Osun State House of Assembly Speaker Nasim Salaam spoke with reporters in Osogbo, the state capital, on the wage crisis and allegations of financial recklessness by Justice Olamide Oloyode against Governor Rauf Aregbesola.
THERE appears to have been at a standstill now for lack of fund to pay workers’ salaries and complete the abandoned projects, what is your take on this?
Osun, is passing through a phase, not standstill, and it is so, because Osun just like others, is a constituent unit of a troubled nation which was raped badly by the ousted Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) regime. And if President Muhammadu Buhari could describe the country as at present as Augean stable that must be cleaned up for forward march, what do you expect Osun as an integral part to do?
Look, let us face the reality, the predicament we are in is not about the making of an individual, governor or poor economic planning; it is a structural problem and not until the top gets it right, the federating units would still be contending with epileptic mode of economy and financial topsy-turvy. Because the kind of federalism we practise is what I call ‘feeding bottle’ federalism. For no state could access her resources to surge up her finance. Everything belongs to the Federal Government, and the federal government may not be ready to tap your own resources now, because there is one laying the golden eggs already.
For instance, the entire Ilesa township is sitting on gold of South Africa quantity according to experts who came visiting of recently. Yet we, as a state cannot mine it, because it is considered a national asset, just the way Ondo State could not tap its bitumen anyhow. So, each state of the federation must defer to the centre for ecological fund, education tax fund and so on and so forth. So, we you are not a friend f the centre and the sitting President is vindictive, then you are in for a big trouble.
As for Osun, we are one of the least paid in the federal allocation and now that our allocation has fallen short of what can be used to defray salaries of workers alone, what can we do. Strategise on how to wriggle out and that is what is going on now. Yes, it takes time, but we have to do it.
However, some people believe that the governor has bitten more than he could chew in terms of capital projects and that the state has been dragged to heavy debts in the process, that is why no amount of allocation could solve the problem at hand, what can you say to this?
People outside the government have the right to their own opinions, but it would be unfair to hold the position of the bitter opposition as statement of facts, because their insinuations are full of fallacies and innuendoes. One, let it be known that executive could not do anything without the knowledge of the legislature. Two, we have to endorse any borrowing; three, we have the power to oversight the projects captured in the budget. So, when some people say the governor has don this, has done that, the impression is that the governor has the power of death and life without being questioned. No, democracy does not work like that.
The true picture is, Governor Rauf Aregbesola came to Osun and was dissatisfied with the state of under-development he inherited and he vowed to remove the state from a sleeping mode, change the sedentary life of the people and reawakening its commerce and position the state among the comity of performing states. Do not forget that Osun used to be a civil service state before the emergence of Aregbesola and that made the civil servants to dictate everything then, ranging from who should be the governor; how should the economy of the state be run and so on, making Osun to be revolving with funds that is less than what obtained in a branch of a commercial bank in Lagos.
So, he began with infrastructure, education, agriculture and youth engagement. Look, we should be careful not to make crime out of the zeal to serve the people, because it is convenient for Aregbesola to pay salaries and flashes some substandard projects, and introduce the media the media blitz to them and keep the rest of the accruals to himself, but he chose to work and the lazy opposition are talking. Unfortunately, the media that ought to be investigative and place proper judgment in the court of public opinion seem to be playing along.
On the debt issue. Tell me of any atomic individual moral agent who intends to be great that would not incur debt. When I wanted to build my house, I took a loan from the bank. That is debt and I suffered to pay back. When an industrialist wants to inaugurate an industry, he approaches bank or a consortium of banks for fund; when an investor is ready to invest, he approaches banks. Then, what is the fuss in approaching financial institutions for funds to finance public infrastructure. America with its might has a debt ceiling of over $17 trillion and it is a country the same critics want to go and access health, education, and holiday. We have to be fair to ourselves while criticising a government. Of course, it could have been a different ball game if the those monies were borrowed to finance consumption.
See, it saddened me that these days we have to resort to borrowing to offset pension and pay salaries. But for the fact that the banks could not lend us for now as a result of vindictive directive given to the banks by the ousted Dr Goodluck Jonathan administration. The noise is everywhere that the state could not pay salaries. Yes, it is painful that we have to find ourselves in this situation and it is disturbing to see our workers suffering, but what can an individual do when the entire country with the same connective rod is in trouble?
Besides, what you called abandoned projects are not abandoned, they are only on a halt for want of funds. Immediately the state rebound, the contractors will be back o the sites and the work will be done.
A serving judge in the state judiciary has just petitioned the legislature to investigate financial recklessness of Governor Rauf Aregbesola and his deputy, urging the parliament to begin impeachment process against them. How far?
We have more than one petition for and against the governor and we have inaugurated an investigative panel headed by my deputy, who is a lawyer, an engineer with journalistic background to work on the petitions. So, wait for the report.
But the minority leader has expressed his opposition to the composition of the committee, protesting the exclusion of an opposition member from it, would that not question the credibility of the report?
