Seye Oyeleye is Director General of Development Agenda for Western Nigeria (DAWN), the organisation coordinating integrated development among the six Southwest states. In this interview with SEYE OLUMIDE, he speaks on issues of Southwest development, as well as why states’ governors should focus on regional integration.
• Southwest Govs Should Separate Infrastructure From Social Development
• COVID-19 Pandemic Affected Amotekun Timetable
What is DAWN doing to reclaim the glory of Southwest in the golden era of First Republic when it was Western Region?
As you rightly said, Western Nigeria used to be a single entity up until 1966 and 1967, when the decadence started. By the time we got to 1976, we started separating states unlike when we were a single entity with parliamentary system of government. That was a regional type of government and if you recollect, in those days, power was centered more at the region than at the federal level.
Yes, we had a Prime Minister, but the regions had a lot of lacuna, a lot of powers that subsequent creation of states took away to the federal. And so, today we have a very long list of exclusive reserves of the Federal Government and a shorter list of what we call concurrent, which is what states and the federal can exercise power over.
Now, with all due respect, some will say what is not broken you don’t fix. So, we can argue that when we had regions, probably Nigeria was effectively administered in a better fashion, because there was regional rivalry. But the argument of those who broke the regions into smaller states was to take care of the minority groups and also to fast track development. They felt that the more states they created, the faster the development of the country. But since 1967, that’s 53 years ago, can we indeed say that development has been faster?
Yes, we can say that today we have 36 states; I try not to equate development to infrastructure, because some think when you build a road that is development. Of course, that may be part of it because it enhances economic activities. But let’s look at it from this angle, in 53 years, when we started balkanizing the regions into smaller states, has the poverty level decreased or increased?
Are the smaller states that we have today self-sufficient? When we were breaking these states initially we had 12 states and later to 18 and then increased to 36, the driving force behind it was the abundant oil money. States were created and all will go to the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja to collect money to develop their states.
But in creating states, one would have thought that efforts should have been made on how to develop the states to be self-sufficient. If the states are self-sufficient probably we would have had faster development. There would have been more people lifted out of poverty, there would have been more social development as opposed to just infrastructure development.
It is important to separate the building of infrastructure from the real social development. When you talk of social development we are looking at as our population keeps growing, how many people are we talking out of poverty?
Today, they say Nigeria is the poverty capital of the world due to the number of poor people. What is the population of out of school children? With the creation of states, had it been the states are self-sufficient and not merely relying on just oil money, maybe it would have been slightly different.
Coming back to Western Nigeria, when it was a single region, a lot of our resources stayed with us and by that we had enough money to drive development. There was free health, free education a lot of things were put in place to transform the region. But when we broke into six states; I won’t say that it slowed development, but it brought extra pressure on the smaller states, because all we did was the single revenue that we all shared among six states are now trying to get a piece from the pie.
Subsequently, the governors in these states had to put on their financial engineering cap of how to survive. In a nutshell, we then say that the states are only able to do as much as the revenue that they can access.
During the 60s when we had regions, the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo had access to funds and they only remitted certain percentage to the Federal Government. But today, the bulk of the revenue sits with the federal, then the states got about 24 percent and the local governments get certain percent. Yet our population has exploded.
With the population explosion and the little revenue, development has not been at the pace that one expected.
If we had followed the trajectory started in the 1950s and 1960s, I am not sure we would be talking of out-of-school children in the Southwest today. Here is a region that introduced free education in 1955, so why are we talking of out-of-school children in 2020, as an example. Development is slow, because the resources available to states are limited.
You can argue about the IGR (Internally Generated Revenue), but how much does each state generate? In a state that is poor or where the citizens are poor, there is not much you can generate in IGR. I have been to a lot of fora where they say the states can do a lot more because there is a lot of people to generate IGR.
But I am saying, how much could you generate as IGR from a man who struggles to put together N1000 per day? Basically from the states, development has been as far as their purse has enabled them. It could have been a lot more, but for the situation we found ourselves, governments do not encourage the development that we desire but we will still get there.
There is the notion that current political leaders in Southwest place more emphasis on politics than governance and that they lack commitment to developing the zone unlike previous leaders. What is your take on that?
I will disagree on that as much as possible in the Southwest, because that is my area of interest. The region has over the years produced leaders who actually meant well and still mean well for their people.
For instance, in my position as the DG of DAWN, I have sat with some of the state governors who have grand ideas of what they want to do in their states. But, if you have plans to do something worth N1, 000 and all that you can access is N300, then you will look like a failure when you cannot execute some of those things.
I will actually say that some of the leaders in the Southwest over 40 to 50 years, including some of the military administrators cannot be accused of not having the interest of the people at heart. It is just that the situation is beyond their control. It’s not for want of trying, but I still go back to the fact that; yes, we might have had the odd ones, who may be just an accidental leaders, but the vast majority of them came in with ideas of what to implement.
