INTERVIEW: ‘Osun‘ll Vote For Continuity’ – Aregbesola
Osun State Governor Rauf Aregbesola spoke with reporters in Osogbo, the state capital, on his administration, the Ekiti governorship election and preparations for the August 9 poll in the State of the Living Springs. Excerpts:
The governorship election will hold in Osun State next month. How can the APC avert what happened during the Ekiti poll?
A genuine democrat must be willing and ready to embrace defeat as he or she will embrace victory, provided the election is transparent, credible, free and fair. The real issue is not about you as a candidate, but the quality of the electoral process. Once the quality is good and high, whatever the people say is the final because they are the ultimate decider of who represents or govern them. Democratic choices is expected to be correct, good and right, but it is not always that the choice is good, correct and right. Long before I assumed this office, I prepared so well for the office in a way that, going by the normal run, I should not be working as hard as I am working now for re-election. I am one of the politicians that from day one began my campaign. From the day I entered this office, I started my campaign. How many governors walk the streets with their citizens? I have been doing that since the first month in office. How many governors creates interactive forum in Nigeria before me? There is none. I was the first governor that devoted close to 10 hours of continuous engagement on a quarterly basis with the citizens.
The ‘Ogbeni Till Day Break’ is a worldwide engagement because we take feedbacks from social media. Hardly is there any community in this state that I have not touched personally. In terms of physical and social services, this is the first government that will say that there is no household, be it the PDP, be it the APC and others, that our programme has not reached, there is none. I feed 300,000 pupils every school day at the cost of N3.6 billion a year, I have been doing it since 2012 and I have spent N7.2 billion on that. The students consume 15,000 whole chicken every week and it is served twice. They consume 300,000 eggs every week, one egg a week. They consume 400 tons of fish every week. They consume 35 herds of cattle every week. We gave close to N600 million to the poultry farmers and also the fish farmers.
Also, 1000 new farmers who we raised to produce cocoyam are in this, close to 500 ‘O’Yes cadets’ are equally empowered to outtake the cocoyam and give to the vendors. Also, tens of thousands are equally engaged providing different items. From this alone, close to one million people are directly impacted from just one programme, ‘O’meal’. We have the second batch of O’Yes cadets, the first batch of 20,000 had gone, the 2nd batch of 20,000 is on and they are from homes. They work two or three days a week and they have the entire days of week left for them to see what they can do with their hands and earn a living because they are taught entrepreneurial training but they earn N10,000 monthly as cadets. On this scheme alone, this administration has spent N9 billion. I tell people what this type of scheme means for national government. You can’t say I don’t have 18 friends who I can give half a billion naira contract to, whether they do it or not, I would have still given it. But, the maximum amount of that investment that will stay here will be less than 50 per cent, yes, you will have the project here but there would still be capital flight because we are talking about direct impact on the economy. O’Yes have changed the paradigm; 100 per cent of that N9 billion is in this economy.
The programme has huge economic benefit to the state. Every O ‘Yes cadet has a smart card and the issue of anyone handling or tampering with their money does not arise. We are one of the few government that develops a meaningful programme for elderly citizens care. We are not into a blanket social welfare scheme for the elderly, we have a package that did an extensive survey of citizens that are 65 years and above, we have them in our database. We now identified those among them that are without any support, that is the first time any government will so do in Nigeria. We engaged a consultant, who is a professor of gerontology in OAU, Ile-Ife . He developed the programme they used and without sentiment or parochialism, they got elderly citizens that lack support, we called them critically vulnerable people who are aged but have nobody to care for them. If we did not discover them, nobody will know such people exist in Nigeria because they are waiting to die because they lack everything. We identified 1,800 of such people state wide.
