Dipo Famakinwa is the Director General of the Development Agenda for Western Nigeria (DAWN) Commission, a commission that was set up by governments of the states in the southwest region of Nigeria.
In this interview, he talks to IBPulse.com about the commission, the vacuum it is filling and its institutional framework for the management, synchronization and coordination of the development of the southwest region of Nigeria with emphasis on building a platform that foreign and local investors can build upon and to make profits.
What is the vacuum that DAWN Commission is filling?
DAWN Commission is an idea whose time has come. The need for a dedicated institutional framework for ensuring that the region move together along certain economic lines, that gap had been there for a while, and it was not like people did not that gap was there. But the process of each of the states in the region trying to do development by themselves; what they would like to call dividends of democracy, had occupied the minds of our leaders.
And I think at some point, they recognized the fact that a process must be put in place to ensure that there is interconnectedness in terms of what they are trying to do – interconnectedness in terms of actions, sharing resources, certain policy actions being driven to drive development across the space called western Nigeria.
That need that requirement became very necessary and I think it is in recognition of that, that the commission had to come into being.
The commission came into being to become the dedicated institutional framework for managing all of the management processes. It is important for us to begin to look at what we can do together all over again; it is important for us to see areas where we can build economic synergies and economic sub-scaling.
We could have economic sub-scaling in development projects, build synergy in development programmes, we could work together to ensure that certain kinds of templates, standards and institutions run across the region.
That is the void that the commission has come to fill.
States in the south west region are developing at different rates; how do you intend to balance the rates of growth of the various states in the region?
There is no way you can do that, no one should for another. But there must be some minimum irreducible conditions for governance and for ensuring and delivering development.
The states in the region are not endowed the same way, but they all have certain strategic competitive strengths that each of them can bring to the table and begin to see how that will result in faster development for the people.
It is possible for instance that the requirements for education in Lagos are the same as the requirements for education in Osun. Therefore, are there common areas?
How can states in the region begin to look at common policies in developing education, setting common standards; it is not that Lagos must wait for Ogun to catch up; it just that there must be some kinds of methodology to ensure that while Lagos is developing, other parts of the region are also developing; perhaps at their own pace, but at a pace that is acceptable and that meets the requirement for development of the people of the region.
It is about bring strengths together, it is about each of the states recognizing its own competitive or comparative advantages, and see how the advantages could harnessed within a regional framework in ensuring that certain kinds of development are not taken for granted.
Since Lagos is the most developed state in Nigeria, why can’t you consider using Lagos to develop other states in the southwest region of Nigeria instead of developing individual state separately and uniquely?
Lagos cannot be a standalone state, there are other things that Lagos don’t have that other states have. For instance, Lagos is not endowed with the kinds of, and space for agricultural opportunities that you can find in Ondo, Osun or Oyo. So there are some kinds of dependencies that Lagos also has on the rest of the region.
Other states in the region may depend on Lagos for market but Lagos is also dependent on many of those states for its own agricultural productivity. It’s a symbiotic relationship.
If you are looking for symbiosis, you must ensure a process that would harness the symbiotic relationship. There are things that Osun don’t have but are present in Ekiti. Let’s discover them and see the communal possibilities and opportunities to ensure that all of those things are harnessed for the development of the region.
What runs across in all of this is that the entire space called western Nigeria, we are the same, and we have possibly the same development requirements and development aspirations.
Enough of thinking in silos, let’s’ see how we think, work and act together to ensure that those common development aspirations are fulfilled.
How will the average citizen of the southwest region benefit from the commission’s initiatives?
The commission is a producer of templates and strategic documents. The commission is a producer of strategic initiatives – initiatives, documents and templates that can work across the region. if for instance, the commission develops an instrumentation for education development in the region, everyone will benefit. If we development instrumentation for economic development for the rest of the region, everybody will benefit from it.
There are so many areas where we are looking into how we can achieve economic competitiveness by building on economic sub-scaling. We are looking at how we can redesign, refocus and develop the education and economy of the region to serve the people of the region.
