In 1999, I was elected governor of Ogun State. It was a job I kept till 2003. To many, the art of governance and management of State resources is complex and cumbersome. My experience certainly did not justify this view. I hold that a government with focus and well defined work processes and procedures will find governance challenging but fulfilling. When I was sworn into office on 29th May 1999, the State owed virtually every sector and stakeholder: civil servants, primary and secondary school teachers, pensioners, contractors etc. There was pain and tension in the land. To ease things, we devoted about 70% of the revenue of the first six months to settling debts.
To conserve funds I cut down running costs to the ministries and departments, I deferred the purchase of vehicles for the Governor’s Office, State commissioners and other principal officers of government till the second year of our administration. During this period I deployed my private utility vehicle as the Governor’s official car.
We introduced measures to strengthen the financial reporting, budget and planning processes. My commissioner for finance would forward to me every Friday at the close of business a summary of all receipts and payments along with balances in all our bank accounts; while the permanent secretary, budget and planning would prepare a schedule of all due obligations. With these documents I matched approvals to release funds based on available bank balance. Throughout my tenure, we never had cases of payment without cash backing.
We were very frugal in fund disbursement for budgeted re-current expenditure; our emphasis was more on growth-supporting capital projects. We cut down on the Governor’s Office and Government House expenses. I travelled for official businesses within the country with only my Aide de Camp and Police orderly. I travelled alone on all my overseas trips, which if personal were self-financed. A younger colleague, Mr. Segun Babatope, was shocked to see me at Boston Airport USA, in 2000, loading my luggage and my wife’s on a trolley and wheeling it to the check-in counter. We were all on our way back to Nigeria after the 50th Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the International Press Institute in Boston, USA when Segun asked why I did not travel with either my ADC or orderly. Politely and rhetorically, I said: “When I cease being Governor, would I be able to afford paying for aides to join me?” My security vote for the first year in government was N250, 000 per month. This was later increased to N500, 000 and to N2, 500, 000 in the months preceding the April 2003 elections.
I lived in my private residence which I believed was comfortable enough for me as Governor with a single digit staff strength. There was no Chief of Staff or Deputy Chief. The Governor’s Lodge in Abuja had just one car and a few staff to keep the place running. The caterer in charge of the Presidential Lodge, Abeokuta travelled with me to Abuja whenever I had cause to stay overnight. Two respected Egba private sector chieftains, former Head of State, Chief Earnest Sonekan and Mr. Fola Adeola, were taken aback one day when they saw me alighting from our Honda Accord staff car at an international conference at Nicon Hilton Hotel, Abuja.
In the aspect of project management we ensured we had value for money through a well-defined Tender, Contract Award and Monitoring process. All pre-registered contractors working with us had track records of successful project execution. I did not leave behind any abandoned or uncompleted project. We ensured that contractors were mobilized to site by paying between 50% and 70% of approved contract sum to avoid delays and renegotiation of contract by contractors. In the execution of rural development projects – mostly rural roads, electrification and water projects – we used direct labour and procurement of materials from manufacturers and approved distributors. The prudence in this procedure can be seen in the case of Ijebu North East Local Government where the permanent secretary, rural development, Engineer Wale Bajomo led his team to extend electricity to 17 towns spanning about 20km apart with five British-made transformers for a total cost of about N80m.
It was during my tenure as Governor that we commenced the computerization of the entire civil service. We were able to complete computerization and training of personnel in the following agencies: Governor’s Front Office, Accountant General’s Department, and the State Board of Internal Revenue. It was our intention to modernize the entire service for e-governance.
Our payment procedures were overhauled. We stopped the old order of contractors coming to queue in front of the Accountant General’s office for their cheques. We contacted beneficiaries by phone to come and pick-up their cheques on daily basis thus improving transparency in the payment process.
In 2002, we introduced the direct lodgment of all government revenue into designated banks and stopped the payment of salaries by cash, requesting all employees to have bank accounts. This was well before the Federal Government introduced Treasury Single Account TSA in 2015. The direct bank lodgment of government revenue to designated accounts enabled us to capture the revenue from source and helped in our cash management.
The first allocation we received from the Federation Account in May 1999 was N281, 182,906. The total we received from May to December 1999 was N2, 785,418,530. Our yearly allocations from the Federation Account for the four years to March 2003 were as follows:
1999 – 2,785,418,530
2000 – 8,293,301,440
2001 – 9,975,734,249
2002 – 8,376,067,391
2003 – 3,092,085,782 (Jan to March)
Our allocation for April and May 2003 was seized by the Obasanjo-led Federal Government. In May 1999, the internally generated revenue of the State was N60, 813,942; this was increased to an average monthly figure of N206, 642,000 by May 2003 when we left office.
Throughout my four year tenure as Governor we never tampered with Local Government allocations. Every month, we convened the Joint Local Government Allocation meeting and cheques were issued to each LGA for their full allocation. During the era of zero allocations to some urban local governments arising from deduction of primary school teachers’ salary as first line charge, we gave grants to such LGAs to pay salaries and running costs pending when we reviewed the allocation indices to take care of teachers’ salaries. There was the case of a PDP local government area chairman from Ijebu Waterside who protested the adjustment of the indices and I had to threaten that if he fails to agree, all Waterside indigenes working as teachers in the urban LGAs would be transferred to schools in their LGA of origin. That was when he agreed and we thereby solved the zero allocation problem.
