ASIDE stints as legislative aide to former Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Austin Opara, and Senator Akin Odunsi, and some strategic communication consultancy here and there, I had known no other practice than journalism. As a field reporter, my job was to ask questions, seek truths and transmit facts. As an editor, I was using my judgment and experience to improve the quality of stories filed by field reporters. From my side of the table, I was processing and disseminating news. However, for one month or so now, following my appointment as the Chief Press Secretary (CPS) to the Governor of Ogun State, His Excellency Prince Dapo Abiodun, my side of the table has changed. I have transitioned from being behind the news to being in the news. I have become a newsmaker from being a newshound. From being a reporter, I am now the reported. And although one month may be inadequate to form an enlightened opinion about the workings of government, it is definitely enough to reflect on what my experience has been so far. I probably will have to wait, God willing, to document my full experience and paint correctly the grey areas as the horizon seems to be undulating for now, after leaving office. So, I may not be able to provide immediate and or perhaps, accurate answers to all the questions bothering on Ogun State’s peculiar politics, bureaucracy and how much the governor had, met or is making or will make of his assignment successful. Suffice to say that.
I see a quietly dogged fighter with a mission to make a difference in many spheres. The man seems to have come to office sufficiently prepared for the challenges of office. Although many though he should run faster than his legs can carry him, my observation, is that he chooses to make haste slowly. He’s too methodical, finicky, if you like but his sense of direction is non-obstreperous. The simple truth is that he’s extremely careful in the choices he makes and the method he employs to achieve his intended objective. A few instances here will show otherwise. I labour on a daily basis for the past one month to provide answers to how in the minds of some people,those pulling the levers of power or some assumed powers behind the throne, are not holding him down and why he chooses to move on, instead of probing his predecessor given that he met almost an empty treasury. Unfortunately, these questions arose in the first place through the activities of people who were deliberate in their attempt to activate the pull-him-down button just the second day my Principal assumed office.
The banana peel came because of the man’s altruism. During the electioneering, Governor Abiodun had made a solemn promise to workers that their entitlements would be paid as and when due. As a person with background in the private sector, the governor, not wanting to default on that promise, used his goodwill to facilitate an overdraft which would enable him to pay workers’ salaries just a day after his inauguration. If the payment of May salaries had tarried till early June, a promise would have been broken. However, what was widely reported was that the governor borrowed N7 billion a day into his administration. I knew he never mentioned that he borrowed that sum; he only said the wage bill of the state was in over N7 billion. Either by a strange piece of connotative journalism or outright mischief, the focus of his effort at keeping his side of the bargain to Ogun workers moved from the message in his gesture to how much debt he had plunged the state into within 24 hours! When the governor took the loan facility, the Ogun State House of Assembly was winding down. But the governor had promised state workers that he would pay salaries as and when due. So, he had to make that call. Was it within his powers to take an overdraft? Yes. And what is wrong with using your goodwill for the good of your people?
Just a month into the job, I am confronted with responding to a barrage of lies and cooked up stories like this one. I had the option of writing rejoinders every other day or just ignore some of these lies, with the hope that they would die as naturally as they were born. It’s my job, but I was taken aback that people were focusing on and paying attention to ‘starting the fight’ rather than letting developmental issues be the crux of their relationship with a new administration. I was happy to take my appointment because, like a good merchant, I had absolute confidence in the brand I was called to sell. Governor Abiodun, although not your typical dye-in-the-wool politician, is not naïve. He had made his mark in the private sector and he fully understands the workings of administration. He was already a successful man in his national life and I personally was convinced that my job would be made easier. Once a brand is good, a merchant has one less thing to worry about. I am talking here about a man who defeated the machinery of an unrepentantly focused incumbent.
