SUB-NATIONAL GOVERNANCE IN NIGERIA: THE EKITI EXAMPLE
Former Governor, Ekiti State;
Africa Leadership Centre,
King’s College, University of London.
Being Founders’ Day Lecture delivered at the Western Delta University,
Oghara, Delta State.
29 April, 2023.
You campaign in poetry and govern in prose.
It is easier to run for office than to run the office.
It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again; who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
What is “Good Governance”? Who determines what is good and bad governance? What yardsticks are applied?…
It is always a matter of utmost pleasure for me to be on a university campus to interact with scholars, students and administrators. It’s even more delightful that I’m doing so at the Convocation Ceremony of a university whose mission is “to produce men and women with intellectual, professional and technological capabilities who can apply their knowledge and skills to the resolution of national and international challenges.” This is credit to the Urhobo scholars who worked hard to establish this impressive institution and have continued to nurture the dream of “safeguarding knowledge for human advancement” since 2007.
When the Pro Chancellor of the University, Professor Eghosa Osaghae approached me to give this lecture, he said I was at liberty to speak on any topic of my choice. A number of topics ran through my mind as I set about the assignment at hand. First, I wanted to speak about the idea and ideals of the University in the Nigeria context as we grapple with what to do with the management of tertiary education. On another level, I thought it might be best to focus on a topic that counsels the young graduates going to the world out there. I wasn’t quite convinced that would appeal to my audience here, since this is the Founders’ Day lecture, not the convocation lecture. I even considered reflecting on our recent electoral journey, but I didn’t want to be accused of the partisanship of a ruling party politician in a PDP environment. I then decided to settle for a reflection on my experience of governing at the sub-national level having just left office barely six months ago. You never know who in this audience is going to be involved in politics and public policy management anytime soon. Besides, management has been a challenge for us at all levels in our country and there are too many assumptions even in the academic environment about what happens in the states and in our local governments. Indeed, from the outside, people in government often look omniscient, omnipotent and all powerful: on the inside though, they often feel helpless, stretched beyond breaking point by the weight of expectations on the one hand and the sheer complexity and difficulty of meeting them on the other.
When running for office, contestants always claim to know better than the person in the saddle. In fact, as a contestant, you are allowed, if not expected, to speak grandly about your vision and how you can turn things around overnight if voted into office. More often than not, no one asks you for evidence or challenge you to justify the many claims that you make on the campaign trail. However, if you are fortunate to win the election, that’s when the rubber meets the road. You would soon discover that governing is about finding real solutions to real problems that affect real people who expect you to solve all their problems every single day. That’s when the poetry and rhetoric of campaign shows give way to the tedious prose of heavy lifting work that people don’t see and therefore would not be on hand to clap for you. That’s when you find that your good intentions are not enough. People want results, and they want it with the urgency of now.
Preparation for Public Office
The tenure of an elected governor is four years. However, in reality the actual functional years hardly add up to three years. That is why elected officials are often advised to hit the ground running and take advantage of the honeymoon period to take some tough decisions. Whether you would be able to do these or not, would depend on how much efforts and time you have devoted to developing your own policy agenda. In my experience, some chief executives do come to office without a development agenda. Some only start to fish around for ideas after getting into office, while others just simply muddle through on a day-by-day basis. Almost all come to office with some kind of campaign manifesto. But like I noted at the beginning, these are hardly more than marketing tools. What eventually informs your budget are derivations from the manifesto which has been taken through the mills of actual stakeholders and is a product of broad and deep consultation. They are multi-year plans that have been fully-costed in the light of your financial realities. While the manifesto tells the people what you plan to do in broad terms, this plan tells you and everyone in your team, not only what you want to do, but also how you want to do it, including the time lines for delivery.
In times past, it used to be the case that political parties had a common manifesto which stands as the political agenda of the party and the general principles of governance for all the candidates elected on the party’s platform. That’s when the parties were strong and process driven. In the Second Republic we had UPN with its free education, and NPN with its mass housing, etc. The Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) on whose ticket I ran for office was an offshoot of the Alliance for Democracy (AD), which could also trace its ancestry back to the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) of the Second Republic and all the way back to the Action Group (AG) of the First Republic. The ACN, embraced a more grassroots model of economic development that promised dignified employment and a decent wage, good social services and social safety nets, modern functional education that provides marketable labour skills; increased agricultural output, revival of moribund industries, promotion of knowledge economy and provision of modern infrastructure.
