Honourable Banji Okunomo is one of the governorship aspirants who got the ticket of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to contest in the forth coming election in Ondo State. In this interview, he speaks with LUCKY UKPERI on his vision for the state, zoning and sundry issues.
What makes you different from the other Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governorship aspirants in Ondo State?
What makes me different from the other aspirants is that I am the youngest of them. Also, I’m a vibrant, intellectually mobile and politically experienced young man. When I say I’m a young man, that does not mean I’m under 40. I’m a middle-aged politician and a technocrat and with vast experience in all aspects of life.
Another thing that makes me different from the other aspirants is that I’m from the favoured zone and local government. Politics in Ondo State is done by zoning which is a traditional principle that all the stakeholders in Ondo State politics have been observing since 1999 till date. So, since I’m from the favoured zone, becoming the candidate of the party will make me an asset to the PDP now and in the forthcoming general elections.
Also, being a young man, I have acquired a lot of experience that stands me out among the other aspirants. And, of course, I’m the only one to copy and emulate Seyi Makinde’s strides in Oyo State, because he stands out among the governors doing well in Nigeria.
What are some of your experience that you would bring to bear in your journey to the Ondo State Government House?
I have been the chief executive of Ilaje Local Government Area and I gained experience in administration as well as working in the service of the government at the rural level. This experience opened my eyes to know that governance is responsibility to meeting the needs of the people. As the chairman of Ilaje Local Government Area, I served my people well and my legacies are still there till today, because a man is not judged by his momentary action, but by his antecedents and precedents.
I have been the director-general of the PDP campaign for Atiku Abubakar, and Senator Tofowomo, who won the election and got the best result in the Southern district of Ondo State. This is a scorecard that nobody can sweep under the carpet, because we did well in that election.
With the number of governorship candidates from the state jostling for the PDP ticket, do you think the principle of zoning would work in this instance?
Zoning will work because ambitious politicians from the favoured zone will rise to contest. Where you see many aspirants, they are from the favoured zone. For instance, the Southern district has about seven aspirants, while only one aspirant each comes from the Central and the North. That is indicative of the fact that the zone is the one favoured while it is not the turn of the North or Central. This could be likened to when All Progressives Congress (APC) was in opposition like the PDP, and they wanted to come to power, there were about 22 aspirants of which more than two-third came from the Northern district which was the favoured zone at that time. Only one aspirant came from the South then.
During the primaries, the winner emerged from the Northern district. The Southern aspirant got nothing. This is because the universe is always on the side of justice. Everybody would want to be on the side of what is just, fair and equitable as injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Nobody wants to support imbalances in the society.
Ondo State has come of age since 1999 when zoning was started. It has continued to be used to decide how a governor is produced in the state. Except for Dr. Olusegun Mimiko, who spent two consecutive terms, in the history of Ondo State, none of all the other governors have had two terms. The governorship position has been moving from one senatorial district to the other smoothly through the zoning principle.
In 1999, no one emerged from the North. Later, we had Governor Olusegun Agagu and this was followed by Governor Olusegun Mimiko who emerged on the platform of the Labour Party. Today, we have an incumbent from the North on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
This tells us that Ondo State people are mindful of the zoning arrangement. It is something the electorate and delegates are sensitive about. It is always observed. Any political party that fails to observe zoning in picking its candidate always suffers at the general elections because when a political party fails to do the right thing, the electorate will right the wrong and ensure that the person they would vote for would emerge from the favoured district.
Dr. Mimiko was re-elected and that clearly negated the zoning arrangement.
Dr. Mimiko’s re-election was unprecedented in the history of Ondo State politics. One of the major things that earned him the second term was his performance which was overwhelming. The second term was not by right, but a privilege achieved by performance. When a governor has not performed very well his people would declare him a persona-non-grata by not voting for him.
So, do you think the incumbent, Governor Rotimi Akeredolu, would not get a second term?
He will not get a second term. In fact, Governor Akeredolu’s administration is already rejected by the people of Ondo State. Elections conducted under his government were won by the PDP. In the last national elections comprising National Assembly and the Presidential election, the PDP won the presidential and two of the three senatorial seats. This was a rejection of the government in power as the positions were fiercely contested between the PDP and APC.
With this, no one can rate the Akeredolu government as having performed. This is a government that cannot put smile on the faces of the people. It is a government that is parochial and very sectional and restricted to only three local government areas in the state. It has never been like that in the state.
Every previous governor had always dotted each of the local government areas with one project or the other. But that is not the case with this government. The level of taxation is unbearable. People are not only overtaxed. They are milking the people of the state through individuals and private companies. It is not a good thing.
In terms of infrastructure, the government of Akeredolu has not touched many places at all. It is disheartening when one goes to some places especially in the Southern senatorial district. The story is not different in the Northern and even Central districts.There is hardly anything to see there. The people of Ondo State will not vote such a government for a second term.
It is noteworthy that it was the very good performance of Governor Mimiko that earned him about 43 to 44 per cent of the votes then. Even though, it seemed the majority wanted a change of government but the opposition was divided into two.
From your reference to one of the reasons behind Mimiko’s winning the re-election, would a situation like that not happen to the PDP due to the many candidates desiring the party’s governorship ticket? Or is there a place for a consensus candidate among the PDP aspirants to forestall such?
Many are called, few are chosen. Only God enthrones. Man proposes, God disposes. Among the many aspirants from the South, only one will emerge and that person, by God’s grace, is Benjamin Banji Okunomo, because I have made full consultation with my God and my God has directed me to go ahead without looking back.
I have set God as my Alpha and Omega and I’m not going to give his glory to anyone. Up to this point, my progress in the race still baffles some doubting Thomases. Whoever will give the party’s ticket will be determined by the extent the person has worked to build confidence in the people.
What new things will you bring to governance in Ondo State, if you eventually win the election?
I will revolutionise the economic sector of Ondo State by ensuring that the economy is expanded. To achieve this, I will focus on creating an investor-driven state. For example, our part of the Atlantic Ocean which has been wasting away, especially, the coastline of which Ondo State has the longest in Africa, would be made more productive. Ondo State coastline which is bounded in the West by Lagos coastline is very much bigger than that of Lagos. A lot of potentials around the sea environment would be harnessed for the economic well-being of the people.
The development of a seaport in this area would go a long way to affect the economy positively. We will ensure the establishment of seaport and free trade zones that would attract investors to the state leading to job opportunities for our teeming unemployed youths.
Also, agriculture would be prioritised and mechanised to make it attractive to the people. I will rejig the economy of the state and make it vibrant, viable, sustainable and an envy of all.
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