Seyi Makinde changes the narrative of approaching governance with refreshing pragmatism and empathy

What Makes Seyi Makinde Really Special?

There is something fundamentally broken about governance in Nigeria.

To the affected observer, leadership, and by extension governance, is at an all-time low — worse than it has ever been. I am sure you have, on many occasions, complained, tweeted, cried and now resigned to disillusionment. You no longer care about the Nigerian government and with every passing day, your optimism for good governance diminishes.

We all have opinions about why we are in this unfortunate arrangement. We believe it stems from the overtly selfish and uncompassionate attitude of the few vested with political power — which is largely true anyways. Along with this, many theories explain why Nigeria’s prosperity is held to ransom by money-grubbing, self-serving politicians. Although from my study, one particular theory stands out. This theory analyzes the origin of poverty in third world countries.

I would explain it, but just briefly for two reasons — first, it is important to have a new perspective on the cause of our national failure. Second, this article is not a comprehensive review of institutional decay but is written to beam the focus on one man.

This is the Theory of Extractive States and Institutions. In their book Why Nations Fail, Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson stated that poor nations are poor because of their extractive political institutions. By being extractive, they bear certain characteristics.

First, power is concentrated in the hands of a narrow elite, therefore, a broad, diverse segment of the society is not represented in the decision-making process.

Second, the wealth of the country is extracted (literally and figuratively) to be distributed among the few elite. To this end, there must be socio-economic barriers in place to disincentivize a new generation from innovating products and services which could precipitate creative destruction. Creative destruction is liberalization through technology whereby many politically unrepresented people, like the youth, could wield economic and political power to force the government into becoming more democratic. So, state-sanctioned monopolies abound and resources are channelled to only those sectors that secure elitist economic interests — for Nigeria, this is the oil sector.

Third, given that power is centralized, many groups of the elite must fight each other to control power — this is referred to as in-fighting, manifested through coups, rigged elections, violence, civil wars, etc. The state thereby becomes weak, and many non-state actors wield immense control over territories and state affairs. Flowing from this, there is no rule of law, and property rights are unsecured. But the state (representing the elites) will still try to consolidate power through coercing obedience from the masses.

An interplay of the mentioned features under the Extractive Institution Theory prevents true, sustainable economic prosperity and deepens the depth of poverty. This system differs from an inclusive society which is the diametric opposite of an extractive society.

You are starting to get the point abi? I urge you to read that book.

But let us not lose sight of our objective just yet. Leadership is central to failed institutions and failed nations. Our political institutions could be less extractive if our leaders are doing the right things. Unfortunately, they failed our mandates. They would rather spend resources dividing the citizens across ethnic and religious lines than to unite the country; they would prefer to widen income inequalities and utilize the instruments of coercion to further partisan interests than to truly care for their subjects.

They are no role models.

Fortunately, history occasionally gifts us with altruistic political leaders. These crops are well-meaning and make quantifiable impacts in their offices and communities. But they are few and far between. One of such leaders, in my view, is Governor Seyi Makinde.

Before I proceed, I should make some caveats. This is not a paid job, nor an errand of sycophancy. It is not an endorsement of any political party. Frankly, the mainstream parties have failed Nigerians and are, in substance, geared towards the same goal of resource control and perpetuating elitist domination. I understand Nigeria’s charged political atmosphere and how easy it is for some people to read this piece unobjectively with the lens of political agenda, or perhaps with counterarguments.

All the same, this article is an articulation of my thoughts, an opinionated analysis of Makinde’s leadership model which many politicians and future leaders should learn from.

Fun fact: Oyo State, is the state of my birth, so this is somewhat personal :)

What really makes the Governor special? What has he done differently to generate much circumspection?

I will get right to it.

1. Leading with purpose

If you listen to an average Nigerian politician, you might assume he or she has good intentions for the people. That assumption is dispelled when you look at our history in which office aspirants usually make promises, and fall short of delivering those promises when in power.

A test of impactful leadership is distilled from what a person does when in office. This point is lost today because what these politicians term ‘purpose’ are grandiose propaganda and finger-pointing with little being done in terms of real work.

