‘We’ll soon turn Osun economy around’

By Bolade Omonijo

The Aregbesola administration is only about 10 weeks old. The governor who assumed office after a grim legal battle is faced with a number of challenges; some common, others peculiar. What are these challenges and obstacles? What are the plans he has mapped out to scale the hurdles? The governor who spoke with journalists shortly after unveiling the crest and flag of the state addressed the concerns. Group Political Editor BOLADE OMONIJO was at the session.

Why have you not chosen your commissioners many months after you assumed office?Yes, we have not chosen our commissioners, but I don’t think people are in doubt about our policy thrust. There is no law that stipulates that you should choose your commissioners within a particular time. It is a function of how you access the administration. I’m taking my time, if you really listened to my speech at the unveiling of the state’s crest, I made a clear reference to the fact that the calibre and the quality of the people that you work with are quite important and fundamental to the success and achievement of an administration. I want to ensure that I have the best people in my cabinet, so I am shopping for the best possible people to assist me in the onerous assignment I have taken upon me here. What is fundamental, is that we must work for the best interest of the people so that their welfare can be guaranteed and development assured in Osun State at the earliest possible time.During your electioneering campaign in the state, tempers rose and there was ill-feeling all round; the state was polarized. How far have you gone in reconciling the opposing camps since you assumed office?

I think we have done very well in that regards. If you have been following our activities, we refused to antagonise anybody. I have not dissolved any board, all those who are on the boards are there. If you remember also, I did not dissolve any local government council until the Supreme Court eventually dissolved them because of the illegalities associated with their assumption of office. And even at that, I had to invite all the affected chairmen and I commended them for their service, even if for nothing at all but for holding forth at that tier of government without any major crisis. Nobody in the state can say I have never extended goodwill to all and sundry regardless of party affiliation. As a matter of fact, my party members are expressing some reservation because of my large heartedness. And I am appealing to them that that is how it should be because of the oath of office that I took that I will be fair to all and sundry irrespective of political, religious leaning and what have you. So, I have fully imbibed the spirit of that oath and I want to abide by it as long as I remain governor of the state.Recently, there was the rumour that the House of Assembly, with a majority of PDP members, was planning to impeach you, what is your relationship with the Assembly?

I have the best of relationship with the Osun State House of Assembly,; there has never been any rift between us. What probably you might be referring to was the charge I gave to some people, I won’t mention their names now, who were coming up with a plot to undermine my administration, that does not mean that the House was culpable. Though, the House was to be used, but I want to assume that it declined. So, to that extent, I must extend a huge measure of gratitude for the cooperation, understanding and support of the House, more so when it is mainly composed of opponents of my party.How do you intend to tap the resources in the state for revenue generation?

We believe that ecological, cultural tourism will be a major revenue earning engagement for the state. We are lucky to be the only state with the largest number of ancient towns in Nigeria. We have towns between 500 to 1000 years history; no state in Nigeria has as many ancient towns. Besides the collection of such ancient towns, is the fact that we have a town that is believed by a large number of world citizens as the origin of man, and that town is Ile-Ife. So, if we promote Ile -Ife, it has the capacity to rival other tourist attractions in the world that people flock to annually, and that must be done.What is your target and how do you intend to generate enough funds to implement your programmes?

Without revenue, nothing can be achieved. As a matter of fact, any entity that is dependent on another and not self sufficient, self-sustaining is a defective entity that will not last. A society that is dependent on allocation from another body is not free to exist; it is a possession of the entity supporting it or giving it lifeline. We don’t want to be dependent on support from anybody at all. I detest the fact that Osun State today depends absolutely on federal allocation. What it generates is nothing to write home about; it is like a man whose pay packet is not sufficient for him. Osun State income cannot take it beyond the generation point. During the strike embarked upon by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) in 1993, there was this sticker that caught my attention, it read, “my boss is a slave driver, my take home pay cannot take me home”’. I like that coinage, Osun’s income cannot take it beyond the collection point. We want to reform our internally generated revenue system to eliminate wastages totally and shore up our revenue base. But beyond that, we will explore some other avenues that are not being explored now. Osun is poor because the former government here did not care about the people. Revenue and the economy are linked. If you are operating in a weak economy, your citizens will be weak and consequently, they will be a burden and won’t be able to pay anything. But if the economy is energised, buoyant and dynamic, the citizenry will be buoyant, dynamic and prosperous. Yes, nobody wants to pay tax even when they have the money, but it is easier to enforce compliance on taxation when there is money to be paid. So, our major preoccupation today is how to energise and how to boost the economy. We have identified the weaknesses in the economy, there is money in the financial institution but the people are poorly organised to access the fund. We have chosen cooperative movement as a vehicle to organise production of services and goods in the state and through that the economy of the state will be considerably boosted and with that, we expect that revenue would come. We have told some of your colleagues what we intend to do here.How exactly do you intend to do that?

During the campaign, we promised the people some strange things; very strange because they are so simple that people will wonder why they were not done by anybody. They are phenomenal in reality; what it means is that we want to create a mid region market here. Again, I like to state without equivocation that this is not original. In the organisation of towns, Osogbo was next to Ibadan and Lagos in the 60s in terms of commercial activities. Immediately Railway stopped working, the commerce of Osogbo evaporated. We want to revive this through the creation of a mid region market that will serve the mid region of Nigeria. We are already talking to the major manufacturers and importers of goods and services. We are almost concluding with the Nigeria Railway Corporation (NRC). We will be moving finished goods of daily needs and common usage to Osogbo weekly by train to the warehouses that we are going to build, but the people will manage it. If goods are sold in Osogbo at prices as in Lagos, people in the mid region here will be buying in Osogbo and return to their bases to sell. And I believe that will create wealth and increase our revenue base substantially. However, to maximise the advantage of the medium through which these goods will be brought, the same train service that brings goods from Lagos will return agricultural produce to Lagos which will be sold at farm gate prices and with these dynamics and mix, there will be wealth and with prosperity, revenue will increase and the government will be better for it.What is your target?

I am looking at hitting a billion Naira mark per month before the end of the year.But the Railways system you planned to use in the execution of the project stopped functioning a long time ago, how do you intend to do this?

How can anybody say the Railway system is not working when it has been consistently mismanaged? There has not been sufficient commitment by all of us to expose the chicanery that has become the order of the day there. In 2005, I wanted to flag off my campaign, the powers that be then threatened fire and firestone; the roads were sealed and the Nigerian Press was agog with suspense. But we got here. We did it through the rail system. If we could use the train then, how can anyone say the same tracks are not usable now? We negotiated for 16 coaches from Nigerian Railway Corporation, the only addition was to arrange with the Lagos State Water Corporation to fill the tanks in the coaches for us with water. We took off at 12 midnight in Ikeja station and got here around 7.30am. What am I saying? Even as far back as 2005, those of us who rode on that train knew that there was nothing wrong with the track of Nigeria Railway System. They have coaches that could move, they have engines that could move. So, if we could bring NRC to Osogbo without one-week notice, why couldn’t I get that arrangement with the NRC to be coming here on weekly basis?The state is believed to have borrowed money heavily; what is its debt profile and was the fund judiciously applied?

The newspapers have published it. N18.5billion was borrowed and within five months, N10billion was spent. I don’t believe the reason the money was sourced was judicious. I don’t see what purpose stadia will serve when there was no international competition, no cultural or religious programme, no sports programme that Osun State was billed to host that would warrant the building of six stadia at a time. So, to me, if Osun will borrow money, I will rather use it for developmental projects or critical infrastructure that will bring development to energise the economy, not these white-elephant projects that will rather drain and worsen the economic condition of the state.