How well are you combining all the various infrastructure development projects embarked upon by your administration with what is now known in the South west geo-political zone as politics of Stomach Infrastructure?
I will continue to maintain my position that it will be an insult on our people to reduce governance to the distribution of kerosene and rice. It is an insult that will undermine the memory of the great leaders that our state has produced. While I agree that governance is about the people but it cannot be reduced to that level.
The problem is that over the years, governments have failed and poverty has escalated. Successive governments have not applied any holistic approach to providing succour to the people. Certain solutions that are needed to address the issue of unemployment have been neglected or ignored. One of such solutions is provision of electricity. The issue of unemployment is widespread and that makes poverty to escalate in the land. The unemployed in Ogun State will be close to 500,000 because of the presence of many higher institutions in the state and that is very bad for us.
We have to go back to the basics and address those issues that brought us to this situation. We should start creating wealth for the people. It is not about giving them fish but teaching them how to fish and creating the enabling environment for them to be productive. The poverty level is too high and it won’t be tackled by distributing rice. I give rice too. Yes, I give rice to people during festive periods and I have been doing that long before I started playing partisan politics. It is not to be giving rice to secure votes during elections. That is bad. That is fraudulent. That is an insult to our people.
But the fact remains that the unemployment rate is too high. That is what we need to address as government. Unfortunately, many of these issues rest with the Federal Government.
When we came in, we said we wanted to employ 10,000 people for civil service jobs but close to 70,000 people applied. In fact, at a point we had to stop allowing people to apply because it was simply overwhelming. Recently, we announced that we would recruit 2,000 environmental marshals and over 50,000 people including doctorate degree holders applied. That is dangerous for us as a nation. We are giving too much stress to our youths. The government must put in place a holistic approach to addressing the issue of poverty.
What lessons did you learn from the Ekiti elections?
I disagree that the good people of Ekiti voted the way they did because some people gave them rice. The people of Ekiti are very educated. There must be some other things that happened that people are yet to know and appreciate. We have some lessons we have picked from Ekiti episode which we have reflected here.
What are you then doing to address the issue of poverty and unemployment?
In Ogun State, what I am doing is to provide the enabling environment through solid infrastructure for industrialists to come to the state. We are doing this by working on our financial base. I inherited an IGR of N730m in 2011 and with the help of God we are now on average of N5.2bn per month. We attained this level without inconveniencing our people. We have to think out of the box to generate money and with the aid of God, we have been successful so far. This is why we have been able to do so many things to improve the welfare of our people. We realise we need to attract investors to Ogun State. I am happy to say there are 58 new companies now in Ogun State and more are still coming. We go out of our way to invite the companies to come to Ogun State. Ogun State is now an industrial hub. We are the largest industrial base in Nigeria presently. Interestingly, as those companies come in, they employ our people and we try to reduce unemployment. Again, we have many youth empowerment programmes aimed at creating entrepreneurs out of our youths. Our Ministries of Commerce and Industry, Women Affairs and Social Development, Community Development and Co-operatives, Agriculture, Vocational Education Board as well as The Uplift Foundation run by the Wife of the Governor have many entrepreneurial development programmes aimed at making youths self employed and becoming employers of labour.
What is the contribution of the agriculture sector to the efforts to rebuild the economy of Ogun State?
Our agriculture policy is maturing now. I can say that we have some 3,000 youths who are in the agriculture sector. We have a partnership with the Bank of Industry, which is providing the finance. We have graduate agricultural scheme in all the three senatorial districts. We give you land and money and implements and you are encouraged to employ some people to assist you too. We have 16, 409.26 square kilometers of land, 80 percent of which is arable. So, we know that if we strategise properly, we can have comparative advantage in agricultural production.
Lagos even came to request for one thousand hectares of our land to cultivate rice in Eggua and we too have 10,000 hectares to cultivate rice in the same area. It is a healthy competition going on in Eggua now. Our people there are being employed and the local economy of that area is being positively affected. We also have cassava farm in Ibiade and we are about to start planting on a 20-hectare cashew farm in Afon. Our Green House technology farm in Kotopo is already producing pepper and tomato that are already being sold in the market. Our intervention in the areas of poultry, fishery and piggery are also yielding fruits.
We have rice mills ready and I must mention too that the Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina is assisting us too in all these measures.
Today in cassava production we are number one in Nigeria. Cassava is one reason why some companies are coming to Ogun State. Our goal is to feed Lagos, House Lagos and clothe Lagos.
