By Tunde Otegbeye
Several pitfalls were well-laid for Governor Dapo Abiodun by his predecessor to unsettle him and scuttle his tenure. The pitfalls were well-orchestrated, documented and were so debilitating that it would have taken only a man of uncommon strength, such as the Iperu Remo-born Prince, to soldier on, through those early days as he did admirably and successfully.
His vision was clear and unmistakable: “To give Ogun State focused and qualitative governance and to create the enabling environment for a Public Private Partnership (PPP), which is fundamental to the creation of an enduring economic development and individual prosperity of the people of the state”.
Indeed, as he settled down to business quickly, probity, transparency and accountability immediately became his cardinal principles and these have stood him out in no time. Abiodun signified that a new dawn had berthed in the 44-year-old state. Despite pressure from his adversaries, who had formed quite a formidable opposition, he was determined to look into the activities of the immediate past administration, especially in the self-proclaimed, “legacy contracts” awarded and the state of some infrastructure that were hurriedly constructed and commissioned in the twilight of his predecessor’s reign.
The initial days were characterized by series of distractions from the opposition camp, despite Abiodun’s call on all stakeholders to eschew political differences and join hands in building the state, but, he never wavered.
“The most important thing, as I have always said, is for us to remain focused.
We would run an inclusive government which translates that we shall give everybody that has positive things to contribute to feel free to do so,” he said.
The governor has lived up to these expectations. As a marked departure from the immediate past, he demonstrated great love for team work, thus, making it abundantly clear that he would work closely with his deputy, Noimot Salako-Oyedele, a development that earned him accolades from far and near. With a penchant for a quality working team, he appointed Mr. Tokunbo Talabi as Secretary to the State Government (SSG). He also appointed a former deputy chief of staff to his predecessor, Alhaji Shuaib Salisu, as his Chief of Staff (CoS). Not a few believed he had spotted Salisu before appointing him as his CoS, but then he is vastly reputed as a versatile politician who understands the Ogun State political terrain deeply. Others on the team include, Mr Dapo Okubadejo, ex-partner with an Accountancy firm, KPMG Professional Services; a wizkid, Mr Olalekan Olude (an award-winning entrepreneur, co-founder Jobberman Ltd, a leading job site in Sub-Saharan Africa and also a founding partner, African Talents in South Africa); Engr Ade Akinsanya (former Commissioner for Works in Lagos State); Mr Oladimeji Oresanya (erstwhile Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer, Lagos State Waste Management Authority (LAWMA), who served two former Governors, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and Mr Raji Babatunde Fashola, (SAN), respectively between 2005 and 2015. These were among others that hit the ground running at the inception of the administration on May 29, 2019.
Abiodun entered the Government House, Oke Mosan, on the strength of being a big player in the business world with vast connections in corporate Nigeria. He immediately leveraged on his network in the upscale sector to achieve stability in governance, having inherited a huge debt that ensured he had to source loans to offset outstanding bills. His strong relationship with the business community in Nigeria also ensured his comprehensive assessment of the state’s books with the aim of finding enduring routes to generating revenues internally. This particularly rare feat has helped tremendously in putting his administration on a sound footing in the past one year.
He focused on education which he considered the bedrock of the state. He immediately set off to renovate existing structures: one primary school in each of the 236 electoral wards in the 20 local government areas. Of particular interest was that the crisis that engulfed the Tai Solarin College of Education for upward of six years, prior to his assumption of office, also attracted special attention as he tasked the Visitation Panel he constituted, at the inception, to assess the school’s crisis and expedite action at ensuring that the students resumed for full and normal academic activities. He also resolved the crisis that had rocked the Moshood Abiola Polytechnic, thus, restoring hope and instilling confidence in the institution. It is worthy of note that the governor’s effort on this particular subject received commendation from stakeholders in the country’s education sector.
