Mr Seye Oyeleye is the Director General of the Development Agenda for Western Nigeria DAWN Commission. In this interview with Victor Alagogooko, he enlightens us on the purpose and strides being achieved by the commission.
Ibcity Announcer: We have a brief about you but we would appreciate if you can give detail about your background and your journey to DAWN ?
DAWN DG: My name is Seye Oyeleye, I am the Director General of the DAWN commission. DAWN stands for Development Agenda for Western Nigeria. I have been in substantive capacity as DG since April 2018. Initially for about a year, I was Acting Director general following the death of the pioneer DG, Mr Dipo Famakinwa. So I was in acting capacity until substantive confirmation by the end of March at the Southwest governorship meeting held in Lagos. DAWN is a commission that was set up by the six (6) western states to midwife the integration process. The six southwestern states are Oyo, Ondo, Osun, Ekiti, Ogun and Lagos.
Ibcity Announcer: You mentioned Lagos state. Has Lagos State always been part of DAWN or just a new entrant?
DAWN DG: People tend to mix up the coming of Lagos State into Odu\’a with that of DAWN commission. When DAWN took off in 2013, Lagos was part of it from day one. Lagos only joined Odu\’a Investment this year when it was admitted officially, the process started last year. DAWN has had Lagos as a member from birth, Odu\’a has been in existence for over 40 years, but Lagos was never part of Odu\’a for reason best known to the political actors of the time although people tend to say that it is because Lagos was federal capital. But that does not remove the fact that Lagos is a Yoruba state. And also the battles that they fought probably since the 40\’s and 50\’s, During the time of Obafemi Awolowo when they struggled to make sure that Lagos remains part of Western Nigeria. I think the culmination of these struggles of 60 years now manifested when Lagos was formally admitted into Odu\’a Investment. It was indeed a no brainer. So DAWN commission which I head started with Lagos.
Ibcity Announcer: What, if any, is the relationship between DAWN and Odu\’a Investment?
DAWN DG: If you call Odu\’a the business arm of Western Nigeria , you call DAWN the technocratic thinking arm of Western Nigeria . Our job is to think, come up with critical ideas on how the business environment within Odu\’a and Western Nigeria can operate. So you find DAWN in areas like education, transportation, health etc. Our job is to come up with effective policies and hand it over to states on how they can run an effective government within the contest of the Nigerian federation. So we have young men and women who work in conjunction with experts in various sectors. For example, we work on a common education policy for Southwest Nigeria. The ideas come from DAWN. Once the ideas are accepted, it goes round the states, and luckily we have the machinery which is the civil service in the Six (6) states working together. Once something is given to the Governors, as recommendations, it titrates down through the six states and it becomes a policy.
Ibcity Announcer: Can you lead us through some of your achievements and Programmes?
DAWN DG: what we do here is to engender regional cooperation among the six states in the South west. Recently, the five other states signed a MoU with Lagos on Rice production. This was facilitated with the help of DAWN. Lagos has a rice production facility that they have invested millions of Naira on. But they don’t have lands for cultivation. We approached the five (5) states and suggested that Lagos leases the land, while the farmers work on the land to cultivate the rice while Lagos will be the market buying the rice.
So far Lagos has been able to obtain about 42, 000 hectares of land for rice production. So what it means is that the farmers in those states will become rich because once they plant the rice, there is a ready market to buy from them. That is regional cooperation in action, facilitated by what we do here.
At the moment too, we are at the final stages of coming up with a common education policy particularly in the curriculum of primary schools. Whereby what is being taught in Ekiti will be the same thing with what is being taught in Lagos or Ondo. What we do is to make sure that we have common position all the time and how to fast track development for the region.
More so , in the areas of transportation, we are looking at what we call Western region ambulance service. How can we have at least two or three ambulances in every Local Government in the region, so that if you need a ambulance and you pick up your phone, the ambulance is not far from you.
Our job is to design things like that so that the states can implement as a region.
Ibcity Announcer: Would that not be usurping the powers and initiatives of state governments?
DAWN DG: No, we have a region of 6 states where we are culturally the same, we speak the same language and our afflictions are also mostly the same. Take as an example, if you have in the six states a single number say, 888, that you can dial from any part of the south western region. Because we are contiguous, there are things that can be operated on what is called the economics of scale. The bigger, the better.
Ibcity Announcer: What purpose does this regional Integration serve?
