We Have Never Had It So Good

– Folorunsho Olabode, Ekiti State Commissioner for Rural Development and Community Empowerment

Folorunso-Olabode,-Commissioner-for-Rural-Dev.-&-Community-Empowerment,-Ekiti-State-(20)How well would you say the rural communities in Ekiti State have fared since the creation of your ministry?

This ministry was created in January 2013. Let me put it on record that if you look at the location and configuration of Ekiti State, you will find that about 70 per cent of Ekiti people live in the rural areas. Although there is still an argument about what really makes a community rural or urban in a setting like Ekiti State because the ones we call rural communities have good roads, light, water, good schools and good health centres. So I don’t really know whether they should be called rural communities. The fact still remains that we understand that the nature of Ekiti State is an agrarian economy and being an agrarian economy, the bulk of the people live in the rural communities. The food consumed in the urban centres is produced from the rural communities, from the farmstead. We have over 500 farmsteads scattered all over Ekiti State. That is besides the fact that we have about 131 communities in Ekiti State. There is virtually no community in Ekiti State that does not have a farmstead. In most cases, these farmsteads have workers who are not necessarily Ekiti indigenes; they are people from Osun, Oyo, Kwara, Kogi who are into some of our plantations.

There is the need for us to pay a critical attention to those people and better their lives and that is what informed the governors’ decision. The other one has to do with the fact that under the eight-point agenda, the first item talks about governance, including the fact that power evolves from the people. Now if the people own power, there is the need to defer a lot of programme and implementation to the people. And if you look at the operations of the ministry, we are the one that is really fulfilling that governance aspect of it because at the beginning of every financial year, we would have gone round the communities for the town hall meetings that we used to hold regularly. We partner with the office of the governor to have that meeting. The last one we had in November 2013, the outcome of that meeting informed the budget of this present year. It has become the normal practice of the governor that communities are asked to present three projects in the order of priority. Now there is a difference between the one taken directly by the government and the one executed by the ministry that will directly do with the communities based on their self-help projects. There is no community in Ekiti State today that does not have a community development association.

We always look at the community development associations as the springboard, as the link between the community and the government. That is why we partner with them on a number of things. Some of these community development associations are virile organisations where we have credible people. We have managing directors and CEOs of multinational companies as leaders of some of the community development associations. These are respected people, most of them are not political and most of them don’t even live in Ekiti but these are successful people within the community that the community people defer issues to.

So what we do is to ensure that the people are the ones who will evolve the project idea and implement. What we do as a government is to support in the technical details and supervise. We disburse the money directly to the communities through their recommended vendor who is also a part of the community. So you can see the value chain of empowerment in what we are doing. We encourage them to patronise local artisans. So you can see that empowerment part of the project. Again the other advantage of this approach is that the ownership is always there as the people would not want to do a shoddy job.

Can you give examples of some of these projects?

We venture into the renovation of the Oba’s palace because you know in some of these communities, the Oba’s palace is a community edifice and it gives them a sense of belonging because all of them are deeply rooted and connected to the palace. We support them in some communities in building a new palace or in renovating an existing palace. We also support some communities in building civic centres, market stalls and we have some communities who choose school projects, some health centres, some boreholes. These are projects that are scattered all over the state. In most communities today, the basis on which they want to give the governor a second term of office is this genuine way of touching people’s lives because we have never had it so good that government would be giving out as much as N10 million to communities in respect of their community development initiatives.

This model of development must also have its own challenges. What are these challenges?

Well like anything human, there will be challenges and we are bound to overcome them. Some of the challenges we face in the field include the fact that at certain levels we have the dearth of skilled artisans in Ekiti State. You will be surprised that you will get to some communities and hardly can you get someone who is a tiller. You just have to look elsewhere to get someone who can do the job. This has to do with the level of education here in Ekiti which has now dissuaded people from venturing into taking on craftsmanship as they are all looking for white-collar jobs after graduating from school. But there is nothing stopping you from having your certificate and at the same time having a skill that can earn you a means of livelihood. Also there are some cases of mismanagement because the process is handled by human beings and that margin of error will always be there, but that has been very moderate.

How do you ensure accountability?

We prorate our payments to monitor performance. We pay in phases to ensure that the job is done. We also constantly monitor and check what has been done on the field. So payments are prorated based on milestones. That helps us to check mismanagement, poor job done or any act of diversion of fund.

If you have a wish on what more could be done to improve the lots of people in the rural areas, what would it be?

Well I would have asked the governor to put more money into this because when you talk of democracy and governance, you will see that democracy is about the people.

 

One of the functions of this ministry is to assist small-scale farmers in the rural communities. How have you fared in this respect?

We have the department of cooperative services under the ministry and the best way to really empower the people is through the cooperative societies. The cooperative society in Ekiti State today is one of the most virile in Nigeria at present. The Cooperative Services Department alone has over 10,000 cooperative societies. Besides that, when you look at membership, we have over 500,000 members of the cooperative societies in Ekiti State today. For the first time in the history of Ekiti State, the governor last year celebrated Cooperative Day. At that programme the governor promised N600 million revolving loan for cooperative societies in Ekiti State. For us in the Ministry of Rural Development and Community Empowerment, it is to assist the people through cooperative societies. The various projects we are doing in their communities would also help because, for instance, a community where we graded their roads, you know how far that will help them move their agricultural produce to the town to sell. Currently as I speak, we are grading all the farmstead roads in Ekiti State so that as we are approaching the raining season, our farmers will be able to access their farmland. Besides that, in some of these farmsteads we are providing boreholes so that they can have access to clean water.

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