It will be two decades of uninterrupted democratic governance in Nigeria in 2019 and being an election year, the electorate have yet another opportunity to perform their civic responsibility of voting for the candidates of their choice in the series of elections scheduled for February 2019. The exercise will cover elections into the office of the president and gubernatorial positions across the federation, including seats at both National and States Assemblies. Three of the States in Southwest Region – Oyo, Ogun and Lagos will have new Governors in May 29, 2019.
Though, the two gubernatorial candidates that recently won their elections in Ekiti and Osun States will be sworn-in before 2019 they will still be relatively new by the time others are sworn-in on May 29, 2019. It therefore will not be out of place to submit that the Region will be welcoming five new Governors.
There is no doubt that self-government has engendered a level of development and citizen involvement in the administration of the country notwithstanding its attendant shortcomings. Nigeria has not only had transfer of power from one government to another but has also transferred from one political party to another. The capacity of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to organize free, fair and credible election has also improved over time.
Moreover, in the course of these years, we have experienced a fair measure of economic successes and failures.
Though, our main source of revenue still remains proceeds from sales of crude oil, a scenario that meant we had failed to create a diversified economy thereby subjecting our economy to the vagaries of uncertainty.
The recent plummet in the price of crude oil led to severe fiscal crises, which rendered most States insolvent to the extent that they were unable to fulfill their financial obligations, which include payment of salaries and pensions. While some have sorted out the problem with budget support from the Federal Government through two rounds of bail out and the eventual increase in allocation to States through a surge in crude oil price, some are still unable to exit the financial doldrums.
In the course of these years of democratic governance, the six governments of the Southwest States also made a vital decision to further improve on their working relationships for the collective development and growth of the region. Hence, a technocratic institution, DAWN Commission, was set up in July 2013 to manage the regional development integration programmes of the region. While the idea of structured process of managing regional development integration is commendable, it must however be stated that the idea is not really nouveau based on the strong historical framework that delivered socio-economic development in the days of Chiefs Obafemi Awolowo, Ladoke Akintola and the technocratic support of Chief Simeon Adebo. The socio-economic achievements of that era in terms of quality education, healthcare and infrastructural landmarks that did not only impact lives of the inhabitants, but also made it the first in terms of so many development indicators in Nigeria.
The foregoing lent credence to the setting up of DAWN Commission, an institution created to promote regional cooperation and integration as a catalyst for development and facilitate sustainable working relationships among different governance stakeholders thereby making the region a preferred place to visit, live, work and invest.
Besides, studies have also shown the imperative of the bottom-up approach to development since the failure of the top-down approach that has been the lot of our pseudo-federal system where all States look to the central government for survival. It takes little reflection to see that a bottom-up growth trajectory will automatically engender cooperation and collaboration among the States in the different geopolitical zones of Nigeria. In fact, the examples of regional integration as a potent factor in economic successes abound across the globe; European Union (EU), Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and even regions within American federation like the Mid-Western States regional cooperation.
There are many benefits that can accrue to Member-States within the framework of cooperation. For example; it promotes economies of scale that will assist States to reduce transactions cost and by implication, high cost of governance. Cooperation and integration also enable knowledge and experience sharing among member States thereby shortening the learning curve for innovations, which will improve governance outcomes.
It can also create opportunities for pursuing joint infrastructure that will aid seamless movement of people and goods within the Region, Ease-of-Doing business in the Region and deepen market for goods and services. Regional cooperation also puts the States in good stead to collectively negotiate for opportunities as a bloc as against individuals going it alone. And as a region seeking to be self-sustaining, the issue of resource mobilization through internally generated revenue can be enhanced by harmonization of taxes and levies within the region.
Heterogeneous taxes and levies enable tax evasion and tax avoidance. Without harmonization, people and companies move from States with higher taxes to lower ones thereby reducing the tax bases of the affected States.
This article is meant to achieve two objectives; one is to nudge electorate in the Southwest region on the need to be mindful of candidates they will give the mandates to preside over the affairs of their States and those that will represent their interests at the National and State Assemblies.
Governance is serious business because it determines the rise and fall of a nation and the human condition of the citizens. Thus, the quality of minds to be handed the reins of leadership is of essence. The other objective is the need to put the incoming States’ helmsmen on notice on the need to continue from where the outgoing chief executives will stop on the regional development integration programme.
The region’s electorate have the responsibility of ensuring that the right set of leaders are put in office. Citizens must be sufficiently educated on the need to not allow undue sentiment to sway them into electing misfits in our communities to preside over our affairs but care must be taken to elect credible personalities who are intellectually sound and sufficiently imbued with the omoluabi ethos for which the people of the region are renowned. We owe our people and the generations unborn the duty to think about the development of the region over and above self-interest or pecuniary gains.
