The Peoples Democratic Party Publicity Secretary in Ondo State, Mr. Banji Okunomo, in this interview with ADE AKANBI, speaks on political developments and other issues in the state
How far has the PDP gone in Ondo State in its restructuring process after the last general elections?
We are doing fine; this was reflected in the April 11 state House of Assembly election. That election reflected the yearnings and expectations of the people of Ondo State. It was an election that strictly determined what affected Ondo State and not the country as a whole. Of course, the change slogan which pervaded the country was an issue with regards to the March 28 presidential election. But the April election was an Ondo State’s affair and our performance in the election is a thing we will continue to celebrate the people of the state for supporting us to defeat the All Progressives Congress. The PDP won in 21 local government areas while the APC won in five. The performance of the PDP in the April 11 election was an indication of acceptance of the party by the people. So, the result of that election showed that the people still have confidence in the leadership of Dr. Olusegun Mimiko and the party. The PDP is a strong party and we are determined to win any election in Ondo State. Though there are some other local variables that are important during elections, I have no doubt in my mind that the PDP is a party to beat.
During the April 11 election, there was an allegation that your party introduced the “see and buy” technique to achieve victory in the poll. What is your reaction to this?
The APC that is peddling such an allegation is deceiving itself. The factors that affected the March 28 presidential election were different from the factors that affected the April 11 state House of Assembly election. And before the first election, we had some internal issues within our party. You know the PDP is not just the PDP as it was before; it is now a mega-PDP, an amalgam of the Labour Party and PDP forces. Before the first election, there were some elements in the party who were ready to wreak havoc on the party owing to their own personal motives, but we tried to pretend over those problems as they would not make much meaning, but they acted their plan out in the first election. Between the first and second election, they defected to the APC and worked against the PDP. Let me tell you, one major thing that creates destruction within a house is when you have an internal battle. When we merged, we harboured some people within the party who we entrusted with some responsibilities, but they later went ahead to work against the PDP. We were, however, able to identify them when they showed their true colour between the first and second elections. They defected to the APC. After they had defected, we went to the drawing board and addressed the issues that affected us in the first election and with the support of the people; we were able to cover the grounds within a period of two weeks. So, the issue of “see and buy” that they are talking about is out of it. Why did the “see and buy” not work in the first election? The issues that surrounded the second election had to do with local variables. The local variables are that the Ondo State people will determine who will represent them in the House of Assembly; they would want the lawmakers that will work in harmony with the governor because they knew that the only thing that would guarantee good governance to them is to have sustainable government and they have seen that in the Mimiko-led administration. The administration has brought developments that everybody can see. Let me tell you, the people are regretting voting for the APC at the national level because the APC-led Federal Government has not been able to give Nigerians a decent atmosphere which can make them believe that they have a government in power.
Local government and governorship elections are on the way, how is your party preparing?
The PDP is solidly prepared, we are restructuring the party and some of the activities which give a clear indication that the party is not going to be defeated in the forthcoming local and governorship elections in Ondo State are already making the APC to be uncomfortable. The APC is not comfortable with what is going on in PDP; anything that is being done by the current PDP-led government in Ondo State always makes the APC uncomfortable. For instance, the recent constitution of caretaker committee chairmen at the various local governments is giving the APC sleepless night.
Many bigwigs in your party have defected to the APC. Will their defection not affect your chances in the next local government and governorship elections?
Some of the so-called bigwigs who defected to the APC before the April 11 election were disappointed when the results of the poll were announced. That means their defection was inconsequential; they are not bigwigs as you have described them. We that are remaining in the party are viable instruments of democracy. As a matter of fact, I know that some of the so-called bigwigs are also inconsequential in the party they defected to. It was after they left the PDP that we began to have a tremendous improvement in our party.
In the light of the heavy criticism by the APC, coupled with the federal ‘might,’ do you still believe that the PDP will shine in the next elections in this state?
