Former Osun State Commissioner for Special Duties and Regional Integration Ajibola Basiru reflects on the challenges confronting Rauf Aregbesola’s administration. He explains steps being taken to tackle the problems.
As a stakeholder and former commissioner in Aregbesola’s administration, what is responsible for the financial crisis in the state?
It was not a financial crisis but financial challenges. The situation was not peculiar to Osun State. There are no less than 23 States that are facing similar challenges caused by the mismanagement of the nation’s resources by the visionless Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the last 16 years particularly the Goodluck Jonathan regime. In July 2013, Jonathan admitted 400,000 barrels of crude oil were being stolen per day which was responsible for 40 per cent decline in national revenue earning. Oil theft is responsible for the glut in the oil market which is responsible for the slump in oil price. Governor Aregbesola was the first to alert the country of the impending financial crisis brought about by the activities of the oil thieves. Thank God, the problem is receiving the attention of President Muhammadu Buhari who is working seriously to restore sanity into the system.
It was the plan of certain rejected politicians in Osun to use the financial challenges as a launch pad in their preparation for power bid in 2018. Hence, heavy noise as if it was only Osun that owe workers salaries. Thanks to Osun workers for their understanding of the problem and co-operation with the state government. They have gone back to work. They have even partnered with the government in carrying out proper audit of the state workforce in order to fishing out ghost workers. That is to tell you the kind of rapport between the government and workers as against the impression being created by Iyiola Omisore and his hireling Yinka Odumakin.
What is the state doing to boost its internally generated revenue?
In 2013, the state allocation from the Federation Account was betweenN3.5 billion and N4 billion. The recurrent expenditure gulped N3.6 billion. By April 2014, the allocation dropped to N406 million. The Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) in Osun in 2010 was between N280 million and N320 million. When Aregbesola came on board, the IGR has increased to N1.6 billion per month. The state economy is just developing under various programme put in place by his government. You can’t impose tax or cause inconvenience for the people because you want to generate revenue.
The economy is growing gradually. For instance look at the socio-economic benefits of our reformed education programme. We offer free meal to 252,000 pupils in public primary schools in the state. This programme alone has employed about 3,000 women who are caterers that prepare the meals. It has provided market for poultry farmers that supply eggs; bakers who supply bread and the cattle dealers that supply beef. It costs government N3.2 billion per annum to feed the pupils. The free school uniform has attracted the establishment of a leading garment factory in the state which is being supported by the Bank of Industry.
Critics say Governor Aregbesola embarked on grandiose projects that the state economy cannot sustain. Do you agree?
I am surprised by the allegation of grandiose projects because these are the same set of people alleging that there are no projects on ground. It is pedestrian for someone to argue that Osun with a population of about 3.2 million don’t require an airport. Is airport meant for passengers alone? The airport was not even initiated by Aregbesola administration. Between 2008 and 2009, there was a federal budget for airport in Osun. The airport site was the first airstrip in the whole of West Africa. It was chosen because of the topography of the area. One good thing about this project is that hanger facilities will be sited at the airport.
The Aregbesola administration has embarked on massive road construction across the state. These roads are there for everybody to see. You can’t grow the economy without providing infrastructure. The state government has built standard schools with equipped laboratories, libraries and halls. More than 45 of these schools are in use. It is not the right of the children of elites alone to attend standard schools.
The helicopter was not acquired by Aregbesola’s personal use as claimed by the opposition. It was acquired for security surveillance. It is meant to compliment command and control centres for quick response to emergency situations. I was amused when the critics say the helicopter was bought for $8 million. How much do they sell Boeing 727 aircraft? That tells you how ignorant some people are.
How has the government impacted positively in the life of the citizens?
The government has established Micro Credit Agency that provides loans with low interest to small and medium enterprises. About 800 Co-operative societies and 9,555 individuals have benefitted. The government started paying 13th month salary to the civil servants in 2010 and sponsor them for local and foreign training. It has opened up the rural areas through construction of roads to farmstead to ensure easy access to markets by the farmers. At least each Local Government constructed 10 kilometres within the first term of the administration. In the area of security, Osun State is secured; crime wave has been reduced to the barest minimum through provision of incentives and hard wares to the police.
Why was Osun singled out for bashing when other states are faced with similar financial problems?
Some people are genuinely concerned about the backlog of unpaid salaries because Governor Aregbesola has acquired so much credibility particularly in good governance and prudent management of public funds. As a result, he enjoyed good press. But for the PDP, it was a payback for Aregbesola for daring Jonathan’s administration. To the State PDP, it was an opportunity to re-launch their power bid ahead of 2018. They have failed to destabilise the state by setting the workers against the state government.
As a lawyer, are you surprised that a serving judge wrote a petition calling for the impeachment of Governor Aregbesola?
The content of the petition does not worth the ink for which it was written. The normal thing is that he or she who alleges must substantiate. There was no single document to back up the 39-page petition. She said she based her allegations on rumour. She alleged that the governor runs the state from Cuba, that he enriches his godfather and cronies, that the state owes about N500 billion and that there was no project on ground to justify the huge loan taken by the state government. The road in front of her house in GRA, Osogbo was tarred by this administration; the Accountant General has said the debt profile of Osun is N78 billion; the last time Governor Aregbesola travels to Cuba was in 2005, five years before he became governor.
The image of the judiciary should be salvaged from politicking. The sanctity of the judiciary should not be sacrificed on the altar of petty politicking by an individual. Anybody that is interested in politics should come out and should not use the cloak of the judiciary to participate in party politics. As an individual, you have the right to exercise your fundamental rights but the judicial code states that members of the bench should not do it in a way that will bring judiciary into disrepute. Aregbesola holds the judiciary in high esteem; that was why he refused to make comments on the baseless allegations contained in the petition.
A group Osun Stakeholders, held a summit at Ile-ife recently on the way forward for the state. What is your view on their recommendations?
There is nothing like Osun Stakeholders. It was certain failed politicians that wanted to use the financial challenges to seek relevance. The defeated PDP governorship candidate in the last election, Iyiola Omisore is the financier. He lost his petition challenging the victory of Aregbesola at the tribunal, Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court. His co-travellers are Akinlusi, former Head of Service and governorship candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), he scored 600 votes. Former Attorney General and Commissioner of Justice, Niyi Owolade contested governorship election and got less than 400 votes. Yinka Odumakin is known for jumping from one party to the other. At the so called summit, journalists who covered the event were more than those that attended. What are their resolutions or alternatives to what Aregbesola is doing?