The selection was purely based on their conditions, not primodial sentiment. We didn’t do the selection anyway, Professor Ogunbameru of OAU administered everything, gave us the list and the addresses. We have been giving them N10,000 monthly since 2012.Your question is if am bothered about Ekiti, I don’t even think about it. As a loyal APC member, I was disturbed. But, as a head of a government that has worked so well with the people, I don’t even see the effect. I look at my engagement with the people, the products of my government, which has not left any home unaffected positively, and I said if election is about acceptance, popularity and impact you have made on the people, we are waiting for what the dictate of democracy would be. In a credible, transparent, free and fair election, Rauf Aregbesola does not have any worry at all about what people will say about his administration.
Is your administration in good terms with four critical sectors, namely teachers, civil servants, okada riders and students?
Let us start with the students. When we came in, students were given a bursary of N3,000 and they won’t even get the bursary on time and it was full of scam. They brought it to me to sign and I said why do I have to sign N3,000 for anybody? We raised the bursary to N10,000 flat. For medical and law students N20,000 while our indigenes in the Law School get N100,000. I don’t see how such students will hate us. I can’t see it. Whoever now hates us has something else against us not for the fact that we have not done the needful. The increase wasn’t solicited; we did it out of our own understanding of the reality of what the students are going through. There was clamor for the reduction of fees. We reduced the fees from a huge amount to something that is comparably affordable. Also, we have been investing in developing the institutions much more than any administration has done in the history of this state.
For okada riders, they have no problem with us. They may want us to do things for them as we have done to some other groups, but it not as if they said, compared to others, these are the problems. The roads here are appreciated even by those who used legs. Has any government succeeded in constructing 200 kilometres of road in all the nooks and crannies of the state? There is no part of this state that we have not constructed a new road and it is not just any road, but roads with concrete drainage, with stone base and kick asphaltic cover and above all, when I get to campaign grounds, I say our roads have tribal marks. We now have special roads. When we complete some of them, they will be tourism attraction and centres on their own. The road we are building in Gbogan, people will be coming to look at it, mark my words. That road you see, Gbongan/Akoda Road will be a tourism attraction because it is not an ordinary road because its a road that took me time to conceive and design and we are taking our time to develop it. We also want to tell the world that the black man is a human being. I have two major objectives on earth. One is to help in the process of eliminating poverty because I hate poverty. I wasn’t born poor, but I feel bad to see people in destitution. Two is that I don’t like how blacks are in the world today. As long as I live, I must be part of the process that will give the black man a good reckoning where they are because sadly, we are in the lowest part of civilisation. I have been everywhere in the World, except the continent of Australia, and in everywhere in the world, the most depressing portion of it is inhabitated by blacks. These are the two issues that motivate me.
What about civil servants?
Before our advent, the civil servants never knew that salary could be paid before the end of the month. For seven and half year, salaries were never paid here before the end of the month. But, from when I assumed office, we changed that. Before the year ended when I assumed office, I paid 10 per cent of their basic as the 13th month salary and paid December salary before the end of the year.