Though, the constitution only requires anyone seeking to occupy a political office to show evidence of being educated up to at least a school certificate level or its equivalent. While the writers of the constitution can be excused for that provision for such leadership positions, it goes without saying that we need to up our game and raise the stake for anyone seeking public office in the region, especially as it concerns demonstrated leadership qualities. Aside our early exposure to western education, our forebears that occupied those exalted positions were known to be widely read and great thinkers who commanded the respect of their contemporaries.
Public governance in the globalized world of today requires sound intellectual foundation. A contemporary public administrator must have sufficient grasp of issues and an exceptional ability to diagnose problems and reach out to the depth of his/her knowledge base to prescribe solutions to enormous challenges militating against the well-being of citizens. Hence, anyone aspiring to public leadership in Nigeria of today must be an embodiment of good education, exposure and native intelligence, otherwise the individual will struggle to discharge the responsibilities expected of the office.
This would not have been an issue in the Southwest based on our glorious history but the reality of present day politics makes this an imperative - a situation where the democratic space has been so deregulated to the extent that anyone with money but without the requisite leadership skills begins to aspire to occupy the governance stools, continues to threaten and invariably affect the trajectory of our development as a region. While anyone is constitutionally eligible to stand for election, the people of the region must be very circumspect in exercising their right. Candidates seeking public offices in the region should be conscientiously considered before being voted for. Our future and that of our children depend on the quality of minds that are elected to coordinate the affairs of the States in our Region.
Meanwhile, the search for quality minds to occupy front-line governance positions would not be peculiar to the region going by what is now becoming the trend in other parts of the country. A cursory scan of States in other regions across the country will confirm this assertion. The relevance of Plato’s postulation as to the need for philosopher-kings to administer society is more apt now than ever. If we take a journey round the States in the country, one would observe that lucid minds are now being put forward for leadership positions. For instance, Governor Ben Ayade of Cross Rivers State and his Deputy, Ivara Esu, are professors of note while Willie Obiano, a respectable banker, holds sway in Anambra State.
The administrative capacity of Mallam El-Rufai has never been in doubt. In Kano, Governor Abdullahi Ganduje has a Ph.D in Public Administration, his erstwhile Deputy Hafiz Abubakar is a professor of Biochemistry, while his new Deputy, Hon. Nasir Gawuna is a PhD holder too. Sokoto and Gombe States are being governed by a successful lawyer and a chartered accountant respectively. We therefore as a region cannot afford to drop from the present level of governance in the region but rather aspire to take some notches up.
However, we must constantly remind ourselves of the pacesetter status of the region in public governance and the need to sustain this enviable position by continually raising the bar for anyone seeking public office. The truth is, our development standing is being challenged on many fronts by other regions of the country. Our claim to first in Education, Health, Food Security, Financial Self-Sufficiency seems not to be the reality again if the available data is anything to go by. Our leaders must be ready to apply every sinew of fibre of their intellect to ensure that where the region has slipped or lagged we quickly reclaim our pride of place. And this has to start with the quality of people that will be put in office to administer the States from May 29, 2019. Self-interest and unhealthy sentiment must be subdued when leaders are being elected. In recruitment for leadership offices, great consideration must be given to capacity, competence and character.
The region’s electorate must be reminded of how the incredible leadership qualities of our past leaders like Chief Obafemi Awolowo and his successor in office, Chief SLA Akintola, made the region a go-to-place in the days of yore. This should remain the reference point for subsequent leadership recruitment in the region. These two leaders would probably not have achieved the level of success under their watch if not for the medley of good education, exposure and native intelligence that they were made of and also enabled them to choose very competent aides together with whom they drove development in the region.
We must also know that the Region does not have the right to remain number one in any sector. If we are to remain at the top, we must prove ourselves worthy by employing the services of quality minds in all sectors of governance.
Another issue of note as we approach another transition is the need for the incoming chief executives to sustain the existing cooperation and collaboration among the six States. As mentioned earlier, the inherent benefits in regional cooperation and development integration cannot be gainsaid.
In the five years of existence of Development Agenda for Western Nigeria (DAWN) Commission, the technocratic institution set up to manage the regional development integration programme of the six Southwest States, the governors have been so supportive of the Commission in its drive to engender cooperation and integration as a catalyst for regional development.
DAWN Commission, serving as the secretariat of the Western Region Governors’ Forum, facilitates periodic meeting of the governors where issues of policy and programme with resonance are discussed. One of the flagships policy issues that have headlined the Forum is the Rice Accelerated Programme for Integrated Development (Western RAPID).
