Ogun State Governor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun, in this interview with ARISE NEWS CHANNEL Anchor, Modele Sarafa-Yusuf, speaks on Ogun gubernatorial race, the call on President Buhari not to seek re-election, efforts by the state to get Lagos State to refund income tax collected from residents of Ogun working in Lagos, his vision and how he wants to be remembered after leaving office. Excerpts:
Ogun is positioning itself as a manufacturing hub in Nigeria. Tell us about the recent reforms aimed at boosting industrialisation in the state.
For any development to happen, either in the state or at the national level, infrastructure must be in place. Infrastructure had been proven as the enabler for development. Without infrastructure, there can be no development. For me, infrastructure may start from security. Nothing good can happen in an atmosphere that is insecure. For me, once you are secured, that will be the starting point for me. So, we made sure that Ogun State is secured. Even the few companies that are here used to do only one shift because they were not secured. Since we have been in the saddle of administration in Ogun State, that has changed. The first few years, we had security issues but the years down the line, many companies now run two to three shifts.
Clearly, without us knowing it, everybody agreed that this is the destination of choice where everybody must be. We thank God. We have positioned ourselves as the industrial hub of Nigeria. The report that you were referring to were perhaps conducted by Commonwealth and British Council or so. We didn’t know about it. We just learnt that PWC did a study for them and the result showed that 75 percent of FDI Foreign Direct Investment in the area of manufacturing was attracted to Ogun State. That was in 2016 and maybe 2015. I have been told that it is probably over 80 percent at the moment. For me, once the infrastructure is there, businesses will grow. As governors, that is what we should do.
Ours is not to compete with the private sector by doing businesses by ourselves but to create that enabling environment. The roads are good. You can plan to move from one point to another in a given time. We are improving on our electricity. We now have our own power plants. Another area we have improved on is our land management. On the ease of doing business, we are getting better. When we came in 2011, we were number 35 in the ease of doing business in Nigeria. Two years down the line, we were rated among the top four. We are working towards the next report which will be released by the World Bank. Ogun State will probably be the best in Nigeria.
You mentioned infrastructure development now. Ota and Agbara are two of your industrial cities but I know the roads in those areas are crying for attention
Let’s look at how Nigeria is structured. I am for restructuring that will not tamper with the existence of Nigeria as a nation. Anything we want to do should not affect the indivisibility of Nigeria as a nation. That said, I will say we need to look at certain things. That road that you are talking about is a federal road. Companies along that express pay 35 percent of the income tax to the federal government. We, the state that is providing the infrastructure, in terms of road, security carry the burden. Federal government gets 35 per cent and Ogun state does not get anything. I mean when they are distributing revenue from non- oil, we will fall to number 26 whereas other states get more than we do. For me something is wrong. And for me, the companies there, I challenge them too, they should collaborate with us. They make money everyday and we are happy that they make money. Some declare billions in profit during their first or second quarter of the year. But they will make money too, if they invest in what we are doing as a state.
Look at what we are doing with the road. Initially, we wanted just asphalt but we were advised to do concrete road and due to that the budget increased to about 27 billion naira. Where are we going to get that as a state? The only thing we can do is to get the money back to Ogun State. Meanwhile the federal government is holding on to the road as their own. Before 2011. I think it is the corridor that generated the highest for us in Ogun State. The corridor is still there but it may have been pushed to the third or fifth. We are now creating different corridors. That corridor is so important to us and in those days, there are probably no other corridor as good as that, bringing huge money to us.
You can see what we did at that Ota axis, at Agbara road. One day we were coming through Alapoti junction, we were there for five hours. We reckoned that when the trailers arrive, that is usually the stopping point for them. We put a grid separator there while we fixed the road. But as I told you, we have awarded the road but there is no money to fund it. It is not just that place alone. Look at Ogijo axis. Look at Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, of course they are attempting to do that. We want to appreciate President Mohammadu Buhari for that. If you go to Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway, which is also a federal road, it has been neglected for several years. If the infrastructure is not there, nobody will come and invest. Look at what we did in Ota, Shoprite is there. Every time it rains, we spend about half a billion on the roads.
