We Are Building Osun Airport To Develop Our Economy— Aregbesola

The Governor of Osun State, Mr. Rauf Aregbesola, during his courtesy visit to the Punch Place, addressed several issues, including governance, the controversial Nigeria Governors’ Forum election and the All Progressives Congress. 

Do you have a blueprint that has direct bearing with the needs of the people, since you claim to follow Obafemi Awolowo’s steps?

I have always been like this, but it is unfortunate that when you are still at the periphery there won’t be so much attention on you compared to when you are in the centre. It is interesting how I built myself to where I am. I’ve been in the foretaste of political affairs in Lagos State since 1993. Only close watchers, who were part of the process, knew that I was there until I came to the open in 1999. I was critical to the 1999 expression but many did not know. From 1999 to 2007, close watchers could see that I was not an ordinary person there. That is about that; but what defined everything from the day I caught my political consciousness is that human beings must be at the focus of all efforts in any society. Whenever I see or sense any effort that will not benefit man, I criticise it. I am pro-people in every sense; I don’t like attempts to suppress or manipulate man. As for our blueprint, it is in public domain. If there are governors that came into service with clear outline of programmes, policies and objectives, I’m one of them. We completed the blueprint of our government in 2005. It was published same year. When you get a copy, you can do an assessment to see if we are indeed keeping faith with our programmes. The blueprint could be classified into six action points. We realised that the greatest challenge of our people was poverty. So, our first assignment was to banish poverty, unemployment and hunger. Others are education, healthy living and communal harmony. These are the things that our state needs to get back to the root of development. On Awolowo, I must say that I patterned my programmes after his ‘People’s Republic.’ What I did before going into politics was to ensure I could recite the content. I regurgitated it whenever I needed to make reference to it. I do that in my own words. ‘People’s Republic’ is my manifesto. I have tried to adapt it to the current realities and it remains our driving force in governance.

Will some of your programmes be sustainable when another government comes into power?

Our programmes are sustainable. If they looked unsustainable initially, they become more sustainable as we go on. I will reel out some of them. When we assumed office, Osun was one of the states grappling with poverty and unemployment. After one year in office, Osun has the least unemployment index in Nigeria – three per cent. You may not like our approach and query it but it has multifaceted results. Crime rate is very low in the state today. Poverty rate is low. I quote a report published in The PUNCH last September that Niger State had the lowest poverty index while it said Osun came second. On the other hand, the report said Osun had the least unemployment ahead of Niger. This, the report said, put Osun State as the best model of governance. I think the publication quoted the National Bureau of Statistics. We said in our plan that 100 days into our administration, we will engage 20,000 unemployed youths – whether with Senior Secondary Certificate, National Diploma, Higher National Diploma or degree. We advertised and asked interested people to apply. We got over 250,000 applications. That means we only employed eight per cent of the total applicants, but it doused some social tension of years of unemployment and hopelessness. When we came in, there was no budget provision for that. So, we had to look for money to run it until we got a budget for it. I’m happy with what we have done and how the society has received it. We intend legislating on it to make it an enduring legacy.  Even if we don’t legislate on it; no government can reverse it. It is impossible, it has become a pattern. When the World Bank heard of the programme, it came to study it and some weeks ago it allocated to Nigeria $300m (N48.4bn) out of which Osun was given $18m (N2.9bn) to do a nationwide youth empowerment scheme in line with the state’s initiative. Even if you were afraid of our capability to sustain it, consider the fact that the World Bank has endorsed and adopted it.

Before our time, public primary and secondary schools had lost their relevance. No human being with any form of decency wanted their children there, particularly primary schools. How did we come to that conclusion?

I was born and bred in Ikare, which was remote and far from civilisation, but then, the schools were the centre of education. They had the best buildings, it made attending school attractive and popular. As we moved away from colonial rule, symbols of government sent their children to such schools but that is no longer the case. We realised that the formative stage of life was critical, so we thought of getting the children protein-rich nutrition through the school system. We checked our budget and recruited the best hands to do this. It is also providing opportunities for farmers, who are being patronised for this project. As of today, we feed 254,000 pupils every school day. Twice a week, they have chicken, once they eat eggs, meaning that at least 254,000 eggs are supplied every week. Because the state does not have the capacity to supply so much now, we get from Kwara State and Oyo, among others. We buy 3,000 whole chickens ever week, which are being supplied by farmers in the state. Already, poultry is a popular venture in Osun. People are laughing to the bank. We slaughter 35 cows every week for the children. We also serve fish but I don’t have the statistics. What I know is that that has revived an ailing fishery project in the state. The fish is catfish — Obokun, our children now eatObokun. We also learnt from nutrition experts that cocoyam has more nutrition that yam tuber, so we have also added it to their menu. I doubt how any administration, no matter how uncaring it is, will stop these programmes. Another area to address is the state’s revenue. I’m opposed to envelope economy. And that is one of the reasons I am very vocal on regional integration. We must join hands to campaign for the restructuring of the architecture of governance which consumes so much of the nation’s wealth as against the actual needs of the people. If all governments could do half of what Osun is doing, the spate of crime and violence will drastically reduce. I look at sustainability from that point of view; it is to make people happy. I do say that the main assignment of any responsible government is the development of human capacity for self sustenance and good life. That explains the philosophy behind our people-oriented programmes and we are not ready to change.

