice, and Ekiti state the home of Igbemo rice over the years. Why should investment fly all the way from Lagos to Kebbi when we have a lot of land here?
When Lagos state started this Lake rice project, they also felt they would acquire land from neighbouring states, and mentioned specifically Ondo state. What became of that? So my brother, what we are talking about is that Agriculture could provide a lot of funds for the development of an average state. When you now link Agriculture with Industry, you have agribusiness. Through agribusiness, you would now be able to add value to cash crops. You add value to cocoa, Shea butter, cassava, instead of exporting them raw. Most of these things that you export raw come back to you as finished products at higher costs. This has been the bane of the economy of the states in Nigeria even that of the Federal Government.
Then you have to look around. What are those things that you have here that you can also commercialise? We have ogogoro, the local gin. What are they using to produce hot drinks in Ota? If they see ogogoro, they would be so happy. They use chemicals. There is this way of turning cassava into ethanol. They use those types of chemicals, whereas here we have ogogoro in large quantity. Why can’t we start a bottling company to produce gin, all these hot drinks? We have a lot of wood here. Wood industry can boost the economy of Ondo State to an unimaginable level. What happens to our logs? Our people go into the forest, fell the logs, put them on the water to Lagos. When you get to Lagos and look at Okobaba, Ebute meta waterfront there, the bulk of the logs you see there come from Ondo state. And these people spend two, sometimes three months on the way to get to Lagos.
What if government should now float a localized industry, go into partnership with some investors, build big sawmills, then let there be wood factories all around, those that would turn the wood into refined form, those that would use the refined form to produce furniture items and so on. Look at the value chain. The person that would grow the trees, or go into the bush to fell the trees, or bring them out. The saw millers would collect them, refine them, give to the wood industries, carpentry industries and those ones would hire some hands. They would turn them into beds, chairs, all manner of wooden items. Some people would do the marketing, transportation. Then we provide some economic activities around the area. You combine this with the gin, the fish industries.
Look at the quantity of fish that comes out of the riverine area of this state. But because of lack of storage facilities, we lose a lot of them. If there is a fish canning industry, some of the Scandinavian countries have fishery as the mainstay of their economy. The bulk of the stock fish we eat in this country such as geisha and sardine are from these Norwegian countries. You must focus on Agriculture and Industry and generate a lot of funds from there to feed the other sectors, to fund Education, Health, all these human capital aspects. That’s what a state should try to do; and these are some of the things I am going to do differently.
Another window through which a state can raise a lot of funds to execute vital projects is through the donor agencies, the World Bank, African Development Bank, European Investment Bank, French Development Agency and so on. They are so many. How do you attract funds from these agencies? They have so many windows through which they want to give grants or soft loans to Third World countries. But they would look at your system of administration, your procurement system, your due process. Once a state is due process compliant, once an administration is prudent and the management of resources can spread, funds would start coming in from different sources. They are looking for good managers of human resources to play ball with in terms of funds, soft loans, grants.
If you recall, when Dr Olusegun Mimiko first came, there was this idea of involving the communities to be part of how to agree on projects that would go to those communities and possibly for those communities to contribute some little counterpart funds. The World Bank is interested in projects like that. And I am going to capitalize on such arrangement. I am going to capitalize on transparent administration to attract funds if elected as governor of this state.
There is also what is called Public Private Partnership, PPP. Once the investors know that a particular governor in a particular state is tested and trusted in terms of judicious allocation of available resources, concentrating funds on the fundamentals to bring about smile on the faces of the people, to improve the living conditions of the downtrodden, definitely more investors would be interested in coming to that state to operate, and that would bring about a lot of progress and development for the people of the state.
So, talking about what I would do differently, these are just samples. The governor must administer the state with discipline, with a transparent approach, open door policy. He must not act like an island on his own. He must consult with people. It was Isaac Newton who said if he could see far, it is because he is standing on the shoulders of giants. In other words, you don’t rely on your own wisdom alone. You are not an island. You look at what is happening. How have they done it in other areas?
Talking about development and the country making progress, there have been examples in history. Look at the Asian Tigers, the likes of Taiwan, Singapore, and South Korea. How were they in the late fifties and early sixties? They were very poor countries. They don’t have much land for agricultural activities; and they can’t boast of too many agricultural resources. They started gradually with disciplined, committed, dedicated leaders, copying the Japanese model. How did Japan start? From textile industry, almost every home you see people weaving. Gradually they moved to the stage of manufacturing tools. From there they moved to the process of producing gramophone, radio. Before you knew it they were on to high tech technology, electronics. Today they are some of the leading economies of the world. Talk of South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong. They are the four original Asian Tigers. It was later second categories like Malaysia, Indonesia and so on came up.
This thing is not about idleness. It is not the governor gallivanting about, spending two, three months outside his base of operations and running a state from abroad. The governor must be on ground, must be disciplined and must be committed. He must have a work ethics that is productive. That’s what we are talking about. These are some of the differences that Ondo state would experience and witness if God grants me the grace to preside over the affairs of this state.
