Once upon a time, and before Ekiti State was carved out, Ondo State used to be one of the poorest States in Nigeria. Military Governors posted to the State were considered unlucky, or not highly connected or favored by their big bosses in Lagos or Abuja, because if they were, they would not be sent to Akure, a euphemism for the whole State at the time. And you could tell from merely visiting the State Capital or any of the major towns like Ondo, Owo and Ado Ekiti, at the time, that the State was really poor. The then Federal Government, whether military or civilian, couldn’t care less about Ondo State, because the State was believed either wrongly or rightly to be tied, too much, to the apron string of the defunct Action Group under late Obafemi Awolowo as Premier and Leader of the Yorubas.
You would have thought that the Federal Military Government as a neutral Government in our country would have tried to maintain a level playing field for all States in Nigeria, and be more equitable and fair in their distribution of Federal favors. They all did not do that, as most of those Governments and those who led them were always picked from a section of Nigeria that had often played a dominant role in the coups that are often used as their stepping stones into power. Aguiyi Ironsi, our pioneer military Head of State, who in January 15, 1966, had just found himself taking over control from the young Majors who had staged the coup. He got the power before he started thinking of what to do with it. He was himself a part of the establishment and did not have any fire in his belly like the young Chukwuma Nzeogwu and his hotheaded Majors who wanted a change of direction for the sleeping giant of a nation. Aguiyi Ironsi did not survive long enough for anybody to fairly and objectively assess his impact as a leader. All he had managed to do, was to give indications, he wanted a unitary Government in Nigeria that would operate much like the model he was used to as the Head of the Nigerian Military at the time.
Of course his colleagues from the North who were bent on seeking revenge for most of their leaders either military or civilian that have been killed in the Coup, had ganged up against him, and had secretly decided to take him out of power, by force six months later. It later turned out the same group led by Yakubu Gowon as Head of State, had quietly gone back to adopting the same unitary system as their preferred model of operation for all the eight years of Gowon, and the 200 days of Murtala Mohammed and the close to 3 years of Olusegun Obasanjo, prior to 1979, when he had carefully and methodically elegized or manipulated the electoral system to handpick his own civilian successor in Shehu Shagari of the NPN. All of the leaders including Shagari, and Mohammadu Buhari who had led the coup against Shagari, and Ibrahim Babangida who had led the coup against Buhari, and Sanni Abacha who had succeeded Babangida after a civilian interregnum led by Earnest Shonekan, had all behaved the same way, giving preferential treatment to states in the North, while selectively appeasing or favoring a few states in the South. Ondo State in particular, always came last in their pork barrel system of politics, because Ondo State was considered a renegade state that would never see eye to eye with the Federal Government because of our very liberal political leanings and association with Obafemi Awolowo.
Even though Ondo State, like Massachusetts in America, was considered the intellectual power house of Nigeria, she was despised by the ruling class in Nigeria for some inexplicable reason. The consensus of the ruling oligarchy in the Federal, was to find some ways to suppress Ondo State and to tie her down, and to let the other states catch up with her, before she can be allowed to continue to make additional breakthrough in education which has become the envy of other states in the North. Of all the military Governors posted to Ondo State, the very best of them, I might add, was Group Captain Ita David Ikpeme, our pioneer military Governor who had made sure that the initial vote allocated by the Murtala Government to Ondo State was properly and creatively spent. Ita David Ikpeme had laid a solid foundation for our State by building the Alagbaka Estate, the Oda Road Estate and by building the Government Secretariat along Igbatoro Road at Akure, as well as laying the foundation of the Owena Motels, opposite the Secretariat. Our first civilian Governor, Adekunle Ajasin of blessed memory, had followed up the good works of Ita David Ikpeme by starting the construction of the only dual carriage way at Oba Adesida and Oyemekun Roads in Akure and providing the street lights, to give Akure a much deserved face lift as the State Capital. Pa Adekunle Ajasin’s Government had also laid the foundation for the industrial take off of Ondo State by building the Ile Oluji Cocoa Processing factory and Oluwa Glass Industry at Igbokoda, and the Ire and the Owo Block-making Factories. The same Government had also established the Owena Bank as one of the engines that drives the State economy for years. He, Ajasin, had also established a number of Polytechnics and Advanced Teachers Colleges and the Ondo State University at Ado Ekiti, despite all the obstacles placed on his way by the then Shagari Federal Government of Nigeria.
