SIMON EBEGBULEM, BENIN CITY
Mr Taiwo Akerele is the Chief of Staff to Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo state. A financial expert like his boss, the Akoko Edo born Akerele, in this interview with Saturday Vanguard in Benin city, spoke about the vision and mission of the Obaseki administration. Excerpts:
Your appointment came as a shock to many, how do you feel about it?
I feel very humbled and challenged because when you look at the history of people who are usually appointed as Chief of Staff, they are people who are elderly or in their 50s and above across Nigeria but I think there is a paradigm shift. For the governor to have confidence and trust in me and found me worthy to be appointed Chief of Staff, I am very humbled and I can assure him and the people of Edo state that we are not going to disappoint.
I have managed very challenging projects in the past on behalf of the state government. I was in charge of the public financial programme on Youth Employment Project for the World Bank and for five years I successful piloted the programme. I can assure the people of Edo state that the zeal, the professionalism, the commitment, that I brought to bear in the management of the World Bank project is the same that I will also bring on board in the discharge of my duties as COS to the government.
What is your background?
A lot of people don’t really know my background. Just like the governor came in from the financial industry, I also came in from the financial service sector in 2008 when I was a Senior Assistant Manager at Afribank. Before then I have worked at the UBA, FCMB and I was also at the Lagos Business School where I worked at the Centre for applied economics with Prof Doyle Salami, Prof Pat Utomi and other reputable professors.
When I joined government in 2008 as the Senior Special Assistant to the Governor on Economic Policy, by default I became a politician and immediately identified with my people in Akoko Edo Local Government and since then I have been helping to mobilize for elections. I helped with the first election when we came on board, as well as all the re-run elections in Akoko Edo even though I was a technocrat. I participated actively in mobilizing the youths to actively get involved in political party process.
What are those good qualities you can identify with Governor Obaseki?
Governor Obaseki is very good at listening to people. He talks less and listens more, and you could see it in his action, he is someone who wants to achieve results. For eight years now that we have worked together at the Economic Team, he supported the former governor in achieving his objectives. Most policy ideas are sent to the Economic Team for implementation. The same way he executed his campaign without talking too much, he identifies specific issues that he addresses. He is a man who believes in methodology, he doesn’t rush into solving problems, he looks at the root cause of a problem, identifies the specific steps to be taken and he executes.
He believes in facts and figures, he doesn’t believe in rumour, I mean he listens but separate the facts from fiction and that is what leadership is all about. He is a very experienced man, he has managed banks, financial institutions, he has worked with different local and international companies, so this is like an additional responsibility and experience for him. Luckily for us we have been working with the government in the last eight years so this is not new, it is like stepping up into another chair and I really want to thank the people of Edo state for the confidence they had in him by voting him in.
Do you think the 200,000 jobs he promised is still achievable?
It is achievable, it is like a vision for a house and the vision has been further broken down into several initiatives and objectives. The kind of agricultural potentials we have in Edo state is enough to create more than 200,000 jobs. The minimum of 200,000 jobs is just an estimate and that is what is going to happen. We are looking at agricultural sector, industrialisation, mining as well as capacity building. Edo state has a lot of colleges; we have Colleges of Agriculture, Schools of Nursing, and institute of Research that was setup by the Nigeria and British government.
It shows Edo state is a potential capital for agriculture in Nigeria. We also have Nigeria Institute for Oil Palm Research, Nigeria Institute for Rubber Research, Cocoa Research Centre at Owan, which is an offshoot of the Cocoa Research Centre at Ibadan. It shows that Edo state is a potential agricultural capital of Nigeria. It is just for us to have the right leadership and thank God Oshiomhole has invested so much in infrastructural development so we are diversifying and investing in Agriculture and Human Capital.
That accounted for why the Governor visited the Benin Technical College on his assumption of office to find out whether we have an institute or centres where youths can be trained to become knowledgeable, skilful and we have them. What we only need to do is to scale them up, build the existing capacity, train teachers to be able to deliver knowledge to our youths so that when the investors we are expecting come, Edo state will already have the relevant skills and human resources to support those investors who are coming.
It is too dangerous to have an army of unemployed youths and that is why the governor is in a hurry to re-build Benin Technical College. We have visited the school of Nursing, we also need to support the health sector so that people who are going out to spend so much money on health can be retained here and spend less than 30 percent of that money on the best health care services. So by doing that the disposable income is enhanced and the prosperity we so much deserve will come to fruition even within a generation.
How are you going to help build the youths in the state?
I want to use this opportunity to encourage every young person to build his or her capacity. Whatever anybody is doing whether acquiring skills or education, they should be focused, they should not be distracted, they should not allow the Nigerian economy to discourage them, they should try and get a skill because there is a skill gap in the Nigerian Economy. As we are getting our certificates let us also acquire the knowledge that will be relevant for economic growth and development in the country. I want to encourage the youths that whatever I have achieved today they can achieve much more but they need to be in the right place at the right time and they shouldn’t complain about assignment. I have served under different commissioners, worked under different permanent secretaries.
When you give me an assignment, yes I may have other assignments but I will not complain that it is too much because hard work doesn’t kill, it actually strengthens you. So I want to encourage the young people that anywhere they find themselves, they should be focused and execute any assignment given to them because somebody somewhere is watching. I usually use myself as an example, I was not in the list of people who were clamouring to become COS. Somehow somebody felt I can do the job and I am happy with the opportunity given to me.
When I became a project manager six years ago I was also chosen unanimously by 6 or 7 commissioners who agreed that I would be able to manage the project and today Edo is one of the best states in terms of implementation of World Bank projects based on how we brought in our professionalism, our enthusiasm and our commitment. Today we have over 4000 people who have been employed in the SEEFOR project, we have successfully done the public financial management reforms, the budget reforms, while the oracle financial system is up and running as a result of our commitment. So for me it is not about age but about the knowledge, about your readiness, your passion, and commitment for the job and getting the right team to work with.
So in terms of youth restiveness in the South-South and Niger-Delta, I want to encourage the youths to take opportunity of the Federal Government Social Investment Programme where we are recruiting teachers, Agricultural extension workers, and community development workers but if they are not skilled they will not be relevant or taken. So everybody must take advantage of the opportunity and build their capacity so that when the opportunity comes they will not be found wanting.