Being asked to be lead presenter at a Roundtable to interrogate the tenure of the redoubtable Executive Governor of Oyo State, Senator Abiola Ajimobi, is indeed a very rare honour for me. After almost completing two terms as the Governor, it is most auspicious to beam a searchlight on his time in office, and interrogate his leadership directions and governance efforts as the helmsman of the State. Let me say from the start that it takes a huge courage for a helmsman to subject his tenure as a Governor to the critical assessment that this Roundtable is set to achieve as a means of allowing for the kind of cross-fertilization of ideas, insights and paradigms that the successor and other serving or to-be Governors in the Nigerian Federation will most benefit from. I consider this to be quite a significant dimension of the legacy spirit of any leader. A good leader should be motivated by the dynamics of learning and sharing that opens him, and others, up for a continuing conversation both with the predecessors and the impending successor within framework of leadership succession and mentoring.
Governance is an interesting endeavor, and governing a state is not just a walk in the park, and this is especially so in a State like Oyo that has lots of political issues and political gladiators contending for the soul and the resources of the state. Governor Ajimobi comes across therefore as a technocrat-politician that could have barely survived the landmines that dot the political landscape of the State. Yet, survived he did! First, he was a Senator who became a Governor. And against all odds, he became the first to overcome the famous “no-two-terms” jinx that seemed to have undermined the ambition of former Governors of the State. This earned him the sobriquet of the “Koseleri” Governor (the governor that is one of a kind). Any other Governor who had the capacity to break a jinx would have been sufficiently satisfied to rest on the oars of just that fact. But that was not what Senator Ajimobi had in mind as a governor.
And it is precisely this “go-getting” spirit that makes him the personality around which political discourse can be generated. Political scientists and public intellectuals can begin to excavate the interacting elements that bind politics, governance and leadership together: What democratic dividends have the Ajimobi administration left behind for the citizens of the State to enjoy while he is no longer in the saddle? In what ways has the policy architecture of this outgoing administration led to the empowerment of the State and its citizens? Where did Ajimobi meet the State on his assumption of office, and how far has he taken the State since then? What is the governance profile of Oyo State now? Where does the State stands in terms of infrastructural development? These and many more questions are those which should apply specifically in the assessment of this administration and its time in office. But in general terms, they are questions that generally serve as the point of entry for any governance critique of any government.
There is no one who knew the then Senator Ajimobi who would not have wondered about the success chances of a corporate and boardroom-bred technocrat whose leadership model is the technical-rational management style that prioritizes knowledge, competence and performance over everything else? Now, this would be a good source of legitimate worry. This is because Oyo State typifies a context where the need for a really developmental ideology competes with the frivolity characterized by “amala politics” and “stomach infrastructure.” Add to this the personality of a Governor who often comes across as being too brusque and blunt. There are so many who would disagree with a political communication strategy that calls a spade a spade. A politician is expected to be a master of tact and diplomacy, especially within a context where he or she has to juggle so many expectations and options involving so many constituencies. A forthright and blunt personality combined with the many complexities of governing a State founded on so many rivalries and cleavages is bound to make for an ambivalent assessment of any leader’s achievements in office. There are too many eyes looking at the same things and issues, but perceiving different and often seemingly contradictory results.
However, what does anyone expect in a state that requires a huge investment in governance to be able to achieve the transformation required for distinct success? Reforming for transformation are not joking matters. And I know what I am talking about, having spent more than twenty-seven years of my life attempting to jumpstart the institutional reform of the civil service system in Nigeria. I have the institutional experience to empathize with the personality and the governance context that Governor Ajimobi had to confront and engage with. Let us place that context that Governor Ajimobi inherited in its proper perspective. What was the governance state of Oyo State in 2011? The governance context could best be described as a “garrison command.” And this was characterized by acute insecurity featuring thuggery, armed robbery and brigandage on rampage. For those with a long memory, that was the period when the likes of Tokyo and Eleweomo, the two National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) warlords had Oyo State at its jugular. And the outsourcing of the governance initiatives to the godfathers led to the widespread perception that politics was essentially that of exclusion. The common patrimony was hijacked by the few powers that be. It was therefore no surprise that Oyo State was 32nd in terms of safety index. As was to be expected, this glaring insecurity had its negative effects.
