At the stroke of noon on the eleventh of February, I was sworn in as Special Adviser to the Ogun State Governor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun, CON fca. My first stint in public service was as a member of his cabinet during his first term, which spanned from July 2011 through to May 2015. Then, I served as his Special Adviser covering the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) portfolio. Although my portfolio in the second term has not been specified, because of my first experience, I continue to work on development projects for the state.
Ogun neighbours Lagos, sub Saharan Africa’s only mega city. Indeed it envelopes the mega city and must be traversed for those seeking to get to Lagos from within Nigeria. Not surprisingly, parts of the state are often mistaken for Lagos as many people working in Lagos build or rent homes on the border. But there are other parts, like Ogun Waterside or Ipokia, which are tranquil and beautiful, as far from the hustle and bustle of the nation’s commercial capital as can be imagined.
Proximity notwithstanding, Ogun State’s charm is quite different from Lagos. I claim two parts since my father is Egba from Abeokuta and my mother is Ijebu from Ijebu Ode. Unlike the more remote Waterside, Abeokuta and Ijebu Ode are ancient large towns or small cities. During my childhood, my father would lead his family home to Abeokuta to celebrate most of the Muslim holidays. We usually arrived between midnight and two in the early morning when the town was fast asleep. Somehow, by seven in the morning, drummers would know we were home and would gather outside the house, drumming beats to welcome us.
On the day of my swearing in, drummers were again waiting outside the gate of the Governor’s office. Once the small group of appointees that were appointed by the Governor came out of the building, they started drumming. Luckily, there were politicians among us whose followers were on hand to sing along. It’s not a scene that is typical in the big city.
The State has many strengths. It has a strong academic tradition boasting the highest number of tertiary institutions in Nigeria, and strong business/trading networks from the Ijebu people to the Adire fabric makers in Abeokuta. It also boasts several mid-sized towns across the state, which gives it the skeletal frame for balanced development as opposed to most other states where development is concentrated in the state capital.
In his first term, the Governor embarked on an ambitious infrastructure development scheme to realize the state’s potential. His experience as an accountant involved in the evolution of Lagos state’s revenue collection system caused him to begin thinking about how the state could be made to generate its own revenue.
The effort expended in those years saw the state’s Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) grow ten-fold from 700million to 7billion per month. Some of the success was from closing loopholes in the government revenue collection and payment systems but much of it was from bringing industries and employees into the tax regime. The internal revenue will be useful now as the state faces the reduction in the federal government allocation due to the drop in oil prices. However, even the IGR is likely to drop as industries struggle in the current economic climate and many workers are laid off.
The context of the state could not be more different in 2016 than it was in 2011. Like other states in Nigeria, it will face a more daunting task this time around in balancing its books while satisfying the demands of citizens for services. Those of us with the opportunity to work with state and federal executives will have to do our part to help identify and develop viable solutions for effective governance and inclusive development in the years ahead.
Unlike the first time when I was sworn in with other commissioners and special advisers in a ceremony attended by about two thousand people, the ceremony earlier this month was much more intimate. Four special advisers in the Governor’s meeting room with about twenty guests. The setting allowed me to ask the judiciary officials who administered the oaths of office if I could keep my copy. They agreed. Laudable oaths, indeed. The fourth, in particular, captured the essence of public service. It reads as follows: “I will always place service to the public above selfish interests, realizing that a public office is a public trust.” One hopes people actually mean to keep them. I certainly do.