Our strategies in tackling unemployment —Ogun gov, Dapo Abiodun
Ogun State governor, Prince Dapo Abiodun, who attained the age of 60 last Friday speaks with Sunday Tribune on development in his state and sundry issues of national significance.
WHAT is your general assessment of the state you were elected to govern?
Ogun State is largely agrarian. It has a large expanse of land and covered predominantly by tropical rainforest and has wooded savanna in the North-West. It’s about 16,000 square kilometres. By providence, Ogun State is the Gateway State. By geography, we are the state that is closest to the fifth largest economy on the continent. We share borders with three other states and a neighbouring country, Benin Republic. We play host to the busiest highway in the country, which is the Lagos – Ibadan expressway. We have the largest number of industries; so we are landlord to the largest industrial hubs in the country. This means that we have an increased level of economic and commercial activities, including cross-border migration. We are also home to a lot of people, particularly those that cannot find a home in Lagos. We are the expansion corridor to Lagos State. We have an ever increasing population for those that live and work in Ogun or those that live in Ogun and work in Lagos. All these and more make us very vulnerable and make our situation very peculiar.
Unemployment is a major issue confronting the country at the moment. How is your government tackling this menace?
There is an obvious nexus between economic development, unemployment, illiteracy and insecurity. And to this extent, we have launched a lot of initiatives to stimulate the local economy and empower our teeming youths. We set up the Ogun State Public Works Agency to ensure that we have an agency that is able to employ our teeming youths through direct labour as against awarding third-party contracts. The Public Works Agency has since commenced work on all our township roads across the state and employed quite a number of our youths. We have also embarked on the rehabilitation of 236 schools, with one school per ward, using direct labour and engaging our youths. We are giving out small loans to our traders as a means of empowering them. We set up a job portal. The idea is to determine the number of underemployed and unemployed youths that we have in Ogun State. Within three weeks, that job portal recorded over 110,000 unemployed/underemployed people. We have appealed to businesses operating in the state to please post their job availabilities on the job portal, because it allows that. We are also considering passing a local content law in Ogun State that will stipulate that a certain minimum of companies’ staff must be Ogun State indigenes.
We are also setting up skills acquisition centres across the state. The first one is the tech hub in Kobape, Abeokuta. We have teeming youths that are very ICT-savvy. We can teach them; we can empower them through these centres. We also decided to partner with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) in the Anchor Borrowers Scheme. The anchor will off take produce from our agricpreneurs. As a state, from our job portal, we decided that we will advertise for those that want to be agricpreneurs and the responses have been very encouraging. To date, we have harvested 10,000 people from our job portal. We have allocated a hectare of land each to them and we gave them the documents attached to the lands. The CBN has provided funding for us for land clearing. CBN will pay them stipends until the harvest. By this, we are turning these boys who are idle hands into agricpreneurs. We plan to engage another 30,000 over the next three months. Our plan is to ensure that over the next two years, we have 200,000 outgrowers in this scheme. We have found few anchors in the area of cassava and maize.
COVID-19 has thrown the global economy into chaos and a developing nation like Nigeria is expected to take serious hits, vis-a-vis Internally Generated Revenue (IGR). Are there any measures in place by your government to cope with post-COVID-19 period?
This is a futuristic government and we have plans well laid-out. Having anticipated the enormity of the economic challenges the prevailing circumstances portend, our government is confident that these measures will sufficiently address them. As a result of the recent global economic challenges resulting from COVID-19 pandemic and the crash in the prices of crude oil, we are taking the following measures to mitigate the imminent reduction in monthly allocations from the federation account: Budget review in line with current realities, restructuring and refinancing of existing loan obligations and processing of new credit facilities to improve the State’s cash flow and take advantage of the more favourable interest rate regime in the country.
Our Government has also banned nonessential travels by all civil servants and political appointees. We are creatively shoring up IGR, eliminating leakages and aggressive cost reduction, especially recurrent cost. Also, we are enhancing accountability and transparency and strengthening the Government Delivery Unit to ensure efficient and effective delivery of projects and policies. Furthermore, government have prioritised capital spending on critical sectors such as agriculture, healthcare, infrastructure, and other projects that will enhance the living standards of the citizenry. Indeed, there is no compromise on our commitment to deliver on our electoral promises as encapsulated in the Building Our Future Together Agenda, regardless of the prevailing economic circumstances.