The negative statistics was piling up: Despite its geographical significance, human capital and resources, and huge size, Oyo was ranked 21st in terms of economy buoyancy. In terms of quality of life, Oyo came a disappointing 18th position. Her internally generated revenue profile was a paltry 0.73%, and it had a place with the last twelve states of the federation with recurrent expenditure at 70%. Economic growth, human capital development and infrastructural development were a terrible mess. One good reason for this was that economic growth was stifled by the glaring absence of the private sector in economic stimulation. No private investors would pay obeisance to any godfather nor find a climate of ‘might is right’ as enabling to invest in. We therefore had a serious economic situation in which many micro-enterprises were confined to the informal sector which not only made taxation difficult but also failed to provide further job that could trigger productivity. How does a serious-minded leader respond to this context of governance headaches, if not with sternness and a straight face?
Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s COO once remarked: “Leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence and making sure that impact lasts in your absence.” This understanding of leadership speaks directly to a standard of assessment. No leader is worth that name if there is no legacy that stands as a testament to the leader’s stay in office. A legacy-conscious leadership is molded in the governance furnace characterized by a three-fold element of strategy, process and systems. These elements are what enable any leader to give attention to the establishment and consolidation of institution. In other words, it is institutions that constitute the backbone of any governance legacy. And there is no doubt that the Governor Ajimobi-led administration laid the foundation for a strong and virile institutionalization in Oyo state. With a very clear vision—“A state in which people can be the best they can be”—and a very smart agenda around the mission of “Restoration, Transformation and Repositioning of Oyo state,” Governor Ajimobi brought his technical-rational management style to bear on the composition of a competence tracking and acquisition backstopped by a framework of talent and knowledge management that led to a competent governance team whose appointment transcended loyalty and sycophancy.
And this yielded results in quantum leaps. Apart from the real valued governance outcomes in terms of security, a reengineered board of internal revenue which transformed the internally generated revenue, wealth creation, and other infrastructural transformation, I will like to identify just a few institutional trademarks of this administration. The first, for me, is the establishment of the First Technical University, founded on a public-private partnership model. Being the first of its kind in Africa, the Technical University brings back the memory of the ingenious Mayflower School founded by Tai and Sheila Solarin, of blessed memory. This initiative not only speaks to a curriculum in which the conventional university, the polytechnic and the vocational colleges converge, it equally points at a unique direction that higher education must face in a development-challenged nation. The caliber of members of the governing council as well as chancellor, the pro-chancellor and the vice chancellor speaks to the competence set that is meant to deliver on the objectives promised by this unique institution.
Three other educational initiatives stand out to complement the higher education initiative of the Ajimobi administration. The first is the management system called the Schools Governing Boards (SGB). The second is the re-introduction of the Oyo State Model Education Intervention (OYOMESI), accompanied by the Digital Literacy Drive as well as the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) educational curriculum orientation which has become a global brand for reorganizing school curriculum in line with the demands for development. Lastly, the Ajimobi government also established the Education Trust Fund as the financial base for carrying out all its education initiatives and sustaining those already established. This ETF initiative particularly resonates with my reform instinct and analysis of the challenges of implementation of policy and the role that funding plays in the success of failure of executing a policy.
The Ajimobi administration has laid a very solid ground for institutional renewal and consolidation in Oyo state. From ground zero of governance brigandage, the administration has been able to commence a transformational process that has the potential of really repositioning the state for better. But that is not the end of the story. As we say, continuity is the key in government and governance. There is always a constant fear in reform management that the hard-won battles could be reversed by a governor without the understanding of what it takes to win the reform. Furthermore, the governance context in Nigeria requires that good governance practice, like the one we just highlighted in Oyo state, ought to be able to generate governance insights which could be adapted across the other states of the federation. I will briefly highlight several issues that should generate reflections and possibilities with regard to governance and institutional reforms. These reflections are generated by the question of how far State Governors could be expected to go in terms of governance achievements without being weighed down by crippling indebtedness, given that most states are not economically viable in Nigeria? How far can a State make governance progress, given that there is already in place a cost of governance predicament that has remained so intractable, and has prevented a genuine institutional restructuring at many levels.
The first and the most significant point of reflection for me is the due attention that should be paid to the emergence of a new productivity paradigm that has the capacity to instigate economic growth and transform the national and state economies. What is in place across the broad spectrum of state economies is a fully entrenched culture of waste, entitlement and redundancies. Government work has now become a site of pure laziness. The public service and other institutions are not only over-bloated, workers are lacking in the skills and competences to run government in a knowledge and technological age in the margin of entry into the Fourth Industrial Revolution. There is now in place a pervasive miracle mentality in the average Nigerian which allows them to deny hard work in place of “instant miracles”. Added to this is the already mentioned fact about the high cost of governance in Nigeria where the overhead cost of maintaining political and administrative positions overweighs the cost of good governance. Whether we like it or not, this is an issue that no Governor can ever hope to escape if such a Governor ever hoped to leave a governance legacy that will transform the lives of the citizens of the State. An adequate institutional restructuring and rationalization must not only affect the size of the workforce but also the overall expenditure structure of the state. And this immediately raises the stubborn issue of trade unionism and the reigning adversarial industrial and labour relations.
