By Kayode Akinmade
It is not very often that a state helmsman gets more popular after office, certainly not in this clime. But that is the story of Rahman Olusegun Mimiko, astute medical practitioner, politician and visionary. The Ondo-born, University of Ife- trained Mimiko turns 63 today and he and his multitudes of admirers home and abroad can look back with pride, and to the future with renewed optimism. This is not just because the story of his unparalleled landmarks in various sectors are still being told, often with awe, by the appreciative public. The heart of the deal is that up and coming politicians and political leaders are learning how to lift the people out of the morass of despair by replicating the Caring Heart agenda evolved and institutionalized by Mimiko in Ondo State.
Since leaving office in February 2017, the former Ondo State governor, widely acknowledged as one of the most iconic achiever-governors that the Nigerian nation has ever produced, has become the toast of local and international organizations. He has been to the United States to preach the gospel of free maternal healthcare, among others, offering refreshing paradigms and drawing wide applause from specialists, governments, eminent individuals and organizations. He has also travelled to the United Kingdom on two separate occasions, showing that with the right ideas and the political will, progress is possible. And by progress he means self-evident development: taking the people away from the realm of statistics in government departments and agencies into the realm of active participants in the development process. This is why, as he turns 63 today, the gist is not that he achieved milestones in governance—that is taken for granted by fair-minded observers all over the world—but that he is showing the pathway to a greater future.
For instance, speaking last Friday at the Chatham House, London, after delivering a paper on “Improving Access to Health Services for All” using his achievements in maternal and child health as a case study, Mimiko called for a major stakeholders’ meeting where there will be an agreement on a universal health package that every state in the country can afford, with eligibility criteria created for those who build on it. Just who will debate the point that “safe motherhood is a gender parity tool”?
In any case, delivering the Keynote Address during the Maiden General Meeting and Scientific Conference of the Association of Fetomaternal Medicine Specialists of Nigeria(AFEMSON) held at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, Ikeja on July 21 this year, Mimiko had insisted that to address the perennial tragedy of deaths during childbirth in Nigeria, the federal and state governments must ensure universal health coverage for every Nigerian, beginning with women and children’s health issues. His gospel: every Nigerian should have access to the healthcare that they need, not the one they can afford, and without engaging in catastrophic spending.
Hear him: “Evidence abounds today that the issue of maternal health is regarded as a human right. In Nigeria, if you add the unpaid work of women to our GDP, you will realise that women rule our society. We must accept the morality that government has a responsibility to finance universal health coverage, beginning with maternal and child healthcare. Our shared humanity places the burden on us to have shared responsibilities for safe motherhood.”
That was no empty talk: the Abiye programme of his administration provided free healthcare from pregnancy to delivery. Pregnant women were given free phones through which they accessed the health rangers who treated them for free at home. Even Caesarean operation, where needed, was free. It is no wonder then that Abiye became the World Bank’s benchmark for maternal care in Africa.
That is not all. During the 51st Annual General Meeting and Scientific Conference of the International College of Surgeons (Nigeria National Section) held at the University College Hospital, Ibadan, Oyo State, Mimiko provided a strategy for saving the lives of victims of road traffic accidents in the country. He further pointed out that road traffic accidents are the greatest killer of Nigeria’s young adults from age 15 to 29. The former Ondo helmsman showed how comprehensive emergency medical services could be deployed to curb the public health epidemic.
First, Mimiko said, at the level of attitude, over-speeding, drunk-driving, not using safety belts and all such habits must be tackled. In Ondo State, Mimiko built a model motor park with a waiting room, and with no alcoholic beverages on sale. This changed the psychological environment of motor parks in the state. If, as Mimiko argued, the number one trigger of road transport accidents in Nigeria is the psychological environment of motor parks, then it follows that this environment has to be re-engineered. This is the preventive strategy.
Next, in designing roads, as a preventive measure, there should be walkways for pedestrians and motorcyclists must wear crash helmets. Then, there must be appropriate infrastructure: the nation must have base stations where ambulances with advanced life-saving gadgets are appropriately located round the townships. There must be communication centres with universal numbers that anybody can call in case of accidents. Then, there must be trained paramedics and extricators/rescuers with the kind of advanced equipment that the Mimiko government used in Ondo State, which can tear apart any vehicle and rescue accident victims. After rescuing the victims, there must be designated trauma centres with the necessary personnel. More important, every victim of road traffic accidents must have universal, unfettered and unhindered access to care, especially in the first few hours after accidents. Here, treatment comes before payment.
If you doubt that all of this is possible, just visit the Trauma Centre in Ondo, Ondo State. You will marvel at the network of advanced life support ambulances located in stations specially constructed to allow them access to the highways. Whenever there is an accident, within 10 to 15 minutes of receiving a distress call, the ambulances are at the accident scene, with paramedics and extricators/ rescuers. And so lives are saved.
And even in politics, the man popularly called Iroko is becomimg more popular. The people of Ondo State are now appreciating him better for his strides in health, education, urban renewal, industrialization, sports and culture, among others. They know that he served them eloquently well, and are thankful to God that even at 63, he is still rearing to go, demonstrating an incredible burst of energy. A loyal and unrepentant disciple of the sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Mimiko is arguably the most consistent advocate of the restructuring of Nigeria among the nation’s governors since the return to civil rule in 1999. Time and again, he has shown that Nigeria can only work when the component units are given the freedom to chart their paths to the future within a federalist framework.
Speaking in August at a colloquium organised by the Island Club, Lagos, Mimiko averred that the agitation for restructuring should not be viewed as an attack on the North but an attempt to decentralise power. He said: “Restructuring is not about the North against the South. Restructuring is decentralising power to make way for distribution and consumption arrangement so that every federating unit can increase its fiscal resources for development. We need to have state and local police to protect the lives of citizens and property. Let the states control their resources.” This is a point with which all true progressives in the country are in agreement.
As he adds another year today, it is clear that Mimiko has demonstrated to a large extent that he came to Ondo State to serve the people. In so doing, he has become a reference point not only in Africa but the world at large, which is why, for instance, the United Nations honoured him with its UN Habitat Award in Italy. The sun, truly, is still shining for this gentleman who gave his all to better the lives of his people.
…Kayode Akinmade is former Information Commissioner, Ondo State, under Mimiko.