It is not often that I am left speechless and at a loss for words. Yet this is how I felt the other day after my friend and brother, Governor Segun Mimiko of Ondo State personally took me on a five-hour tour of his state and showed me some of his landmark achievements. As they say, seeing is believing!
We went to the massive, ultra-modern, state-of-the-art, all-purpose conference centre (which is still under construction in Akure); the Medical Village in Ondo Town (which houses the most advanced, best equipped and most sophisticated set of hospitals in Nigeria- catering for virtually every known aspect of medical care from serious accidents, to childbirth and to major surgery and whose services are completely FREE OF CHARGE).
There is the beautiful Mega Schools (which are state-run high schools that are, in terms of infrastructural facilities and equipment, including computers etc., at par with any state-run high schools in Europe or America and whose infrastructure is absolutely astounding), the free school-bussing system for children, the ''ten minute response'' ambulance systems all over the state, the smooth roads and street-lighting systems all over Akure and other parts of the state and so much more.
The truth is that I was ashamed of the fact that so much is going on in Ondo State in terms of development and services to the ordinary people and yet we as Nigerians, and particularly as Yoruba people, have refused to acknowledge or admit it either for self-serving political motives or for other reasons which are best known to ourselves.
Instead of playing politics and indulging in the usual grandstanding that so many others have been doing in their states, Mimiko is one governor that is clearly rolling up his sleeves, working extremely hard for his people and looking within. It appears to me that he believes that the work itself and the purposeful establishment of an intimidating legacy of good governance and massive infrastructural development throughout the state will do the talking for him. And he is right.
As I told him, knowingly or unknowingly, he is clearly basing his system of governance on the Danish model, which basically espouses the view that the state must be compassionate to the poorest and weakest in society and must provide the highest quality of amenities, including schools, hospitals, housing, transport systems and virtually everything else for them either free of charge or at minimal cost.
It is this philosophical and ideological position of compassion for the poor and weak and opportunities for the rich and powerful that has made Denmark, according to various international studies and reports, one of the happiest, most stable, most prosperous and most enviable places to live in the world.
Over the years the Danes have managed to create a fine balance between the imperatives and great benefits of private enterprise and investment and the forces of the free market on the one hand and state intervention and governmental responsibility for the poor and less fortunate on the other. This is what Mimiko, wittingly or unwittingly, is actually doing in Ondo State.
I had never been to or heard of any place in my life where children from fee- paying private schools prefer to go to state-run high schools until I got to Ondo State. This is because of the excellent facilities and the high quality of teaching and services that are being provided in those schools today.
I had never seen the offices of Nigerian state-school principals looking and feeling more like the offices of an average bank manager in a high street bank until I got to Ondo State. I had never seen the sheer pride of young children from less privileged homes in their beautiful new schools, shining new uniforms and brand new buses (all at minimal cost) until I got to Ondo state.
When I got to what they have called the Medical Village, which is in fact a sprawling new self-contained town and massive community in itself and which is a star attraction for all those that are interested in medical tourism I was very impressed. I went into the wards of some of the hospitals, saw the patients, saw the ''mother and child centre'', saw the equipment, saw the tiny premature-born babies (some only 6 inches long) safely closeted in the most expensive life-saving incubators.
I saw the burns centres with all their sophisticated equipment and machinery; saw the surgery rooms and all the facilities, saw the beautiful homes of the doctors and surgeons and, most important of all, I saw and felt the clean and fresh ambiance of the whole village and community. I also saw the looks of pride and joy on the faces of the hundreds of patients and workers there who clearly appreciated the fact that they were getting and providing the very best of health care there, with a full supply of all the necessary drugs, medication and everything else that they needed- all completely free of charge.
So good was the deal that I saw people that came from a number of other states just to benefit from and take advantage of these excellent facilities and services that the Ondo State government is providing.
I have never seen the poorest people getting the best quality of free healthcare in this way anywhere else in the Third World. I have never been to a state hospital that is so fresh and clean and in which you cannot smell that frightful and depressing clinical aroma that is associated with most hospitals until I got to Ondo State.
Frankly I am just amazed and it is only a man that is filled with the deepest compassion for the less privileged and one who appreciates the fact that political power and leadership is bestowed upon individuals for one purpose only- to transform the lives of the ordinary people, to make their community a far better and easier place for them to live, to provide the opportunities and environment that will enable them to achieve their full potentials and to bring hope and succour to the poor, the needy and the less privileged- that can do all this.
How Mimiko manages to fund all these things and at the same time pay his salaries and take care of all his recurrent expenses is a wonder to me. Yet as he rightly said, it is simply a matter of priorities. His priority is clearly to transform the face and fortunes of the people of the state and to ensure that he helps the poor and leaves a robust legacy of massive infrastructural development, decency and compassion.
What I saw has brought me immense joy and hope for Yorubaland and indeed, Nigeria. If Mimiko had the kind of financial resources available to the governors of Lagos, Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Delta states respectively, I can only imagine what he would have achieved by now. His efforts in Ondo State are a testimony to the fact that when the right man is given the opportunity to serve the people, things really can and do change.
When it comes to the South-west, my friends and brothers Biodun Ajimobi, Rauf Aregbesola and Kayode Fayemi the governors of Oyo, Osun and Ekiti states respectively have provided good leadership too. Yet many have claimed that Tunde Fashola of Lagos State, who has undoubtedly done a very good job as well, is the real star of the South-west but I beg to differ.
Fashola's efforts are geared primarily towards the interests of the rich and he has turned Lagos into a city for the rich and for the elites only. That is good enough but the real prize for compassionate and purposeful leadership in South-western Nigeria must go to Segun Mimiko. He, together with Governor Sule Lamido of Jigawa State who, in my view, takes the prize for the North-west, impressed me immensely with the great work that they have done in their respective states.
From literally nothing, they have built and established something that will speak for them both into eternity and they have brought joy, solace and hope to the ordinary people in their respective states. Interestingly they are both clearly slightly left of centre, which is an ideological bent that I share. To them, the welfare of the ordinary people and the establishment of enduring institutions matter far more than anything else.
They do not belong to the ideological grouping that is prepared to sacrifice the welfare state and the interests of the people on the altar of big business. They are clearly wary of the unfeeling and unrelenting monetarist forces of free enterprise and the philosophy of minimal government involvement in the lives of the ordinary people because they know full well that such forces are only interested in ensuring that the rich get richer, that the powerful get even more powerful and that the poor get poorer. This is very refreshing.
Yet, perhaps, more interesting is the fact that they were both loyal and reliable Ministers in President Olusegun Obasanjo's government at one time or the other yet clearly neither of them share his right-of-centre ideological bent and his fondness for economic policies that were essentially right-wing and that were designed specifically to cater for the interests of big business more than anything else.
For example, I doubt very much that you would ever see the monetarist and economic hardliners that were recruited from the World Bank and other international monetary agencies by Obasanjo being given pride of place or indeed any role in a federal government that was presided over and led by either a Lamido or a Mimiko.
I intend to write more about this in the next few weeks. I also intend to share what I saw in Sule Lamido's Jigawa State in more specific terms and I will begin with the magnificent airport that he is building there and the beautiful roads that he has put in place. What all this proves to me is that Nigeria can be a success. The bottom line is that if we can just get the right quality of leadership, then there will certainly still be hope for our people.