Those who chastised Governor Abiodun for borrowing money to pay workers have only chosen to tell half of the story. Another instalment is to ask how much the previous administration made available to him for his inauguration. To set the record straight, no kobo was voted for the inauguration. In fact, there was no synergy between his transition committee and the then governor’s. Handover note was given to him in the evening of May 28 and he was inaugurated on May 29. Over the past month, people have also pressed me to talk about my principal’s private business. How? I did not monitor his upbringing and I was not there when he started life. I didn’t know about his personal transactions before he became governor. When the issue of supply of Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs) was raised as a counterclaim to an allegation of arms deal against his predecessor, my response was that his accusers were making a political capital by comparing apple with oranges. Whatever the motivation was, I know that APCs are vehicles and they have not become lethal instruments like Avtomat Kalashnikova and would advise Governor Abiodun’s detractors to seek other pastimes.
As an insider, what I have seen in the past month is a governor who is striving hard to fulfill his promises to open up the political space for inclusiveness. All politics is local, they say, but Governor Abiodun has stated more than once that he was most concerned about competence as a criterion for appointing people than other considerations. Party affiliation, tribal correctness and other sundry parameters are secondary to him and this much is in the full glare of all. My appointment is a case at hand. First, I’m from the private sector and background wise, let me say I am from an unusual quarters. My most recent job was being Editor-in-Chief at the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library. Former President Obasanjo, the principal of the establishment, did not give the governor or any other candidate running for governorship any open support. To be completely honest, I was not a card-carrying member of the All Progressives Congress (APC). I am only a journalist whose name came up when the governor sounded people out about appointing a CPS.
Recall that the governor’s transition committee comprised a fellow governorship candidate. He also had a deputy governorship candidate of an opposition party in the committee. I also know that he has headhunted KunleSoname, the multi-millionaire sports enthusiast and owner of two soccer teams – one in Europe and another in Nigeria to run a soon-to-be formed Sports Commission.
His team of advisers, for now, is peopled by iconic men and a woman like Africa’s pioneer female sports broadcaster, ModeleSarafa-Yusuf;a Partner & Africa Head of Deal Advisory & Private Equity at KPMG, DapoOkubadejo; award winning entrepreneur and technocrat and co-founder of Jobberman, Africa’s leading human capital portal, OlalekanAdeniyiOlude, as the Special Adviser on Job Creation and Youth Empowermentand a private sector player and accomplished boardroom guru, TokunboTalabi as his Secretary to the State Government. I do not see that pattern changing. Please, what’s wrong with harnessing the human capital of a state regardless of affiliations?
If it was up to me, I’d rather engage the Ogun public on developmental issues. For instance, the State Government, in collaboration with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) hopes to raise10,000 young farmers by giving them acres of land, clearing the land for them, providing seedlings and creating markets for their products in the fashion the late ObafemiAwolowo created the Marketing Board for cocoa farmers. Also, work has begun on the renovation of 236 primary schools in the state, representing one school in each ward. The same thing applies to the 236 primary healthcare centres slated for rehabilitation. The State Government is also embarking on the repair of three roads per local government. When the Governor paid a visit to the OlabisiOnabanjo University Teaching Hospital, he was clear about the fact that the facilities at the hospital are in such a deplorable state that they couldn’t be used to produce any world class doctor. He promised a turnaround in the health and education sectors and the visitation panels are doing a yeoman’s job of the emergency declared. Because the Governor also know that talents sell as much as book knowledge, he is partnering with banks and other investors to build a mini-Hollywood close to Lagos to train more artistes, musicians, film makers and avenues to create wealth, relaxation and fun over 30 hectares of land. The youths of Ogun will be better for it when the Creative Arts/Entertainment Village becomes operational. Construction work starts third quarter of this year, anyway.
These are the issues I wished we were taken up on, because I don’t think development should be sacrificed on the altar of politics. But it isn’t up to me to decide what people choose to talk about, whether true or fabricated.
This has been my experience in the last 30 days and I have the burden – the responsibility – to tell the story.
- Somorin is Chief Press Secretary to the Ogun State governor