There is this crave among governors to either buy private jets or register one in the name of a private airline or go on chartered flights. It has been speculated that Osun also got beaten by that bug despite the fact that it is considered to be poor. How true is it that the state bought a helicopter? If true, why?

We need to first answer some salient questions. What was the need for that intervention?  The first is security considerations. We are into an arrangement on the helicopter idea but it is with the highest sense of responsibility to our people. The interest we want to promote led us into it even though we are no longer using it for the purpose it was meant because of disappointments in some quarters. Osun is not too big but the travel time from the capital, where the elite security operatives are and other locations in the state takes a minimum of between one and half to two and half hours. Talk of Ora, Ife Odan, Ifetedo, Ikire, Owena and so on. Should there be an emergency, we should be able to support, rescue and intervene immediately. We won’t shout this on the house top but we had earlier invested in an alert system in respect to any threat to our people anywhere in the state. We thought that a helicopter would complement the rescue efforts by removing the impediment that the roads constitute when there is an emergency. But it is unfortunate that we met a brick wall, we have abandoned it. We would appreciate if the Federal Government could release the sort code for our use and safety of our people. Anybody could be in an emergency. We have the numbers to call on the ambulances. It is unfortunate that we have limited ourselves by the poverty we have around us. We must take a leap to be free. Awolowo used helicopter to campaign in the 50s.

But it was with his money…

Were Awolowo to be alive today, he will be on the side of efficiency. As for Aregbesola, it won’t be an issue, but I’m saying that efficiency requires that you use whatever it requires to bring out the best in you. If I were to choose between commuting on this road (Lagos-Ibadan Expressway) for at times seven to eight hours and using a helicopter, I will choose the latter. If there is a need for it and I have the helicopter to use, I will use it. Between 25 to 30 minutes I will arrive here and return to Osun to attend to other state issues. The cost of time lost is more that the cost of the helicopter in reality. Nobody owns helicopter for flamboyant use. The demand for helicopter usage on commercial basis is significant. So, if the state invests in it, it will recoup its money. Honestly speaking, I do not see any frivolity in owning a helicopter. Two months ago, we lost 14 people in an accident despite the fact that there was an ambulance point close to the scene of the accident. This happened because nobody had the presence of mind to get help. Those people could have been rescued with an alert system in place that will get information to the ambulance point or the helicopter. My response is this, let’s not allow poverty to overwhelm us, let’s raise the bar in public interest.

If we had limited ourselves, we won’t be doing one-tenth of what we are doing today. Even with the scarce resources, we are pushing through because we are bold, courageous and uncompromising. When we came in, we had to borrow N1bn to pay staff salary. This was when the total salary of the workers was less than N2bn. Today, by simply re-engineering the economy of the state, I signed N3bn wage bill for June up from N2.6bn. How, you may ask? We don’t spend our excess crude allocation. We warehouse it since it is not regular. It has turned out good, we use it to pay staff salary so we can pay workers on the 25th of every month. Even the state allocation comes two weeks or more in arrears, so you can’t plan salaries with it. A government must use what it has to get what his people need without making excuses based on poverty.

For instance, we want to eradicate malaria in Osun State. We inherited 500,000 incidences of malaria, but through aggressive sanitation efforts we have reduced it to 200,000 according to the national agency. But we actually want to eradicate it., It is possible. That is why we are now pursuing a programme with the Cubans to regularly fumigate the environment.

Why Cubans and not Nigerians?

The technology is developed there. It is as simple as that. They have the technology for mass elimination of mosquitoes and its lava through aerial fumigation.

But you should have worked towards acquiring that technology…

We don’t have that luxury of time. The tenure of a governor is four years.

I hope it works especially stopping the mosquitoes from flying into Osun from Ondo State…

If we periodically fumigate, the number of mosquitoes will reduce drastically. You will still have the effect of places where that is not done, but that is why I talk about regional integration. The same applies to the issue of crime control and security, it will eliminate opportunistic attacks and it will cost less when we do it together. But as long as there is no consensus, those of us who value human life and its quality will not wait.

Your allocation from the federation account is N3.06bn; N3bn goes into salaries, wages and pension, among other expenses, and you are building an airport. I think Osun doesn’t need an airport seeing the paltry income.

