My role in govt as OTSD DG and why Ekiti deserves continuity – Prof. Bolaji Aluko

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[Interview in Ekiti Standard, August 30 – September 23, 2021]

My role in govt as OTSD DG and why Ekiti deserves continuity – Prof. Bolaji  Aluko

Professor Bolaji Aluko is a Special Adviser to Ekiti State Governor and the Director-General of the Office of Transformation Strategy and Delivery OTSD from Ode-Ekiti in AyekireLocal Government Area, South Senatorial District

Your office appears to be an innovation which was not in place before now, what are the unique features of OTSD under your watch?

It was in the first term of Dr John Kayode Fayemi as Governor that he actually  first introduced the Office of  Transformation OTSD. It is an inter-ministerial office that sits between himself and all the ministries. It is not that the ministries report to the office but where there is need for facilitation of inter-ministerial service delivery.  All of government is delivery of service to the people and sometimes service to workers themselves. The citizens of a state can be considered as those who work for government and those who don’t work for government. This is one level of distinction and there are ministries that deliver service to other ministries within the system, there are those that deliver to the public and there are those that deliver to both, so the idea behind the Office of Transformation, Strategy and Delivery is to facilitate interaction between the ministries for optimal service delivery. That’s number one,  to engaging them in whatever way it can, to ensuring that they work together. But there are times sometimes in some of these interactions, you don’t always have to run to the Governor in which case we just meet in our office premises and interact.     Secondly, sometimes there are complaints from both the public and the private sectors. So, we sometimes act as a complaint bureau, an ombudsman agency. In fact, the SERVICOM desk is also in the agency. And finally is the issue of monitoring and evaluation. We often monitor impacts and outcomes. There are programs, policies, there are projects and there are outcomes all of which impact citizens.  The question is how do these all impact citizens? So, that is where we come from. So there are monitoring teams in Budget and Planning, Finance, Bureau of Public Procurement. Most times they are monitoring the projects themselves to ascertain if the projects are completed rather than impacts on citizens.

You have a background from the ivory tower and now you found yourself in public service holding very sensitive position in government, how has the experience been going by your antecedents?

It requires some level of adjustment but it hasn’t been too bad. One of the things of course was that I had worked in the university at Otuoke in Bayelsa State as Vice-Chancellor and it required a lot of interactions too with the public. It was not just interactions with students and staff. We worked with the Niger Delta communities, with government state and Federal, and so many different people and so on. In short, it has been good. We have a good civil service in Ekiti State, we have a very good interaction within the Cabinet. We have a dynamic Governor who knows what is at stake. As you know you can’t run faster than your Governor! So, I have taken to the adjustments and so far, I have enjoyed the ride   so far. In fact,  in many instances, I’ve been involved in exams for the civil and public servants, in lectures, workshops and so on and so, sometimes it looks as if I’m still in the university without daily class teaching.

I want to draw your attention to one area where your office came to the limelight playing a significant role and that was during the outbreak of covid-19 last year, could you through this medium, recount your experience at the level of OTSD’s involvement?

Clearly we didn’t anticipate COVID, which is primarily a health issue. But when you now have a pandemic you know it is beyond just health. The health people surely have the health issues to deal with, but in a pandemic, there are so many other factors involved such as publicity, security, action plan and it cuts across many sectors. It affects farmers, it affects students, so many things involved you know, which require inter-ministerial action. So that’s really how it came about that the Governor said I would be the coordinator for COVID-19. The Ministry of Health has a strong role to play in addressing the medical issues involved. But there were non-medical issues involved that had to be addressed and that was where I was thrust on into the public eye that I was able to communicate what was going on, see how we would segment the enforcement in schools, in churches, individuals and how we were going to mobilize the security forces including the army, police NSCDC… so, it was really a whole government response. I mean we’ve always had malaria, TB and so on which did not require this kind of inter-ministerial cooperation. In fact, the Third Covid Wave is coming and we don’t want it to hit us. That is by the way. Then again, we also had to mobilize money. We had to get palliatives and distribute. That is not a Ministry of Health issue. There were many people who could not go to work and we got palliatives for them making sure that they were distributed in a manner that was as fair and dignified  as possible and that required some level of coordination. It is nice to have somebody who knows all of these things, or who people can call to say, we have not seen palliatives in this place or they would call somebody to say that there is a church who is holding noisy vigil in violation of curfew in this place. In a nutshell, at some point they all knew that there was somebody to call. I may not be the one to respond to it, but they have somebody to call. They will not call Commissioner for Health for the fact that somebody was singing somewhere. So it was useful for us to have a single point of contact and whom to direct the problems to. So it was a good opportunity to see how an office like OTSD was needed to do a whole government response. But it was not planned when it came in.

