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We won’t witch-hunt, but ask past administration necessary questions —Makinde

Oyo State governor, Mr Seyi Makinde, in commemoration of his first month in office, fielded questions from broadcast and print media journalists. He speaks on his experience in the first 30 days in office, giving details of the state’s indebtedness and making clarifications on a wide range of issues, including what to expect in the first 100 days of his administration and its long-term plans. MOSES ALAO and WALE AKINSELURE present the excerpts:

 

YOU made history with the appointment of Mrs. Olubamiwo Adeosun as the first female Secretary to the State Government (SSG) in Oyo State, but some people have been criticising that step, noting that you should have appointed a politician. What made you go for a technocrat?

Mrs. Adeosun, from her curriculum vitae (CV), is eminently qualified to hold that position. Also, I made a promise to the people of Oyo State during electioneering campaign that we would balance the positions in our administration along the lines of gender, religion and other considerations. We promised that we would not leave anyone behind. If you look at the four major posts in the executive branch, you have the governor who is a Christian and male; the deputy governor is a Muslim and male; the Chief of Staff (Cos) is a Muslim and male. So, if you look at that equation, what we were looking at in appointing the SSG, which is like third most important position in the executive arm, was gender balance. We want to ensure that we adhere to the Policy of Affirmative Action on the percentage of representation for women. So, we went for Mrs. Adeosun, who is a Christian. Out of those four positions, we have two Muslims and two Christians and almost all the zones were represented.

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If there is one decision that your government has taken which has won you accolades from far and near, it is the decision to pay workers’ salary as and when due. One would like to know what magic you performed to make that possible, because the narrative from the past government is that there is no money in government’s treasury. What happened that made it possible for you to pay as you did?

First, when you have worked and toiled for 30 days, you deserve your wages. Nobody is doing the workers any favour by paying their salaries, because they have worked and you need to pay them. When we came in, I was sworn in on 29 May, and as far as I was concerned, the May salary was already past due as of that time.

So, within 48 hours of my swearing-in, I signed off for the salaries to be paid. Remember that I begged the people to apply for this job; it was not like it was a job reserved for my family. I went round; I promised the people that we would not toy with the welfare of my constituency, which is that of the workers in Oyo State. And one of the things we have to be mindful of is that first, they must get their salaries as and when due. Second, they must have access to training and retraining opportunities.

Also, when people have their promotions, they must be backed up by appropriate letters and other things that will make the promotions meaningful. For me, I want to motivate the workers in Oyo State. Gone are the eras when the workers are made redundant and government will be bringing all sorts of consultants to do their jobs.

What I am saying is that by demonstrating that the government will do its part, I want the workers to be motivated and be ready to play their roles in moving Oyo State forward.

It may also interest you to note that we have done our planning; workers’ salary will always be paid on the 25th of every month.

 

Before you assumed office, there were claims about some funds being taken out of the government coffers illegally. When you took office, how did you meet the state’s treasury?

We did not meet the treasury as it should be, but the people of Oyo State should not fret, because our government has decided to be forward-looking. We did not meet the state’s purse in good condition, but our government has drawn a line between what has been done and what we want to do. We want to focus on what we can do to uplift the state; to make life better for the people.

The Head of Service is sitting with us here as we speak. It was the past government that appointed her. And when we got there, we said if the past government had done something that the people found worthy and good, we would continue with such.

Now, in one of the sessions when we were opening the books of the past government, the Head of Service (HoS) brought a file to me and said we could not appoint people and not give them vehicles with which they would move around to perform their duties. I have approved money for that.

But when we checked the books further, we found out that a vehicle was procured for the immediate-past HoS in February. That was Oyo State’s money. You bought a vehicle for the HoS in February and she took it away by May.

Yesterday [penultimate Friday], we were looking at the books of the Ministry of Works. There was a road contract awarded and it came up to N2 billion per kilometre and I wondered how that could be. Even in the Niger Delta, which is a riverine area, they could not have constructed a kilometre of road for N2 billion.

So, I asked how could they have constructed a road for N2 billion per kilometre and I was told that they said they were going to construct filling station, street lights and that it was 32 kilometres. They have paid some money and even two days to the end of the government, on 27 May, they still paid some money. That is the terrible situation we have found ourselves, but we were prepared, because we knew something like that would happen.

I want to assure our people in Oyo State that the focal point of our government is how to expand the economy of the state so that there will be shared prosperity in the economy.  We are looking forward; we are progressive and we will not be deterred. But if those who left office do not desist from causing trouble for our government, I will expose them. I will bring out all their books. I am pleading with them now, because I know that they will no longer be able to walk freely by the time we expose their atrocities. Some people will be stoned by residents of the state, while their houses will be occupied by the people of the state, who will be aggrieved by the height of impropriety and atrocity they committed. By that time, I won’t do anything to stop the people, because even the Government House in Agodi, I am not living there. I am living in my private residence. I only go to receive visitors at the Government House. So, I won’t say anything if Oyo State people move to occupy the homes some people [in the past administration] used Oyo State’s money to build.

