DAWN and the South-west Renaissance: Requiem  for Dipo Famakinwa 


By Tunji Olaopa

The death of Dipo Famakinwa is a very sad one. I have known the Director General of Development Agenda for Western Nigeria (DAWN) for a few years now and I have come to respect not only his maturity, quiet personality, relational skills, solid professionalism, but also his sound credentials as a development expert with commendable entrepreneurial intelligence. Famakinwa did not become the DG of DAWN by some kind of lucky coincidence. On the contrary, he came to that multidisciplinary organisation in 2013 with a solid educational background, business acumen and an enviable professional experience at both the public and private sectors, as well as at home and abroad. He was a consummate administrator, able to motivate and inspire.

We became very good friends because after my retirement in 2015 when it became clear to us that we share some commonalities that border on ideas about federalism, development in general, regionalism, but most especially the significance of the South-West as a development signpost for Nigeria’s federal framework. Recently, Famakinwa’s DAWN and the Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy (ISGPP) have been looking for a unique joint project around which these shared ideas could translate to active proposals that would further the objectives of the two organisations. No one can doubt Famakinwa’s concern for the development of Nigeria through a constant reassessment of the mechanics for structurally recreating Nigeria’s federalism. A critical opponent of platitudinous rhetoric about reform, he was concerned with a deep and operationalized rehabilitation of the Nigerian project that goes beyond mere constitutional exercise. For instance, he was very critical of recent confabulation experiment like the National Conference of 2014 and all its internal inconsistencies, contradictions and lack of solid understanding of what ails Nigeria. For him, the renegotiation of Nigerian federal experiment must commence from an unbiased diagnosis of where we are presently. For instance, we will all be playing the ostrich and hiding our heads from our geopolitical reality if we think that, say, the creation of more states has the capacity to rejuvenate federalism. 

This explains Famakinwa’s fascination with the cultural and social cohesiveness of the South-West as significant ingredient for regional development. His framework is what he had called “regionalisation for development.” And the DAWN initiative provides just the right organisational platform for the actualisation of his development strategy for Nigeria. It does not take significant reflection to see why Famakinwa became a part of my reform inner caucus. We could easily have been referred to as reform twins because of our shared logic of regionalism as a sound development basis for reinventing the Nigerian project, and the strategic location of the Southwest as having the human capital, material resources, historical cohesion and development precedents to jumpstart development, and hence the search for an appropriate rehabilitation of our wobbly federalism. Chief Obafemi Awolowo already proved that the idea of regional development as the foundation of sound federalism is possible. The old Western region is still unbeatable in terms of its infrastructural and educational advances. I have written a lot about the role that the likes of Simeon Adebo played in coordinating the policy implementation dynamics made possible by Awolowo. The Awolowo-Adebo synergy has become a template for the politics/policy-administration relationship in Nigeria. It was only natural that my advocacy for the governors of the Southwest to become the exemplars of regional development by uniting their political capital to transform the Southwest would be followed up by an attempt at drawing DAWN, the operational template for a solid integration, governance and socioeconomic development of the six Southwestern states, into a strategic relationship. 

As a testament to his development credential, brilliant foresight and diagnostic efficiency, Famakinwa and DAWN’s discussion with ISGPP was carried out with regard to several significant initiatives. First, there is the urgency of the cost of governance issue which remains a momentous issue that has crippled the governance dynamics of most states in Nigeria. The strategic discussion revolved around how the Southwest governors could be enabled to unbundle their expenditure structure for efficient savings that could be translated into implementing institutional restructuring while also striking a win-win deal with labour unions. Second, DAWN and ISGPP were also considering designing a framework for Joint Budgeting that would become critical for infrastructural designs and projects, backstopped by a dynamic PPP financing structure. There had also been a discussion around the articulation of a public service charter for the Southwest civil services, benchmarked in the African Public Service Charter which I, alongside other African public service experts, have been instrumental in developing for the African Union Commission (AUC) as a template for governance and public sector institution reform, suitably reinforced with adequate peer review mechanisms for learning, sharing and benchmarking. On the matter of practical development especially in the rural areas of the Southwest, several strategic discussions with Prof. Akin Mabogunje had signalled the possibility of adopting the famous OPTICOM rural development framework. DAWN was supposed also to have prepared a technical report on the state of learning for development purposes in schools, with an especial emphasis on mathematics as a significant discipline. The technical report was to have critical input from the recently organised ISGPP seminar on mathematics education as a pivot for national development in Nigeria. DAWN has also been penned for a critical facilitation of a regional agenda deriving from ISGPP’s comprehensive training package for the public service designed to shift training orientation and content in line with globally recognised professional competency framework and skill sets for the efficient running of government business. This training package is to commence with the State of Osun, and DAWN is to coordinate its regional component to create a context for larger conversation on  national agenda through regional achievements. 