What the federal government has done with oil-producing states, they should also do with non-oil producing states. For me, that is the kind of restricting that I want to fight for. I am for every state and there is no state that is not viable in Nigeria. All in all, I think we are doing well. I am happy for the progress that we have made and yet to make.
A while ago, you talked about Lagos State, and that Ogun State share common boundaries with the state. How do you continue to manage that special relationship that you have with Lagos State?
I think it is a mixed bag. It is like what happens between New Jersey and New York. But then it comes with its challenges. The last time, it was 64 percent of people that work in Lagos that live in Ogun State. And the law says you should pay your taxes where you live. Right now, we are urbanizing our places. If we are going to attract people here, it must come from the urban and later the rural. It is the money that we are getting from the urban that we are using to develop the rural.
One day we should collaborate with them. When they were creating the mega-city status, they realised that Ogun State needed to be carried along for it to be very effectively and functional. Eti-Osa now is almost touching Epe. Everybody is now coming to this axis. In some places, you can’t even tell where the border is. Look at Akute-Alagbole. People vilify us that we are not doing anything. But most of the people living there pay their taxes to Lagos.
As we speak, we have made this arrangement with Lagos State, that they should be paying back all of these taxes that they are collecting erroneously that belongs to Ogun State. Most of them have their families in our state, they use our hospitals, we clean the road for them. But I am sure good reason will prevail and Lagos State will begin to pay us back our money.
I get the impression that that arrangement was because you had a good personal relationship with former Governor Fashola. Why didn’t you institutionalize it?
We have started this with Governor Ambode. We have met with Governor Fashola and he even came here twice. We all agreed that they will make that payment because we showed them documented evidences that these are people that live in Ogun and work in Lagos. They said they wouldn’t want us to do back duty. They said we should forget the past and look at the future. We agreed and I think we met sometime in April and they said let it commence next year, January precisely. That was to be 2013. We didn’t hear anything in 2013 until a few months before Governor Fashola left office. He paid about seven months. Again, when Governor Ambode came, I complained to him and he promised to pay what is left between January 2014 and sometime in 2014. He paid for about three months and he stopped. I don’t know why he stopped. I have been asking him. The last time I asked him, he said his state too has financial challenges. This is money collected on a monthly basis. In fairness to him, he paid the ones that Governor Fashola was unable to pay. But I am sure that these are things that we will resolve.
How does Ogun State determine what is due to her?
Once you live here, the law states that you must pay to the state in which you live. We made a gentleman’s agreement. If we want to verify the actual figure, it will cause a lot of bottlenecks. We let Lagos do it for us. What they are giving us is perhaps a quarter of what they should give us. But it is a good starting point. We see Lagos as their buses come to our state to take their workers to work. But people abuse us, not knowing what we are going through.
Apart from manufacturing, agriculture is another area where your administration seems to have some bragging rights. I have hints that something big is about to happen. Tell me about it.
When we were coming to serve the people of Ogun State, we have our five cardinal points. Education, Health, Agriculture which will lead us to industrialization, closely followed by housing and urban renewal and infrastructural development that will lead us to massive employment generation. Education and health belong to what I will call the social service related issues that we have to face. Those are sectors that do not necessarily give you money. The fulcrum that all of these gigantic ideas that we have will be premised on will be agriculture that will industrialize our state. We will not just grow but process our produce. We must package and we must market and transport to the final consumer. So everybody gets to do something. We want to do what is called backwards integration, import substitution so that the companies can get raw materials within the state. If nestle needs cassava, they don’t need to go out of the state to get it. It is paying off. Rice, Cassava, vegetables; we have a lot of these green houses. We are having open houses. In the area of poultry, you will see what we are doing.