The civil servants were dazed. Since that day up until December 2013, I pay salary on or before the 25th of every month. But, as from January 2014, we ran into trouble which we explained to everybody six months before then. In July 2013, the Federal Government began a squeeze. They said 400,000 barrel of crude oil is being stolen everyday. We didn’t know the problem was coming. Instead of collecting N4.6 billion, they gave this government N2.6 billion, 40 per cent slashed. We thought it will be temporary because, after that month, they said the stolen crude has reduced to 200,000 barrel per day. When the oil being lost reduced, would you still expect a 40 per cent cut? From that July to now, the maximum allocation this state has ever received is N3.2 billion, which was in November 2013. I am not making up anything, simply saying the truth. Now ask me how was I able to pay up until December 2013? My people are called osomalo. They are very deft in the management of money and I took this from them. I had been saving through the ‘Omoluwabi Conservation Fund’ in which 10 per cent of all allocation must just go and rest. So, I had money in reserve, which was a build-up from my refusal to form cabinet for 10 months. I had the money. Whereas my income fell to N2.6billion at the lowest and N3.4billion at the highest for a month, my statutory expenditures, which are expenditures that I have no control on, once we have agreed on it, for instance salary, pension and they are N3.6 billion every month, I have no power over it. I can’t say no Iam not paying, Between July and December, I augmented my income with N5.4 billion. All in the hope that this thing will go, it didn’t go. It has not gone as we speak, it is even worse. Before, when you get your allocation, you will cash it by the 15th of every month, that is why they are paying salaries on the 15th of the month before we came in.To make up the deficit in what I received and what I must pay, I spent extra N5.4 billion. However, I told you earlier that I gave 10 per cent of basic salary for 13th month salary; the second year I gave 25 per cent; the third year I gave 50 per cent; the fourth year, I gave 100 per cent. So, December of 2013, I gave every worker in the employment of Osun 100 per cent of their basic salary as extra income, which I paid before the end of the year. Why should any worker say I am not friendly with them? Before, workers here were given their leave allowances enbloc at the end of the year, I told them this is unresonable because we don’t go on leave at the same time. So, choose when you want your leave allowance to be paid. Is it at your birthday or the anniversary of your employment into the service. So, whenever you summit your birthday, your leave allowance will be credited to you. I don’t know if any other government in Nigeria that does that. Two, go and visit the secretariat and see what we have made of their work enviroment. So, if these are things that should motivate workers, I stand tall and proud because I have done my best. As we speak, we have not collected June allocation. They might not give us June allocation until the end of August. But, we will pay our workers, already we have pay June. I am happy to tell you that majority of our civil servants see and appreciate what we are doing. You can to the secretariat and see what we are doing. We increased the car loan by 400 per cent; we increased housing loans by 100 per cent. For 36 out of 43 months we have been paying regularly, let’s even assume that there is a problem of delayed payments now, I cannot believe all the workers will be against us because I have done my best. If the demonstration of interest of workers in their remuneration and allowances counts and with what we have done, I don’t think they will be against us.
I read the advert they published and I laughed because it indicted them. They wrote that my income was N2.8 billion and this is what I have to pay, N3.4billion and pegged it with state and local governments. There is no way I can touch the local government account because it is separate and distinct. I can only give policy statements on that.
What about teachers?
Our teachers in the state are now very well motivated such that you cannot distinguished between our them and bank workers. When you see a teacher in Osun before you know. They are so depressed, unmotivated and absence of facilities. Our teachers now appear corporate and well-motivated. This is the first government that will say that you don’t need to buy textbooks for your children in the high school, Opon Imoand its targeted at 150,000 students. It is a high school a library of 53 textbooks.
Are you prepared for a possible lockdown of the state, few days to the election?
You see, I came here from the street and it is easy for me to go back to the street. My real home is on the street. Whoever will hold me on the street will try. I laugh when they talk about me because they don’t know I am from the street.
What is your perception about the term stomach infrastructure?
To those people who are the elite and are therefore separated from the people, this term may make a new meaning. I am a product of the popular forces, the people. I am part and parcel of them. I emanated from them. Iam a product of their struggles. What is now known as stomach infrastructure is what we know as interaction, engagement, living with the people and meeting their aspirations and needs. That is what we have been doing from the very beginning of this administration; I feed their children every day meal.
My administration does not suffer alienation from the people. It is one and same with the people and that is the basis of our confidence in their ever ready support at all times.
Is there any aspect of the state that you think you have not touched?
There is no trade, commercial or social group in the state of Osun that we have not impacted. There is no aspect. Apart from Lagos, we are the only state government that has an emergency call center but has been made dysfunctional because the federal government just refused to give us short code to make it work. It has been ready for the past 13 to 18 months ago. If that centre had been activated, we acquired a helicopter that will get to the farthest place of this state in 15 minutes to attend to emergency issues. It won’t cost the federal government a dime but to just direct the NCC to allow us use their 122 line. I wrote to the president that emergency does not know political parties, what we don’t want is needless death because of absence of emergency services and the state of the art facilities is still lying down there fallow.