It is a year today that the reset button for the good of our dear State was hit and the journey of restoration began. It marked the return to office of Dr. John Kayode Fayemi as the governor of Ekiti State. For the good people of Ekiti, they made the choice for a turnaround in fortune, as the State had found itself at the edge of the precipice, slowly, but surely, waiting to tip over. As we mark the one year anniversary of the taking over the reins of the government, the theme of the occasion is best summed up in this title, especially if you compare the state this administration met the State with the present state of affairs of the State.
The Fayemi-led administration inherited a severely eroded State with our once pristine values as a people, seriously battered. Every facet of life in Ekiti was touched, albeit negatively. Civil servants, teachers, local government workers, and indeed all public servants were owed salaries, with economic activities at a halt, and hunger in the land, while criminals and criminality held sway in Ekiti. Investors fled, development partners vanished, donor agencies disappeared, and the dreaded “Yahoo Yahoo boys” were about the only visible set of people in the society, as they were the only ones who had a free flow of the much desired cash. Morale was very low. The number of out-of-school children multiplied, as parents who were not paid salaries had problems keeping their children in school. Sadly, some of our young ladies took to the oldest known profession, to keep body and soul together. It is on record that the previous administration encouraged civil servants to stay at home with the excuse that, for whatever reason, government could not pay their salaries and other entitlements. Government officials would line up heads of families, mothers and even children, in the open street for several hours under the scorching sun, and sometimes when it was drizzling, for pittance. They sometimes received one ‘kongo’ of rice and between N200 to N500 each, depending on the whims of the helmsman, under the administration’s poverty alleviation programme called “stomach infrastructure”. To put it short, the State was in shambles. It was a crying shame.
Upon the recommencement of the Fayemi-led administration, the job of rebuilding, and refocusing the State started in earnest. To make the State rise from its ashes like the mythical Phoenix, the job of rebuilding had to start from scratch. As stated in his campaign mantra, Governor John Kayode Fayemi’s major task was to “Reclaim our land, and restore our values.” Education, being what Ekiti was known for, and which was fast slipping through our fingers, thus became a focal-point. Using an Executive Order, the governor declared education from primary school, through to secondary school, totally free. All the arbitrary fees, and levies, and taxes, were scrapped, and thank God that most pupils and students who had previously dropped out of school, are now back in their classes. He not only made education free and qualitative, it became compulsory for school-age children to go to school as the governor directed that any school-aged child found out of school during school hours, roaming around or involved in street hawking, or any form of manual labour, should be brought in and the parents summoned for explanation. As icing on the cake, the state government tapped into the Social Investment Programme of the federal government, the National Home Grown School Feeding Programme (NHGSFP), which had been ignored by the previous administration, to provide meals for the pupils, from primary one to three. As expected, this has not only provided direct and indirect employment for over 2,000 people in the State, it has also improved school enrolment across the State, whilst adding health benefits for the less privileged children.
The claim by the previous administration that Ekiti State could not afford to pay the wage bill of its workers was disproved and government began paying the salaries of all categories of workers when due. This changed the face of the State completely. Most parents, who had hitherto been in economic quagmire, could now afford to feed and clothe their children, as well as meet other basic needs. Economic activities, which had gone moribund, bounced back to life.
Yet, the journey had only just begun. The governor is leading an industrial revolution with focus on processed food and value addition along the value chains of important crops, through the creation of a special agricultural industrial processing zone. Government has identified a 38,000-hectare agricultural corridor that will serve as a special agricultural processing zone designed to support the cultivation and processing of strategic crops, including cassava, coca, cashew, oil palm and rice. The zone will be supported by access roads, three dams to ensure irrigation is available for optimum yield, and a dedicated plan to power the zone. The State government has also cleared 1554 hectares of agricultural land, spread across five local government areas, for the benefit of individuals, and corporate investors interested in large scale agri-business. A partnership has also been initiated with Belarus and China, in the bid to improve and strengthen our technology in commercial agricultural practices. Only recently, the State government, in partnership with a non-governmental organisation, Africarice, also sponsored 100 youth, comprising 60 young men and 40 women, for training on rice seed production and value chain on rice-based products, under the State Youth Entrepreneurship Programme, at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Ibadan.
To optimise cultural and recreational tourism, the government has invested considerably in its security architecture, curated its several traditional festivals, and is improving access roads to, and within the State. As Ekiti State is known as Nigeria’s knowledge capital, the government is developing a 955 hectare Ekiti Knowledge Zone, designed to be Nigeria’s first service based special economic zone within the education quadrangle that includes Afe Babalola University, and its teaching hospital; Ekiti State University; Federal University, Oye; Federal Polytechnic, Ado; and the College of Education, Ikere.
In addition to the Ekiti State Development and Investment Promotion Agency (EKDIPA), which has been created, the State has also commenced a set of 29 reforms, covering business origination, contract enforcement, property registration and dealing with construction permits. These reforms, which will take 18 months to implement, will improve Ekiti State’s business climate, and make the State a top three performer, on the doing business rankings, and signpost her seriousness as an investment destination. The State is working with the Nigerian Investment Promotion Council (NIPC), to ensure that she completes the National Investment Certification Programme for States (NICPS) of which she is the only State in the South-West that did not implement the programme since 2016, when it was launched.
Ekiti State is about to conclude a joint venture partnership with Promasidor Nigeria Limited, to revive the moribund Ikun Dairy Farm. The shareholder agreement for the new company to be formed to manage the dairy farm will be signed this month, with Promisador as the core investor, while the State will retain a minority interest, through its investment company, Fountain Holdings. This will attract a new investment of $5 million into Ikun Dairy Farm, which will be used to buy equipment, provide the appropriate herd of cattle, and develop an outgrower scheme for providing feed for the cattle. When the farm is fully operational, it will create hundreds of jobs directly and indirectly, and also improve the economy of the host community, surrounding communities, and Ekiti State at large.
In addition to this, the State is at an advanced stage of discussions to attract over $100 million required for four critical projects of this administration, namely: the Ekiti Knowledge Zone, Special Agriculture Processing Zone, Ado-Akure Road, and Ekiti Airport. These projects will ensure that Ekiti is the hub of the service and knowledge industry in Nigeria, and cement our place as a leading agricultural hub, and also improve access and connectivity for business and recreational travelers. Other projects include the World Bank funded NEWMAP and RAAMP projects, which will improve the water supply to Ekiti people, and open up rural access roads to enable the easy evacuation of our farm produce. Soon, the State will be seeking for investors for three of our State owned assets – Ikogosi Warm Spring and Resort, Fountain Hotels, and Ire Clay Bricks Limited.
Ekiti State’s development plan is built on the need to lay a solid foundation for sustainable and inclusive economic growth. The people of Ekiti remain our greatest asset. The State will continue to invest heavily in education and healthcare to ensure that we have a skilled and healthy workforce. The goal is to improve both education and healthcare outcomes by ensuring that the people of Ekiti get the requisite quality contemporary education which will qualify them to take up the jobs that will be created by new investments in the State, while we make a concerted, deliberate effort to build the culture and values Ekiti people have been historically known for. It is only one year into the journey, but the work of restoring values has commenced in earnest under the leadership and watch of Governor Kayode Fayemi.
Muyiwa Olumilua is the Hon. Commissioner for Information, Tourism, and Values Orientation, Ekiti State.