Before we go ahead with your programmes, I observe that you don’t read your speeches. You present your speeches extempore and when compared with the prepared text, there would be no difference. Do you use to cram your speeches or is this ability a gift?
It is a gift from God. All the same, it is said that heavens help those who help themselves. Whatever anybody dishes out is a product of what you learn. That’s what they call knowledge. You read; you acquire; and people have different levels of assimilation. What one would read once and grasp, another person may read it ten times and be unable to grasp it. Once you have that kind of nature, it’s from the Lord. God gave me that nature to be able to read something and easily assimilate and then dish it out. It’s not really about me. It’s about God.
Now we go back to your programmes, what about education, bitumen and other areas?
I have been talking about programmes, even when I mentioned Agriculture, I mentioned Industry as part of my programmes. I also mentioned Education, Health. These are parts of my programmes. There is going to be a particular focus and drive towards industrial development, exploitation of bitumen and other solid minerals, other resources that we have in this state.
When you talk about bitumen, the question that people readily ask is whether a state can go into such area on its own, being a matter on the exclusive legislative list. Many public analysts, brilliant scholars, intelligent senior lawyers in Nigeria including my friend Femi Falana, have argued that the idea of states limiting themselves on the basis of an exclusive list is antithetical to progress and development in those states such that it is being argued that the exclusivity of those items should not be taken to the extreme level. Look at what is happening in Zamfara State now. Zamfara has a lot of solid minerals. The governor is going into all these mining areas. They are going into mining now trying to explore the best ways, the fastest approaches to exploit these solid minerals with the collaboration of the Federal Government to achieve result.
They cannot because of money they acquire on daily basis, the money that comes in, that accrues to the Federation Account, the Federal Government sometimes don’t bother about what happens to the states. Sometimes they don’t even think of how best to generate more funds. So they would not be thinking of your bitumen, gold, diamond. It is the states that have to take proactive steps and galvanise the Federal Government into action. If you do not carry that load yourself, the Federal Government would not do anything. But when the Federal Government sees that you are very serious, concerned, determined to the extent of even doing some things that could become legal matters, that could become subjects of litigation, you do them. It’s when you do that that they too would wake up from their slumber and begin to cooperate with the states towards the best way to explore and exploit the fortunes that are lying under our soil and other natural resources that abound in each of the states of the federation.
The programmes you have reeled out are unique. What are you doing to sell these to your party to ensure that you win the primary?
Right now, all the aspirants are in the process of visitations, holding meetings, which I also do. Whenever I am with the stakeholders, I try to expose them to my capability; I try to convince them on why it should be me; the things that I can do, and how I would do them better than any other person. It’s very easy to have an ambition. It’s very easy to have a vision. But it was Dennis Warren who said leadership is the ability to translate vision into reality. If you don’t have that ability, everything you are doing you won’t just know the next step. That is why you see some people going into administration and they don’t have the original ideas. So midway you see some people, six months they cannot put in place a cabinet; seven months they cannot take vital decisions, they cannot fill the government vacancies in the boards of parastatals.
A person that is going into governance must be prepared. Once you are prepared and know what to do, you start off running. All these I am trying to convince my people to believe so that they can key in, and from there we, together, after I must have emerged at the primaries, sell all these noble ideas to the people of this state so that they would know that the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP platform is the preferable platform.
There have been complaints that the Southern Senatorial District especially has not been given expected attention by government all along; that for instance for the past five years, the people have not had electricity, and government is not doing anything; that there are no major industries sited in the area apart from the Omotoso and Ore projects which they are not working on as expected. How would you attend to the problems of the people of this district if elected?
Those that are presently angry that government is not giving enough attention to the Southern Senatorial District are correct. It is not only the Southern Senatorial District that is suffering from lack of government attention, but all parts of the state. What this government is doing is a kind of eye service. They look at some of the urban areas like Akure in particular and then the governor also goes to his home town to execute some projects, what I would call advertisement projects. He would build some roads in Akure, go to Ore to do a flyover and then Owo some roads. These are advertisement projects.
If you count the number of local governments that are benefitting from the attention of this administration, they are not more than six; that is if they are up to six. There are so many local government areas where nothing is happening. That is not a good style of administration. That is not a good record for any administration. There should be equity, even if all the 18 local government areas of the state cannot be equally treated. Virtually the state capital enjoys a lot of privileges over all the other local government areas. There are also some major towns in each of the zones or divisions; like Ikare in Akokoland; Owo in Owo/Ose axis; Okitipupa in the old Okitipupa Division; and Ondo city itself; like that. They would probably have more advantages than others, but a good administrator, a committed governor who has a good sense of justice, fairness and equity would spread his projects in such a way that no particular area would become a disadvantaged area.
So I am not thinking only of how to properly position the southern part of the state in the scheme of things in this state, but how to do justice to every local government area in Ondo state.
Why do you say that the PDP administration is what Ondo State people need now?
