The Governor of Ekiti State and Chairman of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, speaks with The Interview of the challenges and opportunities presented by COVID-19 and outlines how to leverage the lessons:
Ekiti was the first state in the country to mandate the use of face masks in public. What did you see?
We introduced the compulsory use of face masks in public after we had locked down the state for a month.
Our people were clamoring for some relaxation of the internal lockdown of the state and in response, our task force reviewed measures that could be taken to ease the restrictions without risking the health of the people.
It was in this context that the professionals advised on the use of face masks in addition to other measures such as regular hand washing, use of alcohol based sanitisers, social and physical distancing and ban on social gathering, having confirmed the efficacy of face mask use in places like Czech Republic, Slovakia, New Zealand and Germany.
We then got the Fashion Designers Association of Nigeria (FADAN), Ekiti chapter to help mass produce the first set of masks that we distributed to our people.
Now, almost everyone wears a mask and our people are now used to it.
We still need a lot of enlightenment to convince Nigerians that COVID-19 is real and not just a surreptitious attempt by government to keep them away from eking out a living
Even at the best of times the state’s IGR was roughly N500m monthly. What was it in March and April and what fiscal or structural adjustments, going forward, are inevitable in your view?
Our IGR was down to about N350m in March and April and it was inevitable that we had to review our budget downwards.
The principles undergirding the adjustments included prioritisation of salaries and wages, suspension of capital projects that are not regenerative, reduction in cost of governance by eliminating non-core expenditure like travels and training, reducing wastage by blocking revenue leakages and ensuring that the wage bill at all levels of government is accompanied by accountability, productivity and effectiveness of the workforce whilst increasing our social investments for the vulnerable segments of our population.
Already, the salaries of appointees have been slashed by 50 per cent and this was donated by them to our COVID-19 response efforts.
Our approved budget of N124bn has been slashed to N90bn and may even be further reduced by the time it comes back from the Parliament.
Notwithstanding, the adjustments present us with the opportunity to re-focus our energy on long term, regenerative projects in the agricultural sector and in the development of our knowledge economy – two areas that are our unique selling points in Ekiti.
Will Ekiti still pay the new minimum wage in spite of the impact of COVID-19?
We started paying minimum wage in October 2019.
So, no public sector worker in Ekiti earns less than N30, 000 a month.
We were almost concluding negotiations on the consequential adjustment when COVID 19 pandemic happened but as soon as things stabilise and the economy improves, we will conclude the negotiations.
How badly do you think the onset of the pandemic will affect the take-off of Amotekun?
Certainly, the take-off might be delayed but it’s also an opportunity to be better prepared.
The leadership has been appointed and we are now about to commence the recruitment of the men and women who will serve in the Amotekun corps.
In another month or two, we should be ready to launch the full complement of our men and women and the equipment.
Our IGR was down to about N350m in March and April and it was inevitable that we had to review our budget downwards
Recently you personally responded to an open letter by an Ekiti man who blamed hospital staff and poor equipment for the death of his mother during the lockdown. Is it time to prioritise primary health, which tends to be cheaper and reaches more rural populations?
We have always prioritised primary health in Ekiti even as we still keep our focus on secondary and tertiary health care.
At the time I left Ekiti in 2014, we had some of the best health indices in the country, in terms of child and maternal mortality, average life span and focus on the most vulnerable segment of our population – the elderly, children, pregnant women and people with disability – who all enjoyed free health care in the state.
We have continued this upon my return as Governor.
In fact, as part of our primary health care under one roof, we have identified one primary health centre per ward, totaling 177 PHCs and if not for Covid-19, we were all set to launch our state health insurance programme in Ekiti.
We have also met all the criteria for benefiting from the Basic Health Care Provision Fund and this should help us improve all the 177 primary health centres already identified in the state in addition to our regular free health missions across the state.
But clearly, the import of your question is not lost on me.
We must seize this opportunity to improve our health infrastructure at all levels of health care in the state and we are determined to accomplish that within the next two years.
The poor co-ordination and enforcement of the restriction on inter-state commute appear to be playing a significant role in increasing virus transmissions. Why is it difficult to have a higher level of compliance?
You’re right, this has been a problem.
The solution is however not to depend solely on the mainstream law enforcement agencies to undertake compliance.
Compliance should really depend on a twin strategy of securing our people’s cooperation and precision enforcement which must include state and non-state security institutions and other non-governmental and traditional institutions.
