An engagement with Governor Rauf Aregbesola is as enlivening as the eccentricity of the man on the saddle in the piece of Nigerian territory he has redefined as the State of Osun.
His path to the Government House was laced with much intrigues just as his actions as governor have been laced with equally unusual display and delivery among the people of the state.
At one point in the engagement with a group of journalists in the wee hours of the night early on Sunday, the governor in his very simple attire got up and asked, do I really look like a governor? His unusual policies, including the landmark tablet, Opo Imo, the feeding programme, the welfare scheme and many others mark him out as an unusual governor in Nigeria.
His bold steps have equally been matched with controversy such as the education reforms that have drawn much flaks from critics.
Ahead of the August 9 gubernatorial election in which Aregbesola is standing as the candidate of the All Progressives Congress, APC, he gave a narration of how he is touching lives in the state.
The governorship election in Osun State is just some few weeks away,how prepared are you to ensure that there won’t be a repeat of what happened in Ekiti?
Firstly, I want you to know that I don’t even think about it and that is the interesting part of it. I set about this being cautious of democratic norms. In the statement I made after the Ekiti election, I reflected that a genuine democrat must be willing and ready to embrace defeat as he or she will embrace victory provided the election is transparent, credible, free and fair. The real issue is not about you as a candidate but the quality of the electoral process. Once the quality is good and high, it is whatever the people say because they are the ultimate decider of who represents or governs them. Democratic choices are expected to be correct, good and right but it is not always that the choice is good, correct and right.
To answer the question, long before I assumed this office, I prepared so well for the office in a way that going by the normal run, I should not be working as hard as I’m working now for re-election. A commentator said something to the effect that I am one of the politicians that from day one began my campaign. From the day I entered this office, I started my campaign.
How many governors walk the streets with their citizens? I have been doing that since the first month in office. How many governors created interactive fora in Nigeria before me? There is none. I was the first governor to devote close to ten hours of continuous engagement on a quarterly basis with the citizens. The people ask any question in a no hold barred atmosphere. The Ogbeni Till Day Break is a worldwide engagement because we take feedbacks from social media.
In what ways have your administration been able to make the people feel the impact of government?
Hardly is there any community in this state that we have not touched in terms of physical and social services. This is the first government that will say that there is no household; be it PDP, be it APC and others that our programmes have not reached. There is none! I feed 300,000 pupils every school day at the cost of N3.6 billion a year. I have been doing it since 2012 and I have spent N7.2 billion on that. You can go to the schools by yourself and assess what the children are eating to be sure whether it is worth what we are saying or not.
I can tell you that nobody touches the money except those in charge. Long before we commenced the feeding arrangement, we empowered poultry farmers to produce poultry products so that the chicken and eggs the children consume are all sourced from them and that is the way they paid back to us because we are going to buy from them. The students consume 15,000 whole chickens every week and it is served twice. They consume 300,000 eggs every week, one egg a week. They consume 400 tons of fish every week. They consume 35 cattle every week. We gave close to N600 million to the poultry farmers and also the fish farmers.
The only people we buy from now are the cattle rearers. We had challenge with eggs supply because the totality of the eggs produced in Osun cannot cope with our demands, so we go to Kwara and Oyo States to make it up and we pick the real foods in the markets. The women, 3,007 of them who cook the meals to serve the students take money from the bank. We gave the women a seed capital to set up themselves and start. The bank pays them for the numbers of pupils they feed and the bank comes to us for settlement. With that we have been getting a value to a large extent for the money we spend. They are fed that way every school day.
Also, tens of thousands are equally engaged in providing different items. From this alone, close to one million people are directly impacted from just one program, O’meal.
We have the second batch of O’YES cadets, the first batch of 20,000 have gone, the second batch of 20,000 is on and they are from homes. They work two or three days a week and they have the entire days of the week left for them to see what they can do with their hands and earn a living because they are taught entrepreneurial training, but they earn N10,000 monthly as cadets.
On this scheme alone, this administration has spent N9 billion. I tell people what this type of scheme means for national government. You can’t say I don’t have 18 friends who I can give half a billion naira contract to, whether they do it or not, I would have still given it.
But the maximum amount of that investment that will stay here will be less than 50 per cent. Yes, you will have the project here but there would still be capital flight because we are talking about direct impact on the economy.
O’YES has changed the paradigm; 100 per cent of that N9 billion is in this economy. The programme has huge economic benefit to the state. You have in that scheme a directly injected N9 billion to the economy that has no means of going out because a man earning N10,000, unless you promised to double his investment, he has no business travelling to Ibadan with that N10,000 if it is not going to yield anything more, he won’t go to Ibadan. Every bit of the money is better spent here.
Employment of O’YES cadet
Every O’YES cadet has a smart card and the issue of anyone handling or tampering with their money does not arise. We are one of the few governments that developed a meaningful programme for elderly citizens’ care. We are not into a blanket social welfare scheme for the elderly, we have a package that did an extensive survey of citizens that are 65 years and above – we have them in our database. We identified those among them that are without any support. That is the first time any government will so do in Nigeria. We engaged a consultant, who is a professor of gerontology in OAU, Ife. He developed the programme they used and without sentiment or parochialism, they got elderly citizens that lack support, we called them critically vulnerable people who are aged and have nobody to care for them.
