IN the last 18 days, the governor of Oyo State, Mr Seyi Makinde, has been at the receiving end of mixed reactions from within and outside the state on the way and manner he has run the state in his early days in government.
Despite the fact that the government might still be studying the handover notes and seeking to have a full grasp of the challenges of the state, following a position by the new governor that its Transition Committee was not given access to valuable information that could help the government to take off effectively, a development that led to the extension of the duties of the committee by two weeks, the governor, in the view of observers, cannot be said to be sitting idly and watching helplessly.
In a little over two weeks, Makinde, a successful engineer and businessman, who prior to his emergence as the governor of Oyo State on March 9, 2019 on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), was derided as lacking in experience politically, has stamped his authority on the office and indeed, the state. The governor has taken various bold steps towards steadying the ship of the state, some of which have fallen on the wrong sides of some groups and class of people in the state, leading to criticisms from such quarters.
But some watchers of political developments in the state have noted that the actions so far taken by the number one man in the state were indicative of a man who would neither fear nor falter in making decisions and someone who definitely “will not suffer fools gladly.” Indeed, Governor Makinde had owned up to this indication immediately after taking office, noting that his government would not shy away from taking decisions that will turn around the state and that if it made mistakes, it would accept responsibility, make amends and move on.
Some of the steps taken by the Makinde government, which have elicited commendations and criticisms from residents of the state and those outside it include the scrapping of the N3, 000 education levy for public school students, sack of local government/LCDA chairmen, the proscription of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), reversal of promotions, appointments after March 9, 2019, steps to promote investments and set up a state anti-corruption agency, among others.
But those close to the Makinde government have insisted that the biggest step so far taken by the governor is his comportment and maturity in running the state, without running down the past government, making reference to how Governor Abiola Ajimobi ran down his predecessor in office, Chief Adebayo Alao-Akala, stating that his [Ajimobi] government met the state at zero level.
“No matter what anyone says about the Makinde government in the last two weeks, one thing is clear: he has handled the job maturely, facing the work of governing the state squarely instead of seeking to discredit the past government despite the obvious missteps of that government. The governor has shown comportment and demonstrated that indeed, his government would be a clear departure from the past arrogant and garrulous style that some people used to govern the state. If you ask me, the Omoluabi attributes, which the people saw in him and made them to vote for him are still intact,” a former member of the House of Representatives, Honourable Babatunde Oduyoye, told Sunday Tribune.
Scrapping of N3, 000 education levy
Right from the Obafemi Awolowo Stadium, venue of the inauguration on May 29, which was attended by a large crowd, showing how popular the new governor is with the people, Makinde had given the people of the state something to cheer, as he announced the immediate reversal of a N3, 000 education levy and the subsequent increase of the state’s education budget to 10 per cent.
The governor had, by his declaration to scrap the levy during his inauguration speech, demonstrated his commitment to keeping his campaign promises, even as he showed his government’s commitment to improving the education sector by announcing the increase of the education budget as well as promising to increase the budget for education annually until it reaches the 26 per cent recommendation by UNESCO.
Sack of LG/LCDA chairmen
Few hours after his inauguration, Governor Makinde, in a move that has been hailed as indicating that the new government would not shy away from taking action as and when due, announced the sack of all local government and Local Council Development Area (LCDA) chairmen.
In the directive announced by the governor’s first appointee and Chief of Staff, Chief Bisi Ilaka, the government placed an embargo on local government and state-local government joint accounts, directing the local government chairmen to hand over to the Heads of Local Government Administration or the most senior directors in their local governments. The directive had equally dissolved all boards and parastatal-agencies.
Eighteen days after that decision, the dust of the matter is yet to settle, as the ousted chairmen, under the aegis of the Association of Local Governments of Nigeria (ALGON), have continued to fight the government over the decision it described as “unconstitutional and illegal,” citing how the chairmen were elected in accordance with the constitution.
The chairman of the body in the state, Ayodeji Abass-Alesinloye, is leading the charge, with the body writing to President Muhammadu Buhari on the development as well as approaching a the court to seek redress and also sue the governor for contempt of court, citing how it had secured an earlier order against such dissolution.
But the state government has explained that its decision to sack the local government chairmen was not only legal, because the election that brought them in was conducted against a court order, but that it was also in the interest of the state, as the new governor intends to reform the local government system and make it to work for the people at the grassroots.