My 2006 campaign manifesto document – Making Poverty History: Roadmap to Ekiti Recovery – The Eight Point Agenda was anchored on the national manifesto of ACN in the specific context of Ekiti State and its local realities. In it, I highlighted in great detail what we were going to do in office in the areas of Functional Education and Human Capital Development, Modernising Agriculture, Improving Healthcare, Infrastructure and Industrial Development, Promoting Arts, Culture and Tourism Development, Gender Equality and Women Empowerment.
I must admit that in preparing for office, I had a unique opportunity. The three and a half years that we spent in court to retrieve our stolen mandate gave us time to fine tune the various aspects of the manifesto. Through our elected representatives in the hung parliament (the 2007 parliament in Ekiti was 13 members for us and 13 for PDP in the 26-member parliament), we appointed a shadow team and developed the citizens’ budget which later formed the fulcrum of our budgeting when eventually we got in the saddle.
For those three years – 2008 – 2010, we published alternative annual budgets to coincide with the release of the official state budget, basically to highlight our differing priorities and demonstrate to the people the difference between our people-oriented approach of doing development with the people and the Government’s top-down approach of doing development for the people. This approach also became the hallmark of our budgeting process in the eight years we spent in office. I can say that this participatory governance approach is not only good for democracy and good governance, it is also good for politics. It makes it easy for the people, especially the critical stakeholders to own government policies and actions, and to volunteer as vanguard of change and on behalf of government. As a result of this approach, there’s hardly any community in Ekiti in my eight years in office where we did not implement physical projects suggested by the community and jointly executed with them.
By the time we eventually won in courts and got inaugurated barely twenty-four hours after the court pronouncement, I already had a sense of specific steps to take in the eight areas of focus and who to appoint to do specific tasks in government. We had a 100-Day Plan fully costed and a draft revised budget. In other words, we had assembled the key members of the team and were also ready to hit the ground running.
Let me say at this point that one of the important challenges that every Governor would face early on is that of making key appointments. Apart from the challenges of ethnic or regional and religious balancing, you also have political IOUs to settle. Every Governor would have to strike the right balance between appointing core politicians who had been involved in our long and torturous political struggle that brought the Governor to office and the technocrats who will be required to undertake specific assignments for the smooth running of the government. While the local political context would determine what the right balance is, this is something every new governor must always be mindful of. But it would always be helpful if you understand what your key priorities are. This will help you to understand those appointments you can play politics with and those you have to assign to the best possible hands. The balance is that you cannot take all away from politics, and you cannot give all to politics. However, a key lesson from my own experience is that whether one is a technocrat in government or a core politician, all political appointees must be strongly connected to their communities.
I have argued here that you cannot get away with not having a clearly defined plan that articulates your priorities based on wide consultations. I will add immediately that governance is a process. It must therefore be dynamic enough to respond to new information and new knowledge that you would encounter in the course of implementation and as you deepen your interaction with the people; or even to a force majeure like the CoronaVirus pandemic which took almost two years out of the tenure of the Governors in that era. The dictum therefore – for every new Governor should be: Be prepared, but also be flexible!
Funding the Vision and Mission
One major challenge that every elected Governor encounters is how to quickly mobilise adequate resources to accomplish the promises made to the electorate. The temptation is to mount an inquisition into what transpired on the watch of the immediate past Governor. Whilst it is eminently sensible to review state finances if only to gain necessary understanding and ensure accountability, it usually ends up in arguments of “you be thief, I no be thief”. If you are not careful, you could spend your entire tenure chasing shadows instead of recovering any money that you thought could help with your projects. As most Governors have discovered in office, it’s a distraction that one could ill afford. As Chairman of the Governors Forum, I spent quite a bit of time interceding between new and immediate past Governors on issues relating to financial accountability. My conclusion is that it is always better for the incumbent to draw a line in the sand and just move on. Apart from the fact that such inquisitions hardly yield much fruits, it unnecessarily overheats the system and keep the outgoing governor alive in the consciousness of the public. If you bear in mind that no matter how bad he must have been, he must have his own supporters and people who were with him. Most importantly, he does not have a job. He can therefore afford to be the devil’s workshop. You cannot. He has all the time in the world. You don’t.
