08 Aug 2020 KEYNOTE ADDRESS AT THE 8TH NIGERIA FACILITIES MANAGEMENT ROUND-TABLE WEB CONFERENCE, IN COMMEMORATION OF THE WORLD FACILITIES MANAGEMENT DAY
Thank you for having me.
It is a privilege to join you on this special day, as you celebrate World Facilities Management Day, a day set aside to honour facilities managers all over the world. Fun fact about facilities managers; they have something in common with politicians, and I will be referencing some of these similarities throughout this keynote address. But I will quickly mention one that stood out while I was preparing this presentation: when facilities managers are working well, and doing what they are supposed to, they are rarely acknowledged. In fact, the hard work they put in is often taken for granted. For example, if you live in a serviced apartment and you get home from work, there is electricity, the water is running, your room has been cleaned, you wouldn’t give those activities a second thought. You will probably just have dinner and go to sleep. But imagine you are thinking of taking a shower after work and heading to bed and you turn on the shower and nothing. Hmm. Now there will be trouble. So, the moment the facilities manager drops the ball, everyone notices.
The same thing happens in governance. When an administration is doing what it ought to do, people often take those things for granted. For example, since I became the governor of Oyo State, I have ensured that the salaries of civil servants are paid promptly. After about a year of doing this, I have heard people say paying salaries is not an achievement because it is something that ought to be done. But what do you think these same people would say if the month came to an end and there was no salary?
So, it is a good thing that we have a day to raise the profile of these professionals who often do the thankless job of ensuring that built environments run smoothly and work properly.
But before I delve fully into this keynote address titled, “Managing the Environment in a time of Pandemic: People, Places and Technologies.” I want to do two things.
First, I want to salute all facilities managers worldwide but especially those who work locally here in Nigeria and indeed in Oyo State. We thank you for your contributions to the health, safety, well-being and productivity of people who use built environments. Here in Oyo State, we have several such environments. We have malls and stores; parking spaces, hotels and serviced apartments. Your immense contributions to making things work, especially in this period of COVID-19 has not gone unnoticed. When we see places where social distancing is being enforced, we know facilities managers are working behind the scenes. In the same vein, we see other places where social distancing is not being observed, as we see in some banks and markets in Oyo State, we know we either need facilities managers, or the facilities managers there need to up their game.
Secondly, I commend Alpha Mead Group for putting together this event. This is the eighth of these events you are organising. You were not deterred by the situation that we all have found ourselves. Arranging this as an online event shows how seriously you take this day. And I must say the theme you have chosen for this year’s event highlights, even more, the importance of professionals like yourself as the world battles the coronavirus disease pandemic.
As we have noticed, many countries that have seen a drop in the number of COVID-19 cases have shown that social distancing is one of the key elements in managing the crisis. But for social distancing to succeed, three factors contained in today’s keynote address theme must work together. These are people, places and technology. Let us start by talking about people.
As a facilities manager, you learn how to manage people in times of crises. For instance, when a person fails to pay their rent, you don’t just throw them out of the house, even if they have signed an agreement saying so. You may wish to explore more humane options and then when things degenerate, you serve notice and have them kicked out. In governance, we operate in similar terms. One of the things people often complain about in the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic is the enforcement of directives. The more humane way to handle things will be to invest heavily on sensitisation. The people must be sensitised and then given the right incentives so that they will willingly follow the directives that relate to social distancing.
We all know that social distancing is not something innate, it has to be learned. And it takes time to unlearn a habit and learn new ones. Some of us will more easily adapt to new requirements, perhaps because it comes more naturally to us while for others, it will take time. Especially here in Nigeria, where we are community-centred people, and love to do things in groups. We could choose to enforce social distancing and do more harm to the psyche of the people or we could choose the carrot and stick approach. Dialogue and then enforce. In Oyo State, we have chosen the latter and as I proceed with this keynote address, you will understand why. The second factor is places.