Did you see that period as most challenging?

Well it was challenging because the first thing is that we did not know how it would end. Here we were, we were the second or third state in the entire country to have the first index case of COVID-19. You know there was a case that went to Ogun and then back to Lagos. After that it was Ekiti and at a time when we did not know how it happened. We were thinking that small as we are, how come? But because somebody came from abroad brought somebody here, that person died, we didn’t know if that person died from Covid because the Ekiti lady herself who brought the White fellow from abroad into Ekiti State did not have Covid but her driver had it so the story goes. It wasn’t that we planned it but we took it very serious and because of our taking it seriously, it did not impact us the most. We were seeing TV pictures of people dying in Italy and Ventilators all over the place.  How would Ekiti be able to handle that?  Even though we had the longest pandemic days and we know we had a small population, we were able to ensure that we had the fewest cases per pandemic day on record and few number of deaths. We also made sure that we quickly paid for and got a Testing Laboratory in Ekiti because at some point, we were having to send our tests away and we knew the quicker we can get the tests, get samples, know that somebody has Covid or not, we can start trace quickly. So, our ability to test quickly we had to spend a lot of money to get the test lab. We were able to now test and trace, we were able to get an isolation centre even before the first case for ten beds. But we knew quickly too that 10 beds would not be enough, so we quickly expanded to 140 additional beds at Oba Adejuyigbe Hospital with the hope that if this pandemic exceeds our expectation, we better prepare a place that would be able to take a lot of people starting from this isolation centre that has 10 beds to 140 beds but since then too, we expanded to the General Hospitals that if there are cases in there and they should need to take samples and/or isolate, we can get them done. We  have only one single test site in Ekiti State, but we can take samples at several places and you can do some isolation at many sites too.  We know more about the disease now in that you can prevent having to use ventilators by continuing to monitor somebody’s oxygen using the pulse oximeter. You can know exactly when to intervene rather than having to go as far as ventilation. That is part of the lesson that has been learnt. Our preparation for isolation beds, our testing and our tracing regime helped us significantly. Because a lot pf people didn’t die, there are still many skeptics who claimed its all lies. There was one time when they said we were using a Covid excuse just to get money. The Governor was shocked when first told that, and asked “Where is the money?” But we also used it to mobilize Ekiti indigenes. For instance, we were able to get a Response Resource  Mobilization Committee RRMC of prominent Ekiti  indigenes  to raise a lot of money. I mean, money that we would not have been raised otherwise and we used the money to refurbish about 30 primary and secondary health care centres across the state including building a whole new  Gender-Based Violence Centre at EKSUTH. So, out of the crisis, we were able to do some good things.

My little understanding of your office is acting in the capacity of an ombudsman?

Yes, part of our job is to act as an ombudsman.

My question is as an intermediary between government and several agencies of the government, how has that function not affected your relationship with ministries agencies and parastatals in terms of objectivity and perception?

The first thing is that you let them know that you are there to help and not to be a policeman. Nobody likes policemen, nobody likes to feel that you are around to snoop or to see whether they are doing good or bad to report them. So the first thing is to ensure that they trust you and know that you are to help them and not to hunt them. Anybody who occupies this office must be respected by the various ministries.  I’m not there to do their work for them. I cannot do the work of all ministries, it is impossible. There are times when the governor asked me to do a work with a ministry because of something. Of course he knows what they do but sometimes he wants somebody else to work with them. For example OTSD was tasked by the Governor to work with the Fire Service to rehabilitate it. The Fire Service is under the Ministry of Infrastructure and Public Utilities. But if he feels a ministry already has a lot of work it is doing, the Governor can just say, OTSD this particular issue, go and address it for me. So it’s not about to replacing what ministries are doing but simply to find a niche to get things done in a focused manner.  However, there are times when MDAs themselves ask for intervention, and other times when OTSD injects itself.

