NO APOLOGY FOR NOT CHOSING MY COMMISSIONERS YET -OSUN GOV. AREGBESOLA
Why have you not chosen your commissioners many months after you assumed office?
Though we have not chosen our commissioners, but I don't think people are in doubt about our policy thrust. Also, we have been emphasising this in the media. What we have not done is choosing our commissioners and we have no apology for that. There is no law that stipulates that you should choose your commissioners within a particular time. It is a function of how you assess the administration. I am taking my time.
The calibre and the quality of the people that you work with are quite important and fundamental to the success and achievement of that administration. I want to ensure that I have the best people in my cabinet. So, I am shopping for the best to assist me in the onerous assignment I have taken upon me. What is important, and 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.
Recently, there was this news that the House of Assembly with the 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, (about) their plot to undermine my administration. That does not mean 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 majorly composed of the opponents of my party.
But nevertheless, they have been cooperative. I must say this. As for the Speaker, Hon. Adejare Bello, he is mature. He understands the weight of the responsibility of that office. He (has) said it that he appreciates the calling of his office which does not permit him to be aligning with me. He said that there is a distinction between Adejare Bello, a PDP member and Adejare Bello, a representative of the people elected on the platform of PDP, and through which he emerged as the Speaker of the House of Assembly. I want to state without any ambiguity that he has displayed maturity and his sense of responsibility and caution of what is required of him by law and tradition as a Speaker and Head of an arm of government.
I have no problem with the House.
What idea do you have to improve the welfare of the people of Osun State?
We believe that ecological and 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 with between 500 years to 1000 years history. No state in Nigeria has as many ancient towns with between 500 years and 1,000 years of history that we have. 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 fund to implement your programmes?
Without revenue, nothing can be achieved. As a matter of fact, any entity that is dependent on another is defective. Any entity that is not self- sufficient, self-sustaining is a defective entity that will not last. I call that society that is dependent on allocation from another body as a possession, it is not free to exist. It is a possession of the entity supporting it or giving it lifeline. So, it is not in anyway free to be. 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.
What we are working on now is to reform the collection of revenue. If there is wastage at the point of collection you won't be sure of what you are collecting, and if you are not sure of what you are collecting, why are you shouting that you are not collecting enough?
We want to reform our internally generated revenue system to eliminate wastages totally. I think that will shore up our revenue base. But beyond that, we will explore some other avenues that are not being explored now. Why is Osun poor? The state is poor because the former government here did not care about the people. Revenue and the economy are linked. If you are operating a weak economy, your citizens will be weak and consequently they would be a burden.
They 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 co-operative movements 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.
During the campaign, we promised the people some strange things, very strange because they are very simple in practice that people will wonder why wasn't it being done by anybody. They are phenomenal in reality. What it means, we want to create a mid region market.
Again, I'd like to state without equivocation that this is not original as well. In the organisation of towns, Osogbo was next to Ibadan and Lagos in the 60s in terms of commercial activities. Immediately, the 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 goods, finished goods of daily needs and common usage to Osogbo on weekly basis by train to the warehouse which we are going to build, but they will manage it themselves. If goods are sold in Osogbo at the prices they are sold in Lagos, people in the mid region here will not be going to Lagos, they will be buying in Osogbo and return to their bases to sell.
And I want to believe that will energise and create wealth, it will increase the 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 back to Lagos which will be sold at farm gate prices and with these dynamics and mix. I believe that there would be wealth, and with prosperity, revenue will easily be taken and the government will be better for it.
What is your target in terms of revenue?
I am looking at hitting a billion mark before the end of the year.
Yes, N1billion revenue monthly.
But the railways system you planned to use in the execution of these projects stopped functioning a long time ago. How do you intend to do this?
There has not been sufficient commitment by all of us to expose the chicanery that has become the order of the day there. How do I mean? In 2005, I wanted to flag off my campaign, the powers that be then threatened lightening and brimstone should we come. The roads were sealed and the Press was agog with suspense and how we will make it because we made it clear that we will be there. And we got there. How did we do it? Through the rail system.
We had used the train that was then said not to be usable. 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 with water. We took off at 12 midnight at Ikeja station and got there 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 Nigerian Railways system. So, why can't I get that arrangement with the NRC to be going there on weekly basis.
As I told you before this approach is so simple that everybody will be asking why wasn't anybody using this system that looks so simple before? It is because I am rooted with the people. I know what their problems are. I am a product of that problem. It is very easy and simple for me to solve those problems. All my programmes, policies or my ideas about governance are like that. I have the belief that whatever is complex is not the solution to our problem.
If you can demystify governance, solution to problems are always simple. I haven't seen any economist that has denounced or rejected any economic solution I have enunciated. Is it that a mid region market will not work? It will be difficult for anyone to have (buy) goods here at Oke Arin (in Lagos) market rate or Balogun market rate and still decide to go to Oke Arin if he comes from Lokoja, Benin or Akure or Ilorin.
I do not see problem here. I just believe that with the political will and the support of people like you, we will get there. That may not be the only thing. But I know that strengthening the economy is the solution to improving the revenue base of states.
You alleged that fund was misapplied and the state borrowed money. What is the debt profile of the state?
Some money was borrowed, but I don't believe the reason the money was sourced was judicious. I don't see what purpose stadium will serve when there was not any international competition, no cultural or religious programme, no sports programme 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 that money for developmental projects or critical infrastructure that will bring development to energise the economy. Not these white elephant projects that would rather drain and worsen the economic condition of the state.
What is the debt profile?
It is in the open. The newspapers published it N18.5billion was borrowed and within five months N10billion was spent.
During your electioneering tempers rose and there were ill-feelings. How far have you gone to reconcile people 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 boards. All those who are on the boards are there. If you remember also, I did not dissolve any local government administration until the Supreme Court eventually dissolved them because of the illegalities of their assumption of that office. And even after that I had to invite all the affected chairmen.
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 not 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.