Makinde differs. He planned to become governor and had ideas for the State. He is purposeful in effectuating those ideas. “I would rather do the work and not get the credit than insist on getting credit for every work I do. This is not a common mindset in Nigerian political circles. In fact, when I first assumed office in May 2019, the fact that I was not primarily interested in getting credit for work done made people think that I was not doing anything and some even referred to me as an audio governor.”

See, there are basic policies that must be implemented in a state if a governor wants to create a waterfall of economic growth: reduce the cost of governance, increase the internally generated revenue, improve infrastructure and encourage innovation.

In two years Oyo State has cut the running cost of government by 50% and also slashed government overhead cost by 12.3%. The saving in overhead cost has been ploughed back into projects which are expected to yield significant economic benefits in the near term. Instead of increasing taxes, the government simplified the tax payment system and broadened the tax base to capture the informal sector.

Also, the State increased its internally generated revenue from less than N2 billion to over N3 billion.

In cutting down external debt by 24 million dollars, the government is being deliberate about borrowing and ensuring that it does not accumulate any debts without concrete repayment plans.

Why is it important to reduce the cost of governance?

This is because the cost increases recurrent expenditures. Recurrent expenditures take a substantial amount of state budgets leaving little for capital expenditure — which is the money states use to build roads, hospitals, schools etc. As of 2019, some states had recurrent expenditures as high as over 100 billion Naira. So, a budget needs to allocate more funds for capital expenditure.

A leader must be intentional to know what projects need to be done, where to plug expenditures and how to execute projects. These Makinde has identified and has set out early in his administration to achieve.

Purpose, not title, is his mantra. “I still don’t care for titles. I tell people that my name is Seyi Makinde, whatever title they choose to add is out of deference.”

2. Leading with empathy

If a government is disconnected from the people, if the link between power, justice and fairness is broken, then we are bound to witness unrests.

The Nigerian condition is such that leaders take actions without the interest of the people at heart. And they do this because they simply cannot relate to the people’s plight or their genuine concern. Some say it is wickedness or evil, and they are right. But it is more appropriately a lack of empathy. When you choose to lead, especially in a country where the majority are poor and vulnerable, you should never be callous.

Personally, I observe Seyi to be empathetic.

Because empathy shows in how a leader approaches conflicts, make policies, and in how he creates opportunities for his people, this quality is apparent. “When you think about it, one of the issues that we are facing in the Nigerian political sphere is that we give more priority to outcomes than to providing opportunities…When I insisted that I would not ask traders to leave the streets until we have an alternative; or refused to enforce a total lockdown in Oyo State when other states thought it fashionable, and even the time I repeatedly said no one had a right to evict law-abiding residents of Oyo State out of their homes, it was because I understood that there is a difference between fasting and starving. Every decision our administration has taken is in keeping with this principle (of empathy). The economic prosperity of our people is hinged on opportunities. The role of government is to ensure that everyone has access to opportunities. When people are hungry, it should be because they have decided to fast and not because they are forced to starve. I have taken time to go down memory lane to help us understand that humanity comes above all else. We should not be found among those who stoke up ethnic tensions or seek to punish some people because of where they come from or what they do for a living.”

3. Responsiveness

Government exists to cater for the people. It must be responsive to their needs. I liken this to prompt customer service. A responsive government is necessary for societal progress.

Now, if a person in government leads with purpose and empathy, it is logical that such person will be quick to address situations affecting his people when such situations arise.

The Governor has a reputation of near-instantaneous response to issues within the State however grave or trifling they may appear. And he is not only responsive but he unabashedly takes responsibility for misfortunes wreaked on residents. “…the people can hold me responsible for letting them down…I continue to take responsibility for the security situation in Oyo State.”

One of the issues affecting the State, along with many other parts of the country is varied dimensions of insecurity. The Governor, besides just accepting responsibility, attempts to find solutions to the security challenges, for example, by working to establish new regional security outfits. This is despite the flawed legal structure where governors have no control over security despite being Chief Security Officers of their states.

Responsiveness is not a trait peculiar to him alone, but it is worth highlighting.

4. Transparency

Name one ingredient needed to prepare the broth of corruption.

Answer: a lack of transparency.

State corruption thrives in the dark. Its accomplices shield it with opaqueness. In Nigeria, many people do not know what is happening in government or know about the financial standing of their (prospective) leaders. And it is a deliberate attempt from the political class to keep the people ignorant about these things and loot public funds.