We are working on housing too. Already, we have four housing estates that are about 80 percent completed. They include the Orange Valley, Plainfields, both in Oke Mosan in Abeokuta, AAK Degun MITROS Estate, Laderin and OPIC Estate, Agbara. There are two others in Makun and Isheri that are about to begin. In Nigeria, everybody struggles to buy land, build houses and get Certificate of Occupancy but do they do that in UK or USA? No, it is not like that. There are houses for whatever category of income one belongs to, once you are in that society. Our own situation is because government has failed in the area of housing and there cannot be a vacuum. People can’t stay under the sun; they must get land and build for themselves. Government seems to have surrendered. And it is a shame. People now build anything even without planning.
The on-going Sango-Ojodu Road is causing inconveniences to the residents. When do you hope to complete the construction?
We have to make the Sango-Ojodu-Abiodun road a six-lane road because we plan for a light rail system that will pass through that area. Initially it was to be a 4-lane road but we have to re-plan and re-design it. It was to cost N40bn then and now it is to cost N70bn. We do not have the money. So, we are constructing it in phases but we will construct it over a period of three and a half years. It is a huge investment but we will install toll gates on it to recoup the investment.
The demolition of structures for road construction work is a bold effort. How have you handled the fallout and payment of compensation?
There have been failure of governments over the years but the role of a governor is to be fair and just. In our urban renewal drive, we have reasons to demolish some structures to give way for the roads we are to build. In the first of such roads that we completed, the Ibara – Sokori-Totoro road, five structures that have to do with members of my family were affected. Three belonging to former President Olusegun Obasanjo were initially affected. When we moved to the fourth building owned by the former President, Baba called me to ask if I was planning to run him out of town and I said no we were trying to reorder things. But today Baba prays for me because we didn’t demolish the structures and leave the work undone. Several kilometres of road and bridges are being built across the state to raise the infrastructure profile of our state and attract investors.
When we started, a lot of people were unhappy with us calling us several names. Even some party people said it will sink the party. But today, they have seen the reason why those structures must give way to the roads. They have seen the work that is going on and people appreciate it.
We give compensation to home owners whose properties were affected irrespective of whether you have the necessary documents. This is Ogun State and we recognise that we cannot subject our people to the conditions attached to such exercise in other places. So, we have to pay compensation. What we do in some instances is to build completely new houses for some very old, very vulnerable people whose homes were demolished.
The abuse by some people over these tough decisions doesn’t have impact on me. I usually plead with our people that you cannot make an omelette without breaking the egg. I take inspiration from the fact that Pa Obafemi Awolowo was thoroughly abused when he commenced the construction of the 25-storey Cocoa House building in Ibadan. Women took to the streets to protest. Today, that building defines the landscape of the whole of Ibadan and the whole of Yorubaland. One should not be deterred by criticism if you are sure of what you are doing and you have your eyes on history.
There are accusations by the opposition that the cost of your road construction is too high and that you are borrowing heavily to fund the construction work…
All the roads we are constructing are of world standard and the cost is the lowest in Nigeria. I challenge anyone to investigate this claim and prove me wrong and see. We deliver high quality at low cost to the people of Ogun State. Our Ogun Standard roads come with six lanes minimum, there are eight to ten lanes boulevard. There are drains on both sides, walkways, median, street lights, green areas and bus stops. Those who cannot comprehend the financial management strategy that is helping us to handle all these completed and on-going gigantic projects are the ones shouting about phantom N300bn loans. Our debt profile hovers between N37bn and N40bn because we pay back regularly and I want to challenge those who cry about N300bn loan to provide the names of the banks where they have helped us to secure such loans.
Tell us more about your Home Ownership Charter Programme…
We put in place Home Owners Charter because we realised that a lot of people have built homes without relevant approval and papers. It wasn’t to demolish any structure. It is a scheme aimed at empowering our people, putting higher values on their property and helping to generate enumeration statistics.
In areas like Magboro, Aseese and many of our border areas that are unplanned in that axis, we appreciate that past governments have abdicated their responsibility and that is why people built in the manner they did. We plan to do something called ‘envelope development system’. That means development that will take the peculiarity of that particular area into cognisance and try to fashion out some order in the prevailing disorderliness.
There was a master plan for Ogun State. Even my predecessor reviewed it but didn’t use it. The largest limestone belt in West Africa is along the Sagamu-Papalanto belt. It is in the master plan and yet what do you have over the limestone deposit now? This housing estate, that housing estate. I cannot understand why people will see the right thing and decide to do the wrong thing.
