AJIMOBI: WE MUST REVIVE ECONOMY TO TACKLE INSECURITY
Senator Abiola Ajimobi is the governor of Oyo State. The governor in this interview decries the level of infrastructural degradation he met on assumption of office and speaks on his plans for the state.
How has it been in the last one year?
The glory of my being the governor of Oyo State can only be given to the Almighty God who in His infinite mercies, decided that I would be sitting on this seat today. Closely following the Almighty are the good people of Oyo State who believe in me, and have been supportive of my administration in the last one year. I do tell people that the battle for the April 2011 elections in Oyo State was like that of the biblical David and Goliath. In terms of physical size, I was not in any way near the size of my co-contender. In terms of money, I was not anywhere near his accumulated war chest. But my most prized possession was the people of the state and the Almighty God who had promised to bring our government and party to rescue the people from their forced labour. Our state was bedevilled by crises of great proportion through a leadership that had taken flight. Infrastructure had broken down, people no longer believed in the ability of government to intervene dispassionately in their situation, there was an immeasurable slide in the accountable disposition that governments all over the world are known by, when we dwell on comparatives in Oyo State.
Our fear was further worsened when, as governor-elect, the then incumbent shut all doors against our transition committee from accessing the state of affairs of the state so that we could have a pre-government blueprint of our administration. We did not envisage the level of rot that confronted us when we assumed office. Virtually everything had broken down. The Government quarters, 240 in all had all been sold to cronies, except about 18. The proceeds from the sale of the quarters were hurriedly shared. The office where we were supposed to operate from had virtually collapsed. On the first day of my visit to the office, what we saw shocked us. The rug was threadbare, cobwebs hung on the book shelf and we saw snails and rats by the Secretary's office. These were clear signals to me and my team that we had a lot of work to do. And in all facets of administration of Oyo State, we were to confront that replica of rot. So, our first six months was spent facing the challenges of the degradation and trying to bring Oyo State from its ground zero level. When we started meeting investors and development partners, they expressed a pleasant shock that the state had the capability to turn 360 degrees in participation with the civilized society of the world by tapping from the resources of foreign organizations and investors. By the grace of God, when we finish our first tenure, we hope to have significantly altered global conception of Oyo state which used to be that of a state bedevilled by failed leadership.
What will you say, you have been able to achieve as governor in the last one year?
I will say my administration's greatest achievement has been making Oyo State peaceful again. We inherited the typecast of a state being perceived in all parts of the world as a place where unprovoked and unwarranted violence takes place, almost every other day. If it was not politicians shedding their factional blood today, it would be motor park miscreants fighting for legitimacy and spatial hegemony. When we came on board, we looked dispassionately at this crisis and concluded that the only missing gap was a dispassionate leadership. Once you demonstrate the will not to spare the rod; once you show to the whole world that you will not take sides and you possess the will to deal with malefactors, you will succeed in bringing peace to your people. That is essentially what we have done as an administration.
Also, we are partnering with the security agencies, more than before. We established a Joint Security Task Force called Operation Burst and have procured 88 Pick-up vans for them, aside other equipment we are providing. In concrete terms, we have also succeeded in changing the face of the state. In the area of road construction, our government has constructed and is still constructing a total of 199 roads at the moment. We are also re-constructing seven major bridges which collapsed because of decades of neglect in Oyo State. We are also constructing the Mokola fly-over, or if you like, the overhead bridge. In the same vein, we are at the maturation stage in beginning the construction of a 108-km circular road that will encircle the whole of Ibadan.
We have almost completed the process of beginning modern satellite towns in Elenusoso and Lagos/Ibadan Expressway area. This will open up our state capital and allow for a migration to the hinterlands so that development and aesthetics can once again come .to our state.
