A day with Seyi Makinde

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Reuben Abati

Seyi Makinde is the Governor of Oyo State (PDP), the only Governor to have broken the jinx of a second term in office in Oyo State. Elected in 2019, he has just completed the first year of his second term in that office. Previous Governors in that state before him since Bola Ige in the Second Republic, Omololu Olunloyo, Lam Adesina, Rasheed Ladoja, Adebayo Alao-Akala, Abiola Ajimobi did only one term in office. I spent last Saturday as his guest in Oyo state along with other colleagues. The day started quite early with a rendezvous in the Governor’s main Conference room where introductions were made as is customary and the guests were given a profile of the visit for the day: a tour in the morning, a short break during which the Governor would attend to an Olubadan function, and the second phase of the visit would be a visit to other parts of the state, Oyo, Iseyin and a place called Fashola Farms. This was not meant to be a “National Tour” – the kind of tours once organized by the Nigerian government where journalists were required to praise-sing the government.

There were many senior journalists on this visit, including a new set of editors who were probably still in primary or secondary school when the more senior persons began this journey of he said, she said, what, where, why, how, when, and to what effect, with mountain loads of analysis wedged in. But we were all in Ibadan, partly in deference to our Ibadan colleagues, better known as the Ibadan Mafia, the home-based journalists of Ibadan who have consistently proven that they belong to the national guild, and have thus sustained a strong tradition of journalism and a sense of belongingness on the bigger stage, certainly not the province. I refer specifically to the boys of Nigerian Tribune, currently led by Edward Dickson; valiant warriors of the pen all of them. I have a brother out there. I also have a brother-in-law at the commanding heights of the Imalefalafia operation. The Governor’s Special Adviser, Media and Publicity, Sulaiman Olanrewaju, also a Nigerian Tribune journalist, was our Media Adviser during the 2019 PDP Gubernatorial race in Ogun State. It was a great pleasure to reunite for a day, with the boys – one of those rare opportunities to do something different from the usual grind of monotonous routine. The Governor, Seyi Makinde blended perfectly. He dressed like the boys. He spoke like the boys.

Our first port of call was an Independent Power Project (IPP), located within the vicinity of the Oyo State Government Secretariat, a power project began by Chief Obafemi Awolowo, during his time as Premier of the Western Region in the 60s. What Makinde has done is to re-vitalize the power project, to supply up to 15MW of electricity to the secretariat and other government offices as well as industrial units. It is a hybrid project, dependent on Compressed Natural Gas (CNG), and an alternative solar energy supply of one megawatt. It would take 18 months to complete and in an adjacent plot of land, visible efforts were underway to install more solar panels. We asked the Governor about cost, he said it was a public-private partnership project, and that there are more than enough off-takers already. We also asked to know where the compressed natural gas would come from. He said from the Escravos line and Lagos, but alternative arrangements are currently being made. There is no gainsaying the fact that the supply of electricity is crucial to the development process, even for the general well-being of society. The Electricity Act of 2023 is one of the major achievements of the Tinubu administration namely the decentralization of Gencos and Discos in the country, that is the removal of electricity from the exclusive list. The 2023 Act provides a wide template for state governments in the ownership of the electricity value chain. The 2024 Amendment of the same Act further affirms host communities’ involvement in the energy sector and Corporate Social Responsibility priorities. Makinde’s concern as he put it is to improve the quality of life and provide electricity for the people of Oyo state in the context of the much-discussed energy transition.

This is akin to steps along the same lines being taken by other states like Ekiti where Governor Biodun Oyebanji has set up a State Electricity outfit known as Ile Iyi Electric Power Company Nigeria Ltd., and the Ekiti State Electricity Regulatory Bureau (EERB); Abia State where we have the 181-Megawatt Geometric Power Plant envisioned and operationalized by Professor Barth Nnaji, Enugu State where there is an Enugu Electricity Distribution Company (EEDC) and a SubCo. and of course, Lagos State, Nigeria’s commercial nerve-centre which has been in the forefront of resolving the electricity question through its Lagos State Electricity Board (LSEB). Other states including Edo, Kaduna, Kano, Nasarawa, Benue, Zamfara, Sokoto and Osun have also either signed electricity laws or are in the process of doing so.

