Statecraft advocacy: Youths are critical to Dapo Abiodun’s success

When I got the call sometimes in July, to join the new government in Ogun State, it was a very difficult road for me to cross. I had to query myself and consult people whose opinions I held dear before I arrived at a response.

I have lived in Ogun State for over three decades and in this time I have followed the activities of government critically, clamouring for inclusive government, good governance and future-focused leadership in the state. I have criticized, and discussed the state with governors, planned several events and advocacy programs, spoke at different fora on the best way I think we should traverse and did a lot of “Martin Luther King” for my desired Ogun State. I did not think that I would walk on the corridors that shape and build the future soon.

Ogun State just like Nigeria is complex and delicate. With her sophisticated population of highly politically-savvy minds, to the most easily triggered and resourceful class of citizens, every government, from the first day in office, inherits its own challenges and gives birth to new ones from the get-go.

I can outline several reasons why I had to take the offer to play a direct part in what happens to the future of Ogun State, but patriotism isn’t the first or major reason. I love my state but I was very selfish in taking the decision. However, before you blame or chastise me, you should hear my story or walk in my shoes. I will tell that story on a later date.

It didn’t take me a year to realise that government is always trying to influence a resolutely grey-shaded world of compromise and contingency; the real politick of statecraft is therefore set against the idealism of many in our society. The reality is often messy, expedient and reactive. The expectation, however, remains static.

Writing as a former advocate now working with the government, it could be argued to be necessary that NGOs and advocacy groups play a vital oversight role in governance, and must continue to do so. Because it is very clear that governments will continue to make the hard calls. It is also clear that this is only part of the answer, but how rational does it sound to the populace who seek the most basic amenities of life?

While it is very okay to put the government on its toes, and the occasional disagreement which I consider inevitable, my last few weeks has shown me that NGOs and governments often have broadly similar – if not identical – aims. Yet, even in these circumstances, generating and sustaining a conversation between the two remains elusive, particularly in Ogun State.

There are very few groups or individuals with current and vital information with regards to the chain of events in the state. And in some cases, those who know are often blinded by their political leanings or sentiments. Thus, there is no way of quantifying the extent of policy change or policy effects on the citizenry.

It might surprise you that Ogun State has one of the most sophisticated Civil Service in Nigeria. And this sophistication shows how the policy-making process encompasses a vastly complex inter-related web of structural, bureaucratic and personal factors. From outside, it is easy to assume that the policy machines of the “Ogun Job Portal”, “Anchor Borrowers Scheme” or the “Tech Hub” are acting to a carefully considered plan; again I will say that the reality is often chaotic, expedient and reactive. In nearly every circumstance it is extremely difficult to say with certainty why any given decision was taken if you don’t look at it with a mind that wants the best for your state.

As I move from one office to the other in and around Oke Mosan, I try to observe the individuals serving as either advisers, Assistants or those providing legal thoughts and support to the most influential group in government and I can say with confidence that they are very young and cerebral. This is arguably the most exciting time for youths in Ogun state with regards to inclusion.

I sometimes look at my boss, Mr Lekan Olude, a young serial entrepreneur, the co-founder and COO of Jobberman, West Africa’s most popular job search engine, and the Executive Director of Rovadena Limited, popularly called whiz kid who is now the Special Adviser on Job Creation and Youth Empowerment and Mrs Angel Adelaja, the Founder/CEO, Fresh Direct Produce and Agro-Allied Services, an award-winning development expert and Agriprenuer, and say to myself, if we do not support these ones we are doomed!

I know many people have high expectations of this government and had hoped that this administration should have hit the ground running; however, it is important to praise the scouting abilities of Governor Dapo Abiodun. He has damned the political backlash and has appointed young professionals into the critical sectors of the economy.

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I have stopped posting on social media as often as I used to, and a lot have called to say, “you are eating now so, you have been gagged and can’t talk abi”? I have always responded without actually telling them what is truly on my mind. There are those who have called me to ask about the opportunities available in my office or in government, few have also called to ask about our programs or plans for the state. Some are saying that I am no longer available and some believe they have lost me to the other class. None has sincerely sat me down and query me about the plans for our constituency and how we intend to better the state.

I have seen attacks on the governor and his policies on social media by young advocates just for the “fun” of it and it reminds me of my days as an advocate. So, I said to one of my colleagues, “this is how young people lose the subtle influence they have garnered over time by misfiring.” The message that is imparted through their criticism becomes less important than the fact of the criticism itself.

Even if the position taken by our advocates is based on excellent research, as it sometimes is, the equally necessary work of translating this research into relevant, constructive and realistic policy options is not often done or realistically possible. And this is because previous governments were hardly ever entirely open about the parameters of decision making. Hence, it would seem like everyone to some extent, is fumbling in the dark.

But rather than engage with this complexity, as difficult as it may seem, youth advocates in Ogun State too frequently revert to simply underlining a series of demands, stripping out subtlety in favour of bold, primary and colourful statements. The language is most times not right.

The list of recommendations that accompanies some of their stories is couched in terms of obligation only. “Governor Dapo must act in a certain way,” “the launch of the job portal is a jamboree” or when the assembly passes a new law or resolution, these young people will criticize and call the government slow or even go as far as calling the Governor an accidental Governor.

This is, of course, not to diminish the importance of voices from outside official channels in the formulation of policy. Young advocates owe it to their future to often put the government on its toes since they have a means that allows them to talk to members of the public regularly.

Young advocates in Ogun State need to realise that we have conducted and commissioned high-quality research in the past, our insights are vital, our recommendations are needed and in fact, we sometimes often know a great deal more than the officials we argue policies with. But our views don’t always carry the weight they deserve. WHY?

I think the fundamental lesson I have learnt in the last few weeks crisscrossing doors in Oke Mosan is that it is not enough to be right. The process of translating insight and plans into action is not simple. For all the emphasis on evidence-based policy-making, decisions are not taken in a purely rational way. Of course, the job of state government officials is to take the difficult decisions, to reconcile the irreconcilable. It is what they are paid for.

But as young people and organisations seeking to exert any kind of influence, our recommendations need to acknowledge the dilemmas that policy-makers face; resources, political and financial, are finite, politicians and officials need to balance a wide variety of risks, and often – perhaps always – progress on one front carries costs elsewhere.

If young people in Ogun State want a better future, this is the time to build it with Governor Dapo Abiodun. I believe the governor has a penchant for engaging young and vibrant minds to drive his Agenda for Sustainable Future, I want to encourage His Excellency to appoint more Youth as Commissioners, Special Advisers and Assistants despite the political implications, as I believe this will not only further entrench the government of inclusiveness His Excellency is trying to build, but also reach directly and engage the teeming youth population in the state and harness their potential for the successful implementation of government policies. A win-win strategy I must say.

Successful and strategic advocacy is one of the keys to that success and it means, advocacy link in Ogun State needs a detailed and long-term engagement, demanding in-depth knowledge of personalities and structures, compromise and strategic timing. It needs to start from a point of understanding the policy process, and the political realities that stare decision-makers in the face at all levels.

Governments, for their part, could certainly afford to be more open in acknowledging their constraints, or lack of capacity. But unless advocates meet them in the middle, the conversation will always degenerate to mutual incomprehension. If there is something I have learnt in this Buhari-age, it is that shouting louder only burns credibility and alienates those who advocacy is intended to influence.

If young people fail to support the present government’s initiatives towards building a future for all, by becoming a partner and look above sentiments or political leanings, it would have been a wasted opportunity.

Odetola writes from Abeokuta.

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