Senator Iyiola Omisore, a former deputy governor, is the candidate of the Social Democratic Party for the September 22 governorship election in Osun State. In this interview with Yinka Kolawole, he speaks on why he is seeking to govern the state, his electoral chances, and how he plans to reposition the state if elected after what he called eight years of bad governance. Excerpts:
You have been vying to be governor of Osun State since 2003, by implication you are the longest running governorship aspirant in the state. Why are you so persistent about becoming governor of Osun State?
I have only contested for the governorship of Osun State once in 2014. Each time I wanted to contest, there were strong reasons for me to give way for other candidates in the interest of the party and that is my strongest point today, a desperate politician would have insisted that he must run. Each time there was a collective and superior persuasion, I succumbed to the collective persuasion and that is where I am today. That has now made it compelling for well meaning Osun State indigenes to insist that I must deliver the state from its current state of stagnancy.
Osun State is not El dorado, I am sure you know that the government of Osun State is the worst run government in Nigeria today, agreed and accepted by everybody, even government of Osun State. There is nothing interesting. In hard times like this, it is a call on men of dignity, men with experience to salvage the situation and the people from the comatose of the time. The Bible says, ‘Whoever starts to plough and look back is not fit for the kingdom of God.’ Even God believes in consistency and determination to achieve a goal, particularly saving a race, salvaging a battered economy and bringing it back from the doldrums.
By the time you see the record of 2010 to 2018 you will pity this state, as in my manifesto and that is the propelling force compelling and other well meaning people of Osun State, and by the time you see the array of candidates of other parties it can become so clear to you that this is actually the umpteenth time for me to deliver this state from the continuity of mis-governance and bad leadership.
Looking at the political configuration of the state, I know you are from Osun East like the incumbent governor, does the configuration favour your aspiration in terms of zoning?
Zoning is a matter of party arrangement; zoning is always part of political calculations, or political mischief or political mediocrity; whoever wants to zone party offices to himself would look for reasons to do so. But today, Osun State is the fairest state in the country, because as we speak today Osun State is a very young state, less than 30 years old. There are three senatorial districts in this state and six zones; out of the three senatorial districts, every senatorial district has had its share of governing the state, it has gone round the three. It started from Osun West, then to Osun Central and then Osun East. At the expiration of that cycle, we will start all over again, that is from Osun Central or Osun East. So we are starting another cycle now and there are candidates from all the senatorial districts. Wherever the governor emerges from, it will mark the start of another turn, but in the three senatorial districts there are sub-zones too. For instance, in Osun East there is the Ijesha zone and the Ife zone; in the West district there is the Ede zone and Iwo zone and in the Central there is Osogbo zone and Ila zone. Since the creation of the state there have been governors from the Ede zone in the west senatorial district; governor from the Ila zone of the Central district and governor from the Ijesha zone of the East district.
If you want to go by rotation, because rotation does not allow for fairness and competition, it mortgages experience and competence, it is an easy route to go by. But if you must go by that easy route it is the turn of the Ife zone, Iwo zone and Osogbo zone to produce governor of the state. Unfortunately, for other parties they are bringing candidates from Ila zone, which has produced governor for 12 years and from Ede zone which produced the first executive governor of the state. Only SDP and other smaller parties are fielding candidates from Ife and Iwo zones and other zones that are yet to produce democratically elected governors of the state. So we are best suited for everything.
In 2014, you were the candidate of your former party, the PDP, everything looked so good, the party was in control at the federal level but your aspiration was not successful, now you are in a party that does not control the federal nor the state, how optimistic are you this time around?
Winning election is not about party or where you control; PDP controlled the centre and lost election in 2015, so it is not a basis for winning elections anymore. The power of winning lies with the people. The current government of APC in Osun State has been rejected by everybody, apart from being rejected members of the party are in disarray, the political space is the worst for them, the public perception about them is zero and their acceptability is poor.
