In this interview, Osun State Commissioner of Information and Civic Orientation, Funke Egbemode, speaks on the 2022 governorship election in the state and the chances of the state governor towards realising his second-term bid.
The governorship election is due in about a month. What should the people of Osun state expect?
They should expect increased engagement with government, they should expect increased levels of campaign, there will be door-to-door campaign, there will be unit-to-unit campaign. Indeed, the unit excos have been put together as the closest to the people, to engage them for elections. So, there will be unit based engagement, ward engagement, local government engagement, and federal constituency engagement. There will be the big rallies, but even as we speak, there are meetings going on at different levels. So, the people should expect to see their leaders at different levels. We will advertise and remind the people what the governor has done, the governor will be moving around a lot more to answer their questions on what he has done and the ministry of information will continue to push the narrative that what we have is a good product that shouldn’t be changed.
For the election proper, we will follow the INEC guidelines. Campaigns will stop when it should, the election proper will hold at the specified time, people are expected to go collect their PVCs and get ready for the d-day. On Election Day, we expect that everything will go on smoothly. We have seen that for Osun people, once you engage them, once you engage and answer their questions, they will.do what is right. We will not have any violence, and this election will be won on the first ballot, it will not be inconclusive because the governor has delivered on his promise to the people.
Despite the fact that the election is around the corner, Governor Oyetola is still rolling out projects. Is that a political move or part of the fulfilment of his mandate?
It is not a political move. He announced at the Executive Council Meeting about two weeks ago that if he has anything to quickly do even on Election Day, he will do it. He said that he does not see why governance should stop because electioneering has started. So, up until 9:00pm yesterday, he was still having discussions on places that needed fixes and projects that needed to be completed. You will notice that some road projects, for instance, are being undertaken 24/7, workers are working wven during the night. I had an experience on my way from Ilorin Airport, where we had to slow down totally and appeal to the construction workers around 8:00pm to please let us pass, because those on night shift had resumed and work was going on. So, Governor Oyetola is not taking it for granted that he has started the road and so, beneficiaries from such projects should trust him. He wants to meet all the deadlines he has set for the Ministry of Works and the Commissioner of Works knows that he needs to deliver. Water projects and even electricity transformers are arriving and will be fixed. It is just a reflection of who Governor Oyetola is, he is just a man who is about deadlines, about targets and meeting them. So, governance will not stop because electioneering has started.
The opposition has consistently questioned the motive of some of government’s recent interventions, especially why those events are happening in the build-up to the election. Could you please address that?
I sympathise with them. They have issues which I strongly recommend they take care off. We do not owe them a lot of explanations, but because they are indigenes or residents of Osun, the explanations are there for all to see. This government works daily, and today is just another work day for Governor Oyetola. The opposition will see what it chooses to see. One year ago, when we started the Olaiya flyover, they complained. When we started investigating structural defects, they complained. They complained on why we are reverting education policies, why we are revitalising general hospitals, etc. I think they are just chartered complainants, and it is okay for them to.do what they like to do. But this administration is not distracted, as a matter of fact, governance will continue up until July 16, and will resume on the morning of July 17. That’s the covenant between Governor Oyetola and the people. Instead of relying on their lazy campaign strategy of complaining, they should tell us what they want to do especially with the kind of lean purse that Oyetola has. They should tell us what they would have done differently and run the state without taking a loan, instead of belly-aching about everything good that they see. I don’t even understand why people can be so unhappy about good things, but unfortunately, it is an ailment to see a good.tjing and be unhappy with it.
Governor Oyetola seems to have gained the confidence of strategic groups across different professional lines which has translated to endorsements. What can you say is the reason for this?
Everybody who has eyes can see. We all.know where we are coming from. It is just like being at the bank of a river, wondering how you will cross to the other side; and then, a boatman arrives and paddles you to the other side. Chances that you will say “thank you” to that boatman is high, considering that other boatmen have passed without giving you a ride to the other side. The endorsement is just a “thank you” and “well done”. It is a sign that people are encouraged and they want the governor to do more. Different groups in Osun can see something different and they want it to continue. I mean, if the Old Students’ Association of Ilesha Grammar School got what they wanted, why they won’t endorse him. If businesses are thriving, why won’t people endorse him? I became Commissioner in 2019, and even this morning, I still saw new businesses springing up. So, why will people in that business not endorse him? If you are doing better than you were doing in 2017, for instance, you need to find out what has changed and align with it. That is why different groups who feel better about what they do, how they live and their overall standard of living, have come to trust Governor Oyetola’s approach to governance. Those endorsements are not likely to stop because the governor is not going to stop doing what is right.
Also, there’s been jabs thrown at the government with respect to its celebration of payment of full salaries to workers since Oyetola came into office. So, what is the big deal about payment of salaries?
The big deal is that if he stops paying full salaries, these same complainants will hit the airwaves to bad-mouth the governor. Nothing is taken for granted here. Those complaining should go around the country and find out if it is every state that has this size of purse that we are dealing with in Osun that is paying salaries and even implement the Federal Government approved minimum wage. This is just comic relief, because in 2018, they made it a campaign issue, but now that we have taken that bullet point out of their campaign strategy, they are still rambling and scrambling. Once again, I sympathise with their misfortune.
