Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Stemming the rising cases of preventable deaths in Nigeria

 I am deeply worried about the rising cases of terminal sicknesses, auto accidents and suicides in Nigeria. These days, many diseases that used to be prevalent in old people are now afflicting young ones, even teenagers. Hypertension, diabetes, stroke, cancer, kidney failure, liver damage, are few of them. What could be responsible for this change? How can we stem this ugly tide? Who are the responsible actors that will bring about the desired change?
There is no gainsaying that lifespan of Nigerians is diminishing. World Health Ranking said “According to the latest World Health Organisation data published in 2015, life expectancy in Nigeria is: Male 53.4, female 55.6 and total life expectancy is 54.5 which gives Nigeria a World Life Expectancy ranking of 171.” According to WHR, the  following are the top 20 causes of death among Nigerians:  Influenza and Pneumonia, HIV/AIDS, Stroke, Coronary Heart Disease, Diarrhea diseases, Malaria, Diabetes Mellitus, Meningitis, Prostate Cancer and  Liver Disease. Others include: Road Traffic Accidents, Malnutrition, Low Birth Weight, Maternal Conditions, Tuberculosis, Breast Cancer, Birth Trauma, Falls, Violence and Fires. Take a critical look at these conditions and you’ll find out that all of them are preventable. Why then do we lose thousands of lives to these avoidable occurrences?
My preliminary research has revealed that there are several factors that are responsible for the current state of untimely deaths in the country. Top among them are environmental factors, ignorance, poor funding of Nigeria’s health sector, self-medication, fake and adulterated products, unhealthy lifestyles, technology, corruption and religious bigotry.
Modern technology has completely changed human orientation. Industrialisation brought with it huge emissions of carbon-monoxide from many of the factories and industries. Emissions from the exhaust pipes of these industries coupled with industrial wastes generally have contributed in no small measures to ozone layer depletion, thereby causing climate change. Nigeria may not be a highly industrialised country but oil exploration activities in the Niger Delta region has led to gas flaring for over 50 years now as well as countless oil spillages. This is responsible for environmental degradation including the destruction of aquatic lives and farmlands. For some time now, there have been reports of soot covering most part of Port Harcourt in Rivers State. The toxicity of Niger Delta environment has been known to cause serious health challenges ranging from coronary hearth diseases to many types of cancers.
Still on negative impact of modern technology, the advent of mobile phones and other Information, Communication Technology such as computer and television have been harbinger of good and bad. Much as these ICT tools make life easier and better. However, some of them cause radiation which is inimical to human health. They are said to cause brain damage, visual impairment, cancer, low sperm count, and many others. These happen when they are not handled with care and used safely.
Desertification as a result of deforestation has contributed to ozone layer depletion and climate change. The windstorm arising from that has been one of the causes of blindness in Northern Nigeria.  Our lackadaisical attitude to proper hygiene and sanitation is phenomenal. Many households are very filthy. More like  refuse dumpsites. Solid and liquid wastes are indiscriminately disposed. Open defecation is still a serious issue in many homes and communities in Nigeria.  Environmental sanitation policy of government is observed in breach.  Little wonder preventable sicknesses like malaria, typhoid, tuberculosis, polio, cholera and meningitis still cause thousands of death in this country.
I have read, watched and listened to many stories of production of substandard and fake products for human consumption. This is very common with drugs, beverages, water, foodstuffs and even petroleum products circulating in Nigeria. Some of these products are imported into the country from some Asian countries like China and India. Hundreds of others are also produced locally. Some of the companies manufacturing these adulterated, substandard or fake products have been busted by law enforcement agencies. However, this is usually after much damage had been done to human health by these merchants of death.
There are many of us who indulge in self-medication. We rarely subject ourselves to proper clinical and laboratory diagnosis. We are in the habit of walking straight to a pharmacy and asked to be sold drugs which are not prescribed for us by qualified medical practitioners. Since the pharmacy owner is in business to make money, he or she will be too eager to sell to any willing buyer who may inadvertently be complicating his or her heath issues. It is common knowledge that many never took cases of headache, stomachache, malaria, cough and catarrh to hospitals. Yet, these sicknesses may just be symptoms of more deadly diseases. Oftentimes, by the time such patients report to hospitals, their cases are hopeless, medically.  
Much as one may want to blame many sick people for avoiding going to the hospitals and indulging in self- medication or resorting to faith clinics; it is also important to note that many of  our hospitals, both public and private owned are not patient friendly. In many public hospitals, many of the facilities are obsolete and overstretched. The workforce is also inadequate while industrial action is the norm. Because it is cheaper to access healthcare in government owned hospitals, many patients go there and because of understaffing prompt attention is rare there except it is an extreme emergency. On the other hand, many private hospitals offer prompt services but that in itself is if the patient is ready to pay the prohibitive charges.
Our unhealthy lifestyle is also a contributory factor to the high incidences of terminal diseases and mortality in Nigeria. The eating habits of many Nigerians are a cause for concern.  Parents indulge children in too many sweet things like cakes, beverages and ice creams. Eating out has become the norm among many working class people. And what do they eat at their so called choice restaurants? Junks! There are many people who prefer snacks to proper food and have preference for fried foods. Many of them also drink several bottles of beer or soft drinks daily. To worsen things, some of these people who eat and drink indiscriminately hardly work out. I mean they don’t exercise. They eat their junks and cruise around in their air-conditioned cars and live in well air-conditioned homes. So they have no means of burning the huge calories they consume daily. Sooner than later, they develop congenital heart diseases and diabetes.
It is important to also mention the role of religion in premature deaths and sicknesses of many Nigerians. There are several clerics that have misadvised and misinformed their followers about western medicine. While growing up, my family used to attend a church that believes in “holy water” as solution to every problems and diseases. Church members were indoctrinated not to go to hospitals for any treatment. My mum nearly died of an ailment as a result of this brainwash. We now know better. However, there are many who are enslaved by such strange doctrine. Many have died while many have suffered permanent disability due to this religious bigotry.

