The ride from Ibadan to Ado-Ekiti lasted barely two hours. On my previous visits, the same journey often took three hours or more, due essentially to the deplorable condition of the roads. It did not matter which route I decided to access the Ekiti State capital- Igbara Odo; Iwajara-Fabo- Aramoko-Iyin-Ado-Ekiti; or even the remote Akure-Ikere- Ado-Ekiti end, I almost always arrived late, due to the battle my car had to do with the bad roads which forced motorists meandering and slowing down to avoid a rash of potholes amd calderas that infested them.
But, it was a smooth ride after abandoning Ile Ife -Akure Expresssway at Iwajara to plod the newly asphalted Iwajara-Efon Alaye Road and branching off at Fabo to link the Aramoko-Iyin –Ado Ekiti Road also still glinting with fresh tar.
Also driving into town, just shortly after leaving behind the hulking boulders that mounted a guard of honour on both sides of the road, just before the State Police Command Complex leapt into view at the immediate outskirts, I noticed the Adekunle Fajuyi-Basiri township Road wore a new look. Besides being tarred, the contractor handling the project was also constructing drainages, walk ways and median divider.
There is also effort at beautification of the long stretch.
I realized that there has been a difference in the state of infrastructure between May 6 and February 9 when I last visited. The transformation, which is being replicated all over the entire state, followed a riot act the Governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, reportedly read to contracting firms handling the various road projects to complete them soonest or have their contracts revoked. It was a measure the governor took to ensure delivery on his promises amid perceived murmurings by critics that his administration was slow or not doing enough on provision of infrastructure, occasioned by dithering companies. Against expectations the stalled projects had seen two seasons, fuelling doubts on whether they would ever be completed. Shortly after the warning, the entire state became one huge construction site, with mixers, excavators and caterpillars all over the place as the contractors tried to meet the deadlines.
But, it is not just roads that the Fayemi administration is focused on. In spite of being the second least receiver (No. 35) on the Federal Government Allocation table, the state government is making a revolution in education, agriculture, job creation, rural development, electrification, water, social welfare, health and tourism development.
Fayemi says Ekiti’s poverty is really the stimulus to creative thinking and architecture of its potential greatness and riches being driven by his government.
He spoke on this and more in this interview.
This state is the poorest in the south west and second poorest in the country, talking about what you get from the federation account. How do you improve revenue and realize your ideas?
I’m glad you said poorest in the south west and by that I’m sure you mean in financial resources. It’s certainly not the poorest in ideas, in human capital. It has the highest lifespan in Nigeria, you don’t have a high life span if your health situation is very bad, and so it depends on how you measure poverty. Of course, we are number 35 on the allocation table and we are a civil service state not a state where alternative choices of employment are many. But that is where the opportunity lies when you are presented a kind of growth tabular rasa that we have, then it will cause much innovative thinking on the part of those who are going to government which is basically what we’ve used the better part of our government to do: to change the value orientation. We focus on changing the nature of the government, because if you are a much more deficient government you are likely to have much uncompetitive environment that won’t attract investors and that is one of the things we’ve done, in blocking loopholes. For example, in the area of internally generated revenue, when we came in, we had an internally generated revenue in the state of around a N110 million a month, which is not just poor and we have managed to take that to a height of N650 million per month. Of course, that’s a far cry if you are comparing us to Lagos State for example. But then, it is one of the fastest growth rate in terms of internally generated revenue anywhere in the country in a short time.
And what have we done? Nothing major really, yet we have basically insisted on using technology to block loopholes because even the limited amount that we were generating in the state before were going into private pockets, not into government’s coffers. And we are automating the payroll system via biometric. In addition to that we are opening up the opportunity beyond the formal sector because it’s the formal sector that contributes 90 per cent of internally generated revenue – the civil servants, teachers, health workers because we are able to deduct taxes. The non-formal sectors have largely escaped and even government has failed in its duties before now to demand taxes that are legitimate because they have not been able to convince people that there is a connection between tax collected and development seen.
After filling that specific gap, we have now moved into developing, what are the unique selling points of Ekiti that would bring people into the state? We are focusing, but this time not subsistent, but commercial agriculture including encouraging youths to come into commercial agriculture. That is why the minister of Agriculture was here last week to launch our youth in commercial agriculture programme. We are focusing on tourism because we believe this is a crown jewel of tourism in Nigeria. But we can’t focus on tourism without infrastructure. So, all over the state, we have managed in the short space of time we’ve been in office to turn it to a huge construction site and we are not just talking about Ado-Ekiti, every single part of the state is undergoing reconstruction of roads, fixing of damn for water, rural electrification programme, because our vision is that every part of the state must be connected by motorable roads. When we came in, that time you came for inauguration in October 2010, the road that you took from Ita Ore to Ado Ekiti was virtually impassable, it’s not the same now and if you go round the state, every major road in the state is receiving same treatment.
