BY BAYO ADEYINKA
I have decided to address you collectively because it has pleased providence to put you as the custodians of our patrimony in the Yoruba Nation. Except for Ekiti State, you are all children of the same father politically-speaking but you are all bound by a common heritage nevertheless. Destiny has thrust upon you an uncommon benevolence- being chosen among millions to lead one of the brightest tribes created by God. You have been positioned to lead your States at such a crucial period like this.
The Yoruba Nation has produced excellent minds across various sectors such as Reverend Samuel Ajayi Crowther the first black Anglican Bishop, Chief Sapara Williams, the first Nigerian lawyer to defend cases at the British Supreme Court as far back as 1881, Herbert Macaulay the first Nigerian to form a political party in Nigeria, Adeniyi Jones the first surgeon in Nigeria, Prof Bolanle Awe the first female Professor of History in Africa, Professor Wole Soyinka the first African to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti the first Nigerian musician to be listed in the Guiness Book of World Records, Taslim Elias the first African to be the President of the International Court of Justice, Latunde Odeku the first professor of neuro-surgery in Nigeria, IK Dairo the first Nigerian to be conferred the title Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE), Professor Ilesanmi Adesida the first black Vice-Chancellor in an American University, Chief Akintola Williams the first African to qualify as a Chartered Accountant, Michael Onafowokan the first Architect in Nigeria, Teslim Balogun the first professional footballer in Nigeria, Nojim Maiyegun the first Nigerian to win an Olympic medal and the immortal Obafemi Awolowo among others.
The first newspaper in Nigeria was a Yoruba newspaper ‘Iwe Irohin’ established in 1859. Across all sectors-from medicine to sports, education to industry, music to law- the Yoruba nation has not been found wanting. We have often led the way while others followed. That is the tribe of which you are now Primus inter pares-first among equals.
As one who is familiar with the entire South West States and also one with a deep sense of history, I am quite unsettled and very unhappy with the state of events. It seems our best years lie behind us. Many remember yesteryears with nostalgia while shaking their heads at what we have become. What shall we say when the benchmark of good governance in Oyo and Osun States still remain the late Cicero of Esa-Oke, Chief Bola Ige, a man who left office 34 years ago? The same goes for Ogun and Ondo States where Olabisi Onabanjo and Adekunle Ajasin remain the standard for outstanding performance. Curiously, Bola Ige, Adekunle Ajasin and Olabisi Onabanjo were only elected for just a single term of 4 years- with Lateef Jakande of Lagos State re-elected but truncated same year with the advent of military rule in 1983. Most of Your Excellencies- Abiola Ajimobi, Rauf Aregbesola, Ibikunle Amosun and Ayo Fayose are either on your second term in office or your second coming to office. How can their 4 years leave a greater impact than your 8 years- even when they had lesser resources at their disposal?
Your Excellencies, a tour through some of your states will reveal that we are in a state of anomie generally. I will cite some examples to push home my points. Permit me to start from Ibadan, the political capital of South West and the intellectual capital of Nigeria. Cultural Centre located at Mokola, Ibadan used to be a major focus of attraction in the ancient city. As a masterpiece, other states equally took a cue from it by setting up their own Cultural Centres such as that of Abeokuta. I almost shed tears as I observed that the monument is now a shadow of itself a few days ago. The frontage is now a car park where people pay N50. The shops by the side are populated by the favourite Amala Spot, Inastrait and ‘paraga’ or herbal concoction peddlers. Ibadan alone has 3 cinemas located at Dugbe, Samonda and Ring Road. Yet, Cultural Centre was the place of choice for movie watchers so many years ago. Now, the place is as dead as a dodo with weed overgrown on the grounds.
Why can’t Your Excellency enter a PPP arrangement to turn around the place? Why can’t you build or engage a PPP in building a world class museum at the parking lot? Or even another mall? Cultural Centre can complement Agodi Gardens due to the proximity. Tour buses can take tourists from Agodi Gardens to Cultural Centre and back. We have neglected tourism in the South West yet we have what could be money spinners such as Ikogosi Warm Springs, Erin-Ijesha Waterfalls, Idanre Hills, Old Oyo National Park, Orole Hills at Ikere-Ekiti, Ipole-Iloro Waterfall, Egbigbu Artificial Lake at Aiyetoro-Ekiti, Esa Cave at Iyin-Ekiti that is capable of containing 34,000 people at a time, Bilikisu Sungbo Shrine, Igbokoda Waterfront, Igbo Olodumare, Olowo’s Palace at Owo which is the largest palace in Yoruba land and contains over 100 ancient courtyards, Irefin Palace at Ibadan which contains 185 rooms and was built 200 years ago with mud and Olumo Rock among others. The last time I visited Olumo Rock, I held my breath as I used the toilet facilities because it was in such a terrible state. Your Excellencies, I had to pee as if I was doing target practice.
