By Adeolu Akande
A cheery welcome greeted me as I stepped into the lounge at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport in Abuja.
I returned the courtesy, “Good afternoon, Madam.” She walked to the end of the lounge where I chose to wait for my flight. We sat across from each other.
Getting curious, I offered, “good afternoon, madam. I am not sure we have met before”
Before I could continue, she fired a salvo.
“Why do you want to be Governor of Oyo State?” Evidently, she knew me.
My memory of our conversation is a little hazy. I can only capture the essence of what was said. In response to her first question, I stated that my participation in politics was a result of my experiences. I studied Political Science at the University. I worked as a Political reporter, taught Political Science in the university and have worked as Special Assistant in the Presidency, and Chief of Staff to the Governor of Oyo State as well as being Chairman of two federal parastatals. My take from all this is that Oyo State could be governed better than it is.The intellectual content in the current governance of the state is low. The state can be run in a way that guarantees the majority of its citizens the benefits they deserve.
She paused. And asked again: “What do you think is the greatest challenge of governance in Oyo State? This was beginning to sound like Interrogation 101.
Revenue, I replied. The population of Oyo State is estimated at about 7 million with a monthly total revenue of less than N10 Billion. We need to expand the revenue base of the government. We must look beyond the immediate and lay a solid foundation for revenue to keep pace with population growth. A shift is needed in the mindset of the population so that revenue generation and not consumption is the focus. The public service needs to be the leading force in driving development starting with how resources are handled.
What do you think about education, she asked. “For me, the education sector needs a complete overhaul. Every component of the sector is in crisis. Teachers and non-teaching staff should be motivated both intangibly and practically. The infrastructure is outdated. The curriculum needs to change to prepare our students for the challenges of contemporary life. We need to recognize our comparative advantage as a state and use that advantage to our advantage..
Our education sector must be driven by ICT to ensure our students are prepared for the global market. Rather than emphasize white collar jobs, we must emphasize skills learning that will make self employment more accessible to our youth. Every government has acknowledged that Agriculture is the mainstay of our economy. We need to leverage on our 28,454 Sq km of land to create wealth for the majority of our people. We need to pay more attention to the College of Agriculture and Technology in Igbo Ora so that it can produce the young farmers who will drive the revolution.
The college should offer tuition-free education to create thousands of new farmers and change the narrative of that sector, where farmers are on average 61 years old. In order to improve the lives of farmers, agricultural initiatives must be integrated with rural development. Research shows that Lagos consumes food worth billions of naira everyday because of its population and purchasing power.
What percentage of the billions come to Oyo State that is called the food basket of the South West? We need to integrate our efforts in education, agriculture, economy, rural development, youth empowerment etc. to have a holistic approach to fast track the development of Oyo State.
As she pondered my words, she paused once more. “What aspect of education do you think is most important?” Every aspect of education is important. Cognitive, emotional, spiritual, physical and numerical education are all important. All aspects must be emphasized to ensure the total education of the child. That is what can prepare the child for the challenges of the contemporary world.
We must integrate education, health, youth empowerment, and women’s development into a development agenda so their advancement contributes to the whole. If you look at healthcare delivery, the UCH remains about the only functional outlet of our Healthcare service delivery. It is so bad that patients with malaria go to the UCH. Our primary and secondary healthcare facilities must be invested in both in terms of infrastructure and human resources to make their services accessible, efficient and affordable for our people.
“What about women?” she asked, noting that women and the youth are her primary concern in politics. My answer was immediate. I believe women are not getting as much as they are contributing to society. If you take political parties,women are the most visible at party functions yet they are the last when it comes to rewarding party faithful. They are less represented in government and in the distribution of government benefits or what we call the dividends of democracy. Government owes women more than they are given today.
They are dominant in the informal sector whereas the formal sector takes the major chunk of government benefits. I In the areas of representation and patronage, women should be at the center of the party and the government. Government must have programs that will ensure that our women in the informal sector are adequately protected and supported by government incentives..
She sounded happy. “I hope you are sincere and will do all that you have said. If it is so, I pray that God will answer your prayer,” she said and I answered “Amen.”
My flight had been rescheduled twice during our conversation, and each time she was happy, saying it gave her more time to quiz me. Eventually, boarding was announced and I got up to leave. After saying good-bye to her, I picked up my bag. She would not have any of that.
She volunteered to help carry my laptop bag. I resisted, strongly. She insisted. It became a mini tug of war. I noticed we were attracting the attention of others in the lounge. I reluctantly accepted and she walked with me down the long queue. She handed me my bag with full complement of respect as she walked back to the lounge.
I am grateful, Mrs Ameenah Adebayo Shittu.