Nseobong Okon-Ekong was part of a team of journalists who interacted with the Governor of Oyo State, Mr. Seyi Makinde, on a myriad of issues confronting his budding administration
How do you react to criticism of your appointment of Mrs. Olubamiwo Adeosun as the first female Secretary to the State Government in Oyo State?
Mrs. Adeosun, from her CV, you probably would have been able to see that she is eminently qualified to hold that position. I made a promise to the people of Oyo State during electioneering that we would balance the positions in our administration along the lines of gender, religion and other considerations. We promised that we would not leave anyone behind. If you look at the four major posts in the executive branch, you have the Governor who is a Christian and a male, the Deputy Governor is a Muslim and a male, the Chief of Staff is a Muslim and a male, so if you look at that equation, what we were looking at in appointing the SSG, which is like third most important position in the executive arm, was gender balance. We want to ensure that we adhere to the policy of Affirmative Action on the percentage of representation for women. So, we went for Mrs. Adeosun, who is a Christian. Out of those four positions, we have two Muslims and two Christians and almost all the zones are represented.
Before you assumed office, there were claims about some funds being taken out of the government coffers illegally. In what state did you meet the state’s treasury?
We did not meet the treasury as it should be but the people of Oyo State should not fret, because our government has decided to be forward-looking. We did not meet the state’s purse in good condition but our government has drawn a line between what has been done and what we want to do. We want to focus on what we can do to uplift the state, to make life better for the people.
In one of the sessions when we were opening the books of the past government, the Head of Service is sitting with us here as we speak; it was the past government that appointed her and when we got there we said if the past government has done something that the people found worthy and good, we would continue with such. Now, the Head of Service brought a file to me and said we cannot appoint people and not give them vehicles with which they will move around in performing their duties. I have approved money for that. But when we checked the books, we found out that a vehicle was procured for the immediate past Head of Service in February. That was Oyo State’s money. You bought a vehicle for the Head of Service in February and she took it away by May.
We were looking at the books of the Ministry of Works. There was a road contract awarded and it came up to N2 billion per kilometre and I wondered how that could be. Even in the Niger Delta, which is a riverine area, they could not have constructed a kilometre of road for N2 billion. So, I asked how could they have constructed a road for N2 billion per kilometre and I was told that they said they were going to construct filling station, street lights and that it was 32 kilometres. They have paid some money and even two days to the end of the government, on 27 May, they still paid some money. That is the terrible situation we have found ourselves, but we were prepared, because we knew something like that would happen.
I want to assure our people in Oyo State that the focal point of our government is how to expand the economy of the state so that there will be shared prosperity in the economy. We are looking forward; we are progressive and we will not be deterred. But if those who left office do not desist from causing trouble for our government, I will expose them. I will bring out all their books. I am pleading with them now, because I know that they will no longer be able to walk freely by the time we expose their atrocities. Some people will be stoned by residents of the state while their houses will be occupied by the people of the state, who will be aggrieved by the height of impropriety and atrocity they committed. By that time, I won’t do anything to stop the people, because even the Government House in Agodi, I am not living there. I am living in my private residence. I only go to receive visitors at the Government House. So, I won’t say anything if Oyo State people move to occupy the homes some people [in the past administration] used Oyo State’s money to build. But if they stop the ongoing plot to destabilize and distract our government, we would also keep looking forward in doing the job we promised the people of the state.
Your government has directed those who took away government vehicles and other property to return them. Have they complied or they are pleading with you? How much debt did your government inherit exactly?
Nobody came to plead with me. There is no reason to beg me, because the property we are talking about do not belong to Seyi Makinde. They belong to all of us in Oyo State. What kind of plea will you make? That I should allow them to take away property that belong to all of Oyo State people? That kind of plea cannot hold water. They should return whatever belongs to Oyo State.
You should also recall that I told the people that we are not afraid of being treated the same way we will treat those who just left government. You know that they Yoruba will say that eniyan to lo nsin egbon re ni ihoho, ko ranti ko mu aburo re l’owo [Someone who ventures to bury his elder brother naked should endeavour to take his younger brother along]. We won’t mind if anyone does to us whatever we do to the past administration when we leave office, because we are not going to witch-hunt anyone. It is more of us doing what is right and that is what we will do.
On the second question about how much debt our government inherited, we are still looking at the books. But the one we have seen and confirmed, the debt owed by the past administration is about N150 billion. Once again, I will tell the people of Oyo State that if we change N150 billion to dollars, it will be about USD500 million. If we do what we are supposed to do in these four years and we expand the economy of Oyo State, the debt will not hurt us. But if we verify that some of the debts are questionable; for instance, if you float a bond, it is supposed to be tied to a particular project, so if we look at the bond they floated, was it used for the project it was meant for? We can do a value-for-money audit using a baseline of what happened at certain periods so that as we go forward, we would not also fall into the same ditch.
