Chief Edward Onoja is the Chief of Staff to the Kogi State Governor, Alhaji Yahaya Bello. In this interview with Journalists, he spoke on some of the trending issues, both in the state and at the national level. Yekini Jimoh was there. Excerpts:
Kogi State is 27 years old. What is your assessment of the state in terms of infrastructure development?
First and foremost, I would like to congratulate the people of Kogi State for witnessing the 27th anniversary of our dear state, the confluence state. Taking a critical look at the state in the area of development, I will like to use Lokoja the state capital as an example of the entire state.
Without mincing words, it is the 26th and 27th years of the creation of the state that government began to fix workable street lights. It is the 26th and 27th years of the state as an entity that we began to enjoy adequate security of lives and property across the state.
It was when Governor Yahaya Bello came that the state capital began to feel the impact of Hygiene and environmental sanitation that today kept Lokoja neat and clean. Before the coming of the present administration, travellers from the northern parts of the country going to South and East cannot pass through Lokoja without nursing fear of either being kidnapped or robbed.
Also since the creation of Kogi State in 1991, it was Alhaji Yahaya Bello, who has made the roads motorable. Even the Lord Lugard House, the seat of governance of the state, where Lugard himself used as office and supposed to be a tourist attraction to the people of United Kingdom, it is in the 27th year of the state that the Government House is being remodeled, renovated and refurbished to be able to receive tourist.
We have received the United States Ambassador to Nigeria, we have received United Kingdom High Commissioner to Nigeria, we received the European Union Ambassador to Nigeria, we received South Korean Ambassador and we hope to receive some others here in Lokoja, the state capital. It is because the government of Alhaji Yahaya Bello has been able to put in place enabling environment.
We are able to successfully organise the first and ever investment economic summit 27 years after the creation of the state. So, the question is, have we really utilised the potential which abounds in the state in the last 25 years of its creation?
By the end of the governor’s tenure, what are your expectations?
At the end of eight years of Governor Yahaya Bello’s administration, the state will be in the right shape in terms of infrastructure development, quality healthcare centres, quality education and provision of basic social amenities all over the state, which the people of the state have been yearning for before now.
But the previous administrations failed to do so. Eight years into governor Bello’s government, the people of the state will see a working Kogi State, where the civil service will be fully reformed to truly serve as the engine room of the system. I will see a state where criminal elements will advise themselves to relocate from the state as a result of rigid and strong security operations.
We want to see a state where an Ebira man will not think any less of an Igala man or Okun man and Igala man though being the majority will not see themselves as superior to other ethnic groups in the state. We want to see a state where the people irrespective of their religion and background will put the interest of Kogi first over and above any other personal considerations.
I want to see an empowered young people whom before now were regarded as the ‘boys’ suitable to be used as thugs and instruments of destruction during elections. Before the end of eight years of this administration, we want the young people to be fully engaged with sources of livelihood to make them useful to the society and the state.
The present administration came to power when the country is facing recession, how has the government been able to manage the mega resources accrued to the state?
First and foremost, Governor Bello came to power with plans and agenda to develop the state. He knows where the problems militating against the development of the state were and he researched and unravelled the problems in order to tackle them one after the other in stages and phases. Within the first one year of this administration, the governor put in place a multi-disciplinary team and gave them his manifesto and campaign promises, and charged the team to make them into a workable document or roadmap which today is referred to as the new direction blueprint of the government for delivering accelerated development to every part of the state.
The team, having gone round the 21 local government areas of the state, came out with the blueprint that has five thematic areas of governance, which are Education, Health, Agriculture, Infrastructure and utility, Youth empowerment and Job Creation, civil service and pension reform. The state government has done very well on job creation in the last two and a half of the administration.
In agriculture, for instance, the government had established 50 metric tonnes per day rice mill at Omi Dam and the cultivation of over 800 hectares of rice farm is already in progress, which has generated enormous jobs for the teeming unemployed youths in the state. The rice mill will be commissioned in October this year.