But my own plan is to deliver quality houses for our people to the extent that becoming a house owner won’t be a problem. Some people told me that the houses in the estates we are building in Abeokuta would be taken over by Lagos people. I said it would never happen. Nobody will buy the houses and lock it up. It must be occupied. They will have to come and be living in them. But we have to be ready to change the way we live in the past.
As a result of her multi-border nature, Ogun State is prone to security challenge. What have you done to address the problem?
Only two states are investing in security more than Ogun State in Nigeria today. These are Lagos and Rivers States. We met 19 rickety Hilux vans provided for the use of the police when we came in 2011. Today, we have over 300 brand new Hilux vans equipped with communication facilities. We have 13 Armoured Personnel Carriers (APC) in place today. No state in Nigeria has the type of APC we have. It is a 2011 technology, the very latest technology from the USA.
Some people wrote a petition to EFCC saying that we have approval for eight APCs and ended up buying 13. They said we had the intention of stealing that was why we approved only eight at the State Executive Council in the first instance. I said this is ridiculous. It is when I collected money for 13 and bought eight that I think I have committed an offence. A local supplier brought eight APCs for us and I took the entire Executive Council to inspect them. Then, one police officer called our attention to the failings of the APCs that were brought to us. We quickly sent them back to the supplier and proceeded to import our own APCs from the USA.
We were advised that if we were buying 10, the manufacturers will reduce the price and so instead of the eight that we approved, the money was enough to buy 10. And due to the exigencies of the time when banks could not open in the whole of Ogun East Senatorial District, we had to fly the APCs into the country. Even at that, we were able to bring them into the country at a very low cost. We were initially about to charter a plane to fly seven of them simultaneously into the country immediately but someone advised me that it will be cheaper to bring them into the country in piecemeal. That advice again saved money for us to be able to buy more APCs. Happily, when I was asking for waiver from the President, I asked for 13 not eight. The cost of our own APCs compared to the one anyone has is far cheaper. I am not a thief. I have my family name to protect. We have 56 Divisional Police Officers. We fund the operations of those Hilux vehicles and those APCs.
We give allowances to policemen and soldiers in our security outfits.
When we came, banks were all closed but due to the measures we put in place, all banks are today working in Ogun State. Some people try to sabotage the APCs but we always get around it. They planned to mess us up but God is in control. My own goal is to provide security for the people of Ogun State. Before we came, nightlife was almost zero, now people can move around even at night and nightlife is back in the state. Properties of our people are now well secured. We have not got there yet but we are on the correct route and we are not stopping.
Why did your administration abandon the Cargo Airport Project?
When the project was conceptualised in 2004, the Expected Date of Delivery was to be December 6, 2006. People of Ogun State were happy that we are about to get to Eldorado. But by the time the former governor left office in 2011 nothing was done and billions of naira had been supposedly committed to the project. I want to revisit the project and continue with it but we can’t even see the plan they have for it. We can’t see anything on the ground and they even left debt on it. Ituah Ighodalo is one of those we are still owing some money over the project. Some people have even dragged us to court over the debt arising from the project. They obtained injunctions that nothing must be done until the case is dispensed with.
But the good news is we have a plan for a cargo airport in the state. In the 1940s, there was the Second World War and there was an airstrip in Alamala Army barracks which was used by our colonial masters. The place is already revived and fenced with some preliminary work already done by the Federal Government on it. My predecessor knew of this airstrip but looked the other way. The beauty is that the cargo airport will still go ahead. But you cannot say you are doing an airport when there is no road. The road that leads to the airport is one of the roads Papa Obafemi Awolowo constructed. It’s in very bad state. The Federal Government is actually working on one cargo airport in Wasinmi and they should have completed it really but I don’t know why they have not because money was voted for it yearly.
Why is it difficult to resolve the Olabisi Onabanjo University (OOU) crisis before you ordered the closure of the school?
In a more decent environment, my predecessor would not be in a state to be walking around freely, grandstanding and spreading false information to cover up the obvious lack of planning manifest in the administration he headed. In one fell swoop, he created four tertiary institutions and raised the number of tertiary institutions owned by Ogun State government to 10. Even Lagos with all the money, has just five. He then funded them for two months and stopped and then accumulated debts of unpaid salary and subventions. We came in and inherited all manners of debt. In Olabisi Onabanjo University alone, he left a debt of N1.8bn. For eight years, the OOU couldn’t hold any convocation because they couldn’t process results of students. We have to clear all the backlog of unpaid salary and allowances. We held convocation for over 40,000 graduates in one fell swoop.
