Osun State Commissioner for Tourism, Sunday Akere, in this interview with Olajide Fabamise opines that the state government is ready to improve its economy by developing maximally resources in 23 identified tourism centres in the state and generating revenue from them. He spoke about the wonder of creating job for 20,000 youths in a day through Osun Youths Empowerment Scheme (OYES) and how the achievement has received the attention of the Federal Government and international bodies such as the World Bank and UNESCO. Excerpts:
When the electoral campaigns were on, there were insinuations in some quarters that developments in the state were concentrated in Osogbo, Osun State capital. Have you changed this policy?
This is not even our policy on development of the state.The developmental activities we carried out were not only in Osogbo. What we are doing is to develop Osogbo, being the state capital. Whoever is coming to Osun for the first time comes through the state capital and when you look at Osogbo in the past years,Osogbo looked more like a local government headquarters, a glorified local administration council or capital of a grassroots government than a state capital. It didn’t start to look like a state capital until we started urban renewal
programme, which is taking place in Osogbo, Ila-Orangun, Ikirun, Ikire, Ede, Ile-Ife, Ilesa, Ijebu-jesha and many others towns and cities. In Osogbo City, we have completed 21 inner roads, we have completed15 roads in Ilesa, we have completed 14 roads in Ede.In Ife, Ikirun, Gbongan, Ode-Omu and many other towns and cities in this state, we have commissioned several roads projects; so development is scattered and not concentrated in Osogbo; we spread it to other areas of Osun State.
How was of the Aregbesola government able to develop various areas at the same time and what gave you the confidence to put all this together?
What gave us the strength and confidence is that as a government, we have been able to deliver on our electoral promises. The government of Aregbesola has a developmental programme and blueprint which he had prepared before he came to the government. He now uses this to develop the State of Osun. The civilian governor we had in the past in Osun State
lacked the vision to prepare this kind of lofty plan of action because they were hand-picked by their godfathers, hence instead of serving the people that gave them the mandate through election, what they were serving were their godfathers, but since 2005 as the Lagos State Commissioner for Works and Infrastructures, Aregbesola brought together eminent Osun
personalties in the industries for a three-day retreat, the outcome of which is what Aregbesola is using as manifesto which we call six-point agenda which is to banish hunger, banish poverty, banish unemployment, banish underdevelopment, banish rural-urban migration, to provide free education, free health care services and improve transportation and free movement of citizens of this state through modern mass transit system. We made sure these were tested and experienced in the 47 months of our administration in the state.
Even we said such before the last governorship election. If not for the influence of money, intimidation, harassment, arrest and federal presence in the state during the last election, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) would not have figured close to what they had; in fact the figure was very outrageous because nobody expected that PDP would score as much as over a
hundred thousand votes in State of Osun. Opinion poll before the election did not show that PDP was strong enough or have strength to pull such a weight. Even if you ask common people of this state before the election, they would tell you that Aregbesola would win landslide or at least have 70 per cent of total votes in the election. The election was very free and
well supervised and monitored by electoral officials, the press and security personnel from many military and para-military forces and voluntary organisations. Apart from about 30,000 policemen in Osun State, about 75,000 others were brought in to the state; there was no nook or cranny of the state that lacked the ‘honourable’ and ‘official’ presence of securitymen in uniform — police, soldier, Nigerian Civil Defence and Security Corps and State Security Service (SSS) — to protect us during the election, but we later found out that the
reason for bringing in these uniformed men was to intimidate the people or create fear in the minds of the voters. The second day, they came, there were gun shots everywhere, but thank God we learnt from what they did in Ekiti and we were able to match them. The election was just a fight between ‘David’ and ‘Goliath,’ the PDP and federal might were ‘Goliath’ while Aregbesola was ‘David’.
As a place people visit from every part of the world, could you let us into how far Osun State has availed itself of the revenue-generation potential of tourism?
The intention of this government is to make tourism one of the highest revenue-generating sectors of the administration. We have identified about 23 tourism centres in the state. The ones that are controversial, government has been able to take over and we are developing them. For example, if we have 10,000 tourists coming to Osun every year and each is spending close to $2,000, that is a lot of money. The people in the hospitality business would benefit, the food vendors would benefit, the traders would benefit and likewise, the
transporters. The commercial activities would be boosted generally. Tourism is an area which this government respects and the Aregbesola government is committing so much into it and putting everything in place to make the state conducive for tourists. Ogbeni has said his second term is to continue building a new Osun. Hopefully by next year, the state would have completed the international airport that would make visitors have direct access to the state wherever they come from. The construction is going on.
What is the expectation of the governor concerning the planned maiden visit of Brand Journalists of Nigeria (BJN) and tourism stakeholders to the state?
The expectation of the governor from your coming here is that we believe that your presence here will showcase many of the things we have and bring them into public awareness. Majority would get to know through your report and writing about your experiences here in Osun. I will give you an example, last year a lady came to the state and was taken round. She was enormously amazed about what she saw. After confessing that she had never seen a place like Osun State in her life, she promised to pay us another visit before the end of the year in the company of her husband and children, because she would like them to experience State of Osun at first hand or see what she saw themselves.
Why does the state draw attention to itself by doing things differently?
We think it is good to be ourselves, to do things according to our beliefs because it is our nature to lead and allow others to appreciate our unique individuality and character.
Why the ‘State of Osun’ and not ‘Osun State’?
