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KOGI 2011: WHAT I WANT TO DO DIFFERENTLY – AKANMODE

By NBF News
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Prince Vincent Sola Akanmode was Deputy Chief of Staff in the Presidency under the Obasanjo administration. A stalwart of the Peoples Democratic Party, [PDP] in Kogi State, Akanmode is today eyeing the gubernatorial ticket.

The astute bureaucrat told the Daily Sun that he would clinch the ticket and ultimately win the gubernatorial election. Akanmode also outlined his vision for the state.

Excerpts:
Let's start on this note; you were in Action Congress, [AC], then you returned to PDP. Have you been granted waiver?

Yes, I have been given a waiver and I have it.
There are so many governorship aspirants in Kogi, under the PDP. What is pushing all of you to serve?

Well, I don't know what is pushing others to serve, but I know what is pushing me to serve and I wish everybody is actually out to serve.

I am product of the civil service and to me, politics is just an extension of public service and I believe that, perhaps I have had as much opportunity as any other person in present Kogi state to acquire a lot of experience in the civil service, to acquire a lot of experience in governance, to acquire a lot of exposure at the state level, at the federal level and internationally, I have been able to see from very close quarters, the running of government.

Right from my middle level days in the civil service, when I worked in the governor's office. The last ten years or so of my career in Kwara.

State and of course, in Kogi were spent, either in the Governor's office, or in the Government House.

I worked very closely, directly with five military governors. Before then I worked very closely with Chief Cornelius Adebayo, whose administration, of course didn't last long but I worked very closely with him.

So, in essence, like I used to tell people  six governors took over from six governors—all the intricacies, all the ground work that had to be done to establish an administration. Beyond that, as secretary to government in Kogi I was able to put into practice all these experience that I garnered over the years. It was like a culmination of my civil service  career.

But I was even lucky to  serve in the Presidency for seven and half years and whatever you may say about the Obasanjo administration, it was an administration that thrived on ideas and I was there for example when the MDGs were being put in place; I was there when the pension reforms were being put in place; I was there when privatization were being carried out; I was there when the Independent Power Plant, [IPP] were being put in place; I was there when the Public Private Partnership[ PPP] were being put in place; I was there when the National Health Insurance Scheme was being put in place; I was there when NAPEP  was being put in place; I was there when the agricultural  initiative in cassava and rice and other things were being put in place; I was there when the civil service reforms were being put in place; I was there when the Procurement Act was being put in place; I was there when the Fiscal Responsibility Act was being put in place.

These are things you need to run a modern government, an effective government, a transparent government and a government that thrives after sustainable development and these are the things I want to put at the disposal of the people of Kogi State.

The Igala are in the majority in the State and politics being a game of number, how can an Okun man be governor?

The national population census of 1991, gave the eastern flank of the state—the Eastern Senatorial district 45 percent; the 2006 population census put their population at 45 percent.

So, you cannot talk about absolute majority. If you put the rest of the population together—the Central and the West, you have fifty five percent. That is that.

But I am not basing my campaign on the issue of  whether Okun people are in the minority or not. We have seen minorities produced governors in this country. When we were in Kwara State, an Igbira man, Adamu Attah was governor and Igbira wasn't in any way the majority  ethnic group.

When we were in Kwara, Alhaji Shaba Lafiaji the Nupes weren't in any way the majority, he became governor. Chief Cornelius Adebayo became governor. In other parts of the country, Peter Odili was governor. My friend, Donald Duke was governor and I don't think he was from the majority ethnic group.

The campaign I have been running  and you know my campaign is called, The Bridge Organisation—it is based on my belief that, perhaps more than  any other person, I am able to cut across.

Then , apart from the fact that I have garnered tremendous goodwill among Okun people and the Western Senatorial District generally, I have also been able to cut across to the East and to the Central. I was lucky that in all the years I was in office, I was able to demonstrate that it isn't where you come from that matters, but the kind of responsibility you are able to bring into government, so that you can be seen as somebody who is there to serve everybody and everywhere I go today… I have this crazy idea of not just going to all the local government but all the wards in the state - I think there are about 238 of them. At the last count, I have been to 183 wards and everywhere I go I have been moved by the kind of testimony that people give as to the way one has been able to touch their lives, when one was in office.

Also, I have been able to sell my programs, my vision and I think, more than ever before, very many people follow that. My yearnings for a governor who has a track record, who has the experience, who has the pedigree and who has the vision to bring about the desirable developmental pace in the state.

So, I am not basing this campaign on ethnic consideration, I am basing it on my record and I think the yearnings of the people for rapid development.

We know that your senatorial zone,  Kogi West is trying a consensus arrangement to produce a common candidate. Can we have an update on that?

The leadership of the party in the Western Senatorial district are making that attempt and I must say it  isn't the first time we have done it in the West. We did it in 1999 and it worked beautifully and that was how it was possible for the late Dr. Stephen Olorunfemi to emerge as the candidate of the party.

