Chief Gboyega Isiaka Oyetola,the All Progressive Congress governorship candidate in Osun is a man that knows his worth. Apart from a clear agenda document he has prepared on how to move the state forward, his antecedents in private and public service obviously distinguish him among other contestants. The man fondly called Ilerioluwa spoke recently on why he is the man well positioned to win the September 22 election in the state.
First, I will still look at infrastructure renewal as one of the major areas of focus. I will be looking at economy. Having done reasonably well in infrastructure, the next thing is to look at the economy. There cannot be any serious economic growth without adequate infrastructure. But you see, the decay in infrastructure is so huge that we still have a lot to do, so infrastructure renewal will still be part of the things I will be looking at.
I intend to focus on the economy in all ramifications. I will also be focusing on the education and health sectors, so it cannot be three areas of focus. Education, health, security, sustainable environment in terms of physical and social infrastructure like lands and transportation, urban renewal, water and sanitation are also broad areas that I will be focusing attention in my programmes and policies.
We have done quite well in some of these areas, but there is still room for improvement. Now, I will be looking forward to growing the Internally-Generated Revenue of Osun State to avoid too much dependence on the centre for running government. States are not supposed to be going to Abuja every month to collect what I regard as handouts, so there should be a clearly defined policy of increasing IGR in the state and I will be looking inwards. It is tough but that is the only way you can go if you talk of sustaining economy. So, these are the broad areas I will be looking at.
One of the key messages in your campaign is that of continuity; going by this, some people are wont to interpret continuity to mean whatever the Aregbesola government has been able or unable to do is what your government will carry on as an extension of that government. The question to you then is, if elected as governor, is it going to be more of the same for Osun people or people should they expect change?
Yeah. We say continuity in the sense that one, the same party continues to be in government. To that extent, there will be consistency in policy formulation, policy implementation. That does not mean you will do whatever the present government is doing wholesale. Even the incumbent governor, assuming he has another opportunity to be governor, he will still want to review his policies and if there are needs for improvement, he will do that. So, we will talk of performance appraisal, concept appraisal and we will want to be sure that what we are doing is right. If we must do some adjustments here and there, why not? So, the continuity we are talking about is not in terms of wholesale implementation of policies and programmes of the incumbent government, it is more of ensuring that our party remains in government so as to continue to give to the society what we have doing for some years now. We are looking at being able to achieve the same template that is in operation in Lagos now, whereby the best man comes up and takes over government and there is a seamless flow in terms of good governance. Asiwaju did his eight years and handed over to [Babatunde] Fashola. He did his eight years and handed over to [Akinwumi Ambode]; same party remains in government. That is the concept of continuity, not in terms of whether or not the policy is working, you must continue to do the same thing or implementing policies and programmes that ordinarily should be reviewed.
Still talking about continuity, for instance, how do you want workers, pensioners in the state to look at you, going by the fact that they section seem to be the loudest voices criticising the Aregbesola administration over what they are going through in terms of collecting half salary and all that?
The issue of salary is not peculiar to our state; it is just being orchestrated as if it is, for whatever reasons. Let me put the records straight; we are not paying half salary as it is being peddled all over, we are paying full salaries for Levels 1 to 7 and we do not owe. We pay 75 per cent to those on Levels 8 to 10. It is only those on Levels 12 and above that are being paid 50 per cent and again, that applies to everybody, including political office-holders. I have been on 50 per cent since 2016 or so.
And to address your question, when it comes to who is the friend of the workers, I am one and they know it. I have always been by the side of workers in all negotiations and I have faithfully implemented all the agreements with workers. Negotiation or labour issue is actually not supposed to be under my purview as Chief of Staff but I just found myself doing that because we have been able to have a harmonious working relationship with workers. That is why it appears that I have been the one taking up the issue. The workers know me; I have been with them and they are more interested in my taking over as governor because of the fact that they know I have been the architect of most of the agreements. So, when it comes to implementation, they have confidence that whoever has been part of that agreement will faithfully want to implement it.
So, continuity will ensure that Osun workers get the arrears of their salaries and believe me, I had a meeting with a cross-section of the workers recently and the meeting was fruitful. They were happy with me and they look forward to my winning the governorship election on September 22. Yes, people that may not be informed can look at issues that way that continuity means workers or other sections of the state would continue to have the same treatment or the opposition parties can make continuity look like that way, but the continuity that I preach will make sure that workers will get their pay. If a new governor who has never been part of any agreement comes in, he will classify their arrears as bad debt and move on, so it pays them to ensure that I take over, because I am their friend and I am saying this with all sincerity.