But some of them get into office to later realise that by the time they pay staff salary there is hardly anything left for anything else. Some will say let him generate IGR, but how much can they generate? So, I don’t want us to blame or just pin down the leaders and say it is because they place politics above governance or they are inefficient.
I remember telling a governor sometime last year that after seeing the challenges he was facing I kept telling myself who wants to be a governor at such a time, because you will sleep and wake up thinking you have 100 roads to open up and rehabilitate, but where does the money come from?
Some people blame the governors for putting their states in debt but as long as the debts are not used for current expenditure like paying salary, it is not a bad one. I know some states in the Southwest that went into debt purely for much needed infrastructure.
For instance, look at the Federal Government, it approached China to get infrastructural loans and as an example, it is building rail from Lagos to Ibadan with Chinese loan. If they say they want to wait till they have the funds, by the time they get the funds, the cost of doing the rail might have tripled.
So, if you have access to cheap capital, go ahead and use it. Narrowing it back to the Southwest, the governors and political leaders we’ve had over the years, in my own opinion, have tried to be financial engineers. Majority of the governors came in with plans.
Some tried to perform and somehow were hampered due to the enormity of challenges they met on ground. We have little to deal with the large population, but the good thing is that some of these governors have put on their creative caps and are now focusing on infrastructure that would boost social development.
So, you find some of the governors focusing on agriculture as an example. They cannot just be building roads, but such roads must be of economic value.
We have some of the best brains as governors today, they are successful in their private businesses before becoming governors, but it is unfortunate that governance today is extremely challenging.
Could it be said that the system of government in place is hampering development of the Southwest and not necessarily the quality of leaders?
That question can take me an hour to answer. Nigeria has 440 ethnic groups or more. The 1999 Constitution was drawn up with the supervision of the military. I disagreed that the military wrote the constitution. It was civilians that wrote it under military supervision. The guidelines given to those who wrote the constitution was based on the military mentality, command and control. So, we have a country that in name is a Federal Republic of Nigeria, but in deed, we have more of a unitary state.
I said earlier that a lot of things are on the exclusive list and I will tell you; we have a constitution that says a road that passes within my city is a federal road. Former governor of Lagos State, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, said he has not seen federal people before; all he saw were human beings.
So, a bad road in my city I can’t repair because it is a federal road or if I want to fix it, the federal will ask me not to, as they said recently. If my road is bad and the Federal Government has 36 states or whatever to cater for, the bad road, which is tagged a federal road in my city, is not a federal government priority.
I will give you an example. In Oyo State, if you finish the Lagos – Ibadan Expressway, coming from the Lagos tollgate to Iwo Road, a major commercial road now in Ibadan, but it is in a deplorable state. If that road wasn’t a federal road I am sure governors would have fixed the road, but the Federal Government was saying it belongs to it, based on the constitution we operate.
Another example: Today, if Western Nigeria wants to have its own railway that connects the six states it is possible. A study by DAWN commission shows that the day we have a rail that links the region together properly, people can commune from Ibadan to Ekiti to work and go back safely. The farmer in Oshogbo can get his goods to Lagos easily. Experts say a rail that connect these six states will raise the GDP by another 55 per cent, because of free and easy movement of goods and labour.
Then it will also stem rural to urban migration, because the man will prefer to live in Ipetu Ijesha and work in Ibadan, finish for the day and then go back. The entire Southwest hub by rail going by that plan may total about 730 kilometers. It is not that it can’t be done and not a rocket science to build rail, but there is that 1955 Railway Act that vests railway solely in the hands of the Federal Government.
People may say the state can do it, but if the states approach the banks for loan to construct rail, no bank will listen to them because the banks know that states do not have the authority to build rail.
We have a constitution that says Ondo, Oyo, Ogun and Osun cannot do interstate rail because it is federal. How then do we develop? The Value Added Tax (VAT) we collect in the South is by far the highest, but we have a constitution that says that we must take the VAT to one central pot in Abuja and they share it.
The logicality of that is this; southwest do not have religious laws but there are religious laws that forbid consumption of alcohol in the north, yet we all share from the VAT collected on alcohol.
One would have thought that any state that does not allow the sale and consumption of alcohol should decline its share of VAT collected on alcohol. That is the federal constitution we operate, which we believe that it is anti-development. I intentionally used the rail example because why should someone be living in Ife in Osun State as an example and cannot go and work in Ekiti or Lagos in the 21st Century?
It is not that we don’t have the ideas of interstate transportation, rail, but they are hampered by the constitution, which says this is exclusive list. Look at our educational policy. There are areas the region can easily focus on, but again education is not only on the concurrent list, but also among the things the Federal Government has to regulate. What I am saying is as long as we are operating a constitution that puts so much power at the centre, forgetting that our challenges are different, we cannot have a one-side-fix all system.