One of the burning issues in the state now is the creation of new LCDAs in addition to the existing 16 local government areas LGAs. You will agree with me that the exercise in some communities has been marred by deepening crisis among the people as I have reports of such incidents in Ilasha and Ijero. What efforts are your office  putting in place to manage the crisis?

Well, 2014 was when the LCDAs were created precisely in July 2014 just before that JKF-1 Administration left.  The 19 LCDAs created then are roughly the same as the 19 created now. So it is not as if it is entirely new. It happened that when Fayemi left In 2014, succeeding Governor Fayose did not activate the 35 local governments and LCDAs but he did not cancel the law either. He just kept quiet about them all. It wasn’t as if he went back to the House of Assembly to say ‘I cancel them’. He just didn’t fund them, he just didn’t say anything about them and surprisingly, the people didn’t agitate for them either. However when Governor Fayemi was campaigning for his re-election, he said the LCDAs would return. He would have returned them earlier if not because of Covid issue. Remember he came in for his second term in October 2018. 2019 was the first full Budget year, and 2020 was when Covid came. Of course, Covid had started in the world around since 2019 November – and had started to have financial impact world-wide – but not in this country though there were clear indications that it could reach other countries. It didn’t come into the country till March of last year, so by that time too, our revenue allocation had started falling. So now again is the time to do it and we don’t want to make the same mistake as last time when it was 3 months before the end. Now we want it to run for full 15 to 18 months before the end as there are likely to be elections to the LCDAs and LGs by December 2021 so that they would have elected officials in those places so that when a new government comes whether it is our government or another party, they would have been on more sound footing than before. There is no exercise you do in which everybody would be happy. No way. There were people who asked for LCDAs, they didn’t get it. They would be unhappy. Some also have LCDAs, they want to be headquarter, if they don’t get it, they would be unhappy. There are towns who want to be in one LG rather than LCDA, they would be unhappy if that wish is not granted. There are those who feel this is all politics, Fayemi should not be doing it, they would be unhappy. A government has to make a decision on what it wants to do. Hopefully the taste of the pudding would be in the eating. But what we are saying is that it would be a personnel- and expenditure-neutral exercise. We would distribute personnel of the local government. We have a census of the consolidated and non-consolidated workers local government by local government. They would be distributed between those LCDAs in well-defined ratios – eg 60/40 or 40/30/30 or whatever it is – and it would be broken up by ranks too in a manner that each one of them will have a complementary set of workers. There will of course be some overhead increases, but that can be dealt with in time. For instance there are some local governments that do not have all the capital assets that they need. So there would be some take-off grants to them. But this is not going to be a wild expenditure.

I think you have answered the salient question agitating the minds of people out there on the timing of the exercise coming at the twilight of the administration?

(cuts in)  Yeah. There were delays in a lot of things. It is likely we would have done it last year rather this year if Covid had not intervened. By doing it this year is still about 18 months to the end of this administration rather than 3 months of last time. We are being more methodical now than before.

What is your overview of the present administration in which you are a critical stakeholder?