Trade unions have a right to protect the interests of their members, and the government itself has the right to care about labor efficiency and increasing productivity. The solution lies in a genuine industrial conversation around the significant idea of collective bargaining and developmental industrial relations that see the government, trade unions and the workers themselves as all collectively involved in the productivity profile of the state and progress of society. For instance, the idea of rationalization can be done and done successfully if government is willing to assuage the anxieties of the workers and their trade union with a concrete post-retirement package that will not throw the workers to the wolf after retirement. Industrial and labor harmony within a state not only transforms the investment climate, it further the benefits that comes to the workers themselves.
The issue of the national productivity paradigm also goes hand in hand with that of the need to restructure and deepen the national content policy. This policy connects with both the productivity masterplan and the national industrialization blueprint. It is at this level of synergy that it becomes important that the national content policy itself be adequately assessed and benchmarked against continental and global best practices. The reform of the national content policy also requires putting in place an effective and efficient monitoring, evaluation and reporting system that ensures that the policy is updated and evaluated regularly to meet the challenges of economic growth and productivity. And in this regard, it is no longer possible for any state with a vision of economic growth and a strong productivity profile to neglect the role of the public-private partnership model. This model is based on a very simple governance logic—the government anywhere can no longer carry the burden of governance all alone. The private sector has ever been willing to partner with the government in facilitating productivity. All the government needs to do is to put in place an efficient regulatory mechanism that will make sure the two parts to the PPP contract do their due diligence in achieving the joint objectives.
In this regard, the national and the state government can derive real economic insights from Japan’s 1945 economic and productivity revolution founded on a three-legged strategy. First, there is Keiretsu principle that unites the country’s manufacturers, suppliers, bankers, industries and so on to form a unique dynamic of economic cooperation. Second, there was the commencement of a deep-seated and appropriately sequenced public service change management programme that had the capacity to transform Japan’s productivity profile after a devastating war. Third, Japan also brought in productivity experts that enabled them to deal with the dynamics and the complex relationship between performance, productivity, development and economic growth. These quality management gurus encoded the idea of quality management into a dynamic framework for improving productivity through workforce reform. Eventually, Japan was able to achieve the following: (a) Better design of products to improve service; (b) Higher level of uniform product quality; (c) Improvement of product testing in the workplace and in research centres; and (d) Greater sales through global markets.
It is indeed a cheering news that Oyo State has been able to transcend the circumscribing dynamics of amala politics and garrison command governance that held the state crippled under the grip of unconscionable godfathers. The new governance structure that the Ajimobi administration has fortunately restructured must confront and engage with governance issues that would be viable within the constraint of Nigeria’s lopsided federalism predicament. We can not keep governance issue on the back burner while debating restructuring of the federation. Thus, first, there is the need for individual states to tackle the restructuring issue administratively. In the case of Oyo State, the wisdom is to invest in its comparative advantages in mineral resources, for instance, as well as other development planning and project that could make live empowering for the Oyo citizens. Second, it is key to put in place a security management programme that will ensure that we do not see the return of mob populism that did incalculable damage to the governance psyche of the state. One way to do this is to invest in a cultural adjustment programme that sensitizes the people to their own values as the foundation for claiming their rights and privileges from those they have entrusted with power. This implies a lot of investment in community negotiation with leaders in their various capacity and the people themselves. For instance, one good consequence that could come out of this community negotiation would be a neighborhood and community policing dynamics that feeds off the global best practice of citizenship policing and a professionalized vigilante security arrangement.
There is indeed a need to celebrate Governor Abiola Isiaka Ajimobi, the technocrat-politician who has given us a governance direction for the repositioning of the great Oyo state. However, the challenge of repositioning is far from being over and won. The Ajimobi administration has not only consolidated on the institutional structure it met on ground on the assumption of office, it has also laid some new foundations of its own. But the challenge of institutionalization is that of constant evaluation and monitoring of the institutional reform to ensure that the institutions already founded achieve their objectives of backstopping the flourishing democratic governance. In Oyo state, repositioning is the keyword, and we are nearly there, thanks to the visionary acumen of a leader.
Being Lead Paper presented by Prof. Tunji Olaopa, Executive Vice-Chairman of Ibadan School of Government & Public Policy (ISGPP), at the Ajimobi Roundtable held at the Civic Centre, Agodi, Ibadan, in honour of Governor Ajimobi @69 on Saturday, December 15, 2018.