By Sufuyan Ojeifo
Last year, when he turned 56, Minister of State for Budget and National Planning, Prince Clem Ikanade Agba decided to celebrate it in a low-key fashion with family members and aides. This year is not different. The approach is even more muted-no pomp, no ceremony. The only engagement, perhaps, is a long session of appreciation to God in profuse intercession. And, this should be an engagement for the self and within the circumference of the household.
Fortuitously, his birthday (March 28), this year, falls on a Sunday and, he could possibly even if obligatorily spend quality time in Church, in the presence of the Almighty God whose creative handiwork he is and in the hollow of whose hand he occupies-fully secure. This is, without a doubt, the best way to celebrate one’s birthday. It does not subtract anything, but rather, it significantly adds every good thing and elevates the engagement to the celestial level.
King David, in a celebratory and prayerful mood, said in Psalm 90: 12-17, particularly at verse12 to wit: “So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.” This is an enduring prayer exemplar that is worthy of emulation. It is one prayer that everyone who knows their God should mention to their significant others. Like the Psalmist, Agba, a man who loves God passionately, is not only applying his heart unto wisdom on this occasion, but has also been engaged, on daily basis, with that exertion. This has been so deliberate and it mirrors a life that is completely yielded to God in His service. Agba has served God and humanity with commitment. The result of that service is his wise and ceaseless push towards perpetual self-abnegation. There must be one way or another to give of his self to the others in particular and to society in general.
Such a compelling philosophical viewpoint that abhors religion, tribe and other mundane considerations finds a solid anchorage in full expression of the meaning of life, wherein people are given ample opportunities to commit to good works and leave footprint and legacies for posterity. And, Agba has lived his life on the pedestal of this normative good to others. Not a perfect man, though (for, no one is), he has substantially done his best possible in the circumscribing milieu of socio-political, cultural and economic interactions. Most importantly is his proclivity towards empowerment of the others and transformation of the human condition for good, deploying his God-given grace at every intersection.
The lines supra reinforce the point I made last year when I penned a tribute on his 56th birthday. On that occasion, I had postulated thus: “He is no less a child of providence, wielding power and privilege with fetching humility and exemplary focus. He has demonstrated with his life’s trajectory that royalty, economics, philanthropy and politics fundamentally address transformation of the human condition for good. As yet, he unabashedly maintains this unique, philosophical footing in his private and public exertions.”
In fact, if this is the sole mission he runs with, at the end of life’s journey, he would have served God and humanity with singularity of purpose that is imbued in his persona. He would have also attracted to himself concomitant approbation, far more than reprobation. Again, as I posited last year, it bears repeating here that the words of the famous American poet and essayist, Maya Angelou, that “nothing can dim the light that shines from within” continue to ring true about Agba. Angelou’s captivating insight into the existential challenges that confront great men in the making, indeed, fundamentally, captures the life of Agba, who was providentially born into the family of his Royal Highness, the late Pius Kadiri Ikanade Agba – the Oliola of Uzanu – in Etsako East Local Government Area of Edo State.
He had passed through the mill, cutting a niche for himself in the intercourse between possibilities and the audacity to try out positive and ennobling things in the trajectory of life. He has thus far traversed various terrains, paths and intersections. Indeed, an unwavering sense of loyalty and duty, rigorous erudition and professionalism, stern discipline, demonstrable integrity and almost a child-like faith in his beloved God had activated and summoned to duty those enigmatic principles that guide progress; and they continue to do so.
What is of the essence to him now is the accomplishment of the tasks that his position has placed on his shoulders. Agba is religiously pursuing his priority mandates in the Ministry of Budget and National Planning towards achieving the overarching goal of national development. And, this, in itself, is just a cusp in his enthralling odyssey, which further validates the enduring wisdom that challenging roads often lead to beautiful destinations.
Agba is working tirelessly to ensure the realization of the key deliverables of his office. One has been achieved, acting in concert with other members of the federal cabinet in the executive arm, namely the standardization of the budget implementation period by returning it to the January to December calendar. That was achieved with the 2020 budget (even in the face of the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic in the global economy, forcing extension of implementation of capital expenditure to March 2021). The same feat (passage of the 2021 Appropriation Bill into law in December 2020) has been repeated. This has gone beyond a fluke to a sustainable annual fiscal tradition.
Apart from the new budget calendar, he is providing guidance in the preparation of the Medium-Term National Development Plans (MTNDPs 2021-2025 and 2026-2030) and the long-term perspective plan, christened “Nigeria Agenda 2050”, which is largely private-sector driven with government providing the enabling environment for completion of the exercise. The process has got to the homestretch.
He has also reinvigorated the National Monitoring and Evaluation system. There is a Monitoring and Evaluation Department in the Ministry that is saddled with coordinating that mandate. He has, in recent times, been up and about parts of the country inspecting special infrastructure development projects under the Federal Government’s Economic Sustainability Plan (ESP). That has defined the shape and texture of good to which the Monitoring and Evaluation could be deployed in the country to achieve accountability and transparency in public finance expenditure on capital pojects.
These projects include construction and rehabilitation of well over 3,700 federal roads across the country, which is at 38 percent completion and the construction of 340 kilometres of rural roads, which is at 30 percent completion. It is significant to point out that his inspection covers the 377 rural roads around agro-corridors in about 266 communities across the country; he has also embarked on the inspection of the ongoing upgrade of healthcare facilities in Federal Government Tertiary Hospitals countrywide, where the establishment of 520 Intensive Care Unit beds, 52 molecular laboratories and isolation centres is at 48 percent completion.
In one of his numerous tweets, he said he had presented a report on monitoring and tracking of the ESP funds and result delivery at the National Economic Council (NEC) meeting held on March 25, 2021 and chaired by His Excellency, Vice president Yemi Osinbajo, GCON, during which he presented the above statistics as well as noted that all COVID-19 intervention programmes/projects had received 57 percent funding and that over two million jobs had been retained/created through the implementation of the ESP programmes.
This is a sweet narrative. It will be sweeter when he is done with his web-based “Eye Mark” application with geospatial capabilities, which Nigerians can use to monitor and evaluate the implementation of capital projects by Ministries, Departments and Agencies across the country using their mobile phones. This will enable Nigerians to go beyond the rhetoric of huge sums that are usually earmarked for capital projects to new normal of “eye-marking” the projects in situ as implemented. I take the opportunity of his birthday to wish Prince Clem Ikanade Agba success on his elbow grease.
▪︎Mr Ojeifo contributed this piece from Abuja via [email protected]