Every government around us has three, four or five but Ogun State must fund all its 10 institutions. He himself funded the schools for just two months and stopped and allowed debts to pile up.
The students of OOU are being used and can sometimes be very mischievous. I know what I said during my campaigns in 2011 because I have all my campaigns tape recorded. When I was campaigning, I promised to reduce the tuition fee by 60 percent. The following day after I publicly made the promise, he reduced the tuition fee by 50 percent to take the wind off our sail. I then promised to reduce the tuition fee by 10 percent and I did that immediately I assumed office.
We give over N600m to each of the schools every month, multiply that by 12. That is N7.2bn. That is what we spend yearly on tertiary institutions alone. What is the subvention payable by Lagos every month? He really caused havoc in this state. He set up booby-traps all over the state. For instance, he increased the pension of the retired Permanent Secretaries in the state civil service from N40,000 to N400,000 after his party lost the election and refused to pay the retired Permanent Secretaries. I got to office and that was what I was paying. I have to be paying the N400,000. He was paying N40,000 and increased it to N400,000 and I have been paying that.
He stopped paying gratuities to retired workers since 2007. Recently I realised that we still have some people who haven’t collected gratuity despite the N26bn we have spent on that sector. So, we investigated the situation. We discovered that he stopped paying in December 2007. We were made to clear 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 arrears. It means that if he hadn’t owed those years, Ogun State Government won’t be owing any gratuity to its retires. It’s unfair that some people will work and not be paid their entitlement when they retire. We still have some N7bn to be up to date in gratuity payment but that is where we found ourselves. He left debt everywhere and I have been clearing debts all these years.
To return to the OOU issue, the government reduced tuition fees in all its tertiary institutions, even up to 61 percent in some cases, depending on which school they are studying. Students from nine institutions came and thanked me, but their colleagues in OOU said they want further reductions and that the new school fees regime must commence immediately. Against all advice from the security agents, I went to address them. I saw some of them in hood like those SSS operatives used during the recent Osun State election.
I wonder why a student will be in hood. When it became obvious that all our explanations and efforts to make the students see reason fell on deaf ears and that they are bent on fomenting crisis like they did on August 15 when they destroyed property and attacked innocent people in Abeokuta, we ordered the closure of the university to maintain peace and order.
There is the accusation that the party members who worked for your election are not being taken care of?
I don’t really know the genesis of this claim but I believe some people see us as miracle workers. In their minds ‘They say there is no money and everything is going on smoothly. Roads are being constructed and bridges are being constructed’. They now say ‘the money is there, bring it’. Well, the money is not there to be shared. The money is there to the extent that those for capital projects will go for capital projects, those for recurrent will go for recurrent. We are struggling to cope because the allocations from Abuja keep declining. I don’t know what people are thinking really.
What is the relationship between you and Chief Olusegun Osoba like?
Chief Osoba is my leader and whatever happens, he remains my leader. There is no contest about that. I do not want to say more than that.
Why is it difficult for you to carry him along?
I don’t know what you mean by carrying him along. The ACN executive in the state in 2011 had 52 members. Today, 47 of them are with us in APC. So if I do not carry people along, how will they be with me? These are people who have been with Chief Osoba since he joined politics in the late 80s. So, why is the allegation of not carrying people along?
The Osoba people dominate the current APC executive in Ogun State. They constitute 71 percent of our executive committee. I will appeal to you journalists to assist in preaching the gospel that one percent of something is better than 100 percent of nothing. It is in the overall interest of all of us to continue to work together as a team. Our tendency is the only one that can bring development to our state and country. We should not allow any reverse to the on- going development in our state. I am a peace lover and will continue to reach out to all those who feel aggrieved and all the good people of Ogun State. Indeed, it is a good credit for Chief Osoba to continue to be in a position to say that it was while our government is in power that we recorded these so many feats we are seeing in Ogun State.
Are you not afraid that these crises could derail your re-election?
Our re-election will be achieved, by God’s grace and with the support of the people. Go and write it down. But I must say it is in the interest of everybody that we are united. So I will want to appeal again that we should come together to make history for our state.
I will relentlessly push for us to have a united, stronger and focused APC in Ogun State. It must be stated clearly, at this point, that I am not in competition with Chief Osoba.