If we did not discover them, nobody would have known such people existed in Nigeria because they are waiting to die because they lack everything. We identified 1,800 of such people statewide. The selection was purely based on their conditions, no primodial sentiment. We didn’t do the selection anyway, Professor Ogunbameru of OAU administered everything, gave us the list and the addresses and we have been giving them N10, 000 monthly since 2012.
Is your administration in good terms with four critical sectors, namely, Teachers, Civil Servants, Okada Riders and Students who can vote?
What we are doing is to ensure that each of these critical sectors don’t have any basis at all to be opposed to us? Let us start with the students. We met a condition when we came in that students were given a bursary of N3, 000 and they would not even get the bursary on time and it was full of scam. They brought it to me to sign and I said why do I have to sign N3, 000 for anybody? It is best if we don’t give this bursary or we give it meaningfully. We raised the bursary to N10, 000 flat. For medical and law students it is N20, 000 while our indigenes in Law school get N100, 000.
The school authorities give the money to our students in their system. I don’t see how such students will hate us in the majority, I can’t see it. Whoever now hates us has something else against us not for the fact that we have not done the needful. The increase wasn’t solicited; we did it out of our own understanding of the reality of what the students were going through.
When I get to campaign grounds, I say our roads have tribal marks. We now have special roads which when we complete some of them, they will be tourism attraction on their own. The road we are building in Gbogan, people will be coming to look at it because it is not an ordinary road. It is a road that took me time to conceive and design and we are taking our time to develop it. So, when people talk about the cost of our roads, I just laugh because it is not good to be talking to people who don’t know what they are saying.
Now ask me how was I able to pay up until December 2013? My people are called ‘Osomalo’ – they are very deft in the management of money and I took this from them. I had been saving through the Omoluabi Conservation Fund in which 10 per cent of all allocations must just go and rest, so I had money in and this was a build up of money that we used to augment payment of salaries till the over N5 billion was finished.
So, I had money in reserve, which was a build-up for my refusal to form cabinet for 10 months, I had the money. Whereas my income fell to N2.6billion at the lowest and N3.4billion at the highest for a month, my statutory expenditures which are expenditures that I have no control on once we have agreed on it, for instance salary, pension and they are N3.6 billion every month, I have no power over it. I can’t say no, am not paying.
Our teachers in the state are now very well motivated such that you cannot distinguish between them and bank workers. Our teachers now appear corporate and well-motivated. It is not that there won’t be some of them who for whatever reason don’t like us but they are in the minority. Don’t buy the talk that you hear that teachers don’t like him, I don’t believe that. You need to see how people respond to us everywhere, people just swarm around me. I have never been in a place where my presence does not generate euphoria. You don’t get such reception if people have problem with you. I don’t really believe I have any problem with any critical sector. There is nothing that they have done to deride us. There is no household in this state that does not feel our impact.
We are the first government in Nigeria to give free uniform to all students. The first government that will say that you don’t need to buy textbooks for your children in the high school, Opon Imo, and it’s targeted at 150,000 students.
One of the attractions is that it reduces the cost of book. With that number and with what it cost us to procure the e-book, N200m for 53 books.
If you divide N200 million by 53, you will get the cost of per book on that basis. If you now divide the outcome with 150,000, do you know that the cost of the book will be N2? Opon Imo should be celebrated by all because it reduces the capital outlay on books.
Tell me any government anywhere in the world that can provide eight textbooks free of charge to students. How many parents can buy all books required by their children, but we have changed this by putting into the hands of all our students in high school a library of 53 textbooks. Our students here keep it with them, go home with them, and sleep with them for as long as they are in school. That was why I said that we have saved our state N8 billion to procure these books for the students. Immediately they heard that I said we have saved the state of N8 billion naira, they said Aregbesola has stolen N8 billion. That was the genesis of the money they said my son took from Opon Imo. Let’s ask them where the N8 billion is?
Are you prepared for a possible lockdown of the state few days to the election, are you prepared?
You see, I came here from the streets and it is easy for me to go back to the streets. My real home is in the streets. I laugh when they talk about me because they don’t know I am from the street.
What is your perception about the term stomach infrastructure?
To those who people who are elites and are therefore separated from the people, this term may make a new meaning to them.
I am a product of the popular forces, the people, and I am part and parcel of them. I emanated from them and a product of their struggles. What is now known as stomach infrastructure is what we know as interaction, engagement, living with the people and meeting their aspirations and needs. That is what we have been doing from the very beginning of this administration; I feed their children every day.
The Akara seller knows that I feed her child every day. I identify with them on a daily basis in their struggle to live and they understand that everything we do is to make live easy for them. My administration does not suffer alienation from the people, it is one and same with the people and that is the basis of our confidence in their ever ready support at all times.