By Funmi Branco
Public consultation has long been recognised as a means of improving democratic governance. During citizen assemblies, for instance, citizens have the opportunity to be given in-depth briefing and to receive answers to key questions. Relying on this democratic practice, the Dapo Abiodun-led administration in Ogun State has made consultations with the people a cornerstone of the budget preparation process. It wants to have an idea of the people’s scale of preference and to respond meaningfully to their deepest desires. In its view, the town hall meetings embarked on before presenting the yearly budget provides ample opportunity to feel the pulse of the people through interaction with major stakeholders. This no doubt is a great means of ensuring participatory governance. Often, people just sit down in the cozy comfort of executive office and appropriate funds for real and imaginary projects. Among other drawbacks, the practice of making budgetary assumptions about people’s needs often precludes the delivery of democratic dividends.
To take a very simple example: some communities may prioritise water provision over the new schools because they have schools that are not even well populated. If the government gives them new schools, it would not have met their needs. It is against this backdrop that, in line with established practice since he took over as the fifth democratically elected governor of the Gateway State, Governor Dapo Abiodun, last week, kicked off the state-wide consultations meant to harness the people’s inputs into the budget. On Wednesday October 28, he held a virtual meeting with stakeholders in Ogun East to lay bare the plans of the government for citizens’ holistic review. Noting that contract for the construction of Idowa road had been awarded and contractor mobilised to site, the governor unfolded the plan to construct 250 low-cost housing units in Ijebu-Ode and the restoration of pipe-borne water in the axis. He stressed that his administration had constructed almost 300km of road across the state, and that the newly constructed Ijebu-Ode-Epe road would help in opening a new industrial corridor in the axis, while the Cargo Airport currently under construction would enhance the district’s economic potential.
Abiodun said: “The flagship of our mega projects in Ogun East is the Ijebu-Ode-Mojoda-Epe dual carriageway with its overhead bridge at the Sagamu-Ijebu Ode-Ore-Benin Expressway…It provides a direct link from Ogun State to Epe/Lekki axis of Lagos State and a link road to the ever busy Sagamu-Ijebu-Ode-Ore-Benin Expressway that links the South-West to the South-East.” In their respective contributions, the Akarigbo and Paramount Ruler of Remoland, Oba Babatunde Ajay, and the Awujale of Ijebuland called for the construction of the Sagamu-Ogijo-Ikorodu road and more low-cost housing in Ijebu-Ode.
By Thursday, it was the turn of the Ogun West Senatorial District where, at a virtual town hall meeting on the 2022 – 2024 Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) and the 2022 Budget in Abeokuta, a ceremony attended by royal fathers, captains of industry, community development associations, market women, members of the Manufacturing Association of Nigeria (MAN), Baales and members of the neighbourhood watch personnel, Governor Abiodun harped on his administration’s practice of decentralising and liberalizing the democratic space, with an objective to ensuring that people from the three senatorial districts in the state had equal opportunities to meet minds with their government. He declared that the development of Ogun West senatorial district, the major outlet to other West African states and the industrial engine room of the state, would continue to be of topmost importance to his administration.
Among others, the forum provided the governor with an opportunity to reveal his administration’s plan toshop for N13bn to fix deplorable roads in Ota in Ado-Odo/Ota Local Government Area. Indeed, shortly after they came on board, the governors of Ogun and Lagos states had urged the Federal Government to allow them to take over the Sango Ota-Lagos and Abeokuta-Lagos roads, recognizing that the people living in the areas are Ogun/Lagos people and needed to have relief. And indeed, it is the Ogun State government that has had to start palliative works on the Ota road following sustained agitations. Governor Abiodun also mentioned the inauguration of the Raypower and Ikola/Osi-Ota road to open up Ota and other towns along Alagbado/Ipaja border line to increased investments and continued socio-economic development; the reconstruction of the 19km Atan-Lusada-Agbara road and the commissioning of the 10.25km Lusada-Igbesa road. According to him, “We are assiduously working on the Ilaro-Owode–Idiroko road, which is a federal road, like we do on Epe-Ijebu-Ode road in the East Senatorial District and Sagamu-Abeokuta road in the Central Senatorial District. As we await the Federal Government’s approval on transfer of the reconstruction of Lagos-Ota-Abeokuta, we are daily on that road to fix the failed portions.”
Noting the commitment of Globacom founder, Otunba Mike Adenuga, to reconstructing the 64 kilometre Ota-Idiroko international road through tax credit and Aliko Dangote’s planned reconstruction of the Ilaro- Papalanto-Sagamu interchange, also through tax credit, the governor dwelt on the ongoing work in Imasayi-Igan Okoto-Ayetoro road; the reconstruction of Oke Ola and Ago-Oshoffa roads; as well as the Oke Afa road and bridge at Agosasa; the Joju-Oju Ore road in Sango-Ota, and the Owode-Ilaro road. On the housing sector, he said work would commence on the medium income housing scheme for Ado-Odo/Ota Local Government, and that all human and material resources for the project must be locally sourced.
Truth be told, the town hall meetings provided an opportunity for the people to know what the government was doing about their problems, and for the government to feel the pains being felt by the people, and provide solutions. Many people believe that once a government is enthroned, it has power and resources to do everything, but public consultation provides an opportunity to lay bare the financial situation of the state. Such a practice is recommended for all tiers of government because it provides a framework to hear from the people directly what they need, and enables the government to explain the challenges it is facing. The challenges may include financial constraints and even procedural constraints because in awarding contracts, it is expected to follow the Procurement Act. Following due process takes some time. If a road contract is not awarded at a particular time, the people might think that the government has neglected them. But if there is healthy conversation between the people and the government, understanding will be fostered.
This, it must be acknowledged, has been the hallmark of the Abiodun administration, a government that consults with people and treats programmes demanded by them, like the Kobape housing scheme recently inaugurated, very seriously. When projects are being implemented, people in the communities would not feel isolated, having been part of the decision making process. This is a unique idea that would promote confidence and acceptability. As the Commissioner for Budget and Planning in the state, Olaolu Olabimtan, noted, the meeting was to enable the people to express their desires and opinions on what should be the outlook of the Medium Term Expenditure Framework and 2022 budget. That is certainly the way to go.
*Branco contributes thie piece through firstname.lastname@example.org