Since the return to civil rule in 1999, Nigerians have had to contend with the ugly spectre of ill-prepared, ideologically vacuous, morally bankrupt and intellectually challenged leaders across the political spectrum. For many years, the office of governor, in particular, has featured tenants that never should have come anywhere close to authority. We have seen governors engaging in monumental rape of the resources of the state they were meant to steer to prosperity, using vile and uncouth language that even motor park touts would shudder at, turning a state into a battlefield between the three arms of government, giving workers a raw deal while gorging on state resources, spending ecological funds on political campaigns, among other atrocities.
But wherever a departure from the norm is spotted, such departure deserves a place under the spotlight, in part because they offer hope to a beleaguered populace. Against this backdrop, there is a compelling reason to place the Ogun State governor, Dapo Abiodun’s governance style under the critical radar and see what lessons it offers on leadership, especially in perilous times.
To be sure, I do not celebrate a saint and quite frankly, I know of none. Still, it seems sufficiently clear that not even the bitterest critics of the Ogun State helmsman would fail to acknowledge that he is a gentleman, a man of his word; a modest, prudent, and honest leader.
A year old in office, the governor reportedly did not even have official cars, either as main vehicle or backup. Neither did his commissioners, special assistants and other appointees. This is striking because Ogun is one of Nigeria’s most naturally, intellectually and economically endowed, even shunning the fact that it shares pivotal contiguity with Lagos, Nigeria’s economic capital. The Ogun economy could certainly support official vehicles for its helmsman, but Abiodun, it appears, aimed to ensure that available funds were conserved and channeled to the priority needs of the populace.
The point cannot be overlooked that since inception, he has been able to disappoint the prophets of doom who laid encumbrances on his path even before he had started his ultimately successful campaign. Today, Abiodun runs one of the states paying the highest minimum wage in the country, regularly and promptly, despite the financial constraints imposed by the coronavirus pandemic, a second wave of which has just struck the country.
There is harmony between the executive and the legislature, and between the judiciary and the executive, yet the turbulent circumstances in which Abiodun took power is, to quote the Nobel Laureate Thomas Eliot, not worth forgetting. Taking on the formidable political machinery of the then state government, Abiodun fought a titanic battle to win both the APC governorship primary and the election proper.
But then the opposition within would not relent: he had no committee to hand over power to him, and did not get the handing over notes until a few hours to the inauguration when the deputy governor received them on his behalf. The open-roof pick-up used during his inauguration was borrowed from another state, and thugs piled wood on the inauguration pathway. This was followed by the failed legal challenges to his educational qualifications and candidature.
Symbolically, Abiodun ensured the full absorption of workers recruited through the back door by the Amosun administration in the twilight of its tenure. He ratified the appointment of Permanent Secretaries and directed the mainstreaming and regularisation of the appointment of over 1000 graduates recruited into the state civil service.
His message: “The appointments and recruitments were fraught with non-adherence to the principles and laid-down traditions of the public service. But in line with our administration’s commitment to equity, fairness, justice and inclusiveness, we will not engage in any action or policy that may be viewed as vendetta. Rather, we will call on all to continue to put in their best for the service delivery to the people of Ogun State.” This is, in my view, a worthy template for governance in all the 36 states. Who does bickering help?
To say the least, Governor Abiodun has managed the Covid-19 crisis excellently well. Apart from building isolation centres and testing labs in record time, he doubled the newly ratified allowances of health workers in the state. He also demonstrated the full Omoluabi qualities that the Yoruba of the South-West pride themselves in when he chose to forgive Idowu Adekoya, a young lady who had purveyed false and malicious information about the foodstuff distributed in the state to cushion the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on the populace, after appeals by her relatives and elders in the community. A lady who tried such malignity in Osun State was promptly thrown into jail, but the symbolism of Governor Abiodun’s forgiveness of a penitent young lady could not have been lost on Nigerians.
Only in November, medical doctors under the auspices of the National Association of Government General Medical and Dental Practitioners (NAGGMDP) and Association of Resident Doctors (ARD), OOOUTH, Sagamu, applauded him for their new pay package. The doctors, while on a thank-you visit to his office at Oke-Imosan, Abeokuta, also commended him for the steps taken to reposition the health sector for efficient healthcare delivery.
According to the President of ARD, OOUTH chapter, Dr. Mutiu Popoola, the recruitment of doctors and other medical personnel and provision of medical equipment was a clear demonstration of the government’s determination to return the health institution back to its former state. Similarly, civil servants came out en-masse to the Arcade Square at the state secretariat to celebrate the governor whom they described as a “talk and do governor” for keeping his word on the payment of the new minimum wage.
Besides, the harmonious working relationship between the governor and the state House of Assembly paid off with the approval of the N250bn debt insurance programme under the Medium-Term Expenditure Framework to revamp the economy of the state in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. Before granting the bond, the lawmakers engaged government agencies with a view to determining the desirability of the facility.
The three-year facility to stimulate and grow the Ogun economy is to be accessed in tranches of N100bn annually, based on measurable performance indicators. Instructively, the governor deplored the same visionary strategy to managing the subsequent #EndSARS crisis. Despite the contiguity of Lagos to the state, the crisis did not snowball into massive destruction in Ogun, in large part because of the governor’s humility and widespread consultations with stakeholders, including the protesting youth, with whom he fully identified, traditional rulers and community rules.
Said Omolara Adeyemi, an Abeokuta resident, “We didn’t know he could do so well. He’s so humble, he’s working hard. He has not been hurling abuses at people, and he has brought a lot of stability into the state.”
Indeed, in an address delivered at his office in Abeokuta on Monday, October 26 in the wake of the #EndSARS crisis, Governor Abiodun went into the roots of the protest and spread the gospel of job creation across the state. According to him, each local government would see at least 250 youth given employment with immediate effect.
Explaining the move, Prince Abiodun was quoted as saying: “We understand that many of our people are just coming out of the economic hardship as imposed by COVID-19. These are people whose economic activities have been affected by the lockdown and other difficult but necessary measures to combat and bring down the curve of COVID-19. We are irrevocably committed to the successful implementation of the Building our Future Together Agenda.” This is the kind of news, and the kind of leaders, that the country requires to thrive.