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‘BAO, go and learn how to walk like a governor!’

By Femi Owolabi During his first edition of the Meet Your Governor radio show in February, Biodun Abayomi Oyebanji (BAO), governor of Ekiti State, said…

By Femi Owolabi

During his first edition of the Meet Your Governor radio show in February, Biodun Abayomi Oyebanji (BAO), governor of Ekiti State, said he has heard some people say he did not know how to “enjoy himself” as a governor. The man, probably unsure of what exactly this meant, said, “I’m here to serve God and the people of Ekiti.” This reminds me of an occasion when, as Governor-Elect, they were entering a meeting venue and one of his associates tapped him from behind and said, “BAO, go and learn how to walk like a governor!” They both laughed while the governor echoed, “wo, fimile jare.”

But wait, how do you even enjoy yourself as a governor? For the four years as a governor in Nigeria, almost all of your bills are on the government’s purse. A governor does not worry about his house rent, how he would fuel his car, or what he would have for dinner– not in these four years on that seat. If you would ask me, these perks that legitimately come with being a governor are enough “enjoyment.” It is, however, interesting that some people think there are other ways a governor should enjoy himself. I suspect there must have been a culture of this “enjoyment” already set by governors in Nigeria; but the man in Oke Ayoba just doesn’t care. On my way from Ado Ekiti to Lagos one evening, I noticed a convoy of about five vehicles moving at moderate speed along the Efon Alaaye axis. It was when I sped past the convoy and I saw BAO’s photographer in one of the vehicles waving at me that I knew that it was the governor’s convoy. No siren noise, no zig zag and reckless speed associated with some VIPs. Most surprisingly, why is Mr Governor using the road for that journey? I began to ask myself. What happens to getting a private jet to ease his movement? You would just want to agree with those who say the governor doesn’t know how to “enjoy himself.” The following week while returning, I saw men from the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency (FERMA) trying to cover potholes on that Ekiti axis of the road. It reminded me of our usual thoughts when we drive through bad roads, and we ask if our leaders in government use these roads to understand the pain. I can bet BAO had intervened following his use of the road. About a week after he was sworn in, the governor had asked FERMA to classify these roads as an emergency and make concerted efforts to fix them without further delay. I digress.

By the end of May, BAO would have spent at least 600 out of the mandated 1,461 days. You can say Mr Governor is in his second quarter of the four. Beyond the idea of [not] enjoying himself, the governor has been deliberate about matters of governance. Is he not supposed to be anyway? But you could only notice this deliberateness when you put things on a comparison scale— where we were, where we are, and where we are headed. While studying the transition report handed over to the then new Governor BAO, I noted some of the recommendations for the new administration. One of them is that there should be an additional 5% vote each fiscal year to the capital expenditure of the state. The idea is to see an increase in capital projects, while reworking the state’s recurrent spending. While the 2023 budget of the state was split as 70% recurrent and 30% capital expenditure, the 2024 budget saw an improvement worthy of note. This time, 45% is going to capital expenditure, and 55% for the recurrent.

Months ago, Shubham Chaudhuri, the World Bank Country Director for Nigeria, expressed concerns over public spendings both at the national and subnational levels in Nigeria. The World Bank chief had said that at the prevailing rate of capital spending, it would take 300 years to close Nigeria’s infrastructure gap. In Ekiti, for 2024, the highest allocation to capital expenditure is going to road infrastructure. This covers the construction of a flyover from Ijigbo to Okeyinmi in Ado Ekiti, the state capital; the reconstruction of Ikere to Igbara Odo road; the rehabilitation of 19.8km Ado to Iworoko to Ifaki road; the reconstruction of Ikole to Ara to Isinbode road, and other road rehabilitation projects across the state. To further drive the spending priority home, I compare the 2024 agriculture budget of Yobe State with that of Ekiti as both states have almost the same population and number of local government areas.

