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Interrogating The Bisi Akande Phenomenon

Chief Adebisi Akande is one of Nigeria’s most prominent and highly revered politicians. He has been Deputy Governor of Oyo State, Governor of the State of Osun and at different times Chairman of four different political parties...

Book: The Bisi Akande Phenomenon? Governance, Economy and Politics (1999 – 2003)
Publishers: University of Lagos Press and Bookshop Ltd.,
Year: 2019
Pages: 238
Editors: Lai Olurode and Dhikhrullah Adewale Yagboyaju
Reviewer: Tunde Babawale

Chief Adebisi Akande is one of Nigeria’s most prominent and highly revered politicians. He has been Deputy Governor of Oyo State, Governor of the State of Osun and at different times Chairman of four different political parties notably the Alliance for Democracy (AD), Action Congress (AC), Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and the All Progressives Congress (APC). He has also been a Councillor in his Local Government and as far back as 1977, got elected into the Constituent Assembly. Although he was Governor for just one term, his tenure in office has remained a reference point in purposeful governance not just in the Southwest but in the country at large.

The book aptly titled, “The Bisi Akande Phenomenon”? chronicles the monumental achievements recorded by this great man within a short spell of time.This book edited by Professor Lai Olurode of the University of Lagos and Associate Professor Dhikhrullah Yagboyaju of the University of Ibadan is indeed a data-bank of the records of the innovative and impactful changes that Chief Bisi Akande brought into the political and administrative landscape of Osun.

What is of greater significance in the book is not just the richness of its content, but also the fluidity of the presentations put together in 10 chapters. The seven scholars that contributed chapters to the book present us with an X-ray of the unusual governance style of Chief Bisi Akande who in Chapter 8 has been rightly described as a “rebel” in Government House.

Although Chief Akande is a politician, he belongs to a different breed of Nigeria’s political class that sees politics not as an end in itself but a means of bringing the greatest good to the greater number of people in the society. His unusual type of politics has even earned him the label of an “Accidental Politician” (see p.188).

A transparent and unbelievably honest individual, Bisi Akande according to the authors, is no attention-seeker or political opportunist, but a dyed-in-the-wool Awoist who believes in pragmatic and visionary leadership as well as using politics to provide service to humanity.

His exemplary performance in office has been recommended to the nation’s politicians as a typical demonstration that in Nigeria, it is possible for politicians to place society above self.

The book divided into ten chapters opens with a foreword written by Prof. Olu R. Aina (OFR). Prof. Aina in the foreword details his relationship with Chief Akande and how Chief Akande was drafted by his party, Alliance for Democracy (AD), to become the Governor of Osun State, highlighting once again his selflessness and simplicity.

Chapter 1 written by Prof. Olurode introduces readers to the book and sets the pace for more interesting contributions that adorn subsequent chapters. In this chapter, Prof. Olurode takes us through the journey of how the idea of the book was conceived with the intention of throwing a spotlight on what appears like an isolated case of excellence in governance archetyped by the uncommon achievements of Chief Bisi Akande in government. Prof. Olurode and Dr. Yagboyaju assembled other scholars to look for a “success” story rather than the usual tales of failure that abound in our political environment.

Chapter 2 written by the same author provides the theoretical framework that guides our understanding of the concept “phenomenon” and explicates the policies and actions of Chief Bisi Akande in government that make him truly phenomenal.

In each of the chapters, the contributors to this book employed research questions and appropriate theoretical tools for their analyses and carried out survey that provided data used to draw empirical conclusions. Chapter 2 gave practical reasons to explain the Bisi Akande Phenomenon in government. These include his creation of what amounted to “pockets of efficiency in the midst of daunting decay” or” a pocket of ethical island in a sea of scoundrels” (Olurode, 2009).

Unlike many politicians in our clime, Chief Akande evinces the belief that governance is far more serious than politics. He was not one to abandon a policy because of second-term considerations, neither was he given to an ostentatious lifestyle in or outside government. He did not give recognition to the office of the first lady because of his belief that it is unconstitutional and quite uncharacteristic of our governments, he maintained a surplus budget throughout his tenure. Indeed, he managed the state’s resources so prudently that at the close of 2002, the state recorded a budget surplus of N510 million.(p.27).

Chapter 3 written by Dr. Yagboyaju discusses Governance and Politics under the Akande administration. It further reinforces the opinion that what stands Chief Akande out is the prioritisation of governance over politics as earlier suggested in Chapter 2. The chapter further discusses in detail Chief Akande’s political philosophy, which is drawn from Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s “democratic socialism”. The environment in which Chief Akande was born dictated the greatness that he now symbolizes. Born of poor parentage and trained first as a teacher and later an accountant, he was imbued with the principle of honesty and love for the poor.

