Osun State Commissioner for Finance, Dr. Wale Samuel Bolorunduro was recently a guest of the Correspondent Chapel of the Oyo State chapter of Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ). After delivering his routine lecture on “Improving Public Finance for Better Governance: The Example of State of Osun”, a select group of journalists took him on, on a number of issues like education policy which has made Osun a controversial state. He defended Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola’s policy on education. Excerpts:
What informed the intervention of your state government on Gbongan-Osogbo Road which is believed to be a federal road?
Gbongan-Osogbo road is the gateway to the state; it is a federal road that is supposed to have the right of way on both sides. We know that the impact on both sides of the existing structure will be minimal. Despite the fact that it is a federal road, the state government came in to prevent carnage being caused by trucks. All land owners there would be adequately compensated by the government. The compensation is not going to be much since it is a federal road that sufficiently have right of ways and necessary things on both sides.
Where would the funds to build the bridge come from?
The bridge is part of the total cost of N29 billion. We have heard the opposition asking what the money would do. The truth is that we announced it ourselves. The money we are going to use to mobilize the contractor will come from conventional source. You must invest in infrastructure before you can expect economic growth; we believe there will be development
when there are jobs and economy generally improves. With good roads, you can afford to go on holidays; with good roads, you can go to Erin Oke Resort and other parts. That is why we see the need for development. Government needs infrastructure to bring investors to the state. Unfortunately, money is not available now. Money comes in trickle and because government is continuum, we can aggregate those revenues towards public finance. It is possible to wait but contractors want to do it on time in order to beat inflation. If you wait for
five years, the road expected to cost N2 billion might go up to N10 billion because what goes in to infrastructure are composite in nature. It is not even inflation on one item alone – price of cement can go up by 20 percent, iron rod can go up by 28 percent, the general inflation can be 15 percent itself. In order to avoid that, you need to work prudently and put it in
physical infrastructure to real investment. We have seen a lot of economic activities but the problem is how much can you execute due to paucity of funds. This phenomenon also happens in the private sector as well.
Can you consider borrowing to execute projects?
When government borrows for recurrent, that will cause problem. Take for example, in planning to create a commercial venture through urban renewal programme. You employ people, they pay their PAYE tax to government and there would be advertorial in spaces created. We tried to explain this but the opposition said we wanted to convert Osun state to commercial activities for their people. Today however, eggs are available in Osun unlike in the past when you have to travel to Ibadan for it. That means Osun economy is improving.
Why did your administration suddenly impose a single uniform policy on secondary school students?
Economy affects a lot of things. When we discovered that many students couldn’t go to school despite efforts to persuade them, we knew something else was behind it. You must have heard of our higher enrolment. Opon Imo and uniform are like legacies which the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo gave to people then. My uncle once told me that the day he got his
slate, he was like a king in the village. That everybody knew salvation has come to his household. So uniform was like salvation that made Osun State have a higher enrolment figure. I went to a public school, but there was no difference between me and those who went to Federal Government Colleges.
We discovered that the quality of education was not high enough. Pupils stayed back home accusing their parents of not providing money for uniform – “Baami ati Mero mi o fun mi lowo aso school” (my parents did not give me money for school uniform). You see many of them in tattered clothes that could easily pass for rags. Now that we give uniform and free lunch, we
see nine year old pupils in schools. When we wanted to do the uniform, we thought of 750,000 pieces but if we should do the different colours as that of each school is, it would cost more. So we went for mass production which was cheaper. We have told them to pick their badges and berets to separate one school from the other. Government did not pay for their badges and berets.
This administration in which you are serving has also demolished schools and houses without compensating their owners. Is that not going to count against this government?
We have carefully and convincingly spoken on this. We took members of the state Correspondents Chapel to all those schools, schools buildings that were dilapidated and were death traps to innocent students. We pray a lot in Osun and God answers our prayers. That was why we acted before those buildings would cave in and kill our children. The structure we
removed were those that could kill. We have the responsibility to protect the children. If we have had responsible governments in the past, this issue would not have come up at all. So there was no demolition, we only removed the school buildings that were accidents waiting to happen.
What about the alleged indiscriminate merging of schools which is causing ripples?
You should remember how the federal government woke up and pronounced the merging of banks. If there is anything about the marriage of close bed fellows, it could happen. Government decided to realign its resources in order to provide quality education. We vilify people doing good things and spare those doing nothing in this country. The economy
dictates our decision. We have schools that have 30 students and 20 teachers while there are those with 100 students and 15 teachers. There is a school with 300 students and 5 teachers. This shows the need that if we should do something meaningful, we must pull our resources together and do a wise thing. That was the basis of the reclassification of schools. The situation of things we met on ground was very parlous and we resolved to positively change the trend.
Taking you back to compensation, how much have you paid to victims of demolition?
We have released money as compensation. It would cost us N750 million. The shop owners have been adequately compensated. We are doing it in phases.
What makes this administration unique in the history of this state?
What actually shapes our governance is the popular six-point integral action plan of our amiable and highly focused governor, which is well anchored on his political ideology of socialism. They are banishment of poverty, hunger, unemployment, restoration of healthy living, promotion of functional education and enhancement of commercial peace and progress.