The trials of “Brother” Seyi

After one year in office, there is one area in which the most strident is Governor Seyi Makinde’s detractors will struggle to gain traction: the fulfilment of his promise to pay the salaries of civil servants regularly. In other climes this will be considered trite, perhaps to the point of ridiculing any public officials who seek to make that a big deal. But of course not in Nigeria, where in recent years many have been forced to take a fraction of their salaries for years. 

In order to achieve this promise, Seyi Makinde has had to trade off in other areas. One of such areas we can readily perceive is the refusal to indulge political associates with bogus contracts or other usual means through which they can dip their hands into the public treasury. It is only the naive that can not see the link between Seyi Makinde’s populist agenda and the emergence of “suffering” commissioners and political appointees. For good measure, many of his erstwhile political allies, now disgruntled, are waiting in the wings, when they are not busy plotting mischief. They are starving of funds to keep their “bases” happy. The more politically astute are watching on the sides as Seyi Makinde makes one missteps after the other. Many are already counting their losses and counting down to 2023. 

Seyi Makinde has made a clear decision to position himself as a populist in favour of civil servants, an important political constituency in the state’s political landscape. This positioning has its merits, but it also has its challenges and problems. The first problem is that Seyi Makinde has so far failed to combine his populist approach with a matching political strategy. It always seems to me that Governor Makinde’s corporate credentials always trump his profile as a politician. I’m trying to find nicer ways to describe some of the gaffes characterised with his one year as governor. The other, perhaps more fundamental point, is that populism never really works as the key strategy for transformational governance. It can work as a complementary approach, but certainly not as a core strategy.

Enlightened citizens would like to know, for example, is the governor’s commitment to regular salaries is tied to any kind of public service reform to enhance productivity of labour, improved accountability and transparency in the civil service. It is an open secret that the civil service is one of the big bastions of corruption in Nigeria, from the state to the federal levels. It will therefore little or no public good if the government’s focus is simply about paying salaries. The rest of society, including the self employed, market women, private sector workers and other ordinary citizens, needs to see better and greater values delivered by civil servants. We have heard little about this from this government. Furthermore, the majority of the populace who are non civil servants, needs to see a bit more in terms to substantive agenda to address needs in various sectors of the economy and society. So far we’ve had some pronouncements and outlines of ambitious agenda, for example in agriculture and environment sectors. What we now need to see is structural progress across the sectors, not token projects here and there. There is still time for this. 

Let me just end with a brief comment on the current uproar surrounding the “relocation” of mobile police squadron allegedly from Ago Are to Oyo. Oyo people have been up in arms, but additional information has emerged that the location of the police unit in Ago Are was not a relocation but was according to an original request. I’ve tried to tell my townspeople that it is ultimately a distraction to dissipate too much energy on this, especially at the time we are talking about restructuring and the need for policing, if it were to be effective, to be organised at the community level. For many this seems to be an abstract argument at time they are emotionally invested in the outrage about what is seen by many as an insult to Oyo town. Hopefully when the dust has settled people will appreciate better the merit of community policing as the real solution to the long term problem. Right now I just want to comment on the subtext to the outrage in which many undiscerning citizens have been caught up. 

It goes back to the comments I made in the previous paragraphs. Disgruntled politicians, some of them from the opposition, are seizing the opportunity to whip people up into a frenzy. They are not happy that they have been sidelined by Governor Seyi Makinde. He has not issued them with big contracts, or otherwise strike deals that previous governors have had to strike with certain known elements in Oyo in order to gather support. That’s not to say some politicians are not financially benefitting from this government (it would be naive to think so). Now of course the cyber crowd who are allowing themselves to be used do not understand that if Seyi Makinde strikes the deal to keep these detractors happy, he cannot at the same time fulfil his populist promises, for whatever they are worth. And that includes regular payment of civil servants’ salaries.

Seun Kolade