In Nigeria, we have an acute shortage of real heroes and mentors. Most people who occupy leadership positions are people who go into politics do so to make a name or fill their pocket with money. Many of them are not interested in mentoring a new generation of leaders.
I have had the privilege of meeting leaders of all categories and I can say without mincing words that most people in Nigeria who become leaders have no business with leadership. I have spent hours with some leaders and from whom I waited eagerly for words of inspiration and motivation that never came. Quite a number of them spent time focusing on mundane issues, caught up in the web of materialism. There is nothing inspiring about them or their leadership lifestyle.
I was introduced to Governor Olusegun Mimiko the Iroko by my egbon, Femi Fani-Kayode, who had a very soft spot for me and had repeatedly told me that if I was to develop leadership skills, I needed a visionary leader as a mentor. He believed Governor Mimiko was that leader. He spoke to me about how ideologically inclined Governor Mimiko was.
From that first meeting, I could immediately tell that Governor Mimiko was going to have a strong impact on my life. He spoke about issues – socio-political, economic, historical and personal – with a knowledge and passion that was both iluminating and inspiring. At that first meeting, he told me that his abiding principle in his interaction and discussion with younger people was the desire to ensure that every conversation was a teaching moment, an opportunity to pass on wisdom, an opening to motivate.
It was at this first meeting that he gave me, perhaps, the best analogy about leadership that I have heard. Iroko, as he is fondly called, believes that a leader is like a medical doctor, sworn and committed to daily apply himself to treating the patients who come to him.
In the years that have gone by, I have often been a guest at his table. Meal times in the Mimiko household are an occasion not just to break bread in fellowship but to have enlightening trans-generational conversations about a wide range of issues.
It was at his meal tables that I gleaned my first leadership lesson from him. Governor Mimiko has a core group of people with whom he has shared friendship for well over 20 years and with whom he often shares a meal, particularly breakfast. Their friendship is real and deep in a manner that enables them to talk to him frankly and help keep his feet on the ground. These are people who are not scared to vehemently oppose him on any matter, people who can look him in the eye and tell him how wrong his train of thought or intention on any particular issue is.
The lesson I took from that is how important it is to have a core group of people with whom I can emulate such friendship. In a country where people often become trapped by power, surrounded by yes men and unable to get a true picture of the real perception of the public on issues, such friendships are a key ingredient to success.
It was also from him I learnt my second and third leadership lessons. At the time he made his intention to run for office public, he was opposed by President Olusegun Obasanjo. Anyone who knows Baba knows that he does not oppose in half measure. It was a struggle that involved the use the apparatus of state to temporarily deprive Mimiko of the mandate of the people which was freely given to him.
The two things that struck me about that struggle are – how Governor Mimiko has never said anything negative or derisory about Baba in public (at least to my knowledge) and how he remained committed to his goals until the Supreme Court delivered its landmark judgment that signified victory.
From this tussle I learnt how important it is to be respectful – even to people who consider themselves your enemy. I also learnt the importance of patience and perseverance.
As the years have gone by, I have seen Governor Mimiko apply his principles and ideology to governance. A very generous family man, I have seen him implement a number of policies and programmes designed to improve the welfare and lifestyle of the people he leads. These policies mirror his personal beliefs about life and what the minimum standard of living should be.
One of such policies is the Abiye programme – a programme designed to provide free and qualitative healthcare for pregnant women and children aged 0-5 years. The cardinal objective of the programme is to eliminate maternal mortality and infant mortality as much as possible.
This programme, which involved the establishment of Agbebiye/Mother & Child centres spread across the state and the establishment of the Ondo Mother & Child Hospital in Oke-Aro, compelled traditional birth attendants to refer pregnant women to nearby health facilities where they can receive qualitative healthcare before, during and after delivery.
In its 3 years of operations, the Ondo Mother & Child Hospital has handled over 25,000 under- five children, 17,000 pregnant women, 1,000 gynaecological patients, 10,000 safe deliveries and 2,500 caesarean sessions free of charge.