Also in the area of security, the government has performed excellently well to the admiration of the people. Before this administration came on board, the security situation in every part of the state was so bad to the extent that kidnapping became a daily affair with huge sums of money being paid as ransom.
This administration inherited 169 cases of kidnapping and within few years, the state government was able to clamp down on them and such nefarious activities disappeared, because of the proactive measures put in place by Governor Bello to make the state safe for the citizenry and prospective investors.
Beside the purchase of over 200 patrol vans for all the security agents in the state, the governor also established military forward operation base at Achoze in Okene Local Government that used to be the hideout for criminals in central senatorial district of the state. This effort will be replicated in Kogi east and west of the state so that the issue of insecurity would become a thing of the past.
As part of efforts to boost security at the grassroots, the governor engaged and trained 3,500 persons, who are retired security personnel as vigilantes to secure the lives and property of our people at the rural areas of the state.
How was the governor able to achieve all these within lean resources?
It is obvious that any government that has the plan to provide for his people must look inward even in the face of recession. In Kogi State, the governor prioritised internal revenue by strengthening the board of internal revenue.
The board, in the past, occupied a four room apartment as office. As a result, most of the staff could not put in their best, because the working environment was not conducive.
Governor Bello, in an effort to improve on the IGR of the state, gave the board autonomy to operate, built a befitting office for them within the first one year of his administration. The governor did not stop at that, he employed over 450 young and vibrant citizens of the state to drive the objective of improving the IGR, which today has risen to over 1billion naira monthly against the 250 million naira in the past.
The Paris club refund and the bailout was judiciously utilised to clear the outstanding salaries and pensions left behind by the immediate past administration. Again the governor blocked areas, where there are leakages in the system, a typical example is the Lokoja greater water which was established at the contract sum of 6 billion by Alhaji Ibrahim Idris’s administration and using 100 million naira for maintenance every month.
In a year 1.2 billion naira is spent and in six years the amount spent on maintenance alone will be far more than the cost of the water project. Previous administrations used the project to siphon fund and under the present administration the sum of 25 to 30 million naira is being used to service the water project to make water readily available for the people of Lokoja.
The question now is who was taking the differential of 70 million naira monthly and this is just one out of many that the people of the state are not aware of. Also, many ghost-workers were removed from the wage bill. It is all of these blockages and leakages that enable the government to save money for the projects this administration embarked upon.
What is your take on the alleged diversion of N3billion by the Chairman of Kogi State Internal Revenue Service?
It is a fake news and outright falsehood to mislead the general public and to tarnish the good image and reputation of the Chairman, Alhaji Yakubu Oseni, who have been putting his effort to improve the IGR of the state.
When I read the news in an online platform, as an ex-banker, I wondered how anyone thought such a thing could happen. In fact, the originator of the fake news sat down in one corner of his room and concocted the lies that even himself cannot substantiated. It is not even possible to divert kobo under the watch and supervision of Governor Yahaya Bello, who is a certified chattered accountant, an entrepreneur of high repute. There is no iota of truth and since the writer claimed that the case is before the EFCC, we shall see the outcome.
Any time something happens in Kogi State – good nor bad – they attribute it to you. How do you feel?
That is what I signed for. I signed to work with utmost sincerity and transparency. It is God, who gave me the job through the benevolencee of Governor Yahaya Bello. If they are satisfied with what I do, I am very okay. I am optimistic that in few years to come Kogi people will reckon with our performance.
The 2019 general election is around the corner. What are the chances of President Muhammadu Buhari and the APC, considering the various defections from your party?
Taking a look at the recent bye elections conducted in five states, our party, the APC won four meaning that the people are still with the party. President Buhari, no doubt, has performed creditably well in the areas of security, fight against corruption, making agriculture an alternative to oil revenue, among others.
The introduction (implementation) of the TSA policy has helped the country greatly. Today, the nation foreign reserves have improved drastically and the Boko Haram has been reduced to nothing in the north east.
Finally, unless President Muhammadu Buhari is not contesting, if he does, I am yet to see anybody in other parties that can effectively challenge him. Defection or no defection, his second term is already approved and ordained by God almighty.