By GBENGA OLARINOYE
Osun State governor, Mr Rauf Aregbesola, at the fourth edition of Ogbeni Till Daybreak, an interactive session with the people on radio, spoke about his achievements and the efforts of his administration to affect the lives of the people of the state. Excerpts from the session:-
What are your expectations on the Opon Imo initiative which your government recently launched?
It is to ensure that education is democratised. When we talk of democratisation of education, what we are saying is that never again will anybody be denied access to total learning by whatever reason. Wherever you are in this state, no matter how remote, education will be your birthright. And it is not just any wishy-washy education, it is total, comprehensive education. If you understand, as I do, that education means access to textbooks, best practice in tutorial, and whatever that will prepare students for their examinations, internal and external, then you will appreciate what I am saying.
The 1.1kg tablet has whatever that you need for your foundation on education. That is the cardinal objective, but there are associated benefits. One, with Opo-Imo, we are guaranteeing for our children access to digital technology. It is also to ensure that from here, the heartland of the Yoruba nation, we can produce stars like Bill Gates.
There is an allegation that your son, Kabiru, was the one that handled the contract of Opon Imo.
In 2000 when I asked my son to go and study medicine in Cuba, he didn’t reject the idea, but, when he got there, he refused to do medicine. He said he wanted to study informatic, the software aspect of the ICT and that was what he studied. After studying for five years, he went to London for further study on the same discipline.
However, when the idea of Opon Imo came, Kabiru was not in the know, but, when our first attempt to do it failed, I was depressed. My son asked me what happened, I explained to him and that was how he came in. Then he was working with AMCON. He was the one God used to upload what we intended into Opon Imo and, up till now, he was not paid anything, even for the work he did and that is to tell you that he is not the contractor as being speculated.
If we had wanted to use Opon Imo to acquire wealth, we could go and do it secretly somewhere and come to sell to government. The truth is that no government has ever done this, but we used all what we had to raise the bar of education in Osun, including my son and that is how we have the Tablet of Knowledge. It was Kabiru that told us that if we must use Android, we must look for an expert that will put the software on it and that is how we found two companies from America and Malaysia that did it.
There are so many other companies and individuals involved in the actualisation of Opon Imo. All the companies collected money; Kabiru took nothing.
The so-called opposition raised the alarm that we spent N200 million to purchase the 56 textbooks for the 17 subjects that we uploaded into Opon-Imo and that is the truth. However, if we are to acquire hard copies of only two of the books for our 150,000 students in the high schools at 1,000 each, that will be N300 million. For the 56 books, we paid only N200 million.
This kind of device is nowhere in the world.
In concrete terms, what is the debt profile of the state?
A government is an entity just like a corporation. We should understand that a private company cannot be said to be successful if all is doing is within the ambit of its own resources.
However, when responsible governments realise the enormity of the task of development and seek to involve others in the process of ensuring development in its sphere of influence, some people out of ignorance raise eyebrows.
While company invests in profit, government must invest in the people so that the people will be economically viable to support government. If we limit to all the government could get, forget it, there will be stagnation and underdevelopment. Is the money deployed to projects and policies that will enhance the capacity of the people? If the answer is no, then query it, but if the answer is yes, hail it.
On our assumption, we contended with some issues, including that short loan was taken for long term projects that had no benefit for the people by our predecessor. Short term loan can only increase the burden on the populace because we will be paying commercial interest on the loan that, on its own, cannot generate return to meet the interest that we are paying and so it is debilitating.
To make it easier for us to manage, we sought and got credit line with which we refinanced the loan, we stopped the project that were not beneficial to the people and we got the balance for serious capital projects that will impact positively on the people. That is why we said then that we had N35 billion to prosecute development.
Some people thought what we are saying is a pile up of debt, no. What we did thereafter was that the time given on the refinancing arrangement with the First Bank was used to process access to the capital market which is the ultimate for investment purpose. So, we used the capital market to absorb the credit line.
Osun takes N3.4 billion every month from the federal allocation, but for the ease of calculation let us say we take N5 billion and that means the maximum we can get in a year is N60 billion. N60 billion in four years makes it N240 billion. Out of the money, we pay N2.6 billion to workers every month, including pension and gratuity; let us say we run government every month with N900 million. If you deduct all these, what is less for development every month is N1.5 billion and, for four years, it is N60 billion. In absolute terms, no bank will give the state more than its capacity and they will not even give you exactly what you have because the risk is huge, they can only give you 50 per cent of your worth. So, our debt profile is within the limit of N30 billion.
We must add that there are two agencies in Nigeria monitoring debt of government. They are the Debt Management Office and Central Bank. A newspaper, few months back, published the list of debtor- states in Nigeria and Osun was not listed among them. In the CBN too, Osun is not listed. If Osun is in a debt trap, we could not have paid May salaries when we have not received April allocation.
Many people think your courage in governance can work against you come 2014.