This has helped reduce the State’s alarming maternal mortality rate from 745 per 100,000 live births in 2009 to 172 per 100,000 live births in 2015. My research shows me that this figure will be significantly lower when the statistics for 2016 are released.
This programme has helped Ondo State become the only State in Nigeria to achieve MDG goal 5 of reducing Maternal Mortality by 75%. As a result, the State has won two editions of the Bill Gates Leadership Award.
Another of such programmes is the State School Bus programme. This simple programme involves the use of government provided buses to ferry children in uniform to and from school absolutely free. Established on June 12, 2012 the School Bus Programme provides transportation of an average of 53,000 students monthly. A report I saw showed that prior to the inception of the programme, most student spent an average of N100 getting to and from school daily. A simple calculation will show that this programme helps parents and guardians save around N113 million monthly.
Iroko is one of the most humble Nigerian leaders I have ever met. An experience I can never forget is an incidence when I travelled to see him. By the time I got to Akure, I discovered that he had left for an urgent engagement in Owo – a 45 minute drive away.
He asked me to turn around and gave me directions on the phone. I got to where he was to discover that he had stopped his convoy and waited for us on the road for over 20mins. When we got to where the governor was standing, Churchill Umoren my friend who had travelled with me was so amazed that he kept saying how “How can a governor park his convoy for 20mins and wait for a small boy like you?” My reply was that Iroko personifies humility.
The Governor did not stop there, he left his bulletproof car and joined me in mine, a 2003 Toyota Corolla which did not have air conditioning, for the duration of the trip and asked Churchill to enter his car so we could talk privately. That incident with Governor Mimiko is a regular occurrence. I believe the he forgets most times that he is the Governor of a state.
I could go on and on speaking about the polices and ideology of governor Mimiko and how they have affected the lives of the people he leads. When you meet the Iroko, you can never be in doubt as to where he stands: he stand for restructuring and true federalism. His programmes and policies are about the welfare of the people he leads. Every social services provided for the people are FREE, the schools, hospital, school buses, etc.
I could speak about the Medical Village in Ondo town which houses the Gani Fawehinmi Mother and Child Hospital, Kidney Care Centre, the Gani Fawehinmi Diagnostic Centre and the University of Medical Sciences (First of its kind in Africa).
I could also speak about his Cocoa Revolution Project (CRP) which has seen Ondo State grow to account for over 40% of Nigeria’s total cocoa production and which saw chocolate produced in partnership with the chocolate giant, SPAGnVOLA, with cocoa beans from the Oda Cocoa Estate win the 2015 Silver Award from the London Academy of Chocolate.
When I wanted to contest for the position of National Publicity Secretary of our great party few months ago, Iroko was the first person I consulted before I took the big move. His words were: “If PDP is serious and ready to change, it will ensure you get it unopposed. This will send a loud sound to Nigerians and especially the young generation that the party has changed. This party will be lucky to have you as Publicity Secretary. You young people will start a revolution with the party. Nigerians will trust the party again if you guys are the face of the party”.
At another time, I took some young politicians to him and he was speaking and motivating us and these were his words: “There are too many people without conscience in politics. They have no soul and I am so discouraged to the point of giving up on many occasions but it is every time I see you guys that I say to myself I must not give up; there is still hope.”
But this was not meant to be a political piece on Governor Mimiko. It is an article written in celebration of a father, mentor and friend. It is an article written to share with its readers a little about this man who has helped shape the course of my life in so many ways.
I write this to celebrate Governor Olusegun Otaibayomi Mimiko at 62. Sir, if you see this – may the Lord bless you, and keep you, and cause His face to shine upon you. May there be many more years to celebrate.
Deji Adeyanju is director of Social Media of the People’s Democratic Party. He is also a former aide at the Presidency. He tweets from @adeyanjudeji.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.