The facilities manager has an advantage over government in this regard because the environment you manage is built fit for purpose. In our handling of COVID-19, we have run into issues with places. The spaces must be redesigned to apply social distancing. Any engineer will tell you that it is easier to design something from scratch than to redesign it. I have heard a lot of people complain about how we don’t have social distancing in markets and other places. We know the problem is a faulty design and the resources to redesign these spaces is not readily available.
The last factor is technology. Application of technology is vital. For instance, now, we are holding this event online because we have the infrastructure to do so. Without technology, this would not be possible. Imagine running a facility where you are relying on public power supply in Nigeria. How far will you go in that business?
So, bearing in mind that these are the issues we are facing, we have to find a humane way of resolving these issues. I have repeatedly stated that in Oyo State, we will be following the dictates of science and logic in our fight against COVID-19. Science requires that we isolate infected people from those not infected to prevent the spread of the disease. Science also dictates that we have to quickly identify those who are infected through testing. And so, in obedience to science, we collaborated with the Virology Department of the University College Hospital, Ibadan, to set up a diagnostic centre to test for COVID-19. We also upgraded one of the health facilities in Oyo State to set up the state’s Infectious Disease Centre, which serves both as a treatment and research centre.
In addition, we collaborated with the private sector to ramp up testing for this disease. We began testing more but we soon ran into another problem. The results weren’t coming out as quickly because reagents are scarce. So again, you see how the three factors come together. We needed people, clients and health workers… Let me pause and say a big thank you to our health workers both in the public and private sector who put their lives on the line this period.
So, we needed people, health workers and clients who would volunteer to be tested. From our experience, a few people simply refuse to be tested, while a few others after getting tested, abscond without waiting for their test results leading to further spread of the disease.
Then we needed places. These we could control. And then technology. I already mentioned about the scarcity of reagents. We also need testing kits if we are to test 10,000 people as we want to in Oyo State.
But our handling of COVID-19 goes beyond science; we also need to consider logic. And this logic means taking into consideration our economic realities and other factors, some of which I have mentioned. For example, we could insist that people stay at home; markets run at half their capacity; transport and other businesses either stop functioning or function limitedly. But, when you really think about it, what moral right do we have to ask of the people more than they are already sacrificing?
I have acknowledged in the past that private schools, event planners and managers, and operators of night clubs and even the woman who fries akara and the Mai Suya, who sell at night, have been affected by the directives we have given so far. It should be unthinkable for any government to ask people to make sacrifices without making realistic provisions for them. We cannot copy the solutions of other countries without copying their realities.
So, in Oyo State, we continue to sensitise people. Some still do not believe the virus exists. Even I that had it and came out to say I did, people who should know better keep propagating the lie that all Seyi Makinde had was catarrh. Some people who even have access to testing turn down the opportunity. I recently got a report that at our drive-through/walk-through centres, people who meet the criteria are not taking the opportunity for testing, even though it is free. This calls for going back to the drawing board and re-strategising, given our limited resources. If we do not take people, places and technology into consideration, our strategies will fail, and we will end up doing more harm than good.
We also need to bear in mind that there will be life after COVID-19. We have to lay the foundation for a post COVID-19 world now. We must come up with ways to increase our investment in the environment, housing, education, technology, healthcare, and other social and economic infrastructure.
As I said before, we find it difficult to enforce social distancing because our environment and the way it is designed is not built with this in mind. For instance, a man who drives his micra taxi and plans to maximise profit by carrying two passengers in front and three at the back is not told to carry three passengers. He will either transfer the cost to the passengers, who may be unwilling to pay, or choose to defy the directive.
Designing post COVID-19 Nigeria and indeed Oyo State, means that the government will not put the micra driver in the position where he either loses income or defies directives. It means taking into consideration the real needs of the people and coming up with practical ways of meeting their needs.
But we cannot do this alone.