We have tried it again and it has run into one or two hitches, because there has been some… you know a consensus must be based on unanimity, it isn't a question of majority of the people agreeing to do it this way or that.

Don't forget that the consensus arrangement isn't known to the constitution of the party really, it isn't something that is in the guidelines of the party; it isn't something that is in the Electoral Act, but if people agree absolutely it can work. But if there are twenty one aspirants and twenty say , 'yes' and one says 'no, ' then that's the end of it.

We haven't totally given it up, but I am not waiting for the consensus arrangement; I am on the field and I believe that I can win the primary, with or without the consensus arrangement.

We learnt there was an agreement between all the senatorial zones, to allow power to shift to either west or the central; are you aware? What has happened to that deal?

I wish it was so, but honestly, that isn't the situation. If that was the situation you wouldn't have about thirteen aspirants in the East.

What happened really, if it has any basis, what they are doing it would probably be based on some kind of agreement that we had at the time the state was created.

That time we had two political parties: SDP and NRC and the two political parties quickly agreed that it was desirable to have the first governor from the east, obviously an attempt to sort of mollify, or provide some comfort for our brothers, the Igalla who didn't have a very good experience in Benue State and we had a situation in Benue State where they thought they didn't have a very good experience and the two political parties thought that it was better to have an Igalla person and so very many people who otherwise would have contested the election, stayed out of it from the west and the central.

Again, it wasn't unanimous, because we still had one or two who went against that arrangement, but generally at the party level it was agreed that the governorship candidate would come from the east and so SDP had its chairman  from the central in the person of the late Alhaji Ajana and NRC had its chairman from the central, in the person of Alhaji Musa Etudaye.

Obviously, the intention then was that after the first time out, there was going to be some kind of rotational arrangement, but as you can see it hasn't worked in that way.

The power of incumbency is a factor; aren't you worried that the governor has his own anointed candidate from his senatorial zone?

Do you feel threatened?
No, I don't feel threatened at all. Let me be very frank with you. It is normal for anybody, whether he is an incumbent , or not, it is normal  for anybody at that level to have preferences.

But the governor has been so far very fair. The first day I went to him and told him I wanted to be governor, he said, 'my brother, if anybody tells you that I have anointed somebody, just know it isn't true''.

He assured me that he is going to provide a level playing field and what is of greatest interest to him is to ensure that there will be somebody who will come and continue with the good work he is doing and even do it better. I can only hold him to his words. I can not know, if somebody has been anointed. I know in politics there are all kinds of things. People drop names and all that, but I don't feel threatened.

What value do you want to add to governance in Kogi. What is it that the incumbent hasn't  done that you would do, if elected?

Well, let me talk about what he is doing that you need to continue. I know the governor has done pretty well in the area of road network, all the zones, the east, west and central, particularly in the course of my crisscrossing all the various local government. He has opened up, he has done a lot of road project.

But do you share the perception that your senatorial district, Kogi west is neglected, or marginalized?

It  isn't true, my senatorial district isn't marginalized, especially when we talk about roads. There have been some critical road projects that have been in the works for nearly twenty years.  Even when we were in Kwara certain roads appeared in the budget every year, for about fifteen years. This governor is doing it. We also have a road from Ijowa-Ejikun-Jegge road, it is in the senatorial district, this governor is doing it.

We also have a road from Omuo, through Olukotun to Jegge, this governor is doing it. We have a road from Imma to Ayere, this governor is doing it. So, I don't think it is fair to say the governor has marginalized the western senatorial district in the area of road.

But having said that, there are still very many challenges even in the areas of roads. For example in my tour of all the local government and all the wards in the state, I find that there are some areas that have a long way to go in terms of physical infrastructures, particularly in the areas of roads and electricity. Ibaji is one of them; the governor has opened up a major road in Ibaji, but there is still more to do to open up the area.

Bassa is another area and I am very passionate about these two places, because these are places with rich agricultural potentials, which we need to open up and we can engage in large scale production of rice, sugar cane and so on. I saw all these.

Then of course, if you come back to the western senatorial district, the whole area of Bunnu in Kabba-Bunnu local government which needs a lot of attention in terms of roads and electricity.

If you go to Yagba west in the western senatorial district, you have the whole area that needs a lot of attention. One of the things I have in mind is to ensure that during my tenure I will be able to ensure that all the wards headquarter in this state are accessible by road, throughout the year; all the wards headquarters in this state have electricity.

So, I have now just talk about things that he is doing that we can improve upon. And then of course, there are some areas that wouldn't say he isn't doing them, but I am coming into government with my own vision and there are some critical areas that I want to concentrate on and there is a section of my manifesto which we call, what we want to do differently.

