Ondo Guber Election: We have learnt our lessons – Aregbesola

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Gbenga Olarinoye

…Says opposition’s mainstreaming agenda means ‘main fraud’
Osun State governor, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, who recently marked two years in office, had an interactive seven-hour  session with journalists, tagged, “Ogbeni Till Day Break” where he defended all his actions since assumption of office.  Gbenga Olarinoye, our Osun State correspondent, was in attendance. Excerpts:

It has been alleged that the reason you refused to commission some of the road projects you have completed is to delay them for your second term campaign. How do you react?

The answer is simple. The people have the right to use the services that the government is rendering for them and we are so much committed to do more for them. For that reason, we do not think that commissioning is a priority now. We are not bothered by whatever anybody wants to say, because we still have a lot to do.

It was gathered that the Labour Party is mobilising in collaboration with the PDP to unseat your government at the next governorship poll?

In discussing that I will simply remind you of what happened sometime ago. In April 2011, an interesting thing happened here. A political contest took place and that contest is very relevant to your question. At that time, my administration was just about 90 days and, in terms of length of stay, the PDP, by that time, had spent about 2,700 days, and I defeated all of them. The man that is interloping for Labour Party ran for a seat in that election, he did not win his polling booth. So I don’t know the magic they want to perform. Going by our rating scientifically, there is no cause for alarm.

The opposition has been insinuating that your administration has just been grandstanding for the past two years, that you have nothing tangible to show for being in office…?

Within two years, we did something unique that people outside there could hardly notice – a huge revolution. Today, the citizens of the state proudly call themselves “Omoluabi”, which was not so before. Yoruba has an adage that ‘an untrained child will sell or destroy the edifice that is built instead of investing the money’. To be sure that our people imbibe the culture of positive changes, we began with that revolution to imbibe the culture and value of our people.

When we were sure that that was properly done, we moved on;  today, millionaires are developing out of our ideas. About two weeks ago, I was in Okuku, a man told us that, on his farm, he had 120,000 fish and, if you multiply that alone, that man is simply a millionaire. Hitherto, he was a fugitive. On OREAP alone, it is not just a question of engaging many people; it is about turning their fortunes around for the better.

Because we do not make noise on our achievements, most people do not even know what we are doing. I doubt if there is any house that is not benefiting from the school feeding programme that we put in place for pupils in primaries one to four state-wide. It is not just any food – we give carbohydrate, we give protein, and we give fruits to make them mentally sound. Besides, hardly will you see a household without a member in OYES.

Through the OYES scheme alone, N200 million enters Osun economy every month and this is a sum of money that was not in the economy before and, even if it did, it entered through vices. For you to know what we are doing, just take your mind back, the difference is clear. Except for the blind, those who have not lost their sight appreciate that the general revival of the state is taking place.

That is not all.  There is no local government that major road construction is not taking place. We have reduced school fees, we are building new schools, we are supporting the elders and we have increased grants to schools. I want to ask our traducers, what else would a performing governor do that we have not done?  If they tell us what is required from us apart from what I have mentioned, I am ready to learn, but I know that within the limits of our resources, Ogbeni is performing in all sectors of governance and we will never be distracted by the insinuation of those mediocre.

How far is your pledge to absorb the OYES cadets into the civil service?
The truth is that there are no vacancies for all the 20,000 OYES cadets in the civil service and we must bear that fact in mind, but, besides that, those that would be absorbed, we must be sure that they are competent and adequate for what we need them for. As much as we want to get them engaged, the services to which they would be absorbed have minimum standards and that is why examinations are being conducted to be sure.

What we have done to favour the cadets is that if the minimum cut-off marks for non-OYES participants for the civil service job is 55 per cent, we reduced the cut-off of OYES to 40 per cent and in some cases 35 per cent, just to be sure they are absorbed. Whoever cannot meet up with that concessionary  cut-off mark, there is nothing we can do other than to find some other thing for such participants to do. Painful, but that is the best we can do.

What we have also done is to set a percentage of absorption for those in all the schemes for employment of 60 per cent OYES and 40 per cent non-OYES participant and,  to my mind, that is fair enough. We have engaged many other volunteers of the scheme in several vocations like fish farming, animal husbandry, and agriculture generally, as well as red block making among others and,  as part of their exit strategy, we are ready to support them for them to be independent.

Gov Aregbesola

Since the last governorship election in Ondo State, you have not made any comment regarding the election. Any particular reason for this?

