Oyo State Governor Seyi Makinde spoke with reporters in Ibadan, the state capital, on his programmes for the first 100 days, the state’s debt profile and the decision to set up an anti-graft agency. Excerpts:
You made history on Friday with the appointment of Mrs. Olubamiwo Adeosun as the first female Secretary to the State Government in Oyo State, but some people have been criticising that step, noting that you should have appointed a politician. What were the considerations that made you go for a technocrat?
Mrs. Adeosun, from her CV, you probably would have been able to see that she is eminently qualified to hold that position. Also, I made a promise to the people of Oyo State during electioneering that we would balance the positions in our administration along the lines of gender, religion and other considerations. We promised that we would not leave anyone behind. If you look at the four major posts in the executive branch, you have the Governor who is a Christian and a male, the Deputy Governor is a Muslim and a male, the Chief of Staff is a Muslim and a male, so if you look at that equation, what we were looking at in appointing the SSG, which is like third most important position in the executive arm, was gender balance. We want to ensure that we adhere to the Policy of Affirmative Action on the percentage of representation for women. So, we went for Mrs. Adeosun, who is a Christian. Out of those four positions, we have two Muslims and two Christians and almost all the zones were represented.
What happened that made it possible for you to pay salaries as and when due?
First, when you have worked and toiled for 30 days, you deserve your wages. Nobody is doing the workers any favour by paying their salaries, because they have worked and you need to pay them. When we came in, I was sworn in on the 29th of May and as far as I was concerned, the May salary was already past due as of that time. So, within 48 hours of my swearing-in, I signed off for the salaries to be paid. Remember that I begged the people to apply for this job; it was not like it was a job reserved for my family. I went round; I promised the people that we will not toy with the welfare of my constituency, which is that of the workers in Oyo State. And one of the things we have to be mindful of is that first, they must get their salaries as and when due. Second, they must have access to training and retraining opportunities. Also, when people have their promotions, the promotions must be backed up by appropriate letters and other things that will make the promotions meaningful. For me, I want to motivate the workers in Oyo State. Gone are the eras when the workers are made redundant and government will be bringing all sorts of consultants to do the jobs of the workers. What I am saying to them is that by demonstrating that the government will do its part, I want the workers to be motivated and be ready to play their own role to ensure that Oyo State is moving forward.
It may also interest you to note that we have done our planning and workers’ salary will always be paid on the 25th of every month.
Before you assumed office, there were claims about some funds being taken out of the government coffers illegally. When you took office, how did you meet the state’s treasury? Was it, indeed, depleted or there were still funds?
We did not meet the treasury as it should be but the people of Oyo State should not fret, because our government has decided to be forward-looking. We did not meet the state’s purse in good condition but our government has drawn a line between what has been done and what we want to do. We want to focus on what we can do to uplift the state, to make life better for the people.
Yesterday, we were looking at the books of the Ministry of Works. There was a road contract awarded and it came up to N2 billion per kilometre and I wondered how that could be. Even in the Niger Delta, which is a riverine area, they could not have constructed a kilometre of road for N2 billion. So, I asked how could they have constructed a road for N2 billion per kilometre and I was told that they said they were going to construct filling station, street lights and that it was 32 kilometres. They have paid some money and even two days to the end of the government, on 27 May, they still paid some money. That is the terrible situation we have found ourselves, but we were prepared, because we knew something like that would happen.
I want to assure with our people in Oyo State that the focal point of our government is how to expand the economy of the state so that there will be shared prosperity in the economy.
On the question about how much debt our government inherited, we are still looking at the books. But the one we have seen and confirmed, the debt owed by the past administration is about N150 billion. Once again, I will tell the people of Oyo State that if we change N150 billion to dollars, it will be about 500 million US Dollars. If we do what we are supposed to do in these four years and we expand the economy of Oyo State, the debt will not hurt us. But if we verify that some of the debts are questionable; for instance, if you float a bond, it is supposed to be tied to a particular project, so if we look at the bond they floated, was it used for the project it was meant for? We can do a value-for-money audit using a baseline of what happened at certain periods so that as we go forward, we would not also fall into the same ditch.
But if we calculate everything being owed as of now, it is going to about N150 billion. As we speak, the money that comes from Abuja is N4.5 billion and the workers’ salary is N5.4 billion. That means we need to take at least N1 billion to plug that wage bill and there are many things that we want to do. But where I am coming from as an entrepreneur, I started my business with N50,000 and so I am not afraid about whether we can surmount the challenges facing the state or not. But if we have the support of the citizenry and they know what we are doing and the direction we are heading, there is no doubt that we will succeed, because the Yoruba will say that aja to ba l’eni l’eyin a pa obo [A dog with the support of a hunter can kill a monkey].
