The Southwest region has been prominent in the news in recent times for the wrong reasons such as rising cases of kidnapping, robbery and armed banditry. In this interview with select reporters, the Director-General (DG), Development Agenda for Western Nigeria (DAWN) Commission, Mr. Seye Oyeleye, examines the raging issues of insecurity, the clogs in the wheel of socio-economic integration and how the six states in the region are handling agriculture and education. The Nation Newspaper Southwest Bureau Chief BISI OLADELE was there.
All eyes seem to be on the DAWN Commission in recent times because of the upsurge of criminal activities, particularly kidnapping and robbery on major roads in Southwest. Has it really looked like a burden on this commission?
It has not been a burden. I think that the commission was created for a time like this. We’ve been here for about six years and our job has been to manage the development agenda of the region of Western Nigeria. There can be no development without security; there can be no economic growth without security. When you have six states that want to confront a challenge together, they need a body that would manage it for them or a body that can ensure that they are speaking with the same voice.
That cannot be delegated to the six bureaucracies of the six states. For want of a better word they are lucky that they have the foresight a few years ago to have a commission such as this to speak for them, to work for them.
When the issue of insecurity became a major challenge and they felt they needed to confront it together, it is natural that they had to only resort to the body that has been working for them over the last few years.
When we were saddled with that responsibility, it was just an added challenge which, in conjunction with our partners, we are more than capable to address. We have not seen it as an added burden, the last two months have been hectic but we have been able to confront this and we were saddled with the task of organising a security summit.
We organised a security summit over a three-day period. On the first day, the governors, the drummers, the royal fathers were present but for the other two days, a lot of work went on behind the scenes, addressing the issue of insecurity in Western Region. Western Region starts from Lagos to Oyo, Ogun, Ondo, Osun and Ekiti states.
After the in-depth deliberations, we came up with implementable solutions which we now submitted to the Western Nigeria Governors’ Forum.
During that summit, what were those things you discovered as causes of insecurity and what solutions did you proffer to the governors?
One of the things we agreed on was that even before the challenge got to the peak, the narrative out there had been skewed against a particular ethnic group as those behind this insecurity challenge. That is what some of those giving us these narratives want us to believe, that maybe Nigeria was not experiencing these challenges before but suddenly now it is just one ethnic group that started this.
But during the discussions, we looked at it holistically. We understood the fact that it is not just a matter of one ethnic group. In discussing with the experts we assembled, we were able to have a holistic view on why there is increase in insecurity?
We discovered that a lot of socio-economic problems were responsible for the current situation. I will give examples. Why the sudden upsurge? We’ve had Boko Haram challenges in the North East for the past 10 years. The children of 10 years ago have grown up, nothing to do, hopeless; they too want to live a good life.
So, you have an army of able-bodied men and women who have chosen criminality as a means of survival. We’ve had this war in the North East, we’ve neglected them, they were not catered for and a lot of them have been sectioned into Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).
For 10 years, they’ve known next to nothing, they’ve been poor, deprived. A lot of them have been exposed to carrying arms and they need to survive. So, they chose criminality. That’s just one group.
We also discovered that the advent of technology has increased criminality and we are not even talking of internet fraudsters. If someone comes to knock on your door at 1.00 a.m. with an intent of robbing you, unless he wants to cart away your TV set, there is nothing to steal. You don’t have cash at home like before. All of us now use our Automated Teller Machines (ATM) cards or transfer money.
Robbers of those days have moved on to something else as well. They now see banditry or kidnappings as an easy way of making money. We discovered that the face of criminality is changing. How many times have you heard of cars being snatched? It has gone down. People have moved on to other things.
What we are confronting as a country is a different shade of criminality. When people go out there and try to say that it is one ethnic group and try not to understand the root causes, it becomes a challenge. If you don’t understand the causes of your problem, how do you then solve the problem?
What the security summit did was to dig deep to unveil several reasons why there is an upsurge because criminality didn’t happen overnight. Add that to the army of jobless youths all over, mix it together and that’s what we have today. They are all over Southwest bushes on the highways. When that kidnapper kidnaps you, he is not going to ask what your religion is. That’s why we have an upsurge in criminality. We looked at all that and in some of the solutions that we proffered to the governors were that we must look at this thing holistically, this is not a challenge of carrying guns to go and shoot and start killing people. We are not going to solve the problem that way. We are going to solve the problem by looking at it socially, finding socio-economic solutions to this problem.