Every vocation has strategy and most of us forget the strategies of politics. When you win, you brag; when you lose, you are barred. What happened in Ondo gave some people their bragging season and we allowed them to brag. When a man has cause to brag, allow him to brag because it is normal. Their bragging season is almost over. Coming with bragging is bashing and we had our own bashing. In democracy, the beauty of it is maturity;  you must go into every democratic contest with the zeal to win. If you win, brag;  if you lose, take your loss; identify your weaknesses; see how you can build on it and move on. It is not unlikely that there might be a rematch. Just wait and watch.

Also, the beauty of democracy is that, you have the right to compete and struggle for power. We deployed everything we had to unseat the party that was there because we feel we could do better, but, unfortunately, our calculation could not do it. In any democratic contest, somebody must win and somebody must lose, but, mind you, that cannot be our end, not in Ondo or any other place because we are still going to challenge every bit of the ground of Ondo and, if it happens again tomorrow, expect us there. That is the way of politics.

There is the allegation that you used the resources of Osun to fight the Ondo  governorship battle…?

The answer is no and we all know it. Perception is usually false, but as false as perception is, it is almost 99 per cent  reality. If I have used Osun resources to fight Ondo battle, where would I have the money to pay salaries? We have not defaulted in salary payments and our programmes and projects are on-going. Where then is the speculation from? I think some people are just doing that for mischief, there is no iota of truth in it. Of course, as it is required of all democrats, I put in the best to ensure that my party wins and that is what democrats do. When it is over, it is over and we march on.

We also learnt that Ondo State Governor, Olusegun Mimiko, is  warming up to join the process to unseat you because of the efforts you were said to have put into the process of the Ondo election…?

We welcome him. I think that he has said that he is not keen on that now, but if he is keen, we welcome him with open hands.

Since you have given your administration a pass mark, why do you want to ‘repeat’ – that is talking about  second term?

In reality, in actual life, when you do well, you are allowed to maximise the allowed period, but nobody rejects a good work. All responsible people all over the world would appeal to see the elongation of what is good and I am confident that the people of Osun will give us a second term.

Recently, your predecessor, Olagunsoye Oyinlola,  faulted the regional integration agenda, saying  the idea cannot help the Yoruba and that what can pay us most is mainstreaming. What is your reaction to this?

What is mainstream? It is absurd that those that are shouting mainstream have refused to change their devilish attitude and they have been there for long. They are using mainstream in this region to defraud the people. A friend of mine put a post on the social media recently, though gory and morbid, but it clearly described the nature and character of the mainstreamers.

The man said that the so-called mainstreamers did wonder here, and he put the picture of Osogbo during their time where a school child was swept away by flood and killed and a policeman was standing watching over the corpse. By the side of that picture was the picture of Aregbesola’s Water Buggy, clearing the streams in preparation for rains. Nothing more clearly described the clear distinction between us and these charlatans. What do they have to show for their seven and a half years here? And they keep on grandstanding.

They used their time in power to harass, terrorise, intimidate, kill, detain and maim the people everywhere. It was in this state that Chief Ade Komolafe was killed in Ilesa and nothing happened; it was here they killed 12 of us during the election and nothing happened. Some people  raped a young girl in Ilesa and they put in place a permanent reign of terror. Is that mainstreaming? Is that governance?

Besides, let us be generous with them, the totality of their expenditure in seven and a half years as grant for primary schools was about N64 million. In one year, Ogbeni is spending N424 million to maintain primary schools. Where then is the comparison? Thirdly, go and look at the roads we are constructing, in terms of standard and quality, are they the same with their own? They were here for seven and a  half years, let them identify one intervention they made in all aspects of agriculture, none. We have been giving fertilizers to farmers in the last two years, with their mainstreaming; let them point to one single beneficiary of their fertilisers.

When they assumed office, they retired everybody that was appointed into the top echelon of the service by the preceding administration, but we allowed their own to stay till the very end. For the first time in the history of Nigeria, our administration came and did not replace the Head of Service; no administration has ever done it in Nigeria.

So, the meaning of their mainstream is ‘main fraud’. What they are saying is that with their identification with those at the centre, they seek protection from law enforcement agencies on their alleged crimes. Therefore the real meaning of their mainstream is ‘main fraud’.

Having talked about their so-called ‘mainstream’, let us now talk about regional integration. Regional integration is nothing new,  it is just the formalisation of the age-long relationship among our people at informal level. We are simply building the natural relationship of our people to enrich them, guarantee wealth and make them comfortable. To tell you that the interest of our people is the primary reason and basis for pursuing, tenaciously, the regional integration, at the beginning of our administration, the first office I visited was the office of the Governor of Ondo State.