You recently increased the hazard allowance of health workers in Ogun State and also offered them life insurance. But there are still critical issues begging for attention in the health sector. What have you done in the last one year and how do you intend to address all remaining challenges?
We are taking a holistic approach to fix that sector. From primary, secondary to tertiary levels, we are recruiting doctors, nurses, pharmacists, laboratory scientists and all other categories and cadres of healthcare professionals. We have started with the renovation and equipping of 236 primary health care centres across all the 236 wards in the State. We are remodeling all the secondary ones and we have given facelift to the general hospitals in Ilaro and Ijaiye, Abeokuta.
We have provided state-of-the-art facilities and brought in experts across medical disciplines. We are determined to make the health sector attractive to both residents and non-residents in a way that will provide solutions to health issues and attract investors to the sector and the state. Government is not taking training and continuous professional development of its healthcare workers for granted. Our vision is to make Ogun the health tourist destination of choice, that will attract all and sundry, including investors. We are working across the board and we will also equip and staff these facilities adequately to ensure that the public is given the best service. We are doing periodic outreaches and like I said earlier, we have restored Olabisi Onabanjo University Teaching Hospital (OOUTH) back to its lost glory as a centre of excellence in training of medical officers, research and treatment of all manners of ailments. We are also providing free healthcare for children under age five and all nursing mothers, just as our aged are treated free in all government hospitals.
Apart from venturing into rehabilitation of public primary schools across the 236 wards of the state, what other steps have you taken to revamp the state’s education sector?
I have no illusion as to the position of education and the enormous challenges in the sector. As an Omo Teacher, I know education is the best legacy that can be given to the leaders of tomorrow. At my inauguration as governor, I declared a state of emergency on the sector with a firm pledge of ensuring that the pride we used to have in education will be completely restored. So far, we have walked our talks by increasing budgetary allocation to 20 per cent this year, and we will continue to do that on a yearly basis till the United Nation Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) benchmark is achieved. We are implementing the Universal Basic Education Act, as well as ensuring free education for all children in primary and junior secondary schools. The welfare of teachers is being given utmost priority in order to ensure that best brains are attracted and retrained in the system. Our government approved and implemented career elongation of degree holders in public primary schools for teachers who had been stagnated on Grade Level 14 for years. We promoted 10,000 teachers whose elevation had been delayed since 2016, employed 1,500 basic school teachers and the Teaching Service Commission has also advertised to recruit about 1,000 others. We facilitated the release of 2014-2017 UBE matching grant to the tune of N10 billion which translates into 952 education projects. These projects have two special features, including yellow roof and terrazzo floor in our public primary and secondary schools.
We donated free teaching aids. We keep expanding the capacity of our teachers. We sponsored ANCOPSS representatives to leadership training in Dubai to enhance their performance and service delivery on the job. We also reinstated Oluwole Olusanjo Majekodunmi, the Deputy Director in the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology who was sacked by the previous administration.
Also, the former chairman of the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT), Ogun State Chapter, Dare Ilekoya, who was compulsorily retired, was re-instated. This special act was displayed to show the government’s resolve in addressing all sorts of injustice. We did procurement and installation of Education Management Information System (EMIS) Equipment and gadgets to aid data collection, collation and analysis in the headquarters and all the 20 local government areas in line with the technology-driven education mantra of the present administration and to fast track processing and management of data and other educational information. We have hoisted Ogun SUBEB website, www.ogunsubeb.com.
Of course, the introduction of virtual learning via the Ogundigiclass, a digital classroom for primary and secondary school learners on OGBC, OGTV, DSTV 260 or GoTV 100 holding on Mondays to Fridays between 9:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. has achieved tremendous success, which attests to our innovativeness in the face of the coronavirus pandemic which has paralysed formal classroom learning and teaching. All teaching videos can be viewed on www.ogundigiclass.ng.
In education, we are simply unstoppable and we have awards by our students and teachers to show for our investment in that sector.
Many Nigerians have made a case for the diversification of the nation’s economy from over-dependence on oil. What is your administration doing towards restoring agriculture as mainstay of your state’s economy?