Also, in the area of administration of the state and particularly our workers, we are paying a minimum wage of N19,100 to the least paid civil servant in Oyo State; we have resolved the seven-month government-doctors logjam that we inherited from our predecessor and are paying a 140 percent increment of salaries of pensioners in the state. This is aside the payment of two-year accumulated pension that we inherited. We began a system of e-payment and biometrics to effectively tell us our staff strength and eliminate ghosts. Also, we have paid workers car loans to the total sum of N45 million and have standardized and harmonized government accounts from inherited 114 accounts to 24 in a way that eliminates fraud and makes government businesses neater.
In the area of economy, we met a state whose IGR was stagnant. There was a heavy haemorrhaging of the state finance into the purses of some government officials and civil servants. We have been brainstorming on how to improve our state economy and I can tell you that today, we have got a 50 percent increase in the state IGR. We have also signed a N1billion naira loan partnership with the Bank of Industry in a way that our people would be disbursed the sum of N1billion. This will improve the economy of the state and empower our people the more.
In the area of education, we are rehabilitating 235 blocks of classrooms in secondary and primary schools in Oyo State and are in a top gear in the establishment of a university with focus on technology in the state. This is not to talk of the reduction by half in fees payable by students of tertiary institutions in the state, as well as supplying science and Home Economics equipment to our secondary schools.
Are you finding it difficult to build on the template of your predecessor in office?
We had no template of good leadership to build upon. In many states like Lagos, the governors who came in May last year had a template of governmental performance. In Lagos, for instance, Governor Fashola had had Lagos development laid out for him by our leader, Ashiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. He didn't have to bother with the trivialities that engaged us for almost a year. So, it is in many of the states. Ours was uniquely and negatively peculiar.
People have criticized your bringing the opposition into your cabinet. I am not totalitarian in my view of government and governance. I believe that I don't have a greater share in this government than the man in Action Alliance party for instance. I am just fortunate to be administering the state at this particular time. So, why should I act like a totalitarian? Yes, they were in opposing parties but they are not in an opposing state! It is still the same Oyo. Immediately we came, I called all of them, to nominate people in government but I gave a caveat: it must be your best brains. My attitude is if I can make use of the best brains of Oyo State people and infuse them into my administration, who takes the ultimate glory? Is it not God, through me? So why should I not throw the door open to those who can help us develop our state via their deposit of human capital?
Ibadan is considered the filthiest state capital in the country. How are you addressing the problem?
This was one of the greatest challenges that we had to confront when we took over the reins of government. Ibadan had been classified as one of the filthiest cities in the whole world. This was not a renown that was enviable. Second, we demonstrated a zero tolerance for filth by going out ourselves as officials of government to participate in the collection and disposal of filth. On Thursdays of every week, aside the monthly environmental sanitation, we outlined this day as a day set aside for war against filth. We also established a waste management agency with a head who had done it in the same position in Lagos. The agency's unique method of clearing and disposing filth is to do same in the night.
We have found out that the choky nature of some of our houses and streets in Ibadan is responsible for the filth that ravages the land. In this vein, we have almost finished discussions on the development of satellite towns in Ibadan, the capital of the state.
What is your view on the security situation in the country, especially the Boko Haram menace?
I align myself with the recent comment of the Inspector General of Police when he paid a courtesy call on our state. We as government and administrators of this country must make sure that there is adequate provision of job to the teeming unemployed youths who roam the streets. I get really frightened at convocation ceremonies when we throw thousands of our children into unemployment market. That was the challenge we took up at inauguration. We decided to employ 20,000 of our youths. If the government provides a conducive environment for people to take care of their basic needs, we would have reduced the army of potential criminals and willing tools for barons of violence. As a nation, we have to do this and this is the baseline of our approach to addressing the security challenges in Oyo State. As for the challenge of Boko Haram, we have to collectively address the questions that the emergence and activities of the group have raised about our nation. My own conviction is the neglect of our social and economic management over the decades created this army of young people who are now willing or unconscious tools in the hands of religious or political extremists.