His philosophy is “encapsulated in the principles of humanism – others before self and progressive politics” (Oyeweso, 2011). Part of his philosophy is to dispense justice, be fair to all and do what is right at all times. According to him, in taking critical decisions he always asked himself the question ‘Kiloto’ (meaning what is right) and ‘Kilogba’ (meaning what is expedient). He said he often chose to be on the side of ‘Kiloto’. (What is right). Chief Akande’s philosophy has inculcated in him a frugal life-style that he brought to bear on the administration of the state of Osun between 1999 and 2003. He implemented the four cardinal programmes of his party, the Alliance for Democracy (AD) without borrowing a dime throughout his tenure. It was prudent spending that made him to implement successfully his party’s programmes of free and qualitative education at all levels, free medical services for all, maximum and integrated rural development and full and gainful employment for all.

When Chief Akande assumed office, he inherited a debt of over N2 billion but left no debt for his successor. Within the first two years of his administration, he built classrooms, established new science schools and several technical colleges. This very book has documented the numerous achievements of Chief Akande in government, which stand him out as an indomitable spirit, a bold and courageous leader and above all a humanist per excellence. By the end of his tenure, the administration had completed and commissioned over 2,000 projects which included roads, hospitals, schools, rural housing as well as electricity and water supply.(p.26).

He taught us a lesson in prudence during his tenure as Governor when he reportedly received the sum of N1.5million from the Federal Government through the Universal Basic Education Commission to construct one classroom while Chief Akande chose to use the same amount to construct three classrooms without mortgaging standards. Another typical example is the case of the Ede water project which some of Chief Akande’s predecessors in office had earmarked for repairs (precisely desilting) at a staggering cost of $300million. Chief Akande at the end of the day completed the same repairs with a total sum of N74million, which was less than $1million at the time.

The Akande administration within its first two years established science secondary schools across the state, built 40 classrooms and rehabilitated many others. By the end of the 4th year, six schools of science had been established in addition to the existing 3, three Unity schools were also established in Osogbo, Ejigbo and Ikire, while seven technical colleges were established in addition to the existing two. In the health sector, essential drugs were provided in all government- owned hospitals across the state at a cost of N8million per month. By August 2001, the administration had established hospitals in Ikire, Ora, Ilobu, Esa Oke, Iragberi, Kuta and Ile-Ife while the hospital in Osogbo was upgraded from a 20-bed to a 60-bed hospital. Between 1999 and 2003, attendance of patients at the hospitals increased from 96,695 to 660,000. In the area of rural development, moribund water projects across the state were resuscitated while 90 deep wells and 276 boreholes were sunk. The government also completed the National Water Rehabilitation Projects at Ikirun/ Eko-Ende and the new Ede waterworks water project.

Chief Bisi Akande has shown us all that man’s legacy to mankind should not be in terms of what he is able to acquire in a material sense for himself but what you can give to your people and country. Chief Akande’s legendary prudence has been attested to by no less a personality than Ashiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu who once said:

Two traits marked out Chief Akande as Governor: frugality with government funds and putting others before self. This twin-quality came under his ascetic nature, which gives little or no room for waste or flagrant display of opulence (cited in Oyeweso, (2011)

The Jagaban is in a position to know. Chief Bisi Akande’s integrity and bluntness became so legendary that he was given several appellations by the people. The late Oluwo of Iwo, Oba Ashiru Tadese named him ‘Aiyekooto (people hate the truth) while some others named him ‘Otitokoro’ (meaning the truth is bitter).

Chapters 4 & 5 written by Ify Igbokwe and Adeniyi S. Basiru respectively, highlight the non-discriminatory nature of Chief Akande’s policies and programmes in the way they affected indigenes and non-indigenes in his state. At no time were non- Osun indigenes discriminated against in the implementation of all of his emancipatory policies and programmes.

The book focuses on his welfare programmes in chapter 5 showing that he embarked on the construction of rural houses for workers, teachers, health workers, etc. (building about 126 units in less than 4 years) while completing more than 300 kilometers of roads within the same period. Within four years, the Bisi Akande-led administration in Osun completed the construction of a state secretariat complex of 33 blocks at Abere in the state capital as well as a new Governor’s office named after Late Chief Bola Ige.

The Governor’s office, one of the best of its kind at the time, occupies about 97,600 square metres of land, with 560 office spaces and 167 toilets. The administration encouraged the use of local materials and largely used local contractors for virtually all the jobs it gave out. The new government secretariat was constructed at a relatively low cost of N3billion while the Governor’s office was built at a cost of less than N2billion. The construction of the secretariat made it possible for the state workforce to have offices they could call their own and also helped in saving for government about N400milion which it annually expended on rent paid by government agencies. In a bid to curb the usual sharp practices in contract awards, Chief Akande ensured that contracts were awarded to contractors without paying them any mobilisation fees. This unique form of executing contracts enabled government to pay only for jobs that had been satisfactorily done.