We don’t have enough foreign exchange to import rice. It is no brainer to any serious government to see that the market is there. We have our farms, but the farms that government owns is not up to 20 percent of the total farm that private farmers own. And we have to give kudos to those who deserve it. World Bank, CBN did wonderfully well in cooperating with us. They are supporting the small-scale farmers. We are not Kebbi, Taraba or other northern state with big expanse of land, no forest or big trees. But in this part of Nigeria, South-west in particular, you can’t do any farming alone. We invested heavily on bulldozers and other land clearing equipment. We started clearing land. Lagos State came to us through Governor Fashola that they needed land. They wanted to cultivate rice so we gave them the land. We insisted that they should set up a rice mill not too far away from Egua. We started Sawonjo. This is one of the old farm estates from the time of Baba Awolowo. It is a big farm settlement. We told them and they agreed so we signed. They are doing theirs on the left, we were doing ours on the right. We moved to other areas. We were in Ewekoro and Ofada. We have about 29 rice growing areas in Ogun State. We encourage the small holders-farmers. We started planting. Later, we started processing. Indeed now, we have pleasant surprise for those that doubted our efforts. To the glory of God, we are putting together a state of the art mill; we are collaborating with experts on this field of rice, by April, we will start planting. We will bring to shame all those saying what can we do in Ogun State. The best way to tell people what you can do is by performance. If we can do up to 10 or 15 or 20 percent of what Nigeria needs, that will be good for us.
We work in Sawonjo 24hrs. The same thing in Asero here. We are putting another one in Ijebu North-east. I was going to Ipokia last two weeks, and we saw the women working really hard. They don’t need to run round to sell it since someone will be waiting to collect it.
We are collaborating with other states. Lagos now wants their land from us once more. You know they went to Kebbi for Lake Rice. They can continue to grow here and there will be healthy competition between the two states.
One of the threats to agriculture and security is the herdsmen/farmers crises across the country. Your state has not been spared: What do you think is responsible for the increase in the number of disgruntled and criminal groups in different parts of the country?
What I think has happened is that something is wrong. These are people who have been living for ages together. The Seriki Hausa Fulani was born here. This is probably someone who is 60 years old. Everyone lived in peace. All of a sudden, it changed. My solution to this, in my view, is to have ranches, that is my position. In all the places where we have the Hausas settled in Ogun State, I have never lost any election there. We play together and there is no problem. But these days, we don’t know what is happening. We meet monthly, sometimes bi-monthly because there is need for us to continue to dialogue. We don’t want this crisis again in our state and in Nigeria. We have told the Hausas and the Fulanis here that it is unacceptable for anyone to just go and destroy someone’s farm. Same way we don’t want anyone to go and kill their cows as well. We do not usually have those crises perhaps because of the regular engagement that we have with them.
Will the ranches be constructed by the government or privately built?
Herdsmen make money so they must pay for the ranches. It is not the one that government will give.
23 percent of your 2018 budget, is dedicated to education. That’s as close to the 26 percent UN recommendation as possible. What did you have to give up to be able to give this much money to education seeing that the federal government, for example, allocated just about 7 percent to education?
We are Ogun State. We were the first to have access to western education. Free education was first introduced to the western region. Beyond all of these, we are the education capital of Nigeria. We are doing all sorts to be the Agric capital of Nigeria. But you can’t compare anything with education. For me, an educated citizen is easily governed, in sync with your ideas and in turn they will fix the other sectors. I don’t look at the money as huge, I think that is the way we have to pay for our future development. It is the education that I have that has enabled me to do the little that I can for my state. The crisis we are having is due to lack of education because if you are educated we can sit and dialogue. If you have superior argument we will look at it and make decisions. For us, such money that we are spending on education is what we should do. We are not talking about having graduates that are unemployable. I am talking about qualitative education that the products can be acceptable in any part of the world. We are forgoing a lot of things no doubt. Other sectors will be transformed.
