Osun State Commissioner for Commerce, Co-operatives and Empowerment, Ismaila Jayeoba-Alagbada spoke to Seun Akioye on the plans of the government to stimulate commerce by moving goods from Osun to Lagos free of charge
You are the Commissioner for Commerce, Industry, Co-operative and Empowerment, that is a lot of sectors put together, how do you manage to oversee all
If you look at the four departments, they are into one because what they want to achieve is to empower our people, industry will employ people, they will earn income and they will be empowered, when you produce, those people that will sell those goods in the market are empowered. When you look at the co-operatives sector, by the time they gather and pull their resources together, they will be able to get more rather than as individuals. They will form a small scale industry, so indirectly they have been empowered and the cardinal aim of this Ministry is to create jobs.
So how much of that has been created?
When you look at commerce, it is germane in any economy. You know this state used to be the second commercial centre after Lagos in the 1960s. That is why you see the likes of Leventis, PZ here. They were here because Osogbo is a major station of Nigeria Railway Corporation so moving their products from Lagos was very easy. People from neighbouring states just come to Osogbo to purchase their goods from all these multinationals. But in the 1980s all these disappeared, our railway system was not working; the infrastructural level at the state was zero, nothing to attract investors. Commercial activities were at zero level, they used to call this state the civil servants’ state.
Now, how do you want to attract people to come and trade here? How do you bring people here? Commerce is all about people. Look at Dubai, what do they have there? Because of the infrastructure in Dubai, people are attracted to that country and it is the same thing Ogbeni is doing in the state of Osun. Shortly after Ogbeni assumed office, he began moving passengers from Lagos to Osogbo during the festive periods. People have lost confidence in the railway system. Soon Ogbeni is going is to start moving goods from Osogbo to Lagos and from Lagos to Osogbo, so that the people can sell at wholesale price and earn their money so they can be encouraged to go back and farm.
Are you saying the ultimate goal of the governor in providing free rail transport is actually commercial?
How is that possible?
If we see people today with their farm produce, we are ready to transport it to Lagos and we will do it free of charge. We have been doing the publicity but the people don’t have enough to move by rail. Ogbeni is ready; people should be encouraged to go back to the farm because this is more or less an agrarian state. But we have not seen any willing farmer.
Maybe if the farmers are empowered enough to produce larger quantity of farm produce
They have been empowered. From my ministry alone, we have spent almost N800 million to empower co-operative farmers in the state. This is the first time that the money will actually go to the farmers at co-operative level and we have seen the result. This is why when other states are complaining about food shortage, in Osun there is no food shortage. This would be the first time farmers will be encouraged to go back to the farm. Now, I must confess to you, for those farmers producing cocoyam, we have set up an off-taker that will buy directly from the farmer and pay them in cash so the farmers can go back to the farms. We have empowered 332 youths to do this, and we have given them money.
So, where will the off-takers sell the cocoyam, locally or in other states?
What we are interested in is the turnover, our intention is to feed our children with cocoyam so these off-takers will just buy from the farmers and sell to the food vendors. So, the farmers will have the opportunity of having their cash in bulk and be encouraged to go back to farm. The same is for those who are producing maize. The question of where to sell cannot arise every effort is to stimulate commerce.
There is the concept of life academy, what is it all about?
It is a place where people who want to take up skills can go. You know we have massive youth unemployment in the country and we don’t have qualified people to do these artisans work. Ogbeni is setting up an academy where all these skills will be available, it is a place where a retired permanent secretary can come and take up a skill because when you graduate and set up business, you will not be alone, you will take some people out of the employment market.
In fact by the time this academy comes up, it is going to be like an industrial revolution, and anytime from now it will be commissioned.
Let us go back to the train ride, how many people have you been able to ferry since the start of the project?
From December 2011, we have ferried 50,000 passengers
What is the idea behind it?
During these festivals, there used to be traffic congestion on the road and people spend days on the road,Ogbeni said this must be reduced drastically. When you look at our integral action plan, you will see majority of our people have lost contact with their home. Anytime they want to come home, they will discover that it is not feasible because of the cost. The governor said he must move his people and I must confess since December 2011, the accident on Lagos –Ibadan Expressway has gone down, we discovered that many people who have not visited their homes in the last ten years are coming home now and they are happy with the development that is going on in the state.
Some people did not believe that concept can happen and continue. Many people have lost confidence in the railway system but that confidence has been restored. When Ogbeni said people should move their goods to Lagos, people were skeptical but when they saw that the train could move people, they changed their minds. So, the confidence is back, the concept is there now, the trains are back, in a day three trains will move. If we are able to rebuild our railway, it will reduce the strain on our roads and make them more durable. That is what they do in developed economies.
Let me also say that those who come home during the festive periods have increased the commercial activities in the state. When they come, they must spend money, instead of buying their rams in Lagos, they buy in Osun. The pure water and drink sellers also benefit because of the large number of people coming in. All that we are doing is to stimulate commerce, look at the cargo airport that we are building, it is going to be the best in the country because it will have a 3.5 kilometer runway, and this will decongest Lagos, and imagine what would happen when people start to land their cargo here in Osun. The commercial activities in the state are on the increase, we have rebuilt the railway station to be the best in the country, it is the best in the country now.
Moving people from Lagos here must have cost a lot of money, so how much does it cost the state each year transporting the people?
When you look at the cost, it hasn’t been much, even with the publicity. If you look at the initial cost you will not get to where you are going. But I must tell you reasonably it is not much. It is worth it.
How many times does the train move?
We don’t have fixed times it depends on the number of passengers waiting. It can be two times or more.
Now looking at all these laudable projects, where do you see Osun State when all these are done?
By the special Grace of God, by the time they are actualised, Osun State will be the next state after Lagos. I know you will be shocked but look at it this way, we are bounded by six states, Abuja, Oyo, Kogi, Ekiti, Kwara, Ondo. So we are in the centre of activities, Ogbeni’s plan is to make this place a hub of all activities, by that time Osogbo will be the place, everyone would come to.