At town hall meet, Makinde engages electorate on administration’s policies, expectations
In the history of Oyo State politics, rarely have the people had an engagement with their elected representative as robust, total and in a no-holds-barred manner as the one held on Sunday, January 29, 2023. It was a town hall meeting with the governor of the state, Mr. Seyi Makinde at the Fresh FM Hall, Felele, Ibadan.
With a hall filled to the brim and the crowd far removed from the usual politicians’ renting of crowds whose faces depict that they were suborned to the venue for reason of cash, the faces of attendees spoke bountifully of admiration, willingness to interface with their governor and expectations that the man they trusted with their votes in 2019 would give them proper account of his stewardship.
When he began to speak, articulating the philosophy of this bonding with the people, the governor said: “Oyo is now used to engagement, not constituted authority (a veiled reference to former governor, the late Abiola Ajimobi). We always visit zones, asking people what they want before rolling out the budget…” The crowd erupted in excitement and yells of approval and admiration.
The organisers of the meeting did well by the representativeness of the groups that were invited. They ranged from the pensioners to teachers’ unions, members of the business community, the Nigeria Medical Association, the Nigerian Society of Engineers, International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) Nigeria, market women and men, student bodies, the sports community and people living with disabilities, constituting the core of groups who felt the pulse of government’s actions and policies in the last four years.
It was a heart-to-heart discussion and so there was no prepared speech. Sure of himself and how he had impacted lives in the last four years, Governor Makinde, the man generally referred to as ‘Seyi’ by the populace, out of fondness for him, bonding with and satisfaction with his performance, came in and held the audience spellbound. In every of his measured words, delivered without the demagoguery of politicians at campaign podia, Makinde tracked his administration’s strides in infrastructure, health, education, town planning, sports and agriculture with encyclopedic breadth and candour. The impression you had with his bulky and trackable statistics of his performance left no doubts about his firm grasp of developments in Oyo State under his leadership, and their ideological, political, economic and social foundation.
The gathering provided clear insights into Makinde’s stellar stewardship without shying away from the daunting challenges yet to be surmounted. Nearly every association lauded the governor’s stride in its sector, but there was also critique and a wish list, and the governor did not shy away from limiting his promises to the extant realities, and admitting mistakes.
Members of the Nigerian Union of Pensioners (NUP) appreciated Makinde’s first term in office, but wondered, given the experiences with past governments, if he would still be in stout defence of their case as he has been in the first term. The governor promised never to stop caring for those who had toiled for years in service of the state. He pointed out that his government had paid all pensioners flat rate of N10,000 as Christmas bonus, and regularised the payment of pensions with salaries, adding: “The opposition can fault us on any other thing but not pensioners’ welfare. We will improve on engagement with our pensioners and make them happy.”
On 65 years retirement age, Makinde argued that the Federal Government’s embrace of a policy does not necessarily make it the best. Increment in pensions, he averred, “is increasingly linked to our capacity to pay, we need proper planning on what increment we can make.”
The removal of the N3,000 education levy imposed by the immediate past government, he told the audience to roaring applause, was one of the first decisions his government took, “and it brought our children back to school.” The governor, who had also given students in higher education a new lease of life upon assumption of office, also spoke on his strides in higher education.
“Before we came in, Oyo had one and a half universities, namely First Technical University and Ladoke Akintola University of Technology, co-owned with Osun State. But now, we have three universities. The opaque ownership structure in First Technical University has been removed and it is now fully owned by Oyo State. We’ve brought back LAUTECH and we upgraded Emmanuel Alayande College of Education to a university. The NUT already mentioned that we recruited 5,000 teachers as well as education officers. We have constructed close to 700 classrooms in less than four years. We have employed 5,000 teachers. On recruitment of teachers into primary schools, this administration has been able to remove distraction as against what obtained in the past. We will process the payment of their leave bonus for year 2022 soon,” he said.
A listening leader, Makinde did not attempt to lecture the FIDA representative who claimed that the association had not enjoyed a robust relationship with his administration. Instead, while acknowledging FIDA’s great work in women and children’s advocacy, he apologised and granted the association’s requests. His words: “This administration gave Oyo State its first female Chief Justice. We appointed her because she was qualified. I am sorry if we haven’t worked as closely as we should. We will make amends. I will take it up with the attorney general. I am glad you mentioned our renovation of courts. I will add renovation of crèche.” The applause this time was deafening.
