“We have also come with the conviction, consequent upon several years of practical involvement in the nation’s political process,that the need for
ideologically focused political engagement is now more pressing than ever before”. – Dr. Olusegun Mimiko, June 14, 2018 at the event marking his return to Labour Party.
Those were some of the words with which Dr Olusegun Mimiko, former governor of Ondo State, addressed thousands of supporters that had gathered to welcome him back to the Labour Party form the PDP.
They are words that are most likely going to shape the immediate future of Nigerian politics particularly as it concerns the forthcoming 2019 general elections.
Mimiko is a man whose philosophies and politics I have followed for quite some time now, and the reasons are not farfetched.
My first visit to Ondo State was in 2003 when my immediate elder brother travelled hundreds of kilometers from the southeastern part of the country to the ancient city of Akure to find a wife.
Then, Akure could be classified as a sleepy and rustic town even though it bubbled with enormous energy waiting to be tapped and harnessed into some useful ventures for the greater benefit of the people and their State.
So when in recent times, I became frequent in Akure as an in-law, I saw the monumental infrastructural changes, social reengineering and audacious projects which Mimiko popularly hailed as Iroko embarked upon to transform the once sleepy State to a destination of choice for both investors and tourists. Truly, one could see his person in the projects and the projects in his person.
As a young doctor in his early days, Mimiko is known to have practically turned his hospital to a centre of succor particularly for the poor who had no means whatsoever of paying for their medical bills.
He saw and experienced the level of his people’s sufferings and poverty first hand. Patients would crawl on the floor helplessly in his Mona Mediclinic whose headquarters was located in Ondo Town, while some are rushed into the facility in desperate conditions seeking medical attention.
The testimonies are that even after confirming that these patients could not afford their medical bills, Mimiko would still go ahead to treat them free of charge. How he successfully ran the hospital remains a testimony of God’s grace.
He saw as his people were dying daily for lack of adequate medical facilities in the state, and how a majority of them could not go to any hospital but resorted to the risky practices of self medication because they could not afford the hospital bills.
He saw firsthand how pregnancy was fast becoming a death sentence in the state as the people resorted to patronizing traditional midwives whose skills and experiences could no longer meet or catch up with the modern needs and complex processes of gynaecology. The people were practically helpless.
It was such helpless conditions that influenced his decision to be actively involved in politics as a vehicle to adequately take care of the needs of his people.
Little wonder then he wasted no time in implementing people-oriented policies that saw the silent revolution and turn around in the state leading to Ondo State with one of the highest incidence of maternal and infant mortality rates then become the state with its lowest in Nigeria.
Despite paucity of funds available to the state, the medical doctor cum politician built several Mother & Child Hospitals in different parts of the state to cater specially for the needs of the children, their mothers and the pregnant ones.
It would amaze many that Mimiko directed that medical care for pregnant women in these hospitals be given free of charge from conception to delivery even if by caesarian section.
It did not stop there, all children from 0 – 5 years old in the state were also given medical care free of charge while the traditional midwifery system was phased out gradually as the traditional midwives were trained in alternative skills and given monetary reward for every pregnant woman they referred to the Mother & Child Hospital.
This practice therefore encouraged pregnant women to attend their ante-natal sessions faithfully and deliver their babies under the expertise of qualified medical doctors as the fear of being charged any amount was eliminated by the Mimiko-led state government.
This significantly reduced the infant and mortality rates in the State to the extent that Ondo State became a model for other states to emulate, a feat for which international organizations including the UN have continued to recognize Mimiko and given him awards and international platforms to share how he was able to achieve that in an environment where it is believed that “nothing works”.
It is therefore not a surprise that shortly after he left office as governor, pregnant women, despite the dangers inherent in such demonstrations considering their conditions, took to the streets recently, protesting against the reintroduction of fees charged them by the new state government.
The fees which raised bedlam in the land were N25,000 for normal delivery and N50,000 for caesarian section.
The implication of this is the return to the era which Mimiko in his days as governor described as “Pregnancy as death sentence”.