By the way, education is free in Ogun State. The early learning that is creche is free, primary and secondary schools are free but the tertiary will not be totally free. We are subsidizing heavily. The foundation is being laid. We are now creating graduates that will be employable. All the industries that are here can now have ready made work force. We are going digital. We are not leaving ICT behind. we are investing heavily in vocational training. We are getting collaborations from people of like minds. The Germans and DFID are supporting us. We are getting it right.
It has been described as a season of open letters. First it was former President Obasanjo and now we have former President Babangida. Do you think correspondences such as these do any good for the polity?
I think that is one area that you will probably excuse me (Gasps) I think we are different. We have different ways of presenting things. Probably I would have done the same things differently. I probably would not have done that. But it will be out of place for me to say that what they did was right or wrong. If I have my way with either of them, I probably will tell them what I think.
The bottom line is that his peers are mounting pressure on President Buhari not to run for another term. To be fair, he has not made his intentions known in that regard. You are reputed to be a very close associate of the president. Will he run? Should he run?
Well, I can’t answer the will he run or is he running question. Yes, I am close to President Buhari. I will be in the front of the vanguard to say he should not run. And that will be on one condition- health ground. For me, no office can be bigger than one’s life and one’s health. When he took ill, everybody was worried including me. We were praying and he came back better. Somebody even joked about it that if sickness could do this to him, he should stay the same. But we said no way. He has bounced back and for that I can say yes he should run again. But I will disagree with him if I realise that his health will not take it. It is only someone who is inhuman that will say go ahead and run. I think he has constitutional right to run if he wants.
What has age got to do with running the presidential race?
Sometimes you see somebody that is probably 90 years old and still active. It is the way God works, the grace of God. And sometimes you see even a 50 year-old that finds it difficult to walk, he cannot even do anything; that is the way God walks. Wisdom they say comes with age but that does not mean that a 40-year old cannot be. Yes he can. But clearly we won’t lose anything if maybe a 70 year old, just like President Buhari is 74, 75 years old and he is still active and he has the strength to run round to govern, I don’t see anything wrong with it. But clearly, of course, there is nothing wrong with a 40 year old to say ‘I want to run’. Indeed, I challenge all our young graduates to begin to think about it. They shouldn’t sit on the sideline and be complaining. But we can’t say now that all those who want to govern us must be 40 years or under 50. Yes, we have seen bigger nations, you will see a 42 year old, you will see a 44 year old, as you will see a 70, a 75 year old still governing them. Look at Baba Obasanjo, he is healthy, he runs round and look at his age. Again, like I said, it is not age, it is the fitness. If your health will not take it, for me that is primary. If you are not well, so what can you do? Look at President Yar’Adua of blessed memory. President Yar’Adua was not 70 year old. He was young, he wasn’t that old. Yet he couldn’t rule, he was totally ineffective because he was ill. Even Obasanjo was older than Yar’Adua when he was leaving office; but look, he can still run around even now. I am 60 to the glory of God. But I have younger commissioners that cannot cope with me, they can’t keep up with my tempo. I have commissioners that are forty something, early firties, they can’t run round, they will just be ‘saying this man should just go and rest, we cannot come again, we are tired.’ Clearly, it is not age.
Former Governor Donald Duke once told me that the constitution ensured that even when the body of an incumbent leaves Government House, only that man can ensure that his soul follows. How are you preparing for when you will leave office?
Mine has left since. I am just sitting here. I have left since. The position is transient. When you are in office like this, don’t get too used to those things that you will likely miss when you leave the office. That is why I always tell my assistants to let me be sometimes. That is why most of us in government do not want to leave. I want to leave. I am enjoying it because our people are appreciative of what we are doing. Beyond that, governance is a serious business. It has taken its toll on me and my relationship with my family. I have down moments when I worry about how people perceive our work. But one of our elders told me that people that will not like you, there is nothing you can do to impress them. Even when they stand in front of the tallest building that you have built, they will say I can’t see any building o. Ordinarily, people you need not talk to, you become answerable to them because you are the governor. But I love it because our people love what we are doing and I appreciate it. I am not losing anything. I will work till the last moment. I want to be remembered for all the things I have done. The Almighty God has been kind to me. I don’t let people praise sing me. I go on my own.