I am an indigenes of the state, born and bred here. I also resume full time living as a resident of the state in 2019. Since that time, I have seen several changes, I have heard old men and women talk about what Oyetola has brought to the table. When you pay salaries, people have money to take to the market. Consequently, our markets are fuller. Everywhere is thriving such that it is now becoming more and more difficult for those of us who came from Lagos to want to return. Life is a lot easier because there is disposable income. If you look around, there are more shopping complexes between Abeere, Okefia and Dele. YesSir, now than there was last year. You don’t bring your money into an economy that is dying, and this is a proof of how well Osun is doing. Because the people who earn from government’s employment are many, in their thousands, there is more money to spend because of full salaries and the economy is better for it. Let us not even begin to talk about other aspects of the economy that the government has touched. For instance, I wore adire yesterday, and I am wearing it again today, and I can wear it for fourteen straight days. It is a state policy, which has been graciously embraced by the people because the purchasing power is there. So, we are all the better for the salaries that are being regularly paid.
The demands of the office of the governor is certainly very huge, physically and mentally tasking. So, what gives you the confidence that your boss can go another four years in that capacity?
I think he is a very unusual, energetic leader. He just works non-stop. And I have asked him in the open, I have asked him when it was just the two or three of us in his office, how he manages it, and he just makes jest of me that he was raised on “agbo” (herbs) and I was raised on cerelac. He has limitless energy. I was just discussing with someone about the number of hours he has put into June 12 and today. I left him at the campaign office at 10:00pm, and his day started as early as 8:00am. He went to Ekiti for the campaign and returned to meetings here. It is surprising how he sits at meetings, and the undiscerning think he is tired or not even listening, until he asks a dozen questions about a particular presentation. He is such a blessed leader. We just pray that God will continue to keep him in good health because his energy is inspiring. He makes you want to also go the extra mile when you see the number of hours he works. When you tell him to slow down, he tells you that he knows his body more than you do. We just hope that when he 90, he will be able to look back and thank God that he led the state the way he did.
So, what unique feature about the governor still catch your fancy after almost three years of working with him?
It is his calmness in the face of provocation, warranted and warranted. It is the way he keeps going on even when nobody is saying well done or thank you. When I asked, he said that is what he signed up to do and you cannot get angry with people for not saying ‘thank you’ for doing what you signed up to do. As a matter of fact, he makes excuses by saying maybe you haven’t explained what you are doing in ways that people understand you. He is very calm. Sometimes, when I want to get angry about a matter, I ask myself how Oyetola would react in such an instance. His calmness sometimes can be unnerving. And the fact that he has this poker face, you can’t read him unless he really speaks up. You cannot be really sure how he is going to react. I am really hoping that one day, I will be able to sit and nobody can tell what is going on in my head, but I think it is in-born, it is just how he was raised and wired. But I will love to be as calm as Oyetola. Faced with any kind of challenge, he has that calmness, he just sits and looks on as if nothing has happened.
Given your track record as a thorough-bred information manager, what deliberate measures have you put in place as commissioner for information to sanitise the information space?
The first thing is to have a good relationship with the media community. I try to ensure that my colleagues in the state and outside the state see that whatever I do, I do in the interest of the state and the government. At every opportunity I get, I try to explain what the government is doing, whether it is an in interview, an informal occasion or sitting at a workshop. The governor is very appreciative of these, and with the help of the governor, we have been able to make things different, whether it’s in the ministry, we have been able to do things differently. We are currently having a workshop, for instance, to sensitise our people and to prepare them and make them understand how INEC’S BVARS will work, how Election Day will work, how party agents will work, and a host of other issues. We cannot expect to do things the same old way and expect a different result. Because of my stint in the newsroom, I have a fair idea of what the newsroom expects of government. We’ve brought columnists here to see what we are doing so we don’t just send them bullet points, photographs and soft copies of what have done. We have also taken the governor to editors so they can hear from the governor directly on what he has done, so he can answer their questions and bond with them. Everything that we can do as a media organ, we have done. We put together news items about the stage every week and push them out in a small newspaper. We are trying to bring back to life, through the help of the governor, the government’s printing press that was established by the OlagunsoyeOyinlola administration. We found it overgrown with weeds with reptiles having a field day in the print shop. The governor has helped us to renovate the complex and has even approved more funds for us to buy machines that are required to make the place able to serve the system, because if we have to go an.print certain sensitive documents outside, it does not make us as a government look good. And then, when you look at the Osun State Broadcasting Corporation, the governor has been very helpful and gotten us to start looking better than we use to. Now, if you sit and watch OSBC, it is not the same station you watched in 2020 because the governor keeps improving on the equipment until we get to where we desire. As a multi-station set up, the governor even pays millions in terms of fees for registration and operation of the different stations. The governor has been very supportive, he allows us a free hand and calls us to order when he thinks we are not doing enough or overdoing something. He is a media-savvy leader.
Election season is the time when tensions are higher and the polity is hotter. What measures are you putting in place to ensure that there are no stoking of unnecessary flames through unverified stories and sensational reports?
We are armed as the agency that manages information, and the image of the government and the state, with facts and figures. That is the only way you can deal with those who want to stoke fire that does not even exist. We simply throw the facts and figures at them. And then, there are stories that you should just take away the oxygen from. You should not respond to every lie every attention seeker, we try not to give them attention. Some stories will simply die natural death when you take the oxygen away. Also, where we need to respond, we quickly do so; but where we need to let professionals respond, we let them do so. For instance, if there are concerns raised about the structural integrity of the newly constructed flyover, if the Commissioner for Information responds, she would be reminded that she studied English Language, not engineering. So, 8n cases like that, we let registered engineers, experts from COREN and NSE to respond to such cries. Also, when there are questions to be answered about Covid-19, we also brought out the experts to come and answer the questions. So, the job of the information manager is not to jump from radio station to radio station. Where we need to get those in charge of certain sectors to talk, we prod them to talk and make them explain in the terms that people will understand. That has worked for us and will continue to work.