How I have been paying salaries, pensions without borrowing —Oyetola

Governor Adegboyega Oyetola, in a special interview on a private radio station, RaveFM, Osogbo, to commemorate the creation of Osun State 30 years ago, sheds light on the state of indebtedness of Osun, challenges of his administration over time, his relationship with his predecessor, Rauf Aregbesola, the current Minister for Interior, and the issue of second term.

 

You are the ninth helmsman of the state in the history of the state. How would you describe the journey so far the past 30 years?

I think the journey has been quite interesting; full of challenges though. I must thank every governor and administrator that had served this state since its creation 30 years ago. They’ve all done very well. What we’re doing now is to build on the existing structure that we have inherited from all of them. The journey has been quite challenging, I must say, because of the fact that as a state, we have a lot of challenges in specific areas of education, infrastructure, health, security and the economy. But I must commend all the governors that have served before me, including the immediate past governor for the efforts they put into developing the state. Within the last almost three years of our administration, we’ve actually done much to improve on what we inherited in the areas of infrastructure, health, education, security and economy. Like I said earlier,, the journey has been very challenging. But in any case, that’s the essence of being in government. You face challenges and you provide solutions to whatever challenges that come your way.

 

Let’s talk finances. Analysis and figures from government institutions point to the fact that Osun is neck deep in the ocean of debts. You hold the post strings of the state; you were Chief of Staff for eight years and now the governor for almost three years. Tell us how deep is Osun in this mess and how did it get here?

Debt, ordinarily, is something that happens one way or the other because we don’t have all the resources to do what we want to do. So, debt is actually not a curse. What is important is to ensure that whatever debt incurred is actually channelled towards capital projects that will impact positively on the people. Yes, Osun had its own share of debts. I don’t want to go into so much of those details. What is important is to move forward. We are coping with whatever debts that have been incurred over time, and we are ensuring that, that does not stop us from doing what we need to do as a government in the area of infrastructure, health, education and security. I think that’s the way to talk about it. Even America owes a lot of debt. They live on debt, actually. But, I think we’ve actually been able to manage the state’s debt portfolio. We’ve been paying back the inherited debt and we’re still doing a lot that we need to do as a government.

 

It’s something of interest to the people that you lead. So some of them have asked, how deep are we in this? To what extent are we into the debt? How long would it take us to pay back? Can you just give us an idea of what the total debt of the state is at this moment?

I think it’s actually in the public domain. The Debt Management Office (DMO) has actually brought up, at one time or the other, the debt profile of most of the states, including Osun. So, I will reckon that it’s in the region of about maybe N170 billion or so, according to the last publication of the DMO. But since we’ve been in government, we’ve actually been able to reduce the portfolio reasonably, so it’s still at the level of something that could be managed.

It’s manageable?

Yeah!

 

You’ve been in office for almost three years now, have you borrowed more? Have you taken any loan since that time? Have you added to the debt burden of the state?

No, I’ve not borrowed. But that’s not to say that I might not borrow, given the fact that you must do some of the major projects that need time, that is, time-bound, particularly, given the cost of infrastructure that is going on now, you may have to really find a way of ensuring that you complete whatever you’re doing. But what is important to me is the fact that even if I must borrow, I must do it in such a way that will not affect meeting my obligations to the people, including payment of salaries and pension. However, as of today, 27 August, 2021, we’ve not borrowed.

 

You’ve not borrowed at all?

That’s correct.

 

Okay, so on this programme, we had an economist who once described the fact that you are paying salary as and when due, as a miracle. But, some people are also quick to say, that what you are doing now is a political gimmick. They say you’re doing it to hoodwink the civil servants to get a second term.

On the average, we’re spending nothing less than N3 billion every month on salaries and pensions. So, if we have even stored money somewhere, by now, it would’ve been exhausted. There’s nothing like gimmicks. I’m here to serve. So, the question of gimmicks does not even come in. It’s not a Greek gift; they deserve their pay. I give priority to the payment of salaries and pension. I must look for money to pay salaries and pension. Every other thing could come up, but salary and pension must be paid. It’s not a gimmick. I’m committed to the welfare of workers. Even when I was the Chief of Staff, I was actually in charge of most of the things relating to issue of workers. I see it as an obligation that must be fulfilled. I’ve heard people talk about possibility of second term, that’s not the issue. The issue is that, the welfare of workers must be prioritised and that’s exactly what we’re doing.

 

So, you’re saying, if you get into office for the second time, this policy of making workers priority number one, will not change?

Yes, absolutely, it won’t change because it is not the matter of looking at it from the angle of trying to satisfy them. It is their legitimate right. Before coming into politics, I’ve been a private sector person; I employed people. There was no time I did not pay my workers, so it is mandatory that you must pay your workers. It is part of what I need to do as a chief executive of the state, like I was a chief executive when I was running my company. It is normal; there’s nothing to it.

 

Pardon my curiosity, Mr Governor, if the state is neck-deep in debt and you’ve not borrowed a dime since you’ve got to office and we’re all aware of the financial challenges of the state. So, tell us how you been paying those salaries as and when due and then, also doing other things?

Creativity is the word. You need to look at where you’re and where you want to be and look at the gap and creatively plan things to take care of those gaps. I think, that’s the only way one can explain what we’re trying to do. For instance, if you talk of infrastructure, we don’t have resources to actually do infrastructure but I can’t be lamenting. When I went on ‘Thank you’ tour after our election, people were asking me to fix a lot of their roads and I can’t do roads without paying salaries. You have to be creative enough to conceive the idea of alternative fund project approach which gives me leverage of having my infrastructure fixed even without my resources. People who have money, contractors, who can have the means to do these things, they do it and we have understanding as to how they will be paid over time.

