‘We’ve faced a lot of challenges, but never allowed ourselves to be distracted’
May 29, 2020, made it exactly one year since Prince Dapo Abiodun assumed office as the 16th governor of Ogun State. In this interview, he spoke about his experiences in office, the many challenges and how his administration is navigating obstacles to deliver on its campaign promises.
It’s exactly one year since your too oath of office as the Governor of Ogun State, how has it been so far?
I must say in the last year, we have faced a lot of challenges. But I thank God we are able to surmount them. Some of them we did not envisage as such, some, we knew would happen. For instance, we do not have proper handing over notes. In the corporate world, that’s what they call hostile takeover. We expected some of the reactions from the people we took over from, but be that as it may, we had our focus, while we tackled the challenges. We never allowed ourselves to be distracted.
On assumption of office as Ogun State governor, you set up committees to look into some policies and actions of your predecessor. One year after, people are still expecting the White Papers on the findings of these committees, what’s delaying the reports?
When we came in, we found out that many of the issues we met on the ground require further explanations because the hand-over notes we got were rather hazy and we needed to hit the ground running. Yet, we have so many uncompleted projects from previous administration; we need to take stock and be sure we prevent future occurrences of such. For instance, about a week after I came into office, I paid a visit to the State-owned tertiary healthcare facility at Sagamu – the Olabisi Onabanjo University Teaching Hospital, based on information received at an earlier meeting with the hospital’s management. I was shocked at the level of rot in the hospital; that Teaching Hospital used to be one of the best medical facilities in the country, but it had become a shadow of itself. Most of the medical equipment was obsolete and others dysfunctional.
The mortuary and the entire vicinity were filled with bad odour due to lack of maintenance and non-availability of needed equipment to make it functional. I had to set up a nine-man committee headed by the Chief Medical Director of Reddington Hospital, Dr. Yemi Onabowale. The committee’s specific terms of reference include: To assess the current operations of the hospital in line with expectations as a teaching/tertiary institution; determine the state of facilities of the various units and departments and make recommendations to the state on the steps necessary to ensure sustainable operations in the institution.
The committee was also to determine quick wins and palliative actions to stem further degeneration of the institution and facilities and review all third party arrangements in the institution, including the Private-Public Partnership (PPP) and other services provisioning arrangement and determine their level of compliance at the time of their engagement and with the efficacy. We had an administrative panel on the Moshood Abiola Polytechnic and the Moshood Abiola University of Science and Technology. Moshood Abiola Polytechnic (MAPOLY), which the ex-governor purportedly converted to Moshood Abiola University of Science and Technology (MAUTECH) without the wherewithal to nurture the new institution. It is instructive to note that, while the institution was being converted on paper from MAPOLY to MAUTECH, the staff of Tai Solarin College of Education were being owed 24 months salaries. When you consider the fact that MAPOLY had produced many leading lights in this country and was probably the most flourishing institution being able to substantially generate and pay its staff’s salaries as and when due, the disruption caused should give any right-thinking administrator some concern. It was most galling misadventure; these institutions were not functioning.
Another Committee set up was on the Review of Appointments and Promotions in the State Civil Service and Enterprises, to give us an informed assessment of employments and promotions between February 1 and May 29, 2019. Yet, another one was set up to review the appointments, installations and promotions of 75 traditional rulers in the State in the twilight of the previous administration. Of course, we set up one to investigate the propriety of the last minute’s contracts and projects. None of these was set up to witch-hunt anybody. They were set up to provide the right type of leadership to enable the state to perform optimally. All the people brought in to have the requisite training, exposure, experience and integrity to drive the sectors where we called them to serve.
To review the appointment of 75 coronet Obas, we had a paramount ruler, the Olu of Ilaro, Oba Kehinde Olugbenle and other traditional rulers and others drawn from that institution. To head the projects, we brought in the President of the Nigerian Society of Engineers, Engr. Adekunle Mokunolu as Chairman. You’ll see that in ensuring that we provide focused and qualitative governance, we didn’t politicise these important assignments. Luckily, the state is renowned for its professionalism, commitment and dedication. I’m happy to report that all these committees delivered; they were thorough and we have started implementing their reports. They were set up to bolster participatory democracy, to promote or highlight the features of a solution, product, or service.