Yobe’s budget for agriculture is N8.3bn. Out of this, N4.6bn would go to capital expenditure. That’s about 55.4% of that allocation for agricultural projects in Yobe. In Ekiti, the 2024 agricultural budget is N5.3bn. Out of this, N4.6bn is going to capital expenditure. Only N756m would go to personnel and other recurrent expenses. This shows 86.7% allocation going to agricultural projects in Ekiti. Can you notice anything? Yobe and Ekiti are committing the same N4.6bn to agricultural capital projects, even when the whole of agriculture money in Ekiti is N5bn while that of Yobe is N8bn. Also note, in 2023, Ekiti’s agriculture had N1.8bn for capital projects, but see the increase to N4bn in 2024. It is obvious that the BAO administration is prioritizing capital expenditure over recurrent. Also bear in mind that Yobe’s budget for 2024 is N216bn, while Ekiti’s budget is N159.5bn. Another interesting thing? While Yobe is expecting to generate N14bn internal revenue, Ekiti is looking at N22bn— that is, the state must pull at least N1.7bn monthly.

Not too long ago, a publication made the rounds— with a screaming headline of how Governor Oyebanji of Ekiti spent “N560m on meals, welfare packages in three months.” Tell me how this governor who doesn’t know how to enjoy himself would even entertain such an idea! But you see, this conclusion of the inaccurate report mistook aggregate expenditure spanning all the MDAs of the state (about 137 of them!) and some other statutory sittings for expenditure by the governor’s office alone. Quite a stretch! Facts from the publicly available Q3 Budget Performance Report (BPR), in essence, show that “Refreshments and Meals” are an aggregate from all MDAs plus statutory sittings and meetings that are serviced by the government. For instance, the meetings of the Economic Management Team that works pro-bono are serviced by the government. Their sitting allowance is covered under this allocation. This is replicated across the MDAs in various forms. On the “Welfare Packages” budget line, something interesting is happening as this provision covers payment of gratuities. It also covers care for the aged and people with various health conditions. It is one of the state’s efficient financial vehicles for keeping its commitment to its cherished retired workers, and conducting impactful social intervention for some of its most vulnerable people. In terms of expenditure specifics, a close look into the BPR will reveal that under the Total Expenditure by Economic Classification table, there is a line tagged Miscellaneous Expenses General. It is under this miscellaneous expenses that we have N985.5m budgeted for Refreshments and Meals for 2023. For the Q3, the report shows N293.3m drawn, and for the year so far at the time, N920.5m had been drawn from this budgetary provision. To get an average spend by each MDA under this budget line may help to put things in perspective. Dividing N985.5m by 137 MDAs shows an average of about N7m for each MDA for the entire year of 2023. This covers all MDA activities including conferences, training, workshops and other events. Still under this “Miscellaneous Expenses General” line is the “Welfare Packages” which has N1.1bn allocation in the 2023 budget. N288.6 was drawn from this allocation in Q3, and so far at the time, a total of N891.5m had been drawn. As mentioned earlier, this covers gratuities and social intervention efforts. Given these facts, to report that “Governor Oyebanji spends N560m on meals, welfare packages…” is thus grossly inaccurate. As at the end of that Q3, Ekiti had recorded N16.6bn in internally generated revenue, a 105.1% performance of the projected N15.8bn. On the capital expenditure, the state had also recorded N18.5bn as at Q3, representing 54.5% performance of the estimated N34bn. At the end of 2023, Ekiti recorded a 106% performance on its internally generated revenue, and 85% performance on capital expenditure.

It wasn’t much of a surprise when Ekiti ranked first in the recent Subnational Audit Efficacy (SAE) Index which examines the level of transparency and accountability operational in the management of public funds and implementation of public policies at the subnational level. Again, you would feel the deliberateness of BAO and his government. In the previous SAE report, Ekiti was number 8 on the table. What do you think a child who took 8th position last term did to be at the top of his class?

While the hard evidence points to a deliberate dogged administrator at work, there is the growing tendency by some of the governor’s admirers and even detractors to focus on his somewhat populist street credibility and all it entails, like when he stops to play table tennis with boys in Omisanjana, or pounds yam atop Abanijorin rocks. While his supporters see these and scream “BAO is working!,” his detractors hiss and dismiss him as merely playing to the gallery.

But facts are stubborn things, and beyond the exciting debate around political theater, stand firmly in his favour. And if you belong to the elitist group asking BAO to walk like a governor, maybe it is time to recognize his refreshing shift in approach— working like a governor!

Owolabi, a research/documentation assistant to Oyebanji, writes from Ado Ekiti, Nigeria

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