Editor's note: Public affairs commentator, Lati Abayomi, writes a rejoinder to an article by Yinka Olaitan, published in segments of the Nigerian media with the title “Makinde, Populism and Sustainability.”
The first thing that struck me about Mr Olaitan’s piece is the last thing he said. He claims that he is not the “voice of opposition or hireling but someone who wishes Engineer Seyi Makinde well.” However, the fact that the article is syndicated, published in various media outlets, including the two mentioned above seems to suggest otherwise.
The piece by Yinka Olaitan opens by referring to Governor Seyi Makinde’s victory in the recently concluded 2019 governorship election in Oyo state as a stroke of luck, driven mainly by the fact that former governor, Senator Abiola Ajimobi “stepped on sacred toes.” However, the margin of victory suggests otherwise.
To understand this point further, one needs to look at the 2015 governorship election in Oyo state where the then ruling party, All Progressives Congress (APC) won by 36% of the total number of votes. In other words, over 60% of the votes cast were against the APC’s candidate, incumbent governor, Abiola Ajimobi. But this 64% was split between opposition parties, Accord Party, Labour Party, People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and Social Democratic Party (SDP-Seyi Makinde was the SDP candidate).
The 2019 election was shaping up to present a similar result with the main contenders PDP, APC, Zenith Labour Party (ZLP), African Democratic Congress (ADC) and Action Democratic Party (ADP) splitting the votes. There was a possibility of a similar outcome where the APC could win with less than 40% of the total votes cast with the remaining 60% split between the other parties. Makinde had throughout the campaign period, been pushing for an alliance between the opposition parties to prevent a recurrence of what happened in 2015. This finally happened with the coalition of PDP, ZLP, ADC and SDP formed a few weeks to the election, while ADP also formed an alliance with the APC. The result was a strategic victory for Makinde and the coalition of parties.
Additionally, Seyi Makinde and the Omituntun brand was grossly underestimated. He presented the people with a vision of peace and prosperity not mortgaged to any godfather. Bayo Adelabu, the APC candidate was allegedly not even the choice of then governor, Ajimobi but was rather, “imposed” by Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, APC national leader. Thus, Makinde’s campaign that the affairs of Oyo state would not be dictated by outsiders, and the money of Oyo state would be used for the state rather than funding godfathers appealed to the people.
The author made a factual error by stating that the anti-graft agency had been established. The fact is that an executive bill has been prepared for the Oyo state House of Assembly to deliberate on. The Oyo State Financial Crimes Commission will be created by law not by executive fiat. In his address during the inauguration of the Oyo state House of Assembly, Makinde stated that “[we] are not just going to be giving executive directives which will stop being effective once we leave the state house. Our government will be building legacies.”
The major argument in the piece by Yinka Olaitan is about the free secondary school education policy by the new administration led by Governor Seyi Makinde. The author referred to it as “populist and ill-advised.” According to him, the money realised, about N1.2B, could be utilised to improve the schools and if that is done, the parents will be willing to pay this amount. To address this issue, it is important to remind Olaitan about the campaign manifesto Governor Makinde used to win the people’s trust and votes, and also explain why a focus on guaranteeing early stage and secondary school education access to citizens is one of the bedrocks of societal progress and prosperity.
During campaigns, Seyi Makinde stated clearly that free quality primary and secondary school education was a priority for his administration. He explained that the free quality education he received gave him the opportunity to become a successful engineer and entrepreneur. He stated several times that it was his belief that free quality education would provide Oyo state children with the tools they need to access better opportunities and break out of the cycle of poverty.
Goal 4 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) is quality education and Target 4.1 is free primary and secondary education. It is therefore commendable that the Seyi Makinde administration has adopted this in order to meet the SDG. Additionally, the new administration pledged to increase the budget for education to a minimum of 10% of the state’s annual budget in its first year, increasing annually until it matches UNESCO’s recommended 15-20%.
These targets are not just paper targets drawn up by some bureaucrat in faraway Europe. Real world examples abound of how countries have kick-started economic regeneration by simply focusing on improving educational access and quality. Even at the sub-national level, providing every child with access to quality education can boost the GDP of the local economy by an average of 28% per year.
It is also worth stating that investments in education usually take an average minimum of ten years before they begin to bear visible fruit (it takes ten years to complete secondary and tertiary education before the student can become a productive member of society). This explains why political leaders who traditionally chase quick wins, usually ignore costly educational reforms. By his decision to invest in education, Governor Makinde is planting trees that will provide shade for Oyo state long after his tenure ends.
But if there is a well-established link between education and prosperity, there is an even stronger one between poverty and poor educational outcomes. A leader must be a leader for all not just a few. By ensuring that all Oyo state children are guaranteed access to quality education, Governor Makinde is ensuring that every child - regardless of their background or personal circumstance, has a fair shot at being successful in life.
Oyo state has the highest number of out-of-school children in the south-west and the seventh highest in Nigeria-over 400,000 children in Oyo state are out of school. In a recent TV interview, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) education specialist for the south-west, Mr Muritala Muhammed stated that the number one factor why children are out of school in Oyo state is poverty. He advocated for intervention by governments to address this issue by making schools affordable without charges or levies, among other things.
Having established that free quality education is a necessity not just a populist ideal, it’s important to ask how it will be funded. During campaigns, Makinde was asked how his government would fund the N1.2B if fees were scrapped. His response was that by plugging leakages, the government will realise the money which it can use to fund the shortfall arising from the payment of fees. In his first media chat as governor on June 29, 2019, he stated that the money for the first year had already been realised. Oyo state funds fraudulently acquired by an individual had been confiscated by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) which wanted to pay it to the federal government. The Oyo state government requested that the money be paid to the state and all parties have agreed to this. However, the state does not intend to rely on the ‘generosity’ of Looters Plc to fund programmes as important as this. The governor has stated that he will continue to trim overheads, and raise revenues to fund the administration’s transformational programmes.
Throughout its tenure, the previous administration led by Senator Abiola Ajimobi received the payment of N3,000 fees. This begs the question, if this money could have been utilised to renovate schools, why are there still dilapidated schools in the state? A Bloomberg report of September 2018, “No Books, No Desks, No Pay: Nigeria’s Education System is Failing,” cites Ibadan Municipal Primary School as an example of a school showing the poor state of education in Nigeria, with pictures of the dilapidated school building. In actual fact, compliance for the payment of the fees was low so the government wasn't actually getting the full N1.2B. But whatever percentage it received, how was the money utilised for the past eight years to justify a continuation of the payment of fees?
Makinde promised free quality education and we should hold him to his promise. Campaign manifestos need to finally start meaning something. When politicians promise to do something during campaigns, we should probe them and if we are satisfied with their responses, we should hold them accountable for the promises they made. If Makinde was appealing to populism during campaigns, he would not have said he could not promise to pay the new minimum wage of N30,000 when asked, a burning campaign issue at the time.
Free quality education is a pragmatic solution to the ticking time bomb of having hundreds of thousands of out-of-school children in Oyo state. So it goes beyond a personal belief by Makinde that education should be free.
The electorate in Oyo state voted overwhelmingly for the current government with high expectations. It’s still early days but every step Makinde has taken so far suggests that the trust the people placed in him is not misplaced. One can only hope that this carries on to the end of his tenure.
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