By Razaq Elegbede
When Prince Dapo Abiodun assumed the mantle of leadership on May 29, 2019, as the fifth elected governor of Ogun State, he was greeted with a barrage of challenges ranging from non-payment of salaries and wages to workers, to demoralised workforce, unfavourable business policies, complaints over multiple taxation and academic industrial disputes, demolition of traders’ shops, among others. Written on the face of many concerned residents and indigenes was despair. The litany had all been, “they are still the same, no one is better than the other”. Forlorn hope resulting from the expression of failed leadership beclouded many people’s sense of judgement.
For years, the multiplier effects of the perfidy: deceit, pretence and lies that pervaded the air and also became customary was more pronounced in governance, with an attendant loss in trust and confidence. The March 9, 2019 governorship contest was a battle royale between the Iperu-born Prince Abiodun, and Adekunle Akinlade, the godson of the then outgoing governor. By and large, with these giant strides, one is tempted to commend the governor for running his government to the benefit of all and sundry.
As a marked departure from the old order, Abiodun changed the narrative. Armed with his development pillars, namely infrastructure development, social welfare and well-being, education and human capital, youth empowerment and agriculture and food security, and enablers, including governance and structure, enabling business environment, security, digital transformation, and finance, investment and economic planning, the governor didn’t betray the trust and confidence reposed in him in the first 100 days in office. He instilled confidence in citizens and residents as it quickly became clear that he was and is still up to the task ahead.
His first major pre-occupation was to better the lots of both civil and public servants, the engine room of the day-to-day business of governance. He made good his electoral promises. Workers are being paid their salaries before the last working day of the month. It is a social contract with the workforce, and with pensioners. Between January and June this year, the government paid N5.017 billion to no fewer than 12,191 pensioners under the non-contributory pension scheme. Whether anybody like his face or style of administration or not, Abiodun has left no one in doubt about his competence and capability.
He honed his skills in the private sector, a successful businessman versed in public-private partnership (PPP) initiatives. Abiodun is conscious of the benefits attached to the proximity of Ogun State to Lagos, the commercial nerve centre of the country and the fifth largest economy in Africa. He believes that if Lagos can be raking in nothing less than N32 billion as Internal Generated Revenue (IGR) on a monthly basis, Ogun State, if not on the same pedestal, should rank next. Unmistakably, the state government through the Ogun State Internal Revenue Service (OGIRS) has lived up to expectation. No doubt, considering the calibre of the new fiscal experts that have brought their expertise to bear in steering the ship, the service has risen to the occasion by employing moral suasion and blocking leakages in order to shore up the monthly revenue base of the state government.
Of late, in response to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Abiodun-led administration offered tax reliefs to players in both the informal and formal sectors. For example, to lessen the burden of the COVID-19 pandemic, the government granted the following reliefs: extension of the deadline for filing 2019 income tax returns by self-employed individuals and informal sector from March 31st to September 30th, 2020; filing a complete waiver of interest and penalty deadline; extension of filing of 2019 annual PAYE returns with a complete waiver of interest and penalty of same from January 31st to September 30th, 2020. Late remittance of monthly PAYE also enjoys this waiver; waiver of weekly tax for operators and promoters of pools and betting business from April 1st to June 30, 2020. Indeed, video conferencing has been adopted for tax audit reconciliation committee meetings.
It is a known fact that Governor Abiodun thinks outside the box, unlike some of his colleagues who are virtually dependent on the Federation Account and bank loans for survival. Abiodun believes in fostering the local economy. His major priority is in creating an enabling environment. How has he gone about that? He rolled out enablers to drive the economy. Road infrastructure takes the centre-stage, connecting rural roads to urban centres for easy movement of people, farm produce, goods and services to other locations. I recall his Thanksgiving speech, in response to the homily of the officiating Bishop at St Peter Cathedral Church (Anglican Communion), Ake, Abeokuta, the state capital, a year ago: “I want to assure you that we will complete all the ongoing projects, because you were very emphatic that, administrations come in and each one tends to abandon projects started by the previous administration. We will complete all the ongoing projects. We have identified what was largely responsible for the gaps between the government and the governed. We realised that what was common to our people was the decay in the rural and township road infrastructure. We have immediately commenced the enumeration of all the roads across the state that need repairs,” he had averred.
