Ogun State Governor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun
After 15 months of assuming office, Ogun State Governor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun, is still contending with the challenge of fixing the state. He claims to have inherited a state that was on the verge of collapse. In this interview with state correspondents in Abeokuta, Ogun State capital , he gave insight into how he met the state and what he has been doing to fix it. Sheriff Balogun was there. Excerpts:
How has the journey been in the last 17 months since you assumed office?
I believe that our work should speak for us, but I also know that we should collaborate with you to inform the people of what we are doing. You are the landlords here and you go around and see things and mirror the society. We came in with our five-point agenda which we christened Mission to Rebuild Ogun State. Ogun State is known for its many pre-eminence in so many key areas of socio-economic life of this country but we shouldn’t live in the past; we must live up to modern day realities.
In the area of education, I am not here to cast aspersion on the performance of anybody but I need to let you know that we met dilapidated classrooms all around the state. We realised that a lot of our students are out of school. The government then, for reasons best known to it, decided to return some schools to the missionaries. I have no problem with that, so far there are schools which can accommodate those who cannot afford to pay the high fees in private schools and yet deserve access to quality education.
Unfortunately, Ogun State has a preponderance of missionary schools. All the good schools were established by the missionaries. In fact, about 90 per cent of the schools in Ogun State were established by missionaries and what we discovered was that in the first year of the returned schools, 19,000 students dropped out of school; the following year, the figure jumped to 21,000. We came in and introduced free education and we were able to get 20,000 students back to school. The missionaries want their schools. Yes, we will give them but we need time and resources to do it.
We then went on the offensive by renovating 100 blocks of classrooms in 100 schools in 100 days of the administration. By now, the number must have risen to 200. The enrolment figure is increasing every day. We saw the longtime neglect of the schools and so we decided to construct model secondary schools and they will be ready by early next year. The plan initially was to get them ready before the start of the current academic session but we had some challenges that delayed them. We had land challenges. The kind of schools we envisage is one that would rival some universities.
We need land for the facilities we want to construct there. But by early next year, 15 of these 26 model schools will be ready. We reverted back to free education and that, to me, is the most important thing. In every of our primary and secondary schools, each of the students collects between eight and 12 textbooks depending on the subject he or she is offering. People never believed it was possible but we did it. We already have bags in place for distribution to those students to safeguard the textbooks.
We now have challenges of people willing to come back to public schools in Ogun State. Every month, we have over 3,000 applications of people willing to come to our schools. What does this tell us? It says that public confidence is back in our public schools. It says that we are doing something right. We have eradicated the menace of overcrowded classrooms. We are also paying the (West Africa School Certificate) WASC fees of final year students. We have also returned the schools to the missionaries except one for each of the faiths. We told them we were not interested in their schools, we just needed a place to hold the students until we finished our own model schools. Through the free education policy, we have given every child the opportunity to be educated notwithstanding the social status of the parent.
We have also cleared the backlog of unpaid salaries and allowances of the teachers. We do not owe any teacher, be it at primary or secondary school. For those in primary schools, I am aware that they collect their pay some days into a new month but this is because their salary is tied to the federal revenue allocation. The allocation for local governments doesn’t come till the last day of the month and before you finish all the paper works, the new month is already some days old.
There is the problem of backlog of salaries and allowances owed by the previous administration. In some institutions, they had 19 months of unpaid salaries but I can confirm now that we are clearing it.
Yes, some arrears are still being owed but remember our administration didn’t owe this money. Yes, government is a continuum but give us some credit that you are being owed 10 months, 11 months’ salary arrears and someone came in and is not owing a kobo for over one year and still clearing the backlog.
In the area of health, we renovated 50 primary health centres (PHC) first, and we have decided to continue the renovation work. We realise that because of the rots we met on ground, if we said we would build modern hospitals immediately we came in, we might be wasting time and begging the issue. How do we expect someone in Ipokia to get to Ilaro quickly if he has a health challenge? How will someone in Imeko get to Ayetoro if he has health crisis? We want to ensure that each of the primary health centres can handle issues that are not critical. As we speak, we should have renovated over 100 PHCs. The aim is to ensure that each of our 236 political wards has a functional health centre. These health centres are being equipped with electricity and water. What we did was to sink boreholes and generating sets to power the pumps. What we are doing now is to explore the option of solar energy to solve the problem.
We also want to ensure that apart from putting the existing hospitals in shape, we want to build another set of nine hospitals. Each of the nine federal constituencies will have one each. They won’t be primary health centres but they will be secondary health centres to handle health challenges that some primary health centres cannot accommodate. I can report that by December, we will be commissioning some of these secondary health centres.
There is a crisis in Tai Solarin College of Education (TASCE) with the workers saying they would close down the school if some allowances were not paid. What is your government doing about this?
It is true that TASCE people are complaining, but they are trying to punish me for a crime I didn’t commit. They are saying that the previous administration moved the school from the original site in Ijagun to Omu-Ijebu and all the things they used in generating revenue were left at the original site now transferred to another school and that they have nothing. They are also saying that they are being owed 17 months of salary arrears which this administration inherited. I said I would pay the arrears and I told them I am not owing you and I will not owe them but the backlog they are talking about didn’t happen under me and I will pay but they want everything paid at once.
I said I didn’t have the money. I will pay it and I have been paying it gradually. Every month, in addition to their salaries, I pay two or three months of the arrears depending on availability of funds but they want it in one fell swoop and I said ‘I don’t have such money.’ I am not a magician. I didn’t owe that money but I know we have to inherit both the assets and liability, but to say I must pay it at once is impossible and not practicable. I am sorry I can’t help them beyond what I am doing. They are asking for backlog to be paid at once but can someone ask them what they were doing when they were being owed the salary arrears? Were their union leaders sleeping?
Why are you building new model schools when there are existing school structures that are still in bad shape?
I just told you that if we are to return the schools to missionaries, we won’t have anywhere to keep our students. These model schools are being built to accommodate these students. The government schools presently don’t have land and so, since we are returning the schools, we need to build our own.
Let me also say quickly that admission into the model schools would be on merit. It won’t be who you know. Examinations will be conducted and those who pass will be admitted. Even if you are the son of Ibikunle Amosun or the son of a farmer, you will have to sit for an examination.
Why did you slash the salaries of political office holders?
Yes. We reduced salaries of political office holders because we needed money for development. We felt that because of our financial situation, we must make sacrifice. It will be like that until when we are buoyant as a state.
What will you say has been your greatest challenge since you assume office?
It is too early to say this is the greatest challenge one has as governor. The challenge I have is how I will demolish homes of people to pave way for a road. I am not happy at all because this has been the abode of people for ages and now they have to move to make a way for road. I am sad by that but we must plan for our children and work for their future. What gladdened my heart was the day we were commissioning the Ibara-Sokori Road for example and those whose houses had to make way were waving at me because they saw the speed and the commitment we had for it and because they saw that I meant well.
Why has the severance allowance for political office holders who served in the last administration not been paid?
I am yet to pay it. If those who are still working now are still being owed a backlog of 11 months of unpaid salaries and you that caused the whole mess are asking for severance pay, I will pay but it is not a priority. This is why when I hear those who were owed 19 months which I have reduced to two or three months, saying they want to go on strike because of the backlog, I wonder what is wrong with them.
If I haven’t paid the backlog of those who are still working, how do I now pay those who have left? I will pay it, no doubt, because all those working with me now are also entitled to it and they will collect it too after the end of this administration.
But I can’t make that my priority. No, I won’t. If I should go and pay now and leave all these people with the backlog, won’t they go on strike? I have made a pledge with my God that I won’t owe anyone working for this state.