A group, which identified itself as the Disengaged Staff of LAUTECH Teaching Hospital reportedly comprising 256 staff of LAUTECH, said that before they were disengaged in 2017, the state government owed them 24 months’ salaries.
I will tell them to exercise patience. The government that we are running will be one with a human face and we will be kind and considerate. But as we speak, the Ministries, Departments and Agencies are still bringing their books to us. These disengaged individuals are not the only ones facing that situation, even at the Secretariat some people disengaged. When I was being conducted round the Government House, I was shown the banquet hall, which the past government pulled down and I was told about how the person who wrote to oppose the demolition of the edifice was sacked. All these issues will be revisited and those who were disengaged unjustly will be restored to their duty posts. But the way the economy of the state is and the resources that are available, we have to take the issues one after the other.
For how long will the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) be banned or are you contemplating lifting that ban anytime soon?
We are in constant engagement with them. We are not out to punish anybody. We want people to live their lives as normal as possible and we do not want to tamper with anybody’s means of livelihood. However, we cannot accept a situation whereby just because of a union, the rest of the people will be living in palpable fear. I heard what happened on the day of my inauguration between the two sides of the union and I told them that it does not matter whether anyone supported or did not support me during the electioneering. I said elections were over and it is time for governance. I swore an oath to ensure the safety and security of our people.
So, as I said, we are in constant engagement with them and if they are ready to operate peacefully and they can demonstrate to us that there will be no more clashes, I will lift the ban immediately. That is the condition they must fulfil. We will never go back to a situation where people were killed at Iwo road [in the name of unionism]. Somebody said to me that in the last eight years of the last administration, security was one of the points that they scored really high on and that nobody got killed during that period and I said no, Beyioku was killed during that period. He was the deputy chairman of that union; I knew him when we were in ANPP. I don’t want a single soul to be lost under my watch and I will wield the big hammer if something untoward is about to happen. I am not going to wait until it happens. I need to also warn them that the Anti-Terrorism Act is still on in the state and I will put as many of them in jail if they are not ready to allow peace in Oyo State. It will not matter whether you were our supporter or not, it is the same standard for everyone.
Still on the NURTW issue, there is this suggestion that the Oyo State government could boost its Internally-Generated Revenue by centralising the operations of the union in a way that the state, the local government and the union will share proceeds on percentage basis. Does your government have any plan in this regard?
We do have plans to improve the IGR of Oyo State. However, we are not going to do it at the expense of the hardworking people of Oyo State. To go to the NURTW in particular, if we want to get any fee from their collections, we will need to provide motor parks that are standard and modern. As the Yoruba saying goes: Gba fun Raji n’ile ni gba fun Gbada l’oko, ara oko to ba fee je buredi, a fi isu ranse s’ile, I have directed that the lands allocated for motor parks should be inspected. The way motorists stand by the roads is dangerous. There are three major motor parks in Ibadan; they are the ones in Iwo Road, Challenge and Ojoo and I can assure the people that we will transform the parks. We will do it in a way that even if we say the union should share the collections, they will see that the government has done its part. There have to be toilets at the motor parks, there have to be cleaners, good lighting system and other amenities such that they will know that whatever government wants to make from the transport system will be ploughed back to improving the sector.
You recently said that you will establish a state anti-corruption agency. Why?
The EFCC is a federal agency and when I met them, I told them that the agency already has a lot of responsibilities. I’m concerned about the fact that the money of Oyo State is being embezzled and I felt that by setting up such agency, named Oyo State Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, we will be able to better monitor how our funds are spent. I can take a case to the EFCC in Abuja and they might have a lot of issues to address such that before it gets to Oyo State, those who embezzled might have escaped or left office. We don’t have control over the federal agency. We are talking about true federalism and the state government is not subordinate to the Federal Government, it is a coordinate government. With the agency, we will be able to address our own pertinent issues in our state. No one should be scared; anyone who has not embezzled public money should not be scared. We will not tolerate public money being in the pockets of private individuals.
You promised to commit more money to education how do you then plan to do that?
We are not the one that drafted the budget that we are currently operating; it is that of the immediate past government. N280 billion was approved as the 2018 budget and the expected revenue is N80billion, inclusive of Internally Generated Revenue and federal allocation. So we had a gap of N200 billion. I asked government workers where they expected us to get the money allotted to some projects from and they told me that was money on paper.
Then, I have asked the civil servants to work on the budget that we will operate from now till the end of the year. For the first time, we will reduce the budget. The budget performance for previous years is 38 to 40 per cent; I will run a budget with a performance that must be 65 to 70 per cent. In that way, we will embark on projects based on resources that are available. We will reduce the budget from N280 billion to about N150 billion for the year. People are saying that it is out of pride that we have such a huge budget; that we want to be behaving like some other states.
