LECTURE DELIVERED BY THE GOVERNOR OF THE STATE OF OSUN, OGBENI RAUF AREGBESOLA, TO COMMEMORATE THE 20TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE FOUNDING OF CITY PEOPLE SOFT SELL MAGAZINE, HELD AT AURORA EVENTS CENTRE, RING ROAD, OSOGBO, ON DECEMBER 14, 2016
GOVERNMENT UNUSUAL IN SIX YEARS
I must thank Seye Kehinde and his team at City People for the consideration of Osogbo as the venue and the kind invitation to deliver the 20th anniversary of the founding of the soft sell magazine.
Let me first congratulate City People on its 20th anniversary, for surviving and thriving the inclement weather and instability in the newspaper industry. City People is not the first or the last but it has been the most successful and longest lasting so far. There was Prime People and others in the soft sell genre that ruled the waves at sometimes but which have since been rested. There are others still in print with some measure of success. However, City People appears to be the reigning champion and I pray that your reign will endure.
The late Alhaji Ismail Babatunde Jose, the doyen of journalism at his time, once segmented newspapers into three. These are those above society that set standard for it; those at the level of society, that reflects its true shape; and those below society, that seeks to drag it down all the time.
Soft sell magazines, it appears, belong to the third category with their rave stories, gossips, salacious and often lewd stories and obsession with celebrities, their vanities, gaudy consumption pattern, fashion and social gatherings. There have been allegations of blackmail and extortion, with many people claiming to have been maligned and falsely accused and many reputations ruined.
Let me enter this caveat that the soft sell magazines can hardly be blamed if their reports are true, no matter who is hurt. Their job is to bring out the dark and the ugly wherever they are. However, the big question is where to draw the line in seeking for the ‘truth’. In England, for instance, a newspaper had to wind down when it was discovered it tapped into the telephones of people in order to obtain their secrets.Some even plant agents and bribe staff in order to access the innermost privacies of their targets. So, invasion of privacy and illegal wiretaps are clearly criminal acts, more so when information obtained are not necessarily of overriding public importance, but just to create sensation and give idle minds something to talk about, not caring for the cost to the victims. There have been reports of marriages that have been ruined because of gossips in tabloids, that could have been true or false altogether.
This conflict with the public and the tendency to leave behind a long list of angry, embittered and disgruntled victims have been the bane of soft sell magazines, often leading to litigations and other unsavoury developments for them. The worst part is when they build a negative reputation of trading in falsehood. This is when the public’s trust in them waned and they lose readership and eventually wound up.
However, with the new media, soft sell magazines have had their share substantially eaten up by blogs and this further marginalised their genre in the press.
That City People is still thriving after 20 years is an indication that it has raised its game above these pressers and has cultivated respectability in the market. I hope it will keep it up and at least remain at the level of society, if it cannot rise above it.
I have been asked to speak about my experience in government in the last six years. This is not without certain challenges. The past six year cannot be taken on its own since it is intricately interwoven with several years before it and is also a precursor to the future. So, talking about the six years of our administration is to talk about the past, the present and the future.
I brought to the administration an ideological consciousness shaped in dialectical materialism. This is an outlook that conceives of history in terms of dialectics – the struggle and unity of opposites, quantitative change leading to qualitative change and negation of negation. It conceives of the society and the government as reflective of how economic powers are possessed by the few at the expense of the majority and how this economic power is used to construct political and social hegemony with which to oppress the masses. The eternal struggle of the marginalized for freedom and inclusion. The consequent resistance of the mutually opposed classes for advantage and triumph.
My unmistakable historical mission therefore is to liberate the masses from the clutches and stranglehold of the few, by empowering them majorly through education, health and minimum resources needed for survival, thereby freeing their creative ability. I am not a starry-eyed communist. My mission has been to free those who are bound and make them to run on their own, without holding down those who are strong enough to also run on their own. In this way, the talents and creativity of both the strong and the weak will be let loose; guaranteeing freedom, creating wealth and making life more abundant for all. On this I stand on the shoulders of giants such as Chief Obafemi Awolowo,Chief Bola Ige, Nelson Mandela and Commandante Fidel Castro.
I was privileged to have horned my political and administrative skills, beginning with my student unionism days, culminating in my serving for eight years as Commissioner for Works in Lagos State under my mentor and leader, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, in a progressive, visionary and people oriented administration that ushered in unprecedented prosperity and laid the foundation for the metastasizing of Lagos into the sixth largest economy in Africa.
My first great experience is working with people. I count it a great privilege to work with the finest people on the earth. I have worked with great people who are competent professionals in Lagos and Osun. In my first term I worked with great men and women, some of who are politicians while some are not, but they are all very loyal and hard working. They are largely responsible for our success at the first term. They have also been around unofficially as consultants and have been of great assistant.