DAWN DG: The world is moving towards synergizing efforts, the European Union is an example. They have noticed that there are so many things that can be done collaboratively. As opposed to a single state waiting to just buy ambulances for all, why not have a well run organization whose main purpose will be providing ambulances across the southwestern region. If you are in Ado Ekiti or in Okitipupa and needs an ambulance, you just dial 888 (for instance) you get access to it. This is because there is a single control centre that does everything. These are the little things that enhance social and human development. Bring health services closer to the people is not in conflict with what state are doing. It is more of complement
Another instance is the clamour for state police. One of the ideas being floated around is having a security trust fund that provides security in all southwest region. If you chase rubbers from Lagos, you chase them to Ogun, Ogun too will chase them to Oyo. But if you have an integrated security network, it solves a lot of problems. All you need to do is have your control centres in the states. In Europe, no matter how big it is, they have a system whereby if you commit a crime in London and run to Netherland, you will be caught. That is security. So working together fast tracks security growth and development which is our core interest and goal.
The good thing is other regions are trying to imitate our drive. Even other regions are coming to learn from us on how we operate. The south east governors are also thinking of having a integrated ring road which links the entire Southeastern states. Last year when they were going to start their own commission; something similar to what we have here they came around and spent five days to understudy what we do so as to replicate it in the south east. This shows that what we are doing is not alien
Ibcity Announcer: Many People are oblivious of your activities. What strategic impact on people’s lives can you say you have in five years of your existence?
DAWN DG: Prior to DAWN the six states were not having a relationship together, there was no avenue. It was the coming on board of DAWN that made them to start thinking of looking inwards and make them to start working together as Omo Yoruba. So Lagos as an example buys rice from Kebbi, thus creating rice millionaires from Kebbi state. Indeed we can also create rice millionaires in this region. So, it was the lot of DAWN to make the state come to an agreement that we can also leverage on that Lagos market by supplying rice. Lagos came around, through DAWN to acquire land through lease agreement, land in all the state. The southwest state governors may not all in the same party, but when it comes to issues of development and regional integration , partisanship are pushed aside, all they see is development of the region. That is why whenever we call meetings they do make sure to attend.
People may not have known us just like many other institutions in Nigeria, but that is because we are not politicians. What we do is intellectual work, a think-tank for the six states and the state are seeing the benefit, and there have been a lot of reforms going on in the civil service. Recently we pushed a memorandum to one of our governors who is a member of the police service commission in which we come up with a position on what we think should be the police of the future especially as it affect the region. That is our mandate from the governors; putting forth ideas that would be beneficial to the people of the south west states.
As part of our activities we also organize, Yoruba Historical Conversation, because part of our work has to do with culture and language. Now, we held about nine different editions going into the tenth one, where we engage historians to talk about the history of who we are. The tenth edition is coming soon. We also have a programme on radio which runs daily.
Thus, our job is to make sure that policies that come out of here is being implemented in the states, that is when we will know that DAWN is doing things.
Recently, we came up with the ‘Do cocoa strategy’ on our products can go to the next level. We have gone very far working with our partners. Submitted the memorandum to all the states particularly the cocoa producing states, of how we can regenerate our cocoa farms across the region. Once that one takes off, and we start selling our cocoa back to the international market like Ondo is doing at the moment that is another success story.
We have also been advising our governors, that when constructing roads, they should start thinking of roads that interlink with each other. These are roads that can enhance the economy if the states. When the Ondo state governor came here, the first major contract that he signed was the road linking Ondo State to Lagos. There is a place in Ondo state called Araromi. It is a 50km road from Araromi to Lekki. What it means is that in less than one hour, you can leave Ondo state and get to Lagos. Araromi has the longest beach front in Nigeria. But most people don’t know the place. With that road, a farmer, an exporter in Araromi or even someone that wants to site an industry and does not want to put it in Lagos can site an industry there knowing full well that in 40 or 50 minutes he can transport his goods from that road in Ondo state and get to Lagos, at Lekki seaport. That is what integration does, and that is what DAWN has been pushing.
There is also a road in Osun state that runs from Ikoyi to Ijebu-ode in Ogun State. That road, once it is complete will mean that those coming from Osun state for example don’t need to get to Ibadan before they get to Lagos, they would have to go through that road. So DAWN is trying to integrate the economies of the states. Ideas rule the world. Ours is to come up with ideas and the states implement the ideas. We are nothing without the States. Whatever ideas we come up with, if the states refuse to implement, then we do nothing. That is why I said the most important thing we have been able to achieve is the fact that we have gotten the states to agree to work together.