In the Memorandum of Understanding that was signed between Lagos States and Oyo, Osun, Ondo and Ekiti States, Lagos will provide funds while other States will make land available for rice farming. Lagos will also serve as the off-takers of the produce for processing at her rice mill. Beside the objective of making the region rice sufficient, it will also generate direct and indirect job opportunity for the people. In the words of Governor Akinwunmi Ambode, “the state required 32000 hectares of land for paddy cultivation and in the interest of Regional integration, the project would be beneficial to all the states in the South West. Lagos State is to serve as the ‘off-taker’ while the remaining five states will use their people and farmers to cultivate the land thereby creating employment and wealth across the Region.”
Another laudable resolution at the Governors Forum edition held in Ogun States in July 2017 was the commissioning of DAWN Commission to come up with 25-year development masterplan for the region. The Commission, in collaboration with the Ministry of Economic Planning and Budget in the six States has put together the framework for the development of the plan.
Recently, the Commission facilitated a discussion on the care for the elderly now that it is obvious the population of that age group is rising and we have come up with a template that will soon give birth to a regional policy on care for the elderly.
Similarly, in pursuit of regional integration and cooperation, the Commission, with support from Lagos State Government successfully organised an inter-States sports competition for the region’s secondary school students in 2015. The Commission also worked with the Western Nigeria Football Federation (WNFF) to organise a pre-season tournament for football clubs located within the region. Both organisations are currently putting together another youth focused football tournament tagged Governors’ Cup.
The Commission also facilitates learning and experience sharing among government officials in the six States. This has been of immense benefits because it affords them the opportunity to share experiences, learning and replicate some outstanding governance initiatives while also synergising for effective and efficient implementation of programmes and projects. This, in our opinion, has tendency to replicate developmental ideas across the region and help the States to have effective utilization of resources.
To lend credence to the regional approach to development conversations, a number of organisations, both local and foreign, have been partnering with the Commission. They prefer to leverage on the regional platform to engage the States as against engaging States on individual basis. The Commission has working relationships with United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID), World Bank, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Japan International Cooperation Agency(JICA), Odu’a Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (ODUACCIMMA), Manufacturing Association of Nigeria(MAN) Southwest Region Chapter, to mention but a few.
For instance, DFID funded Public Sector Governance and Accountability programme, Partnership to Engage, Reform and Learn (PERL) that operates in three regions of Southwest, Southeast and Northeast and three States in the Northwest region of Nigeria, has DAWN Commission as its major partner in the region. The programme interventions in the States are being driven by DAWN Commission.
The programme has been running for the past two years and DAWN Commission was supported by PERL to organise Southwest Governance Innovations Conference in 2017. The Conference afforded the States the opportunity to showcase outstanding governance reforms and innovations that can be replicated by others while also creating a platform to discuss governance issues around Education, Agriculture, Ease-of-Doing Business and reform coordinating structure. The outcomes of these conversations led to the Development of the Southwest Programme Document on Public Service Delivery, which details regional aspirations across key service delivery areas in the short, medium and long term.
The programme, through the Commission, is currently supporting the governments of the region in different areas of governance to improve capacity for effective delivery of public goods.
The Commission has also worked with the World Bank to organize workshop on Urbanization and Economic Corridor Development for stakeholders in the Southwest region. A scoping study on Lagos-Ibadan (LIXI) business corridor was also undertaken by both organisations. While UNICEF is also considering adopting a regional approach to some of their intervention in the region using DAWN Commission’s platform.
It is also expected that the under construction Lagos-Ibadan rail line will fast-track the economic integration of the region because it will further enhance seamless movement of people and goods across the region, particularly perishable farm produce that are albatross to breakthrough of farmers. We are not also oblivious of the efforts currently being made by Ondo State Government to connect its coastal communities to Lagos through the construction of 51 kilometer Araromi-Akodo/Ibeju-Lekki road. This also the potency to further engender economic integration of the region and raise productivity and invariably improve standard of living of the people.
These and many more underscore the need for regional cooperation and collaboration for optimal utilization of resources. We therefore hope that those who will have the responsibility of governing the States of the region from May 29, 2019 will sustain the cooperating and collaborating spirit of the current set of Governors.
DAWN Commission is an apolitical institution. Its mandate is to manage the regional development integration programme of the States in Southwest region. It mainstreams, midwifes and monitors development conversations within the region.
Thus, we expect the incoming chief executives to continue in the tradition of cooperation and collaboration that currently obtains and to also view DAWN Commission as an organization that can sustain the progress that has been made.
I will end the essay with an excerpt from a lecture delivered by Dr. Kayode Fayemi at Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) in March of 2014; “Regional integration is an eminently sensible course of action. Socio-culturally, the Southwest is homogenous. Ecologically, is characterized by lush vegetation and fertile soil. But the most compelling reason for integration is provided by economic geography. We must understand that the lines that demarcate the Region into States are cartographical marks laid down for administrative convenience. In real terms, they are imaginary.
In this respect, we share a common destiny. To a great extent, the social and economic challenges that we face are the same.”
I therefore enjoin us to give consideration to all the above as we approach another transition in 2019.