I recall Commodore Michael Bandele Otiko taking over from Adekunle Ajasin after Buhari bad become Head of State. Even though Governor Otiko was very eager to serve his own people and to leave his footprints on the sand of history, as the first Ondo State indigene to serve as a military Governor, he was denied of the funds and the allocations needed to get the job done by a lukewarm or a totally indifferent Federal Government led by Buhari and Idiagbon. The two leaders had refused to release to Ondo State, all of the allocations due to her from the Federal Government. I recall Governor Adekunle Ajasin appealing to Shehu Shagari to let the Federal Government help Ondo State with the Bitumen Project around Agbabu in Ondo State. The Federal Government always refused to help because Ondo State was considered a pariah State because of her political leanings in the past, and because of the 1983 rebellion following the attempt of the NPN Government to declare Omoboriowo the Governor of Ondo State despite his defeat in the 1983 elections. For that reason Ondo State was totally ostracized by the Federal Government as a “no go area” by every succeeding Federal Government after Shagari.
I recall the Babangida’s Federal Government completely forgetting Ondo State while trying to form his new cabinet until someone had to bend over backwards to draw his attention. Ondo State was just lucky IBB had not yet appointed the Secretary to his Government, when he realized his mistake. Even though, his plan was to name another northerner as Secretary to Government, he had no choice than to rush to find someone from Ondo State who could fill the slot. Three candidates were considered namely Augustus Adebayo from Igbara Oke, Theophillus Iwajomo from Okitpupa and Oluyemi Falae from Akure. It was Oluyemi Falae who finally got the nod. I recall this story because Ondo State was never seriously reckoned with in the scheme of things in Nigeria.
You may not believe it, if I tell you that Ekiti State was carved out of the old Ondo State by Sanni Abacha, as part of his plans to get confirmed as a civilian president in Nigeria. He knew Ondo State might prove to be a thorn in his flesh, and he thought it was necessary to weaken Ondo State by breaking her up because the Ekiti people led by their most prominent Oba , Ewi Adejugbe, had promised Abacha that Ekiti people would massively support him in his bid for the Presidency, if he could carve them into a separate State. All Abacha did was a quid pro quo, regardless of whether or not the State would be viable. Abacha knew and the Ekiti people knew that all that matters, is the Federal government support. The Federal Government would always have to bear the brunt, and that is what is happening in Ekiti State, as we speak. If you discount the Federal allocation coming to Ekiti State, there is nothing else from other sources. This takes me to the central theme of this article that Ondo State may well be the richest State in Nigeria today or in the foreseeable future and why?
Ondo State is now among the nine oil producing States in Nigeria that share out of the 13% allocation of the gross Federal Revenues usually reserved for such states on pro rata basis, depending on how many oil wells are drilled in their territorial waters, and the sheer volume or size of their oil and liquefied gas deposit and the quality The crude oil coming out of Nigeria is generally regarded among the best in the world. Ondo State used to be considered number 4. It then moved to number 2 on the rating scale and is most likely moving to number 1 today, because no less than 255 oil wells which used to be classified under Delta State are all now expected to be ceded to Ondo State, following a new Territorial Adjudication Panel recommendations approved by the Federal Government. That was point number one. Point number two is the discovery of Bitumen in large commercial quantities in Ondo State, not to talk of the limitless opportunities Ondo State now has to expand her Oluwa Glass Manufacturing Factory at Igbokoda area and all the revenues that those and allied industries could generate in the immediate future, if the Ondo State Government now in the PDP column, can get its priorities right. Gone are those days when the Federal Government used to look the other way, when issues concerning the interest and welfare of Ondo State come up for discussion.