The way out of this ugly phenomenon is simple. Much of it rests with us as individuals. We need to change our attitudes to the environment and ourselves. We need to embrace hygiene and sanitation, live healthy lifestyles and learn to use information communication technology responsibly. Government need to ensure that regulatory and law enforcement agencies are well resourced with adequate manpower and working tools to be able to perform their statutory responsibilities. Public hospitals need to be made patient friendly with affordable services. It is imperative to encourage and incentivise more Nigerians to enroll in health insurance so that they will no longer have to pay out-of-pocket. Above all, public enlightenment is very important.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

DSS, EFCC and Buhari’s anti-corruption war

The Muhammadu Buhari administration was voted into office on March 28, 2015 because it promised ‘Change from the Norm’. The president promised among other things to fight corruption to standstill, wage war against insecurity, revive the economy and make life better for the populace. In truth, the anti-corruption war is on course. This administration set up a presidential advisory committee on anti-corruption under the able leadership of the constitutional lawyer, Prof. Itse Sagay, its implementation of the Treasury Single Account initiated by its immediate predecessor had yielded trillions of Naira in savings, the sustained use of Integrated Personnel Payroll and Information System has assisted the government to weed out huge number of ghost workers as well as saved billions of Naira hitherto being diverted to personal pockets. Through the Bank Verification Number introduced by the Central Bank of Nigeria, many corrupt persons have been exposed while the newly launched Whistleblower Policy wherein anyone with genuine information leading to the exposure of corrupt person earns the whistleblower five per cent of the recovered loot as well as protection.

In order to rejig the anti-corruption war, on November 9, 2015, Assistant Commissioner of Police, Ibrahim Magu was appointed as acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. On June 6, 2016, the then Acting President of Nigeria, Professor Yemi Osinbajo forwarded Magu’s name to the Senate for confirmation. The Senate was not in a hurry to screen the nominee. It was not until October 2016 that he was invited to Senate for the exercise. Then the bubble burst. Two Directorate of State Security Services vet reports on the nominee surfaced. Both letters were dated October 3, 2016 and were written and signed by same DSS official. One of the letters addressed to the Clerk of the Senate leveled myriads of allegations against Magu and claimed that he failed integrity test. The other letter exonerated him of any wrongdoing and asked the Senate to confirm him. The second letter was addressed to the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate), Senator Ita Enang. How can the same source blow hot and cold, approbate and reprobate, commend and condemn? Does this not smack of mischief?

