Ondo: Akeredolu and the tasks ahead

For Rotimi Akeredolu (SAN ), the euphoria of victory and the pageantry of inauguration as the Governor of Ondo State have now evaporated , having given way to the serious business of governance . His preparations for governance include the reports of the various committees he set up to formulate what he tagged “A Blueprint to Progress in Ondo State ( 2017 – 2021 )” and mauling over key appointments, some of which have been made . It is now left for him to reconcile the recommendations of the various committees with the state ’ s financial realities .

However , much as he would have liked to hit the ground running in implementing the Blueprint , the distressed national and state economies are not helpful . The Federal Government has gone a – borrowing , while the state has been surviving on shoestrings . The state has de – industrialised and is heavily in debt. For example , subventions for its tertiary institutions as well as salaries and pensions for workers are in arrears for over six months . The multiplier negative effects are felt across the state . Some workers have been struggling to put food on the table , while many cannot pay up their rents , hospital bills , and children’ s fees . Worse still , fresh graduates cannot find work.
Yet, the task before Akeredolu is to fulfil numerous campaign promises , ultimately ensuring that the Sunshine State does not become the sunset state .

The sad truth , however , is that there is no magic by which the governor could turn the fortunes of the state around during his first year , because the resources are just not there . All he could do is lay the groundwork for achieving the objectives of the Blueprint to Progress in subsequent years , hoping that the state ’ s financial situation might improve .

The necessary groundwork involves the selection of a strong team to work WITH him (not a team to work FOR him ) and plans to achieve three priority projects during the first year . The first priority should be to develop comprehensive strategies for both conserving and generating funds . There are many ways by which state funds could be conserved , including (a ) limiting the number of political appointees and delaying the appointments of , commissioners , special advisers , and other political appointees ; (b ) undertaking a personnel audit to eliminate “ ghost ” and redundant workers ; and (c ) reducing the size of the civil service by attrition, that is , by not replacing those who resign or retire from service . It will be recalled that in Chief Obafemi Awolowo ’ s government of the old Western Region (now consisting of eight states ), there was only one civil service at Ibadan and only about 15 ministers , as commissioners were then known .
Furthermore , in these austere times , the pomp , pageantry, and wasteful spending associated with most Nigerian governors should be cut down . For example , the practice of siren- led large convoys outside the state should be checked . There is no reason for a governor, any governor, to take a dozen or more people to Abuja for a Federal Executive Council or National Economic Council meeting or merely to receive an award outside the state . Such practices lead to an unnecessary drain on state resources .
While working to conserve funds , Akeredolu should also work hard on improving the state ’ s IGR by establishing an effective revenue collection method , borrowing strategies from Lagos State , where appropriate technology , including card readers , has been deployed in order to track taxpayers and their assessed taxes .

From my experience in Akure, there appears to be no standard formula for assessing tax rates for various categories of businesses , let alone a record of taxpayers . Along the popular Oba Adesida Road , for example , tax collectors often show up at various businesses , arbitrarily impose tax on the shop owners and then call for negotiation . At the end of the day , not all the money collected makes it to the state or local government coffers . Besides , the majority of cocoa farmers and marketers , timber loggers, and market women escape tax payment . It is even doubtful if head tax is collected at all in the rural areas .

The second priority should be the prompt payment of monthly salaries, effective from March 2017 . By now, Akeredolu would have found out that he may not be able to afford to do much , if anything, beyond the payment of wages from the meagre resources derivable from monthly federal allocations and Internally Generated Revenue . On the surface , one of the reasons workers ’ salaries are so much in arrears is that the state ’ s monthly wage bill has consistently been much higher than its monthly income for over a year . However , the underlying reasons for this situation , besides dwindling resources , include a bloated civil service , an unnecessarily large number of political appointees , and the habit of not saving for a rainy day .

This translates to a major struggle for Akeredolu to even keep up with salary payment from now on . As for the payment of salary arrears , he should not rush to do it until there are clear indications of improvement in the state ’ s financial situation . In the meantime , however , he could use a portion of the second tranche of the Paris Club refund to pay up some of the arrears , while saving the other portion as a buffer for supplementing future monthly allocations to pay salaries.

The third priority should be education , partly because it touches every family in the state and partly because of its critical role in human resources development . True , every level of education in the state needs one kind of intervention or the other , the state ’ s higher institutions have been especially hard hit by the recession . None of the four institutions has received any state subvention since July 2016 . This has led to strikes and occasional shutdown of one or the other of the institutions.

Inadequate , or lack of , power supply from the national grid has put further stress on the institutions’ meagre resources as their management has had to rely on diesel -powered generators for power supply . In many cases , power supply is rationed, while in other cases, an entire institution is shut down for lack of funds to purchase diesel after spending its limited IGR in paying salaries in order to sustain its workers . To say the least, it is a dire situation .

Yet, higher institutions should be a resource for the state government as their staff are always ready to assist the government, if invited and if treated with respect . Besides , the staff of these institutions, their students , parents , and associated stakeholders are critical in shaping public opinion . Given the high number and spread of higher institutions in the state , any governor who neglects or antagonises them not only deprives the government of useful assistance, such a governor also runs a great electoral risk .
Finally , Akeredolu must try to be an effective governor. Already , there are indications that he wants to keep a relatively low profile and has been saying the right things to different groups of workers in the state . However , he needs more than a low profile in order to govern effectively . In addition to commissioners and advisers , he must have a Kitchen Cabinet of seasoned , knowledgeable , and trusted people , who know the state very well and can look him in the eye and tell him when he is going astray .

Besides , he must seek to know what the people of the state want , rather than what he, as a governor, likes to do for them .
He must not be that governor, who does it all alone , and whose commissioners and advisers do not have free access to him . He must endeavour to keep appointments, and on time . He must be the people ’ s Governor , not just an APC Governor. And he must eschew the politics of exclusivity , by which a hard line is drawn between “us ” and “ them” .

– culled from the Punch

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