Jide Akintunde, Managing Editor/CEO, Financial Nigeria International Limited
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- Fiscal Policy
Governor Makinde's great start 08 Oct 2019
Since Mr. Seyi Makinde was sworn-in as Governor of Oyo State on May 29th, 2019, his popularity has kept on increasing. He is currently the brightest star in Nigeria's dull political firmament. Although he has only been in office for less than five months, out of the four years he was elected to serve for as governor, some citizens have started imagining how great it would be to have him as President of the country.
To begin with, Governor Makinde appeals on a number of fronts. He is relatively young, at 51 years of age. His boyish charm even suggests he is younger. Makinde is also very rich. Before he became governor, he was a successful entrepreneur in the Nigerian oil and gas industry. None of these, including the political power he now wields, appears to get into his ahead as he comes across as a humble person.
Makinde appears to have come into office with a sense of mission and with preparation. He appears to want government to work for the people and facilitate development in his state. The signals for these are best sent and received within the symbolic first 100 days in office. Going by the raft of actions and policies he took or enunciated in that period, the governor certainly maximised the opportunities for quick wins.
Some of his more remarkable early actions included his public declaration of his personal assets, although he could have limited himself to the statutory requirement of secret declaration. In another major surprise move, the governor slashed the 2019 budget of the state from N285 billion – as originally signed by his predecessor – to N182 billion, to make the budget realistic and ensure it is substantially implemented.
Despite the sharp reduction in the total budget, Governor Makinde increased the allocation to education to 10 percent. Amongst other commitments, the education budget will prevent the funding gap that would have emerged from his abolishment of N3,000 school fees payable in all public secondary schools in the state. The budget would also fund the provision of free exercise books for pupils and students to further support free education in Oyo State.
So far, Governor Makinde has ensured that the salaries of public sector workers of Oyo State are promptly paid, in contradistinction to what obtained under the previous administration of the state when workers were owed as much as seven months' salaries at some point. Across the country, it has been commonplace for government workers to be owed arrears of salaries. Oyo State is now one of the few exceptions to this general trend, which highlights fiscal indiscipline at the state level of government in Nigeria.
Governor Makinde has constituted his executive branch of government to be inclusive. Politicians from the minor opposition parties got appointments into his team. The news of his appointment of a 27-year-old Seun Fakorede into his cabinet, went viral in social media. More remarkable, Fakorede was not previously known to the governor and was not a member of People's Democratic Party (PDP), the ruling party in the state. Indeed, Fakorede's appointment ensued from a discussion of an article published in the July 2019 edition of Financial Nigeria magazine. As he later confirmed to me, Governor Makinde appointed him Commissioner for Youth and Sport within four days of being introduced to the governor.
More generally, Governor Makinde has made effective moves to improve public order in Oyo State by investing in security and banning the notorious National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW). He has initiated various policies to promote the economy and manage environmental risks. He has also donated his salaries during his four years of office (which he definitely can do without) to the Teachers' Pension Fund of Oyo State.
The motivation for Governor Makinde's outstanding performance so far is unclear, if it didn't come from within him. First, his party, the PDP, has no strong national leadership to influence such performance. Second, the past governments of Oyo State set very low performance benchmarks. Governor Makinde could have aimed to just achieve a bit higher than his predecessors and then spun that as great performance. And, third, Nigerian public officials and the people alike have become cynical about probity in public governance. It is against this backdrop that the efforts of Governor Makinde deserves even more praise.
But public reactions to the governor may actually diverge. Those who feel his performance should be observed over a longer period of time have a point. Symbolic gestures may be useful initially. But later on, delivery of substantive governance outcomes would be what matters.
It is also a matter of interest to know that Governor Makinde has a plan that is well-targeted. Although his initial actions and policy declarations cover a broad range of areas, it would be important to know how they form a holistic picture of where he wants to take Oyo State in the next four years. Equally important would be his longer-term outlook, since a sustainable economic plan would take years of implementation to deliver appreciable results, and given that he is eligible for re-election in 2023.
But an example of scrutiny that is counterproductive would be the inquest the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) said it would be making into Governor Makinde's assets declaration. President Muhammadu Buhari should ensure that the ICPC is not used by the political opposition of Governor Makinde to distract him. If Oyo State does well, Nigerians within and outside the state would benefit.
If Governor Makinde should be advised, he should resist the temptation of governing on social media as is the case with many senior officials of the Nigerian governments now. Instead of focusing on governance, managing public perception has become their stock in trade. Ironically, this distractive approach often betrays the performance gaps in government.
Governor Makinde should also invest in the competency of his government officials and civil servants of his state. His good intentions and personal example will not be enough to substantially lift governance in Oyo State. Like in the entire country, years of undermining meritocracy have eroded the competencies required to deliver on well-intended public policy and public service. The Oyo State Government needs to excel in building a competent public workforce for it to role-model governance in Nigeria.
In the meantime, Governor Makinde deserves the applauses he has been receiving. He also deserves continued support of well-meaning Nigerians.