Public sector environmentalist in South West Nigeria today having manage the environment of three of the six states in the region; both as policy formulator and implementer for over ten years and still counting. He is a chieftain of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN). He was the chairman of Alimosho Local Government and won the award of the Best LG Chairman in Lagos in 2002 and 2003. He used to be a Senior Special Assistant on Environment to former Governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, a consultant on Environment to Lagos Government under Fashola and later Senior Special Assistant to Governor Olusegun Mimiko of Ondo State on Environment. Now Special Adviser on Environment to Governor Rauf Aregbesola of Osun State, Ilori, in this interview with thegazellenews.com, speaks on his experience as manager of environment for three states. Excerpts:
What’s the motive behind the Hassan Olajoku Park?
For us, it is about extending the frontiers of development through environment. You know if you want to attract people to develop the economy, you have to attract people to spend in that economy and people don’t go to uninviting places. They want to feel welcome, relax and have a feeling that this is a place they can be.
This is why we are committing ourselves to ensuring that we extend the frontiers of development via environmental improvement which is what we are doing there.
The political import of what we are doing there is also historical which is not lost on the people. It was at that particular spot that one of the big supporters of our movement to Osun, Hassan Olajoku was murdered while we were returning from a rally at Ilobu. We have every reason to believe that it was the government of the day then that perpetrated the act. So, the project is to eternally immortalise the Hassan Olajoku and shame those who thought that by killing him, they will silence Olajokun, they will kill the effort at taking over governance in the State of Osun. Those are some core reasons that informed the project.
Don’t forget that Gbongan is a major gateway to the state capital, Osogbo and the park will serve as rest point for people travelling through the road to Ibadan. I mean that people, after such travelling, will want to relax, eat pounded yam, bush meat, drink some palm wine and do whatever they want to do. So we are creating a nice place for people to rest in healthy, nice looking, highly refreshing, inviting and welcoming environment with modern facilities that are comparable to those anywhere in the world.
What will be the major features of the park?
We are going to have joints for local delicacies such as Amala and pounded yam. For the elite, we are having fast food outlets to take care of continental dishes.
It is not only about food. We are having artefact display where people can actually explore and see the relics. So for us, it is also a tourist centre. We also have some playing stuff for children to be able to relax. So, it is both adult and child friendly park.
We also have a police station there for security because if you know the history of the place and what led to the death of somebody at that particular place, then there is need for a proper security to be put in place. We are building a police station that will be well equipped. These are some of the features you will have at the park.
Is project going to be revenue generating? What about the issue of maintenance?
It is for us to push forward to advance the frontiers for economic development as I have said earlier, which means that we have revenue generation at the back of our minds but I wouldn’t go with that. It is not just about generating money at the park but generating business for the community; that’s the major duty of government; to create wealth for the people and not just create wealth for itself. So it isn’t all about people paying at the park.
How much will they pay?
Facility users will pay some amount but that’s not even the major benefit to us. We want to see the ability of our people to engage in economic activities. We want to see people doing Adire business which is the major occupation here; we want to see hunters displaying bush meat for people to buy; people coming to eat assorted foods on display, drink pure water, palm wine and juice, eat different kinds of fruits.
These are the core things we are promoting, so it is not just about how much they pay at the park. The park is free to enter but when you eat there you will pay, you are not paying to the government you are paying to the people of Osun which is the concept we are looking at economically.
On issue of maintenance, there will be a facility manager who will be the head of administration in the place. This is a major centre with an event centre for social outings as well as a viewing centre which will display the rich cultural heritage and tourist attractions in the State of Osun. These will give our visitors deep knowledge of the state. These are the key features you will see at Hassan Olajoku Park and a facility manager and other staff will be on ground to ensure that sanity prevails there, it’s not designed to be operated by the Ministry.
Coming through Ibadan to Osogbo, we noticed that the median is being cleared by O’CLEAN people. What is the motive for this?
We are trying out something that has never been done here in Nigeria, where people can drive through 10 to 30 kilometres properly done highway. That’s all we are trying to do; we wrote and got the approval of the Federal Government that we want to take over the highway.
We are afraid of the safety implication of having bush on the median with vehicles not having proper view of the other side of the road and you know armed robbers can just spring from nowhere and throw something on the road to attack drivers and motorists. This is why we decided to take over the median for the benefit of our people. What you now see is that the bushes on the median are being cleared and beautified with manicured flowers and good landscaping all the way from Asejire to Gbongan.
Now, there is no place for armed robbers or hoodlums to hide and in few months’ time, that area will be comparable to anywhere in the world. The most, important thing is that we wrote and got the approval of the Federal Government to avoid any acrimony.
The project has now been extended to other towns like Gbogan and Ikire; which other towns are you extending your projects to?
Let us be through with this. This is taking us to Owena. We are now beyond Gbogan which is Waka-jaye junction and we are going to Owena which is our boundary with Ondo State. This means we are taking it from our boundary with Oyo State to Ondo State boundary; that’s the entire stretch of Osun State on the highway. So, it is not just one, two, three local governments, it is taking the entire stretch which is about 190 kilometres.
Also, we are looking at taking some inner cities of Iwo, Ilesha and Ife. We are still doing more in other areas but you know you can’t finish everything in a day. That’s how we want to be progressive and move on. We are doing a whole lot things in Osogbo now but we don’t want to be like some other state governments that concentrate all their efforts just on the capital city and they will bring camera there and say they are working whereas other parts of the state are not even witnessing anything.
