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Stanley Azuakola: On Ekiti tour, here’s my feedback

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Stanley Azuakola: On Ekiti tour, here’s my feedback

One thing which officials of the Ekiti state government kept telling their guests during last weekend’s interaction with young influencers, social media activists, factivists, bloggers and journalists, was that the state’s monthly allocation from the federal purse was the second lowest of the 36 states. Everyone from the tour guide to cabinet members to Gov. Fayemi himself mentioned it.

It’s (mostly) true – Ekiti’s share from the federal purse is one of the least. However, on the average, states like Ebonyi, Gombe and Nasarawa receive less than Ekiti, which should place Ekiti at number four and not number two.

State officials say that Ekiti receives an average of N2.5 to N2.9 billion monthly. In reality, they get more than that. For instance, in November 2013 when states were complaining that the FG was not sharing enough, Ekiti received about N3.9 billion. For most of 2013, the state’s allocation was higher than that and in a particularly good month in mid-2013, it went over N10 billion.

However to place things in some context – Bayelsa, with half the population of Ekiti receives four times more as allocation.

Last Friday, I was part of a team of about 70 that went on a tour of 12 local governments in Ekiti. For 12 hours, we were showed roads constructed; schools renovated; irrigation projects embarked upon; private sector farms initiated; hospital, Pavilion and cultural centre being erected; amongst other projects. Many of the projects were new initiatives by the governor but admirably, quite a lot were projects initiated by those before him which he has refused to abandon.

We were told impressive facts: In Nigeria, Ekiti has the lowest infant and maternal mortality rate, lowest HIV/AIDS infection rate, least out-of-school children, highest pupil enrolment and highest life expectancy (according to Human Development Report of 2012). The governor rightly takes credit for most of these: “All these could not have happened by chance,” he said.

The state’s attorney-general disclosed how Ekiti is the only state in the country with a sex offenders register (applause). Unlike Lagos which is presently in court protesting that the Freedom Of Information (FOI) Law does not apply to it simply because a group wants to know how it spent a loan meant for primary schools, Ekiti state is the only Nigerian state so far to have domesticated the Freedom of Information Law. They have a Prohibition of Gender Violence Law, Equal Opportunity Law and a Social Security Scheme in which over 25,000 aged citizens are paid a stipend of N5,000 monthly. That’s paltry – yes – but remember how much Ekiti receives.

On Saturday when we had an interaction with Gov. Fayemi, I did not get a chance to ask him questions. Apart from the fact that the moderators (Kwami and Dupe Killa) were especially poor, the governor arrived late and then decided to leave early; making a mockery of the promise that it will be a no holds barred session. That was the lowest point of the event. It made no sense that you invite people all the way and then do such a disservice to them by not spending time. But I understand that the governor is in the thick of an election season (Ekiti goes to the polls in June) and he was in a meeting before he came. Those he was meeting with are Ekiti people, who are more important in the scheme of things than some bloggers and activists with zero votes. Also, the governor came in not dressed for the occasion, looking stressed and almost dozed off before he started talking and then he left for another meeting which according to a source lasted till 4am. So I empathise with him, but then questions have to be asked that if truly the guests are not that important as his actions showed, why bother inviting them at all?

Priorities wise, I am unconvinced by the government’s argument that they have decided to use out of the N25 billion bond they raised to build a Pavilion and a Cultural Centre. They call them Legacy Projects, but I call them Vanity projects. Ekiti with its scarce resources does not need elephant projects. Considering that loans are being used to finance them, it was worrisome that no one could answer convincingly on how sustainable the projects are and how much funds they are projected to generate for the state.

The new Government House project is also one to watch. Does the state really need that? The government’s argument is that the current Government House was originally supposed to be a five-star hotel and should be restored to its original purpose. A hotel could be a revenue earner but is this a priority? Gov. Fayemi thinks so.

Gov. Fayemi has an A+ in road construction. With the possible exception of Enugu and Abuja, I have never been to a state with the number of tarred roads and the road network which Ekiti boasts of. I cannot attest to the quality of the roads, but I hope it’s superior to that of the Funmi Olayinka Cancer Diagnostic Centre built in honour of the late deputy governor of the state. The centre is a good idea on paper but it’s clear that it was conceived and executed in much haste and less diligence as cracks are already showing on the walls of the underwhelming structure.

Fayemi is an intellectual. Read anything the man has written and you’ll be wowed at his depth. From some of their presentations on Saturday, I think his cabinet also comprises of smart people. However, there is a big problem down the line. The project manager at the Pavilion being constructed by the government for instance could not tell us how many people were being employed by the project, which any serious official must know, as that is one of the key reasons a government embarks on infrastructure projects in the first place. At the Oluyemi Kayode stadium, it is a mess literally and otherwise. Athletes defecate indiscriminately as the toilets are under lock and key. The stadium manager argued that the toilets are open to the public but that’s not true. When we asked to see the toilet, he showed us one in the locker room where the floor was as dry as the harmattan. There’s no way for that toilet to be in use and remain so dry. I asked some athletes training around and some did not even know where the toilet was. Worst of all, officials did not know the capacity of the stadium. “500,000,” said one. When we mentioned that not even the largest stadium in the world was that large, he (or someone else) said 50,000. No way, we chorused. Next was 10,000, and then 5,000, was the final figure which the stadium manager quoted for us.