But if we calculate everything being owed as of now, it is going to about N150 billion. As we speak, the money that comes from Abuja is N4.5 billion and the workers’ salary is N5.4 billion. That means we need to take at least N1 billion to plug that wage bill and there are many things that we want to do. But where I am coming from as an entrepreneur, I started my business with N50,000 and so I am not afraid about whether we can surmount the challenges facing the state or not. But if we have the support of the citizenry and they know what we are doing and the direction we are heading, there is no doubt that we will succeed, because the Yoruba will say that, aja to ba l’eni l’eyin a pa obo [A dog with the support of a hunter can kill a monkey].
People commended your government on the proscription of the Oyo State branch of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) but the union recently put out a statement begging you to lift the ban, noting that their means of livelihood has been blocked. For how long will the union remain banned or are you contemplating lifting that ban anytime soon?
We are in constant engagement with them. We are not out to punish anybody. We want people to live their lives as normal as possible and we do not want to tamper with anybody’s means of livelihood. However, we cannot accept a situation whereby just because of a union, the rest of the people will be living in palpable fear. I heard what happened on the day of my inauguration between the two sides of the union and I told them that it does not matter whether anyone supported or did not support me during the electioneering. I said elections were over and it is time for governance. I swore an oath to ensure the safety and security of our people.
If they are ready to operate peacefully and they can demonstrate to us that there will be no more clashes, I will lift the ban immediately. That is the condition they must fulfil. We will never go back to a situation where people were killed at Iwo Road [in the name of unionism]. Somebody said to me that in the last eight years of the last administration, security was one of the points that they scored really high on and that nobody got killed during that period and I said, ‘no, Beyioku was killed during that period. He was the deputy chairman of that union; I knew him when we were in ANPP. I don’t want a single soul to be lost under my watch and I will wield the big hammer if something untoward is about to happen. I am not going to wait until it happens. I need to also warn them that the Anti-Terrorism Act is still on in the state and I will put as many of them in jail if they are not ready to allow peace in Oyo State. It will not matter whether you were our supporter or not, it is the same standard for everyone.
Still on the NURTW issue, there is this suggestion that the Oyo State government could boost its Internally-Generated Revenue by centralising the operations of the union in a way that the state, the local government and the union will share proceeds on percentage basis. Does your government have any plan in this regard?
We do have plans to improve the IGR of Oyo State. However, we are not going to do it at the expense of the hardworking people of Oyo State. To go to the NURTW in particular, if we want to get any fee from their collections, we will need to provide motor parks that are standard and modern. As the Yoruba saying goes, Gba fun Raji n’ile ni gba fun Gbada l’oko, ara oko to ba fee je buredi, a fi isu ranse s’ile, I have directed that the lands allocated for motor parks should be inspected. The way motorists stand by the roads is dangerous. There are three major motor parks in Ibadan; they are the ones in Iwo Road, Challenge and Ojoo and I can assure the people that we will transform the parks. We will do it in a way that even if we say the union should share the collections, they will see that the government has done its part. There has to be toilets at the motor parks, there must be cleaners, good lighting system and other amenities such that they will know that whatever government wants to make from the transport system will be ploughed back to improving the sector.
You removed the N3, 000 levy being paid by secondary schools, though some have criticised that decision as rather too hasty, because a lot of money needs to be pumped into the education sector in the state for you to achieve your desired goal. So, how do you intend to raise the standard of education in Oyo State for the pupils to receive quality education?
The standard of education is worrisome and we have to do something. People came to me saying that I should declare a state of emergency in the education sector. I said, what does that mean; is it just for me to make a pronouncement? On the issue of N3, 000, I told the people of Oyo State during the electioneering where I will get that money from without even opening the books at all. What I have to do is to plug the leakages, and I have seen a lot of leakages. It will interest the people of the state that during the second week of my assumption of office, I had a meeting with the acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and they are returning N1.3 billion to Oyo State. That was money found in someone’s account and it belongs to Oyo State. That money has been confiscated and taken over by the Federal Government. But I met them saying that that money does not belong to the Federal Government, but it belongs to Oyo State. They have agreed and we have written to them and we expect that money to come to a special account for recovery of money for Oyo State. Once we have that N1.3 billion, that has effectively paid for one year of payment of N3, 000. So, one year is down and it is better that that money should be in the pockets of the people of Oyo State. Also, if you look at a programme championed by the Federal Government and World Bank called BESDA, it is looking at the out-of-school children. The entire Northern states are on that programme and for the Southern zone, it is only Oyo State that is on BESDA from the South-West, others are Rivers and Ebonyi, which are states that you have a large number of out-of-school children. This is another money that will come to Oyo State and we will utilise it for the purpose for which it was given.
