South-West: From days of glory to inertia

Against the backdrop of the frenetic clamour for restructuring and devolution of powers in the country, SUNDAY ADEPOJU reflects on governance in the South-West geopolitical zone, dating back to the First Republic in the old Western Region.

THE period of Nigeria’s First Republic in the old Western Region (the Yoruba land) has been the best of time so far in comparing the strides of the old time and what obtains in the present six states making up the South-West. It witnessed a lot of monumental achievements in diverse spheres of life. The region, covering the present Yoruba land to some part of the far present Edo and Delta states, had its headquarters in Ibadan, the capital of the present Oyo State. No wonder, Ibadan has some strings of ‘firsts.’

Pundits have ascribed the myriads of the strides of the period to regionalism, a system that allowed the three regions – North, East and West – to develop at their own pace in line with the resources available in the areas. Beyond this, it is also noted that there was decentralisation of resources and devolution of powers to the three regional governments. Aided by the parliamentary system and federal constitution in place, the region was able to maximise its resources and potentials and brought about developments not only in education, health, agriculture, commerce and industry but also in the areas of infrastructural development and public utilities like pipe-borne water, electricity, good roads, among others.

Ably led by the late sage and Premier of the Western Region, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the area, with the proceeds from cocoa and other agricultural resources, achieved the University of Ife, Ife (now renamed Obafemi Awolowo University to immortalise Awolowo); the first skyscraper in the Sub-Sahara Africa, Cocoa House, Dugbe, Ibadan; Liberty Stadium, the first to be constructed in Nigeria and Africa; the first television station in the Africa, Western Nigeria Television now the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) and Western Nigerian Broadcasting Service (WNBC).

As evident in all parts of the region and beyond, Awolowo and his team were synonymous to the development of the Yoruba land pre-and post-First Republic. It was no surprise that a juju music maestro, Chief Ebenezer Obey, upon the demise Awolowo, sang of his (Awolowo) contributions translated into English thus: “Free education, free health services, first television station in Africa… Awolowo, thank you.” Interestingly and sad enough, the proceeds from cocoa and other agricultural resources, not oil, were used to achieve these and other laudable feats for which the Western Region was known.

The late sage believed in economic freedom of all; that the hallmark of economic freedom means the deployment of the resources of an area for the benefits of its citizens. Sadly, the country now solely depends on crude oil as the means of mainstay of the economy. Even, then, with the benefits accruing from cocoa, Awolowo condemned over-dependence on cocoa as a major export product. Awolowo said: “I am sure that all the honourable members will agree with me that the core of our wealth in the region is cocoa. It is the very life blood of our economy….It has been realised by all of us for some time now that an economy which depends mainly, as ours does, on a simple export crop, is a precarious economy. The government is fully alive to these dangers and steps being actively to remove them.” This attests to the claim that the regional government was proactive and visionary.”

With the benefit of hindsight and nostalgia, the Olugbon of Orile-Igbon and vice-chairman of the Oyo State Council of Obas and Chief, Oba Francis OlusolaAlao, noted that the achievements of the First Republic were futuristic and awesome. He said: “The achievements in the First Republic were futuristic and awesome. Go and check the infrastructure made then. They are still intact but these days, reverse is the case in terms of additions. Some of the governors that have ruled the regions (and still ruling) are not innovative; in other words, they couldn’t sustain the achievements made then. Regrettably, some of the achievements they now have are not sustainable and futuristic.”

A world scholar, Professor Omotoye Olorode, who was a youth during the First Republic, similarly reminisced on what many now referred to as the golden era in Yoruba land nay human history. He stated: “People are talking about Obafemi Awolowo, Nnamdi Azikwe and Sadauna of Sokoto as leaders of the regions. A lot of what they achieved had to do with the struggles of Nigeria’s working people. They had their own ideas but there was nothing fundamental that separated the ideologies of the trio. ‘Fundamental’, I said. That was why the British handed over to them. The nationalists in the North, West and East built universities and schools. They gave free education all over, not just in the Western Region. They had public utilities; they built roads and all that. These people are now selling everything that was built in all the regions. We are selling all the things the nationalists gave to us. There is a Nigerian ruling class now sitting on the ordinary people.