OOUTH is gradually returning to its pride of place; you can see what they have been doing in the fight against COVID-19, that’s where the first state-funded molecular laboratory is located. MAPOLY is running seamlessly and TASCE now has Governing Council; it held its first graduation ceremony in 11 years as a result of the Panel’s activities. We didn’t set up any frivolous committee; these panels tried to perform the dual role of presenting firm government policies, while at the same time inviting opinions upon them. That’s the essence of White Paper in Government as first used in Britain under Winston Churchill in 1922. We have also been able to mainstream almost 2000 workers into the workforce and none of the 18 Permanent Secretaries lost their jobs, even when we spotted grey areas in the manners of their promotions and appointments.
Of course, we set aside the appointment and promotion of Obas because they didn’t conform to laid-down statutes. So, we have started implementing the reports and that should put to rest any fears and establish that we set these committees up to be seen as an ethical, fair and firm administration.
The immediate past governor said his administration had fully paid all the contractors handling road and other infrastructural projects, but uncompleted roads and projects litter the state. What really happened?
The Kunle Mokunolu committee is made up of professionals (structural engineers, architect, quantity surveyors, civil engineers, and lawyers etc). Their job is to give us a balanced idea in ascertaining if there was budgetary provision for the projects in the Budget Estimates for the year. They were also to identify all outstanding significant construction/projects in the State, ascertain the process of award of contracts in line with the established procedures and necessary regulations; determine the level of execution and quality of output of the projects. They are to assess the disbursement pattern in line with the established process and procedure and to recommend any viable pathways for the completion of the project, or in the alternative, determine other actions, including, but not limited to reversal or cancellation of the contract that best align with the intent of the State Government. I’m sorry to say that most of these projects fall short of the demands of international best practices. But we are determined to ensure that projects met on the ground are completed since taxpayers’ money is involved and the welfare of the people is our priority.
Yes, most of them were fully paid for and most without certificates, but now, contractors are still asking for variations. We had to intervene before the Judicial Complex could become functional. We have moved into the supposed 250-bed specialist hospital now and we shall ensure that no project is turned into the people’s nightmare, no matter the nature of its conceptualisation. You have seen that some hitherto White Elephant projects have been tweaked to become relevant today. For example, the Tech Hub on Kobape Road, the outskirts of Abeokuta, was one of the supposed model schools that were moribund for 8 years; the same thing for the one in Ikenne. We have turned that into a 128-bed Isolation and Treatment Centre for COVID-19. No project will be allowed to waste; we will creatively put all of them into purpose-driven ventures.
The process for the preparation of the year 2020 budget started with a sensitisation programme on the vision and mission of government. It was followed with town hall meetings in the three senatorial districts. We discovered the centrality of roads and we started rehabilitating roads by bringing the Ogun State Public Works Agency. Cognisance has been taken to eliminate white elephant projects or any such projects that would boost the public perception of any political actor in the state. We have realised the futility of channelling efforts towards the routine patterns for the use of public resources for those in power. We, therefore, devised a system of strategic allocation of resources, which ensure politics is secondary and that projects and programmes of the government in the first full budget have an impact on the people, who are the real essence of government. Trust me, we won’t abandon any inherited projects.
Apart from rehabilitating public primary schools across the 236 wards of the state, what other steps have you taken to revamp the education sector?
I have no illusion as to the position of education and the enormous challenges in the sector. As an Omo Teacher (teacher’s son), I know education is the best legacy that can be given to the leaders of tomorrow. At my inauguration as Governor, I declared a state of emergency on the sector with a firm pledge of ensuring that the pride we used to have in education would be completely restored. So far, we have walked our talks by increasing budgetary allocation to 20 per cent this year, and we will continue to do that on a yearly basis till the United Nation Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) benchmark is achieved. We are implementing the Universal Basic Education Act, as well as ensuring free education for all children in Primary and Junior Secondary Schools. The welfare of teachers is being given utmost priority in order to ensure that the best brains are attracted and retrained in the system.