Everybody comes into government and wants to be governor and say, I am going to do roads, I am going to do electricity, I am going to build hospitals, I am going to provide. Of course, if a government isn't doing all these, what else, would it do ? But the critical thing is, how are you going to do these things? What kind of roads are you going to do? What kind of schools are you going to build? What kind of hospitals are you going to build? How are you going to go about water?

Where would the resources come from?
Let me just take the examples of schools, health and education, which we can put together as social services. When you are delivering social services, there are three critical issues. The first one is quality, the second one is access, the third one is affordability.

What quality of schools do we have now? I went to a  public school, the then  Provincial Secondary School, Okenne and I had very sound education :dormitory, wood workshop, laboratory, library, good boarding facilities.

But today, nobody wants to send his child to public school unless you don't have  a choice. I want to reverse this and make sure that our public schools regain their past glory.

Then, in the area of health, of course, there are still very many areas in the state where you don't even have basic health services, but we want to go beyond that and see that even where you have good hospitals like in Lokoja, are they accessible, are they affordable? That's why I am also very passionate about this issue of health insurance scheme, so that everybody can have access.

Then of course, one other thing that we want to do differently is in the area of water resources, water supply. I want to concentrate on what I call regional water supply, instead of all  these boreholes. We had so many agencies, the state rural development agencies, the River basin Development Authority, everybody is doing boreholes, even the communities are doing boreholes, but after sometimes, these things run into one problem or the other.

So, there are so many areas in the state, particularly around Omi Dam in the western district, Ida in the eastern senatorial district, where you can actually have water and the governor is already doing something like that in Lokoja.

Then of course, I am going to do agriculture differently. I was privilege to work at very close quarters, what the Obasanjo administration, even the Yar'Adua administration tried to do I the area of what we call agricultural value change.

It isn't just enough to be investing in agriculture; it isn't just enough to invest in commercial agriculture. You have to go from production to processing and to marketing. Don't forget that when we were in the secondary schools, we used to make a distinction between cash crops and food crops. That distinction has broken down. In those days cassava was supposed to be  food  crops, because it wasn't meant for anything, apart from garri, but today from cassava apart from garri, we can get cassava chips, you can export, you get cassava flour and that brings you a lot of money, you get ethanol, which very many people are working on.

So, these are areas which we want to concentrate on. I went to Bassa and I discover that there is a lot of sugar cane production in Bassa and I asked them what do you do with this thing. They just caught it into pieces and they eat it. Anything you cannot eat is wasted.

We should go beyond that.  There is a lot  of cashew production in the Eastern senatorial district; we should go beyond just getting the cashew nuts and cheaply transporting them to Lagos, or abroad. These are the areas we want to look at.

One other area we want to do differently is employment generation. Everybody looks at employment generation as just a question of putting people in paid jobs, or giving some people stipends.

We are going to work hard to ensure that whatever we are doing in the area of agriculture, whatever we are doing in the area of Small and Medium scale enterprises, whatever we are doing in the area of Information Technology, all these things would be geared towards providing employment for our young ones.

Again, as a basis for ensuring on a long term that people get employed, we are going to concentrate on quality education. I want a state in the area of branding Kogi, which is one of my pet project, I want Kogi to be noted for educational excellence, because you remember the late Chief Awolowo described an unemployed person as somebody who has been adequately trained for the job, she wants to do the job, but the job isn't available. If we use that definition many of the people you called unemployed today aren't really unemployed, because they haven't been adequately trained for specific jobs.

We are going to ensure that our people, our young ones are adequately trained and they are employable. These are just some of the few areas.

Finally, I am very passionate about this, governance has become very, very, intricate. It is no longer an issue of sitting down and expecting that every month somebody is going to bring you statutory allocation from the federal government. Statutory means exactly what it means. If you seat down and if you don't even send our commissioners to Abuja, they will post the money to our account. But even this statutory allocation is being well spent, it is no longer enough in modern day governance to do all the things we  have outlined. So, I have come with this new model of governance, where you are looking at avoiding what I call developmental myopia. Not just looking a`t what you can get from the federal government, but you are looking at what you can get from all these development agencies, development partners all over the world; you are looking at what you can get from private investors all over the world.

I was in Dubai some years ago and somebody talked about this huge accumulation of capital all over the world, looking for investment and they talk about the high velocity of the movement of capital. People are looking for where, in the remotest village today if there is a viable and bankable project, people will come there and Dangote has proved to us in Kogi with the Obajana Cement.

We started talking about Obajana Cement, when we were in Kwara, but when we came to Kogi Prince  Abubakar Audu in fairness to him went all over the globe looking for money. He was in Brazil, he was in Asia—he was all over. And then Dangote did what needed to be done in modern day business: he went to the international finance organization borrowed money at a very good interest rate  and he had repaid this money, one and half years, ahead of schedule, ahead of maturity. These are the areas a modern day government should be looking at.