Candidate of the Alliance for Democracy (AD) in this month’s gubernatorial election in Ondo State, Chief Alexander Olusola Oke has identified inadequate leadership vision as the major cause of the socio-economic problems the state and its citizens are currently facing.
According to Oke, who spoke to The Guardian in Akure at the weekend, “what is needed for a people to excel is the ability of the leadership to think beyond the ordinary. The leader must be able to stand up and see what the folks on the streets don’t see and take appropriate steps to arrive at a destination of prosperity.
“In a nutshell, it all depends on the type of leadership in a state. The excellence you see in Lagos State was not attained only today. That foundation was laid a long time ago. So it is a question of leadership really. What the leaders of Lagos saw years ago, which we didn’t see, is to our chagrin today. So if you have a man with vision, even regional collaboration would assist us to build a new Ondo State.”
Stating the reasons why he is seeking the state’s top job after an unsuccessful attempt in 2012, the governorship hopeful said, “There were good reasons for me to contest then and these reasons, rather than abate, have only multiplied. They have increased, expanded and therefore, so long as those conditions are still prevailing and multiplying, I will be failing in my responsibilities not to come out to offer service.
“Despite the fact of our rich endowments in human and natural resources, our people are lacking the basic necessities of life. Ours is a state generously loved by God. If we look at the resources available to us, we should be a shining example to others in Nigeria. We have whatever resources you can imagine that would help the development of a state in abundance, the largest being our rich human resources. They are all there but we are not doing well.
“A critical assessment today would show that the people of Ondo State are poor. They are not poor in their heads but in their pockets. And I have come to appreciate that over time, that poverty of the pocket could also affect the poverty of the head. If you traverse the entire landscape of Ondo state today, you cannot find one industry that is producing anything. The concomitant effect of that is that employment cannot be generated. The state has come to a standstill in terms of employment of its citizens.
“We need to diversify our economy to be able to get our citizens engaged. For seven years running, graduates from the universities have come out in hundreds of thousands every year with no employment opportunities. Humiliatingly, most of them have become okada riders, drivers, beggars and idling away at cheap joints of the communities. This is not good for us as, it is a recipe for criminal acts and violent revolution. Therefore, I cannot fold my arms and watch things deteriorate further than this. The situation is already bad enough.
“You look at our infrastructure, they are in a state of decay, industrialization is zero and these are also affecting the education sector, the health sector and the total being of the citizens of Ondo State. When you have situation like this, it calls on men who have the fear of God, who have vision, who have direction and who have mission to come on the stage. I believe that given the opportunity to be the governor of Ondo State, I can start to re-direct our development. And the starting point will be to examine what is on ground the database of which I already have.”
He provided a peep into what should be done to start the process of development saying, “We have to use what we have to solve the problems confronting us. Look at the various industries established by the last regime, which are in different and varying stages of completion that were abandoned.
“For whatever justification, I do not share the view that those resources should be allowed to waste away. If they are completed, not only would they add value of their own that can be disposed off at anytime for consideration, they will help in solving the problem of unemployment; they will help in creating wealth for our people and they will help in adding value to the communities where they are situated.
“I believe further that anyone who must lead Ondo State at this crucial period must have the fear of God and must be one that is well known to the people and who knows the length and breadth of the state, and I fit into these descriptions. That is why I cannot relent until we sing a new song in Ondo State. Until we have a new lease of life and have a new sense of direction that is only when I can say okay, let others run. For now, it is a man that fits my description that Ondo State needs.”
Oke said from his campaign tours of all the communities in the state and interactions with the people, he discovered that “the aggregate opinion of the people is that the present situation is no longer tolerable; they want a change. They want a change that will bring about creation of wealth and bring productivity back on the table. They want a place where a labourer will earn his wages for work done, a state that will see the emergence of industries, not government initiative alone but private engagement in flourishing businesses.
“The people want reduction in poverty level; they want job opportunities; they want infrastructural decay to be addressed. They want our schools to wear good look; they want the transport sector to be organized and less chaotic as it is today; they want the coastline resources to be developed and exploited. They want those abandoned industries to come back on stream. So the desire of the people of Ondo State fits into my dream, it fits into my manifestoes and we are on the same page as to the Ondo we desire and deserve.”
On how he intends to achieve these objectives of development in a depressed economy that Nigeria is going through, Oke said, “We are not unaware that the economy is in bad shape and Ondo State is worse for it. And of course, it has to be so, when we had enough we never build a solid foundation for the future. Lagos State is said to have the fifth largest economy in Africa today because while there was abundance, preparation was made for the future. We didn’t prepare in Ondo and now we have been caught unaware and therefore, we need a lot of vision to be able to bring about all the good things I have said.
“First, the major burden is debt. I may not be able to be too specific but I am told and I readily believe that we are down with over N108 billion indebtedness. That is a major challenge to the incoming government. But government liabilities are valid assets. Government assets and liabilities are valid assets and no government can take asset and run away from liabilities. But the way to manage it and reduce the effect on what we are doing is to go back to the negotiation table and reschedule some of those debts. Not in terms of the avoidance of liabilities but to give space so that the amount committed to servicing the debt can be reduced and whatever you get from there can be ploughed back to face the challenges of government.
“Two, we have a lot of assets that are wasting away. The various industries or factories started by the last administration, which were nearing completion in their different stages. We should do something urgently to complete them. And then we can bring in private investors after proper evaluation. The truth of the matter is that despite the depreciation of those assets, the state of our economy, that is, the devaluation of Naira has also helped in enhancing their value. I am sure today that if they are valued, we will still have a lot of funds tied down there. We can bring in private investors, value and then ratio out the equity participation of the partners and that will leave some money for government to run. They are revenue-generating ventures and government will be able to get tax from workers, from some of the facilities and help government to raise more money.
“You can’t ask a people that are already badly affected by the economy to pay more taxes. Even the existing ones on ground presently may have to be reviewed to give it human face. Now, the Olokola project is there, we intend to bring that back on the table and it will be able to solve tremendously the problems confronting Ondo State at the moment.
“And of course, the micro-economy has to be looked at properly because that is what sustains every economy. We will look at the artisans, in what way can we help them to make their job easier. Once there is productivity, those ones will bounce back automatically because the productivity itself has a way to reverberating and touching every aspects of the economy. So, with vision and commitment, all these are achievable and once they are achieved, Ondo State will smile again.”