The Senate acted on the DSS communication to the Clerk, the one which says Magu failed integrity test and therefore not appointable. His nomination was rejected even without hearing from the gentleman. Shortly after, President Buhari asked the Attorney General and Minster of Justice to investigate the allegations against Magu. In a letter dated December 19, 2016, he was asked to state his side of the story within 48hours. In a detailed response dated December 21, 2016 Magu offered a robust response to all the DSS allegations against him. The Attorney General seemed satisfied with Magu’s response and must have so communicated to the president. Magu’s name was re-forwarded the second time to the Senate for confirmation and unfortunately, last Wednesday, March 15, 2017 the candidate was screened and rejected by the Senate. His rejection was based on the two DSS vet reports on him (another was requested and submitted on March 14, 2017) as well as allegation of human rights abuse, disobedience of court orders and unsatisfactory response to many probing questions asked him. Many of those who watched the Senate screening of Ibrahim Magu live on television testified that he was probably jittery and somewhat uncoordinated in his response.

Hours after his rejection, I was a guest of Silverbird Television on the station’s News at 7pm to offer insight into the import of Senate rejection of Ibrahim Magu as EFCC chairman. The day after, on ‘Good Morning Nigeria’ a discussion programme of  Nigerian Television Authority, I was also a privileged discussant on same issue alongside the Chairman Senate Committee on Anti-Corruption, Senator Chukwuka Utazi and Alhaji Ibrahim Moddibo, a Public Affairs Analyst. I have read the DSS allegations against Ibrahim Magu as well as his response to the query from the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation. I have also read a number of interviews on the subject matter. My conclusion is that there is more to this issue than meet the eye. There was obviously no sufficient housekeeping by the presidency on this issue. How do I mean?

According to Senator Utazi, the nomination of Magu was not accompanied with security report on him when it was sent last June. This was said to be against the customary practice and was the reason why the Senate had to ask its Clerk to officially write to DSS for the missing vital document. Can the Acting President who is a Professor of Law and a former Attorney General of Lagos State not have known that such nomination is accompanied with security report on the nominated candidate? Could he not have been properly advised or briefed? Two, why did President Buhari not ask DSS to substantiate its allegations against Magu and rather chose to write to AGF to investigate the matter? I think it is a trite law that he who alleges must prove. The onus is on DSS to prove its allegations against Magu and not for AGF to be ask to investigate. I do not think that the Office of Attorney General, with due respect, has the capacity to investigate such sensitive matter which bothers on criminal allegations and abuse of office. If at all the AGF intends to do that, it should have asked the DSS to substantiate its claims against Magu and crosscheck that with the defendant’s response.

Third, why did the president not accompany the re-nomination letter of Magu as EFCC chairman to the Senate with his response to the query on the matter by the AGF? Why did Magu himself not come to his Senate screening with a copy of his response to AGF and other documentary evidences that would have helped his case? Did anyone promise him that he’s coming to ‘bow and go’ as is done by Senate for some privileged individuals? On what bases and in whose authority did Senator Ita Enang write to DSS for security vetting on Magu? Is that the norm? Why did DSS write conflicting security report on same individual, on same issue and on same day?

There is no gainsaying that Senate may have acted mala fide (in bad faith) by rejecting the nomination of Magu as EFCC chairman as a vendetta against him for prosecuting some of its members for corruption. However, as the African adage goes, “if you must blame the hawk for wickedness, first blame mother hen for exposing her children to danger”. It is obvious from the many lapses and lacuna in the handling of Magu’s nomination that the presidency did not do the needful to help its nominee. Opinions are divided about whether the acting chairman can stay in office perpetually in acting capacity and if he could still be re-nominated. Well, the court may have to be involved in the interpretation of the EFCC Act and Public Service rule on this matter. I do know that under former President Olusegun Obasanjo, Chief Onyema Ugochukwu was nominated four times before his nomination was confirmed by Senate while Prof. Babalola Borisade, former Aviation Minister, was nominated thrice by same president before his confirmation as Minister. One thing boggles me. Why is it that all EFCC Chairmen end their tenure in controversial circumstances? From Malam Nuhu Ribadu, to Ms. Farida Waziri, to Malam Ibrahim Lamorde and now Ibrahim Magu. Is it corruption fighting back or that the system hasn’t been able to identify the best person for the job?

