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JKF At 1: A look at the economic diplomacy of a governor

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Kayode Fayemi, Governor of Ekiti State. Photo: TWITTER/EKISISTATEGOV

“Land locked and resource challenged, yet, we are a state of the big ideas; we are also blessed with a highly educated human resource and a leader with a clear vision of transforming the state in a hurry.
Ekiti is ready for business, ladies and gentlemen you are welcome to Ekiti State”
– Biodun Oyebanji, Secretary to Ekiti State Government (July 18, 2019)

This was the introductory remark made by Hon. Biodun Oyebanji, Secretary to Ekiti State during the visit of the African Development Bank Country Representative, Mr. Ebrima Faal and his team to Ekiti State as a follow-up to the Abidjan visit to the President and Board of the bank by the Governor of Ekiti, Dr. Kayode Fayemi on infrastructure investment financing of some critical infrastructure in the state.

Oyebanji’s remarks to the AfDB team describes, in the most succinct manner, the Ekiti story and the challenge of development. For a starter, Ekiti is one but last on the federal allocation chart in Nigeria. It has a population of about three Million people, most of whom are peasant rural dwellers, artisans and civil servants. The state has about 80 per cent literacy level, about 92 per cent school enrollment, highest number of graduates to population per national capita. Ekiti has a budget structure that tilts disproportionately to about 70 per cent recurrent and 30 per cent capital and unemployment level of about 17 per cent. Life expectance in Ekiti is 56 per cent and 58 per cent men and women respectively, slightly higher than the national average of 44 per cent for men and 45 per cent for women.

Ekiti has a large emolument and overhead cost with its highest number of public servants in relation to population in the Southwest and perhaps the highest in Nigeria. The public service structure is top heavy as many of the Ekiti public servants are highly educated and educationally mobile. The industrial profile of the state is hugely low and it is not uncommon for many to gleefully mouth that “Ekiti is a civil servant state,” a dent that the Kayode Fayemi administration is working aggressively to correct.

The combination of low industrial and commercial activities in the state has led to the reality of low tax revenues and low economic activities to engender employment opportunity, a situation that has made public service work the major dream of the average young person. By implication, the state is always under huge financial constraints because of the very challenging financial pressures it has to endure.

The situation was made worse by the cluelessness of the immediate past administration that was succeeded by the current administration. The regime, widely known more for its notoriety for theatrics and gimmicks, had no plans whatsoever to end the circle of poverty in the state.

Rather, the rumbustious regime left a near-collapsed state, with over 100 billion in loans, obligations and contractual agreement. The administration did not only leave behind a civil service that was completely demoralised because of months of unpaid salaries, pension and gratuity, the regime also left a mountain of debilitating debts, abandoned projects and dilapidated public infrastructure.

So, when the Fayemi administration kicked off, it was a government that was born into serious economic challenges and a distressed socio-political environment. There was a general disillusionment about the ability of the government to right the gargantuan challenge it inherited, as many believed that it would be practically impossible to maintain a balance and keep the state running.

But not for Fayemi! He was well acquainted with the challenges and well appraised of what needed to be done. He was convinced that good name is better than gold. He, therefore, started an aggressive diplomatic shuttle to first, reach out to the different federal agencies that could be of help in repositioning the state. He also needed to build confidence in federal institutions that had been treated with hostility in Ekiti during the tenure of the last administration.

For instance, while other states keyed into the anchor-borrower programme of the Federal Government for the development of some crops, notably rice, Ekiti State under the last administration, made daily abuse of the president and antagonism to the Federal Government official state policy.

During JKF1, many development partners were in Ekiti to support the state in many areas of development. Many of them left as soon as JKF1 ended because of the unfriendly and uncooperative attitude of the regime. For example, the World Bank assisted urban water sector reform programme, which Kayode Fayemi’s government, in the first tenure, had paid the Ekiti counterpart funding, could not continue because the succeeding administration was interested in contract award and what it could benefit from it. Because this was inconsistent with the ethical practice of the Bank, it had to halt activities in Ekiti.

This freeze would later worsen the water situation in the state and ultimately get Ekiti the unflattering title of the first in open defecation in Nigeria. So, when Fayemi assumed duty, he made it a priority to regain the trust of the development partners that have left the state. Not only that, he embarked on aggressive diplomatic shuttles to the federal agencies involved in socio-economic and environment programmes that could benefit the state. He visited the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development to ensure that Ekiti farmers benefit from the multi-billion naira anchor borrower finance. Luckily, his former agriculture commissioner during JKF 1 is the one in charge of the CBN-backed anchor borrower project. To show his commitment to the maximisation of the federal state collaboration, the governor appointed an energetic young man as Special Adviser on Federal Matters whose role is chiefly to interface with the federal establishments and to ensure smooth relationship.