Two, my former party, the PDP, they are in court up till now regarding their candidate and, of course, they parade the worst governorship candidate in this country since 1999; nothing like that has ever befell us in this part of the country. So the only candidate that the people are looking up to is the candidate of the SDP, Senator Iyiola Omisore. Apart from the electoral qualifications, the experience, integrity, perseverance and acceptability that I enjoy across the board makes me the candidate to beat in the state. So, we are better suited than any party. For instance, we have party chairmen in the 30 local governments and area offices in the state; we have structures in every ward and polling units of the state which we didn’t have back then in PDP at that time. We assumed we had but we didn’t have it. There is no party that is better organised than us in this state. We were out to fight APC and PDP six months ago but now that particular APC has been torn to shreds and PDP is divided across their own lines too; we are daily attracting defectors, we’re the party of destination in Osun State right now.
The primary election of SDP that produced you was controversial?
As it is, the party appears to have two candidates. What really is the problem?
There is no problem in the party, I don’t know where you heard that there are issues; INEC has come out with the list of candidates for the election. Our party held only one primary election and only one candidate emerged, but if a group of people met and decided to call themselves SDP you can’t stop them, they are only known on the pages of newspapers, they are not known to the national headquarters of the party, they are not known to INEC, they are not known anywhere. The anchor of that primary was a former chairman of the party who has been suspended, he is no longer in charge of the party structure so if he is doing that it is an anomaly; and we have gone past that stage a long time ago. The people you referred to were only trying to attract recognition from members of the public, unfortunately it didn’t work for them.
When it comes to election, vote counts and no seasoned politician would want to despise any group of people. How far have you gone with reconciling aggrieved people including those defecting to your party and the ones that you mentioned that were suspended from your party in order to ensure your own success at the polls?
If you followed the Chief Olu Falae’s interview about a month ago, he said we’ve had the crisis for about five years with the chairman that was suspended, so we inherited them with their crisis, so we just need to put them by the side and focus on what we are doing. The party executive that we have in the state is half SDP and PDP so we have really not lost anything, we are a neutral body and we have spoken to everybody in SDP; we are even taking in people from both APC and PDP every day. We want to win the election so we want everybody to join us.
If today you are elected the governor of the state, how do you intend to go about settling the N175 billion debt that the state is said to owe?
That is why it is someone of my experience, character and competence that can solve the problem of the state; that is why Osun State is looking forward to Omisore to salvage them, if it is business as usual may be they won’t be desperate for a change; my motives are premised on the need to salvage the state from collapse. I have garnered enough experience from being chairman of Appropriation Committee in the Senate and as deputy governor of the state to solve the problems of fake debt that the state is said to owe. Most of the debts are inflated; they are money being taken away from the state through capital flight.
I have studied the finances of the state, the bond and I have seen how I can find my way around it; that is my formula of running the government.
The other question you ought to have asked is the issue of salaries and the payment of emoluments. I have discovered in my analysis that the salary of Osun State is less than two billion naira but the government of the day is not just geared towards paying salaries, they are more concerned with paying for over inflated contracts and suppliers; they have paid contractors who have no business in Osun State and so they continue to impoverish Osun State. Osun State funds are being taken to Lagos and beyond.
There are fears that the state may be become a flashpoint and that there may be crisis because of the calibre of contestants and interests of certain politicians because they believe this election will determine the direction of 2019. Do you also nurse the concern that there could be crisis in the state?
The way forward for this election is in multiple candidatures because every party and candidate will want to monitor the election. In 2014 we were largely rigged out by the APC, but the riggers are now scattered in SDP, PDP, APC and AD so the rigging machinery has been dismantled, the rigging formula is now opened to everybody; so it is impossible for anybody to want to rig massively and it is when you want to rig that you have crisis; so what will play out is that every candidate will limit himself to his area of influence. I am sure no general will want to fight many battles successfully, so if there is any bid to want to overrun the state there will be a lot of resistance, so the multiple candidatures that we have in this election will make the election to be peaceful, free and fair.