Amidu T. Raheem in chapter six titled, Bisi Akande and the Limits of Ethical Governance, X-rays one of the legacies of Chief Akande, which is the Civil Service Reform. It was a conscious attempt to rebrand the Osun State Civil Service by creating new value system and work ethics, improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the Civil Servants in service delivery and reduce corruption by blocking all sources through which such sharp practices occur. (p. 134). Chief Akande himself diagnosed the afflictions of the Civil Service that he inherited as follows:
Instead of the traditional commitment to hardwork and dedication to duty, Civil Servants have become desperate favour seekers, unrepentant petition writers and blackmailers. The oath of secrecy is thrown to the winds and photocopies of sensitive, classified documents can be seen in the hands of groundnut sellers. (p. 137)

Consequently, Chief Akande decided to right size the workforce and restructure the Civil Service. In all, over 3,000 workers lost their jobs in a gale of retrenchment that earned Chief Akande more enemies than friends. Although the book provides justification for this step in the light of the state’s dwindling resources and the bloated workforce, the jury is still out on whether the step taken was the best option available in the circumstance.

Clearly, this shows that Chief Bisi Akande in spite of his phenomenal achievements, legendary courage, simplicity, asceticism, frugality and transparency is human after all and is therefore not infallible.

Chapter 7 written by Aituaje I. Pogoson and Moses U. Saleh discusses Gender Issues and Governance in Osun State, 1999 – 2003. It raises theoretical posers about gender issues and democratic governance. It states that democracy that fails to address gender concerns is but an empty shell. The authors insist that women representation in the Akande-led administration was grossly inadequate, with only one female Commissioner in a cabinet of 10 members. They also linked the non-recognition of the office of the first lady to lack of sufficient gender sensitivity. However, the authors hold the view that government policies and programmes were non-discriminatory and benefited all citizens regardless of gender.

Chapter 8 presents Chief Bisi Akande as “a rebel in Government House”. It situates its analysis within the context of Nigerian politics characterized by what Peter Ekeh describes as the “two publics” as well as Richard Joseph’s “Prebendalism”. The authors, Azeez Olaniyan and Akeem Bello see Chief Akande as being a Nigerian politician of a different kind. He is presented as a man who did not play politics of expediency (even when second term election loomed). They identify what characterises him as a rebel, 5 to be : personal simplicity, straight talk and bluntness, abolition of the office of the first lady, rightsizing and downsizing of workforce, direct labour system, confrontation with the labour unions and traditional rulers and insistence on accountability and due process, refusal to favour his kinsmen and religious groups and insistence on party supremacy. (p. 181).

Chapters 9 and 10 written by the co-editors represent a befitting conclusion to this very seminal and highly readable book. The Chapters reveal that Chief Akande is a man more sinned against than a sinner. They revealed that his loyalty to his party and his belief in party supremacy was what made the composition of his cabinet so lopsided in terms of women representation.

The authors of the chapters reiterate Chief Akande’s glowing qualities – his humane and courteous disposition, his zero tolerance for opaqueness, his humility and personal distaste for abuse of trust. However, in chapter 10, the authors raised concerns about Chief Akande’s neutrality in the intra-party crisis that preceded the Governorship election in Osun in 2019, his unexplained silence on the crisis that trailed the July 2017 senatorial election within his party in the state, as well as his seeming “sommersault” on the vexed-issue of restructuring about which he had even written a book in the past.

As earlier stated in the foreword by Prof. Aina, the story in this book is not about a man who is infallible. It is about a man “who was willing to take responsibility for what he believed in and who worked hard to lead the kind of life that would make Osun State a better state than he met it” (p. x). Chief Akande may not be a perfect man, but he has emerged from this book as someone who having no need to fear man, has through an unflinching devotion to duty and translucent love of country, fostered happiness and the good life among his people.

The lesson for us all as the book clearly depicts, lies in the memorable words of Henry Longfellow who wrote in “The Reaper and the Flowers” that:Lives of great men remind us all we can make our lives sublime, And, departing, leave behind us footprints on the sands of time.

This book of ten well-written chapters is a must-read for all those interested in the study of Nigeria’s history, politics and governance especially in the 4th republic. It should be a companion for our politicians who will need to emulate Chief Akande’s modesty both in and out of office. They must strive to learn lessons about loyalty to party, loyalty to ideology and loyalty to the people.

Governors in particular, must learn from his belief in party supremacy as the best way to guarantee political stability. If the appropriate lessons are learnt, our politicians of the moment, cutting across political parties, must begin to revive the party system such that every individual, from the President to the Governor, would be subordinated to the authority of the party.

The structure for administering the political parties such as the National Executive Committees, National Working Committees and the Boards of Trustees must be given a kiss of life. It is only in this context that our democracy can survive.

Finally, I wish to propose that some of the chapters in the book should be merged to make the book more compact and avoid overlap. A situation where more than 3 chapters reproduce basically the same data on Chief Akande’s achievements, as presented on pages 90-92 and pages108-113, should be avoided.There is no doubt that this is a well-researched and well-written book that showcases a Nigerian with a difference, a phenomenal politician, a man of ebullient and impeccable character, a man of modesty, a man whose word is his honour, Chief Adebisi Akande.It is my hope that scholars, politicians, administrators and journalists would ultimately find this book to be a useful companion in their search for the Nigerian of our dream.
• Prof. Babawale is with Department of Political Science,University of Lagos, Akoka, Lagos.