But if they stop the ongoing plot to destabilise and distract our government, we would also keep looking forward in doing the job we promised the people of the state.

 

Your government recently put words out that those who took away government vehicles and other property should return them in seven days. Have they pleaded with you underground or have those things been returned? And how much debt did your government inherit exactly?

Nobody came to plead with me underground. There is no reason to come and beg me, because the properties we are talking about do not belong to Seyi Makinde. They belong to all of us in Oyo State.

So, what kind of plea would you make that I should allow them to take properties that belong to all of Oyo State people away? That kind of plea cannot hold water. They should return whatever belongs to Oyo State.

You should also recall that I told the people that we were not afraid of being treated the same way we will treat those who just left government. You know that the Yoruba would say eniyan t’o lo sin egbon re n’ihoho, ko ranti ko mu aburo re l’owo (Someone who ventures to bury his elder sibling naked should endeavour to take his younger one along). We won’t mind if anyone does to us whatever we do to the past administration when we leave office, because we are not going to witch-hunt anyone. It is more of us doing what is right and that is what we will do.

On the second question about how much debt our government inherited, we are still looking at the books. But the one we have seen and confirmed; the debt owed by the past administration is about N150 billion. Once again, I will tell the people of Oyo State that if we change N150 billion to dollars, it will be about US$500 million. If we do what we are supposed to do in these four years and we expand the economy of Oyo State, the debt will not hurt us. But if we verify that some of the debts are questionable; for instance, if you float a bond, it is supposed to be tied to a particular project. So, if we look at the bond they floated, was it used for the project it was meant for? We can do a value-for-money audit, using a baseline of what happened at certain periods so that as we go forward, we would not also fall into the same ditch.

But if we calculate everything being owed as of now, it is going to about N150 billion. As we speak, the money that comes from Abuja is N4.5 billion and the workers’ salary is N5.4 billion. That means we need to take at least N1 billion to plug that wage bill and there are many things that we want to do.

But where I am coming from as an entrepreneur, I started my business with N50,000 and so, I am not afraid about whether we can surmount the challenges facing the state or not. If we have the support of the citizenry and they know what we are doing and the direction we are heading, there is no doubt that we will succeed, because the Yoruba would say that aja to ba l’eni l’eyin a pa obo (a dog with the support of a hunter can kill a monkey).

 

People commended your government on the proscription of the Oyo State branch of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), but the union recently put out a statement begging you to lift the ban, noting that their means of livelihood had been blocked. For how long will the union remain banned?

We are in constant engagement with them. We are not out to punish anybody. We want people to live their lives as normal as possible and we do not want to tamper with anybody’s means of livelihood.

However, we cannot accept a situation whereby just because of a union, the rest of the people will be living in palpable fear. I heard what happened on the day of my inauguration between the two sides of the union and I told them that it did not matter whether anyone supported or did not support me during the election. I said elections were over and it was time for governance. I swore to an oath to ensure the safety and security of our people.

So, as I said, we are in constant engagement with them and if they are ready to operate peacefully and they can demonstrate that there will be no more clashes, I will lift the ban immediately. That is the condition they must fulfil. We will never go back to a situation where people were killed at Iwo road (in the name of unionism).

 

You removed the N3,000 levy being paid by secondary schools, though some have criticised that decision. How do you intend to raise the standard of education in Oyo State? Also, are you thinking of sustaining the School Governing Boards put in place by the immediate-past government?

The standard of education is worrisome and we have to do something. People came to me saying that I should declare a state of emergency in the education sector. I asked, what that meant; is it just for me to make a pronouncement? On the issue of N3,000, I told the people of Oyo State during campaign where I would get money from without even opening the books at all. What I have to do is to plug the leakages, and I have seen a lot of leakages. It will interest the people of the state that during the second week of my assumption of office, I had a meeting with the acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the body is returning N1.3 billion to Oyo State. That was money found in someone’s account and it belongs to Oyo State. That money had been confiscated and taken over by the Federal Government.

But I met them clarifying that that money does not belong to the Federal Government, but Oyo State. They have agreed and we have written to them and we expect that money to come to a special fund recovery account for Oyo State.

Once we have that N1.3 billion, it will effectively pay for one year of payment of N3,000. So, one year is down and it is better that the money be in the pockets of the people of Oyo State.

Also, if you look at a programme championed by the Federal Government and World Bank called BESDA, it is looking at the out-of-school children. The entire Northern states are on that programme and for the Southern zone, it is only Oyo State that is on BESDA from the South-West. Others are Rivers and Ebonyi. These are states where you have a large number of out-of-school children. This is another money that will come to Oyo State and we will utilise it for the purpose it was given.

If you look at the SSG that we just appointed, she is a woman but educated. She finished from the University of Benin as a pharmacist, went back to the same university to do her MBA and she is a member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel Management, both here and in the UK.