Explaining the government’s position, the Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, Mr Taiwo Adisa, said that the government committed no illegality in sacking the council chairmen.
He said: “Let me state that the government of the Oyo State committed no illegality in dissolving the councils. Rather, the government took the step in defence of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The laws say that you cannot create local governments by whatever name you call it, without recourse to constitutional procedures.
“The immediate past state government went ahead to create LCDAs in total disregard for the constitution. They also jointly conducted elections into the recognised councils and the LCDAs the same day. By that singular act, they have tainted the elections conducted into the 33 local governments with illegality. You cannot mix apple and oranges together and call it a basket of apples or a basket of oranges. So, the state is out to stop the illegality.
“Also, remember that the council chairmen were guilty of what lawyers call forum shopping in trying to vacate the injunction that was issued to stop the conduct of the elections by rushing to a different court to get an order.
“A court of coordinate jurisdiction cannot vacate an injunction issued by its peer. It is an aberration in law and a violation of the law of natural justice. The state government cannot close its eyes and allow the perpetuation of judicial karate in the name of politics. So, the Governor of Oyo State, Engineer Seyi Makinde, had to announce the dissolution of the councils to ensure sanity and to bring everyone to the path of constitutionality.
“The constitution states that you cannot create local government areas without recourse to the National Assembly. If you do that, it is inchoate like the Supreme Court said in the case of Lagos State. So when you do something like that and conduct elections into the councils, you have violated the constitution ab initio.”
Similarly, a chieftain of the PDP who spoke to Sunday Tribune on a condition of anonymity said: “You know how difficult if not impossible it will be for the state government to be able to reach the nooks and crannies of the state without a functional and effective local government system and indeed, individuals who share the vision of the governor. This is one of the underlying reasons for sacking the Ajimobi chairmen. Of course, you know that the former governor just picked his loyalists and cronies as chairmen; there was no internal democracy and that led to a crisis in the APC. There was no primary to choose the candidates and the opposition parties back then saw the erstwhile ruling party’s maniacal obsession to win the local government polls and withdrew from the exercise. Can you put something on nothing? These chairmen had no solid or legal foundation and they needed to give way for progress and true development of the state.”
As of now, the governor’s step in sacking the local government chairmen has remained topical, with a majority of residents especially members of the ruling PDP and a few APC chieftains hailing the development as a step in the right direction, while the Oyo State APC and many of its loyalists continue to attack the governor on the decision.
NURTW proscription and the security of the state
Days before the May 29 hand-over ceremony, the immediate past government and indeed, the opposition APC had expressed its doubt over the incoming PDP government’s ability to sustain security and order, which they often describe as the chief achievement of the Ajimobi government in eight years. For the opposition, the emergence of a PDP government in the state after eight years, in itself, presaged violence, insecurity and “a return to the PDP days of violence and brigandage.” Indeed, every body language of the incoming governor had been put under scrutiny by the opposition APC, with most residents of the state also giving different views on what could become of the state in terms of security. The major source of fear had been how the governor would handle the NURTW issue, a fear that Makinde, as governor-elect, was always quick to dispel as non-issue, promising to cross the bridge when he got to it.
It was, therefore, a surprise to many residents of the state when the governor, following a breakout of hostilities in some areas of Ibadan, the state capital, over attempts to effect a leadership change in the union, announced the proscription of the union and the take-over of the motor parks. Hailed in many quarters as a master stroke to check insecurity, the proscription order has, however, been interpreted in another light by opposition politicians and, indeed, the national leadership of the road transport union.
For instance, while a former governor of Oyo State and Osi Olubadan of Ibadan, High Chief Rashidi Ladoja, had in an interview with newsmen, hailed Makinde’s decision on the NURTW, noting that any act of chaos and breach of peace should be curtailed, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), the leadership of the NURTW and several other individuals have continued to point at the illegality of proscribing the union in the state.
But Makinde has insisted that peace, security and order “are not negotiable for our government,” adding that he was not opposed to anyone running a union but that he would not allow such to lead to crisis and violence under his watch.
