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If I am to contest an election, it will be based on ideological conviction – Ibitola

If I am to contest an election, it will be based on ideological conviction – Ibitola

Tolu Ibitola, corporate communication and public affairs expert, is the Deputy Chief of Staff to Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State. In this exclusive interview with INIOBONG IWOK, he shared his experience so far in public office, democracy in Nigeria and the achievement of the outgoing Fayemi administration since assuming office in 2018. Excerpts:

What has been your professional experience so far?

My career trajectory has been an interesting one. I started working in the Corporate Affairs of an infrastructure company, where I provided informed analysis and strategy on internal audit, external marketing, and communications. It was a tasking and worthwhile experience. I transitioned into public service in 2010 with the desire to be part of the critical mass that will change the course of my dear state, Ekiti, and our nation. I had the opportunity to demonstrate my foundational skills and fresh spectrum of ideas as an aide to the current Governor of Ekiti State for over a decade. In my current role as the Deputy Chief of Staff to the Governor, I have witnessed first-hand how well-crafted policies transform lives and the practical solutions to the inherent systemic challenges that confront governance and economic development. As it is an immense honour to be in the thick of things contributing to the advancement of the people of Ekiti State.

Why did you decide to go into public office considering your background in the private sector?

As someone who doggedly believes in leaving an indelible impact on the sands of time, I see public service as one of the most effective ways to transform society. Public office begets wider reach and political will to champion societal change and sustainable impact in the lives of the people. Such change is possible when people with good conscience and commitment to social change venture into partisan politics to wield political power. For me, the decision to venture into public service was a moral obligation and ideological conviction to serve my people and effect a course correction in our dear state under the mentorship of a transformative leader.

There is the view in some quarters that the Deputy Chief of Staff is the eyes and ears of the governor. How true is this and how crucial is your office towards the attainment of the administration’s set goals and objectives?

There exists a blurry line in the discharge of my duties. I have a responsibility to the Governor and a supportive role to play with the Chief of Staff. Simply put, my job is to make their jobs easier with the administration of the Governor’s office. This spans from monitoring the day-to-day activities of the different departments within the Governor’s Office, ensuring that cross-departmental relations and output adhere to the wider framework of the administration vision and goals, as well as forwarding concerns to the appropriate quarters for prompt resolutions. As such, I have had to perform the role of a negotiator, strategist, dot connector, amplifier, and right-hand man to Mr. Governor at different levels and in different contexts. These are roles and functions that are crucial to the success of any administration. It has been one of the most tasking and challenging, yet fulfilling positions I have had to occupy in my career.

What principles guide you when handling hitches in project execution, disagreements between stakeholders or even when negotiating with external parties on behalf of the Executive arm?

To ensure seamless execution of the state assignments within my jurisdiction, I conduct a lot of research and planning beforehand, identify likely challenges, and proffer solutions. I also believe in the power of teamwork. This is why I employ the expertise and experience of the best people I can find. Former US Secretary of State, Madeline K. Albright once said that the basis of any successful negotiation is to understand what the other person needs, and I agree with her.

Read also: I contested governorship election four times – Atiku

So, one strategy that sets me up for success during negotiations is to patiently unravel the bridge between my party and the other party’s interests and start from there. Regarding conflicts, I believe that open and honest dialogue with a bit of compromise by both parties does the trick. Above all, I see due diligence, openness, and strategic communication as critical to building a foundation for mutual trust and understanding amongst colleagues.

More than two decades of democracy in Nigeria, Nigerians are disenchanted with the state of affairs. What is your take on why democracy has failed to fulfil expectations in Nigeria so far?