There were allegations of arrests and monetisation of the electoral process in Ekiti State, these are mere allegation, but the point is that even with their control of the federal government how many people can the APC arrests? In Ekiti State they claimed that they arrested party leaders, that means if they want to repeat same in Osun they have to arrest 43 party leaders, it means they have to arrest party leaders in SDP, ADC, PDP; so the multiple candidature of the election is the safest for the state because towards the election parties will coalesce together to save the state, I believe so, and so a clear winner will emerge and everybody is targeting coming to the SDP.
Of course my candidature is superior to that of every other candidate and there is no doubt about it without sounding immodest; it is beyond me, it is an act of God. You can’t compare me with any of the other candidates.
What do you consider the major problem of this state that you want to address, and how do you plan to go about the industrialisation of the state considering the agrarian nature of Osun?
What we need to address in this state is mainly the issue of salaries and wages, human capital development and human capital dignity, and the welfare of the civil servants is a matter of urgency. Businesses are driven by human beings, my major focus is how to encourage and reengineer the workers.
Talking about industrialising the state, no government can industrialise the state, government can only provide the enabling environment, and government can do so by providing industrial hubs for the private sector. As an agrarian society, you create rural roads to the farms so they can bring farm produce to the towns, then you set up cottage industries in every location. I have a plan that this state must provide food for this country. We are going to encourage farmers who we call extension workers, we have farm settlements in every zone of this state and we are going to harness the potential therein. We are going to use our land, our soil to make things happen in this state. We are going to achieve that by increasing farm hubs; we will give tax holidays and also give necessary supplies to encourage all the interest groups.
There is a Living Spring Free Trade zone that started when I was in the Senate which this government has killed, I am going to bring it up again; there are 10 technical education colleges in the state which we will revitalise across board, people will e exporting labour from this state in due course.
You will agree with me that money is an important factor in election. You are contesting against a party that is in control of the state and the federal government, how do you face a party that has the state and federal might in terms of resources?
What we have spent today is far less compared with what we are going to spend to get to where we are going. The point is that this party is always footing bills; we have structures in every polling units of this state, we have structures in every ward and local government of this state; even the PDP that we left doesn’t have structures in some of those places. We already have the structures on ground which we built on a strong foundation. So for us, funding those structures is already done. Of course, because of my popularity and goodwill, where other parties may spend N10,000 I could end up spending N2000 and achieve the same result because people will want to eat from them but I have fans and followers because I have done so much for them over the years. I have diehard followers who have benefitted from me over the years; other people are just jobbers, they are in it because of what they can get and that is the secret of it.
There are speculations that if you win the election and become governor of the state, you plan to return to the PDP?
You said something earlier that this election will dictate the direction of next year’s election, which is very precise. If we go to anywhere it means a lot to the members of the public, with the kind of opportunity that we have we didn’t just go anywhere.
Our centre point is Nigeria, but another concern is how we then link this dying state to the national grid. A governor is a governor under any party, I don’t need to go to any party if and when I become governor. APGA has been ruling Anambra State for almost 16 years now and they have nothing to lose from not joining the party at the centre, so who says we will not rule this state for the next 20 years under SDP and go into alliance where possible and take our own share of the federal government? In any federating unit, everything is dependent on the federal government.
I don’t have any cause to go to any other party, I am only out to serve the people of Osun State and with the kind of love I see them show me, if they can reject the PDP and APC and come to SDP, I owe it a duty to repay them with good service and governance; I believe to whom much is given much is expected, that has been my thoughts. And I want to assure the people of Osun State and Nigerians that this platform, SDP, remains the platform to move the state forward and I am committed to using the platform to do so.
When you were in the PDP, the party was assumed to be a big party and the party to beat, you have now crossed over to the SDP which is assumed to be a small party but you have been able to gather so much followership, how were you able to achieve that? I asked the question about the possibility of you returning to PDP because I know that many of your political associates are in PDP, even at the federal level.