We are looking at how we can build the capacity of people to become human capital; all of that is possible within the region framework. It is possible also if you do it at the level of the state, but it is faster, and it achieves more traction.
Everybody builds scales these days. Everybody in the region will benefit from the output of the commission.
What are the strategies in place for self sustenance of the commission to guard against total reliance on government funding?
Currently, the governments of the region are the facilitators of the project, but it is not a process that is going to be entirely dependent on them. We are looking at a framework for developing a sustainability strategy for the commission.
One of such is the commission itself must have a legal instrumentation for it to become an institutional organization for the region. We are also looking at partnerships with development partners; we are also looking at the goodwill of the people of the region who desire to move this region forward.
There are quite a number of areas where we are looking at achieving sustainability for the commission. We also want essentially that governments must be enablers of the project, but the private sector must come on the driver’s seat.
A lot of what will be happening will be happening not because it is a government institution, but because it is also looking at other areas of possibilities where it can also find sustainability to give that institutional framework that is sustainable.
The commission is looking at several areas which include agriculture, education, technology, health, business development and several others. Don’t you think they are so enormous and vast for the commission to take heads-on?
The problems of this country are many, and you cannot solve all of these problems. What we have we done is to look at all of the problems and look at pillars that we think are relevant to our development aspirations. We have narrowed them down to 5.
The first one is economic competitiveness. We are looking at what is possible to move the economy of the region forward. We think agriculture is very important, we think the digital economy is very crucial. We also think the micro, small and medium-scale enterprises (MSMEs) are very important. We are looking at the creative economy and ICT. Those are areas we think we can achieve economic competitiveness.
We are looking at development outcomes in health, education.
We are looking at infrastructure which is key to everything we are doing; this is also a key pillar.
We are looking at governance and institutions; how do we ensure that the governance structure and institutional framework for getting things done is thorough and not built around individuals and personalities?
We are looking at issues that resonate across the region which we call homeland affairs. Issues of our language, issues of our culture, security and so many issues we think must be placed in our front burner in order to ensure that we achieve the development we are thinking about.
There are so much areas that we are looking at, but we think these are the areas we must focus on.
Influx of foreign companies into the southwest region, especially those one would never think could get out of the hands of Nigerians are already enjoying massive investments by foreign companies who are interested in the various sectors. How would these influence the development agenda you have for the region?
We need everybody to come on board this project. What we are trying to build is a platform that everyone can ride on – whether you are a local or foreign investor. What is important is that we need to develop and continue in the region; we need to continue to ensure that people come with capital to invest in the region. Because it is in investments we can build the type of competitiveness we are talking about.
There are lots of areas that are untouched; it is important we build a platform that investors can ride on, do business and make profit – whether local or foreign investors. The same environment must be promoted and protected to ensure that no matter who comes into this space, you can do business and do business with ease.
Which areas are the top priorities for the commission in the short term?
Education is important, rebuilding the education of the region and focusing it around quality and also ensuring that those who come out of the education of the region are those who can manage this progressive ambition that we have on a progressive basis.
Ensuring security, law and order is also very important; we also think one of the low hanging areas for us is agriculture. That is one area we can quickly focus on.
We are also looking at how we can leverage innovation. In all of those areas mentioned, certain actions are ongoing. And very soon, people will begin to see those activities come to public space.
What of leveraging on existing platforms via partnerships with major organizations and international institutions in the region such as the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and others?
That is part of what we are talking about. Our economic competitiveness also is anchored on building partnerships across the world. There are so many things we cannot do on our own and we have to find help. We are also looking at a structured process through which we can harness and take advantage of such partnerships.
We can’t jump from one place to another; we must be sure that the kinds of partnership we are forging are relevant to our development orientation, and also relevant to the kinds of ambitions that we’ve set for ourselves. In other words, they must be partnerships that work.
How do you plan to measure the achievements of the commission?
