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The search of workable development plan, conscientious leaders for the south-­­west

By Olawunmi Ojo
01 July 2019   |   3:00 am
In the pre-independence period up into the early post-independence era, Nigeria was made up of three regions – Northern, Eastern and Western Nigeria. Midwestern Region was later carved out of the Western Region. The Western Nigeria, with Chief Obafemi Awolowo at the helms, had a development ideology focused on the empowerment of the people. A…

A cross section of south-west governors

In the pre-independence period up into the early post-independence era, Nigeria was made up of three regions – Northern, Eastern and Western Nigeria. Midwestern Region was later carved out of the Western Region. The Western Nigeria, with Chief Obafemi Awolowo at the helms, had a development ideology focused on the empowerment of the people.

A policy mix in such core areas as health, education, agriculture, employment, infrastructural development and a functional and efficient public service defined Awolowo’s agenda for the region. The free primary education scheme and the universal health programme were two elements of his governance project meant to produce an enlightened and healthy citizenry.

With Awo, power was not an end in itself; it was a dynamic of responsibility entrusted into his hand as a governance issue to be used on behalf of the people. The result of that leadership was the transformation of the Southwest into an infrastructural paradise as experienced up to the most remote of locations across the region.

Years after, especially since the return of Nigeria to democracy, which has now gone unbroken for 20 years, nothing bears similitude in virtually all the six states of the Southwest to the progressive development and assured march to self-sufficiency of the old Western Region.

The wells of appraisals and opinions of development experts, stakeholders and analysts paint a gloomy picture of a region that is alarmingly in lack on almost all fronts where it once provided leadership for other regions and indeed the entire country.

While the government of yore provided leadership that was proactive and pushed the boundary of policies to empower the citizens, borne on a political machinery whose objective went beyond mere obsession for political power and relevance, the region’s successive governments today have almost always become its exact opposite. There has been no critical attempt at instituting concrete policy programmes with transformational capacity for states across the region.

Today, with an ever-increasing population due to immigration, facilities in the Southwest region are increasingly stretched just as living standards continue to plummet.

Majority of roads are in sorry states. Many state-run hospitals are bed-rest centres with inadequate and overwhelmed medical personnel barely managing to serve the deluge of patients. Educational institutions are largely shadows of what they used to be. Industrial estates have become deserted or transmuted into religious houses.

The massive growth and activity of the agricultural sector have since given way while growth of local industries has been stalled. Also, no effective bureaucracy exists, and with the least premium placed on capacity development, human resources development has ceased being a culture. Added to these are policy inconsistencies and profligacy in governance and leadership styles. Everything seems at the lowest ebb.

To be sure, the Southwest region does have immense prospects and potential, which are capable of making it rival any of the flourishing Arabian enclaves making waves globally today.

Aside hosting Nigeria’s busiest airport, the Murtala Muhammed International Airport and the busiest highway, the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, 60 per cent of Nigeria’s industrial capacity, banking assets and even insurance assets are situated in the region. These are additions to holding two of Nigeria’s most important deep seaports – the Lagos

Port Complex and Tin Can Island, and being the only region in the country with access to both land and sea borders.

Rather than work together with a view to implementing a regional development plan, taking into consideration the region’s unique endowments, natural advantages and capabilities, and head-start in most things, the six state governments have been ‘walking it alone,’ with most project decisions often buoyed by selfish reasons, which end up enriching private purses instead of the people. This is in spite of superior arguments that regional integration is capable of delivering the benefits of large economies of scale.

The Executive Vice Chairman, Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy (ISGPP), Dr. Tunji Olaopa, while speaking at a Town Hall meeting convened by Prof. Pat Utomi’s Centre for Values in Leadership (CVL), succinctly captured what leadership has become in the region today when he said, “Leadership had become essentially transactional” in the hands of the current crop of leaders in the Southwest.

Olaopa further said, “Politics is now defined by the need for self-aggrandisement rather than unfolding the core responsibility of democratic governance. Chief Obafemi Awolowo saw beyond politics to what the people needed to make their lives meaningful. But in the hands of these new leaders, leadership has become essentially transactional. It is just unfortunate that those who have prided themselves as the political heirs of Awolowo and the Awo ideology have failed to carry on the governance baton that would have extended his legacy in the Southwestern states.”