A lot of things begin in Osun because Osun is number one in Nigeria. Osun is the only state that its governor bear Mister (Mr), that is Ogbeni in Yoruba; Osun is the only state in Nigeria that the governor is not referred to as His Excellency, because we believe that only God is excellent; we believe that if you are going for an exam, you don’t judge yourself, but you are
judged after you have written and passed it. Also, you can know if you are excellent or not if you are able to assess your scores and grade in the exam whether it is poor, fair, very fair, good, very good or excellent. The tendency in Nigeria is that every politician wants to be called ‘Excellency’ the moment they occupy a position, even if they have not even done
anything. Osun is the only state where everbody is equal because democracy is no longer a philosophy, but a culture internalised by the people and a tradition that will be transferred from one generation to another. Osun is the only place where the governor’s motor and motorcycle escorts will not blow siren even though he is caught in a labyrinth of traffic gridlock, he queues up like anybody in the traffic. Part of our uniqueness is in calling ourselves the ‘State of Osun.’ In the constitution of Nigeria, there are 36 states listed from A to Z, but the
constitution never says Abia State, Osun State, Oyo State, but it says Abia, Osun, Oyo, up to Zamfara and in Nigeria we said we are practising federalism. Everywhere in the world where federalism is being practised, it is in only Nigeria you have people calling Osun State or Oyo State. In United States, what you have is State of Maryland, State of Oklahoma, state of this and state of that. Go to Brazil, Go to Malaysia, India, Germany and everywhere in the world that is the practice .
In 2012, there was a conference attended by Cross River State and some other states from different countries in the world, it was only the table of Cross River State that you have Cross River State, others are State of this or State of that. They are saying we are changing the uniform of our students, we are doing this, we are doing that, that we are wearing single school
uniform, it is not here alone; in the era of the first Premier of Western Region, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, all local schools were local authority schools, all their pupils wore the same school uniform because they were owned by the government, and since government took over the school over 40 years ago, evey body started doing whatever they liked. The military came later to bastardise the whole system and somebody must rise to change it for better. When we start anything here in Osun, they will shout they want to do this. When we started the State
of Osun, we launched our flag, we launched our anthem and we launched our logo, but everybody was shouting that we wanted to segregate. Can such be possible this time? Osun is an enclave; we have six states surrounding us, are we going to lift ourselves from that position and put ourselves somewhere else? When Bayelsa did their own, nobody said anything. When Aregbesola promised that if he was given the opportunity, he would employ 20,000 youths, we achieved it through our Osun Youth Empowerment Scheme (OYES). The World Bank
came here to understudy us and they said that was the first time such a thing would happen the world over. When the Federal Government came to study how we were able to engage 20,000 youths in a day, they (Federal Government) quickly thought about fashioning an idea based on our super idea. They used our standard to start their Sure P. When we were doing our free feeding in schools, everybody was coming. UNESCO came to understudy us here and they affirmed we were indeed starting a revolution here in Osun.
Osun State is a unique centre of history of the Yoruba, their culture and trade, Nigerian drama, mineral deposit, industry etc. Has history any relevance to tourism?
History, no doubt, plays a huge role in tourism. Looking at other countries of the world such as South Africa, we see its history well entrenched in various aspects of the country. But unfortunately in most urban societies in Nigeria, there is a near apathy towards our history and tend to tilt more towards things that are foreign.
How do you address this?
I think that we have lost a lot of mileage and a lot of consciousness arising from non-active engagement in propagating value orientation and reorientation.
History is a critical element of promoting the culture and tourism. But, you find out that in institutions of higher learning, less and less attention is being paid to history and the arts. People are now more inclined towards the social sciences and assuming that part of the arts can be integrated in there. So where are the institutions propagating our history?
They are not there. I see an opportunity in the anticipated commemoration of The Centenary in 2014. I’m putting in place a plan to engage the different states of the federation with critical stakeholders, especially the media, to dust up the history books and bring forth those elements that we must re-establish.
I see The Centenary as an opportunity, as a milestone where perhaps we can readdress some of these critical elements like our history, our landmark. And maybe if we are able to find the resources, both in the public and the private sector, then we would be able to open a new page in the direction of re-establishing the value of our history through our culture.
It is reported that the Tourism Ministry has the thinnest budget amongst other ministries, meaning it has the least allocation of funds. But the challenge before you is a big one because of the enormous opportunities that you have. What plans have you towards boosting the weight of the budget allocated to tourism?
I am saying to my colleagues in cabinet: know what you know, say what you like, tourism holds the future for Nigeria.In terms of budget appropriation, there is a need for a new budget value reorientation. Maybe that didn’t sit quite pretty with a number of people, but I think we’d get to the combustion point, because this is a transformation government and transformation cannot restrict itself to the old agenda of the past.
What we need perhaps is develop passion. It is happening because now, on a weekly basis, I have new information that I share with my colleagues in the cabinet. I am challenging the status quo and seeking for a paradigm shift and people are listening. It is just a matter of time. But I need to strengthen my voice by advocacy.
Have you made any progress so far by changing the orientation of the state towards revamping the tourism sector in Osun?
There is a change of attitude. It is just that the change of attitude has not yet translated into additional resources or visible transformation in the sector and it is gradual. As you know in our country, change is a major thing to deal with. There is a deliberate effort now to provide additional resources for National Orientation in the new budget year. There has been an infinitesimal improvement in the budget of the ministry, but there is a major clamour now for a Special Intervention Fund for the sector and I see that happening very very soon.