From the Oyo State IPP project around the Secretariat, one of others across the state we were told, we moved to the Omololu Olunloyo Park, close to the airport in Ibadan, part of a bigger plan to develop the area around the Ibadan airport into an aerotropolis, a major tourist attraction and boost economic growth. Still under construction, the Olunloyo Park was flagged off by former Governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike, now Minister of the Federal Capital Territory in 2023. Wike is Makinde’s political ally. In 2023, he invited him to commission the Dr. Olunloyo Airport Road and the Aviation Fuel Tank Depot, and to flag-off the Olunloyo Park. The less said about the Wike-Makinde political alliance and how they and others sabotaged the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in the 2023 Presidential election, the better, this not being a commentary on the monkey-business of Nigerian politicians. The city of Ibadan is littered with roads and monuments named after former Governors. Makinde said he has not named anything after himself because he believes that is a decision to be taken by his successors if they consider him worthy enough. I thought that was a clever thing to say and do, in a country where when a state governor buys a school bus, he puts his name on it! Omololu Olunloyo, after whom the tourism park is named is most deserving of the honour. Olunloyo, now 89, Ph.D, St Andrews University in Mathematics, was Governor of Oyo State after Bola Ige, between October and December 1983 – three months – before General Muhammadu Buhari seized power with the barrel of the gun in December 1983.

Previously, Olunloyo had served as Commissioner for Economic Development in the Western Region at the age of 27, and subsequently as Commissioner for Community Development, Education, Special Duties, Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs and as Chairman of the Western Nigerian Development Corporation. Makinde has honoured him with a Tourism Park which also projects the cultural history of Ibadan with imagic, fine/applied and spatial arts. At the centre of the park is an open rotunda amplified with the metallic sculpture of a selection of Ibadan heroes: drummers, Basorun Ogunmola, Latoosa, Efunsetan Aniwura, Basorun Oluyole – each representing significant and signifying moments in the history of the Ibadan people. The Park is designed as a venue for social events and conferences, with every space on the walk designed with murals about the people’s culture and sociology, including tribal marks and musical instruments. Not exactly a limitless space, so we asked the Governor about parking space, when eventually the Park becomes functional. He showed us a large plot of land on the other side of the road where a multi-layered parking space would be built, and linked to the main park with a footbridge. As a student of culture, the semiotics of spaces, leisure and culture, I was naturally excited. There were many other projects that we saw that showed that the Ibadan city of today has grown beyond and better than its iconic description by J. P. Clark the poet in his 1965 poem where he said of Ibadan: “Ibadan/running splash of rust/ and gold-flung and scattered/ among seven hills like broken/China in the sun” The rust of old is gradually being replaced by upper middle-class estates and expensive roofs. No wonder many Ibadan denizens think Lagos is all show and no class.

Our next stop was the 110 km Ibadan Circular Road which consists of carriageways, eight lanes, seven bridges, five interchanges and 29 box culverts. The project was actually started by Alhaji Lam Adesina when he was Governor of the state, between 2005 and 2008, Governor Rashidi Ladoja further re-designed the road. Other Governors – Adebayo Alao-Akala and Abiola Ajimobi also tinkered with the road. The plan is to encircle Ibadan city around four sections – South East (32.2km), North East (20km) North West (33 km), and South West (24 km), and thus link the road to the Ibadan Ife Expressway, the Moniya Train Station, the Oluyole Free Trade Zone, and connect motorists to Ile Ife without passing through the notorious Iwo Road, reduce travel time thereby and make it easier to and from Lagos, by easing age-long traffic jam. By March 2024, Governor Makinde had completed the 32.2 km stretch of the road. He took us to one of the interchanges, below which was the Ibadan-Ife road – a typical Federal Government Road. “I didn’t start this road”, he said. “I met the design, but as an engineer, I am determined to deliver it. My administration may not be able to take it all the way down to the entire stretch of 110 kilometres, but we will do at least about 75 kms of it and whoever succeeds me, can complete the remaining 35 to 40 kms.” He added that the plan is to make part of the stretch of the road a hub for estate and business development. “But when we launch that, it would be proper development. Nobody will be allowed to build shanties anywhere around here. No shanties,” he said. “Many people did not believe that we were serious about this project may be because they think a state government cannot build a road anew. Even when we started, people were encroaching on the right of way, erecting structures on government land, not believing that the road would ever be built. As we worked on the road, people were roofing houses and constructing. But now that they see that we are serious, they are jittery. If we want to follow the rule of law, we will demolish all their structures and not pay compensation, but I cannot do that. We will still have to help our people.’