Dr Wale Lasisi, chair of the NMA, spoke on brain drain and the need for increased allowances for resident doctors, and Governor Makinde couldn’t agree more. Thanking the doctors for their role during the COVID-19 crisis, he acknowledged that even though credit had been given to him for the astute management of the crisis, the doctors had in fact played a key role. He said it was resident doctors who had suggested radical improvement of the state’s health facilities rather than merely converting stadiums to isolation centres, as was being done in many parts of the world. That way, the facilities would still be in use post-COVID. “I am so happy I listened to you,” Governor Makinde enthused, adding that another suggestion by the doctors that proved so pivotal was self-isolation. Beginning from himself, he said, many residents of the state who contracted COVID-19 self-isolated, and the Oyo strategy was later adopted by the Federal Government.
He said: “I refused to lock down Oyo State and because of our success here, the Federal Government moved from total to partial lockdown. The opposition candidate came to this very station, shouting that Makinde wanted to kill Oyo people. If he had listened to logic and data, he would not have made that statement.”
Mentioning his administration’s building of over 200 primary healthcare centres, Governor Makinde said his government determined that “people must not go beyond 1km radius of their residence to access care, adding: “We will continue to provide conducive environment for resident doctors.” On brain drain, he noted: “the key to retaining the stars that we have is to create a far more productive economy that will allow us to pay higher wages.”
The governor also extended courtesies to members of his base, the Nigerian Society of Engineers whose state chairman, Dr. Adekunle Olaoye, thanked him for the excellent job on the flood, and for appointing an engineer into the rural electrification board. Then the governor said: “We are engineering a modern Oyo State. Infrastructure deficit is real for us but we have laid the foundation to bridge that deficit. One way is to link communities. We have linked Ibadan to Oke Ogun zone with the 65km Moniya-Iseyin road; we have linked Oke Ogun with Ogbomoso zone with the 78km Iseyin-Ogbomoso road. All other zones have been so similarly linked with quality roads.” Challenging critics to “name any government in the history of Oyo State which has started and completed a 65km road,” Makinde spoke glowingly of projects linking Oyo communities, creating estates and undertaking junction improvements to gradually take the state into the first world.
“If you go to those GRAs we have built, you will notice that they are almost a first world environment… gradually we are changing the face of the state. After Challenge, we’ve done Idi Ape, Agodi Gate and UI junction improvements. We are creating a new town in Akinyele.”
On the clamour for a new ministry by town planners, Makinde said he was not sure that the creation of a new bureaucracy is the way to go, as each new ministry would come with a bureaucracy. Nevertheless, he said: “If you can convince me with logic and data, I will bow to superior argument.”
Lauding the governor’s all-encompassing style of leadership, the representative of People Living with Disabilities, Evangelist Olu Kayode said: “We thank you for giving us a voice. Today, our people are not only seen but heard across the 33 local councils of the state. We thank you for employment given to 150 people living with disability in TESCOM, the health sector and the judiciary. You have made good your promise to create an agency for people living with disability.”
Also speaking on the occasion, representatives of religious bodies lauded the governor’s efforts to promote religious harmony in the state. As they spoke, reinforcing statements made by one another, it was clear that the bond among religious leaders in the state is unbreakable. For instance, the representative of the League of Imams and Alfas, in advocating for teachers in religious instruction in primary and secondary schools, called for all religions to be represented, while the CAN chairman advocated monthly prayers by Christian and Muslim leaders in the state secretariat.
The Muslim speaker said: “We never thought you would be this magnanimous to us. Whoever sees the wonder in the newly-built Adogba Mosque will pray for you everyday. We see your impact on the Hajj Commission in Olodo, and the Office of the Chief Imam. We pray that God will continue to support you as you are about to enter the Omituntun 2.0.” The representative of the traditional religious faith said: “Past governments chose special advisers for only one religion, you chose three. Your government was the first to allow us to do Iwure.”
To traders, Makinde said that paying salaries on the 25th of every month was a deliberate policy to expand the Oyo economy, adding that every year, an additional N4billion enters the economy. On the call for grants, he said the government would assist where it could, but that he would rather create a conducive environment. He was also open to the idea of a female football team for Oyo State, and acceding to various demands by students.
The programme started at 7pm, but time was past 10pm when it ended. And to “Omititun 2.0” the audience said a big ‘Yes’!