Ahead of the September 22 governorship election in Osun State, the All Progressives Congress’ candidate, Mr. Isiaka Adegboyega Oyetola, let Tobi Soniyi in on how he plans to change the face of the state if elected as the governor. Excerpts:
Why did you join the governorship race?
I have been part of this government for almost eight years now and I share the vision that government should touch lives. First of all, the essence of government is the security and welfare of the people. I have seen that a government provides a platform for you to be able to serve a greater part of the society; and having been in government for about eight years, I believe there is need for continuity. We should not stop at where Governor Rauf Aregbesola does after the expiration of his tenure.
The state should continue to enjoy the kind of infrastructure and socio-economic development that have been put in place. I believe I am well positioned to be able to continue to build on the foundations already laid, especially with my experience both in the private and public sectors – private sector, over 30 years; and the public service, almost eight years now. Combining the experience in the two sectors, I will be able to effectively lead this state.
Though we are growing in terms of infrastructure, we are yet to get to where we want to be; and I know precisely those things that will help the state and things that can impact positively on our people. The people must continue to enjoy the dividends of democracy. We have not had this type of development-oriented opportunity until the coming of the present administration.
So, we must ensure continuity of this positive development. I know how demanding running a government is; and that it takes a very experienced hand to manage scarce resources of the state to attend to the numerous needs of our people. But I also very believe that, with my experience in the private sector and in public service these past eight years, I am the best to continue where Governor Aregbesola stops.
The talk in town is that you are being supported by a godfather.
I don’t have one. God is my father.
It is a general belief that to go far in politics every serious politician must have one.
I am happy you must have been around for some time. Through God, I evolved my own structure. Nobody gave me any structure to work with. Whatever you see here is through a creative thinking of very few of us. Nobody funded me. Nobody is going around canvassing for me or with me. Whatever you are seeing is through God, hard work.
So, people should not entertain any fear that Osun will be put for sale with you as governor?
How? I don’t understand.
The insinuation is that if you become the governor, the possibility is there for money to transfer freely from Osun to Lagos.
Where is the money to transfer? We are talking about being challenged financially and you said people are insinuating that money will be transferred. Let me tell you, some of us are here purely for service. By any standard, before I became the Chief of Staff, I had been very comfortable. Rather, we are building a network to bring resources and investment into the state, to be able to continue with laudable works, and also break new grounds for economic prosperity of the state. I have had an extensive contact with the business world, in and outside the country.
We would rather look for opportunities to attract investments into our state, look for people with genuine intention to grow our economy with us. This is part of what we want to bring to the table. So, there is nothing like a godfather or transferring money from the state to anywhere.
You see, we run a transparent government. If indeed those peddling rumours have facts, they should have made it available to the anti-graft agencies by now. This is just a mere cheap blackmail, otherwise where is the money to be transferred? The governor has been very transparent in his eight years in the saddle. So, godfather? No. But if there is anything like that, it is God, the Almighty. Maybe they mean God, the Father.
Are you not intimidated by the PDP?
I welcome them to the ring. It is going to be a good contest. Threatened? Not at all! The APC government has done very well these past eight years. There is no threat from any party. I see victory around the corner. We have demonstrated to the people that PDP is not a choice. Our stewardship is evidential. Our commitment to the welfare of the people is unquestionable.
Our developmental strides are unparalleled in the history of the State Of Osun, because in the past eight years, we have had to make difficult decisions in order to lay a solid foundation for now and the future. We have encountered a few challenges but have never been defeated. The PDP cannot rise from the dead. No, not in Osun! My people are beyond being hoodwinked. They have seen the light and no one leaves light for darkness. Let the people decide. I am confident they know their friends and their enemies.
What is your assessment of the Rauf Aregbesola administration of which you have been part of in the last eight years?
The administration of Governor Rauf Aregbesola has done very well. Take infrastructure, which had been in decay, before this administration came on board. The Aregbesola administration adequately addressed this decay in many areas – new roads, new schools, better hospitals, revamped agriculture, better security, and so on. We constructed quality major roads, state and federal, as well as built flyovers never seen before in Osun.
This was to ease traffic flow, and ensure faster movement of people, goods and services, to lay a solid foundation for the Osun economy, and expand economic opportunities, for our people. In practical demonstration of this quality road infrastructure, Osogbo now has the Oba Adesoji Aderemi ring road. If you are going to Ilesa or Ikirun or Ila, you can just do a bypass by this ring road, instead of coming to contest the traffic at the Osogbo city centre. In this area, the administration has done very well, far better than all previous administrations.