The reason for this is that if you look at the administrators that have been produced by PDP in this state, they did much better than what we are witnessing here today. Not only that, the PDP as a platform is more organized. It has a more predictable culture of discipline and service delivery that is different from the APC or any other party, particularly in this state and generally in Nigeria. It is quite clear that today in Nigeria people are saying that they complained about PDP, but havng tasted the APC, that they wish the PDP back to power. Because during the time of PDP in Ondo state, the people were feeling the impact of government, the local people were involved in the execution of projects. When the contractors came they engaged local people. This does not happen today. There is a lot of capital flight, a lot of people coming from Ibadan/Imo state axis. That was not the case when PDP was in power.
PDP is a more disciplined party. It is more organized. It is a party that boasts of credible politicians. I am not saying that all the politicians in PDP are saints. Every political party has its own quantum of angels and the other side; but PDP is better off. Again when you test a party and it does not deliver, the next thing is to test the alternative. The only alternative to APC in Ondo State is the PDP. And since our people are now fed up with the APC administration in the state, the next thing is to test the PDP. Then when you look at the array of aspirants on the platform of the PDP, you know that it is the PDP that the people of this state need now.
We read recently that Hon Banji Okunomo has been adopted as the consensus PDP aspirant in Ilaje area. Is that true?
Ordinarily I don’t like commenting on an issue like that. But so that people would not misunderstand or misrepresent me, my attitude to the endorsement drama is such that the less I talk about it the better. The reason being that the more you talk about such things, you bring about unnecessary controversy in the party. Another reason is that I as an aspirant do not see how I would be talking about an endorsement process that did not include me. If you want to carry out an endorsement, all the stakeholders would be involved; they would be informed; the aspirants would be carried along; they would give their consent. Then there would be notice that at so time and spot, there is going to be this arrangement. Those that are to take part in it would be known. Isn’t it? Once that does not happen, and a group of friends whether they are in the executive or whatever gather together and say they have endorsed someone, how does that concern me, how does that affect all the narratives I have been giving you concerning my vision for this state? How does that stop me from presenting myself to the over 2,000 delegates of the PDP to be considered for nomination as the candidate of the PDP in the election coming up later this year, specifically on the 10th of October 2020?
Like I mentioned somewhere else, I am not against the principle of endorsement or adoption of an aspirant whether at the local, state or federal levels; provided it is well conducted, well coordinated, properly executed with fairness and transparency, and everybody comes to equity with clean hands. I am not against that, but if an aspirant gathers some people together and asks them to endorse him, he is canvassing. There are so many ways of canvassing. So if somebody is canvassing, it doesn’t affect me, it doesn’t bother me, it doesn’t stop me. What could stop me is if the PDP either at the local or state levels gathers all the necessary stakeholders, and they all agree that we want to have a consensus candidate or aspirant, and I am not the one favoured, and I see that the process is transparent and proper, so be it because if it is not me it can be somebody else. But for someone to gather people and do a private arrangement, that would not affect me. I am not denying anyone the right to get people to believe in him or to sign any document for him, provided that does not affect my own interest. So I don’t see how it would affect my interest.
I am in this race not just because I am an Ilaje man. Being an Ilaje man may be part of it. I am in this race not just because I am from the South. Being from the South may be part of it. But I am in this race because I believe that I have all it takes over and above most people that I see to give Ondo State the best of attention, treatment and services that would make people to realize that it’s not every politician that are deceitful, that cannot act according to their words.
So my aspiration therefore goes beyond a local government, or a ward to encompass the total package called Ondo state, involving the entire 18 local government areas. I want to sell myself to not only the delegates, but also the stakeholders who are also behind the delegates, and make them to realize that John Mafo is a different product entirely from the run on the mill politicians, from your ordinary politicians that you see, or something different from the well known and familiar characteristics of whom politicians are; to let them know that he is a man that can keep to his words; that he is a man who is conscious of his integrity, of his dignity, and who is bound by his words and promises.
Give us the picture of Ondo state after the first term of a PDP administration led by you.
There would be a picture of peace and harmony. There would be a picture of people having confidence in their government. There would be a picture of service delivery that has brought about changes that can be noticed, that can be perceived in the nature of our roads, appearances of our schools, manner industries cut across the entire length and breadth of the state in physical forms, not on pages of newspapers, not in verbal forms. There would be signs of development symbols all over the places like cottage industries, small scale, medium scale industries. You see a picture of the youths of this state being galvanized into agricultural productivity, industrial development and the women not lagging behind as well. It would be a general picture of good governance as could be illustrated with evidence and signs of progress and development all around.
Do you have further comments?
It is by way of recommending myself to the stakeholders in PDP. When they think of John Mafo, when they assess John Mafo and when they consider John Mafo, they should know that before them is a man who could be described as an embodiment of the culture, values and principles of the PDP; having joined the PDP as a foundation member close to 22 years ago specifically on the 31st of August 1998. They should see John Ola Mafo as a man who can carry the banner for the party, and who would perform and deliver in such a way that the PDP would remain in the hearts, minds and heads of the people of this state as we approach the next generation. And to the people out there, to the average electorate, to the general public, I say the taste of the bud is in the eating. Let them give me the chance, and then they would see that there is a difference between the original and the fake. Thank you and God bless.