Given the sudden recovery of my mandate in October 2010 and the unplanned exit of my predecessor from office, a quick review of state finances revealed a state in severe financial crisis with many on-going infrastructure projects unpaid for and contractors turning up with backlog of certificates. Meanwhile we had arrived, armed with our own ambitious programme contained in our own Roadmap to Ekiti Recovery, with emphasis on several social investment programmes like free education up to senior secondary school, free health programme for the vulnerable segments of the population, expanded infrastructural development and modernisation of the agricultural sector. We therefore needed a serious financial engineering to rescue the state.
There are three major ways you make money in government. You make, beg or borrow. What you make from your IGR and investment holdings is what you make. Your receipts from Federation Account and what you may get as grants from international development agencies are unearned incomes, which I classify as begging. Then the loans you are able to obtain are your borrowings. In all categories, Ekiti at the time I took over was in dire straits. This was the time that oil price had dipped in the international market leading to a significant reduction in oil revenue to the Federation account. I must also add that, in any case, Ekiti is at the bottom of the States’ federation receipts ladder even in the best of time. Moreso, the internally generated revenue in Ekiti was nothing to write home about at an average of N109m per month. And to make matters worse, it was also a period of agitation for increased minimum wage by the trade unions and there was little or no support from bi-lateral and multi-lateral development agencies to Ekiti State. Indeed, the situation was so desperate as we usually had nothing left after we had paid out workers’ monthly wages and operational costs.
Given this rather parlous context, we had to think outside the box. We started by intensifying our engagements with development partners and approached the financial market for a bond. Having been instrumental to securing the support of the UKAiD Governance programme for Ekiti State under Governor Adebayo as well as my own extensive involvement with the development sector in Nigeria, we started to re-engage many of the development partners who responded positively to the agenda we shared with them. The fact that we had a plan in place was a critical success factor in those missions. We got the World Bank to support our Education and Health programmes, including the support of our rural teachers allowance and our core subject allowance which were packaged as incentives to teachers willing to serve in hard to reach places and those teaching core subjects. We also successfully secured support from the World Bank and the European Union for a comprehensive urban water rehabilitation programme which upgraded our major water dams in the State and at the same time reconstructed water pipelines across the state.
We also secured a N25billion infrastructure bond that was spent on a comprehensive road rehabilitation programme, the Ikogosi Tourist Centre, the resuscitation of the Ire Clay factory, construction of the Government House, the Ekiti Pavilion, the Markets and the Liaison Office in Lagos. Also, by 2014, we had successfully increased the IGR to N600m from the paltry N109m when we came into office in 2010. By the end of my second tenure in office in 2022, our IGR had hit and average of N1 billion per month.
The point here is that your plans are only as good as the resources you are able to mobilise to fund them. It is good to be ambitious, but it is also sensible to be realistic. No government can have all the money that is required to work. However, with a little bit of creativity, drive and careful management, it is possible to mobilise enough resources to fund your agenda within a clearly defined scope. It is also worth pointing out that even with the best of plans, things may not turn out the way one had hoped. As a state in a federation that relies on allocation from the centre, the state’s economy would always be tied to the vagaries of federal revenue which in turn is subject to the volatility of the international oil market. This is why the most financially sustainable of our states would be those whose development agenda is not entirely dependent on the allocation from the Federation Account.
Like a business, the state also has to continue to find new ways of reducing the cost of governance and also of plugging leakages. We refrained from sacking workers because of the obvious political and social cost. Instead, we left exits to natural attrition. By introducing a biometric integrated payroll system, we successfully eliminated the scourge of ghost workers and reduced waste in payroll management. This way we were even able to increase workers minimum wage three times in the course of my time in office – from N7, 500 per month in 2010 to N13, 500 per month in 2012 to N18, 000 per month in 2014 to N30,000 per month in 2019.