Our government approved and implemented career elongation of degree holders in public primary schools for teachers, who had been stagnated on Grade level 14 for years. We promoted 10,000 teachers whose elevation had been delayed since 2016, employed 1, 500 Basic School Tecahers and the Teaching Service Commission has also advertised to recruit about a thousand others. We facilitated the release of 2014-2017 UBE Matching grant to the tune ofN10 billion, which translates into 952 Education Projects. These projects have two special features including yellow roof and terrazzo floor in our public primary and secondary schools. We donated free teaching aids; we keep expanding the capacity of our teachers. We sponsored ANCOPSS representatives to leadership training in Dubai to enhance their performance and service delivery on the job. We also reinstated Oluwole Olusanjo Majekodunmi, the Deputy Director in the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, who was sacked by the previous administration. Also, the former Chairman of the Nigeria Union of Teachers, NUT Ogun State Chapter, Dare Ilekoya, who was compulsorily retired, was also re-instated. This special act was displayed to show the government’s resolve in addressing all sorts of injustice. We procured and installed Education Management Information System (EMIS) equipment and gadgets to aid data collection, collation and analysis in the headquarters and all the 20 local councils. In line with the technology-driven education mantra of the present administration, and to fast track processing and management of data and other educational information, we have hosted Ogun SUBEB Website www.ogunsubeb.com.
Of course, the introduction of virtual learning via the Ogundigiclass, a digital classroom for primary and secondary schools learners on OGBC, OGTV, DSTV 260 or GoTV 100 holding on Mondays to Fridays between 9:00 am – 2:00 pm, has achieved tremendous success, which attests to our innovativeness in the face of the coronavirus pandemic which has paralysed formal classroom learning and teaching. All teaching videos can be viewed on www.ogundigiclass.ng. In education, we are simply unstoppable and we have awarded by our students and teachers to show for our investment in that sector.
Local councils in Ogun State are still manned by transition or caretaker committees, when is your administration planning to conduct elections into these local councils?
The tenure of the elected Chairmen of the councils ended in October last year, necessitating the need to set up the Transition Committees to temporarily run the councils’ affairs. As the name implies, what we have now is a stopgap arrangement. We recently sought permission of the House of Assembly to extend the tenure for three more months, ostensibly because of the pandemic that has distorted everything in the world. But we are committed to holding free, fair and credible election into all our local councils as soon as peace returns to the world. We are democrats and must live by the dictates of democracy – free election, accountability, rule of law, people’s participation or inclusiveness, etc.
Having signed a memorandum of understanding with the organised labour on the implementation of the new minimum wage, reports indicate that your administration had yet to commence payment of the minimum wage. Why the delay?
Let me say that I’m committed to a ‘social contract’ with the workers of Ogun State; we have always paid promptly since I came into office and never owed any worker. Our administration provides people-centred governance that identifies with their yearnings and not the one that glorifies the welfare of cronies and family members. Our administration will continue to take the welfare of the civil servants as a priority to guarantee industrial harmony. We shall continue prompt payment of salaries; leave bonuses and other allowances. That’s why the agreement of Wednesday, February 5, 2020, on the payment of the new minimum wage, with effect from January 1, 2020, remains; we’ve considered its affordability and sustainability. I can only appeal to the Joint Negotiating Council (JNC), Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC), that they should trust us to pay. If in spite of the economic challenges on COVID-19, we are still paying regularly and not owing, we’ll not only pay the promised minimum wage, which in our case is higher than the national minimum wage, we will pay the Consequential Adjustment of 27 per cent for Grade Levels 07 and 08 (20 per cent), Grade Level 09 (19 per cent), Grade Levels 10 to 14 (15 per cent) and Grade Levels 15 to 17 (14 per cent) as well. We shall not renege; we are adjusting the budget to accommodate these.
What are you doing to clear the backlog of arrears, deductions, gratuities, promotion exercises of salaries?
Like the minimum wage and consequential adjustment, no person will be owed. The conditions of the workers are germane for good governance. Even the organised labour has applauded us for attaching much importance to the welfare of the workers of the state. So, their deductions and arrears, they trust that we will not take this goodwill for granted. Checkoffs deducted are being remitted and of course, it is a moral obligation to pay our senior citizens who spend their youths to develop the rest of us.
Your administration has made some huge investments in the area of security. At a time, you set up Security Trust Fund and procured patrol vans, motorbikes and communication gadgets for police and other security agencies, which are quite commendable. Would you say these have had the desired impact on the security situation of the state?
