By Ojo Oyewamide
Former Governor Olusegun Mimiko could not hide his aversion to the condition of the Ondo State Governor’s Lodge when he assumed the governorship of the state in 2009. Mimiko found the lodge so distasteful that he described it as a pigsty. Nasty pictures of the kitchen were released to journalists for publication.
A pigsty is a place where pigs are kept, and the animals are known for their filthiness. The word refers to dirtiness and unsuitability. Only the ex-governor can explain what he intended to achieve with the choice of such a disgraceful metaphor and the manner in which his media team exposed the purported distastefulness of the lodge to the public.
The action, some people argued, was an expression of the bitterness that Dr. Mimiko nursed against his immediate predecessor, the late Dr. Olusegun Agagu. We still remember how power exchanged hands between the two.
But to others, the exposure was a preemptive measure to forestall negative public reactions to the huge amount of money expected to be expended on the renovation of the lodge. It was their belief that the unsavoury narrative about the lodge was pushed out to prepare the minds of the people of the state for the expenditure.
However, whatever the condition of the building might be at that time, it surely needed to be renovated and made suitable for the new occupant. Millions of Naira, we were told, was spent to fix it. But Dr. Mimiko later abandoned the lodge and decided to build another one. Not long after the new building was occupied by the former governor, serious structural defects manifested. For safety, Dr. Mimiko had to quit the new Governor’s Lodge Annex.
When Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu mounted the saddle in 2017, there was no Governor’s Lodge for him to occupy. The old lodge had degenerated from a pigsty to an anthill, despite the millions of Naira spent on its rehabilitation. The whole building had been occupied by termites. The new annex built by Dr. Mimiko had been rendered inhabitable by structural defects. For months, Governor Akeredolu was coming to office from Owo, where he hails from. He later opted for a Guest House, where he has been living since he became governor.
Listen to Governor Akeredolu: “When we came in February 2017, we met the old Governor’s Lodge building, fabrics and furniture in acute dilapidation and utter state of abandonment. Also, the Governor’s Lodge Annex that was built by the immediate past administration had issues of structural defect.
“Our first reaction to the ugly development was to involve the best of cost-effective steps to put to good use the facilities. In pursuant of this, qualified and experienced building experts were invited to work with our in-house professionals to carry out due diligence and survey on the structures.
“The objective of our action was to have a concise report on the adequacy of spaces, snags, building health and cost of remedial works. The report, thereafter, submitted by the experts revealed a humongous cost of putting the old lodge in a befitting status and yet it will not adequately compensate for the value of money to be spent.
“In our quest to continuously strive to fulfill our sacred vows to our people and leave a good legacy, a committee was set up to work on the experts recommendation and come up with a design for the construction of a new Governor’s Lodge for Ondo State Government.”
Some days ago, the construction of a new Governor’s Lodge for the state commenced with the laying of its foundation. This was after the committee set up by Governor Akeredolu had turned in its recommendations. But the foundation-laying has been trailed by criticism, especially from the camp of the opposition.
Last week, the Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party in Ondo State, Hon. Fatai Adams, addressed a press conference. One of the issues he raised was the new Governor’s Lodge project. He faulted the project but his criticism was uninformed and unthinking. It was erected on the plank of unpardonable ignorance.
Hon. Fatai argued that a new Governor’s Lodge for the state was undesirable and a misplaced priority. He reasoned that the money expected to be spent on the lodge should have been used to pay arrears of workers’ salaries. The defect of his argument is that it presupposes that the total contract sum ( He claims N2 billion and I don’t know where he got his figure) was already in the purse of the state government.
But the ignorance of the PDP chairman was brilliantly tackled by the Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Mr. Donald Ojogo. In his reply to Hon. Fatai’s puerile argument, Mr. Ojogo said: “Perhaps, PDP deserves to know that the envisioned Governor’s Lodge is among the plethora of iconic projects targeted with the yet-to-be-fully accessed BOND. Suggesting therefore, that Government should ‘shelve’ the project for salaries clearly shows a gross lack of knowledge of how Bonds work. They are, as Special Purpose means of funding developmental initiatives, inconvertible to cash, hence undrawable by anyone.”
These critics needed to be at the foundation-laying ceremony of the new Governor’s Lodge to see how Governor Akeredolu was pleading with the contractors to continue with the project whenever they expect part of the contract money from his administration and they don’t get it. The governor begged them to use their money and that his government would not disappoint them.
There is a serious revenue challenge. Most of the achievements of the Akeredolu government are products of prudent management of resources, uncommon sacrifices and the cooperation of most of the contractors working with the state government. The cooperation is a function of the confidence and trust they have in the governor.
Governor Akeredolu is a believer in the saying that labourers deserve their wages. He inherited seven months salary arrears from the PDP government out of which he has paid six. He was paying workers’ salaries as and when due until the COVID-19 pandemic worsened the revenue challenge of the country and, of course, the state.
The PDP chairman also built his criticism on the assumption that Dr. Mimiko built a very befitting Government House in 2013. To him, building another Governor’s Lodge “is the height of callousness and wastefulness.” He asked: “Has the one built by Dr Olusegun Mimiko in 2013 become so uninhabitable such that a new one is inevitable in this perilous time?”
What Dr. Mimiko built is not a Governor’s Lodge but an annex. It was learnt that the building was meant to be an office for the First Lady. It was later changed to a Governor’s Lodge Annex. Besides, former Governor Mimiko, who built the annex, had to abandon it when the danger of living in it was discovered.
For months before the end of his tenure in office, the former governor was shuttling between Ondo and Akure, the state capital. He failed to correct the structural defects of the new building. He also left the old Governor’s Lodge to decay. It is better for the PDP to direct their question as regards the suitability of the Governor’s Lodge Annex for habitation to the former governor. He knows why he had to abandon the new building months before he quit the stage.
The contractors have been given 18 months to complete the work. That is one and a half years. Governor Akeredolu has less than four years to occupy the Alagbaka Government House. If the project is delivered in 18 months time, the governor will spend only about two years in the new Governor’s Lodge. This is a governor that has endured living in a two-bedroom guest chalet for more than four years. So, the project is not for him. It is not about him. Rather, it is for the state. It about the state and the future.