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

INEC’s two- year advance notice for 2019 elections

Our democracy is maturing and the commission believes that there should be certainty with regard to the timetable for elections. For instance, in the United States, general elections always hold on the second Tuesday of November in the election year. In Ghana, it’s the 7th of December of the election year, while in other places like Mexico, Norway, Sweden, Costa Rica and Switzerland, the dates are also known in advance. In Nigeria, the constitution provides for elections to hold not earlier than 150 days and not later than 30 days to the end of the incumbent’s tenure. In order to ensure certainty in our dates for elections, and to allow for proper planning by the commission, political parties, security agencies, candidates and all stakeholders, the commission has decided to fix the date for the national elections for the third Saturday in February of the election year, followed by state elections two weeks later.”  

- Prince Solomon Adedeji Soyebi, INEC National Commissioner, while announcing the dates for Nigeria’s next general elections on Thursday, March 9, 2017 in Abuja.

A war foretold does not kill a wise cripple is an African adage. Last Thursday, the Independent National Electoral Commission did the unprecedented. It announced the dates for the country’s next general elections two years ahead of schedule. Why? Is INEC trying to heat up the polity unnecessarily? Has the commission done its homework well before reeling out the dates? Is the commission’s action legal and legitimate? What are the implications of this decision on all the election stakeholders?

In the lead up to the last general elections, INEC announced February 14 and 28, 2015 as the dates for the nationwide polls. This notice was given on Friday, January 24, 2014, that is one full year ahead. However, a week to the date of the first set of elections, pressure from the Office of the National Security Adviser compelled INEC to shift the poll by six weeks. The reasons were two-fold. To enable the electoral management body more time to distribute the Permanent Voters Cards which was then about 60 per cent. Secondly, to enable the armed forces to contain the nefarious activities of the Boko Haram insurgents especially in the northeastern state of Adamawa, Yobe and Bornu.  If last time around, despite having more than a year notice, election had to be postponed, is there any assurance that despite this two years advance notice, February 16 and March 2, 2019 will be sacrosanct?

On Monday, March 13, 2017, Barrister Oluwole Osaze Uzzi , INEC Director of Voter Education, Publicity, Gender and Civil Society and I were guest of Focus Nigeria, a popular TV programme hosted by Gbenga Aruleba on African Independent Television. The topic discussed was the issues in the INEC 2019 Election Timetable. Arising from that discussion, it was obvious that INEC was on sound legal footing and actually meant well to have published the timetable for the election two years ahead. It was meant to be a wakeup call to all election stakeholders from political parties and contestants to National Assembly, the presidency, the civil society, the security agencies, the media and the electorate. It is axiomatic that if you fail to plan, then you’ve planned to fail. Should all the aforementioned stakeholders fail to key into the commission’s timeline for the next general election, then the plausibility of credible 2019 elections will be compromised. 

There is no gainsaying that we have a culture of ‘fire-brigade approach’ in this country; both in our public and private lives. Many a time we know that examination is coming. Timetable is out perhaps a month to the examination date; however, many students will not read until the eve of the exams. Look at the closure of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport for six weeks beginning from March 8 and the temporary relocation of air travel services to Kaduna airport. We knew the lifespan of the Abuja airport runway. However, in our trademark lackadaisical attitude, we failed to do any comprehensive maintenance on that runway neither did we build a second one that could have served as alternative to the one currently undergoing emergency repairs.  That is our nature, our character!

INEC has blown the whistle. The normal thing is for all the critical stakeholders to start planning early to ensure that the polls are held as scheduled. National Assembly in conjunction with the presidency is supposed to give the country a new electoral law regime. After all, both chambers of NASS has been on constitutional cum electoral reform since 2015; in October  2016, the presidency decided to set up 24 member Senator Ken Nnamani Electoral Reform Committee which was meant to sit for about six weeks but almost five months after was just conducting public hearing across the six geo-political zones. With this timetable out now, all electoral reform exercises needs to be concluded on time. This is to give other stakeholders sufficient time to get familiar with the content of the new legal and policy regime for the next general elections. It is a sad commentary that the 2015 Electoral Act was gazetted and made public after the general elections had been held. Imagine that!  I do hope we will not repeat same mistake ahead of 2019 polls.