By the time I returned to office in 2018, we had established a credible record with our development partners which helped the state to mobilise more resources and many partners who left the state during my predecessor’s tenure returned with their support. Some of these included support for our technical education programme – IDEA, the Adolescent Girls programme – AGILE, the Rural Access to Agricultural Markets Programme – RAAMP for our rural roads, the NEWMAP – Erosion Watershed Management Programme, NG-CARES programme – all from the World Bank and the Ekiti Knowledge Zone and Agricultural Processing Zone initiatives supported by the Africa Development Bank. The challenge of donor funding and development partnerships is the often inexplicable delays in project implementation. There were projects for which we secured support at the beginning of my second tenure in office which did not commence effectively till my departure from office. This is one reason why continuity of people with institutional memory of projects is key.
With regards to public private partnerships, we approached the Legislature immediately we came into office with a PPP law and set up a PPP office. We subscribed fully to factors critical to ease of doing business which culminated in the establishment of the Ekiti State Development and Investment Promotion Agency (EKDIPA). We were bullish in selling the state capacity and unique points to the market. We presented ourselves at the Nigeria Stock Exchange and attended several investment roadshows and declared Ekiti as ready for business. In no time, we began to attract interests in the state from the private sector and signed partnership agreements with Promasidor Industries to revive our moribund Ikun Dairy Farm with a $5million investment including the importation of 500 jersey cows and the production of 100,000 litres of milk on a monthly basis in Ekiti. Others like JMK Farms built a rice mill and Promise Point and Arog built cassava mills. Agbayewa Farms established presence and recruited over 200 workers in the state. In the 2022 Ease of Doing Business ranking, the State had climbed up the ladder as the most attractive investment destination in the South West in terms of investment climate and enabling environment.
Equally, Ekiti gained the confidence of the financial market. Having paid off our first infrastructure bond of N25b taken during my first tenure, we were able to secure another infrastructure bond of N25billion which was exclusively utilized to fund the Agro-Cargo Airport project, the Independent Power Project, the first phase of the Ado-Iyin-Aramoko-Itawure Dual carriage way and the Agriculture Land Management Programme.
Although the fiscal headroom for borrowing was significantly reduced by the time I left office, it would have been most difficult, if not outrightly impossible to have accomplished all that we did in Ekiti if we had not adopted this complex mix of financial strategies to fund capital projects that were most needed for the growth and development of the State. Contrary to the views held by ideological purists, the choice for us was not between markets and government but the effective combination of the two. Otherwise, all we would have accomplished in office would have been just payment of salaries to workers that are not up to 10 percent of the entire state without any infrastructural development to show for the entire tenure, even though these were the priorities for the citizens during our annual citizens’ budget engagements.
In spite of our best efforts, there were still funding gaps as a result of the fluctuations to Federation account finances and reduced prospects of internally generated revenue in the CoviD Pandemic period. Indeed, in my last year in office, the oil company – NNPC – contributed nothing to the Federation Account thus further complicating the financial vulnerability of most states, which led many states to inevitably pile up debts as a result of the pandemic.
One of the steps put in place to address this challenge at the level of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum was the World Bank supported States’ Financial Transparency, Accountability Stabilization (SFTAS) Programme, which incentivised states for ensuring transparency and accountability in their finances. In addition, the Governors Forum was also able to negotiate the netting off of states debts to the Federal Government against outstanding receipts from the FG to states owed over the years. With this, states were able to gain more fiscal headroom to stabilize state finances and put incoming administrations on a much firmer footing. In this context, we also worked with the Debt Management Office to determine common ceiling for States so as to avert the difficulty of borrowing beyond the state’s capacity to pay.
One major area of concern for most states which requires a concerted effort by all states is in the management of pension obligations and gratuity payments which is constituting a significant cog in the wheel of progress in virtually all the states. It is my hope that the Governors Forum will be in a position to help develop a comprehensive package that will represent a one-off settlement of these obligations whilst also encouraging states that are yet to subscribe to Contributory Pension Scheme to do so with this one-off assistance. This could come in the form of promissory bonds. From the political and social development point of view, it is important that states are able to find sustainable solutions to the problems of pensions so that they are able to wipe the tears off the faces of people who have served selflessly who are now caught in poverty as a result of this pension problem. In this regard, it will be important for the incoming administration to deepen further the devolution programme which President Buhari recently signed by removing power and rail transportation from the exclusive list to the concurrent list – and extending this to multi level policing in internal security and justice sector devolution.