The totality of revenue from both the Federation Account and internally generated revenue was about N40 billion for the four years I was governor. Comparatively, this amount corresponds to what our successor received in one year during the Iraq War that netted billions of US dollars into the Federation Account. People still ask me how we managed to do so much with little resources. We ensured regular treated pipe borne water supply in ALL our cities. Numerous functional mini waterworks were constructed in rural areas.
We penetrated and spread electricity supplies to extensive towns and villages. Dilapidated Primary and Secondary Schools were renovated. We introduced payment of West African Examination Council fees to guarantee that no student was denied the joy of sitting for WAEC because of poverty.
Salaries were paid regularly not later than the 28th of every month. Arrears of all allowances were cleared, and staffs were paid instantly whenever they proceeded on annual leave. In 2004, the Federal Minister of Finance Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala openly announced that Ogun State under my tenure was not indebted to any financial institution. Earlier in October 2002, President Olusegun Obasanjo had stated at MKO Abiola Stadium, Abeokuta during his State Visit to Ogun Sate that my administration was one of the few states that never asked for nor obtained extra budgetary allocation from the Federal Government.
Credit for our achievement goes to the people of Ogun State, its dedicated and professional Civil Service, committed and responsible members of the cabinet and political associates and reliable direct staff of the Governor’s Office, who were all civil servants. I never invited or employed a single aide, not even an office assistant, from outside the existing government establishment. Heads of departments in my office were: Mr. Remi Adesoye, permanent secretary, political and administration, which is the equivalent of the current vogue of Chief of Staff; Mr. Taiwo Adewole, permanent secretary of budget and planning, and Engineer Wale Bajomo, permanent secretary (special duties) who handled speedily and efficiently heavy rural electrification and water supply.
My spartan office was manned by three ladies: Mrs. Subu Okikiola, chief confidential secretary; Mrs. Dupe Williams, secretary and Mrs. Iyabo Akindele, a typist. Elder Olusola Adeyemi was my Principal Private Secretary; he rose to be the Head of Service, while Chief Dipo Odulate was head of protocol. These were the few officers that kept the machinery of the Governor’s Office working almost 24 hours. They imbibed my journalistic training of maintaining deadline by ensuring that no file stayed overnight on my desk.
Private sector norms and practices were brought into Ogun State administration. Within the first few months of my assumption of office, I signed and cleared over 5,000 outstanding Certificates of Occupancy and fast tracked the process of obtaining Governor’s Consent and issuance of Certificates of Occupancy for developers.
The ritual of weekly State Executive Council meetings was stopped. We met only when there were matters to be treated. Council papers were circulated days ahead for reasonable time to read and digest. Council meetings on the average lasted three hours. The cabinet was small, made up of nine commissioners representing each of the nine Federal constituencies in Ogun State. Each commissioner emerged through election conducted amongst leaders in either caucuses or Electoral College. When Ado-Odo-Ota-Igbesa constituency failed to agree on a candidate for commissionership, I invited them to my office in June 1999. After listening to all sides, they all accepted my suggestion to settle the problem democratically. There and then, an election was held inside the Executive Council Chambers and the commissioner was elected. We even went to the extent of restricting catering for State Executive Council and Government functions to cooks, stewards and caterers from State Government guest houses. The only caterer outside this practice was a lady running her local eatery, Eji Alamala, Alhaja Taiwo Akesire who provided local Egba delicacy of “LAFUN” cassava flour with local “Ewedu” leaf. State owned Gateway Hotels took care of state banquets.
My actions and behaviour in and out of government were not pretentious. I strongly believe that one should never indulge oneself in any free form of luxury that one cannot afford or pay for from one’s pocket. Wastage in any form is antithetical to my upbringing. Yet I spend, but wisely on quality items that last ages. Otunba Adeniyi Adebayo was stunned one day in my London home in 2006 when I pulled out from my writing desk the receipt of a Cartier wristwatch that I purchased in 1984, which was still functional 22 years after. My attitude remains that as long as one is able to manage everyday’s life challenges one will always be reasonably contented and live within manageable stress obstacles.
When my kinsman, His Excellency, Judge Bola Ajibola of the World Court was High Commissioner to UK, he regularly hosted me to either breakfast or dinner at his official residence. I did not know he had taken notice that I was commuting by private means to his house. One early morning when I was to return from London to Lagos, he showed up in his official car and insisted on personally taking me to the airport to demonstrate that I should make use of my right as a Governor to facilities available at the London Mission. Another example was an encounter I had with some young Nigerian students in 2002 in Bus 13 along Finchley Road, London. They enquired why I was riding in the bus as a governor. I retorted by asking them, if I would have had the chance of meeting them if I had chosen a different mode of transportation. We developed a relationship and I was able to get one of them, a Master’s degree holder, employed in Nigeria as against his eking out a living as a railway ticketing officer.
Travelling in the Red Buses makes me to know my way around London. The underground trains are convenient and fast to move around within the city. The one family car that we all use in London was purchased in 2004 after I left office as a fairly used car from Car Giant. It is still serving the family efficiently.
This habit was not developed because I was Governor. I started my reportorial life on a Vespa Scooter in the 60s. In 1975, as editor of the Daily Times, I often resorted to riding the office scooter when Lagos was chained in a traffic gridlock arising from the dualisation of Herbert Macaulay Street. When I was General Manager of the Nigerian Herald in Ilorin, I drove to the office in a Volkswagen car and only used my official Mercedes Benz car when I travelled out of town. In Ibadan, as managing director of Sketch, I used my personal Morris Mini to the office. Even as I approach the Octogenarian’s Club I still drive. Life can be pleasurable if one is true to oneself without pretension or self low esteem.