Just as the timely new legal framework is incumbent on the presidency and the National Assembly, so also is proper funding of the electoral management body and the security agencies. If the appointed dates will be sacrosanct and the polls will be an improvement over the last one, then adequate funding of the 2019 elections is non-negotiable. The INEC VEP Director said part of the funds needed for the exercise has been requested in the 2017 financial estimate currently being reviewed by NASS. It is important that the parliament approves of the commission’s budget as required, otherwise, there is only 2018 budget cycle left to get the funds for the polls. 

INEC itself must prove to the world that it fully understands and is prepared to do the needful before the appointed dates of election in 2019. I am aware that the commission is about to publish its new five years Strategic Plan (2017 – 2021). It must see to a faithful implementation of this SP. Ahead of the next general elections, the commission has to register new political parties (as at last Thursday, 84 fresh applications are being reviewed by INEC), conduct Continuous Voters Registration exercise for those who have turned 18 years and above, print and distribute their Permanent Voters Card, acquire or procure additional Smart Card Readers, activate the Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security, conduct voter education and build the capacity of its permanent and ad-hoc staff to deliver credible elections in 2019. These are no mean tasks!

The donor community also has ample time now to key into this INEC 2019 Election Timetable. Their support to the commission and the civil society partners needs to be timely in order to achieve desired result.  The political parties and contestants are by far critical factors who could make or mar the forthcoming general polls. They have two years to plan to do the right thing by organising their party congresses, conventions and primaries. They can also plan on their campaign strategies.  I also do know that the advance notice can get the unscrupulous ones among them to plan on how to subvert and undermine the electoral process in order to gain undue advantage. This is where the security agents need to be proactive by ensuring that they outsmart and forestall any sinister plot by any political party or contestant.   The litmus tests that will show how INEC is prepared for the 2019 polls are the off cycle gubernatorial elections in Anambra scheduled for November 18, 2017 as well as that of Ekiti and Osun states coming up in 2018. I do wish the commission best of luck in its onerous task of conducting credible, successful and peaceful 2019 elections.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Buhari should fill vacant INEC RECs seats now!

Nigerian Constitution vested enormous powers in the office of the president but it will seem the incumbent, President Muhammadu Buhari, is apprehensive or too circumspect to use the powers bestowed on him by the grundnorm. Right from the inception of this administration on May 29, 2015, it is crystal clear that Buhari is always at pain making necessary appointments as required by law. Maybe the president would have preferred to run this country as a sole administrator. It took the president several weeks before he could appoint his personal aides. It was six months before he could appoint his ministers. Ambassadors are being appointed two years into his administration. Several board positions, heads of government departments and agencies are vacant for more than a year and the president has not deemed it fit to appoint substantive chief executives for those institutions.
Is the president trying to save money he would have used to pay salaries of these people? How much will that amount to compared to what the country loses for lack of substantive leaders in these government institutions? Perhaps he couldn’t find credible, capable and competent Nigerians who would hold those positions. That will be incredible considering the humongous number of world-class professionals that the country has.  I must hasten to say that some state governors are also acting like the president by refusing to appoint their commissioners and heads of parastatals on time.
Did you know that as I write this, the term of office of 34 out of 37 Resident Electoral Commissioners of the Independent National Electoral Commission has expired; some for more than a year now?  Yet, Mr. President has not deemed it fit to appoint successors to these vacant seats. This is not the first time this lethargic action is taking place under the present administration. As at the time Prof. Mahmood Yakubu and five national commissioners were appointed by the president in consultation with the Council of State on October 21, 2015, the chairman’s position as well as those of 11 other national commissioners was vacant. While Hajia Amina Bala Zakari was acting chairperson, only Ambassador Lawrence Nwuruku remained as national commissioner. Yet the constitution prescribed that four commissioners out of the 12 will form a quorum at any meeting of the Commission.
Civil society organisations, the media and even the Senate had to mount pressure on the president before that initial appointments were made into INEC. I recall that Governor Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State, while addressing the press to inform the nation about the initial appointment into INEC stated that “The Council has agreed to stagger the confirmation of this appointment of Commissioners of INEC in view of the situation we found ourselves presently whereby the tenures of individual commissioners expired almost the same time. So, to avert future occurrence of such a situation the Council has agreed that the next six of the Commissioners should be submitted to the Council subsequently for its approval.” That did not happen until September 30, 2016 when names of six other national commissioners were forwarded to Senate for confirmation. As at that time, the seats of 20 Resident Electoral Commissioners were vacant. The president didn’t just care to make the appointment. Now the number of vacant REC positions had grown to 34, still President Buhari could not care less.
In case the president does not know, what he has done is a breach of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as amended in 2010. Section 153(f) of the grundnorm established the Commission. Section 156 enumerated the qualifications for members of the Commission. Section 14 of the Third Schedule gave detailed prescriptions of the age, qualities and procedures for appointing members of the board of the Commission. Subsection 3 of that section states that “There shall be for each state of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, a Resident Electoral Commissioner who shall –
(a)  Be appointed by the president subject to the confirmation of the Senate;
(b)  Be person of unquestionable integrity and shall not be a member of a political party; and
(c)  Not be less than 35 years of age”
The operative word in that section is SHALL. The Constitution did not say MAY. Thus, the power of the president to appoint REC for INEC is not discretionary but mandatory. It is therefore important for Acting President Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, in the absence of President Buhari to do the needful, just as he did recently by forwarding the name of Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen to Senate for confirmation as substantive CJN. He should likewise headhunt for men and women of impeccable character and requisite qualifications and forward same to the Senate for confirmation as INEC Resident Electoral Commissioner.