Let us see what will happen in 2014. But, really, we have been badly affected by military rule to the extent that we have even lost our spirit to resist oppression. We are people with dignity and pride. It is in defence of the minimum threshold that Rauf Aregbesola is here and I am so sure that our people are so committed to stand by us because we are a people with history, tradition, custom and value. There is no doubt in my mind that we enjoy the total support of our people, we are looking forward to 2014, and, by the grace of God, we shall defeat whoever raises his head to challenge us. We are so confidence, because we represent the choice of our people; there is no threat at all.
How are you carrying along your party members?
If they are not carried along, they will not be here; I believe that our party members are properly carried along. There is a distinction between the progressive in power and the ones who are not even qualified to be called anything, they are reactionaries who believe that the only reason for being in power is to appropriate the peoples wealth, but we are saying that is not the purpose of government. The government is there to relieve the people of their burden and stregthen them to stand on their own and give the government back in terms of taxes.
It is observed that many of your road projects are being carried out on the federal roads. Are you working on reimbursement from the Federal Government?
We are working on it, but it is not easy. You might want to know that we have not yet been refunded the N1.3 billion spent by the last administration on Akoda/Old-Garage stretch of the Federal Government road. So, if they have not paid us the investment that the last PDP administration made on a part of the road, you can only assume that whatever we do, we only pray that they will be responsible enough to refund our investment. But whether they pay us back or not, we are committed to serving our people and we are not looking back.
Some people are saying that the airport you claimed to be constructing is being financed by the Federal Government. How true?
On the aiport, I must say that it has been named Moshood Kashimawo Olawale (MKO) Abiola Airport. And no government is doing it other than the government of Osun. Though, no airport can be so called without the approval of the Federal Government and we have gotten that approval, it will be fallacious for anybody to say that because the FG must approve, that translates to ownership.
What are you doing to further assist the youths, especially to assist them in self-sustainable programmes like agriculture?
Firstly, the National Bureau of Stastistics has established that there is no state in Nigeria that has the kind of effective programme of Osun on youth development. Secondly, the same bureau has established that Osun has the lowest rate of unemployment in Nigeria.
We have committed about N2 billion to assist farmers in this state. We are also allocating farmlands to farmers free of charge; we have provided free transportation through rail for farmers to take their produce to Lagos for sale and so many others. Many people have become rich through our assistance, while some can only afford to feed themselves through it, that is life, but we will not relent in our committment.
Also, we are feeding our elementary school children and we are using the egg, fish, beef and so many other farm produce being provided by our local farmers. Some youths have been empowered to engage in poultry farming and from them the pupils are being fed with N150,000 chickens every week. Also, the kids are being fed with 5,000 kg of cat fish. They are also now being fed with about 9,000 crates of eggs. We have also empowered people to engage in cocoyam planting. So, through our programmes, we have provided jobs for our people.
We noticed a decline in the tempo of regional integration being proposed by the South-West governors. What is responsible?
There is no decline in tempo, but for those who don’t appreciate what we do the way we do it will see decline. The recent Oodua Children’s Day was part of the integration agenda and there is no better way to promote integration. We invited children and traditional rulers from all Yoruba speaking communities in Nigeria. We went as far as Delta, Kogi, Edo and outside the shores of Nigeria, like the Carribean, Benin Republic, Togo, Ghana, Ivory Coast.
We have a Ministry of Regional Integration. We are very much committed to the ideals of integration because that is the only way to go.
And if you read our position on the constitutional amendment, we were clear on the direction we want Nigeria to go and we are not changing our position on that.
How do you sustain the rebranding of the state, even beyond your term as governor?
There is legislation now on the issues on which we organised the rebranding. There is now a law that Osun is ‘State of Osun’, now there is law that Osun has anthem, now there is a law that Osun has its flag and crest as well as epitheth and slogan. It is not just for fancy anymore, it is a crime for anybody to call Osun anything than the ‘State of Osun’, that is the law. Beyond that, the people of the state have all internalised everything we brought out in the rebranding.
What is your take on one-term six year tenure for governors and president?
It will reduce the cost of governance in our country. The truth is that the architecture of governance in Nigeria is too expensive, I want it drastically reduced to cut cost. Whatever that will reduce the cost of governance will have my support.
It is alleged that the local governments’ Executive Secretaries are hindered to do much because of your constant inteference. How do you react?
What we do is that as the allocation comes, we do what is called Joint Allocation Committee meeting. What we do is to look at the totality of what is available and take decision on what should be considered jointly and distribute. We save for the local government all unexpected income, such as Excess Crude Oil Fund, which is the basis for the monumental capital projects that you see. We are not doing this for any peculiar benefit and, as a matter of fact, I don’t know the account in which the money is kept.
So, I do not believe that anybody could complain about our judicious management of resources available to the local governments.
What is the expectation of your new party, APC, in wrestling power in 2015?
If you look at the strength of the merging parties, the pattern is predictable. The strength of ACN is in South-west, the strength of CPC is in the North-west, the ANPP has its strength in the North-east and the signals we are getting from those still under the shattered umbrella nationwide is that they are looking at our side. We also have a section of APGA that is collaborating with us and, even in the South-south, feelers are coming that some things would happen