The other day I was at Premier Hotel. Ordinarily, that should be the best hotel in Nigeria as I’ve not seen a better located hotel. Situated on a hill, it is an architectural masterpiece. Unfortunately, the setting is still like it was when I was in secondary school in 1991. Then I had gone to the hotel with my mother to make some personal markings on my house wears. A few months ago, that particular event came back as I sat at the lobby of the hotel. The furniture is dated. When I went to the restaurant located downstairs, I almost couldn’t eat the food served. I saw dead cockroaches on the floor of the restaurant. I called the attention of the staff to the unkempt state of the environment. They apologized but I felt more like apologizing to them. Someone who stayed there told me he saw rats in his room. Why can’t this hotel be concessioned to a hospitality firm? Yes, Your Excellencies, I know Premier Hotel belongs to Odua Investments Company Limited- the successor of the former Western Nigeria Development Corporation (WNDC).
Please permit me to focus on Odua Investment, all jointly owned by you. Last year, it was announced that Lagos State had been admitted as the 6th owner. Odua Investment has at least 3 hotels as subsidiaries- Premier Hotel, Lafia Hotel and Airport Hotels, Ikeja. Yet, none of them can be rated as top 10 in the South West. Cocoa Processing Industries Limited at Ikeja was the first cocoa processing factory in Africa. When the firm was at its peak, it reportedly had 19,000 people in its employ. It is now a warehouse for imported goods and motor vehicles. Cocoa gave us Cocoa House yet we don’t even have a single chocolate making factory in the South West with the abundance of Cocoa that we have.
Ire Clay Products Limited is all but dead- yet it was set up to manufacture bricks. Other Odua Investment companies include Epe Plywood Industries Limited, E&O Power and Equipment Leasing Limited, Odua Printing and Publishing Limited, and Glanvill Enthoven &Co. The conglomerate (not sure it’s really worthy of that name), also has associated companies in which it has significant interests such as Nigerite Limited, West African Portland Cement/Lafarge, Wema Bank, Crittal Hope Limited, Nigerian Wire and Cable Plc, Askar Paints, Nidogas Company Limited and Tower Aluminium among others. Of all the above-named companies, Cocoa Industries Limited shut down in 2010, Nigeria Wire and Cable, Ibadan and Epe Plywood Industries closed in 2012 while Askar Paints shut down in 2013. Sketch died much earlier. Almost all the surviving companies are either ailing or fringe players except for those with foreign interests or technical partners such as Lafarge and Tower Aluminium. Even Wema Bank, the longest surviving indigenous bank which rose from the ashes of Agbonmagbe Bank, is no longer a significant player in the national landscape. Oduanet, the mobile telephony company started by the Group died intestate. Apart from Wemabod Estates, nothing else seems to work.
My dear Governors, why can’t Odua Investments Limited run her subsidiaries profitably and contribute at least 20% to the budget of each state yearly? Why can’t you take a further step by listing Odua Group on the Stock Exchange? How can the Group’s Profit Before Tax in 2015 be a paltry N597m? That is less than what the smallest commercial bank made in Nigeria. No South West State ought to be unable to discharge her responsibilities if Odua Group runs efficiently. The story of Odua Group is similar to what happens in your states. There is gross under-performance and inefficiency everywhere. This house has fallen.
Agbowo Shopping Complex lies prostrate. Strategically located opposite the University of Ibadan, the huge complex is now home to rodents. The complex was built by Chief Bola Ige in 1983 and consists of 104 shops, a theatre, two department stores, a night club, more than 20 large office units and an ample parking space. During its hey days, it was home to Cinema De Baba Sala. Lekan Salami Stadium at Adamasingba has seen more beer parlours than football teams in recent times. Trans Wonderland which covers a total area of 67 acres and was commissioned in 1989 is now a shadow of itself. The same thing applies in almost all your states-maybe except Lagos in a few instances. Muda Lawal Stadium at Abeokuta is home to several beer parlours and scarlet ladies. A friend once joked by saying that the only industry they have in Abeokuta is the beer-drinking industry. Osogbo is a big village that has defied modernity. The new Shoprite Complex now stands where Owena Motels used to be at Akure as legacy gave way to consumerism. Ekiti, as homogenous as it is, represents little more than a glorified rural set-up.
During the last WAEC examinations, only Lagos State was among the top 10 states in Nigeria. Ekiti was 11th, Ondo was 13th, Ogun was 19th, Oyo was 26th while Osun was 29th. A Region that once produced scholars now has scholarship relegated to the background. State Universities churn out graduates each year but none can boast of any meaningful invention. In one instance, a State University (LAUTECH) has been closed for 400 days with over 34,000 students left to their own fate. No single Government-owned hospital in the South West has a brachytherapy machine yet cancer kills about 10 people every hour. We have to depend on private and foreign-owned laboratories for our tests and medical diagnostics. Private pharmacies are relied on for the dispensary of most drugs.