On assumption of office on May 29 this year, as the Chief Security Officer of the state, I decided to take some immediate steps, the first of which was to call a meeting of all our security chiefs and I was amazed to find out that a security meeting of that nature had not been held three years before that day, which was May 30. And at that meeting, so many things unfolded. It was a meeting held to establish the needs of security agencies and also carry out a security assessment of the state. Subsequent to that, the security reports were submitted to me by all our security chiefs, and the report enumerated all that was required to keep our state secure, including how we can look after our investors and also those that have chosen our state to be their home. We realised the fact that our law enforcement agencies did not have a communication system or equipment in place in Ogun State, meaning that the commissioner of police could not speak with his counterpart in the military or in the Department of State Service, DSS, or even worst still, he could not speak with his Area Commanders or the DPO in any of the police stations across the state.
There was hardly any functional vehicle, no tracking devices. There was hardly enough finance to look after the welfare of the personnel and obviously, there was hardly anything available to maintain those vehicles. So, we decided that we would do everything possible to give the needed support to the security agencies. As you will no doubt agree, we cannot do it alone. And in line with our vision, which is to provide focused and qualitative governance, while creating an enabling environment for a Public-Private Sector Partnership, which we believe is fundamental to the economic growth of the state and the individual prosperity of our people, we decided to look towards the private sector for the needed partnership. We appreciate that to do that, it will be important for us to instil in the private sector, the level of confidence that will allow it to partner with us. So, we said, ‘what do we have in place?’ On the assumption, we had the Security Trust Fund. Why hasn’t it worked? We looked at it, we reviewed it, and we ensured that it had all the necessary ingredients to make it function, particularly corporate governance. We sent it back to the House of Assembly and it has since been passed into law.
Following that, I consulted with my brother, the chairman of the STF in Lagos and consulted also with the captain of the bankers as I call him and we all agreed we should headhunt Mr. Bolaji Balogun to be the chairman of the STF. Mr. Bolaji Balogun graciously accepted and after we found him, we now began to talk to our other colleagues in other banks. Let me on this note state that the board position is not closed because I’m sure that other bankers will be wondering how come I am not on that board? So, let me state that the door is very much open. We have Mr. Balogun; we have Mr. Opeyemi Agbaje, who has a lot of institutional experience coming from almost eight years of working on the same fund in Lagos State. And we have EDs from different banks and a former AIG. Having done that, we now said, what is the next thing? While we were doing that, our resolve was tested. We had a couple of cases of kidnapping in the state and I realised the fact that this underscores some basic things like emergency response. I immediately reached out to the President, because the kidnapping incident happened while we were having a retreat in Abuja. And I said to Mr. President, ‘my state is perhaps one of the most important states in this country, and if people cannot travel between Lagos and Ogun and the rest of the country without fear of being kidnapped along the Lagos- Ibadan Expressway, the entire economy of Ogun State and the rest of this country is actually under threat.’ Mr. President asked me what do I need and I said I would need to have a helicopter so that we can respond swiftly in this kind of cases. I want to appreciate Mr. President again because that afternoon, a helicopter was dispatched to the Ogun State Police Command and has been with us since that time. Through the helicopter, we were able to immediately track the kidnappers; we were able to liberate the victims, and we were also able to send a clear signal and message to all those that intended to make criminality their occupation in Ogun State that we have zero tolerance for crime and criminality.
We went further and decided to support the STF initiative by showing commitment. We purchased 100 vehicles and 200 motorcycles and we got the Inspector General of Police to launch the equipment, further demonstrating our resolve to fight crime and zero tolerance to criminality. Since then, we have had an unusually low incident of criminality in the state. Also, the five southwest states have agreed to set up a joint patrol team that will be called AMOTEKUN. Each of the states is required to donate at least 20 patrol vehicles, communication equipment and personnel to that joint patrol task force. It will consist of men from the police, army, vigilantes and hunters.
As we speak, we still need quite a lot more. We need communication equipment; we need monitoring and tracking devices to monitor and track criminals. The vehicles need to be maintained, the officers need to look after and in this regard, we have appealed to the private sector for assistance so that we can ensure that we only have the funding, but that it is sustained.You have always attributed your emergence as governor to God, but notwithstanding, many people believe certain political bigwigs, including Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, Chief Olusegun Osoba and Otunba Gbenga Daniel and others, helped your ascension to power.
What’s your relationship with these personalities?
Very cordial! They have been the pillars behind our emergence and have been supportive all the way.