The subject of this article, on the other hand, is obsessive with transparency. For instance, it is reported that he was advised not to make his asset declaration public. He was convinced otherwise and declared his asset publicly. “After I was sworn in, I said I was going to declare my assets publicly. You don’t need Freedom of Information; I listed where my houses are, so you can go there and check. You can get the address, the owner, and the estimated value of that property. That is how far the world has progressed. Some people said I should not do that but I insisted I was going to do it. What will be your own sacrifice to ensure that we have a decent society? We all have roles to play really.”

It also takes transparency to plug the sources of corruption in any administration if we are going to be honest. “We have blocked a lot of loopholes and reduced the cost of running the government here. For one year, everybody in the cabinet was using their vehicles and the ones we met here. I was using my own car. We prioritized project delivery for the people as opposed to taking care of ourselves first.”

“We gave out a contract in the first few months of my assuming office. Some party members were upset because the people who got the job were from another political party. But that wasn’t an issue for me. As far as I am concerned, people should be judged by the content of their character. Competence is more important to me than political affiliation.”

Today, the State now has an Open Contracting Data Standard (OCDS) and E-procurement platform powered by the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) developed for efficient, and transparent contracting processes.

5. Lending a voice to social movements

The 2020 #ENDSARS protest was a defining moment in the country’s contemporary history.

Beyond the call to end police brutality, the movement was an overdue outlet to demand accountability. It symbolized the simmering frustration that people have held back for too long. The sordid aspect of the protest was the gruesome killing of protesters by the security forces and a collective pushback from the political elites.

Equally disturbing was the complicity and deafening silence from thought leaders, and supposed opposition parties. Those who didn’t want to appear to be on the side of the oppressor made half-hearted, belated comments pathetically urging protesters to stand down.

I hate to relive those moments.

We knew those who were for the youths and those who were against us. The youths sought justice in the way they could — through peaceful and online protests. For many brave hearts, they were persecuted in different states under the nose of sitting governors. But this was not so much in Oyo, and this is why Makinde is one of the leading lights that helped the Movement.

The protest in Oyo was not without hitches or fatality. But do you know what never happened? The Governor never sat back and allowed federal forces to brutalize citizens. He took charge to ensure that peaceful protesters were protected to the extent the State’s resources could muster. “…peaceful protests are a legitimate way for citizens to make their grievances known to the government, and it is totally unacceptable for anyone to be hurt during such protests. The End SARS protests started with people seeking justice. The youths understood what justice meant in this instance and they made demands. But they did not have the power needed to get their demands met…I held an emergency meeting with the heads of the main security agencies in Oyo State. I have again restated my position on the ongoing protests to them. And we have agreed that the police should take a back seat as other security agencies take the frontlines in securing the lives of protesters, at this time. Therefore, we have deployed members of Operation Burst to the hot spots, especially Ogbomoso, to ensure that as people protest, they will not be harassed or brutalized.”

“We remain committed to the process of meeting the demands of these protests. Already, as promised, the Director of Public Prosecution, Ministry of Justice, Oyo State, has withdrawn cases against End SARS protesters, and those in custody have been released.”

Again, the recent Twitter ban by the Federal Government is a continued crackdown on free speech. However, the Governor is among the few persons in the political class to unequivocally condemn the ban and continued to interact with citizens using the social media platform.

What Makinde does in this regard is a huge momentum to those who feel alienated from the ruling class and their adverse decisions.

Some people, in response to this, often say “he was just doing his job, and it is nothing special — the barest minimum.”

I agree with that assertion. We should never discard objectivity. For what it is worth, the Governor was (and is) just doing his job, as should be the norm.

But as a Twitter user @OreEniibukun puts it:

“The barest minimum that you people say Seyi Makinde is doing is the difference between life and death for people protesting in Lagos. The barest minimum is why people can walk on the streets of Ibadan with their full chest while most of us are protesting online.”

Can you imagine the coordinated Lekki Massacre ever happening under his watch?

6. Prioritizing infrastructure and welfare

“When I decided to run for governor of Oyo State, one of the things I wanted our administration to be remembered for is improving the lives of the good people of Oyo State. I knew that inasmuch as a lot can be accomplished through philanthropy and crowd sourcing of funds, the reach of such individual or collective action is limited. To affect the majority of citizens, people in power must use state funds to make life easier for the citizens. And this is what we have been doing.”