The point is where is the PDP today? Nobody knows what will happen in 2019; but in 2015 President Jonathan thought he was going to win but President Buhari won, so nobody knows what will happen in 2019. 70 per cent of PDP members in Osun State has left the party for the SDP. Before now, we control the party structure, all the ward chairmen that used to be in PDP are now with us, we controlled the executive committee; they are having problems arising from the PDP primaries because the major people who ran the PDP are now in the SDP so those left are now scrambling for the vacant positions, that is the reason behind the problems in the PDP. Nobody knows Senator Adeleke or Dr. Ogunbiyi, they haven’t got any consistent followership, the people left in the party were only after their money, that was why when some of them lost in the primaries their supposed supporters went their different ways. That is why half of them are back with us in the SDP because there is nothing binding them together, and we are here welcoming them. Our strength is in our ability to attract people to our party because there are fights and serious disagreements with the APC and the PDP; suddenly our enemies are in disarray. In the APC, some of the aggrieved people have gone to ADP while some have come to join us. Not a single SDP votes will go to those people rather their votes will come to SDP. I trace this to providence, it is beyond us. I believe all of this is happening because God so love the state and its people and want them delivered, that is why we are having all the disagreements that we are having today in the parties.
The crowd you see downstairs are just here to show solidarity. I am here to meet with the party chairmen at the local government level, not for a general meeting; if we had called a meeting for today, the crowd will be so much that you won’t be able to access this place. We have 3,920 polling units in Osun State and we have had Excos everywhere since the last four years. We have 92,200 people with our exco, from polling Unit level to Ward, Local government and senatorial district level. There is no political party that can boast of such structure, they can only assume that they are popular but they cannot boast of those names. We have those names on register. Our primaries were done by ballot papers and over 140000 people voted. APC did their own by 1,2,3,4,6,10,15,20, almost the same figures we had. But those figures are not real, our own figures are real. We have registers of registered members of about 260,000 people.
How do you hope to improve the internally generated revenue (IGR) of the state if you become the next governor?
Like I said earlier the state is low in IGR. For you to improve the IGR you have to create wealth, then tax the wealth. What we currently have is a situation where the people are burdened with tax. What we plan to do is create the enabling environment to attract industries and then get them to domesticate some of their employment needs so that our people could have jobs and when they do they can happily pay their taxes. Of course with my international exposure and contacts, we will attract so much aids and grants for developmental purposes. Countries like Rwanda were run with aids and grants, they are now on their feet; Some 27 years ago, South Korea was being run by grants and aids, today South Korea now gives out loans and grants to poor countries. Leadership has a lot to do if we must move our society forward. I told some people yesterday that Guaranty Trust Bank and Amicable Bank were established years ago with N10 million. The difference between the two banks is people, today one is dead and the other is trading in trillions of naira. We have to appreciate human capital in any business and government is a serious business.
What is your plan for the educational sector? There is presently so much frustration with the sector, what presently obtains is education that does not lead to gainful employment. Again, the major institution in the state, Ladoke Akintola University of Technology (LAUTECH) is embroiled in crisis, I know that it is jointly owned by Oyo and Osun States, which are APC states. The problem in the institution has lingered for years, what will be your approach to solving the problem if you become the next governor.
Firstly, in 2010, Osun State placed sixth and seventh in NECO and WAEC, today we are ranked 29 and 32 in the two examinations; it is not even the issue of El dorado, let us go back to where we were in 2010. The bane of the country is lack of middle level manpower, there are 11 technical colleges in Osun State that have not been functional since 2010. I suppose you know that we don’t have enough plumbers of Nigerian origin in the country today, we depend on those that come from Togo and Ghana; we don’t have enough electricians, mechanics and printers, what we have are fraudsters. My target is young and fresh graduates, I will make them employable. Many graduates carry certificates but they are not employable; we have to train them for them to be employable. What I plan to do is to train them to be employable, useful to themselves and even exportable to other states. We know we cannot employ everybody but we have our plans on how to reduce the unemployment rate.