The people of Osun are very wonderful people. They are fiercely loyal, appreciative and courageous people. When you earn their trust they stand with you without flinching. I recall a unique experience we had few days before my re-election in 2014. The Federal Government had deployed the largest armada of war not seen anywhere in the country since the Civil War, to Osun. Fearsome looking security operatives of all hues were assembled in the state, especially the state capital, Osogbo, with ferocious dogs in tow. These dogs of war were parading the streets in very long convoy of vehicles with operatives clad in balaclava, shooting sporadically in the air, trying to put the fear of God in the people.
Initially the people viewed them with curiosity but were not intimidated. Later they started responding by waving brooms, the symbol of our party, in the air and singing song of solidarity for us. The share bravura of the security operatives notwithstanding, the people came out on Election Day to vote for us overwhelmingly, stood with their votes and made it to count.
They have also shown great understanding and cooperationin the face of the grimmest financial challenge we faced. The public workers in state government, in particular, deserve special commendation. They have demonstrated fidelity, resilience, perseverance and sacrifice in our greatest time of need.
The people have displayed Omoluabi ethics of the highest order when the opposition flooded the state with cash, during the election. They collected their money and the other gifts as we directed them but they refused to vote for them. They voted for principle. They will always be in my heart and any opportunity I have to serve them again, I will take it with both arms.
I have been privileged to affect the state by raising the standard of living of the people. For us, all our programmes, policies and activities since we came to office have been with the intention to eradicate poverty and create wealth for all our people. Our six point integral action plan of Banishing Poverty, Banishing Hunger, Banishing Unemployment, Restoring Healthy Living, Promoting Functional Education and Enhancing Communal Peace and Progress were designed to lift the condition of our people from poverty stricken to being wealthy.
You will recall that in less than 100 day of our inauguration, we established Osun Youth Empowerment Scheme (OYES) through which we employed 20,000 cadets into public works. In two years, we doubled the figure to 40,000.
We gave the first batch safe landing with jobs in teaching, various agriculture schemes and ICT. For this, Osun now has one of the least unemployment figures in Nigeria while the state is also among those with the lowest crimes rate. The N200 million monthly allowance paid to the cadets reflated the economy of Osun and shot it up to the seventh largest GDP in Nigeria.
Agriculture has been of serious importance to us. We were able to quickly resolve that agriculture is also a national security matter. No nation is considered safe that cannot feed his people. Our intervention in agriculture has been massive. We set up the OREAP, through which we have been able to execute many other programmes like rural development, land clearing and access and youth training in agriculture. We have made available to farmers more than N2 billion zero interest loans in addition to yearly provision of farming inputs and additives. We have also sponsored two sets of youths to Germany for training in modern farming techniques.
Our greatest impact is in education. Our first task when we came to office was to hold an education summit, which was chaired by Prof Wole Soyinka. From that summit emerged the blueprint we are implementing on education. We immediately reclassified our schools into elementary, middle and high schools. The elementary and middle schools cover the primary and junior secondary schools. The high school is the senior secondary school.
We are building 170 new schools. These are 100 primary, 50 middle and 20 high schools. Out of these, 20 elementary schools, 22 middle schools and 11 high schools have been completed.
Beyond new buildings, we are also rehabilitating the old schools. We have carried out renovations on 40 other schools which give us 1,694 standard classrooms in the existing elementary, middle and high schools. They provide accommodation for nearly 90,000 pupils. We have provided for them more than 100,000 desks and chairs, toilets and boreholes and made schools decent places to be.
We have provided 50,000 eLearning tablets (Opon Imo) for grade 12 final year high school pupils in the state. This has benefitted three sets already while the fourth set, i.e. the current final year set has just been given the tablet.
In addition to building schools, we have recruited more than 12,000 teachers to boost manpower in the school system. We are also motivating teachers. We have put in place a policy that makes teachers in elementary and middle schools to rise to grade level 16. We have, in addition, appointed three Tutors General, equivalent of Permanent Secretary, in the three senatorial districts in the state. We have concluded arrangement to appoint nine Headmasters General for effective coordination, management and administration of elementary and middle schools in each of the nine federal constituencies in the state.
We have established the Osun Education Quality Assurance and Morality Enforcement Agency to assure education quality and enforce morality in our schools.
Our overall vision is to develop the new person intellectually, socially and morally. This new person is placed in the centre of society who views his/her own development as part of and for the development of society.
We also distributed free uniforms to pupils in public schools. The programme gave birth to a garment manufacturing company, Omoluabi Garment Company Ltd, which can employ 3,000 workers at full capacity. The private investor, Sam and Sarah brought its investment and the government supported it. We contributed shareholders loan of about N900 million to the venture, which was redeemed by the delivery of 750,000 uniforms out of which 450,000 were distributed freely to Osun pupils. The rest were sold in the subsequent years and the state recouped some of its money.