In the end, I can argue that we didn’t completely eradicate poverty in the State, and no one could in the period of two terms in office; independently verifiable evidence points to a state that has significantly reduced multidimensional poverty. By the time we were leaving, Ekiti ranked fifth out of 36 least affected states by multi-dimensional poverty. Our strides in the field of education has been acknowledged as the state with the highest enrolment and lowest out-of-school children has also been acknowledged by UNICEF and UNDP. Not to mention the health indicators which continue to reflect effective and focused management of resources in the health sector.
To consolidate on these strides and stabilize plans for funding under subsequent administrations, we also embarked on producing a fully costed 30-year Ekiti State Development Plan (2021 – 2050). This gives all interested development partners a clear sense of the State’s priorities and where each partner – public or private – could come in to assist. This will assist the new Government with the latitude to phase its development efforts and the predictability to give confidence to a variety of private and public sector financing as well as development partners’ support.
From my experience, it is obvious that some Governors will more or less lay a new foundation for their State’s finances. Some would be fortunate to inherit something that had already started working well. Whatever the case, the yardstick for a competent governor will be measured not only by the ability to spend money sensibly, but also by the ability to make money for the state. States now have to think like a business. If we are able to develop a compelling and comprehensive plan that will prove attractive to development partners, private sector investors and intergovernmental entities, we don’t have to surrender to the limitations and dictatorship of the FAAC allocation.
The Power of Leadership as Service and Sacrifice
I have emphasised the need to have a plan. But even this can only be derived from a commitment or at least, a desire to make the difference and leave the state better than we met it. It is worth pointing out that best intentions are never enough. It is so easy to get caught up in the appearances, attending meetings, social events, playing politics and even pushing files. In the end, there would be little or nothing to show for it. It is however, difficult to imagine a governor with a clearly articulated plan of his own getting into office and surrendering to frivolities. As you would find, leadership is mostly a thankless job. But we asked for it. The sacrifice that one is required to make is so huge that it is only with a clear ethical perspective and a sense of duty to something bigger than yourself that you can wake up every single day willing and able to continue to push.
At the beginning, the sirens, the privileges, the power, all the special attention that you get would make one look back and feel that the gruelling campaign had paid off. But believe me, all these would soon lose their attraction as they become a routine part of your life. In no time, you would find yourself wondering, “so, why am I here?”, “If I leave here today, what would I be remembered for, what would I show for having passed through here?” If you are able to anticipate this in advance, it would be much easier to focus on what really matters in the end. I often heard people say that someone has changed after gaining political power. In fact, the historian, Barbara Tuchman wondered why ordinarily intelligent people tend to behave in a manner contrary to common sense once they gain political power. My view is that if people come to the office with a burning desire to help, and wakes up every day asking, “how am I helping my people?” It would be difficult not to focus on what really matters.
To make a wholesome difference, leaders must place great store on capacity, competence, character and compassion and above all courage to act in the overall interest of the citizens at all times, even if it doesn’t earn one popularity prize. While one must learn the art of manoeuvring for political survival, it is important to understand that genuine leadership is not a popularity contest. Leadership is neither the office nor the title. Leadership is sacrifice. Leadership is opportunity. Leadership is privilege and service.
Take Governance beyond Partisanship: The Civil Service is Critical
Public bureaucracy should in theory enable political leaders to deliver expected outcomes for citizens: in practice, they can become cogs in the wheel of progress. Wherever a government succeeds in significantly impacting the lives of its citizens, the success is often not only based on the quality of the vision of its political leadership but also on the quality of the service rendered by the bureaucrats that implemented the decisions. A good example of this is the Obafemi Awolowo led Western Region of Nigeria and its Simeon Adebo led civil service.
Upon assumption of duty as Governor in 2010, one of my first acts in office was to request the renowned public service expert, Professor Ladipo Adamolekun formerly of the World Bank to help review the Ekiti civil service and develop a civil service transformation plan. Professor Adamolekun developed a merit based civil service transformation strategy [CSTS] and played an active role in helping to recruit and assess its leadership and higher echelon throughout my two terms in office. The civil service transformation strategy had six key result areas namely, effective governance of the civil service, organisational efficiency and effectiveness, professional and result oriented civil servants, ethical and accountable workforce with a changed work culture, improved competence of civil servants as well as improved public financial management.
