For some time now we had been trying to sit down with the Director-General of DAWN, Mr. Dipo Famakinwa, to talk about the work of his commission and its achievements so far. The opportunity eventually came last week. TUNDE RAHMAN sat down with Famakinwa in his office in Ibadan to appraise the work of the commission and its challenges. It is a revealing interview…


Your commission is essentially to foster economic integration within the South-west geopolitical zone, how much gains would you say have been achieved between the time it was set up and now?


I can say that we have managed to push the idea and also further it because it started as an idea because there was a need for the states in the region to work together, act together, think together as a development strategy and see how we can further the development of the region as a composite unit rather than for each of the states to be thinking independently. Right now we have quite a number of common platforms for our states in the area of culture, development of agriculture, development of tourism, education and so many areas we have set out.  It would interest you that before the commission started, there was no formal format by which our states had official relationships. There was hardly an organised format by which they had relationships in terms of what they should be doing together to foster the development of the region. The commission has managed to make that happen and wish that things would get better going forward.


I started by talking about the gains of your commission because I am aware that there is politics somewhere in the mix because of the six states in the region you are talking about, one is under the control of Labour party and the main objective is economic integration, how much has that affected your work?


Well, it has n’t because there is no politics in what we are doing here. What we are doing here is about social and economic development of the states that we have responsibilities over. I can assure you that times we have had to ask officials from all our states to come together and to meet along the regional line, Ondo State has not excluded itself. The commissioners have a forum where they meet and take decisions on how they can pursue uniform programmes in certain areas.


We are talking about economic integration and we have states complaining of dwindling income, reduction in their allocation. For instance, Osun State Governor Aregbesola was complaining recently about N2 billion reduction in the state’s monthly allocation, how does this dwindling revenues of the state governments you are dealing with affect your work?


Really this is the more reason we should be doing what we are doing. I have always advocated for what I call revenue dignity. I abhor personally the fact that you can almost not do anything unless you go to Abuja to ask for our share of the national cake. The commission has taken a decision that the cake can also be baked in our region. There is no state in this our region that should not be viable to pursue its own development opportunities and development possibilities. Maybe we started a bit late. But I know that each of our states is working hard to get out of that morass but in terms of whether it is affecting what we are doing at this commission, I can say it is. In very significant sense because the states have been responsible in terms of their commitment to the commission, in terms of their financial commitment and in terms of the kind of leadership that we should have from our governors. Although we do not execute projects here, whatever projects we develop here is executed by the official instrumentation of the states in the region. So we do not require money for projects, but we require money for programmes and they have supported us as far as this process has gone.


I noticed there are five cardinal pillars on which this DAWN initiative is predicated and there is one that particularly interests me, which is about building institutions. I was just wondering which institutions you are talking about here?


Well, we are talking about institutions that would serve our people. Right now what you find is a situation where you have strongmen and when the strongmen are not in positions of responsibility things don’t move the way they should move. But we think it is important for us to build institutions whereby whether the governor is there or not there the process is moving. Remember Governor Fashola said recently that in many ways it would not really matter who succeeds him because the structures and institutions for making things happen have been built over the years and that is what we want to help the region to do, to build institutions where everybody is accountable in their own environment. As a governor you should know who you are accountable to and as a civil servant you should also know who you are accountable to. That is why we think that that pillar is important in what we are doing.


Which of these institutions have you successfully built?


Critical for us is the civil service and if you recall about 3 or 4 weeks ago, heads of service in the region had a meeting in Ado-Ekiti and it is part of that process of ensuring that we have a civil service that is as strong as it used to be especially when we talk about the First Republic. So if we talk about service delivery, the civil service is very important, and that’s why we are working with the heads of service in the region to ensure that we have the kind of civil service that can move the process of service delivery forward.


The National conference has been on for some time now in Abuja, does the commission has a relationship with the delegates from the South-west and if you do in what way have you collaborated to advance the cause of the region?


Yes we do because indeed for us as a development commission we believe that the national conference is a compelling development imperative because a lot of the things that plague Nigeria can be resolved if that process is allowed to play the role that it is meant to play. A situation where somebody will sit in Abuja and determine the destiny of the rest of us is what we find as an anathema and it is not going to make any part of this country prosper. It is not going to make any part of this country optimize its resources or optimize its capabilities. That is why we have obvious relationships with the people in Abuja because it is important for us to know what is happening there and it is also important for us to support what they are doing. So one of the ways that we have supported them is by providing intellectual and research resources to support what they are doing. We also set up a secretariat in Abuja to ensure that they can avail themselves of the use of that secretariat if the need arises. And we also get feedback from them on what is going on so as for us to know what we need to do.


The recent rebasing of the Nigerian economy by the Federal Government whereby it is said that the Nigerian economy is the largest in the sub-region now at N510 billion or so, though I think what is most important has to do with how that economy impacts on the standard of living of the people. What is your view on the rebasing of the Nigerian economy?


The rebasing is a normal process as far as the commission is concerned. It’s like somebody who owns a property and wants to know the actual value of the property at any particular point in time. I think what that rebasing did was to let us see the position of the Nigerian economy at this particular point in time, only that the economic indicators have to be clear about where we are. A lot of people have argued that yes you have the largest economy in Africa but the people of the country are still as poor as ever, in fact poorer than they have ever been. So it doesn’t make any sense to the man on the street. To many people it is just an emotional celebration. But for us here as a commission it provides a basis for us to resituate the economy of the South-west especially because now we know where we are and we know the key drivers of our economy and we then know what we should be doing to ensure that those key drivers are leveraged on to bring economic development to the people. Most of the economic activities that happen in this country actually happen in the South-west so it gives us the opportunity to resituate ourselves and to enable us to reposition our economy to advance the welfare of the people.


Going by 2013 figures, the South-west had a GDP of about N64billion and going by this rebasing of the Nigeria economy, which now puts the Nigerian economy at N510billion, are we also thinking of rebasing the South-west economy?


They have actually helped us in doing that. I mean we can take the figures that have been projected and see how we can walk with those figures. But on our own we are working on an economic competitiveness strategy for the region. We had a strategy programme in Lagos where we created an economic development pathway for the region and we anchored it on economic competitiveness strategy. We are now putting that document together and it is that document that will be the flight plan for the kind of economy that we want to build. We have set certain goals and targets for ourselves to achieve in 2025 and in due course we would make the document public because we are trying to place the agenda firmly in the hands of the private sector because they have to drive the economic development part of it and we are building a consensus around that and within the next two weeks we should be coming out with our value agenda and then the private sector can take the process beyond what we are talking about.


Going forward, given the work of your commission where do you hope to see the South-west region in the next few years?


Well we have a vision. We want the South-west part of Nigeria to be the preferred destination for people to visit, to live, to work and invest and that can happen only if we remain the way we are. So we are preparing the South-west as a platform for all kinds of possibilities. The idea is that by 2025 we should begin to see the semblance of the world class human capital. We are looking at an economy that employs more than 80% of its young people. We are looking at per capital income that is above average in Africa and many other kinds of possibilities. But I can tell you that the integration process will definitely advance the course of the economy development of this region if we continue to pursue it the way we are moving.


How achievable are these targets?


Going by the level of poverty in the region with the kinds of retrogressive actions and activities that have put our people in the poverty trap, we need to move together and work together to recreate the economy of the region to serve the people of the region. It’s going to take determined efforts and very determined leadership to get our people out of that situation. I think the integration strategy gives us a tool to be able to do that. We cannot wipe that poverty away overnight. We’ve got to work hard at it and I think the process of working hard at it has started already with this commission.



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