We still need a lot of enlightenment to convince Nigerians that COVID-19 is real and not just a surreptitious attempt by government to keep them away from eking out a living.
The collaboration between the Presidential Task Force and the Nigeria Governors’ Forum is helping us to improve the level of compliance of the inter-state boundary lockdown.
In what specific ways has your former position as Federal Minister for Solid Mineral Resources been useful to you in your second term as governor?
A lot of ways, frankly.
The Federal Government is a behemoth that depends a great deal on your capacity and understanding of the behemoth to enable you navigate your way through the labyrinthine maze.
In my first term in office, I tried to collaborate with federal institutions in many sectors but the opacity of the decision-making process and blatant partisanship of the government at the time ensured that not much attended those efforts on our part.
But having been Mines Minister for three years, you can say I know my way around and I have also built a lot of goodwill in the system to know how to get things done.
Besides, as the Chairman of the Governors, I also have the added responsibility of defending, protecting and promoting Governors and their states in Federal-State relations and many of the people I engage on their behalf are mostly people I served in the cabinet with.
More importantly, we now have a President who is fair to all states and treats states in an even-handed manner.
We certainly must emerge from the crisis with a clear plan to create jobs, reduce poverty and put food on the table of our citizens
In the reordering the State’s 2020 budget, which sectors are affected and how will this impact your mandate of delivering dividends of democracy to the people of Ekiti State?
I tried to answer this earlier. We have five priority areas that drive what we do in Ekiti today, namely, Governance, Agriculture and Rural Development, Infrastructural and Industrial Development, Knowledge Economy and Social Investment.
These remain our priorities. For instance, Agriculture which has been the mainstay of our economy in Ekiti has never been more important, especially as we seek to ensure food security and reduce hunger.
Our increased intervention which is reflected in the revised budget focus on the following areas: massive land clearing programme, farm to market roads to ensure effective transportation of inputs and evacuation of produce; extension services leveraging mobile and digital technology through our new College of Agriculture & Technology, irrigation infrastructure to support wet and dry season farming and finally, improving the linkage between our farmers and markets by promoting more off-take and out growers schemes with the private sector.
The second focus is what we call the promotion of the knowledge economy.
We have seen the impact of companies like Andela providing our young people with the required skills to compete for jobs globally.
As the Governor of a state regarded as the intellectual capital of Nigeria, we are convinced that we must make it easier and cheaper to deploy broadband infrastructure across our state, especially as this pandemic has taught us the importance of ensuring even the remotest locations in our state have access to good, quality internet services.
This informed our recent pioneering policy action on significantly reducing the Right of Way fees in Ekiti as a way of encouraging TELCOS that are willing to take advantage of this.
We have equally designated a significant portion of the budget to providing infrastructure at our Knowledge Zone – a dedicated technology hub and business outsourcing centre in the state.
Three, our ideological root is social democracy and our social investments in education and health care remain extremely important to us and a significant chunk of the budget readjustment will still go into this.
Although physical infrastructure is critical to rebuilding the state, we are shifting the bulk of the infrastructural development to public-private partnership arrangements in the revised budget so that our lean resources can be expended on building social capital.
What lasting lessons have you learned about COVID-19?
The way I’ve described the lasting lessons is that this is time to turn adversity to opportunity and as Rahm Emmanuel, former Mayor of Chicago once said, “We must not let this crisis go to waste”.
The pandemic is both a public health crisis and an economic crisis.
We must chart a course for Nigeria to emerge stronger and more resilient after the pandemic.
We now know, even if the handwriting had been on the wall before now that there are a lot of things we can do differently to reduce costs.
I often give the example of the number of meetings Governors have convened and held virtually in the last three months without incurring the usual cost of ferrying ourselves and our staff to Abuja monthly and yet, we may have even been more productive with minimal expenditure and reduced risks.
We certainly must emerge from the crisis with a clear plan to create jobs, reduce poverty and put food on the table of our citizens.
We must focus our limited resources on critical investments in education, healthcare, security and other social protection needs whilst providing the enabling environment for private capital to take up opportunities in infrastructure development on a for profit basis.
Another critical lesson for me is that we are all together in this.
We require national, pan-African and global solidarity in order to tackle challenges that have no appreciation of race, tribe, gender, religion or political affiliation, hence the need for the courage of our conviction and bold ideas.