In an effort to encourage teaching and non-teaching staff in the state, the governor approved the release of the 2016/2017 promotion exercise in both secondary and primary schools across the state. In addition, he directed the Teaching Service Commission (TESCOM) and the State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) to commence issuing letters of promotion to affected officers without delay. Furthermore, he ordered the commencement of the monthly average payment of N791 million as pensions to retired local government council workers and SUBEB retirees, a development that attracted accolades for his administration. Over N5 billion counterpart fund and matching grant was also approved for the state to access 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017 Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) intervention projects. The administration also took over 28 community schools spread across the state and absorbed 577 teachers in the affected schools into the state’s civil service system.
The acute shortage of portable water that had persisted for several months attracted the governor’s attention, as the Ogun State Water Corporation, which has a pumping capacity of 103.68 million litres per day, was in a comatose state. He was determined to ensure that hundreds of thousands of households that had endured water scarcity got relief. Besides, he ordered restoration of the corporation through his personal supervision and the water scarcity has since become a thing of the past to the people in the area. The water feat is one of the most impactful records of Abiodun in the past one year.
As the popular saying goes “Health is wealth”. The governor has thus prioritised the state’s health sector with a pledge to build a well-equipped health centre or renovate others in all the wards. On his maiden visit to the Olabisi Onabanjo University Teaching Hospital (OOUTH), Sagamu, in company of his wife, Mrs. Bamidele Abiodun, tears welled in his eyes as he lamented the deplorable state of the tertiary health facility. He immediately constituted an Administrative Panel to look into the situation with a clear direction to the panel to draw a sustainable plan to return the hospital to its glorious past. In response to the novel dreaded Coronavirus, otherwise known as COVID-19, the OOUTH has been equipped with a molecular laboratory, essentially meant to check certain genes, blood proteins or, other molecules in a sample of tissue or, other body fluid, instead of travelling as far as Lagos, Abuja and Ede (Osun state) where such facility is available.
Agriculture is also of utmost priority to Abiodun. As he targeted self-sufficiency and security in food production for the state, he also launched several moves to reposition the sector. In further demonstration of this resolve, he hosted a team from the Africa Development Bank on a three-day visit to Ogun State, less than a month after taking his Oath of office.
While placing much premium on agriculture as a driver of the economy, the governor launched the Steering Committee on the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme.
Even as he observed that the state government had not benefited from the Central Bank of Nigeria-powered programme, he nonetheless launched the FADAMA Graduate Unemployed Youths Scheme known as FADAMA GUYS in August 2019, handling automatic slots to 200 beneficiaries that would derive grants from the Ogun State Anchor Borrowers’ Programme that was launched soon after, targeting 40,000 beneficiaries after taking off with 10,000 farmers who would have access to a single digit interest rate loan as a means of employment in accordance with the objectives of the administration in easing the burden of unemployment of youths.
As a civil servant-friendly governor, he signed a pact with government workers and elaborated on mutual respect and benefit. He called it “social contract with the workforce of Ogun State government.”
It is remarkable that Abiodun had met a demoralised workforce with the majority owed arrears of salaries, worsened by a huge debt bill accrued by the immediate past administration. But within six months, he had not only touched the workers’ lives immensely, but had also instituted prompt payment of salaries before the last work day of every month, a tempo he has sustained to this day. In what surprised many, in view of the politics of bitterness that previously held sway in the state, 1,000 graduates employed in the twilight of the immediate past administration were retained while 18 permanent secretaries who were also hurriedly elevated without due process were retained in a rare demonstration of magnanimity.
Empowerment is also a cardinal principle of the Administration. In September 2019, the governor launched the Oko-Owo Dapo, an empowerment initiative to provide funds for women who are involved in legitimate Small and Medium Scale Enterprises (SMEs) across the state. The initiative also aimed to enhance trade, as well as micro, small and medium scale enterprises. Two thousand women benefitted in the first phase of the initiative with a target of 100,000 women, politicians, members of women’s societies, religious and trade associations, which ultimately targeted flattening the unemployment curve in the state.