I have already done artisan cloud through Google, so I know where to find plumbers, electricians, I know where all the different artisans are, I am now doing graduate unemployment, I want to know the number of graduate who are unemployed and I have figured out how to generate employment. I want assure you that I will generate 15,000 jobs within the first year of my being governor of the state; I also have plans for ICT based capacity development programme that will make youths in the state employable. I don’t want what we have now OYES, or LAWMA, where they get paid N10, 000 every month; my plan is to give them pensionable jobs or train them to be self sufficient. A physics graduate can be trained to become an electrician, plumber, and mason or iron bender depending on the area of their choice and passion.
How do you respond to the LAUTECH leg of the question?
The issue with LAUTECH is a serious problem, I won’t deceive you; even when PDP controlled the two states the two governments of Governors Oyinlola and Alao-Akala fought. I think the problem really is lack of will. I was deputy governor of Osun State between 1999 and 2000, when we came in there was Ondo State University in Ado Ekiti because it was like that before the creation of Ekiti State, when the military government came in, Colonel Bawa left it so because he had no business there. When we came into power in 1999, because I was friendly with both Governors Niyi Adebayo and late Pa Adefarati, the three of us had a meeting and we resolved the issue within two hours. We decided that we should rename the University at Ado Ekiti as University of Ado Ekiti and to create Ondo State University, Akungba; that was how we resolved the issue.
What is needed is will. We must forget about political or primordial considerations. The options are to either cede it to one state or agree on a funding formula. Besides, most of the funding for the university is being done through TETFUND and SUBEB; so I really don’t understand what the problems are with the two state governments. Again, I think the problem is caused by ego; and I had thought the current minister of Education will help to resolve it. But then, when we get into office, we will demonstrate maturity and the needed will to resolve the issue of LAUTECH.
Do you plan to return schools to their original owners when you get into office?
It is in my manifesto. We are prepared to return the schools to the original owners, be it Muslim or Christian missionaries who wished to have the schools back we shall return it to them. I have also decided to do away with the issue of common uniforms; every school should have its different uniform. I have met with both Christian and Muslim leaders in the state and they all agreed that that is the only way we can live together and resolve the issue.
You mentioned that there are 11 technical colleges in the state that are presently not functional, how do you hope to tackle the issue and possibly revive it?
Reviving the technical colleges is of core concern to me, it is my core area, I have passion for technical education; I am an engineer, it is my area of interest and I know that it is an area through which I can impact the South West. More artisan works are done by people trained in technical colleges, empowering people with trade skills is the cheapest and easiest way to get youths out of the streets.
Osun State is largely a civil service state leading to a scenario whereby when federal allocation is not forthcoming, the state is unable to pay salaries. We all know what is happening regarding salaries of civil servants in the state. Why do you think this is so considering that when you were the deputy governor the state had less allocation from the federal government and still paid civil servants promptly?
What is happening in the state right now is that contracts are being inflated and workers’ salaries are being bloated too. The resources available to the state are enough to pay workers’ salaries if it is done genuinely. But government keep creating different kinds of schemes then put people in there without being able to pay them salaries. When I get into office, I will pay workers’ salaries promptly. The issue then will be that of salary arrears, but that again we will pay gradually as we move along. Salary is a priority and we will ensure we pay promptly. The Bible says, ‘every worker deserves his wages’ and we are duty bound to pay them; same thing with pension and gratuities. We must not allow people who work or who have worked and are now retired to be deprived of their entitlements.
I also have in my manifesto a local content policy, that is, any contract or job that can be done in Osun State will not be given to an outsider. We have competency for all aspects of infrastructure building, be it road or bridge, so there is no point giving such jobs to outsiders or companies from outside of the state; that way money will be retained in the state, unlike encouraging capital flight which is what presently obtains.