So, we are telling our people that you need to send your children to school, whether a boy or a girl, because opportunities are opening up to break the glass ceiling. This is the first time in Oyo State that we will have female SSG and HoS at the same time. So, the civil service in Oyo State is headed by females and I trust that they will do well because they are calm.

On the School Governing Boards, we will leave them as they are, but as they are right now, we have to strengthen them. Their managements came to me when I was reviewing the files of the Ministry of Education. I asked them how much they collected for the past one year and the percentage compliance, but the figures were not adding up. So, that money must be going somewhere. And instead of Oyo State money leaking off, I will rather put it in the pockets of Oyo State people.

 

You recently said that you would establish a state anti-corruption agency, but some wonder why this is necessary when there are the EFCC and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC) at the federal level. Won’t this amount to duplication of policies?

The EFCC is a federal agency and when I met its officials, I told them that the agency already had a lot of responsibilities. I’m concerned about the fact that the money of Oyo State is being embezzled and I felt that by setting up such agency, named Oyo State Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, we will be able to better monitor how our funds are spent. I can take a case to the EFCC in Abuja and they might have a lot of issues to address such that before it gets to Oyo State, those who embezzled might have escaped or left office. We don’t have control over the federal agency. We are talking about true federalism and the state government is not subordinate to the Federal Government, it is a coordinate government.

With the agency, we will be able to address our own pertinent issues in our state. No one should be scared; anyone who has not embezzled public money should not be scared. We will not tolerate public money being in the pockets of private individuals.

 

How do you plan to commit more money to education as promised?

We are not the one that drafted the budget that we are currently operating; it is that of the immediate-past government. N280 billion was approved as the 2018 budget and the expected revenue is N80 billion, inclusive of IGR and federal allocation. So, we have a gap of N200 billion. I asked government workers where they expected us to get the money allotted to some projects from and they told me that was money on paper.

Then, I have asked the civil servants to work on the budget that we will operate from now till the end of the year. For the first time, we will reduce the budget. The budget performance for previous years is 38 to 40 per cent. I will run a budget with a performance that must be 65 to 70 per cent. In that way, we will embark on projects based on resources that are available. We will reduce the budget from N280 billion to about N150 billion for the year. People are saying that it is out of pride that we have such a huge budget; that we want to be behaving like some other states.

For example, people are told that a certain road project is included in the budget, but there is no money for the project in the budget. When it is not done, it is included in subsequent budgets and runs into several budgets. I don’t want to operate a deceitful budget. We want to operate a government where the people can hold us accountable whenever we make a promise. Right now, Finance and Budget and Planning are in the same ministry. We will go to the House of Assembly to decouple that ministry. Budget and Planning should be alone and focus on planning.

 

Immediately you assumed office, you sacked local government chairmen. Do you also plan to appoint caretaker committees or would you conduct election?

We will conduct local government election within the first quarter of next year. We will not contravene laws in conducting the election. It is a opposition that is scared about the conduct of elections. The matter of sacking them is now before the court. So, I will not be able to say a lot about that. We are ready to comply with court judgment on the matter.

The court asked them not to proceed with the election, but they got another judgment to vacate that previous judgment. We have seen so many infractions and they know. But, I am also concerned about the fact that the constitution recognises 33 local government areas. The issue of creating 35 local council development areas (LCDAs) is still in court. Why did they proceed with election, despite that?

You can create LCDAs for development to get to the grassroots, but you have to abide by the constitution. You can hold election in 33 local government areas, but can only make appointment to the 35 LCDAs. I initially agreed with the concept of LCDA; we considered that it was what we met on ground and that it would bring government closer to the grassroots. But most LCDA chairmen do not go to office daily. They just wait for money to be disbursed and share it, only for them to return when another money is to be shared.

You conducted an election for chairmen and councillors, but you did not swear in councillors. After losing the governorship election, that is a year after conducting the local government election, then, you swore in councillors and constituted Association of Local Government of Nigeria (ALGON). Who does that?

But as I have said, we will abide by court judgment, but continue with governance. The Oyo State Independent Electoral Commission (OYSIEC) will be reformed. We will appoint people of impeccable character, not those who write results whether election is held or not. When we conducted the election that brought me in, they said the result would be written. We stood firm to see how that would happen. They were not successful.

 

Oyo State currently does not occupy a pride of place in the education sector. In WAEC, the state was 26th out of 36 states. What measures will you take to bring about an immediate turnaround?

The position is saddening. In the Southern part of the country, Oyo State is the last. But we have started taking steps and you will see them happen within the first 100 days of our being in office. One important step we have taken is to attract out-of-school children to schools because they are the future of tomorrow. I believe that once we roll out some of these programmes, we will progressively get results. If we can move from 26th to 19th or 16th and it is sustained, you will see appreciable results.

Also, we will devote a sizeable percentage of our budget and there is quite a bit of funds and grants that we can pull in for education.

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