In addition, the administration also scored another first when it launched the Ogun State Job Portal last year. The portal aimed to establish a nexus between unemployment and security, thereby determining the number of indigenes that are unemployed or under-employed with a view to getting them gainfully engaged. So far, the portal has recorded well over 300,000 applicants that the administration would engage in various job sectors that include the ICT.
Already, the governor has established a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Centre that would serve as technology hub for the state, as well as a one-stop-shop for technological innovations across Africa where start-up companies would be established.
In line with the administration’s Public-Private Partnership (PPP) initiative, the governor launched the Ogun State Security Trust Fund (OGSTF), headed by the Chairman of Lafarge Plc, Mr. Bolaji Balogun, and tasked the board to source funds for the procurement of crime-fighting equipment and welfare of police personnel and other security agencies. About 100 patrol vehicles and 200 motorbikes were procured and given to the police, Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS), Department of State Service (DSS) and Army last September, even as the Fund has risen to over N1 billion from donors. Also, on April 28, 2020, the state government procured another 69 pick-up vans, fitted with communication gadgets, and scores of motorcycles were given to operatives of the state security outfit, Quick Response Squad (QRS) and other sister security agencies to fight crimes. Another donation came for the OGSTF on May 8 this year when Prince Abiodun took delivery of 25 patrol vehicles by Dangote Cement Plc in furtherance of the government’s PPP initiative which is aimed at providing top-notch security in the state.
Prince Abiodun also attained a milestone with his assent to the Ogun State Road Management Amendment Bill, which paved the way for the Ogun State Public Works Agency (OGPWA), as a result of which an unprecedented massive road rehabilitation and construction is being witnessed across the state. True to type, in the last one year, the parent body, Ministry of Works, has embarked on the construction of new access roads and rehabilitation of existing ones with asphalt. The Ministry, through direct labour, OGPWA, has engaged in palliative work, ranging from patching of bad sections, maintenance and construction of culverts and speed breaks, desilting of drains, deflooding to earth drains of well over 70 roads of varying kilometres, in all the three senatorial districts, that make up the state.
The Ogun State Waste Management Authority (OGWAMA) has also been reinvigorated to serve a triple purpose of creating employment, generating revenue and ensuring a healthy environment for all.
A true leader is usually known in the way he reacts to challenges. It is in light of this that he encountered his biggest challenge since he assumed office on May 29, 2019 after Ogun State recorded the first index case of COVID-19 in the country as a 44-year-old Italian, who was a consultant to Lafarge Cement, arrived in Nigeria through the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos and was driven to Ewekoro Cement Company. An alert Prince Abiodun swung into action immediately, ensuring that the Italian was apprehended and transferred to the Infectious Diseases Hospital, Lagos where he was tested and confirmed positive for the virus.
However, the governor approved payment of N15,000 (representing 200% increase of the current hazard allowance) to be given as Special Covid-19 Hazard Allowance to all health workers in the state and local government service for the month of April 2020. He also approved payment of Special Risk Allowance to be given to all health workers directly managing COVID-19 patients at the isolation centers in the state per month until cessation of operations on COVID-19. In addition, the state floated a 300 percent increase in Group Insurance for the frontline health workers directly involved in the care of COVID-19 patients and the beneficiaries have been issued their electronic certificates.
With the foregoing, the governor has set a standard for other states in the management of health workers involved in the battle against COVID-19.
In the midst of the COVID-19 daunting challenge, however, it is worthy of note that the Ogun State government has not been deterred from prioritising capital spending on critical sectors such as agriculture, infrastructure and other projects that aim to enhance the lives of indigenes and residents in the state.
If this is put side by side the near comatose situation in many other states due to the stress accompanying COVID-19 pandemic, the Dapo Abiodun administration cannot but be scored a high mark as it enters its second year.
––Otegbeye writes from Ilaro, Ogun State.