How do you create more jobs? How do you make the hopeless have hope? What are the social things that you need to put in place? How do you decrease the number of out-of-school children? Those are the areas we offered solutions in our report. But some of the solutions are immediate, others are medium and long-term. If you want to go out there and start saying let’s prevent these people, you are chasing them to somewhere else, that’s not going to solve the problem. We need to find a holistic socio-economic solution.
As a development agency, you have been used to education, economic, health and other development issues. Does concentration on security not taking you away from your core mandate?
I said earlier that there can be no development without security because they are all linked. At the commission, we are planning an investment summit for the whole region where two or more investors would be brought together over a three-day period and we will showcase our states as all the states will be actively involved. We had planned this for October, this year. We started going round, talking to one or two potential partners but suddenly the issue of insecurity took over and some of the people we have been engaging on the summit started highlighting insecurity.
We can step down on investment summit and hold it at a later date. Let us first of all change that narrative. For us, we don’t see it as being taken away from our core duty. If you look at some of the aims of DAWN commission, they say they are to make Western Nigeria the place of choice to live, invest and to work. If you want to make it a place to live, it has to be secure. If we call ourselves the development agenda commission for the region, our primary duty is to make sure that it remains the best zone to live, to invest and to work.
How well have you been able to identify problems that have befallen the education sector in Southwest?
Getting six “independent” states to work together, even though they speak the same language, is not as easy as we think. Some people think it is a straightforward thing. They will say Awolowo did it but they don’t remember that there were no states then. It was a single entity. At present, they have had years of being on their own. What DAWN Commission has come to do is to try and let them see areas where there is convergence of interest to make the region move faster.
Narrowing it down to education, we were leaders in this country and in West Africa. This was a region that had free education in 1955. In 2019, one of our states has one of the highest out-of-school children. But what we have been able to do at the commission is to highlight what the challenges are and proffer solutions. They have all been adopting these things on a state-by-state basis. But we are promoting co-operation, because with it, integration can follow naturally.
When we had the Southwest education roundtable about three years ago, some of the things that came up were infrastructure, automatic promotion and teacher training. One of the things that happened in Osun State is that they invested in critical infrastructure in their public schools.
At the commission, our job is to use experts to come up with solutions, passing it down to the states. It doesn’t mean the states will adopt everything regionally but we can see a gradual movement.
Ogun too invested on infrastructure in schools and teacher training. Lagos is up there, teachers are properly paid.
How have you been able to help the states to leverage on agriculture and structured taxes?
The Western region developed on the back of agriculture. It was the main stay of its economy. Free education was funded from agriculture but sadly over the years, we discovered oil. As a country, we got lazy and everybody left the farms and felt there are easier ways of making money than going to till the land.
But with the coming of the DAWN Commission in the last six years, we decided to get our states to refocus on agriculture.
We have had one or two agric summits here. What we have been doing and what the states have been doing is that we have made sure that we refocus on youths. We bring the youth into agriculture because we realised that a lot of the farmers that we have here are old. A survey showed the average age of farmers in Southwest Nigeria is about 59.
So, what our governments have been doing is to purchase tractors and make land acquisition easier.
The biggest challenge to agriculture in Southwest Nigeria today is lack of access to land. We have a lot of land owners who are sitting on a lot of thousands of hectares, they are not utilising it.
How are you navigating through the different political parties, ideologies and philosophies in the six states?
Development has no political colouration. If you are an advocate of development, there is no partisanship to that. Oyo State currently is governed by a different party and we have interacted with the governor here. He is a superman, you talk to him, he is a focused man. I’m not even sure he talks about his party politics when you are engaging him.
This is a man in a hurry to bring about development.
In his interaction with his colleagues from the other parties in the other states in the region, all they talk about is development. The classic example is how they have addressed the security issue. They dropped their hat out there to partisan politics and agreed to work together for the common good.
Over the years, we have positioned ourselves as an organisation that is apolitical. The only politics we talk about here is development. Any governor that comes in finds it easy to key into what we do because of that. Our aim is to keep it as such. Leave politics aside; focus on how we can fast-track growth in the region.