We have never depended on oil in Ogun State. We are industrial, entrepreneurial and agrarian people. We have always believed that it is agriculture that will bail us out because it is not in every part of the world that you have crude oil. If we look into the records of what is going on, a good number of countries in the world are thriving on agriculture. Agriculture is everything. Either in the cloth that we wear, the food we eat or the furniture for our houses. Food, clothing and shelter are the basic essentials of life. For us, we are taking multi-sectoral approach to agric development. Luckily for us in Ogun State, we are inheritors of a great legacy in agriculture. We never really depended on oil revenue as a State. We have nine farm settlements established by the sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, which spread across the state. We have started opening up those farm settlements to make them available for young people who are showing interest in agriculture and residents who need assistance in opening land so that they can be part of the industrial linkage in growing crop and for food security. We also have, in the roadmap for agriculture, to work with the private sector in bringing infrastructure back to the farm settlements. We are emplacing agriculture infrastructure, processors there. We are taking this opportunity to launch ourselves back. In the past, before we started reliance on oil, our economy thrived on tree crops such as cocoa and cashew.
Before COVID-19, we had been having partnership proposals from Europe and everywhere in the world, for us to be able to grow vegetable to satisfy our nutritional demand in every part of the world. We can actually go into massive production of tree crops, vegetables and spices. We can grow vegetable all year around. There are some parts of the world that they only have two or three months to grow crops and they eat throughout the year. So, the dynamics favour us. We only need to build the capacity and support private sector and improve on the business environment, in adherence to national and international quality specifications and standard.
Our Anchor Borrower Scheme targets 40,000 farmers. We are partnering with the CBN that has made us a model in the South-West. We are working hard to maintain our reputation too. For instance, Nigeria is the highest producer of cassava in the world with more than 53 million tonnes annually. Out of the 53 million tonnes, one-tenth comes from Ogun State. Ogun State is home to about four biggest buyers of cassava for small and medium scale processors. Ogun State also has the largest figure. This explains the reason I opened the window of opportunity for 27,000 young people who opted for cassava planting. Last week, in the first batch of intervention in growing cassava, 3,500 people were given the biggest input that any other institution has given to cassava farmers. 60 bundles of stem; 12 litres of insecticides; four bags of fertilisers and N270,000 each, so that they can grow cassava because there are ready-made off-takers. We are using the cassava crop to provide raw materials for the industries, job for young people and food security. I don’t think there is anywhere in Africa that 27,000 cassava farmers have been so empowered.
The cotton being produced in the state has the highest quality. Ogun State cotton is a premium one. The state’s Ministry of Agriculture is working with the Cotton Association of Nigeria. I also released 10,000 hectares of unused land in the state for the growth of cotton. As I speak, over 2,000 cotton farmers have registered under the Cotton Anchor Borrowers’ Programme. They have concluded their documentation with the CBN for the growing of cotton this year. We kick-started the Ogun Broiler Project in December 2019 with 54,000 birds for our youths, each of whom reared 1,000 broilers with a mortality rate of less than 3 per cent and an average weight of 1.9 kilogramme. They each made an average profit of N140,000.00 within six weeks and 42 days of production. This project has also spurred the poultry value chain in the state. This project delivered 110 tons of poultry meat to the off-taker in the first cycle, thereby reducing the importation of poultry products and also placing Ogun State at the vanguard of poultry meat production in Nigeria. We have since commenced the second phase.
In the last one year of your government, not much seemed to have been heard about sports development. Or have you done something significant?
We are committed to a wholesome development of that sector. Our administration’s resolve to involve the private sector in the development of sports in the State through a Sport Trust Fund is without reservation. We understand the economic potentials of that sector. We have a blueprint to where we intend to divide the Ministry of Youth and Sports into two, to accommodate the creation of Ogun State Sports Commission. To underscore the importance of sports, we found out the sector has not been able to achieve its potentials because of these amalgamation. So, we will now have the Ogun State Sports Commission and I am proud to say that the chairman of Value Jet, Mr.Kunle Soname, is going to be the chairman of the commission. Soname, who runs Clube Desportivo Feirense in Portugal, is also the owner of Remo Stars FC and soccer betting company, Bet9ja. Sports potential for job creation is enormous and we have budding talents to develop. It will take our youths off the streets and make them potential millionaires like their counterparts across the world.
