Recently in Osogbo,Osun State Governor Rauf Aregbesola spoke with journalists on the 20th anniversary of the state. He flayed his critics on the
speculations around his health. KABIR ALABI GARBA was there. Excerpts:
Osdf: THERE are a lot of rumours in recent times concerning your health. What is the true picture of your health?
Ogbeni: When a sick man appears, it does not require story. Do I look sickly? I am very healthy. I have been trying to disabuse the minds of my people about that misinformation, but it looks as if am not succeeding. The truth is that a sick person cannot mobilise his people to the massive victory we had in the April elections. People have forgotten that we had a series of elections that spanned a month in which my party cleared all seats contested. Then there was a remarkable one, where despite the fact that President Goodluck Jonathan won in every state in the South West, he lost in Osun. This was the only state in where
my presidential candidate won. Could a sick man lead such a massive campaign? I have exerted myself and all the people around me – aides, friends
and the public– can attest to my energy (I work for 18 hours in a day). I leave those who engineered this wicked lie in the hands of God but I want them to know that it is a divine principle that you reap what you sow.
Osdf: What about the alleged frequent travels overseas?
Ogbeni: My travels are public. I went to the Borough of Southwark in the United Kingdom to sign a Memorandum of Understanding on behalf of councils in the state on areas of mutual understanding. I went to Dubai to attend the convocation of my daughter from where I proceeded to India for medical check up. After the election, I needed rest. This lasted for one week and it was on my personal account, no state fund was involved. I also went to China at the invitation of All China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU), the first to be extended to any governor in Nigeria. TheExecutiveSecretaryofOrganisation of African Trade Union Unity (OATUU) facilitated this. Agreements were signed that would make Chinese firms to establish industries in Osun and enable our state access to official Chinese government assistance. The trip was a success.
My last trip was to Saudi Arabia for the lesser Hajj, which I have been doing for the past 12 years. Even when I had acase in Abuja, I was allowed by the magistrate to perform the lesser Hajj. During my trips the state was in the able hands of the deputy governor. Is it not amazing that those who called me sole administrator when we were putting a cabinet in place would now accuse me of abandoning the ship of state after a cabinet was sworn in? I will not hesitate to visit places where I am sure will bring benefit to the government and people of Osun.
Osdf: Have you also heard of the allegation that you govern Osun from Lagos…
Ogbeni: This is part of the concoctions. The report about my ill health made allusions to having quarrels with party executives in Lagos. I was in Lagos for eight years as commissioner, and you cannot come to the open politically without being actively involved behind the scenes. I have been involved in Lagos politics long before I was made commissioner. So how could a man, who had acted in a place for close to half a century be totally disconnected from it within a year? Even if I want to, it is not
possible! In the government lounge many Lagosians who feel that if they see me, their problem is solved visit me regularly. Whether I can solve their problems or not is a different matter. If I do not have time for Osun, the government would not have recorded the accomplishments we have made since we came in. I have not seen any government within 100 days that employed 20,000 people. But we did it. They are the ones that have changed the appearance of this state. It may not be at the level we want, but the intervention has considerably enhanced physical appearance of the state. We have provided an identity for the state. We have rebranded this state and it is deep. But even at the physical level, before the rains began, we had awarded contracts for the dredging of canals and waterways. When the state recorded the heaviest rain in modern times in this
region, people saw rather than the rains having any impact on activities, the drainages did their work. Whether we celebrate these things or not, they are achievements. Also, we have models of the state-of the- art intervention in education infrastructure — primary, junior and senior secondary, and so forth. Provision of pipe borne water is another area we have focused. For instance, Ede water works has been abandoned for decades. We have awarded the rehabilitation work that will raise its capacity, because it is at present operating at 26 per cent. The intention is to achieve 50 per cent in six months and by then, we would award something that will take it to full capacity. We have awarded the contract for the rehabilitation of all urban roads in Osun.
Osdf: Recently, the government constituted a team on urban renewal. How does it look like? The policy on infrastructure is to ensure that all rural communities where food crops are produced are linked to the urban centres. When I was enumerating our achievements, I forgot the most basic, which is our agricultural intervention. It is our primary concern because it is the engagement vocation of majority of our people, but unfortunately the focus has been more with cash croppers than with food croppers. Even at that, it is inadequate. But we are changing the orientation now to food cropping. Feeding has become a major challenge for governments all over the world. And for that reason, we have taken food production as our major concern. Therefore, to facilitate easy transportation of the farm produce to the urban centres and where they can be repackaged and transferred to the regional market in Lagos, boost the economy of the state and make the people prosperous, roads to the farms is my major concern. We have a programme called Rural Access Mobility Programme. I am working like a mad man there. I am equally opening up vast hectares of land for farming. We have a unique plan and policy for farmers. We have acquired 30 acres of land, which we want to open up and give to anybody, who desires to cultivate land primarily for food. The idea is to let them have access to free land here and it is prepared for anyone to farm. As long as it is for food, you will get a certificate from our land authorities.The law is being perfected for anyone to own the land and farm on it. If you do not farm it for six months, then the land is taken away from the person. Our plans are for rural roads development but not to the neglect of urban roads.
Osdf: Where are you getting the funds knowing that the interventions require resources?
Ogbeni: That is a challenge but people should not forget that the difference between us as human beings is how we apply ourselves to challenges.
On assumption of duty here, I met a debt of N18.3 billion. It was suffocating because of the terms and conditions attached to it.
There is nothing wrong in any government taking a loan. The crime is in not having a profitable programme to use the money and then the conditions for obtaining the facility. There are always issues with every loan. Apart from the fact that the projects to which the loan were applied were socially irrelevant and economically useless, the conditions of the loan were so excruciatingly painful for the state because the state has to finish the payment in three years, plus a servicing scheme of N615 million per month. At that time, the totality of the state income was N1.8 billion plus a meager Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) of N300 million. And the interest cannot be rescheduled and you cannot hold back because it is taken from source. When N615 million is deducted from N2.1 billion in addition to the regular commitment— salaries, subvention and whatever, the state is left with nothing. So the state had to, when I came in, borrow N1 billion every month to service it. We knew that there was no way we could run a state like that, so, we set about refinancing it. We went to the financial institutions. We succeeded in getting a financing package of N25
billion, with which we rescheduled the N18.3 billion. Not all had been spent anyway; N11.9 billion had been spent between June and November 2010. Therefore, we reduced the burden because of the new terms – a year moratorium, 60 months repayment, an interest of 10 per cent below the 13 percent of the other one. We have not drawn over the N11.9 billion that was already spent from the N18.3 billion. The facilities are already there for restructuring. Through the new deal, we have removed excruciating repayment of N615 million per month, replaced it with payment of between N45 million and N65 million every month. So with that, the state could breath and since March, we have been breathing well. To this government, this is an achievement. Without that, we cannot be talking, even, about salary increment because we would have been bankruptby now. The wizardry with which we reduced to the barest level, the suffocating and misadvised loan wizardry would be applied. In fact, before I traveled, we have been able to accrue a surplus of N8 billion as at the end of July and N4 billion for the local government. With that I want to believe that I am in a good stead to do a little of what I have planned for the state and I am working on going to the stock market to raise money through bond. If you add my prudence and financial engineering to the possibility of raising money through bond, I should have enough energy to confront substantially the challenges of the state.