If you look at the SSG that we just appointed, she is a woman, but educated. She finished from the University of Benin as a Pharmacist, went back to the same university to do her MBA and she is a member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel Management both here and in the UK. So, we are telling our people that you need to send your children to school, whether a boy or a girl, because opportunities are opening up to break the glass ceiling. This is the first time in Oyo State that we will have female SSG and HOS at the same time. So, the civil service in Oyo State is headed by females and I trust that they will do well, because they are calm.
On the School Governing Boards, we will leave them as they are but as they are right now, we have to strengthen them. The management of the SGBs came to me when I was reviewing the files for the Ministry of Education, I asked them how much they collected for the past one year. What is the percentage of compliance? The figures were not adding up. That means money must be going somewhere and instead of the money for Oyo State leaking, I will rather want it to be in the pocket of Oyo State people. They told me that they get money to do some projects from the SGBs in the schools and I asked them to give me the list of projects in each school and who is responsible for those projects. I am still expecting the list. If I have it and I am convinced that that money is being utilised, we will give them money from the one that we are recovering.
You promised to commit more money to education how do you then plan to do that?
We are not the one that drafted the budget that we are currently operating; it is that of the immediate past government. N280 billion was approved as the 2018 budget and the expected revenue is N80 billion, inclusive of Internally Generated Revenue and federal allocation. So we had a gap of N200 billion. I asked government workers where they expected us to get the money allotted to some projects from and they told me that was money on paper.
Then, I have asked the civil servants to work on the budget that we will operate from now till the end of the year. For the first time, we will reduce the budget. The budget performance for previous years is 38 to 40 per cent; I will run a budget with a performance that must be 65 to 70 per cent. In that way, we will embark on projects based on resources that are available. We will reduce the budget from N280 billion to about N150 billion for the year. People are saying that it is out of pride that we have such a huge budget; that we want to be behaving like some other states.
For example, people are told that a certain road project is included in the budget but there is no money for the project in the budget. When it is not done, it is included in subsequent budgets and runs into several budgets. I don’t want to operate a deceitful budget. We want to operate a government where the people can hold us accountable whenever we make a promise. Right now, the Ministry of Finance and that of Budget and Planning are in the same ministry. But, we will go to the House of Assembly to decouple that ministry. Budget and Planning should be alone and focus on planning.
Oyo State residents, especially those in Ibadan, will like to know the plan of your government on waste management.
A dirty environment antagonises good health and people will have to spend a lot of money on their health. The people should dump their wastes at designated places. When we assumed government, we met the waste contractors but noticed that there was laxity. I had to call the Head of Service to question if the waste contractors planned to sabotage our government because they were appointed by the previous government. I do not believe in the fact that because we were not the ones who appointed the waste collectors, they should be sacked. If they abide by their terms of contract with government, and government plays its role, we have to ask them to give value. We set up a task force to engage them and that discussion is ongoing. However, we have said it in the media that the people should use waste collection bags and patronise the existing waste collectors. So, the status quo should remain while we still look at the terms of contract of the existing waste contractors. After examining the terms of contract, we will know the next step to take.
The opposition in the state is worried that you hardly stay a whole week in the state that you jet out often. Are those trips official?
They are official. What I can assure the people of the state is that if they look closely, they will know our movements. Last week, I visited the Executive Secretary of UBEC [Universal Basic Education Commission] because about N2.5billion meant for Oyo State was not released. The immediate past government seriously tried to get the money released but was not successful. Based on our conversation, the UBEC decided to release the money. So, I think it is better for me to go to Abuja to get more money for the state than to stay in the state. Those who talk about my movement out of Ibadan should calculate the number of days I spent in the state and see if I have not been able to meet up with 20 days that I should devote to work. I also work on Saturdays and Sundays when there are files to be attended to. This is because I have a contract with the people of the state to make the affairs of the state utmost on my mind.
Immediately you assumed office, you sacked local government chairmen. Do you also plan to appoint caretaker chairmen or would you conduct local government election?