Journalists like to ask questions. “Mr. Governor, I think we can conveniently call you Mr. Infrastructure”. During the 2023 re-election campaign, Makinde’s media people had rolled out a catalogue of his achievements under the handle @FeedbackOYSG crowing everyday about 60 model schools, renovation of 209 primary healthcare centres, purchase of additional vehicles for Oyo Amotekun and other security agencies, and the reconstruction/ rehabilitation of roads – Iseyin-Fidipote-Ogbomoso, Moniya-Ijaiye-Iseyin Road and Oyo-Iseyin Road, OYSEMA, OYSROMA and so on. In response, the Governor said: “To tell you the truth, I actually do not want to be known as a Governor who built roads or provided infrastructure. That is normal government work. I would prefer to be known as a Governor who built institutions. This is why we are setting up an agency that is like MAMSER in Oyo State. Professor Jerry Gana has been invited to come and launch it for us on Tuesday. Oyo state has a history of pioneering institutions. This state started the Road Safety Corps with Professor Wole Soyinka. The Federal Government went and copied it and they made a mess of it. But this state must continue to do what it does best: build people and institutions.”

The Governor later excused himself. He rushed to the Olubadan event and returned in time for us to set out again. We went to see the Oyo MAMSER agency – Oyo State Mobilization Agency for Socio-Economic Development – and then went on to the Moniya-Iseyin road, and Iseyin-Oyo road, on our way to Fashola Farms, an agribusiness Industrial hub that the Governor says he considers very important. On the way to Iseyin, we travelled between portions of the road that had been rehabilitated by the state government, after long negotiations with Federal Government and we had the chance to compare what the Federal Government did previously with an old rickety bridge that would hardly take a wide-bodied vehicle. The same Federal Government, Makinde said, insisted that certain standards must be met if the state must take over a Federal road. We saw the difference between the Federal standard and the Oyo state standard! We laughed. But the bigger revelation along the way was how the entire stretch towards Fashola Farms is made up of farms on both sides of the road: cassava, tomatoes, vegetables, with Governor Makinde boasting that agribusiness thrives in Oyo State. We even saw Obasanjo Farms to the left, stretching far into the distance. I observed however that many of the farms, with the exception of about three, had no fences, just open farms. So, why does anyone complain about cattle herders destroying their farms? I would assume that farmers have an obligation to protect their property, by just fencing the perimeter. “Cost”, both Prince Dotun Oyelade and Chief Bayo Lawal explained to me. “Farmers take loans to set up farms. How many of them can afford to use bank loans to build perimeter fences? But we have Amotekun in Oyo State. This state is very safe.” Still along the way, we saw a factory that produces brown sugar. “When we fixed this road, the owner of this factory was encouraged to return. Activities also resumed at Obasanjo Farms,” Makinde said.

We finally made it to Fashola Farms. Fashola? BRF? Former Governor and Minister? Only to be told that the whole of that area is called Fashola, and that it is the host community that insisted that the project should be named after the community. The Farm Settlement was actually established, again by Awolowo in the 1950s, over 1, 000 hectares of land, run by about 10 agri-investor companies, planting all kinds of agricultural produce. Makinde revived it. Unlike the farms we saw on the way, this particular settlement is fenced all round. We saw a tomato nursery. We trekked all the way down to a ranch, where we saw fat, well fed cows, promenading luxuriantly inside a fenced space with lush grass. They didn’t look aggressive at all. We retired in the evening to dinner, within the same neighourhood with drinks provided by Bola Okolie’s Bonix Drinks, comedy by MC Ajele, and good music by a Dee Jay. Very early on Sunday morning, I was back in Lagos…

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