“There was Western Nigeria Development Corporation (WNDC), the Northern Nigeria Development Corporation (NNDC) and the Eastern Nigeria Development (ENDC). There were development programmes across the country. It was because they forced them to deliver on such promise of independence. It is because they are the people that fought for the independence. It was not only Awolowo, Sadauna and Zik that fought for independence; it was the Nigeria’s working people. The development programmes were more or less uniform across the country, although were variegated.”

A legal practitioner, Femi Popoola, also recalled spoke on the remarkable achievements of the era, situating the trend on a number of factors. According to him,  “There was regional autonomy; that was why the Western Region decided to use cocoa money to provide free education, free medical service and such other capital projects like Cocoa House, Liberty Stadium, Western Nigeria Television (WNTV), University of Ife, Ile-Ife, the establishment of Odu’a Group, farm settlements, among other laudable programmes and achievements.” A public affairs analyst, Comrade Deji Ola, was on the same page with Popoola on the issue. He explained that the much-talked about achievements of the First Republic were made possible because we had a set of leaders who were not self-centred.

 

south-westOdu’a Group

The novel ideas of Awolowo and others in the regional government also led to the formation of the Odu’a Group. It is one of the three regional groupings in the country. While the West had Odu’a Group, the North and the East had Interim Common Services Agency for Northern Region and Interim Assets and Liabilities Agency. Of the three, only Odu’a still exists in reality. Odu’a would always be remembered for the Cocoa Industries Limited in Ikeja, Epe Plywood Industries Limited, and Odu’a Printing and Publishing & Co. Limited. Odu’a’s relationship with foreign partners in the management of Nigerite Limited and Larfage Cement WAPCO. There are also, today, Lagos Airport Hotel in Ikeja, Premier and Lafia Hotels in Ibadan. WEMA Bank and others are also there as part of the legacies of the First Republic in Yoruba land. But the question is: are citizens feeling the impact of the investments now. It appears the investments are either to enrich the political class or those in charge of the day-to-day operations.

 

Farm settlement schemes

The government also established farm settlements as an attempt to provide a model for farmers to learn the then modern techniques and method of scientific farming, as well as to serve as a source of employment for the youths. Today, the settlements have gone moribund. Then, Awolowo and other officials of the government went to Israel to study its agricultural development scheme named Moshav. After a careful examination of the system, 20 farm settlements and five agriculture institutes were established across the region, with the aim of achieving food sufficiency and encouraging educated young men to make a profitable career in farming. Like in many moribund settlements, record states that Sanwojo Farm Settlement in Igbogila, Ogun State sits on 335,000 hectares of land presently occupied by less than 150 residents. It was learnt that some of the beneficiaries of the training at the institute had, in the past, ventured into something else. The little education they had afforded them the opportunities of joining the civil service when the successive governments of the modern era neglected the farming, which the mainstay of the economy.

This was due to the overdependence on oil as a result of oil boom which pundits have called ‘oil doom’ is a bane. And more worrisome, most of the monetary resources that accrue to states go to overhead, payment of salaries and little is left for capital project. Poor internally generated revenue of states in the region as also constitute the bottleneck. It is also an eyesore to note that out of the 36 states of the federation, only four – Lagos, Kano, Akwa Ibom, and Rivers states – are generally regarded as viable in terms of liquidity, economic growth and prosperity. According to this data, it implies that of all the six states in South-West region, only Lagos is viable.

There is overdependence on the allocation from the Federation Account. For instance, the allocation is, in accordance with a vertical formula determined by the Revenue Mobilisation and Fiscal Commission (RMFC) with the approval of the National Assembly. The formula allocates 52.68 per cent, 26.72 per cent and 20’60 per cent to the federal, state and local governments respectively. The allocation is shared among the component units by applying factors such as equity, population, land mass, internally generated revenue (IGR) and social development. Going by all these factors, the region is not advantaged. It is unimaginable to note that without proper rediscovery and ‘real’ diversion into agriculture and other allied businesses, the governments of the states in the South-West may not achieve.