In making the appointment, he should take into cognisance the needed diversity. Nigeria has gender policy which says that 35 per cent of appointive and elective positions should go to women. We have missed the elective target, we should not miss the appointive one. There are competent and conscientious women of sterling character who merits being appointed into INEC. Same with youths. The minimum age for REC is 35 years and am sure we can find highly qualified men and women of that age that could be appointed into the electoral management body. 2019 General Election is barely two years away and preparations for the next election should actually start once the last one ends. These new RECs will need ample time to settle down into their new positions. Election is a process and not an event and a very sensitive one at that. INEC cannot be said to be fully independent until it is well resourced both financially and administratively. Non appointment of RECs is hampering the efficiency and effectiveness of the Commission. The time to address that anomaly is now!

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The tasks before Governor Akeredolu of Ondo State

“…the main mission of our administration is therefore to lead a patriotic, highly inspired and competent team to rescue the ship of our state. We intend to help rebuild our economy, resuscitate damaged infrastructure, restore hope and return our state to a prosperous land. We are determined as an administration to break down the barriers that have made stagnation possible. We will break down the barriers to honest leadership, to comprehensive development, to physical growth and social security.”

-          Excerpt from the inaugural speech of new governor of Ondo State, Rotimi Akeredolu, on February 24, 2017

There is a new sheriff in town in the ‘Sunshine State’. He is Mr. Oluwarotimi Odunayo Akeredolu (SAN). He was sworn in as the 17th helmsman and indeed the sixth civilian governor of 41 year old Ondo State last Friday. His civilian predecessors include Pa. Adekunle Ajasin, Evangelist Bamidele Olomilua, Chief Adebayo Adefarati, Dr. Olusegun Agagu and Dr. Olusegun Mimiko. For those who may not know, Ondo State is the home of many renowned Nigerians like the late fiery human rights crusader, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, Juju music maestro, King Sunny Ade and star actress, Omotola Jalade Ekeinde.

Getting to that exalted position was not easy for the new governor, popularly called Aketi. He was lucky to win the coveted seat at his second attempt having lost in 2012 to his immediate predecessor, Mimiko. On September 3, 2016, he was locked in fierce battle with 23 other aspirants for the All Progressives Congress ticket for the seat. He won in a controversial circumstance. His closest challenger, Dr. Olusegun Abraham has gone to court to upturn his victory at the primary.  On November 26, 2016, he defeated 27 other candidates to eventually clinch victory which was consummated last Friday.