As the party leader in the state, how is Ogun going to handle the simmering feud among party members over which senatorial district should produce the next governor?
Who tells you that there is problem?
We have been hearing things.
There is no problem. Everybody has agreed that it will come to Ogun West. Some people will be reluctant. Just yesterday we read it in the news that 30 schools were closed in the state because of herdsmen. We were shocked. When we called the people behind it, we found out that they did it to get our attention. Can you imagine that? I want to say 90 percent agreed. Quote me that I said that. Let them say something else.
Why do we need to zone positions such as this? What if the best candidate is not from Ogun West?
Why are you asking this type of question? Even God himself wants resources to go around. Nobody from Ogun West can be governor without support from the people even outside your senatorial zone. We need to be fair to ourselves. Let us allow someone from Ogun West senatorial district for the next election. After that we can base it solely on merit. Let me tell you what happened to me in 2011. Ijebu Ode alone had five representatives. When there was this sovereign national conference under Goodluck Jonathan, someone just called and told me what are you doing? You sent 19 people from your state and not one of them is a Muslim. I am a Muslim anyway. I was just picking and I didn’t know. So it was for political correctness. You need to understand what to do. I was just doing my work. When people say I am favouring Muslims, I just keep quiet. So now, I consider that even in appointing permanent secretaries. Even in the executive meeting, we do prayers both in Christian and Muslim way. That is for equity and fairness. So that no zone will say they have not be included in governance.
I am happy that most of our candidates support this decision. After this election, we can go back to using purely merit.
Do you have a candidate in mind?
If you are a governor, will you not have? Look, I have. I have not just one. I have several; you know you have to look at them very well. After sometime, as the election approaches you can decide. People that matter like the party leaders, you will approach them and tell them what you are looking for in each one. So, we will consult widely. I meet with traditional rulers. Those that I respect may also agree. But I am not the only one to decide.
Why is it important for an outgoing governor to have a say in choosing the next governor?
Hey, you wait for your time and don’t care about who succeeds and someone will just come and make a rubbish of what you have done. It is not from me. What money or house will anyone give me? What car? Even before going to the office of the senate, or venturing into politics, God has been kind to me. I have gigantic ideas for the state. I wanted Ogun State to be like Dubai. Those people in those countries, do they have three heads? I am just like my father, if you get the second position in school, don’t rejoice o. he will give dirty slap and ask, who came first? Did he have three heads? But if you have the first position, he can shake your hand or hug you. If you are second just say it lightly. Don’t be excited. I was in Dubai in 1991, we were waiting for flights. But go there now and look at their skyline. Look at what they are doing. Look at their economy. We wanted to have an investors’ meeting and I wanted to wear native and someone said I shouldn’t. In Dubai, they wear their traditional outfits. Go to Indonesia, they will wear their wrapper. Very soon, it will not matter what you wear. I may wear our Adire if I want. But someone will say I should wear suit. There is a lot in my brain that I want to do. But maybe it is an APC government that will do it.
Each one has a special talent. We will all have a consensus as a party. The candidate will go to the primaries and he will win.
Maybe I will invite you to our campaign. All the people know that we must do it how it should be done. There is nothing wrong for me to canvass or lobby for anyone. You know why we have so many people in APC that want to be governor? They know who is performing. Whoever APC presents has won. I have warned them to go and prepare against the second term election if they want anything for them.
As an interviewer, I know you have to have an inquisitive mind. In politics, you need the ability to be able to get along all kinds of people. What skills do you require in politics?
You will be a good politician o. even me, when I see people, and I am sure they are still alive, who feel genuinely about me, and they ask me, ‘what do you want to do with politics in Nigeria?’ I always tell them that I just want to serve. Politics is the most potent avenue if you truly want to serve your people. It is for altruistic reasons. I don’t know about any other platform. What did Baba Awolowo use to serve his people? Politics. He said you have to be inside there for you to be able to change anything. I have been there criticizing too. But talk is cheap. Come and do it. I have the opportunity.