Here in Oyo State, we are running what we call PPDPs, Public Private Development Partnerships. We are collaborating with the private sector and development organisations to ensure that the environment continually presents business and people with the right atmosphere for productivity and growth. Let me talk to you about some of these opportunities for partnership that are available to you as facility managers.
Let me start with housing. Just recently, we launched a platform for digitised Certificates of Occupancy. Let me encourage all who have not already obtained their C of O’s to take advantage of this window from now to December this year to regularise their documents. We are offering discounts. But there are opportunities for partnerships in our residential estates and commercial estates. We are all aware that after investing in these sectors, management becomes an issue. We are open to your proposals to keep this sector running optimally. How can we work together? I have always said that government alone cannot do the thinking. Our doors are open, come in and talk to us.
Education remains one of the focal points of this administration. So far, we have focused on reducing the number of out-of-school children, and ensuring that we provide a conducive atmosphere for learning. We have also provided training for teachers. At this time that pupils/students are out of school, we have opted for TV, radio and online instruction. But we know the limitations that we face if we cannot provide the technology to go with learning on-air or online. Such training cannot be said to be inclusive, if we are leaving some children behind.
So, how can you help?
We invite you to design systems that will work for our environment. What facilities do we need to get the students back to the classrooms? How can we manage these facilities? What strategies do we need to adopt and can these be applied even in the private schools? Our administration is open to whatever proposals that you come up with as we continue to open up for economic activities. In the meantime, are there ways we can further leverage the technologies we have to better the output we are getting? For instance, the children are in their homes learning, but how do we know they are actually learning? Can we leverage technology to get the kind of feedback we would normally get in the classroom? How can this be facilitated and managed? A private sector-led initiative that addresses these key issues will be warmly received. In the area of healthcare, which also happens to be one of the four pillars of our administration, the COVID-19 pandemic has shown up the rot in the system. In Oyo State, as I mentioned before, we had to collaborate to get a diagnostic centre for COVID-19 in the state. We also upgraded existing facilities into isolation centres. The good news is that we are using the opportunity provided by this pandemic and the goodwill of our supporters to upgrade our health facilities. We decided against joining the fad of converting open spaces into treatment centres. Instead, we went for updating and renovating existing facilities. This way, the facilities will still be available for use after the pandemic. Of course, we will use open spaces if the situation calls for it, so that is not off the table.
May I use this opportunity to also invite proposals from investors in the private sector to manage some of these facilities. It would be a big shame if after all the investments we have made now, the infrastructure is allowed to go to waste. Highly skilled facilities managers will ensure that the gains we have made now are sustained. For instance, in Oyo State, we have a health insurance scheme designed to ensure that individuals who buy into it can get affordable healthcare. Before COVID-19, we had started a medical outreach programme. Is there a way of continuing this programme with proper management? We would like to know.
And what about social and economic infrastructure. We are investing massively on road maintenance and construction. Just yesterday, I inaugurated a project monitoring committee that will monitor work on the Rural Access and Agricultural Marketing Project (RAAMP). This project aims to add one thousand kilometers of rural roads so as to open up and link these areas with cities and towns. We are especially targeting our farmers who need to come out to sell their produce. It will also open up the rural areas to industrialisation. Can you see areas in which you can participate in these sectors? The hospitality business and markets are two areas I can easily identify. Can you come up with designs of how markets can apply the principles of social distancing as they operate at this time? What about after now? We have tourist attractions in Oyo State. Some of these places can be turned into built environments to drive the economy post COVID-19. We await your proposals and input.
I again use this opportunity to charge you to take the right steps to create opportunities for collaboration between the Oyo State Government and you as professional facilities managers. I charge you to rise to the occasion, particularly now that the world needs you the most. Our doors are open. We are ready to receive your proposals and constructive criticisms of the policies we are adopting. The question remains, are you willing and able to work with us?
Thank you again for having me.
GovernorSeyi Makinde, May 14, 2020