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Governor Makinde: The limits of populism

By Segun Odebunmi

After about one month and two weeks of his inauguration, Governor Seyi Makinde of Oyo State is in the news again in a very dramatic way. His recent public declaration of assets valued at about N48.1 billion got many people talking.

Makinde
Oyo State Governor Seyi Makinde

Much as many Nigerians who canvass transparency in government have commended his decision to make a public asset declaration, those who understand the technicalities of asset declaration and what the law says about it are of the strong view that the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) will do well to subject such declarations to thorough investigation.

The reason for canvassing this position is for the CCB to ensure that public office holders who are compelled by law to declare their assets upon assumption of office do not make false or anticipatory declarations. By so doing, the CCB will be protecting its own integrity and putting to rest, all doubts and questions arising from such declarations made by public office holders.

Governor Makinde has been in the news since his assumption of office for many pronouncements, decisions and actions which have attracted and arrested public attention for their populism and controversial nature. Over the past few weeks of his administration, some interest groups and well meaning individuals in Oyo State have began to wonder what he is actually up to.

The thinking is that he seems to have focused more on quite a number of things that don’t really matter, issues with much of entertainment value, leaving out the substance of governance. This has kept the people in suspense. It has been, for many people, a period of all motion and no movement as they say.

For instance, some people believe that he has engaged in a needless argument about contract awarded for the construction of the Iseyin-Moniya-Oyo Road, which was awarded by the previous government, claiming that it was awarded at a sum of N2billion/km to a faceless contractor.

But to allege that a contract was awarded to a faceless contractor as his allegation tends to suggest, leaves much to be desired in view of the fact that Makinde himself is an engineer by training. A simple search at the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) to determine whether the company was dully registered in the country would have saved the governor and the state the trouble of engaging in a needless debate.

Here is a company that has done several other projects in the country. And to show the level of transparency that was involved in the award of the contract, the contractor secured an Advance Payment Guarantee (APG) from a reputable bank to assure government that if payment was made, the contractor would not abscond with the money.

This is a safety net that guards against a default in the execution of a contract. Above all, the contract went through due process. It is on record that the contractor was supposed to collect 30% payment, but he did not as he was given about half of that. The fact of the matter is that the contract was awarded based on the standard going rate for such contracts.

From an unbiased perspective, the questions that should be asked are, was the contract sum inflated? Also, why pick on a particular road out of the numerous road projects done by the Ajimobi administration? As an Engineer by training, Governor Makinde knows that the cost of road construction varies, depending on the road architecture. So he should not be misled by attention seeking advisers and self appointed experts on issued they know little or nothing about.

The governor should realise that the Ajimobi administration met uncompleted projects and completed them without raising dust. He should, therefore, complete the projects he met on ground instead of displaying ignorance of governance. He should also observe that roads constructed about six to seven years ago by the Ajimobi administration are still intact. They are standard roads and have not shown any sign of collapse.

Another worrisome issue that has been in the public domain since Makinde was inaugurated is the claim that he met a debt of N150 billion. For those who understand governance that only shows that he may not have a good understanding of budgeting.

The basic thing he should know is that debt is meant to finance shortfall in budget and expand the economy. States and big businesses borrow to finance their operations. Therefore, the governor should understand that in budgeting, provisions are equally made for debt financing.

The simple thing to note is that there is no government that does not borrow. Take a look at the United States of America. It is the seat of democracy with one of the strongest economies in the world, yet it has the highest debt profile in the world today.

If you take a look at the debt profile of all the states across the country, it is obvious that Oyo State does not rank among the top 10 indebted states. As at December 2018, the state’s debt was not up to N89 billion. So how did the Makinde government arrive at N150 billion? Could the government be planning anticipatory borrowing with a plot to allocate that to the out gone Ajimobi administration?

Again, if Governor Makinde’s claim that salary of workers is N5.5 billion while federal allocation is N4.5 billion; also, IGR is about N2 billion, how did the Ajimobi administration raise the money it spent in all the infrastructural projects?

To further put the issue in proper perspective, it is important to note that among the debt Makinde is talking about is the $200 million (N72 billion) from the World Bank to tackle the yearly flooding in Ibadan. It is also, evident that perennial flooding in Ibadan has stopped. Of that amount, less than 30 per cent has been spent. The government is free to return the yet unspent money.

It has also been argued that given the size of Oyo State as the second largest in the country, if indeed, the claim of N150 billion debt is anything to go by, is that enough for Governor Makinde to declare the state bankrupt, thereby de-marketing the state in a bit to rubbish his predecessor when he should be promoting it?

Could Governor Makinde in all honesty say that Ajimobi did not improve the state? Think about his achievements in social and physical infrastructure, introduction of policies such as the School Governing Board (SGB), Agriculture, human capital Development and Social welfare among others.

In view of the high expectations of the people and the seeming disappointment they are currently facing, some have started wondering if indeed, Governor Makinde understands the nitty-gritty of governance. If he does, and he should, anyway, come to terms with the fact that the previous government has played it own part and it is now left for him to raise the bar. He is only expected to take off from where Ajimobi stopped in the interest of the state.

By now, Governor Makinde ought to have realised that governance is a far more serious business than he thought. Anything short of this can only portray him as one who was not prepared to take up the challenge of governance. All he needs do is to concentrate on what he wants to achieve and not to discredit the past administration.

Governor Makinde has also taken some actions that probably require further critical examination. The reopening of the overhead bridge linking the state secretariat, which was said to have been used only by the governor in the previous administration and his family members, for public use, and its subsequent renaming as Freedom Bridge, is no doubt, a populist action that tends to portray him as a man of the people. But aside from the fact that the move was aimed at maligning the immediate past governor, Abiola Ajimobi, of what benefit is the action to the people?

Just a day after he was sworn-in as the executive governor of Oyo State, Makinde sacked all the local government chairmen in the state. This action was viewed by many well meaning citizens of the state and beyond, as an aberration, an act of lawlessness and a breach of the Nigerian constitution as the chairmen he sacked were duly elected into the positions they occupied.

But he argued that their election was an act of illegality, carried out against a subsisting court order which his administration has resolved to reverse. Again, the popular thinking is that he is doing that only to spite the previous administration.

Whichever way the argument goes, the question still remains, how will the people of Oyo State benefit from this action, particularly, the majority of the people who are full of expectations for the governor to deliver his campaign promises.

Similarly, two days after his inauguration, the governor announced the proscription of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) in the state, stating that their activities in recent times amount to security threats in the state. But the action, many believe is only skin deep. He also went overboard by dissolving the Oyo State Independent Electoral Commission (OYSIEC), which some political observers viewed as resorting to self help.

Rather than rely on cheap propaganda, the governor should get down to work, in order to deliver tangible deliverables within his term of office. He should concentrate on good governance, security of lives and property as well as socio-economic development. He does not need to dismantle what Ajimobi did in his time to gain popularity. That, certainly was not among the things he promised the people.

Odebunmi writes from Igboho, Oyo State

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