To provide a launch pad for our Roadmap to Ekiti Recovery, we embarked on a holistic reform of policy formulation and implementation in the State. To ensure prompt service delivery, we established the Office of Transformation, Strategy and Delivery (OTSD), with the aim of re-shaping our government functions, re-engineering its processes and systems in order to ensure implementation of government’s developmental programmes in a more effective and efficient manner.
The office adopted an all-of-government approach that is focussed on service delivery. It also endeavoured to remove bureaucratic barriers impeding policy implementation by undertaking quarterly assessments of MDAs in respect of their work plans and key performance indicators. We transformed the budget process by putting the people on the front burner of policy formulation. For the first time, the Governor on an annual basis started convening town hall and village square meetings before budget preparation to discuss the people’s needs with the people themselves. Budgetary outcomes throughout my time in office reflected mostly the outcomes of such conversations and formed the basis of the 30-year Development Plan my administration bequeathed to my successor in office. This is a radical departure from the usual top-down approach where government officials allocate resources to the citizenry without their input. Another initiative embedded in the budgeting system was the adoption of results-based budgeting methods as against the historical incremental approach. By this method, MDAs actually justified their revenue and expenditure proposals to ensure efficient allocation of public funds to priority sectors.
In all, in the area of governance, our goal was to enhance participatory governance and accountability, thus motivating the citizens with ideas for better productivity. In this regard, we took a number of crucial steps that new Governors may find replicable in their states. First, we established a regime of legislation to guarantee a predictable environment of good governance and promote transparency and accountability. We domesticated the Freedom of Information Law, making it possible for citizens to access unclassified government documents – the first state to do so in Nigeria. We also enacted the Fiscal Responsibility Act, Public Procurement Legislation, Public Private Partnership Law and a Gender Based Violence Prohibition Law among eighty new legislations in my two terms in office. For the first time too, we were able to replace the Edicts and Laws of the old Ondo State of which we were a part with the laws of Ekiti State.
Second, we adopted a merit-based system of appointment and promotion of civil servants, including at the highest levels of the state bureaucracy. The chief bureaucrats, including the Head of Service, Permanent Secretaries, and the Accountant General and Auditor General were all selected through an open, competitive process. In an environment hitherto dominated by patrimonialism and clientelism, this was a transformative step and it has led to the rejuvenation of the civil service, such that we now have civil servants who are capable of driving the people-focused policies and programmes of the government and also compete well in local and international programmes like the AIG Oxford Civil Service Reform programme. You can only ignore the Civil Service at your peril. However, be clear about what you want and insist on results, not effort.
Implement Tough Decisions Early
Whether you want to or not, every Governor will be confronted with taking tough decisions in the course of being in office. A key lesson drawn from the Ekiti experience on my watch is the need to take necessary but difficult decisions and implement them early in order to manage the inevitable backlash that’s bound to accompany such decisions. In our determination to achieve accelerated development, our review of the state performance highlighted areas in which we were underperforming. For example, teacher quality in our basic education system was flagged as a problem and we decided to implement a Teachers Development Needs Assessment to identify specific gaps in individual teacher’s quality in order to address the problem. We also introduced a merit-based system for civil service appointments and promotions and at the same time emplaced an integrated biometric payroll system as against the erstwhile, manipulable manual payroll system – all in my first term in office.
The expectation was that the initial euphoria surrounding the popularity of our government will see such tough decisions through. We were wrong. The lesson is that we did not start early enough. Two, we underestimated the entrenched powers and principalities in each of the sectors in a state whose economy and politics are often heavily influenced by civil servants. This is a key factor that new Governors in a hurry to deliver public goods must pay attention to. Whilst I will still insist that the tough decisions are taken early, the value of sequencing must be taken to heart. Sequencing enables tough decisions to be taken but in a manner that is not totally disruptive of status quo ante in one fell swoop. Very careful study of the local terrain and its power map must be done before implementing polarising reforms. Every reform has gainers and losers. More often than not, the losers are more vocal and more disruptive. We must understand that the statusquo that we intend to uproot exist to service certain interests. We must expect that those vested interests would push back. We must therefore anticipate how they are likely to react, and prepare for it accordingly. More importantly, we must realistically evaluate our ability to push through such reforms, relative to the strength of the resisting party and measure the cost before we embark on such actions. It is also extremely important to control the communication. In our case, we allowed the teachers’ union to sell the narrative that our ultimate objective was to sack teachers and not to correct gaps and re-train the teachers. In situations that will lead to loss of jobs, the exit strategy must be seen to be compassionate in the range of options offered.
