Sustainable economic integration of S’West region on course’
Dipo Famakinwa, Director-General of the Development Agenda for Western Nigeria (DAWN) Commission which was established in 2013 to promote socio-economic integration of the six Southwestern states of Nigeria, told IYABO LAWAL in this interview, how the body hopes to bring sustainable development to the zone.
Aims of the commission
Since the commission was set up, we have tried to create an institutional framework around our ambitions, which are very clear. We want the best as far as education and healthcare are concerned. We want the best infrastructure in the world and ensure that our region is attractive for investment so that we can have engaged people and citizenry, people who understand what development is about and ready to make their own contributions. We want our cities to become more optimal and our economy to become more competitive.
Our own is to build an institutional framework and ensure that those ambitions are realized. And how have we done that? First is to realize the fact that the states hitherto used to think as an individual state but we needed to create a collaborative work whereby the states begin to have engagement and interaction among themselves, begin to see what they can copy from one another, what they can also learn from one another, and begin to identify the common challenges and create common solutions, identify the common problems and see how they can solve them.
Beyond that we have also recognized the fact that if you want to move forward you have to create strategic plans of actions. The commission, for instance, has helped in creating a regional plan of action for economic competitiveness, in general planning, for security, law and order.
It is the regional line of action for the creative economy, which we consider to be a very critical component of our developmental progress.
The regional plan of action for the development of tourism and so many areas where we have tried to create strategic line of action.
Out of what we have done also is to ensure that we recognize the civil service as a critical development institution. The seventh summit of the heads of service held in Lagos around February was a very successful one. Part of the resolutions of the summit is that we need to begin to see how we can create a regional framework for building the capability of our civil service.
We have a lot to look back to. So, clearly talking about the civil service, there were talks on how we can try to create a better civil service. So, those are the kinds of things going on and we are proud to say we have been a very good facilitator in ensuring that those things happen.
One of the challenges we face is the political environment. There are lots of activities in the political environment that if we are not careful, will impede our development process. We need to manage our political environment to achieve anything. The Nigerian environment is highly politicized. You find a lot of things that should not have political or partisan consideration suffering that fate. We need to ensure that the political environment enables development.
Again, in the Southwest, especially when you are working with a government that does not belong to the same political party, creating conversations can be a little bit more difficult. But, we have not allowed that to affect what we are doing. In cases where there are occasions for us to move together on certain actions, that is what has been the big issue for us. For example, all the states have participated in all the actions we have taken on development and cultural tourisms in the region. All the states have participated in the civil service summit. This has held twice.
In agriculture, we had a meeting with the Federal Ministry of Agriculture last year to present ourselves as a regional block; all the states participated in the conversations and the actions that followed. What we tried to do is to not only create conversations, but also dialogues and then we build collaborative actions from the issues that arise from the deliberations. Also for instance, there was a game competition organized for secondary schools in the region, all the states participated, especially in the discussion that led to the hosting of the games in Lagos. Quite a number of those issues have happened, but of course we will expect that the political environment enable development more than it currently does.
Funding is also an issue; we are not able to get the required level of funding that we need. So, it is a long battle for us to win. Because our legitimate source of funding are the governments, If our states are bleeding, it will be difficult for us to have the sustainable level of funding that we require.
That is an issue for us. Though we are also working on a lot of strategy to create sustainability for ourselves, in which case we can look at alternative sources of funding. Part of the challenge we have is that our people also are disengaged from the development projects.
We need to take the development to them. The masses are too busy trying to survive. The middle class people are trying to consolidate, not to drop lower. Everyone is busy. So, we need to ensure that everyone comes on board for the development project; we need to take it to them. How we are doing that is to create levels of consultations across stakeholders, we cannot succeed without the people behind us.
Involving the people
We take advantage of the Ministry of Information to get our message to the people. We can do more, this is one of the reasons why I am talking to you. We need all the help that we can get. We are communicating this to our people. One of the programs we have in view is “Pagede Agbajo Owo”, which is a grassroots oriented program where we intend to bring all our people across the region, especially grassroots people, and have an ongoing engagement on the development agenda of the Western Nigeria. We expect to do it now that the election is over. Hopefully, from that, we will have more success to ensure that what we are doing gets to the grassroots.
Focus on the economy
We want to build a young agropreneurs community in the West. We have recognized the fact that young people are abandoning agriculture but we have seen some success stories in terms of young people involved in agriculture and doing well in it. Some of our states have interesting programs for some of our young people in agriculture. I know about the WICARD in Ekiti State and the young agropreneurs in Lagos which is situated in Epe. I know about the one in Ore. I also know Oyo State has one.
So, we want to create a regional young agropreneurs community. We also want to create a community for the creative industry, southwest creative community. We are looking at a community generating a lot of start-up business i.e a start-up business community. We are also considering private sector communities. Part of our plan is to see how we can build communities around these strategic points of our society where development is happening. Part of what we want to do is to engage the policy environment development. And like I said earlier, unless the political environment is better, we cannot do much.
We are looking at areas of disaster management. We want to create an environment where there is a regional point of disaster management, a regional framework for Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) development. These are things we can do even within the current political environment. The actions are continuing and when the right time comes we will implement
We have been getting help from the governments and I must say it is very robust. They are giving us full convening powers. They are giving us rooms for dialogues and conversations across the regions. There has not been a time when we called for a meeting that it has not happened. Even the governors make themselves available to act on some of the issues. I can say that so far, we have enjoyed the cooperation of the governors from various governments. They have also given us independence to run our programs without interference. As far as our authorising environment is concerned, we are not doing badly. We need to work more on our legitimacy. We need to work a bit more on becoming a strategic and trusted regional institution. For a 17-month old commission working with six state governments, I think our level of cooperation has not been too bad.