We also have strategy of local governments contributing to road construction. So in every local government we are doing a five-kilometer per local government roads, which we believe will rise up to 20 kilometres by the time my administration comes to an end. So we are linking infrastructure to tourism. We know we are not Lagos but we have what Lagos does not necessarily have. In our Agriculture sector and we can service the Lagos market if we fully develop that sector and that is N3 billion a day market. And just 30 per cent of that market will make our farmers kings. For us, we see agric as business. What we’ve done is to work with major commercial agriculture operators encouraging them to take over our old farm settlements, Awolowo Farm Settlements and then attach the small farm owners to these major players so that they can help us train them. We are also at the same time putting a farmer’s academy in place.
What packages have you for the development of the tourism sector?
We have what we called a tourism corridor in Ekiti, because we have a lot of sites that are historic, they are natural; they really project the image of our state. Everybody knows of Ikogosi Warm Spring, everybody knows of Arinta Water Fall within the same axis of that tourism corridor. In addition to this, we know that tourism should not be government-driven business, so we have decided to provide the enabling environment for professional operator to do their job. That is what we are doing, for example, with the management of Ikogosi, in fact, in another few days, we’ll be signing an agreement with the Mantis Collection, which is one of the most prominent tourism group in the world, not just in in South Africa where they are headquartered. We’ll be signing a Memorandum of Understanding with them to take over the management of Ikogosi once it’s fully finished. That is a statement of where we want tourism to go.
Recently, I set up a committee on airport chaired by Chief Afe Babalola. We know that although we are so well placed, Ekiti is a confluence state, right back in the middle of commercial nerve of the country, Lagos and the administrative capital of the country and that has the positive and negative side. And the negative means that you have become the transit route for not just heavy duty Dangote vehicles, but also commercial vehicles bringing passengers from Lagos to Abuja, which has it’s own effect on our roads. But it also means that we have a huge burden of human traffic through our state and we could also take advantage of that. We want to make the facilities more attractive to our visitors. That’s what we are doing on tourism. We are also pushing for the small and medium scale entrepreneurs because we know Ekiti, for now, is not a destination for complex industry, people who don’t want to go to Lagos will go to Ogun which is next door to Lagos and easily move their goods to Abuja. But we believe that there are things we have that are not common to other states, particularly our human capital, so we believe that we could develop technology-based industry and also improve on the energy reliability in our state. Once we do that, we see that ICT based companies can operate in Ekiti and it’s also easier to train and convert our people. There is nothing that says poverty is destined.
When do we expect contractors handling the road projects to deliver?
They‘ve started delivering. It’s just that we are not a commissioning government, we are not a billboard government that is why there’s limited announcement of the work that has been done. Over the last two to three months, the road that had been completed include the Odo- Owa , Oke Ilaro in Osun State that’s a more shorter route for you if you are going to Oshogbo or Ila they’ve completed the Iloro, Osun, Otun road, they ve gone far with the Ijan- Ise road, they’ve gone far with the Emure- Ikere-Ise road; they have literally completed the road from Efon to Ipola- Iloro- Ikogosi, the one from Ilawe to Enijaayan has been completed. The other road that you were talking about, the Igbara Odo-Ilawe road, has been completed, but the township road are different. One position that we are taking is that we are not going to do road where the contractor is not prepared to give us a 10- year warranty, because Ekiti is littered with too many “Sagbe lo ju yo yo’ roads that’s what we met, roads that were constructed and in six months they are washed away.
Your social security for the elderly people, noble as it is, people say it’s probably a misplaced priority for a struggling state with lean resources, more so as you have an army of jobless youths in hand. How do you react to that?
Unemployed youths can be put to productive use, because they are still in that age bracket where their intellect, energy, their status will not prevent them from working and the challenge that we have is to find them work to do that makes them productive to the society. You cannot say the same for the elderly. This is a government that came into office on the strength of a manifesto, there is nothing we are doing in Ekiti State that we didn’t say we’ll do. In fact people should commend us for not reneging on the promises we made that if given the chance, we’ll have a social security benefit system for the elderly. I told you that the life span in this state is higher than that of any other states. And we have a duty to protect all segments of our population, this is a social safety net for us that also enhances social capital in our state and we’re not just concentrating on the elderly, this is a state that has a free health programme for children, pregnant women, for elderly, for physically challenged, free education to senior secondary school level, we’ve reduced the fee of tertiary students.
So having a social benefit system ideally should even be a matter of course, but because we’ve done financial calculation and we understand that there are limitations for everyone and it is also not for all elderly that we have it for. We have for elderly that are not currently on pension and elderly that have been able to prove to us that they have nobody to take care of them. So when people say it’s not the right priority, the question I want to ask them is that what are the right priority that were not already taken care of? I see it as an excuse for inaction. Don’t forget that we are the only state in this country with the policy of one computer per child in secondary schools. Not Rivers, not Akwa Ibom, of course, we all have our vision. And what that points to is that if there is a will, there will always be a way, and you would be able to do things that will impact on the lives of the people.
By Yinka Fabowale
This article was first published in Sunday Sun on May 20, 2012.
Last modified: May 26, 2012