Public Communication is imperative
In 2014 when I lost my second term election in Ekiti State, there were many who cast the polls as a contest between an aloof intellectual consumed by the minutiae of governance and infrastructural development and a people-pleasing populist who showed that he was in tune with the masses. Our administration was said to be too bookish and too focussed on reversing the poverty trend in the state and thus easily upstaged by a charismatic challenger who understood the power of “stomach infrastructure” – a euphemism for immediate gratification over long term development. However, what has transpired in my home state since 2014 has further fortified my belief that cheap populism and opportunistic demagoguery do not represent what is best in us as a people and hold no potential for actualizing the hopes and dreams of millions of Nigerians. It is a lesson every Governor must take to heart. Populism or playing to the gallery may take you so far and buy you short-term popularity, but it will not guarantee enduring legacy, which you would crave so much after leaving office.
Yet it is easy to believe that when elections are won on dodgy propaganda, cheap populism and criminal brigandage, voters who bought into the sleight of hands might see the error of their ways and self-correction would therefore naturally follow. Unfortunately, when lies become the oxygen of politics and governance, it is often the ethos of politics and the institutions of governance that are largely diminished. Since the voters are supposedly always right, what this does, if care is not taken, is allow them to justify their errors on the simplistic notion that “all politicians are the same” or “this is politics.” Even where there is evidence to suggest otherwise, as was the case in Ekiti in 2014, there still persists a level of self-righteousness that fails to acknowledge these egregious errors of judgement.
While the voter on the one hand must accept culpability for being cast adrift in the ocean of lies, every public office holder must understand the place of constant public communication and not indulge in the mistaken belief that the average voter is so discerning to separate the wheat from the chaff or that your work will speak for you. Your work will not speak for you in this new age of social media. You must speak to your work. Governors must learn how to control the message simply because what really happened is not as important as what people think happened. In short, while substance matters, symbols cannot be ignored. Perception is everything.
If the people, that is, the citizens, are the targets of public policies, then there must be constant mutual communication between the government and the people. Public Communication involves the articulation of public interest which is indispensable in a democratic polity. It is the means by which the citizens would hold their government accountable, and it’s the means by which the government would demonstrate its trust in the wisdom of the people in a democratic process. Governors need to carefully put together a Communications architecture that covers policy, governance, political and community engagement. This architecture needs to be managed by an experienced communications professional and not just someone who has a grasp of one aspect of the complex communications architecture. The situation in each state will vary according to the needs and priorities of each Governor but it is something to pay attention serious to.
State Building is a Continuum: Real and Enduring Change happens incrementally!
Despite our best efforts over my two spells of eight years in office, we cannot claim to have solved all the problems. But the important point here is that we don’t need to. We don’t need to solve all problems or even solve a problem completely before we can lay claim to progress. Incremental change is sometimes as important, if not more important than revolutionary change. A tweak in one factor that is able to set a state on the right course, represents progress. Another tweak that is able to move it even one degree forward is also a vital progress. It is important for us to recognise this marginal progress so we don’t give in to despair and despondency that no matter what we do, nothing would change. Take education for example. Actual results take several years to manifest in the real accomplishment of the children and evidence would continue to be gathered on whether which particular action has yielded what particular outcome beyond the lifetime of an administration. However, a policy that is able to improve the ability of children to read more words per minute this year than they were able to read last year must be noted as remarkable achievement. This is why sustainability is so central to government at all levels.
On my exit from office, Ekiti had the highest enrolment per capita of school children and lowest out of school children’s rates in Nigeria, it continues to have one of the lowest child and maternal mortality rates, lowest HIV prevalence in the country and one of the highest life expectancies partly as a result of our social security benefit scheme – the first of its type in any State in Nigeria established in 2010. This is backed by law so as to ensure continuity. The only way to continue to improve on this incremental change is if policies and programmes that produced them are sustained. But we know that all these gains can be easily lost or reversed if efforts are not sustained beyond the life of our administration.