On the sporting scene, we are getting more and more involved in sports as well. Next year, we are going to have the DAWN games again in Lagos, the last one we had was in 2014. The DAWN games will involve all the secondary schools in the region competing in twelve different sports within duration of nine days. We are doing something too with the basket ball federation whereby we promised to even sponsor the construction of some basket ball court across some parts of Ondo and Oyo state as our own contribution to sports development.
This is besides our major focus of being a technocratic think tank for the states
Ibcity Announcer: Did you borrow a leaf from the Egbe Omo Oduduwa?
DAWN DG: Egbe Omo Oduduwa was a child of necessity. Before the advent of Egbe Omo Oduduwa, you could argue that the Yoruba race was in a state of flux, was floundering. We just came out from the hundred years war, where they sign the armistice at kirigi. There was no focal point to bring them (Yoruba nation) together. Though they were not fighting wars, they needed an organization that could speak for them. At that time, the likes of Nnamdi Azikiwe were already championing the cause of the Igbos apart from championing the cause for Nigeria. So the coming of Egbe Omo Oduduwa was timely, with a gathering of Yoruba people where we started seeing each other as one. We saw Oduduwa as our Progenitor. Gradually, it came back to several other things which finally gave birth to Action Group as a party.
The members, including the likes of Awolowo and Bode Thomas started the critical thinking for the Yoruba race, on how we can harness our potential to become a great race, a development which is like what DAWN is doing now. Those are the things that occupied the minds of the Awolowos of this world; gathering some of the best minds in Yoruba land together for the development of the region. It was the ideas that came out of the Egbe Omo Oduduwa that were adopted by the Party in Power then: The Action Group, a development that informed the takeoff of free education in the western region, the Cocoa House, the Premier Hotel, the TV station and other developmental projects embarked upon then which made the western region the shining light of the country.
The ideas that made these ‘states’ works as a region properly are some of the ideas that we are modifying for the present reality of the 21st century. The DAWN idea is not to scrap state and have one region. Far from it. The states are going to be there. Our job is to make the state work efficiently by collaborating in the areas where they can collaborate.
We must also understand that DAWN is not just for Yorubas, it is for the southwest Nigeria. Which means, all within the zone, irrespective of their tribes are beneficiaries of our ideas. If the southwestern Nigeria is developed and thriving, there will be more Dangotes and Jim Ovias who would come and invest in the Region. Ours is an inclusive agenda,. Not an exclusive agenda.
Ibcity Announcer: We recorded abysmal performances in the Education sector which would make Awolowo uncomfortable. In what way are you trying to stem this tide?
DAWN DG: We recently, had a round table on education. We brought together experts on education in Oshogbo where we fashioned out certain policies on how to reverse the downward spiral that we experience. One of the things the round table came about is the reversal of the Automatic Promotion policy. Since then we have seen parents take special interest in the education of their wards. This occasioned a growth in the education sector. We have also seen infrastructural development, for instance in the state of Osun, which has also boost their education system. People now take their children to public school because of the facilities available. I can assure you that there are many steps being taken by the various governors to enhance the motivation of both students and teachers in schools.
Ibcity Announcer: The southwest used to be an industrial hub in Nigeria, especially the indigenous Industries. In what way can you assist to bring back this glorious days of industrialization.
DAWN DG: What we are trying to do is to make sure that this region is conducive region to invest. In the past 7 years, 65% of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) has been in this region. Those are the types of industries that will then have a knock-on effect that will give birth to smaller medium size industries again. We use to be industrialist here. There was a time in Ibadan when we manufactured cars, assembled cars, there is a place called LEYLAND, we did batteries. If you need car windscreen– ISOGLASS was there in those days. But what happened, with SAP, under the Babangida regime everything died. But we will not fold our hands and complain and look up to other regions as they develop. We are now investing in technology and technical education. That is why Oyo state started the first technical university in Nigeria. The products from there are the ones that will work in all these industries coming back to the region. The knock-on effect will be us having appendage industries that will feed on to these Big industries. In growing the industrial sector, we will try to leverage on our strength. And we also complement each other and trade with each other. We can develop our food industry here such that if the East or the North needs food and drinks, they will come around for trade. Moreover, there is an industry just outside Ibadan (Olodo) where agricultural machinery are fabricated and He employs people and exports these fabricated items across Africa.
What we try to do is to as much as possible drive investment into this region, because the more investment we drive, the more technologically advanced we will become. It will be sad story if all these industries are being site outside the region. Volkswagen is trying to set up a bigger plant in Lagos. People will benefit from this. Leather producing industries will benefit from it and this will grow other sectors of the economy.