We will conduct local government election within the first quarter of next year. We will not contravene laws in the election we plan to do. It’s the opposition that is scared about the conduct of election. The matter of sacking them is now before the court so I will not be able to say a lot about that. We are ready to comply with court judgment on the matter. The court asked them not to proceed with the election but they got another judgment to vacate that previous judgment. We have seen so many infractions and they know. I am also concerned about the fact that the constitution recognizes 33 local government areas; the issue of creating 35 local council development areas (LCDAs) is still in court. But despite the fact that the case was still in court, why did they proceed with election? You can create LCDAs for development to get to the grassroots but you have to abide by the constitution. You can hold election in 33 local government areas but can only appoint to the 35 LCDAs. I initially agreed with the concept of LCDA but we considered that that was what we met on ground and that it will bring government closer to the grassroots. But most LCDA chairmen do not go to office daily. They just wait for money to be disbursed and share it; only for them to return when another money is to be shared. You conducted an election for chairmen and councillors but you did not swear in councillors. After losing the governorship election, that is a year after conducting the local government election, then you swear in councillors and constitute ALGON. Who does that? But as I have said, we will abide by court judgment but continue with governance. The Oyo State Independent Electoral Commission (OYSIEC) will be reformed. We will appoint people of impeccable character, not those who write results whether election is held or not. When we conducted the election that brought me in, they said the result would be written but we stood firm to see how that would happen. They were not successful.
Across the federation, state governments are known to siphon the funds of local governments through JAAC. However, the Federal Government, recently, through the National Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) came up with regulations to prevent local government money from being siphoned. What is your take on this and are you also aware that the Federal Government has said state governments that do not have elected local government chairmen will not get their funds?
It happened before that the Federal Government failed to release the allocations of Lagos State. But the state government got a judgment in its favour that the Federal Government had no such right to withhold the funds of local government. I don’t expect the Federal Government to go that way again. If they do so, we will resort to the courts. But what the NFIU is fighting for is commendable. You were here in Oyo State when the state government purchased 33 excavators for local government areas. What the state government did was to take the money of local government and purchase on their behalf. When that file got to me, I asked why excavators were purchased for local governments and they said that was what the chairmen said they wanted. I then wondered why my local government, Ibadan North-East, would take as priority the purchase of excavator just like local government areas in Oke-Ogun zone of the state. What the NFIU is saying is that what is from FAAC should get to local government areas. We will not spend money meant for local government; we will not spend their money at the state government level. Once they deduct the first line charge, the local government will have money to do what they desire to do. If we have responsible local government chairmen and they key into our programme, we will advise and collaborate with them on their projects. They will spend their money and the state government will add its own and we will meet the expectations of people of various localities.
Our government will not spend money meant for local government areas on their behalf. But it is impossible for money from the Federal Government to go directly to local governments because those monies for first line charge differ from local government to local government. Ibadan has more schools than Oke-Ogun or Ogbomoso. So, if they pay directly to local government, do we ask them to contribute money again for first line charge? The Nigeria Governors Forum is already in court with the Federal Government on the issue of NFIU, because what was pronounced is unconstitutional and impracticable to implement.
Recently, some individuals said they were offered employment into The Polytechnic Ibadan in February and they want to know what will happen to their appointments.
All appointments made after the election was conducted were reversed. I was questioned on the ones that I did not reverse like that of the Head of Service. Some said that I did not reverse it because she is the wife of someone close to me. But if we had reversed that appointment, we would still need to have a Head of Service to coordinate things. So, if we are asked to reverse her appointment, do we call upon the former Head of Service, Mrs. Hannah Ogunesan, who has left the service? I have told such persons to give me another person to be Head of Service if they have someone else.
Your Excellency, people will like to know what will happen to the ongoing road projects awarded by the immediate past administration.
During my swearing-in, I swore an oath to tell the truth. The road from Moniya to Iseyin was awarded to one Oladiran Trade for N7billion. The Oladiran Trade just poured some sands on the road and it is nowhere to be found anymore. There are some projects like that. It was when began to look at the projects of the Ministry of Works and when I began to have a headache, I had to leave for home. We will continue some of the projects they awarded if we find out that not a lot of embezzlements have taken place. But, where one kilometre of road is being done for N1 billion and above, it has no value for Oyo State. I do not have any contractor that I am bringing in to do projects in the state. Those contractors doing projects will explain to us what value Oyo State is deriving from some of the ongoing contracts. If the road is critical to that area where it is being done, we will sit with them to ascertain if there is value for money and ask them to reduce it. We won’t ask for 20 per cent from the contractor. We will ask them to remove that 20 per cent to reduce the contract sum for the people of Oyo State to have value for their money being spent. What is paramount is that there must be value for the people of Oyo State.
What will be the driver for job creation, because there are many unemployed youths in the state?
We will use agric value chain to drive job creation and we have started the process. We should be having an agric fair in the next two or three weeks and we intend to invite investors to the programme. To know the situation we are, when I received briefing from the Ministry of Agriculture, I was told that Oyo State has nine farm settlements. I asked of the functional ones and they said only two are functional. I then said we will visit the two that are functional only to be told that only one and a half are functional. We will take agric seriously to drive our economy.