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Vital lessons from Akeredolu’s development strategy in Ondo


Chief Rotimi Akeredolu

A rare opportunity for me to learn about what is wrong with covering Nigeria, the world’s most populous black nation on earth presented itself last weekend through a strategic planning colloquium called Retreat, that has long lost its essence in this country. Specifically, when I reluctantly accepted to be part of a Retreat in Owo, Ondo state, little did I know that even as a participant observer, I was going to learn more about Nigeria that we (in the mainstream media) have not covered well in recent years.So, I went to Ondo state, saw another face of civil and public service that most political leaders always joke with and regret after all,without sharing the bitter lessons, anyway.

Yours sincerely realised again in Owo, a quiet but important town that produced a significant educationist and political figure, Chief Adekunle Ajasin and the famous Olagbegis, that there has been too much coverage of the federal government, its powers and structures at the expense of the unbalanced and troubled federation. All told, we have lost capacity to monitor our federation of 36 states and 774 local government councils. We cover mostly Abuja’s three arms of government and indeed the presidency. And so a lot of waters daily pass under the bridges of the 36 states of the federation uncovered. This partly showshow we cover up so many issues in the news that would have enriched the convoluted federation we are now struggling to save at the moment.
Certainly, we have had some challenges in covering the nation that has had embedded in her many other nations. I only hope that if the pregnant ruling party, the APC gives birth to its much desired golden baby called federalism, sooner than later, we will be able to cover well the federating units called states – through provincial news organs.

At the moment, we can boast that no one can beat our reaches only in Abuja, but the truth is that at the moment, we can’t reach the beats called the federation of 36 states. That is one area in which we have let the nation down.

That was my impression of the remarkable data I saw and analysed about Ondo state, specifically last weekend when the State Governor, Arakunrin Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, organised an unusual Retreat for Cabinet Members, Advisers, and Accounting Officers (Permanent Secretaries) and Board Chairpersons. It was indeed business unusual kind of Retreat according to the participants and resource persons.

The Retreat enabled the civil and public servants to rediscover the real Aketi. Yes, the former Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) President; the son of a priest and Ibadan-based indigene (of Ondo state) the Amosuns would like to call ‘strangers’ who should not have returned to contest election at home.
At the peculiar Retreat that would begin at 6;30 am with some physical and health education exercises and real business at the 8:30 a.m, the Governor stayed from the registration on Thursday and throughout the two-day gruelling event proper on Friday and Saturday (01-03 February 2018). He did not leave after the opening ceremonies as is usual with us. He also listened to all arguments and contributions of his senior civil servants and top aides who he encouraged to bare their minds about why the civil and public service has been lethargic and unproductive in Ondo state. The senior officers spoke, argued, learned, unlearned and relearned from one another.

Specifically, they gained from an academic in service, a public intellectual who retired as a federal permanent secretary, and has written two significant books on the intricacies and complexities of the over-aching federal bureaucracy, Dr. Adegoke Adegoroye, Coordinator of the Retreat. Curiously, throughout the proceedings, the Governor did not take over from Dr. Adegoroye as powerful men who would like to be addressed as executive governors often do. Dr.Adegoroye, former FEPA Director-General brought in two other experienced colleagues from Abuja as resource persons. The eggheads from Abujawho are retiredfederal permanent secretaries are Mr. Japh Nwosu and Dr. Tukur Bello Ngawa who hail from, Imo and Katsina states respectively. Dr. Adegoroye and his colleagues ably supported by Senator Olubunmi Adetunmbi and Dr. Yemi Mahmud were quite inspiring and remarkable in breaking down all the issues that are needed to get operational efficiency in the state’s public service.

The tone for robust discussion points was set when Dr. Adegoroye stated the objectives and expected outcomes of the Retreat before the Governor Akeredolu’s keynote and opening remarks in which his five Cardinal Programmes and Blueprint to Progress were reiterated to participants.

The 5-Point Agenda are:
Job Creation Through Agriculture, Entrepreneurship and Industrialization;
Infrastructural Development and Maintenance;
Functional Education and Technological Growth
Qualitative Health Care and Social Service (Delivery);
Rural Development and Community Extension Services.

And accordingly, there was a panel discussion by commissioners, political appointees and bureaucrats on key features of the Blueprint to Progresswith particular reference to the mandate of their portfolios and how they intend to bring ministerial structure, policies, processes, people and systems to bear on their mandate in executing Akeredolu administration’s5-point development agenda.The Secretary to the State Government,(SSG) led the panel discussions. The presentations were an eye-opener to the extent that most of the weak and mediocre appointees of the government and bureaucrats were identified through the content of their presentations.

Some of the cabinet members and political appointees could not articulate their functions beyond stereotypical assertions that were copied from old official records. The Coordinator/Chairman of the Retreat told the mediocrities in the house magisterially on the spot that their presentations were unsatisfactory.