Talking about education, the kinds of schools that we have built in place continue to surprise most people, given the acute funding challenge that we faced. For every layer of our restructured school system: elementary, middle and high school, the administration has provided a very conducive environment for learning.
In essence, the children of the poor now enjoy the same learning environment as the children of the rich, in these new public schools. The Aregbesola administration built no less than 100 elementary schools, 60 middle schools and about 11 high schools, all of them sparkling, ultra-modern, and with bigger learning capacity and requisite learning aids.
It is a legacy we are immensely proud of because it had never been achieved in Osun before. That more or less captures the picture on health too, since all the health facilities too have been renovated. So yes, we have done very well too in health infrastructure.
But our health policy does not start and end with hospitals. It is rather a comprehensive wellness programme to build the human infrastructure that perfectly complements our programme of road, school and hospital infrastructure. We have therefore put in place social protection programmes like the Agba Osun (for the elderly poor and vulnerable) and a specific safety net that caters to the widows; and yet another, that looks out for the mentally challenged, knowing that people could flip, not because they are mentally deranged but because of social and economic pressures.
Then for our elementary school children, we set up the schools feeding programme, an innovation that is quite unique, and which the Federal Government has adopted, and is implementing in at least 24 of Nigeria’s 36 states, including the Federal Capital Territory of Abuja, because our programmes and policies have direct impact on the people, they are rated by many development agencies as the best – in agriculture, tourism, education, health, just you name it.
Again, look at O’ Ambulance, another key component of our comprehensive health policy. The beauty of O’ Ambulance is that it is operated on a 24-hour basis. Most times, when there are accidents, victims often die, because they don’t get prompt evacuation and immediate medical attention.
Now, with O’ Ambulance, victims are rescued in a matter of minutes. So, the chances of survival are greater. We have dedicated lines; once you call, in a couple of minutes, an ambulance stationed not far from the spot of accident will come and evacuate the victims. This is available for every resident, and even those who are just passing by. O’ Ambulance has saved many lives.
What challenges are you likely to confront, assuming you won the election?
Well, first of all, there is a challenge of finance or funding. But this is not peculiar to our state. It is a general problem. But there is hope it will soon be over. All over the country, only a few states are financially viable. All others states have the challenge of fund paucity. But we must think creatively to survive. We must be able to think out of the box. Challenges are actually made for man and we must be able to face them.
One of the ways to address the funding challenge is ramp up Internally Generated Revenue (IGR), through innovative ways. First, we need to block all the leakages, particularly in tax collection. When we talk of increasing IGR, I am not talking of imposing higher or more taxes on the people, no! But we can ensure efficiency in the collection of taxes. If I ensure all other people now avoiding tax pay, because it is a civic responsibility, then the revenue base increases. So, once we are able to do that, we can clearly increase the revenue without necessarily imposing high taxes on people, particularly the poor.
Again, when you go into some other areas like agriculture – we will provide a value chain. For instance, if we encourage farmers to plant cassava and there are cottage industries, where cassava can be processed into starch and ethanol, we will be creating jobs and empowering our people. So, it will not be difficult for the people to pay little taxes, which I will ensure is very insignificant, in proportion to their profit or income.
Thus serviced, the people will be ready and proud to play their own part by paying tax, as their civic responsibility. Government will make the environment conducive for their trade and businesses to thrive. We will support the artisans. We will also ensure we attract investment, both local and international to the state.
Our policies would make products of the manufacturers very competitive and when they enjoy very high turnover they will pay taxes that will bring more money into the coffers of the government. When we empower our people to exhibit their talents and flourish in their trade, they too will not hesitate to pay a token in form of taxes into the government coffers. So, when the people are supported in their trade and in making their income, they will be willing to pay taxes. It is more of a reciprocal gesture if you empower your people and ask them to make the contribution to the funding of the services they enjoy.
How do you react to claims that it is not the turn of your zone to produce the governor?
Usually, I don’t enjoy talking about this but I will be guided by the fact that zoning is not in the APC constitution. So, as long as it is not in the constitution, every zone is free to contest the governorship position. And historically, there was no time that zoning had ever been introduced starting from the day the state was created since 1991. So, it is in line with the constitution of the party that every zone should be allowed to compete and whoever wins should be supported. Having said that, I believe all the zones in the state should compete freely for any elective position