And in sports, we have produced great athletes. People like Mathematical Segun Odegbami, the late Muda Lawal, Dupe Oshikoya, Falilat Ogunkoya to mention but a few.
You promised to revisit and resuscitate the abandoned Olokola Deep Seaport project. But one year has gone by and nothing concrete seems to be happening. Can you give an insight into what’s going on?
We promised when we were campaigning that we would rejig the Olokola Free Trade Zone (OKFZ) in Ode Omi in Ogun Waterside Local Government Area and make it one of the economic hubs in the country. The plan is being given life now, despite the tough times we are in. The Olokola Deep Seaport is in our budget this year and we are giving it a special priority attention, because of its strategic importance in jobs and income creation for the teeming unemployed youths as well as boosting the revenue base of the state and socioeconomic life of the indigenes, residents and visitors. The project, we are clear in our minds, will very soon become a multipurpose deep seaport complex and free trade zone, as well as an exporting processing zone. We are taking ownership of the African Development Bank involvement and the pre-feasibility study of the project. It is not just building the port alone that matters, a lot of things need to be put in place to make the port efficient. We are looking at the transport link out of the port. We will connect the seaport to the hinterland and think through other infrastructural need so that we don’t have the type of experience in Apapa. The dry port could be about 20 kilometres from the deep seaport so that importers can transfer and store the goods there so that people don’t come and crowd the port. We are thinking through the whole gamut of logistics support for it to be efficient and we understand the private sector and government must also be there to support it. If there is no policy and proper transportation management, there will be a big challenge and we have a PPP law in Ogun State and the Ogun Investment Bill has also been signed into law to make Olokola port a reality.
Your state has a lot of tourism potentials which have not been fully tapped. What will you do differently to develop the tourism sector, especially as touching on new tourism sites?
Ogun has at least 100 tourists’ sites – Olumo Rock, Bilikisu Osugbo shrine, Lisabi sacred forest, the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library, National Museum, Tongeji Island, Osururu Water Spring, Oyan Dam, Omo Forest Reserve, Sugbo Eredo, Ijamido to mention only a few. We are committed to developing all sectors of the economy and support all enterprises that have positive impact on the economy, and it’s no brainer to say that tourism is an important pillar. Ogun State owns interesting artefacts and historic sites, the numerous and long-lasting tourist centres and businesses across the State have continued to contribute immensely to the economy of our State, and since the inception of this administration, structures have been put in place to support tourist activities. We have rechristened the Drum Festival to incorporate Afro music and the festivals and every town’s cultural festivals shall be celebrated with funfare to attract the requisite recognition and global acclaim. We will go into other hitherto untapped sectors like health tourism, as our hospital and trado-medical facilities are being expanded. We will do sports tourism, cult and religious tourism, science and cultural tourism or eco-tourism as it is called by some people and social tourism in a manner that we will earn foreign exchange, foster social integration, preserve monuments and cultural heritage as well as ensure visibility for our State in the global space. The blueprint is there and in no time, the end will justify the means.
What is delaying the setting up of Ogun-Lagos Joint Development Commission?
My brother, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu and I, even before assuming office, found it inevitable to establish a joint development commission to, among others, work towards boosting the IGR of both states for businesses to thrive by providing adequate security and critical infrastructure. We have shared and common values and it is imperative for the two states to work on our comparative advantage and cooperate in the area of agriculture, water supply and sharing of information on developmental issues generally.
Both of us believe that states should be allowed to rehabilitate designated federal highways that affect the livelihood of citizens and increase the cost of doing business. You’ll recall that we have formally made entreaties to the Federal Government on the prospects of improving the transportation network between the states, especially on the Epe to Ijebu Ode, Ikorodu – Sagamu road and the Lagos – Ota – Abeokuta road. There is also the Ebute Meta to Agbado rail corridors as areas to explore and improve access with a view to ease commuting. Because many people live in Ogun State border towns and work in Lagos and vice versa, we have been enjoying prompt remittance of taxes due us. Lagos motivated us to construct two brand new roads to link our industrial communities at Ota with Lagos. The two states are also activating an education unit to monitor standards of education in the two states on a daily basis. So, it is important. Our officials have been meeting. All that we need to do now is to back it up with legislation and the structures will come alive with legal backings.
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