One of the critical innovations that we introduced in Ekiti which became the first of its kind in the country was the Transition Law enacted by our House of Assembly. The 2019 Transition Law outlines the specifics of the relationship between an outgoing and an incoming government. In addition, the law prohibits abandonment of projects started by the previous governments but which remain uncompleted by the time the new administration takes over. To strengthen the principle behind the law, I ensured that all physical projects started by my predecessors were completed by my administration. For me, it speaks to strong financial management to save the state’s resources this way. I am glad to report that the new Governor in the state has followed the same principle and has made it a priority to use his first year to complete uncompleted projects. With the 30-year Development Plan, it is also easy to see how continuity in the area of project completion also contributes significantly to the state’s overall development agenda.
The old aphorism comes to hand here: Success without succession ultimately amounts to failure.
Leading with Legacy in Mind: Success and Succession
However noble our motives for going into politics, however accomplished we may be as administrators, one truth stands unimpeachable: no (wo) man is indispensable. We serve by the grace of God and at the pleasure of the electorate. We must lead with one eye on today and the other on the future. As political leaders, this involves mentoring young leaders to carry on from where we stop. This has not been a particularly strong point of leadership in our environment. Too often, we are suspicious of the young. We marginalise talented youth that we should be grooming, seeing them as threats, instead of nurturing them as successors. We are often afraid to retain aides with superior intellect and archaic, paternalistic attitudes still dominate our leadership models and have aborted countless opportunities for positive change and innovation.
Leadership is a continuum. And for our leadership to truly stand the test of time, it must be driven by a trans-generational perspective. We must cultivate and nurture those who will take our exertions for a better society to higher levels. We absolutely must mentor young people. Indeed, the litmus test for our success as leaders is not how many people we are leading but how many people we transform into leaders. In other words, how many people we are empowering to realise their own potential as leaders?
Each generation of leaders must stand on the shoulders of those who came before them. Whatever our successes as individual leaders, they are incomplete until we have prepared the grounds for succession. This is how positive leadership cultures are perpetuated. Too many promising states and organisations have expired or atrophied with their charismatic leaders or founders because they fail to mentor the next generation to carry the baton of leadership. Both in and out of office, one of my favourite pastimes is nurturing and mentoring young leaders. This is also what we have put into practice in Ekiti State. What we can learn from countries like Singapore and states like Lagos is that nation building is a trans-generational task. It is not about gifted individuals. The myth of the All-conquering strong leaders hardly endures in any setting if not embedded in values and institutions. It is about leadership traditions based on ideas and values shared across generations. This is what ensures that leadership is continuously refreshed and society is continually renewed. This is how to create a national success story that endures for ages. And the time to start is now, if you haven’t already started.
Having spent two terms in office as Governor and also from my time as Chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum with a bird’s eye view of what goes on in all states, my belief in the need to take governance beyond partisan considerations is more reinforced. Given the general disillusionment with governance reform, our immediate challenge is to rescue our people from underdevelopment.
In short, the process of delivery is important to politics since democracy is threatened if politicians repeatedly make promises they don’t then deliver to the citizens. This is why Delivery or Execution Science or Implementation Studies should be treated with seriousness in our teaching and research institutions. This is a challenge I’m placing before this august assemblage of scholars and practitioners.
In conclusion, it is clear that even when we bring government close to the people in the context of federalism, some of the challenges in the centre get easily replicated at the sub-national levels. What I have discussed above though is not a manual on how to govern. Although, there are principles of governance and service delivery contained therein which apply generally, contexts do matter; and what works in one policy environment may not apply in another. What I have shared in my reflection is a broad account of my experience and what worked and what did not work for me and the lessons drawn there-from. I intend this only as a broad guide which can then be interpreted in the context of other environment and political realities. It is important that scholars of public administration take this further from practitioners like me and illuminate the intellectual space with the sole purpose of running government well so that our citizens can benefit and, by extension, increase their trust in political leaders and government.
I thank you for listening.
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