That is to you, not to me and luckily I am the governor. I’m not just building airport I am also building three roads.  It is important to address this issue for clarity. The airports in Britain are many and the distance between them don’t justify their existence. We are building the economy of Osun – the commercial hub of Nigeria.

Can you mention any airport in the UK that is being run by government?

The problem is that our economy is not privately-run. We must understand that. Everything depends on government. If we fail to understand it, we will be mired. N4trn is the entire amount that about 160 million Nigerians are looking up to. That means N30, 000 per person. What can such amount of money do? That is why Osun wants its active adults to be able to earn their sustenance and that is a challenge to government in our kind of economy. An airport is important in Osun because of the hopeless conditions of our roads, which are unattractive to investors. It is an incentive to investors in terms of saving time. Besides, Osun is the cradle of 33 million Yoruba people in the world. The Ooni of Ife said 100 million but I don’t want to go into that. I have been to virtually everywhere they are in the Diaspora to see them. They value opportunity and that is why if you can bottle the sand of Ife and take it to Brazil, you would be mobbed. Don’t ask me why it is so. It’s just their attachment, just as I am attached to visiting Mecca every year. With 200,000 foreign visitors to Osun in a year, spending $1,000 (N161, ooo) will amortise the N4bn investment in the airport in four years. That comes to $200m (N32.2bn) and this will also bring more employment. You didn’t query what I am spending on the roads because that to you is development. That is why we said at the beginning that we will run an unusual government. I met a proposal of N9bn for the airport but was able to get N4bn proposal based on consultation with the Air force. This should be a problem because the first airstrip in West Africa was in Osun because it is the highest plateau. We are funding it in a flexible manner. I have changed the character of contracting in Nigeria and I wish other states follow me. What I do is to issue promissory notes to my contractors, they take it to any financial institution that will take it from them and I pay within my small budget over a period – two, three or four years, depending on the agreement. I am getting results. I met an Internally Generated Revenue of N200m but it is now more than N1bn. The airport is a cargo airport and if my programme on agriculture succeeds, I can send my goods to anywhere in the world. It is beyond flippant and ego boosting, we want to transform our people from the miserable condition we met them.

Why is it that the governors of the South-West are just carrying along with whatever is done at the centre despite laying claim to federalism in line with Awolowo’s philosophy?

We have been in court since I assumed office on Sovereign Wealth and nothing has happened. The same affects the point you have raised. But it is not true that we are not doing anything on it. If you say we are not pushing federalism enough, tell us how to do it. My aggressive push has earned me accusation. In 100 days in office, I rebranded the state with an informal name. I said the name of our state is State of Osun. They said I wanted to secede, but they could not show us how the constitution had been infringed upon. Then they started shouting again that I was promoting jihad, have discontinued with state security apparatus and that I was a jihadist. On federalism, I should get a medal.

How can Nigerians have confidence in governors who could not organise Nigeria Governors’ Forum election?

If I slap you now and this place is in chaos, do you blame the management of the company for the action? That was what happened, some people deliberately wanted to discredit an organised process. Let’s call the spade what it is. We all know what happened but we are timid to say it. You cannot use a deliberate smear to castigate all governors. We all know the interest of who was behind what happened. If we are not courageous enough to apportion blame let’s be quiet. I rest my case.

You once said that the Yoruba should trace the meaning of that word, have you been able to find the meaning?

You know the meaning of Aregbesola but Yoruba is a foreign name imposed on us by the Lander brothers. The only name without meaning in Yoruba is that name we call ourselves – Yoruba. I am neither a sociologist nor an historian. Let our historians help us. Yorubas in the Diaspora don’t call themselves by that name. We are a people with a huge air of freedom that is why every ethnic group has a unique name. We are a people with a strong identity.

What are you doing to address power in line with making the state a commercial hub?

How far can I go, what power do I have? We were the first to pioneer independent power project in Nigeria. We broke rules to do it as a commissioner working with Asiwaju (Bola Tinubu). I don’t work on where I can’t get immediate results. Power supply will not be an issue if the Federal Government takes gas pipeline issue as important as it takes roads. These are the posers we should give to the FG. We are flaring gas that should have been channelled  to states.

 But you can build small hydro plants for your state…

I am doing that. I will commission them soon.

What are the prospects of the APC? Who are the possible candidates?

APC is a mission to redeem Nigeria, a platform for sacrifice. Asiwaju has said that we are ready to make the sacrifice that will salvage Nigeria. It is not about personality but about the future of Nigeria. We cannot say who the candidates will be because the party has not picked anyone yet. The PDP has the majority in the governors’ forum for instance, because people had to decide where they wanted to go. The question the media needs to ask Governor Jonah Jang is, ‘Is 16 greater than 19?’ We knew what the result was. What happened shows you what will happen in 2015. In APC, for the first time, you have the best of the North coming together with the best of the South and that is what has been lacking in Nigerian politics.

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