Beyond the NURTW issue, the governor has continued to reiterate the commitment of his government to the security of lives and property, pointing out that security is central to his agenda for rebuilding and transforming the state. He had, at the training and service orientation workshop for members-elect of the House of Assembly, ahead of their inauguration last Monday, said: “We are going to take the security of lives and property seriously. Few days after I was sworn in as governor, we proscribed the NURTW. I told them that we were not interested in stopping them from running their union, because it is registered under the law. But we cannot allow few people to hold the state to ransom in the name of running a union. I am talking to the security agencies in the state; we know the security challenges and we know exactly what need to be done…We intend to make Oyo State one of the safest states in the country.”
Clearly, Makinde, on the NURTW issue, is on a road well-travelled in Oyo State, as successive governors had always had to devise means of checking the notoriety of the driver’s union. Beginning from former Governor Adebayo Alao-Akala, who in 2007, proscribed the union due to violence, to Ajimobi, who in 2011, banned the activities of the union and gave orders to security agencies to dislodge them from motor parks, evidence abound that the actions of the governors often, in the end, augur well for the state.
Reversal of appointments
Another step taken by the Makinde government, which generated reactions across the state, was the reversal of the appointment of 15 permanent secretaries by the immediate past government. Former Governor Ajimobi had, on 15 May, 2019, barely 14 days to the end of his tenure, inaugurated 11 civil servants as permanent secretaries in the state. The action had, at the time, appeared to be in tandem with his government’s resolve to “to work till the end of the government,” a position advanced by the former governor to shut down criticisms from the PDP about the outgoing government’s last-minute decisions on contracts and other developments. It was, however, a no-brainer that Makinde would have to revisit some of the appointments, as he had promised to review all new contracts and appointments made by the Ajimobi government in the last three weeks of his government.
Explaining the governor’s decision, his erstwhile spokesperson, Prince Dotun Oyelade, said the governor could be trusted to keep his words on his campaign promises,” adding that “just like he made good the promise to cancel the N3,000 paid by parents on the public school children and open the Secretariat Flyover for the use of every citizen of the state, in the same manner he is dealing with the issue of the appointment of permanent secretaries and civil servants.
A similar reversal, according to those close to the government, should be expected on last-minute contract awards that do not reflect propriety and probity.
Planned sponsorship of Investment Promotion and Anti-Corruption Agency Bills
Part of Governor Makinde’s initial steps in office, which have continued to resonate in the Oyo State polity is his declaration that the state government would immediately sponsor two bills before the House of Assembly, namely the Oyo State Investment Promotion Agency Bill and the Oyo State Financial Crimes Commission Bill.
The governor, who has hinged his agenda for the development of the state on four cardinal pillars of economic expansion, education, health and security, had explained that he would set up the two agencies with a view to expanding the economy of the state, creating a favourable environment for business to thrive and ensuring probity and accountability in governance.
But the decision to set up an anti-corruption agency appeared to have set the opposition and some people in the state on edge, with several individuals hinting at an attempt to rubbish the past government or witch-hunt some individuals. This fear became more pronounced following a statement by the Chief of Staff that some past government officials went away with properties belonging to the state.
The Chief Press Secretary to the governor, however, assured that the intention of the governor in setting up the agency was not to witch-hunt or rubbish anyone but to ensure openness, probity and accountability in governance and to ensure that Oyo State’s money does not end up in wrong hands.
Speaking during a live radio programme tagged Political Palaver on Naija FM, Ibadan, on Thursday, Adisa warned that if anyone “knows that he is in possession of the state’s money, he should return such before it is too late, as the governor has made it clear that the new agency would be able to call anyone to question including himself.”
Appointment of Governor’s Advisory Council
Also as part of the governor’s demonstration of his preparedness for the office, he announced the composition of a Governor’s Advisory Council led by Senator Hosea Agboola, a renowned businessman and former Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Matters, with strong and successful individuals in different professions and politics as members. The council is to offer advice and guidance to the governor on how to go about achieving his vision for the state.
Awaiting new steps
As the Governor Makinde administration enters into a new week, it is obvious that the people of the state, who are anxiously awaiting the announcement of his cabinet and other team of people that will work him in taking Oyo State to its next level, are looking forward to the government’s next steps. And as they await the new steps, the governor’s assurance that his government would not be afraid to take steps and learn in an effort to ensure that Oyo State regains its enviable height as pace-setter in all ramifications, in sync with the saying that “baby steps still move you forward” will continue to remain relevant.