Governor Rauf Aregbesola of the State of Osun recently clocked three years in the saddle of governance of the state. In this interview, the governor speaks on how far he has been able to fulfill the pact he made with his people. He also clarifies the issues surrounding the new education reform of his administration.
Your Excellency, three years down the line, what has been your experience so far? You will recall that the people of Osun State wanted a change before you came in as their governor. How would you describe your three years in the saddle and are there memorable events you will like to recall?
As to my own evaluation of the three years we have spent so far, it is a rollercoaster… exciting and stimulating and that is why I used the word rollercoaster. When you are on a rollercoaster, no matter how efficient you are, sometimes you feel the world is upside down, and there are moments when your faith that nothing will happen to you is the only thing that keeps you going. I remember I also used the word excitement; the excitement our presence usually generates among the people shows their hope in our ability to deliver and one could say without any iota of doubt that we have impacted on majority of the people.
We have affected in a positive way all households through our approach to governance. Our transitional approach is that human beings are taken as the central figure of all our activities. It is this approach to governance that makes it almost impossible for any Osun resident not to have benefitted directly from our administration. I want to give a quick run-down of what we are talking about in the human development programme of our administration.
There is what we call human angle or social impact in which so far, we engaged 40,000 youths in community social public works, and let me tell you that it is the first of its kind in any part of Africa, south of the Sahara. We don’t mind what some people may say about it; the truth is that our youth empowerment programme is self-encompassing.
But some people are saying that the programme is designed to assist you to realise your ambition in 2014?
I will come back to that; let’s quickly do the run-down. From there we moved to ethical revolution. We rebranded the state. It happened just three months after our inauguration. We created an image for the state, from just an ordinary state in Nigeria, a state that by name, by insignia is unique. We branded it the State of Osun, Ipinle Omoluabi, meaning ‘The State of Dignified and Upright People’. And not that alone; we created an anthem, a flag, and a crest. We gave the state a renewal that compelled attention. We did not stop there. To achieve the best for our children, we assembled eggheads to critically look at all facets of education. These erudite scholars came up with a policy that will make our state the best in basic education. It is the recommendations of the summit that are being implemented to the letter.
Part of it is free feeding in which we feed all pupils in primaries one to four, not just with any meal, but we give midday meals that include egg consumption, beef consumption, fish consumption, chicken consumption, with daily supply of the basic carbohydrate foods that the children need. Among the new education reform is the provision of free school uniforms for about 350,000 students. It is worthy of note that the school meal programme basically increased pupils’ enrollment at a very high rate. We met 180,000 pupils and they are now 350,000 and we provided all with free uniforms without discrimination; it greatly reduced absenteeism.
We are renewing our state through our urban renewal programme. We are building roads, intra-city roads and rural access roads. Our security status has changed because we introduced armoured personnel carriers. We have them in adequate number; we are still working on getting more. Our security agencies now have adequate mobility facilities. We have functional, effective and efficient ambulance services all over the state. On welfare package, we support farmers as it had never been done before. We gave them loans; we gave them improved seedlings, and other agro-chemical needs such as fertilizers were provided. We identified vulnerable elderly people and support them monthly with N10,000. These are some of what can easily be recalled, which show that we have touched the lives of the people.
Also, about healthy living, we introduced youths’ calisthenics, which teach our young ones to work in collaboration. We pay the WAEC fees of our students. These are few of the programmes that show our commitment to the lot of our people. I cannot imagine any household in Osun that can deny the impact of our administration.
Your Excellency, what has been the response to Opon Imo being an innovation that I learnt some states are interested in emulating? What is the feedback so far?
For your information, I have given most of the governors a copy of the device since not all of them attend the NGF. Of course, all the governors that come to the meetings of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum now have a copy of Opon Imo. Anyone of them that wants Opon Imo for their students may, therefore, request and they will get them. The feedback is sensational of course; everybody knows that Opon Imo is a platform for the democratisation of knowledge. It weighs 1.1kg and it contains all textbooks that you need in the school.
It has 10 years questions and answers from JAMB, NECO and WAEC, and it contains tutorials where on your own, you can assess yourself and follow up what you have been taught in school. It is an amazing tool that transforms education to a game. Because of its light weight, you can lift it to anywhere and study anywhere. It takes the classroom to the student; Opon Imo takes the classroom to the students wherever they are; that is the most attractive quality of the device. Though a teacher is still required to teach, but whatever it is, you have everything a teacher will teach and much more in your hand always. The response has been sensational.
Sir, what are the challenges in the distribution of this device to the students or have you succeeded in distributing it to all of them?
There are 150,000 students in high schools. The device is meant for high schools. We have procured as at today about 25,000, which have been distributed this year. The project office of the scheme has sent some people to China to complete the importation of another set of 30,000 that will be given to students in the SSCE classes. We have reformed our education system. We now run the American system of elementary school which is Grade 1 – 4, middle school which is Grade 5 – 9 and high school which is Grade 10 – 12. It’s just a mere change of name. We are committed to providing physical infrastructure that would enhance learning in a conducive and attractive environment on age-grade basis.