Those who wrote the petitions knew the House of Assembly under my watch is credible and they have faith in the process. Besides, it is my prerogative to constitute a panel that could do the job as the Speaker. As the Speaker, I see all, members as honourable men, but all of them could not be appointed into a seven man committee. Moreso, ranking and experience count in the legislative business. The chairman is in the House for more than six years now, and he is a lawyer and journalist. There are accountants, administrator economist and individual with security background among them. So, it is a committee that is carefully woven to search everywhere to serve the interest of the people. As for the minority leader, he is playing his role and he does not have to agree with us on everything. And I appreciate that, but at least he must have his say not necessarily his way.
Meanwhile, the report will be submitted to the House for debate and the minority leader will have his say on it, but if he is part of the committee, he would be barred as a matter of rule, to speak on it when the report is presented. So, he must know that we have done him a favour by reserving a room for him on the floor when the report is ready. I chose to toe that part to starve off the tyranny of the majority.
When do we expect the report?
When the committee is ready. But not less than two weeks.
There is a feeling out there that this parliament is in the armpit of the governor, how true is this?
I am glad you said a feeling”. Look, if there is any mindset like that, I think anarchy is attributed to it. I was the Speaker for four years and we engaged the executive without rancour. I don’t believe in negotiating a course with violence, I believe in constructive engagement and in fairness to Aregbesola, he has never disrespected us as a parliament. Even, while his deputy, Mrs. Titi-Laoye Tomori was supervising education ministry, she had appeared before the education committee for explanation. So, why do we need to take a fight to the pages of newspapers in order to assert independence? That was the culture when we were evolving, but the world has moved on.
Are you going to be part of the stakeholders’ summit that is being packaged by Yinka Odumakin and Muyiwa Oladimeji group, for you have been advocating for it?
Smile. I can’t be part of a summit whose report is predetermined to smear the personality of an individual who the promoters believe would forever constitute a clog to their plan to hijack power in the state for their selfish interest. I think the profiles of those who are calling the summit suggests the coming together of renegades who hate Rauf Aregbesola’s gut, and right here I can tell you their three cardinal objectives: one, to hijack power in 2018 having lost out disgracefully in 2014; two, to wage a campaign of calumny against the person of the governor; three, to sex up fictitious figures as our debt profile, expenditure and income arbitrarily. So, you need to place the objective of Odumakins in proper perspective.
If you care to know the grouse of Odumakins, read what Chief Ayo Opadokun said about him. For Muyiwa Oladimeji, I think some of my friends in Osogbo have given me the graphic of his person, and what do you expect from a man who chose to be an incurable reactionary? And I can’t belabour the obvious about their friends, who were given a bloody nose by Aregbesola at the last governorship election. Simply call it a summit of the renegades. Meanwhile, Osun is not ready for the summit of renegades.
A stakeholders’ summit will be called when the governor is ready, because he is the one to implement the resolutions, but the parliament desires to spearhead it because we are to back it up with a piece of legislation.
Can we then say that Osun is bankrupt now?
Bankruptcy is declared when a state or an institution has gone under, and Osun has not gone under. Yes, we have financial challenges and as I said earlier, the challenges are meant for temporary phase. We are working around it and we are progressing gradually. I must acknowledge the unalloyed support of the people and a section of the workers who could think beyond the box.
What can you say is the mood of the state now?
Mixed feelings- mixed feelings because majority of the people were unhappy that a governor with uncommon courage and zeal to serve is being hampered by financial constraint. Some are happy that workers are not paid, because they think that will relaunch themselves back to power in 2018. The workers felt bad because they could not meet their obligations and we on the corridor of power feel the pain the more that we are compelled by extenuating circumstances to meet our obligations. But, I have once said we are tough contenders of time now. And tough time never last, but tough people do. We shall soon put the situation behind us.
If the report of the committee indicts the governor, would it be impeached? That is subjudice, let the report be ready first?
If the governor is exonerated, would the serving judge be sanctioned?
Again, I would not be dragged into preempting the outcome of the investigation. If the report is ready and the debate is conducted, then the resolution of the house will be made public.
Does the parliament under your watch has the tooth to bite the governor?
You seem to have locked your mind up about us. Look, only a governor without emotional intelligence will try to toy with any parliament. However, a tiger will not profess its tigritude, you and I know that an average viper has its venom.
What can you say about the bailout packaged by the Federal Government for the states that are broke?
What obtained with the restructure of indebted states by the Debt Management Office and N250 billion facility that can be tapped is a relief package not a bailout, because the obligations would still be met in the future. But, the immediate result is to liquidate outstanding salaries and other obligations. So, the media should help us to educate the masses better. You see, I suspect a big conspiracy against Osun in the media, because no fewer than 18 states owed salaries of their workers and pensioners and more than 10 states have worst case scenario, but only Osun is made to be the face of defaulting states. But, I take consolation from the submission of Simeon Kolawole in one of his write-up in Thidsay newspaper that when we were bubbling with inauguration of one projects or the other, when Aregbesola was being celebrated around the world for his feat in education and O’ meal, we enjoyed positive media limelight, and what we are witnessing now is a bye product of limelight as well.