Here, now on this stretch, we are covering Isokan, Oyewole, Aiyedade and Atakumosa local governments; so it isn’t just about one kilometre, it is about many kilometres.
When you started the O’CLEAN project, what were the major challenges you face?
When we started the O’CLEAN, we met a decadent environmental situation. In fact, it was so bad that we have to declare emergency because that was the only thing that could have been done at that point. The situation caused us to declare environmental emergency which was the first time such is happening in Nigeria. So for 90 days, we were packing refuse daily. It was a major challenge because people are not used to the culture. It was difficult at the beginning but they appreciated the effort.
But now things have changed positively. Majority of the people now voluntarily comply. They now voluntarily do their own cleaning; even when there were instances we have to postpone sanitation exercise, people still go ahead to clean their environment. They have to come to realise that it is for their own benefit.
You have won several awards on environmental sanitation as a local government chairman in Lagos when you served as Senior Special Assistant to then Governor Tinubu on Environmental Sanitation. How have these experiences assist you in the present assignment?
You know it will get to a point when the experience one has will come in. I have worked in all the places you mentioned and don’t forget the fact that I was also an SSA to present Governor of Ondo State, Dr Olusegun Mimiko on Environment and the Chairman of Ondo State Beautification Committee but Osun State is different from all those places in terms of population, demographic configuration and even waste characterisation.
However, the experience I have gathered has been quite helpful. You know Lagos has the biggest environmental challenges hence I faced my biggest environmental challenge there. I am now spending 10 years in the management of the environment and I have managed environment consecutively in three states of the federation and I doubt if anybody has that kind of experience.
So, the experience I have garnered in the past have been helpful here. There are six states in the Southwest and I have managed the environment in three.
Your projects are quite capital intensive; how do you cope with the lack of fund?
The issue of fund is the major challenge anywhere in the world, so I don’t want to hold that as an excuse. I learnt in my secondary school Economics that resources are never enough, so I will not use that as an excuse. What is important is what I am delivering and luckily we have many achievements to point to.
The Governor of the State of Osun, Engineer Rauf Adesoji Aregbesola in 2012 won an Africa Regional Award organised by the United Nations Environmental Agency for having the biggest and the best environmental initiative which is the O’CLEAN. So to the glory of God, I handled that for him. You know UN is an international organisation and for winning its award, I have every reason to thank God.
Yet, fund is a major challenge because Osun does not have money and this is clear to everybody but we will not say because of this, we will not do what we are expected to do to make the people happy. What we have been doing is to make judicious use of the funds available to us and we have been getting the right results. When we came on board, flood was a major problem in the state. We met an annual ritual where people are washed away, their properties destroyed, animals killed and farm lands washed away but those have become past tense.
State of Osun is prone to flooding; in fact the name of the state was derived from that of a river but since we came on board, we have been on top of this and have not witnessed any case of flooding here, to the extent that even a Federal Government agency, the Nigeria Metrological Agency, commended us for a job well done.
What is your overview of the O’CLEAN project?
You know the O’CLEAN is an initiative of the current governor; I want to say the people of the state are the best judge of that. We could point at what we have achieved and the impact on the people which you can’t compare with when there was nothing like this. I think it has been doing well for the people, looking at the intangibles in term of orientation of our people on living a healthy life which is fast catching on.
How do I know? Recently, the state Ministry of Health stated that cases of malaria have reduced by 50 percent in the state and you know what causes malaria is living in unhygienic condition which attracts mosquitoes. So, if cases of malaria have reduced, then it is an achievement for the O’CLEAN which has been waging war against unhealthy living and which means people are responding positively to the war.
It also generates employment?
Yes, you know it is a serious employment drive and that’s another major initiative of the government under O’YES Initiative that 20,000 jobs was created within 100 days of Aregbesola’s administration which has never been done in the history of job creation in Nigeria. Even the Federal Government has acknowledged the initiative and is using it as a template for its job creation drive. Environment is a major engager of this army of employee.
You were a former SSA to Governor Mimiko. At what stage did you fall out with him?
I must say that we don’t have any personal disagreement. I must be clear on that; what we have is political difference. I joined this government on the platform ACN and since he found it difficult for whatever reason to work with our people, it will amount to disloyalty for me to continue working for him.
I mean, he genuinely wanted me to stay. His thinking was that we should leave the leaders to sort the political issue while I continue with my assignment which he believe I was doing well. But life is all about choices and loyalty matters a lot.
If I came to your government as ACN and the understanding was that you are going to team up with us and you are foot dragging for whatever reason, the issue becomes more complicated and our party started complaining loudly. I don’t need to be told that the game was over before doing what’s right and what was honourable for me was to resign and not just to have comfort, sitting there with him. So, I had to quit his government.
What should we be looking forward to in 2013?
We are starting OCLEAN PLUS. This is our re-engineered environmental agenda designed to elevate our environmental status in the world. Under the programme, the government shall be thinking globally but acting locally.
We plan to encourage the use of waste –biogas for cooking. We are introducing private sector collection of waste, we shall be planting 2.5million trees in Osun towns the progamme is named Igi-Iye, this would be in additional to another 5million meant for reforestation programme. We shall be retrieving waste pure-water nylon for the environment under our Nylon/plastic Buy-back programme.
We are inaugurating environmental law enforcement organ called O’CLEAN Marshals. We also have massive mosquitoes control programme under the O’CLEAN PLUS initiative. It’s a full package of world class environmental initiative.