How he was able to implement and sustain this during his administration despite paucity of resources is an indisputable indication of prudent management of resources for the greater benefit of the people.
Sometimes, it is not about funds but about the heart!
A similar development which also endeared him to his people is the model schools he built for primary and secondary school students of the state.
The model schools are so good that some of them can actually pass for a higher institution (not exaggerating here). One needs to actually see them to believe it. In addition to this, Mimiko rolled out the free school bus shuttle system where students are conveyed in school buses provided by the state government to and fro school everyday and free of charge.
The free school bus shuttle system actually operated for five good years, from 2012 when it was launched to 2017 when Mimiko handed over to a new administration, without any of them breaking down or parked even for one day as they received utmost maintenance attention from government.
In a system where civil servants are nonchalant about public facilities, one wonders how Mimiko was able to achieve this rare feat.
The bigger implication of this is that the transport fares which parents would have spent on the students were saved or spent on other competing needs of the family considering that some families could have had up to three or four or more children in school at the same time. The free shuttle did not also discriminate between public and private school students. It was for ALL students.
Another implication was that attendance at school improved and school enrolment increased as those who ordinarily would have missed school for lack of transport fare did not have to.
All these rubbed off on students of higher institutions in the state as they paid one of the lowest tuition fees in Nigeria of between N25,000 – N35,000 for a state-owned university under the administration of Dr Olusegun Mimiko.
However, just after 14 months of handing over to another administration, the fees were hiked to between N120,000 – N200,000 causing, like the pregnant mothers, students of the state owned university, Adekunle Ajasin Univerity, Akungba Akoko, to embark on protests that left some of them severely wounded.
Just like the cases of the Mother & Child Hospital and free school bus for students, many have wondered how Mimiko has managed to keep fees for essential services rendered by government either so low or free of charge! The answer lies in the fact that with Mimiko, it is the people first and the people always, a philosophy that also guided him when he was in private practice at Mona MediClinic in Ondo State.
In our clime, urban renewal has been made to displace people and dislocate families and destroy the people’s sources of livelihood.
But in the case of Mimiko and the people of Ondo, it was urban renewal implementation without pains as Mimiko always ensured that those whose properties were to be affected by the urbanization policy of his administration were adequately compensated and alternative facilities provided for them.
It was the same with renewal processes of markets, parks, clusters for artisans etc.
Those who were occupants of these properties before they were pulled down for remodeling were given priority in the allocation processes.
Most importantly, it is agreed in reasonable quarters that there is little or nothing anyone, no matter how genuine his or her intentions are can do about the backward progression of the country if her current structure is not changed or tweaked to address the current traits of socio-economic and political imbalances that have bedeviled Nigeria
This is the reason progressive minded Nigerians from all walks of life have been canvassing for a restructuring of our current structure.
Providence has also laid it upon Mimiko to be among those who are courageously championing the cause for a better Nigeria through restructuring. He has not only spoken in its favour everywhere he goes, he has also demonstrated sufficient understanding in dealing with the knotty issues which many think restructuring of the country might throw up.
At the Handshake Across the Niger event in Enugu organized by Nzuko Umunna, a leading Igbo socio-cultural organization, where champions of the different ethnic nationalities including traditional rulers, members of the clergy, captains of industry, politicians, women and youth groups, civil societies etc came together under one umbrella to forge a new destiny for our great country, Mimiko spoke and convinced all present that he not only knows the root cause of our challenges but that he also possesses what it takes to tackle them.
Therefore, if Dr Olusegun Mimiko eventually decides to join the band of presidential aspirants for the 2019 elections, it is a settled fact that with his antecedents, he will certainly be a factor in the scheme of things no matter the party on whose platform he decides to run, as Nigerians look forward to anyone who not only has the capacity but has also evidently demonstrated the capability to lead them out of the seemingly perpetual state of social retrogression, economic impoverishment and political inconsistencies!
Mimiko remains a man whose milk of human kindness to his constituents cannot be diminished by the party he joins.
His people-first approach to governance goes with him everywhere even outside politics.