 

That’s how you’ve been doing infrastructure?

Yeah! Perhaps that’s the magic, alternative fund project approach. Rather than borrow, I collaborate with people that have the means, ability, funds to partner with government to fix the roads. For instance, the ongoing construction of Olaiya Flyover is being financed through this approach.  But what is important is you must display a high level of integrity; you must not renege on the basis of whatever agreement you have with these partners and so far, so good; we have been keeping to our agreements.

 

Alright. So, the Olaiya project that you talked about looks very much like your own legacy project or one of your legacy projects. There are arguments for and against its socio-economic relevance, depending on who you asked. Why Olaiyaoverhead bridge? Why not a full asphalting of the Ring road, a project that your predecessor started?

With the way the city is growing, you must be proactive enough to have a foresight of making some specific arrangements to avoid congestion, to avoid accidents, particularly on that axis. If you’ve ever used that road at the peak of the day, you will appreciate the need to have the flyover. There have been several accidents – I witnessed one or two myself. So, unless you have that and even thinking of a city that is growing, if we don’t think of that now, there’ll always be the need to have it.

 

What about the road projects inherited from your predecessor, have they been abandoned?

We are still doing the ring road; we’ve not abandoned it. But what I’ve done differently is the fact that because I don’t have money for two, three or four lanes at a time, I felt what was important for me is to complete a lane or two lanes, so that people can make use of it. If I wait until I have money to complete it the way it’s been designed, it might take another four, five or seven years. So, what I’ve done is to ensure that one side of it is taken up to Stadium, for instance. People are plying; they’re using the road now as it is. When I have the resources, I will move to the other side and complete the dual carriage way that it’s been designed to be.

 

What about the airport project?

The airport is desirable because of the fact that we’re opening up our economy to private investment. Again, we have a lot of tourist attractions; we have tourist sites. If you don’t have things like that, there will be no opportunity for people to move by road, by air, even if we have all the tourist attractions in the world, you won’t be able to attract people. Again, we are not doing the airport on our own any longer. We are partnering with the Federal Government. They’ve actually come to inspect, and I want to believe they are going to, perhaps, take it over in collaboration with us to complete the project. The idea of the airport was conceived by the Oyinlola administration and it was meant to be funded jointly by the Federal Government and state. I think that time, it was N4 billion, with the Federal Government putting N2 billion down and the state putting N2 billion down. Unfortunately, the Federal Government didn’t come with their own N2 billion. I visited the Minister of Aviation and they’ve actually assured that they will take it over and complete it. So, I want to believe that given the partnership we have with the Federal Government, we will be able to complete the project. We’re not borrowing because I know you’re afraid that we might still want to borrow to complete that project.

 

Your Excellency, not my exact fear but the fear of the people of the state.  You said you have no issues with your predecessor, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola. I mean, you have no problems that you are like brothers.

We are brothers.

 

Oh, you are brothers. Not even like brothers. Okay. But many people are worried about the political wrangling. What exactly is happening?

Like I said, there’s no rift actually. Yeah, you can say disagreement on some areas and is not uncommon to have disagreement on certain areas, perhaps maybe policy, style and things like that. But that’s not to say that we have issues at all. By and large, I have no issue with Ogbeni Aregbesola; he is my brother. We have come a long way; we didn’t meet in politics. I think the whole thing is being unduly exaggerated.

 

You think so, Your Excellency, that it has been unduly exaggerated?

I want to believe so.

 

There are different groups within the All Progressives congress (APC). One of them is the Osun Progressives, TOP, there’s also Ilerioluwa and there are others. What’s your position as the leader of the party in the state on the Osun Progressives? They seem not to be a big fan of yours. In fact, I’ve asked them a number of times on this programme and they’ve not been committal if they will support you for a second time in office. Do you have any issues with them? What’s your position?

I don’t have issues; to be honest, I see everybody as part of the same political family. I don’t believe in groups or factions. If you want to put it that way, you can have caucus, one way or the other, it’s natural. Even in normal club arrangement, you have people who align with one another on some things, so I don’t have issues with anybody. I don’t have issues with them. Talking about issue of second term, my attitude is to deliver on what I am currently doing. I don’t want to be distracted. It is service to the people. If the people believe that they want me to continue, so be it. It is not a desperate situation. However, we have not got to that level (election). It is God that gives power. His appointment is not negotiable. It is God’s wish that I am the governor today. So, the issue of second term is left to God and the people of Osun to decide.

 

And you think that they will give you a second term ticket?

Like I mentioned, second term is left to the people and God. What is important to me, for every day of my being a governor, at least for the first term, is to put in my best. Second term will be determined by the people and God.

 

You have a series of endorsements of late, with many groups coming out to say, we endorse you for second term. We want the governor to run for a second term. Are you sure that your predecessor, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola will support you for a second term; can you take it to the bank?

Well, you’ll need to ask him. I can’t be in the position to read his mind.

 

You’ve been in the same party. It should be taken for granted that both of you have been the leaders of the party, having worked together before in the past, so it shouldn’t be a matter of question. It should be a matter of certainty.

That’s why I am surprised you’re asking.

 

Well, I’m also asking because of what has been happening in time past. The TOP that he seems to be the patron of have not readily said it anywhere that they will support you for a second term and many people will say they’re doing his bidding.

Well, I’m not too sure that the people that have been saying that are saying his mind. I believe he is my brother and I believe at any point in time, he wants my success because I worked very hard for eight years for his own success as well. If (TOP) people are saying (that they won’t support me), I’m not too sure they are telling the story from his own heart. He remains my brother. They are not speaking his mind. Like I said, I don’t see why he would not be willing to support me if the people say they want me.

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