The new governor comes to the office with requisite experience from both the public and private sector. He is a lawyer of international repute, a senior advocate of Nigeria, former president of the Nigerian Bar Association and indeed former Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice in Ondo State.  In spite of this, I do not envy him. He is coming into office at a time of economic recession. His predecessor has left him with a seven month salary arrears to clear. The Ondo State workers are therefore highly demoralised. As I write this, health workers in the state are on strike. Although last Monday, while having his first official meeting with workers, he had promised not to collect salary until the workers are paid their entitlements. He thereafter set up a committee to advise him on how to settle the huge backlog of salaries.

As we know in Nigeria, committees work at snail speed and many believe it is a way of buying time or filibustering. Since there was a transition committee set up since last year, there should have been some recommendations on the exact wage bill and assets and liabilities of the state. I think if the resources were to be available; the governor should have been able to order payment of some of the salary owed on assumption of duty. If the governor wants to endear himself to the workers, he should eschew the conduct of an endless staff verification exercise as is the case in some states.

Another serious challenge Aketi faces is a rancorous Ondo State House of Assembly. Not only is the fact that his party, APC is a minority in the legislative chamber, the House has also been engulfed in leadership crisis with two persons laying claim to being the Speaker.   On January 27, 2017, Hon. Jumoke Akindele, first female speaker of the state, was reportedly impeached and replaced by Hon. Coker Malachi. A claim Princess Akindele debunked. This crisis made it impossible for the immediate past governor to present the 2017 appropriation bill to the House. As it is, one of the first actions Governor Akeredolu needs to urgently perform is to find a lasting solution to the leadership tussle and thereafter present the 2017 budget to the Assembly.  

Last April, the Mimiko administration conducted local government election into the 18 LGAs of the state. The new governor did not recognize the election as following due process and has filed legal action in court to nullify the polls or enable him dissolve the councils. Ondo State high court has ruled in favour of the chairmen and councilors. The court presided over by immediate past Chief Judge of Ondo State, Hon. Justice Olaseinde Kumuyi on January 17, 2017 ruled that the council officials were democratically elected for a term of three years and that their tenure will expire on April 25, 2019.

Though the new governor has vowed to appeal the judgment of the high court, I think it is an exercise in futility. Governor Akeredolu should learn from a December 2016 Supreme Court judgment that ruled former Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State out of order for dissolving the elected council in 2010. The apex court ordered that all the entitlements of the councilors and chairmen should be paid them. The incumbent should learn to work with the already inaugurated councils in order to move the state forward.

One of the greatest tasks before the new governor is to fix the rot in the education sector of the state. Information on the official website of Ondo State says it has the largest number of public schools in Nigeria - over 880 primary schools and 190 secondary schools. It also has 13 tertiary institutions - public and private, state and federal. Many of these academic institutions are in deplorable conditions despite the acclaimed building of mega schools by the Mimiko administration. I learnt there is no adequate staffing of many of the primary and secondary schools while last minute appointments were made into some of the state tertiary institutions. Aketi needs to do proper audit of these educational centres and address the apparent challenges they face.

In terms of industrialization, the governor should try to incentivize foreign and local investors to set up manufacturing concerns and other small, medium and large industries in the state. Ondo is one of the 10 oil producing states in Nigeria (Lagos inclusive). It is also the home to second largest Bitumen deposits in the world.   Other mineral deposits in the state include Limestone, Kaoline, Columbite, Quartz sand and Granite. The fertile and arable agricultural land of the state should be a natural attraction for those who may wish to set up agro-allied industries.  What I will advise Aketi to do is to use different investment models such as public-private-partnership as well as Build, Operate and Transfer.  On no account should the state resources be used to wholly establish industries. Where is Owena Hotels today? Where is Oluwa Glass Industry?

In conclusion, the governor has his job cut out for him. He knew the parlous state of the state’s finance before fighting tooth and nail to be governor. No excuse will be good enough for non-performance or redemption of campaign promises. The governor should play less politics and focus on delivery of dividends of democracy to the people. He should audit all projects of his predecessors, sustain the good ones and discard the white elephants among them. The good people of Ondo State must put the governor’s feet to fire by constantly reminding him of his electoral pledges. They must demand for accountable and transparent governance. As the saying goes, eternal vigilance is the price of liberty!