And I think I have not let my people down. Even people that are abusing us, in their quiet moment they cannot deny what we have done. It is not that they are not happy with what we are doing. They are very happy. But totally unhappy that it is Amosun that is doing it. You know my prayer every day? That they will continue to be very unhappy about what we are doing. When they are abusing you, that means you are doing wonderfully well. When we started they were abusing us that we were demolishing houses. But now I laugh and say God, thank you. Now they are saying, he is only going this place, he is not doing my place. Now they know that we have a way of doing this thing. People now come to appeal to me to come and do their own place too. Now, they believe I can do it.
I am grateful to God. Now the narrative has changed. Go to Ijebu Ode and Ikangba, go and see what we are doing there. Amazing work! I tell them that when we get to where we are going, we will leave nobody in doubt as to our true intention. The limiting factor is just the money. Why will I not want to go to Ijebu ode when I leave office? I pray to God that I want to be 90 years and above before I die. You will see, when I am walking the street of anywhere in this state, people will say that is Amosun. Let them see any of my generation, they will say, “ which Amosun is your own. The Ibikunle Amosun?’’ They will have kind words for them. The sleepness nights won’t be for nothing. Baba Awolowo died some 30 years ago, people still talk about him. I want to be remembered.
I have my eyes on the ball; I know where I want to be. My airport must be ready. I want to fly there. I want to call president and we will fly there together before I go. Every day, we are working round the clock. In fact, we are starting new projects. And it will be completed by the special grace of God. People are saying some of the projects are 30 years work. I just want to do them. By the way have I mentioned that OGBC is on DSTV? You are watching it? Watch it. You will see what we are doing there. I am running round and there is so much that we want to do. We will finish it. The joy from our people is spontaneous everywhere we go.
So help me forewarn those people that it is whoever we put down that will win the elections. It is our people that will do it. All the market women are ready. But we are not taking them for granted. We just must work till the very end. The next person will also be like Amosun and people will ask who is this Wizkid? There will be money for him to spend not like when we came in. we are going to push the frontiers of our IGR and push it to maybe 10 billion. Look at what comes from the federal purse now.
Ogun State would not have done anything. My wage bill was 2.9 billion but now my wage bill is 9.2billion and we have been paying salaries. It is only 1.1 billion deductions that we have. If out of 9.2billion, I pay 8.1 every month, then they should be happy with us. You can’t give what you don’t have. That is why we must be ingenious in our thinking. Yes, if it comes from Abuja, good, if doesn’t come, I care less.
You see those characters are just writing rubbish. They are totally confused. Ogun State is only owing 103 billion. My predecessor signed that he was leaving a debt of 49.8billion for me. Take that 50billion. We called international facts to come and look at our book when we came. 87 billion was the debt we discovered from my predecessor. Let us assume that he left 50 billion, which means the total debt that we have pilled in is 53 billion.
Let us say we agree with his own 50 billion. When we wrote to the federal government to say that governors should refund our money and put in the bill of 145 billion project that we have done, they said they can only certify 123 billion. If someone out there is still talking about this, they should get a third party to look at all that we have done.
We have paid salaries that could not be paid when they were still 2.9 ad 3.1 billion. But our people are very steadfast. God says Amosun must stay and some characters say Amosun must go. Which one will you take? Amosun is still here and he will do well and the next person will be governor. If we do the primaries one million times, it is whoever we bring that will win. We are preparing the place where we are going to do the hand over ceremony.
We are building a convention centre and I will hand over to the person and tell him that, ‘yes, you are the governor but do better than me. Just put it in mind that you want to serve and you must serve well. It is a thankless job, a difficult job. People will call you anytime.’ But I am at ease with everybody. No airs around me. No pretension. Not all these armchair people. Go and do it too. Make your poster. You should come and join. Several of your people are there, Abike is there. I will tell the chairman of our party to come and give you card and you will get my support too.