Regrettably, some of the present crop of leaders, ranging from governors, parliamentarians and others who benefitted from the lofty programmes and policies of the old Western Region in the First and Second Republics could not adequately fund education let alone of providing free education at all levels. However, serious attempts were made in the Second Republic at consolidating the gains of the First Republic. Thanks to the five cardinal programme of the defunct Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) under the leadership of Chief Awolowo. There was a semblance of pragmatic efforts to reaffirm the region as pacesetter and bastion of hope for the citizenry through quality governance. The gains were most evident in all the states, including the then Bendel State where the party held sway. Unfortunately, the consolidation programmeof the era was soon derailed by another military incursion into political power in 1983.

Also, at a point, governors from the South-West wanted to come together for economic integration. It elicited an applause from different stakeholders in the zone. Again, Oba Alaoshed light on the initiative: “Regionally, the South-West governors tried to come up with economic integration but due to lack of cohesion and differences of their political parties, it appears a failed agendum. Moreover, most of the governors live on budget deficit without innovation and sustainable capital development that would bring values to individual states. I don’t think they have brought anything new to the table in conformity with the global trend. Even though some of them try to come up with infrastructural development, they are not of quality and not sustainable. Besides, most of these developments they created are on loans to various states and no tangible assets that are repayable or to service some of these debts which are often inherited by subsequent governments. The spending rate of government is too much than income.”

Speaking on the lack of sustainability, Comrade Ola lamented thus: “Only few among the present crop of leaders are sustaining the legacies. Take for example, the agriculture, education legacies which distinct us from other regions have been defeated. History has it that major projects were executed through agriculture then. But now, we depend solely on federal allocations. I have not seen any innovation other than mere modifications of existing ideas. The reason is simple; our current leaders impose their agenda on us without special consideration to our needs.”

“Some of the issues constituting bottlenecks are, I think, are: structural defect which is fundamental to the operation of each state government; creativity or innovation in projects that will bring value and revenue to the state; reduction in the operating expenditure (OPEX) of annual budget or spending reduction; increase in state capital expenditure; the increasing number of cabinet members or government cumbersomeness i.e. too much special advisers, special assistants, personal assistants, and so on; duplicating offices,” Oba Alao opined.

Alao advised: “Corruption should be addressed from all segments of government, adding that there should be enabling laws and policies for the economy to grow. “And above all, sincerely, the country needs to be restructured, reconstituted and regionalised. There are too many abuses of powers and offices. Governors in various states are having absolute executive powers and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Let us restructure and come up with devolution of powers in all the tiers of government. Also, some categories of the traditional rulers should be graded and included in governance which will make additional sense and added value.”

Popoola further canvassed for regionalism with emphasis on the recommendations of the conference organised by former President Goodluck Jonathan. He said: “We feign to use ‘unitarism’ and called it federalism. You call it federalism and there is no financial autonomy for the federating units, the states. When the military took over power, they said it was the Federal Government that owned everything. Even, if they found gold in your father’s backyard, they would say it’s the Federal Government’s property. He maintained that the country would not have been in this mess if the military had not truncated the first republic and later the second republic.

Professor Olorode opined that so many people have misconstrued the idea of regionalism and devolution of powers. “People talked about regionalism long ago. Is it about devolution of power? Of course, more power could be given to states. There are a lot of powers in the states. Look at COVI-19 palliatives given to states. Is it the Federal Governments that asks them not to distribute them? Is it the Federal Governments that says teachers, workers or pensioners should not be paid by state governments? There have been agitations by the local government union for the autonomy of the lowest tier of government. Is it the Federal Government that is fighting against that autonomy,” he queried.

The veteran unionist faulted the ruling class for the diverse problems in the workability of the government. “The Nigeria’s ruling class is warehousing public property in their houses and pockets. Even, if they divide Nigeria into 300 countries, we still have to fight the ruling class in each of those countries because they are enemies of the people,” Olorode said.

Similarly, Comrade Ola maintained, “We need to sound a note of warning: the electorate need to know that power resides with them and it’s high time they carefully elected leaders who would never deviate from core values. Regionalism would save us from the whole of the ineffectiveness of the government.  But, it still depends on who are in charge.”

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