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The future of Ondo State

Niyi Akinnaso

I was growing up in Ondo State in the early 40s through the 50s, I observed three major traits about my people. (1) They were very hardworking. (2) They embraced agriculture as much as they did education, using funds accruing from agriculture to send their children to school. (3) They abhorred cheating, either of, or by, others.

So deep-rooted in the people’s moral conscience was this last trait that stealing was viewed as an abomination. That’s why, in those days, it was possible for farmers to hang their produce by the roadside and put a certain amount of money in a calabash below it. Buyers would match the money and take the produce. While today’s unmanned supermarkets are being driven by technology, my people’s unmanned markets were driven by moral conscience.

This ethical standard has been assaulted time and again by politicians. That’s why Ondo voters often fought vigorously for their mandate, notably in 1965, 1983, and 2007. The methods employed in the fight have changed over time. It was by sheer physicality (killings and property destruction) in 1965; by a combination of physicality and litigation in 1983; and largely by litigation in 2007.

It is against this background that I have consistently advocated the need to move away from thuggery and violence. The advocacy was underscored by my personal experience of thuggery in my hometown early this year, as politicians began to strategise for the 2016 governorship election.

These observations and experiences led to my intervention in the struggles for the governorship ticket of the two major political parties in the 2016 governorship election (see, especially, “Ondo politics: The good, the bad, and the ugly?”, The PUNCH, October 18, 2016, and “Why Ondo should not burn”, The PUNCH, November 1, 2016).

Those who were not pleased with my interventionist essays ignored the historical background I just sketched above. Whether my intervention meant anything to the electoral process matters no more. What matters is that the election had come and gone with minimal violence, and there was no post-election violence.

Rotimi Akeredolu (SAN) of the All Progressives Congress won so convincingly that any attempt to litigate his victory would amount to a waste of scarce resources and precious judicial time.

With the election behind us, it is time to move forward as the future of Ondo State is now at stake more than ever before. The bleakness of the state’s future is underscored by a lot of debt to be paid far into the future; several months of arrears of salaries and entitlements owed to workers and pensioners; unsustained attention to agriculture; the absence of manufacturing industries to absorb the increasing number of graduates from the state’s four higher institutions; and dwindling resources to meet these obligations. That’s why anyone who wishes the state well should join hands with the incoming governor so he can hit the ground running, without any distraction, from day one.

In what follows, I provide an outline of what needs to be done in four major areas which touch directly on the people’s lives and livelihood. They are: agriculture, health care, education, and industrialisation. True, the outgoing governor did all he could in these sectors before running into the brick wall of dwindling resources, much more still needs to be done.

Investment in agriculture, the mainstay of the state’s economy, should go beyond maintaining a tradition. It is also an investment in food security and a means of creating employment for the teeming youth population. Attention should be given to the creation of agricultural value chains for major products, especially cocoa, yam, and plantain. Apart from the Cocoa Product (Ile-Oluji) Limited, which processes only a fraction of the state’s cocoa produce, there are no other notable or functioning factories to process other agricultural products.

That’s why I cringe when trucks line up every five days at the Atosin end of Alade Market in Idanre to move tonnes of plantains to sell them at higher prices in other locations. I have a similar reaction to the sale of yams by farmers in Owo Local Government Area, who even have no means of preserving their products. Why not improve on the agro-industry initiative of the outgoing government to create employment? How about establishing factories for processing yam and plantain into flouxr? And what about investing in semi-mechanised agriculture to increase production?

True, Governor Olusegun Mimiko excelled in certain specific areas of health care, particularly the reduction of maternal and infant mortality, by establishing the Abiye and Agbebiye programmes and the Mother and Child Hospitals. He also established a complex of facilities that formed the nucleus of the University of Medical Sciences in Ondo.

Unfortunately, however, this was achieved at the expense of other health care facilities throughout the state, especially primary care facilities and the State Specialist Hospitals. The incoming governor should make up for these deficiencies in order to sustain health care in the state over the next four years.

The education sector needs special attention. The outgoing government focused on primary and tertiary education, with much less attention to secondary education. The mega schools and free buses for primary school children are laudable projects to be maintained and improved upon. However, secondary education has not been that lucky. But for interventionist workshops for teachers of English and Mathematics, perhaps Ondo students would still have continued to perform poorly in school leaving certificate examinations. More teachers need to be hired; more needs to be done on capacity building for teachers; and greater attention should be paid to curriculum development at primary and secondary levels, including the supply of reading materials.

Perhaps, the greatest educational albatross for the state is the quartet of higher institutions – three universities and a polytechnic. For quite some time now, the state has not been able to meet its financial obligations to these institutions. A two-pronged strategy of cost-cutting and fund generation must immediately be put in place. There is no space here to go into the details.

What needs to be emphasised here is that the state can no longer sustain the illusion of free primary and secondary education and low tuition in the higher institutions. The funds are simply not there. Besides, all over the world, and especially in the United States with which I am most familiar, universities have continually increased tuition and other fees to make for shortfalls in state subventions. Today, in many American public universities, internally generated revenue, largely from tuition, has outstripped state subvention.

True, increasing tuition has become a serious political issue in Nigeria, because politicians made it so. Nevertheless, it is now necessary to increase tuition in all higher institutions in the state, and it is possible to achieve if the appropriate personnel are deployed, if proper consultations are held with major stakeholders, and if the right methods are used.

The lip service often paid to industrialisation during election campaigns at least demonstrates its importance. True, industrialisation is capital intensive; but the state could at least begin with alliances with the Bank of Commerce and Industry, private partners, and foreign investors to set up appropriate factories to process locally produced raw materials across the state. If the Ile-Oluji Cocoa factory could surmount infrastructural challenges and keep producing, then it is worth emulating.

Finally, the most immediate challenge for the incoming governor is the payment of salaries. Whatever arrangements are being made regarding the payment of salary arrears, it is important for the incoming governor to make the regular payment of salaries a priority. The starting point is to eschew wasteful spending and explore avenues for generating more revenue. Above all, the civil service needs to be pruned and political appointments kept at the barest minimum in order to reduce the state’s wage bill.

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