Now, Dipo Famakinwa has been snatched by death at the prime of his life. This ought to be the time when DAWN blueprint for strategic integration of the Southwest into a large context of good governance and infrastructural development should be going into implementation. He ought to have been present to add his administrative and coordinating skills to the complex implementation exercise simply because the blueprint was articulated by his team. It derives from a vision which he himself had carried for five years since he became the director general at DAWN. Death has been said to bring finality to all things, to aspirations and to dreams and to hope. For Malene Dietrich, “When you are dead, you are dead. That’s it.” Final. Finality.The end.

But not this time. This is because even death does not have any power over any combustible idea. Death itself can be the route to immortality. “Between our birth and death,” says Christopher Fry, “we may touch understanding.” This is not an automatic achievement. Many came into the world and died without achieving significant understanding, especially of the roles they are expected to play and the duties they owe mankind. Dipo Famakinwa was not that kind of man. For fifty years of his life, he was a leader. But leading was not just enough for him; legacy was. With DAWN, he was read to take his credentials and reputation that regionalization for development is the path for Nigeria’s progress. How then can we make his death the platform for the establishment of his legacy, DAWN?

DAWN has strategic reform significance. This is the understanding that Famakinwa committed his professionalism, intelligence and development expertise to. DAWN possesses the operational capability to conceptualise, negotiate and implement the renaissance of socioeconomic well-being for Southwestern citizens of Nigeria. In fact, at a deeper level, through DAWN, we can achieve the ignition of a national revolution in development.The DAWN vision and mission is grand and beautiful. But far more significant are the five development pillars around which the vision and mission are woven—economic development (around agriculture, tourism, solid minerals and applied science and innovation), social and human development (health, wellness, education and workforce development), infrastructural development (transportation, power, energy, science and technology), building inclusive institutions (civil society, civil service), and homeland affairs (security, cultural preservation, promotion of excellence). 

This, for me, constitutes a complete reform agenda for the Southwest. It is to the commendation of Famakinwa that there is in place already a strategic roadmapfor bringing to birth the blueprint for the regional development of the Southwest. But this does not abate my professional fear. I have, in my short years as a reformer, seen the death of so many beautiful strategic plans and roadmaps. Ideas and ideals die easily on the platform of good intentions. And yet, even the readiness to implement is also fraught with terrible foreboding. However, Dipo Famakinwa was never afraid of implementing the roadmap. The challenges he faced went beyond just the roadmap itself. Would his death signal the end of his vision and his staunch belief in their implementability? Very soon, encomiums will start pouring in. Many people will reflect on his life time and achievements. Others will make many promises to his left behind family. Some portion of DAWN building may even be named after him. And a picture will remain at the DAWN headquarters as a memorial. Famakinwa will then be buried, and silence will threaten to obliterate his development efforts. The strategic roadmap will still be dogged by political and administrative impediments. 

The best memory we can inscribe to his legacy of courageous development thinking and administrative perspicacity is to commence the implementation of the roadmap he staked his professional credentials on. Specific issues are at stake in implementing the DAWN strategic roadmap. The most important, I think, is contained in the DAWN’s ten operating principles. Underlying all these principles is a solid orientation towards policy implications of DAWN’s development pillars. Converting these pillars into significant policies in the Southwest is the most important challenge DAWN has to face after the demise of Famakinwa. But the immediate policy options should be more recuperative than projective. In other words, the Southwest governors, in approaching the DAWN roadmap, must first be concerned with putting their socioeconomic house in order.  

By this I refer to their collective attempt at addressing the cost of governance scourge and then the issue of fiscal federalism. As things stand, Nigeria’s economic profile still ensures that state governments are held captive by a crippling fiscal framework, founded on what I have called the “bail-out” monthly allocation mentality, which limits governance responsibility. How then can implementation of the roadmap take off if the wherewithal to achieve its implementation and critical sustainability is missing? The most immediate challenge therefore is two-pronged.

On the one hand, to significantly deal with the cost of governance issue by downsizing/rightsizing government institutional expenses in a way that will free up funds for efficient investment in infrastructural development. And on the other hand, there is the urgent need to invest in the active cultivation of internally generated revenue, beginning, for instance, with adequate tax payment enforcement matched with strong culture of performance and democratic accountability.

There is no other way, therefore, to keep the legacies of Famakinwa alive than for the six governors of the South-West states to not only renew their commitment to an operationally sound organisation they jointly set up, demonstrate shared ideological commitment that transcends party differences and dichotomies for the sake of the South-West people, but to also use the former DG’s death as a clarion call to no longer waste development time through paying mere lip service to South-West agenda. This must be the time to bring the governance blueprint alive, together with the cultivation of critical synergies and partnership that could assist in bringing alive the blueprint for Southwest strategic integration and governance thus reliving the great Awo legacy. That is what would make Dipo Famakinwa’s untimely death a timely intervention in the trajectory of what he stood for.