First is that we must see it on the streets. We must be able to say to ourselves, ‘this is what education is like, in another one year, this is what education has become’. It is going to be on the street. Performance is going to be measure by how we have been able to enable different states in the region be able to achieve positive development outcomes for their people. It’s not supposed to be an inward activity; it’s outward focused.
If by next year for instance, we are able to change the game in education, relationships in terms of building the capacity of the government in terms of improving how our governments deliver services, we can tell ourselves that we are achieving our set goals.
What is planned for the remaining part of the year?
We don’t carry out projects; we are not replacing the government. We only have the capacity to get them to do things different from the way they’ve been doing. It’s for us to build a capacity for them to work together for road projects, for instance.
We are building a capacity for us to impact and affect others.
Do you have a timeline for the set objectives?
When you want to change a game, you do not think short-term; you have to be strategic and long-term in your thinking. You cannot say particularly say you are setting a timeline. What is important is to redevelop the space. But certain things must be seen to be happening.
The timeline does not depend on us; it depends on those who are going to implement the project.
How do you link the various pillars?
They are all linked together. If you talk about economic competitiveness, you cannot achieve it without having a well developed infrastructure; you cannot achieve it without being able to provide quality education and health services.
You can’t achieve it by not ensuring that there is security in the land. They are all related and interconnected. They are deliberate strategic pillars that we must develop at the same time in achieving goals that we have set for ourselves.
If we do not achieve economic competitiveness in a manner that you can boost your ability to finance your development for instance, you can’t build infrastructure nor develop education.
All of them are working together.
What you have planned for MSMEs in the southwest region of Nigeria?
For us, it is a question of focus; identify the areas where we can actually play roles. We understand that we have capacities in some areas; for instance we understand we have capacity in textiles and garments, we have capacity in small machines and several other areas.
The important thing is for us to look at preparing the space for SMEs to ride upon. Right now we are looking at the impediments; impediments in terms of infrastructure, finance, and getting ideas off the ground.
We want to make interventions in those areas.
Access to credit facilities seems to be the major challenge that Nigerian SMEs are battling with. How can the commission intervene and support MSMEs in the region in this area?
We cannot link SMEs with resources nor stand in the gap between them and the financial institutions. However, we can promote activities to ensure that all of those difficulties are removed or are mitigated.
We can promote activities and pursue actions to ensure that all of those difficulties are mitigated.
For instance, can we look at our microfinance system? Can we improve upon what is on ground? Can we increase their ability to access funds? Can we help them also in areas where they probably don’t have the capacity and therefore when they go to the financial institutions, they are turned back?
Can we help them in packaging and in capacity building?
Those are the areas we can look at because we are not the provid
er of the finances but we can look at what problems they currently face and look at how we can help them in overcoming those problems.
er of the finances but we can look at what problems they currently face and look at how we can help them in overcoming those problems.
What role does lobbying play in getting those in government to implement your proposals?
Everyone buys into this idea. Yes, you may need to be very persistent but I will not call it lobbying because this commission does not belong to any political party; it’s being funded by the governments themselves. It is in their best interest.
In fact, when they don’t see actions from us, they get agitated because they must see us as working for them. It is like preaching to the pope. As long as idea is available, they are ready to implement it.
Apart from the governments of the southwest region, which other stakeholders can make use of the commission’s various services?
It is a government commission. For instance, if you need certain information about the region, you can get it here. If you want to invest in the region, the commission is there for you to have discussions with us on how you can come in to the region. Those are the kinds of things we can do for you.
Who are your current partners outside the government?
Critically for us, the private sector is a partner, the people of the region themselves are partners and we will continue to engage from time to time. We have engagement with young people, with people in the education, cultural and private sectors. We have engagement across and we consider people we meet at such engagements as partners because at the end of the day, they are the people who will be consumers of what is going on.
What is expected of the commission to have become in the next 5 years?
In 5 years, we believe that it would have become an impactful institution that is relevant to the development requirements of the region. Anyone who is really interested in moving the region forward would be seen as helping such people in achieving such ambitions, goals and objectives.