The moment you are trying to impose such system it won’t work. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying we should go back to regional government, but what I am advocating is that we need a totally devolved constitution. So many things on the exclusive list should not be there. It should come back to the state.
For example, a lot of criminality could be solved with policing from bottom up, which means community policing. The Southwest governors decided that insecurity was rising and came together to have a security outfit to also complement the efforts of the police, but a lot of people in Abuja raised issues, saying it was illegal.
Nigeria is the only federal country in the world that has this large population and operating a single police force. It cannot work; 200 million people with 450 thousand police men; how does that work? The U.K has less than 70 million in population, but with several police departments.
When people talk about restructuring, I am 100 per cent for it. There is need for total restructuring of the way we govern ourselves, because if we don’t, that which we fear will one day consume us.
Many observers doubt the sincerity of some key southwest political actors over the agitation for restructuring, as was seen when Amotekun was launched …
Going by Yoruba history, we are known to be extremely democratic people. The Yoruba are not known to just follow the same order. Opposing voices have always been permitted and tolerated. If you look at our democratic history, we don’t usually all go in the same direction, even at the height of the powers of the late Premier of the Western Region, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, he had a lot of opposition. He governed from Ibadan, but he lost elections in Ibadan, when the likes of the late Adelabu were still strong. Our tradition as Yoruba is that not everybody goes the same way.
On the security issue, with Amotekun as an example, we all agreed we were going to have a security outfit for the region and worked assiduously towards its launch; bought vehicles and appointed commandants. But, in the tradition of the Yoruba, there were slight variations among the states. The goal remained the same, it was not that any governor chickened out, saying I am not going to do Amotekun or he is not part of the Western Nigerian.
At the end of the day, the governors know they are part of a unit. Southwest or Western Nigeria, as I prefer to call it, is a single unit of six states. We have the artificial state boundaries, but we have same language and same culture.
Our challenges are the same, the approach to them might be slightly different, but it is still the same goal that we want to achieve. I have been asked severally whether the governors are trying to back out of Amotekun and I said no. Recently, some of the governors started appointing commandants for the states to supervise the operations of Amotekun. In fact, the only reason, and I say this clearly because it is what I know; the only reason you have not seen Amotekun vehicles around is because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which put a stop to the timetable.
The new security initiative was launched in January, but the plan was that between February and March the recruitment into Amotekun will take place and by April, the training will start.
All the parameters have been put in place on how the recruitment and training will go, but suddenly the pandemic came in March and we could not associate large numbers of people and a lot of things had to be put on hold.
One thing that DAWN emphasised to the state is that the training of Amotekun corps member must be uniform and be of the highest standard, so that the mistakes of the past and or of the existing security method will not be repeated.
For example, part of the training manual, which was put together by experts, include what we call the Omoluabi training, so that anyone recruited into Amotekun will go through that Omoluabi training as well, this is apart from the intelligent and physical training. The Omoluabi aspect is an essential part that would tell the Amotekun corps that this is why he or she has been recruited to do this job. Don’t forget, because it is community policing, the recruiting would be done from individual states. They will know the background of the corps and their other details.
I think by September most of the states would have completed the training. On this issue I can say the six governors set politics aside and the joy of having a commission like DAWN is because we don’t do politics and all the governors irrespective of their political affiliation easily connect. They know our objectives are to drive development.
For example, it is in the interest of Lagos State for other Southwest states to be prosperous despite the fact that Lagos is the most economically viable in the region. This is because the more other Southwest states are prosperous the less pressure on Lagos.
What other ways could Southwest initiate separate economic and social restructuring instead of this endless agitation?
You are very right about integrated road projects. And one of the things we have advocated at DAWN even to the states is, please forget this entire federal thing and look at the inroads that connect the six states.
We admonished they should focus on the development of such roads. For example, under the government of former Governor Rauf Aregbesola, Osun State started a road from a town called Ikoyi. That road from Ikoyi Town goes all the way to Ijebu Igbo in Ogun State, unfortunately, paucity of funds stalled the project from Osun.
The road is a major agriculture belt for Osun and Ogun, because it means that the farmer coming from Osun does not need to come into Ibadan to get to Lagos, he will just come out and cruise into Ikoyi and get into Ogun State. The road is about 50 kilometers. What we are hoping is that once Osun has the funds that road would receive priority attention. We are also emphasizing that priorities should be given to such roads. I am glad that Ogun State government is doing that now with the road from Epe in Lagos State to Ogun State. The Ogun axis is now being done because the past administration did the Epe side and finished it. So, there is now 14 kilometers stretch into Ogun.
Luckily Governor Dapo Abiodun flagged it off recently and they are working on it. Again, the road is also an agricultural belt. It also means that farmers coming from Oyo may not need to come through the Lagos Ibadan Expressway.