The sharp contrast of Oyo State before and after Seyi Makinde was elected reinforces the notion that a state can be propelled on the track of economic relevance when the right foundation for infrastructure is built. This is why I argued that innovation cannot grow in Nigeria if the right incentives in the form of infrastructure and policies are not in place.

Since its creation in 1976, Oyo State, has been a shadow of itself noted for the inefficient public transport system, disused public spaces, overstretched public infrastructure, poor culture of waste management, weak traffic regulation and enforcement regimes.

The Governor has now created an ‘Infrastructure Revolution’ to make Oyo State a choice destination for investments and a true centre of commerce. So, infrastructure had the highest percentage allocation in the State’s 2020 Fiscal Year’s Budget with 23.93% of the total sum allocated.

There are some gains in this regards. For instance, according to the Global Startup Ecosystem Index 2021, released by StartupBlink, Ibadan, saw a massive increase in ranking to become Nigeria’s second top startup ecosystem surpassing Abuja, and jumped 601 spots to 353rd globally.

Also, he is doing something remarkable with digitizing the public sector and government processes thereby raising the coverage, quality of information and services which the State provides to the public.

All these initiatives, given the context of the State before he became Governor, are quite remarkable.

Overall, strong institutions, not strong leaders will pivot Nigeria’s future development.

Nigeria cannot develop fully without strong, independent institutions. For us to build the Nigeria we dream of, we must create strong institutions.

The reason Nigerians are at the mercy of ruthless leaders is because of the absence of institutions to checkmate power excesses and improve the general standard of living. This is why when new, refreshing faces surface in the polity, we become ecstatic and welcome them as ‘breath of fresh air.’ Need I say weakening institutions such as the judiciary, electoral bodies and civil service is intentional and, once again, a feature of an extractive society.

Perhaps if the Oyo State’s institutions were advanced and strong, Makinde’s initiatives will be eclipsed to the extent that there are existing independent bodies already accelerating the delivery of needed infrastructures and enforcing beneficial public policies irrespective of who becomes Governor, or which political party is the majority. But that is not the reality.

From history, strong institutions are forged from either of two ways. Or both.

First, they could arise after a series of conflicts between the elites and the masses, with the masses prevailing and forcing socio-political reforms. This was the case in England after the Civil Wars and the Glorious Revolution, and France after the French Revolution and the defeat of Napoleon.

Second, they could arise not necessarily from conflict, but because the leaders decided to reinforce the powers of independent institutions through laws and political restructuring. This is the case with the United States of America in the wake of declaring Independence in 1776.

For Nigeria, the option of conflict is a long shot and a risky one at that given the existing deep-rooted, multifarious polarization.

Therefore, we would have to look inwards and hope leaders emerge who would forgo personal ambitions and reinforce our institutions such that political powers are not abused, and developmental actions need not come from one man, but a wide array of institutions.

I like to believe it is politicians with Seyi Makinde’s attributes that could take the lead on this point. But time will tell, and I hope my conviction is satisfied.

Now, if you have read this far, thank you!

In conclusion, we cannot underemphasize the far-reaching importance of state governors in pushing the frontiers of economic growth at this period of global economic uncertainty, and dwindling oil revenues. We also cannot rely entirely on the Federal Government to drive this change — I mean look at what they are doing already na!

Trust me, there is so much I really want to put here but let us end with this: Seyi Makinde is not perfect. There are still many years before we can conclusively pass a resolution on his administration. But from what I have seen so far, he has not veered off from the right path.

And oh, he reads and is an excellent writer!

The Governor’s Newsletters are insightful. His book recommendations, I am sure, will be life-changing. He once wrote about how the book Homo Deus changed his perspective on politics. I have added it to my reading list and will devour it just after completing Why Nations Fail, To Kill a Mockingbird and The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

My friends, if today’s politicians can approach governance with refreshing pragmatism and empathy like Makinde, it will be a matter of time before we start experiencing overarching developments.

“People often say that Nigeria has both a leadership and a followership problem. I agree. But I strongly believe that the leadership problem is more important than the followership problem. If we are to achieve sustainable growth and development, we must have leaders who have a growth and development mindset. It is this mindset that will make leaders think more about the consequences of being left behind as the world rapidly moves into the fourth industrial revolution.”