Questioning the efficacy of democracy has recently become a global phenomenon in political spheres. I believe in democracy and all that it represents. I also believe that we have witnessed improvement in certain sectors of our country, especially railway infrastructure, roads construction, improved security, social investments, and infrastructure. However, there is still a long way to go. We are still contending with poverty, unemployment, security challenges, injustice, and the economy. Although our democracy is still young, it is yet to deliver the kind of optimism, unity, nation-building, and prosperity that Nigeria urgently needs. While these are lingering issues, they must not propel us to unconsciously construct the type of democracy we currently enjoy as a dystopia and failure. There are still conscientious and progressive leaders delivering good governance and patriotic citizens transforming their locales with their God-given talents and skills. We must continue to work on our democracy till it delivers the total change and development that Nigerians desire.

The administration in which you are serving would be finishing its tenure in some months. What are the achievements of the administration so far, and legacies that would be left behind?

That’s a loaded question. Yes, the Kayode Fayemi administration would be bowing out on October 16, 2022. Being a part of the outstanding administration has been an amazing privilege.

Even though we faced some challenges due to the pandemic, we were able to pull through and record unprecedented achievements with the delivery of some of our set goals in our five-point development agenda. Some of the legacies we would be leaving with the good people of Ekiti State include some capital projects such as the development of the Ekiti Cargo Airport, the reconstruction, and rehabilitation of roads linking the agricultural zone in the North, knowledge zone in the South, tourism corridor in the Central and the state capital, Ado-Ekiti, as well as the renovation of township roads.

In terms of economic contributions, through the private-public partnership, we have been able to attract more than 300 million dollars’ worth of investments to the Agric sector in Ekiti which will continue to yield returns in terms of employment opportunities in the years to come. Other legacies include; the revitalization of Ekun Dairy Farm and the delivery of 300 Jersey cows from the United States to the farm. This has caused the facility to begin to produce 2,500 litres of milk per day, the launch of the Ekiti State Rice pyramid scheme which aims to empower local rice farmers and boost the agriculture-value-chain in the state, and also the approval of a $250,000 grant for the Ekiti State Knowledge Zone project which will help attract investors and also create thousands of jobs for our people. I am so proud of this administration’s achievements and I hope the incoming administration will be able to take the baton and carry on the race to the finish line.

Would you be seeking to contest for an elective position in the 2023 general election to serve your constituency?

No. I am very focused on my current tasks as Deputy Chief of Staff to the Governor. We have approximately six months left to complete on-going projects and deliver pending promises to the people of our dear state. My rationale for venturing into public service a decade ago is to deliver good governance under the mentorship of a transformative leader. If I will ever contest for an elective position, it will be based on ideological conviction, obligation, and duty.

What is your take on the amended Electoral Act, the electoral process in Nigeria?

It is a welcome development that will give the country a better electoral process. The provision for electronic transmission of election results, early release of election funds to INEC, allowances for electronic voter accreditation, and the emphasis on political neutrality of the electoral commission show that there will be a lot of improvements in Nigeria’s elections. I am confident that elections in our country will undergo a revolution. With the recently amended bill, I am glad that the Buhari administration will leave a legacy of robust electoral processes. Let’s keep our fingers crossed and see how well the 2023 elections will go in line with the directives of the bill.

What are the challenges the administration you are serving under currently faces?

Key among the challenges we faced was the Covid-19 pandemic, which rocked the boats of governments all over the world. It brought some of our developmental plans to a standstill because attention had to be shifted to combating the pandemic, tackling its consequences, and ensuring the populace was safe and healthy during the lockdown period. But like I stated earlier, we pulled through well enough and we delivered on our promises to the people.

Moving forward, what are your hopes for the future of governance in Nigeria?

I desire a Nigeria with peace and security, a country where citizens, regardless of tribe and religion can coexist peacefully. We need to invest in our security architecture to end terrorism and banditry. I would like to see a Nigeria that maximises its resources and human capital development. A Nigeria where governance and political leadership are not fuelled by self-interest but by a heart of service and commitment to public good.

I would like to see good governance being deployed to make revolutionary economic decisions that will lead to better standards of living for the citizens.