With a responsible Government, Ondo State stands the chance of becoming the most economic buoyant state in the Nigerian Federation. Ondo State has got everything. The manpower base is huge and well informed The soil is good for Agriculture, and Ondo State may well become the Food Basket of Nigeria if the arrangement to bring in the Government of Israel to help, can be pursued to its logical conclusion. Ondo State is a huge Cocoa producing State in Nigeria. Much of the cocoa produced in Nigeria, come from Ala Ajagbusi, and Igbatoro Familugba all belonging to Akure, the State Capital. Much of the Timber Nigeria depends on today, also comes from the same area, and more importantly from the Ofosu Forest Reserve all owned by the State Capital. Akure Local Government, without any doubt, has the largest land mass in the whole of Ondo State. Much of the timber or cocoa that are said to come from Idanre Local Government today are all being produced on Akure Land and territory. That is one area where the Ondo State Government needs to put the records straight. Much of where the Idanre people farm today are all owned by Akure Local Government Please feel free to check it out if you like. Since the so-called Land Use Decree has never worked in the South, make no mistake about it, every community knows its own territories, and will never allow another community to take it away. With a good and imaginative policy of forestation, Ondo State can, for a long time, dominate the Timber industry in Nigeria.
This article will not be complete if I do not touch on the limitless opportunities now open to the Agagu Government in Ondo State to please invest those resources to start developing our State. The State Capital and all the Local Government Headquarters in our State ought to be given special attention, like is done in most civilized countries. The Agagu Government, if it wants to be remembered by posterity, should learn something from Ita David Ikpeme and Adekunle Ajasin Governments for getting their priorities right and for laying a solid foundation for our State in much the same way like the Ogbemudia Government had done in Bendel. Ogbemudia had used the revenues coming from oil to develop his State to the best of his ability. He, Ogbemudia, might have stolen money doing so, just like others before and after him, but he did make his mark, and his legacies in Bendel are there for people to see. Former Governor Adebayo Adefarati of Akungba did have his opportunity to develop our State, with more oil resources coming to his Government. He and his Government did steal a lot of money, but if you ask me his legacies today in that State, there is very little you can point to, because much of the money had gone into his pocket, and those of his Cabinet members. It would be nice if some of the probes currently going on can help to recover some of those stolen loot. Government should also pay attention to those pen rubbers within his Government who are busy stealing our commonwealth even as they draw attention to the corruption of the Adefarati Government.
Governor Agagu has no more excuse to complain that money is not coming in. Compared to Ekiti State today, Ondo State has become a Treasure Island with so much money to spend and to spare. Let the Government use that money to develop our State and the State Capital. There is an urgent need to commission a Belt Parkway or a Ring Road around Akure that will take care of the traffic hold up that is already becoming a permanent feature in the State Capital, after office hours starting from about 4 to 5 o’clock on week days. Governor Agagu, you have recently returned from a trip to Japan, and I know you did stop over in a few other European capitals on your way to Japan. I don’t know, if you were ever in Singapore or Honolulu or Hong Kong. Leaders with imaginations like you have built those cities and countries, because they have the means and the desire to make their nation great. You have the means to do the same for our State today, and you must not look back. Be the first Governor in our State to think and execute a master plan for all our urban centers and the rural areas of our State. Create a Downtown showpiece for Akure, the State Capital, and let your fellow Governors look on your State as a pace setter in much the same way like Obafemi Awolowo was viewed as unique among his peers. You can do it, if you try. Don’t just be a dreamer, be a doer of good things, and your name will live for ever. Long Live Ondo State, Long live Nigeria.
I rest my case.
Dr. Wunmi Akintide.