I went with my deputy and the only issue I discussed with the Governor of Ekiti State was regional integration. I told him that you have natural gas here, let us work quickly to have our own gas generating plant to supply the region with electricity from your state. If that had worked as we proposed, how will it be selfish that we shall have our own independent power supply that will guarantee electricity to everybody? Will that not enhance our economy and improve the standard of living of our people?

Don’t let us bring up the issue of those charlatans again; they do not have any respect for us, they hold us in contempt and they think we will be foolish enough to continue to embrace them. I am happy we have rejected them here and never would they come again.

What are you doing to compensate  those whose properties were affected by the road expansion projects you are carrying out in the state?

Anybody with genuine documents of ownership of properties affected by the expansion of our roads would be appropriately compensated. Let me just say this, a journalist asked me in one of our interactions that,  hitherto, the opinion was that nothing was happening, but now, what people are talking about is, how are we going to complete the myriad of projects that are on-going all over the state? We are working  massively and I want to assure you that we will not leave any project uncompleted.

How do you intend to ensure the sustainability of the re-branding efforts of the state by your administration?

Any programme of government that is not people-centred is a waste of time and energy. Once you get the people to buy into any idea that you have, that idea becomes a pattern and the tradition. There is nothing new there; what we have done is to revive a culture, a value and attitude that were dead and I believe that, by the fact of the acceptability of the values, sustainability becomes easy. It is going to further germinate in the minds, spirits and souls of the people and it will continue. We will not relent in our efforts to promote those values and attitudes and, with that, it will promote development and I can assure you that the values would be sustained.

It is believed that it might be difficult to maintain standard in schools when students are paying less. Now that you have reduced  school fees in tertiary institutions and cancelled the payment of  fee in primary and secondary schools, how do you intend to maintain the standard?

You have heard of what we are doing on basic education. Rather than keeping the old system, we have geometrically increased the funding of the schools from N64 million in seven and a half years of the last administration to N424 million in a year and that is what goes on in secondary schools. For tertiary institutions, with the efforts we are making in terms of grants to those schools, there cannot therefore be a fall in the standard.

There have been calls for autonomy for local governments, while some people, including the Governor of the Central Bank, Sanusi Lamido, have kicked against it. What is your  take?

The distinct definition of federation is that there cannot be any other government outside the central  and state governments and once you have another tier, you are defeating federalism. In federalism, you have federating entities agreeing to be together and having independence  within the defined scope of responsibilities. Aside that, the only reference made to local government in our constitution is about the democratic nature of local government. Local governments are development centres of the states and it cannot be otherwise. In that context, Sanusi is right.

In the first year of your administration, not so much happened in terms of development, but, suddenly, within the second year, you started working and the hands of your administration is now everywhere. Why did you wait till your second year before you started  working?

At the time people were thinking that nothing was happening, we were building reserve of money and we announced it to the world that rather than frivolously spend money on things that will not help us take off appropriately, we took our time to build reserve of funds, with which we could leverage for the projects that we have planned to do. Even at that, if you look at our approach, at the most excruciating period of the state, we did two things that nobody expected. By November when we assumed office, this state had to borrow money that was not less than N1 billion to pay salaries and that is the time we started recruiting the OYES members. It is that same period that we paid bonus to our workers.

The question we must ask is, how did we do it? By March of the following year, we had restructured the state finances that the state was no longer in any debilitating condition. We do not have to borrow money to pay salaries on the 25th of every month, yet, we never failed to pay allowance of N200 million to OYES volunteers every month. By April, we had an election and we defeated all of them.

The most interesting of that election is the result of Ife, where somebody, who was already assuming that he was the lord of the state, could only win  his polling booth with three votes. Another one who was in office as governor for seven and a  half years lost everywhere except his own town where he marginally won two wards. What that means classically in politics is that he was only qualified to be a councillor.

So, if people want to assess us, just assess us on firm ground and qualitatively, don’t just assume. We should ask ourselves, is the perception people carry about real? The answer is no, it is  not real. There is no gimmick there, we are working as to our programmes.

Recently, you declared a public holiday for the beginning of Islamic year (Hijra) which has never been done in the state and there have been criticisms trailing the  action. What informed the action?

I have no pretence to the fact that I am a Muslim. I struggled to be a devout Muslim, but that does not in anyway affect my activities or action. It was in our efforts to balance the religious sentiments and interests  that we recognise the short holiday by the Muslim to mark the beginning of Islamic year. We  only desire to promote harmony and tolerance among all religions and we are equally consulting with adherents of traditional religions  so as to have a date for them too, just as we have done for Christians and Muslims.

What will you want to be remembered for?
That I have come to do my best to serve the people of Osun and give them an improved  condition of living. That is the legacy I pray that God will give  me to give to the people.

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