You just said that if a new person comes up as governor, he might classify workers’ salary arrears as bad debt and one thing for which the Aregbesola government has been mostly blamed is the issue of huge debt profile, with different figures being bandied. As someone who has been an insider in the government, how bad is the Osun State government’s debt profile and how do you intend to work around this if elected as governor?
I think that’s a relative term but I won’t agree with that question how bad. Let me tell you, debt is necessary for infrastructure development; there is no way anywhere in the world that you can have enough to take care of your infrastructure needs. If we must do the Gbongan-Akoda Road that we are doing, we need to save enough money for like 20 years, and that is if ever we can save that. Again, because of the foreign content of most of the projects, looking at the volatility of the exchange rate, if you did not borrow to start those projects at the period we did, we probably might not be able to do them again, because the exchange rate has moved from N120, N150 to N500 and then N300. Look at that gap. What is not supposed to be is that you borrow for recurrent expenditure; you can borrow for capital projects. The United States of America is the most indebted nation in the world; it borrows every day. Lagos State is highly is indebted but you can see the level of infrastructure in the state.
So, Osun State’s debt is not bad. I also have to point out to you that the banks would not have borrowed us money if they see that we have gone beyond the limit in terms of borrowing. Most of the figures you see opposition parties peddle around are not correct; they are just propaganda. The Osun State government borrowed for capital projects and we are paying back; there is nothing to the loans. We are paying back. For instance, the Sukuk, that is the Islamic bond and the Manilla, the conventional bond, one will be expiring next year while the other will expire in 2020. We are exiting some of the loans gradually and that will free the cash flow for state to have sufficient resources to meet its obligations. So, borrowing is a necessity when it comes to infrastructure development, because you cannot save enough to build infrastructure.
Earlier, you stated that you would focus on health care delivery system, education, infrastructure development and all that, but how do you intend to achieve all these in view of the economic situation in the country?
Let me say that there are a lot of ways you can sustain your policies and programmes; one, when it comes to infrastructure, one will have opportunities for support from donor agencies if one has transparent and sustainable programmes. On infrastructure, one can get a lot of support from donor agencies such as the World Bank. Currently, we are doing RAMP in Osun; that is a World Bank project in which once you have your counterpart funding, they will give you twice the amount and if it is judiciously used, you can achieve infrastructure development.
Again, talking about the economy, our state is an agrarian state but we have actually not developed agriculture to a level that is profitable. For instance, I will be looking at creating a value chain; agriculture can be profitable. You ask farmer to cultivate cassava, for instance, create an opportunity for processing plants; let the cassava be converted to starch or ethanol and you will make more money, even in foreign exchange. These are some of the creative ways of ensuring that you stimulate the economy. Tourism is also there. We have a lot of tourist sites that are undeveloped, because one, the government does not have sufficient money to do so. But I will be looking at the Public-Private Partnership arrangement. I don’t believe government should be in business really; it should just create an enabling environment for business to thrive. And that is part of the opportunities of my experience in the private sector. Don’t forget that I was in the private sector before coming into public service. We can use investors to develop some of these tourism sites and create wealth for the people and through that; we can make some money through tax.
Another key area is mining; we have a lot of mineral resources in abundance in Osun State. Again, because of the capital outlay, we need investors. So, I will pursue aggressive drive for investments. In fact, my thinking is to use part of my 100 days in office to organise an economic summit where we will bring in experts to define in clear terms how Osun State economy should be supported.
Then, sustainable environment through physical and social infrastructure; I will be looking at urban renewal, for instance, lands and transportations. These are areas one can make money from. So, apart from growing our own IGR, which will be in the long term to ensure that we have sufficient funds to run some of these programmes; there is a lot of support from donor agencies in terms of grants and so on, which we can rely upon in the short term.
Are you comfortable with the spate of defections from the APC to other parties, don’t you see this as being capable of affecting your chances in the September 22 election?
Defection, I believe, is a normal process. It is like you are in an employment and you are tired and want to move; you are free to move. People defect for different reasons, but one thing they cannot take away from us is that the APC has performed very well in Osun State. If you are defecting because the party is not doing well, then you have a point. But if you are defecting because of your ambition, then nobody can take that away from you; it is okay. But as some people are leaving, many others are coming into the party. So, it is a question minus-plus and you will still get a balance.
By: Loye Amzat