The Ekiti government innovates brilliantly in its budgeting process. Communities are allowed to make input and determine what projects are most needed by them. Like a viewers choice music show, the communities are given their top two needs. On the flip side, I was going to ask Gov. Fayemi why his government keeps mouthing openness and transparency and yet there’s no copy of the state’s budget anywhere online. And please, I don’t mean the budget speech.

I agree with the governor’s response when he was queried over the fact that so much of the state’s resources are spent on caring for the civil servants and those covered by the social security scheme. Though the governor agreed that such a system is not sustainable, he said, ”when you come into a state of affairs that’s the norm, you need creativity and innovation to go around it. We have plugged leakages and the figure spent on that has reduced, but again, I’m here to care for the people of the state and part of doing that is not to throw them into the unemployment market.” Permit me to add in Fayemi’s defence that the state is a mostly civil service state and each of those 60,000 civil servants employed by the state, caters for several others, such that catering for the state’s heavy civil service is almost akin to catering for most of the population.

Much more needs to be done to attract private investors especially in agriculture and tourism. The much celebrated investment by Upland Farms at Itapaji where 40 hectares is being used to cultivate tomatoes and cassava is worth just N100 million. Inadequate!

Now, let’s interrogate two claims made by the governor. The claim by Fayemi that he receives N549,000 monthly was an interesting highlight to what was almost turning into a prosaic question and answer session. I quickly checked online and saw reports showing that the RMAFC recommendation for all governors was N889,482/month. For commissioners, RMAFC recommended N534,890, although Ekiti commissioners screamed that they received just about N361,000. I wanted to ask Fayemi if the figures he quoted were a special package for Ekiti borne out of sacrifice. Perhaps Gov. Fayemi can help us all by clarifying this or forwarding – as he promised – his next salary bank alert to Bukola Ogunyemi who asked him the question.

Also I believe the governor was being too clever by half when he said that students in Ekiti state university were paying just N50,000 as school fees. A smart, hands-on leader like Fayemi surely knows that the students now pay at least N100,000. When he was asked during the event, he said, “I have not increased school fees. It’s still N50,000. However some departments pay for excursion, field trips and other expenses.” Actually, Mr. Governor, the N100,000 is just for tuition. Ekiti university students still pay separately for all the other things. When the governor came in 2010, he slashed fees to N50,000 in line with his campaign promise. If he now sees that such a fee is not sustainable and decides to increase, he should be bold enough to come out rather than this head-in-the-sand escapism.

Generally, Fayemi’s responses during his short interaction with his guests were long and winding but also confident and assured despite his noticeable tiredness. I cannot overemphasise how brilliant and impressive I think the governor is but at this point let me say that I was not blown away by his performance in Ekiti. I saw work in progress, I privately interacted with citizens who surprisingly understood the dire state of resources in Ekiti and voiced support, and I believe Fayemi is one of the most honest men in government today. I’ve been filled with admiration for him, ever since he declared his assets publicly, something no one else in his party or in the PDP has done. However, I would not rate Fayemi beyond 60 per cent. But like I told someone, I was in Bayelsa last year on a tour of local governments, and despite the fact that Bayelsa receives about three times what Ekiti does and has half the population of Ekiti, Gov. Dickson cannot get anywhere close to a 60 per cent.

Has Fayemi performed well? Does he deserve a second term? Those questions and Fayemi’s fate beyond June 2014 will be decided not by my virtual rating but by the thumbs of the Ekiti people. They’ll judge whether they are still convinced he’s the right man for the job or if it’s time to show him the way out of the Government House. The Ekiti people might not trend on Twitter but it’s their feedback that Fayemi and his opponents will covet the most. Let’s hope they choose right.

PS:

I have been seeing a lot of innuendoes and digs being thrown my way on social media over my presence at the #JKFeedback event. People argue that the fact that Gov. Fayemi gave N50,000 to participants as “logistics and travel expenses” compromises them. I disagree. A good argument can be made that if bloggers and influencers are invited to leave their works to visit a state on government invitation, they should be compensated for their time and that does not compromise them in any way.

In my opinion, it would have been better however if the participants were asked to give a proper record of their actual travel expense and reimbursed. That has always been my position, even as far back as 2011 when the president invited young people for a lunch (I was not there.)

For the records, I personally collected N5,000 which was approximately what I spent on transportation to and fro Ekiti. I turned down the remaining N45,000, not because I thought it unlawful, but because some of my audience might have found it inexpedient. I hope this satisfies those who’ve been asking questions and those casting aspersions.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @stanleyazuakola

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