For example, people are told that a certain road project is included in the budget but there is no money for the project in the budget. When it is not done, it is included in subsequent budgets and runs into several budgets. I don’t want to operate a deceitful budget. We want to operate a government where the people can hold us accountable whenever we make a promise. Right now, the Ministry of Finance and that of Budget and Planning are in the same ministry. But, we will go to the House of Assembly to decouple that ministry. Budget and Planning should be alone and focus on planning.
Oyo State residents, especially those in Ibadan, will like to know the plan of your government on waste collection.
A dirty environment antagonises good health and people will have to spend a lot of money on their health. The people should dump their wastes at designated places. When we assumed government, we met the waste contractors but noticed that there was laxity. I had to call the Head of Service to question if the waste contractors planned to sabotage our government because they were appointed by the previous government. I do not believe in the fact that because we were not the ones who appointed the waste collectors, they should be sacked. If they abide by their terms of contract with government, and government plays its role, we have to ask them to give value. We set up a task force to engage them and that discussion is ongoing. However, we have said it in the media that the people should use waste collection bags and patronise the existing waste collectors. So, the status quo should remain while we still look at the terms of contract of the existing waste contractors. After examining the terms of contract, we will know the next step to take.
On the day of your inauguration, you scrapped the N3, 000 Education Development Levy but in some public primary schools, students are still being asked to pay money despite that order and the one on the N500. Doesn’t your free education policy apply to primary schools?
That is not possible. The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria stipulates that primary education up to JSS3 must be free and compulsory. The law also stipulates that any parent that doesn’t ensure that his ward/children goes to school should be sanctioned. So, no one is expected to collect fees from students.
The payment of primary school teachers is first line charge in the allocation going to the local government from the Federal Government. I will make public a telephone number for the people of the state to report such issues of noncompliance on the collection of fees to government. I will monitor to address complaints. Anyone collecting fees that should not be collected will be invited to give explanations about why they are collecting such fees.
Those children begging on the streets constitute a security threat and are tools in the hands of criminals. Is there anything being done by the state government to address this threat and take them off the streets?
I talked about a programme of the World Bank and the Federal Government is assisting us through a programme known as BESDA. The children roaming the streets should be in school and the programme is to attract them. To answer your question, it is not only about taking those children off the streets; rehabilitation entails thinking about their future and we have to give them hope. So, we have to take a whole gamut of steps to rehabilitate those children. The need to attract students to school is also one of the reasons behind our decision to stop the payment of N3, 000.
The opposition in the state is worried that you hardly stay a whole week in the state that you jet out often. Are those trips official?
They are official. What I can assure the people of the state is that if they look closely, they will know our movements. Last week, I visited the Executive Secretary of UBEC (Universal Basic Education Commission) because about N2.5billion meant for Oyo State was not released. The immediate past government seriously tried to get the money released but was not successful. Based on our conversation, the UBEC decided to release the money. So, I think it is better for me to go to Abuja to get more money for the state than to stay in the state. Those who talk about my movement out of Ibadan should calculate the number of days I spent in the state and see if I have not been able to meet up with 20 days that I should devote to work. I also work on Saturdays and Sundays when there are files to be attended to. This is because I have a contract with the people of the state to make the affairs of the state utmost on my mind.
Immediately you assumed office, you sacked local government chairmen. Do you also plan to appoint caretaker chairmen or would you conduct local government election?
We will conduct local government election within the first quarter of next year. We will not contravene laws in the election we plan to do. It’s the opposition that is scared about the conduct of election. The matter of sacking them is now before the court so I will not be able to say a lot about that. We are ready to comply with court judgment on the matter. The court asked them not to proceed with the election but they got another judgment to vacate that previous judgment. We have seen so many infractions and they know. But, I am also concerned about the fact that the constitution recognizes 33 local government areas; the issue of creating 35 local council development areas (LCDAs) is still in court. But despite the fact that the case was still in court, why did they proceed with election? You can create LCDAs for development to get to the grassroots but you have to abide by the constitution. You can hold election in 33 local government areas but can only appoint to the 35 LCDAs. I initially agreed with the concept of LCDA but we considered that that was what we met on ground and that it will bring government closer to the grassroots. But most LCDA chairmen do not go to office daily. They just wait for money to be disbursed and share it; only for them to return when another money is to be shared. You conducted an election for chairmen and councillors but you did not swear in councillors. After losing the governorship election, that is a year after conducting the local government election, then you swear in councillors and constitute ALGON. Who does that? But as I have said, we will abide by court judgment but continue with governance