Interestingly, successive state governments in the region have at various times shown concern for the lull in meaningful development and impact of governance on the people. This has led to many high-powered meetings of all the governors, with each meeting resolving to do things differently and, indeed, implement a development agenda for the region’s common good. But to date, those lofty aspirations have remained platitudes.

One of such bipartisan meetings held in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, had Governors Akinwunmi Ambode (Lagos), Abiola Ajimobi (Oyo), Rauf Aregbesola (Osun), Olusegun Mimiko (Ondo), Ayodele Fayose (Ekiti) and Ibikunle Amosun (Ogun) in attendance. Prime on the agenda at the time was the economic and infrastructure development of the region, and how the states could collaborate to achieve set goals.

“The ultimate goal is the economic integration of the region from Ondo State in the northern part to Lagos State in the South. States will have to lift each other up, working from their areas of strength. This has nothing to do with politics but the overall economic development of the Yoruba,” one of the governors had said after the meeting.

Special Adviser, Communication and Strategy to Governor Ajimobi at the time, Mr. Yomi Layinka, had said the meeting discussed several issues of common concern… including security of lives and properties of all citizens and our peoples, the economic development of the states by leveraging on common resources and the competitive advantages of the region.

“Other issues discussed were the identification and development of critical infrastructure, especially road networks and the need for a regional rail network for transportation of goods and services within the region,” Layinka had reported.

The meeting also had in attendance the Director-General of the Development Agenda for Western Nigeria (DAWN Commission), Mr. Dipo Famakinwa, and the Group Managing Director of O’odua Investments, Mr. Adewale Raji. But that was as far as things went. Mere talk!

Several of such meetings have since been held, with the most recent having the new governors on the bloc in attendance – Seyi Makinde of Oyo, Dapo Abiodun of Ogun, Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo, Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti, Adegboyega Oyetola of Osun and Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos state. The Development Agenda for Western Nigeria (DAWN Commission), which is a product of such several meetings, is to create an appropriate organisational framework for Southwest’s regional development.

DAWN has emerged as the organisational paradigm for charting a pathway for the region’s sustainable development, especially in realisation of its strategic positioning and capacity to champion new development models, particularly for launching the region into a new era of economic prosperity and social transformation. But as often, the region has not seen any meaningful development, not for want of plans and roadmaps, but because its leaders in recent times have always failed to act in ways that could bring about significant results.

For the Director-General, DAWN Commission, Mr. Seye Oyeleye, the regional integration process in Southwest is an opportunity to leverage economies of scale and socio-economic advantages.

He said it was expedient for the Southwest states to work together in order to make the region the first place of choice for people to visit, live, work, and invest.

“This is the motive for the existence of DAWN Commission, but it is a task for all,” he said. “All hands must be on deck to drive sustainable investment into the critical sectors in the region as well as creating an enabling environment for both existing and potential investors.”

The pioneer General Manager, Corporate Affairs, Odu’a Investment Company, Oloye Lekan Alabi, noted that DAWN had been organising a number of initiatives and seminars to sensitise stakeholders, harness the human and natural resources and move the region forward in terms of development and bring back the old glory.

Alabi, who said that many people do not know the inner workings of the DAWN Commission, stressed that a lot of hardwork was being done by the agency with a view to actualising the objectives for which it was set up. He added that, for instance, through his interaction with officials of the commission sometime last year, it was co-ordinating substantial farming initiatives between some of the states such as Lagos and Ogun.

Without doubt, considering its immense competitive leverages, the Southwest region can become the growth engine of Nigeria, and indeed all of Africa.

Despite its strategic geographical positioning, abundance of natural and infrastructural resources, including tourism assets, comparably high opportunities for quality human capital formation, auspicious climatic conditions, favourable demographics, among other latent strengths, the region’s economic performance remains sub-optimal.

However, in the opinion of the national chairman, Afenifere Renewal Group and former chief whip of the House of Representatives, Olawale Oshun, the current crop of political leaders in the region, especially the governors, must provide the leadership, chart the course, rally the people around defined aspirations, create the enabling environment, leverage the human and material resources, and deliver high standards of public service that will increase the competitiveness of the region.

Oshun said, “Our leaders must situate the welfare of the people at the centre of all development plans and strategies. This is the compelling requirement to transform our region and make it great again. We cannot afford to fail.”