There was a federal might when Mimiko defeated the former Governor, Dr. Olusegun Agagu. Nigeria’s democracy has grown and that power belongs to God and the people and the people elect who they want. As long as we are on the side of the people and as long as we do things that conform to the interest and expectation of the people of Ondo State, we will not be defeated in the next poll; the APC will fail no matter the level of its conspiracy. I come from Ilaje Local Government Area of the state and I have seen the opposition in the area trying to drag the name of the current state government in the mud, but I want to tell you that never again in our history in Ilaje that we will celebrate something that does not have substance. Today, the hitherto impassable Igbokoda-Igbonla Road is now been asphalted. It is now easy to drive to the riverine areas of the state. Also, Governor Mimiko has awarded water project contract to ensure that the people of Ilaje have access to potable water. Those who criticised the governor do so for political reasons, not to facilitate actions that would positively affect people’s lives.
Recently over 4,000 people dumped the PDP for the APC in your local government, is it not because the government has not performed there?
It is not true; who are these people? What are their pedigrees? What I will tell you is that there was no content in that defection. It was a calculated defection to give a kind of hope to the fortune-seeking element within the party who have been frustrated by the policy statement of President Muhammadu Buhari that the defectors into their party would not get positions and are now looking for a way to make their leaders believe that they are popular in that area. That was the secret behind the defection that was bloated beyond proportion as if it was a serious defection. So, I can say authoritatively that the defection was a ruse.
The PDP-led government in Ondo State is being described as a government of propaganda. How do you react to this?
When we talk of propaganda, the APC has a PhD in it. The PDP does not believe in propaganda and Mimiko is a scientist and scientists don’t talk much. The governor is a medical doctor and he believes that every experiment must be verified and from the verification, you draw your inference. What was the status of this state before this government came on board and the current situation of things? It is very clear that there is a basis for comparison. Today, we have dualised roads which have eased traffic problem in Akure, the state capital. Even Mimiko has performed in the area of health and education. Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba Akoko, is one of the best state universities in the country and yet the institution charges the least tuition. This is what we called social welfare scheme of a responsible government. In the area of security, Ondo State has witnessed peace and tranquility occasioned by responsible leadership of Mimiko. All these achievements are giving the APC discomfort.
The Residency Card called Kaadi Igbeayo project has been criticised to be a waste of public funds, what is your take on this?
Ondo State people do not criticise Kaadi Igbeayo, it is the APC that is using its propaganda to condemn everything that this government is doing. The residency card is like data gathering mechanism with correct information to involve well constructive plan that the government can execute. Because this social security scheme is working and the Ondo State government is trying to track everything that it does in the area of social service delivery, the APC is uncomfortable. There is nothing bad in introducing the residency card for the benefit of the people of the state; it was introduced to further meet the interests of the people.
You claimed that the state government had impacted the lives of the people of the riverine area, but the people of the area recently staged a protest against lack of electricity supply in the last one year…
The issue of electricity is the responsibility of the Federal Government and let it be on record that the Ondo State government has been trying to solve this problem. Our government has built power generation station at Omotosho and some other places. So, it is not that the government is doing nothing about it, by the time the effort yields result, the people will be praising this government. That is why we are calling on the Federal Government to implement the recommendation of the report of the Confab so that states will have control over their resources.
There was also an allegation that the state government has not justified the 13 per cent derivation fund on the development of the riverine area. What is your take on this?
The issue is that if you are not in government, you are not likely to know how government operates. I once served as a local government chairman and the information I have today made me to be informed. When I was not in government, I also used to think that way, so I do not blame those making the allegation or reasoning that way. The 13 per cent derivation fund is accruable to Ondo State, not to Ilaje alone. The Ondo State government, through the House of Assembly, made a law that allowed 40 per cent of the derivation fund to be spent on the oil producing areas and this fund is entrusted in the Ondo State Oil Producing Area Development Commission for the purpose of using it to develop the areas. This does not strip the state government of its responsibilities to the oil producing area. I am aware that beyond the 40 per cent oil derivation fund, the state government has also executed many projects in the area.
By Ade Akanbi, PUNCH