How far has your government been able to handle differences in opinion on school merger and re-classification exercise? We read in the dailies about the issue of one Principal that was beaten up in Ejigbo.
The school reform has gone down well with our people and we received their cooperation, contrary to the fear being expressed as the fallout of our well-structured programme by a few locals.
If you follow well the sensational report of friction, you will want to ask yourself if we have only Baptist denomination in Osun. Not even all Baptist schools were affected. In how many schools were the protests recorded? Just three Baptist Schools namely: Baptist College, Iwo, Baptist High School, Ede, and Baptist High School, Osogbo. Now let me bring you down memory lane. You know that in the Western Region, there was no town without at least five secondary schools; some had as many as 10. Since Yoruba land is highly urbanised, there was, therefore, no town in Osun with less than 20 schools with five of them being secondary schools. What that means is that we can multiply that by 20 and you have 100.
The schools are more than 100 but for the sake of clear evidence of the very limited and inconsequential protest, let us assume the figure. If anybody, therefore, says three out of 100 schools are a key issue to the act, then I wonder. There is no way you can have such programme and not have slight dislocation that would warrant some agitations. The number I used is just for the purpose of my thought. In reality, there are over 3,000 schools when you bring in elementary, middle and high schools; there cannot be less than 3,000 schools in the state. Let me say 1,000; so if there are about 1,000 schools, and there are pockets of protests in three, is it not disgusting that anybody would refer to protests in three schools as significant where 1,000 schools are involved? And that tells you the joke of the sponsored report; but we are moving on. It is worthy of note that all the schools involved are public schools.
They have been public schools since 1975; they are not just public schools now; they have been so categorised without any whimper or counter claim since 1975 when government took them all over. Where then was the force as claimed? Why the cry about Christian/Muslim school? I don’t think it is even good for us to go into that. If not for diabolical reasons, since when have Yorubas been so polarised on religious basis? We should ask ourselves this basic important question that is fundamental to our own race. Yorubas have been liberal on all issues, and most importantly on religion. There is no home in Yoruba land that does not have a fair representation of the three major religions, Christianity, Islam and traditional religion; and I challenge anybody to claim otherwise. If Yorubas have been living together like this, where then is the basis for this allegation that we mixed Christians with Muslims? Christians, Muslims, and traditional religion adherents have been permanently connected in Yoruba land; I don’t know of any other tribe, but in Yoruba land, all religions are in permanent interaction.
Where, therefore, is the logic and truth in the allegation that one group of students is being mixed with the other? It is the imagination of some people who think such lies can destabilise the state’s vision. The Yoruba, in their emotional respect for themselves, refused to change the name of the schools after the takeover of the schools until today; and that is why all the schools are still bearing their names. The idea must not be misconstrued to mean ownership. I want people to independently go and take the demography of the schools before our reform; they will be shocked by their findings.
Considering the meagre resources of the state, how do you source funds to implement your numerous projects and programmes?
You admit that we are improving infrastructure; you admit that we are transforming the state; you admit that the state is a huge construction site; your concern is the source of the funds for all of these considering the meagre allocation that we receive in the state; but there is this adage that says when the going gets tough, the tough keeps going. We didn’t come here without adequate preparation. We were surely aware of the challenges we shall face. Our trust for the state is encapsulated in a booklet entitled ‘My pact with the people of Osun’. We had a retreat that lasted for five days in 2005 where we developed that six-point integral action plan: banish poverty, banish hunger, banish unemployment, promote functional education, promote healthy living and restore communal peace.
Already, I have communal peace due to the fact that I had the best tutelage under the most resourceful finance manager in Nigeria, Asiwaju Bola Hammed Tinubu. After eight years of tutelage, Asiwaju Hammed Tinubu to me is the most versatile public finance manager I know. Under him, I acquired the capacity to stretch every kobo in the public treasury to the farthest limit in public service. What you see there is prudent management of the limited resources of the state for the highest number of people in the society.
Yes, we take loans, but no bank can give you a loan if you don’t have an account with them. There is no metaphysics you can use; we can’t say because metaphysics is efficacious and think we can use it to manipulate banks to give out loans. There are already established vessels through which you can obtain loans from the banks. Either fixed or current account, you must have a cheque with which to draw your money. The transaction in the bank does not start and end with a person. I need to let you know that a financial institution is insulated from sharp or any magical manipulation; so the way of engagement there does not permit anybody to take money beyond his capacity.
So, whenever I read all those talks about us owing huge sums of money, I ask myself, ‘Is it ignorance?’ for I have the feeling that for you to say you want to be a governor, there is a minimum of financial management that you should have. It should be clear to you that no financial institution will lend you money beyond your capacity. Whenever I read them, I ask myself, ‘what bank can part with what they are claiming we owe?’ But to answer your question, I want to say emphatically that we are prudent, very innovative and committed to delivering the dividends of democracy to our people.
What are you doing about IGR?
We have improved the internally generated revenue of the state from the leftist level of N300million a month to N1.2billion per month. It is not easy; yes you are right by your statement that allocation is dwindling; yet Osun is moving. After all, just last Thursday, I announced a 100% increase in the 13th month salary we have been paying workers in our service.