I think we have done a lot of work. I’m in government and so, part of my job is also monitor impacts. I think we’ve done reasonably well in all the areas. You know we followed the 5-pillars: Governance, Agriculture, Rural Development, Social Investment, Infrastructure and Industrialization and Knowledge Economy. In Governance, the civil service had been transformed in many ways. In the area of agriculture, we’ve always promoted not subsistence agriculture but public-private partnership in agriculture as business. Promasidor’s Ikun Dairy Farm venture is a prime example. We have defined an Agric  Processing Zone APZ  where we are encouraging people to come in. There are quite a lot of people growing rice in the state.  There is a lot of money that has been spent on health, education.  Under  Knowledge Economy we continued spending money not only traditionally in education but we are working hard in the Ekiti Knowledge Zone EKZ  itself, where we have had agreement with the Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Science and Technology, and the Atomic Energy Commission. There is also a SUBEB model school in there now. We intend to bring in more people there. We have what we called the High Education Quadrangle close to the EKZ: Federal University at Oye, ESKU, ABUAD and the Polytechnic all at Ado,, BOUESTI at Ikere, all close to the Knowledge Zone, with a Agro-Allied Cargo airport close by too.  We also have a  Ekiti Tourism Zone ETZ  centred at Ikogosi and there is a lot of things going on there.  With regard to Infrastructure, we are spending a lot of money on roads, but we still need to do better work even within the capital Ado here. We’ve spent a lot of money on Agbado-Ode-Omuo road, the Ijan-Ire road, New Iyin road and so many others that are being fully repaired. So we’ve done well. We just hope that there is continuity so that those things we have not done will continue to be done, not somebody coming up and saying ‘The last government has done its own projects, I will start my own afresh’. This will not augur well. Ekiti has had the misfortune of having about 12 to 13 governors, no one of them continued the programmes of the other one. We don’t say any program is perfect but it is good enough to have about 8 to 12 years to develop each program and one of the things we are trying to do too.is to develop a 20-30 years Economic Development Plan so that it is no longer JKF1 Plan, JKF 2 Plan, 5-Points Agenda, 8-Points Agenda then Fayose will have 6-Points Agenda and Lagbaja will have 19-Points Agenda. Why can’t we have an Ekiti Agenda and each one plugs into it?  That is one of the sustaining legacies we want to leave behind by this present administration. Most times when we are talking about Finishing Well, it is about sustainability beyond this Administration. Our finishing well is always to ensure that what is it we are doing is not tampered with by a succeeding administration and we know we can only do that if we legislate it so that when the next person comes, it becomes a little bit difficult to derail from it.  Furthermore, if we can have strong public-private partnerships in place, then all partners who have a stake in the matter would not just allow you to throw it out. People who are gaining from it would not also allow you to kick it out.

Lastly sir, as an intellectual in government without exhibiting any political ambition. Do you see yourself in the political …..

(Cuts in..) If you are talking about governorship, it doesn’t take two heads to be Governor. It just takes one head (laughs) to be governor and it requires you to understand the state that you govern. I’ve spent three-and-a-half years here now. Even before now, I’ve been involved in various stages of governance even as Vice Chancellor of Otuoke Federal University, I was a member of Ekiti Knowledge Zone which allowed me to also know what is going on in Ekiti, so, I’ve been always involved one way or the other in Ekiti project even while I was abroad.  it is of paramount importance for us to have continuity this time around. I cannot imagine the quantum of work so many of us have put in, what the Governor and his Cabinet had done in these past three-and-a-half years, for them to just be washed away in our life time. So it is absolutely imperative that somebody who understands why we did what we have done  – and there are quite a number around who can fit into those shoes, who understand what Dr Fayemi has tried to do, who understands the rationale for some of the things – to continue the work. People can just wish away things very easily not knowing that we are planting seeds for the long time development of the state. So we need continuity and I like any other persons understand why we have done all the things we’ve done and I like to be sure that there is continuity. Of course I come from the South Senatorial DIstrict – one of three senatorial districts in the state. You’ve heard about Southern Agenda, abi?  Well, the north has had a Governor for 11 years – Oni and the present Governor.  The central 11 years – Adebayo and Fayose – while the South has not done it at all. It is not the most pungent reason, but it is a compelling one. If it is a question that they can’t find somebody who can do it, then that is not true. There are enough people including the person you are talking to who is willing, able and capable (laughs) to do it. That is where I would leave that but it is important that we have continuity, it is important that we have somebody who is competent and who has the integrity to follow Dr Fayemi. No doubt, that person has to have the nod of the Governor who clearly wants somebody to succeed him who he is able to talk to and the party too has a hand to play, followed by  some indication from the people because the people eventually will decide when it comes to candidacy. Ultimately it is the Governor and the Party that throw up candidates.  Of course you must also know remember that Opposition Party or parties too is/are watching. So we In APC want to be very careful, to be strategic in our choice of gubernatorial candidate because the other parties also know about the Southern Agenda agitation and if they feel that that could give them some advantage, they can switch and the Southern people can be so angry that they can switch their own allegiance and we don’t want that to happen. That is the situation. The important thing is continuity, but we have to be strategic about what the people want.

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