Carved out of the defunct Western Region in 1976, Ondo State as one of Nigeria’s modern day federating units has, no doubt, come a long way. Amidst decades of political transitions weathered through series of turbulent military interregna and tortuous democratic experiments, the affairs of this southwest state in the past forty years have been characterised by a mix-bag of heart-warming epochs and not too cheering pace of developments. It is therefore for this reason that celebrating 40th anniversary of the creation of Ondo State calls for sober reflections; yet momentous occasion for stocktaking suffuse with emotions at the heels of a crucial governorship election just months ahead. It is however, significant to mention that, the people of this great state have managed in the face of obvious diversities in the last forty years to forge a common identity; even if the political class have failed to live up to the collective expectations of the generality of the people.
The diversities in Ondo State compared to other neighbouring Yoruba speaking states bring to mind a uniqueness that is instructive. There is a great sense of unusual political sophistication for the people of Akoko, Owo, Ilaje, Ikale, Akure, Ondo, Idanre and Arogbo-Ijaw; amongst others to have co-existed harmoniously without major incident of unhealthy contention for political power. Ondo State was regarded as one of the most politically tempestuous in the second republic not for the array of diverse groups that cut across communities, but much for the resilience of the people united by common political destiny in spite of the numerous dialects spoken across the length and breadth of the state. But unlike other states across the country however, political affairs in this largely agrarian state has remained unpleasantly regimented with much less space and drive for dynamism in governance. It is precisely for this reason that the immediate future of politics within the context of the growing yearning for change amongst the people; particularly the youth must be properly situated beyond the bogey of zoning or power rotation.
It is about time the people, rather than the political class fully exploit the opportunity created by the momentum of change by demanding generational shift, rather than accept the perpetuation of the old order of politics. It must be borne in mind that experimenting with another era of change in the hands of the old order without a clear vision and valid direction would at best results in monumental disillusionment. The people of Ondo State are reputed for their bold and unwavering commitment to ideals and convictions in a manner that often defies political manipulation as evidenced from the experiences of the First and Second Republics and as more recent political events have demonstrated. Politics in Ondo State from whatever perspective and context it is viewed remains largely defined by local dynamics with the people as the major determinants of their fate. While it is unlikely the people would back down on their resolve to again demonstrate collective resolve through the ballot box in the coming election and in the foreseeable future, there is however the need to be watchful and mindful of the process of candidate selection by the dominant political parties. There is the need for total engagement with the processes of candidate selection so that the political elite would not restrict the governorship ballot to a choice between same of the same and inevitably; the perpetuation of the old order. The time-tested political history and dexterity of the people of Ondo State must ensure that the aura of change currently in the air brings about freshness of ideas and sagacity in governance.
Considering the enormous opportunities and huge resources that ought to have been deployed into bringing about developmental strides over the years; beyond the prevailing score-card of mediocrity garbed in political rhetoric with heightened media hype, the time for the electorate to ponder and secure the future of the Sunshine State through appropriate decision ahead of 2016 governorship poll is just about now. From all indications, the era of recycling political actors of the old order appeared to be gradually becoming less fashionable judging by the trends across the country. To this extent, the change Ondo State truly deserves ahead of the future is the one that should come with the breath of fresh air. The change we seek must be decisively pursued with logical and definitive agenda, rather than allow a fringe of the political class supplant our genuine desire for real change yet again. This is the time to resist self-serving conspiratorial political confinement and stereotypes that further subjugate collective interest of the majority of our people who have been, for too long, short-changed in the processes of democratic engagement and governance.
Alas, this is certainly not the first time the wind of change would be blowing in the Sunshine State; so overwhelmingly and with palpably irresistibility. It is therefore, important to caution that the change in the offing must be the real change that the people desire. The change must lead to a shift of mandate from the old order to a new generation of change-agents desirous to serve with burning zeal and appropriate momentum required to successfully steer the ship of the state to an enviable developmental pedestal. What is at stake as Ondo State faces the future amidst global economic downturn which compels need for creative; home-grown initiative is a bolder vision and clearer direction that place the interest of the people over and above those of a tiny clique of politicians. The people must reject chameleonic politicians who exploited previous opportunities in the name of change to access political power without much to show for it; and sadly too at the detriment of the same people who now truly deserve a new order of change capable of harnessing the full potentials of the state.
Notwithstanding the cacophony of despair regarding governance across the country, the truth remains that new generations of political leadership in the age-bracket of forty and forty-five are emerging with youthful and bolder ideas capable of driving business of governance at the state level. Why then should our case be different in Ondo State in this era dynamism in governance? The face of governance is changing across the global community with appropriate intellectual competence, boardroom acumen and international exposure as the sine-qua-non for the choice of leadership. Governance could no longer be treated as the conservative business of the traditionalists. There must be deliberate and conscious efforts at influencing and changing the old ways of doing things. If governance is really about the people, turning things around for the good must also involve moving with emerging trend, which demands the energy and passion of younger generation of political actors. Our people would remain perpetual victims of political mediocrity in the face of huge human capital and socio-economic potentials which would regrettably remain prostrate unless the change for which we are eagerly yearning is such that bridges the generational gaps by throwing up new crop of young; vibrant and globally-compliant leaders with the requisite capacities and alertness to steer the ship of the state in the right direction.
There is no denying that the older generation of politicians have tried their best possible. Some of their footprints are undoubtedly worthy of recognition and celebration. But the truth however, remains that Ondo State still has a long way to go considering the abysmal low level of infrastructural development and high rate of poverty and squalor in the midst of abundant resources that could have been harnessed for the rapid transformation of our state. Happily, Ondo state is blessed with new generation of change agents with requisite credentials for bequeathing the right leadership that could move the state forward. It would therefore, be a welcome development if the political process ahead of the forthcoming governorship election in Ondo State throws up younger generation of politicians with prospects of that breathing fresh air into leadership. When and if that golden opportunity avails itself, Ondo State people irrespective of their sectional consideration must be strategic enough and prepared to demand that the change coming to Ondo State is unambiguously suitable and real in the true sense of it.
Olaitan Adegbola writes from Akure, Ondo State