Your Excellencies, our roads are full of craters and potholes. You say you’re constructing new roads but the old ones are falling apart faster than you can build new ones. We don’t have new housing estates unlike before. Lateef Kayode Jakande constructed over 30,000 housing units in 4 years. He introduced low cost housing estates at Amuwo-Odofin, Dolphin, Oke-Afa, Abesan, Ijaiye, Ipaja, Iponri, Ikorodu, Badagry, Surulere, Epe and other areas in Lagos State. He also built the General Hospitals in Gbagada and Ikorodu in addition to about 20 health Centres. Are you building to last, Sirs? I remember the days of Ibadan Municipal Government (IMG) where the Local Governments were the closest to the people. They constructed roads and even built schools. In Ibadan, such schools were referred to as IMG Schools. You have reduced the Local Governments to mere appendages by appointing Caretaker Chairmen (who are better known as Undertakers) and in the very few instances where elections are conducted, they are rendered ineffective by you.
Do I need to talk about your various broadcasting outfits? In the days of yore, any broadcaster worth his salt must be on Ogun Broadcasting Corporation Radio popularly called OGBC Radio. Individuals such as the late Gbenga Adeboye, Toba Opaleye, Ambrose Shomide, Larry Izamoje and several others held sway at the station. Radio O-Y-O shone like a million stars with the music merchant, Yanju Adegbite and Deola Alagbe. The television arms were pacesetters in their own rights. Hardly does anyone listen to or watch them again. For them, it is Ichabod- the glory has departed. The Broadcasting Corporation of Oyo State (BCOS) is now more popular for her annual December Fun Fair where the premises is partitioned into several spaces for pepper-soup eaters and beer drinkers.
Dear Governors, God has blessed you with the most arable land in Nigeria- nay, West Africa. You have rain for longer periods than the North. Our land is suitable for tomatoes yet we depend on the tomatoes that come from the North. We can plant yam in abundance yet we always wait for Abuja and Nassarawa yam. We are the largest cocoa farmers in Nigeria yet we don’t have a single chocolate factory. Ogbomoso cashew is the best in the world yet no single State in the South West has a cashew processing factory. We have the largest cassava farms down South yet the only starch-making factory in the South West is privately owned. There is simply no value addition.
This is the time to engage creative thinking. You must be the drivers of the ideas that will take the Yoruba people into the future. You must find ways to make your people look inward instead of outward. We can achieve food sufficiency. Build new farm settlements and give incentives for agriculture. Create hubs for real mechanized farming across the states. Construct silos for the preservation of harvest.
Open up the rural roads and this will reduce the cost of transportation which will further impact the price of food. We can create new apps that can help us take a leap into the future. Invest in science and technology. Give grants specially for apps development that have commercial applications. We can create new jobs that will greatly reduce the rate of unemployment. Create SME hubs around each state with shared facilities. Give tax breaks for new businesses. Resuscitate old industrial estates and start new ones. Set up free wifi points at all State Universities. Equip them with e-libraries. Encourage them to re-tool the curriculum for relevance. Let there be at least one world class hospital in each State. Each hospital can specialize in different areas: one in cancer treatment, another for heart-related issue, yet another for pediatrics, another for kidney ailments and so on. Invest in human resources- the people. Educate your people. Energize your governments by injecting fresh blood with new ideas. Set key performance indicators and measure them.
If it will not be too much for me to say, Sirs, may I humbly warn that you are governing over a tinderbox. You have more unemployed graduates than any other geo-political zone in Nigeria. You have a mass of highly enlightened but dissatisfied populace. Your people are patient but their patience should not be taken for granted. I am not blaming you for the problems- some of which predates your coming to office. Those who came before you also did not acquit themselves excellently. I am not saying you haven’t done anything at all. Lagos State still remains a bright spot in our dark firmament with some occasional sparks of brilliance among others. Unfortunately, you are in a race against time and you have to prove worthy of the shoes of the ancients you have stepped into. Nevertheless, you are on the cusp of history. You would have noticed that I referred to Obafemi Awolowo earlier as immortal because while he is dead, yet his deeds speak for him. Will your deeds speak when you are gone? What legacies will you leave behind after your tour of duty is over? It may be difficult to fill the shoes of the late sage. He has set the benchmark for generations to come. However, it is your responsibility to carry forward his legacy.
I will close with the words of Benjamin Franklin. He said, “If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead, either write something worth reading or do something worth writing”. Sirs, the choice is yours.