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!