Quite unlike some regimented Retreats without specific and measurable objectives and data, the Owo 2018 Retreat’s specific objectives were clearly stated and documented. Which also explained why the Senior Advocate of Nigeria showed uncommon commitment and discipline at the quiet Best Western-powered Mydas Hotel and Resort Hotel, Owo, Ondo State.

It was clearly stated from the outset that it was business unusual for the governor who was unfazed when a resource person, Senator Adetunmbi even noted that the Team Aketi had to be dedicated ‘given the controversy that dogged his nomination’ by the Party and the challenge that background has posed to the personality of the top Nigerian lawyer. And so participants were told that for Aketi, there has to be uncommon attention to service delivery initiative “because there are challenges on ground, arising from:

The transition from one administration to the other, especially the one across political parties that took place in 2017 in the state; glaring differences between the political appointees and the bureaucracy in how fast they are connecting to the vision of the Governor in terms of their commitments to the programmes that have been outlined to achieve development agenda of the state;the precarious economic situation of the state, in view of its staggering debt totalling N220, 588,125,731.00 (Two hundred and twenty billion, five hundred and eighty-eight million, one hundred and twenty five thousand, seven hundred and thirty-one naira;Political appointees are products of different backgrounds, varied qualifications, and aspirations and often times without public service experience.

What is more, there is no formal training for political appointees to prepare them for the jobs to which they are assigned.Besides, public servants who are to provide the bureaucratic support to political office holders, are in many cases, unable to bring to bear on their jobs their 20—30- years experience in the public service;And so errors in simple bureaucratic processes and protocols are so common these days that they have become norms, thus making it difficult for up and coming officers and political office holders to know what is correct.

In the same vein, the Ondo State Cabinet is 6 months old and the administration will clock one year in office on 24 February, 2018.In addition, the 2018 appropriation will be the first full-year-cycle budget drawn to drive development agenda of the administration…Therefore, Arakunrin Akeredolu is fully persuaded that a forum, which would bring together the political appointees and the bureaucracy, being the two flip sides of the executive, to foster a common understanding of what it would take to achieve the lofty goals he has set for the administration is the most desirable way to go. This was given as the significance of the unusual Retreat.

The artful lawyer however assured all the participants that the rigorous Retreat was not organised because his confidence in the Team Aketi that he assembled barely six months ago was shaky. He asked them to cool down, relax and learn new skills because it was just an opportunity for retrospection, realignment and rededicationby public officials in Ondo state.

Certainly, in the course of the remarkable deliberations, Arakunrin Akeredolu and his deputy, Alfred Agboola Ajayi, also a lawyer saw the capacity challenges in some of the team members.Before the unusual communiqué and the well crafted and actionable Owo Declaration, everyone has signed up to, the civil servants and political office holders were told plainly with data obtained from public records that in Ondo state, as in many other states especially in southwest, there has been little or nothing for the peoplein the context of development planning and budget process reform. For instance, the public officers who are faced with the reality of managing a more than N220 billion debt burden are just 58,000, representing 1.3 per cent of the population compared to Ekiti’s 2.2% Osun’s 1.1%, Ogun’s 1%,Oyo’s 0.5% and Lagos 0.4%. This reality was also juxtaposed with the 2016 IGRs of the states with Lagos’ N302.4 billion, Ogun’s N73 billion, Osun’s N8.9 billion, Oyo’s N18.9 billion, Ekiti’s N3.0 billion and Ondo’sN8.7 .billion.

The civil servants realised at the Retreat that they were just barely one per cent of the population consuming a significant portion of the income of the state. And going forward the new chief executive would have no option but to tinker with the old order and match expenditure with productivity and competence.
And so as Arakunrin, Akeredolu, now armed with the “Owo Declaration for commitment from his public servants to learn, unlearn and relearn to meet the 21st century standards in public service, he is widely expected to tinker with the machinery of his government.

In the main, one remarkable lesson Governor Akeredolu noted at the forum was that though capacity challenges, skills gap, succession crisis and stagnation in the service can be identified; there must be actionable reform policies to address such challenges immediately. For instance, he noted a glaring need for an aggressive succession management plan that will identify the best and the brightest and ICT knowledgeable officers of impeccable integrity, to form a core group of officers to be nurtured and mentored into directorate and permanent-secretary grade within the shortest time. One striking example was a female officer, Mrs. Eta Ogunmoniwo the Retreat Coordinator had to publicly identify as “The Face of Public Service and Productivity and Efficiency in Ondo State”. She was literally the life-wire of the Retreat Secretariat, who carried out her critical assignment with such dedication and commitment like a Grade Level 16 or 17 officers. It was discovered that she was just a GL 12 officer.

That was how I was a witness to significant discussion points on the expediency of an efficient civil service for political leaders to make real and appreciable progress within the context of discipline of execution of policies and programmes. One hopes that the Aketi zeal witnessed last weekend in Owo 2018 will not lose steam to strange politics between Akure and Abuja.

In this article:
Rotimi Akeredolu
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