Fayemi was at the Ministries of Water Resources, Works and Housing and Urban Development, Steel and Solid Minerals, Finance, Environment, CBN and other federal government agencies that could be of help in the development of the state. He visited the headquarters, regional or country offices of the development partners to lobby them to come back to Ekiti. He also appointed an influential personality within the development partnership circle as his Special Adviser to manage the development partnerships. This has brought a lift in the relationship between Ekiti and the partners who are now having one programme or the other in Ekiti State.

As a direct benefit of this diplomatic rapprochement, the World Bank has not only resumed in Ekiti, it is helping in the resuscitation of the abandoned water project. In addition, the Bank is helping in financing over 500 kilometers of rural roads across the state, under the Rural Access and Agricultural Marketing Programme (RAAMP) while the state will do 600 kilometers, which translates to 1100 kilometers of rural roads; just as it is assisting in the implementation of the social insurance scheme for the elderly. In his recent visit to Ekiti State, the World Bank Task Team Leader, Engr. Fahard Ahmed remarked that the Governor was well respected in the World Bank system for his integrity and wide influence. According to him, “Ekiti State was added to the list of 22 states already on ground because Gov. Fayemi made a special request that was expressly accepted.”

Recently, the Resident Coordinator of UN Programme in Nigeria, Edward Kallon was in Ekiti with the full complement of his team to meet with the governor on issues of concerns to the organisation. He commended the governor for his seriousness and leadership in the promotion of education, gender, inclusion, social investment, governance, reforms and other critical segments of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Similarly, Ekiti State government has benefited from the counterpart arrangement with World Bank through the SEPIP programme in the revitalisation of the technical colleges in Ekiti State. The technical college in Ado-Ekiti has been completely overhauled, rebuilt and reequipped and is probably the best in the country, while other three more are being attended to. In a recent meeting with Ekiti State officials, the World Bank’s African Social Development Specialists, Ms. Senait Assefa observed that “the governor is one of the respected personalities in the governance of the country as one that has led in the area of social inclusion, gender-based violence prevention and care for the vulnerable.”

Governor Fayemi continues to receive accolades for his refined and honest approach to governance, focus on socio-economic development and practical provision of solution to age-long problems. This was pretty well echoed by the Country Representative of the AfDB, Mr. Ebrima Faal during his visit to Ekiti. He noted that having worked with the governor during his days as a Minister in the Ministry of Steel and Solid Minerals, he had absolute confidence in his character and ability to deliver on promises. He, therefore, pledged the support of the AfDB in the infrastructural development of the state. As at now, talks on infrastructural development to the tune of about $100 million dollars have reached an advanced stage.

This diplomatic engagement, which has led the governor to visit the headquarters of AfDB in Abidjan, when finally consummated, will see to the dualisation of the Ado-Akure road, the development of Ekiti Smart City or Knowledge Zone and the Agric Processing Zone, which is integrated to the Agro-Allied Cargo Airport. The airport, which is about 4000 hectares of land is expected to employ about twenty-five thousands people when fully operational. It is also an integrated development strategy to spur the agricultural policy of the state, which intends to change it from peasantry to commercial agriculture. As at today, two big farms have sprung up in Iyemero-Ekiti both engaging in breathless massive cassava plantation. One of the farms is sitting on 3,500 hectares of land with 50 hectares already cultivated for cassava. The farm is well fitted with processing machines that can process 145, 000 metric tons of industrial starch for export. The farm is also involved in massive planting of vegetable both for local and foreign markets.

Ahead of the arrival of more commercial farmers, the state government has cleared over 1100 hectares off farmlands and built security posts for Agro-Rangers security personnel to protect the investments. Similarly, Promasidor has just signed an agreement with the government to manage the Ikun Dairy Farm that had remained moribund since it was established. The company is investing $5million in equipment and facility to get the place working. As at now, the company has assumed duty at the Diary and is already doing preliminary works to move in for full operation.

The governor has also entered into talks with Dangote, Coscharis, Stallion and WATCO on the possibility of establishing their rice mill factories in Ekiti. Already, the government is revitalising the Youth in Commercial Agriculture Programme to accommodate them in the off-taker arrangement being worked along this plan. All these are parts of the work plan to feed the cargo airport which is expected to serve the western geopolitical zone, with locally produced agricultural products.

Everywhere he had gone, Kayode Fayemi has earned a lot respect for his leadership skills and strong character traits, which have won the state a lot of developmental mileage and drawn a lot of capital investment in the state. In the last one year, the governor has embarked on productive engagements that have drawn investments and goodwill to the state. As a state with almost arid financial profile, there is no doubt that the greatest assets of the state are goodwill and human resources of its people. Ekiti is blessed this time, to have a man who enjoys an immeasurable level of goodwill nationally and internationally. There is no arguing the fact his quality diplomatic engagements and strategic partnerships have brought a lot of economic benefits to the state. Going forward, the next three years and indeed, the future promise an exciting moment for the people of Ekiti as all the ongoing programmes crystalise into visible benefits for all. One can only but say, congratulations to the government and entire good people of Ekiti.

Dr. Aniyi is Principal Private Secretary to the Ekiti State Governor.


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