In the last 15 months in office, the administration has reconstructed and rehabilitated no fewer than 50 roads spread across the three senatorial districts in the state. A large proportion of these bad roads were inherited from the immediate past administration which initiated their construction, but subsequently abandoned them mid-way for no plausible reason. Yet, the former administration failed to complete the acclaimed “legacy projects” before leaving office on May 29, 2019, despite the much-touted mobilisation of the contractors by 100 per cent. The state government has spent a sum of N4.325 billion to reconstruct and rehabilitate 30 roads in the last six months, precisely between January and June this year. Notable among these is the 14.7-kilometre Ijebu-Ode/Epe road, which has become a veritable industrial corridor, as a result of the closeness to Lagos. The road that links the state with Lagos and the Eastern part of the country is designed to bolster the economic potentials of Ogun. While unveiling the project recently, Governor Abiodun had noted that the “corridor, no doubt, will be a big economic haven.” Others include the extension of Panseke-Adigbe road project linking Opako Bridge, within Abeokuta, the state capital. Engineers have begun the laying of stone base. This exercise followed the completion of the installation of utilities and relocation of power lines, amidst the reconstruction of a cumulative 1,150 metres of concrete drainage on the two sides of the road.
Contrary to the recent practice whereby Chinese contractors were hired to fix the roads, local engineers are engaged to undertake the reconstruction and rehabilitation of the access and connecting damaged roads. This is to prevent capital outflows, promote indigenous skills and provide job opportunities for the teeming young graduates in the state. Also, the reconstruction of the Abeokuta-Sagamu expressway is nearing completion. The reconstruction of the abandoned Agosasa-Odo Afa road in Ipokia Local Government Area of the state is underway. It began with the first phase which is focused on the Afa River: Temporary measures have been taken to ensure the road is motorable during this rainy season, pending its completion. Others are the reconstruction of the Owode-Ilaro road in Yewa South Local Government Area; the 4.65 kilometres Ojodu-Abiodun-Akute road in Ifo Local Government Area; the reconstruction of Oba Erinwole (ongoing) and Baruwa Street (completed), both in Sagamu town, Sagamu Local Government Area; the 4.7-kilometre Oru-Awa-Ilaporu road in Ijebu North Local Government which is 75 per cent completed; the 3 kilometres ongoing reconstruction of Awujale-Oke Aje-stadium road in Ijebu-Ode, Ijebu-Ode Local Government. Kuto Bridge’s scarification began on service lanes, slip road in Abeokuta. The median, kerbs and asphalt have been laid on the road to connect the NNPC flyover. The state government has commenced the scarification of the existing damaged asphalt on the service lanes, along Kuto Bridge. The exercise is being extended to connect the road between the Kuto Roundabout Bridge and the NNPC flyover which is already in use. This is being done preparatory to the laying of the new median kerbs, sub-base laterite course, stone-base course, spraying of NK1, and asphalt laying binder course. We also have Atan-Lusada-Agbara road, in Ado-Odo/OTA Local Government Area; Imowo-Ibadan road in Ijebu-Ode, Ijebu-Ode Local Government; Ilishan/Ago-Iwoye road, an access road linking the Olabisi Onabanjo University (OOU), Ago-Iwoye, in Ijebu North Local Government; Akute-Ishasi-Denro through Alagbole-Ajuwon road, in Ifo Local Government Area; Alagbole-Yakoyo, also in Ifo Local Government and a host of others.Other completed projects include the 7.2-kilometre bypass road, Fajol-American Junction-Gbonagun, in Abeokuta. The bypass that cuts across two local government areas, Abeokuta South and Odeda, had been a nightmare for residents, motorists, motorcycle operators and other road users for years.
Another is the 1.5-kilometre Asafa-Ayegun-Ojofa and the 1.3-kilometre Molipa-Fusijoye roads, both in Ijebu-Ode, Ijebu-Ode Local Government.
No section or zone is being neglected in the development plans. Abiodun has proved to be a true leader who believes in spreading growth and development across the state, regardless of which zone voted for him in the March 9, 2019 governorship election, religion, or political affinities. He has demonstrated his strong passion for even development, and this was reflected in the appointment of the staunch members of the opposition parties into boards, agencies and parastatals. Abiodun is in the mould of other progressive governors that are replicating developmental projects and programmes to touch and improve the living standards of the people. Of recent is the planned introduction of the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, a Lagos model, to ease movement of commuters in locations such as Ota, Mowe/Ibafo, and Lagos, and to encourage the use of public transport in the state. The development of the urban and rural transport system, it was gathered, is meant to make the state a high-quality environment.
Meanwhile, housing which is one of the cardinal enablers of accelerated development was given priority attention with the take-off of the building of 150 of the 400 housing units at Prince Court Estate, Kemta, Abeokuta, the state capital, while efforts are also in the pipeline to replicate same in the two other districts (Ogun West and Ogun East). The target is 2,000 housing units at affordable prices to the people of the state. Overall, the impetus put in place for accelerated industrial development and growth has started to pay off: scores of potential investors, almost on a daily basis, are thronging the state. The state has become an investment destination. Kudos to His Excellency (HE), Prince Dapo Abiodun, and his economic team led by Dapo Okubadejo, Commissioner for Finance, who is also the Chief Economic Adviser (CEA). The giant strides are aimed at making the state an industrial haven.
––Elegbede wrote from Igan Alade, Yewa North Local Government Area, Ogun State.