But the job was given to the company on the condition that it establishes a factory in Osun. In doing so, the land on which the factory was built, was provided by government and converted to about 25 per cent equity in the company. With the company now valued at over N3 billion, that investment is worth N750 million. In reality, considering this partnership and the value obtained, it is as if the state did not spend any cash on this project and it got uniforms worth N900 million and asset worth N750 million in the final analysis.
We are also one of the states that pioneered free school feeding programme. In the programme, healthy and nutritious meals are being served to 262,000 elementary 1-4 pupils in all public schools in the state, every school day. This programme, called O’MEALS cost the government of Osun N3.6 billion per annum.
This is not an isolated programme. It is integrated into the agriculture and economic empowerment programmes of the state. This is because under it, 3,007 food vendors were engaged and trained to cook healthy and hygienic food for the pupils. To be able to feed these pupils, 15,000 whole chickens, 254,000 eggs, 35 heads of cattle and 40 tonnes of catfish are weekly bought off farmers and other producers in this state.
O’MEALS was so successful that it attracted the attention of Partnership for Child Development (PCD) of Imperial College, London and the World Bank, both of whom have supported it and recommended it to other states and countries, as part of Millennium Development Goals. I have also been invited twice by the British Parliament to speak on the programme. Osun has also been the template for its national rollout. Earlier this year, Osun has hosted and trained other states preparing to launch this programme in their respective states.
One of our first acts in office was to reengineer the finances of Osun. Many might have forgotten but we have not. When we came in, even in the midst of plenty, salary was in fits and falls. The state was under a financial burden of loans obtained at unfavourable terms. But we were able to restructure the loans on longer and more favourable terms. We were then able to pay salaries on or before the 25th of every month for four successive years including annual bonus payment called 13th month salary.
We realised also that given the level of neglect, we must accelerate development by taking loans from the capital market. This is because more than 70 per cent of our revenues are used to pay salaries. This is outside of the cost of running government. After going through the rigorous regulatory process, we could only take N30 billion Vanilla Bond and N11.4 billion Sukuk Bond with which we attacked underdevelopment in the state. The conventional vanilla bond was to partly absorb the N18.3 billion short term inherited loan. The Sukuk bond was used to finance the construction of 11 State of the Art High Schools. From the vanilla bond and other sources, we rehabilitated and completed 230 states roads spanning 368 km. We partnered local governments to deliver 226 council roads across the 30 local governments and the development area with a combined length of 216 km.
Thus, we were able to construct more than 800 kilometres of quality, stone based roads with concrete drainages across the length and breadth of the state. Work is ongoing on the Orile-Owu – Ijebu-Igbo Expressway; Osogbo – Ila-Odo, Kwara Boundary Expressway; Oba Adesoji Aderemi Ring Road; and Gbongan – Akoda Road. These are not just any roads that catch our fancy. They are roads carefully selected because they impacted the most on the social and economic activities of our people.
We have carried out the most comprehensive and successful social programme in Nigeria. This is because we incorporated widows, the elderly, lunatics, physically challenged and other vulnerable groups in governance. We were paying a monthly stipend to the critically vulnerable elderly citizens in addition to taking care of their health. We also took care of the destitute and the lunatics, rehabilitating them and reintegrating them back into the society. We mobilized resources for effective security and maintenance of law and order. We ensure effective statewide ambulance service.
One of the biggest challenges we have had to grapple with is rising expenditure, especially wage bill, within the contrast of falling revenue. When I came in as Governor on November 27, 2010, oil was being sold above $100. It crashed to as low as $22 last year and sells for $54 at present. In contrast, my wage bill rose from N1.4 billion to N3.6 billion. Yet, we must also fulfil our obligation to the people who elected us and gave us the mandate to govern. We have made it a point that no one is left behind by our administration.
We cannot possibly recount our experience in one day. But what I have mentioned are just a tip of the iceberg. In the process, however, we have learnt how to cope with adversity, unreasonable opposition and hostility without basis or rationality. We have fought the good fight of federalism. We have laid the foundation for the development of Osun in the next 50 years. We have no doubt that the seed we have sown will yield bountiful harvest for individuals and the state in the foreseeable future.
We have gone so far because of the support and encouragement of the good people of Osun. These are the women groups, market women and their leaders, professionals, business people, artisans, farmers, civil servants, traditional rulers, community leaders, community based organisations, religious groups and religious leaders, students, youth associations, commercial motorcyclists, transporters and transport unions, the supportive and friendly media, political parties and all people of goodwill.
I congratulate City People once again and wish you more success in the service of the people.
I thank you all for your kind attention.
Osun a dara!