Sunday, 6 September 2015

Ajimobi — No more amala politics in Oyo

Oyo State Governor Abiola Ajimobi tells OLUFEMI ATOYEBI plans by his administration to address the paucity of fund confronting the state, why he has yet to name his cabinet and other matters

 Why did the state government decide to cancel the payment of the West African Senior School Certificate Examination fee and introduce a levy in secondary schools?
 When we came in, the state government studied all the aspects of education and we asked ourselves questions on what could be responsible for the abysmal performance of our candidates in the WASSCE each year. We found out that among other things, many of the parents did not bother to look after their children. We discussed with the parents and realised that because they (the parents) were not in any way involved in secondary education of their children; they did not care about what happened to their children’s education. They did not care if the children did their assignments or knew what they were taught in schools. They have abandoned their responsibility towards their children. We set up a committee to discuss with the Parents-Teachers Association, community leaders, individual parents and other stakeholders to know their views. Interestingly, many of the parents felt that if they were also contributing by paying something (some amount of money), they would be more attentive to the education of their children. The second reason is the fact that with the paucity of fund in the state, we have to face the reality that we cannot continue to sponsor children without involving their parents in a way. This is why we introduced the development levy. However, that levy of N3000 per session is not all that is required to train a child in one year. It’s just for a period of time, as soon as things improve for the state financially, we will stop it. It is an emergency situation that we must address immediately. The decision to introduce the levy was a unanimous one. And it was based on the suggestions of stakeholders, including the PTAs.

 Did you envisage a political backlash as a result of the decision?
 We envisaged a political backlash on the decision; but we cannot do what we cannot afford. We can handle the opposition. When you are not in government, you don’t see what is happening inside. Oyo State gets around N3bn from the Federal Allocation while we have a wagebill of more than N5bn. Our Internally Generated Revenue is N1bn; therefore, we will continue to owe every month if we don’t adjust our spending. If the opposition criticises us over this, we will handle it by showing the facts and figures. Like I said, this is an emergency situation that is temporary.

 How do you plan to increase the state’s Internally Generated Revenue?
 We are restructuring our Board of Internal Revenue Service. We have just been given the approval by the state House of Assembly to restructure the board. We want to decouple the IRS from the regular civil service. It will be a separate unit that will be responsible. It will have its board and the staff salary structure will be a little bit higher than that of the average civil servants, although it will be performance-based. There are many leakages which we want to block. From September 2015, we are changing the IRS structure so as to increase the IGR. Our greatest asset in the state is land. We want to take control and have a database for our resources. We don’t even know how many houses we have in Oyo State or the number of plots of land we have. We need a database for this to be made possible. Also, people are not performing their social responsibilities in the state. But rather than taxing the poor, we will look for opportunities to extend our taxes. There are so many companies that are not paying taxes. We have the opportunity to increase our IGR and I believe that with the restructuring, our IGR will double in six months. My ambition is that in the next five years, Oyo State should earn at least N5bn in IGR. I am confident of this.

 What is the position of payment of workers’ salaries in the state and is the bailout from the Federal Government enough to pay the backlog?
 Currently, we owe three months; May, June and July. Workers from levels 1 to 12 have received April salary and we are currently paying the rest. There is no bailout yet. The Federal Government gave us around N2bn from the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas fund. The Central Bank of Nigeria is now trying to take over states’ debts to banks and bonds at 14 per cent instead of 24 per cent that we are paying. This cocktail of support will lessen the burden. But unless we add income from IGR, we will continue to be in debt. The allocation we get now is lower than the basic requirement needed to pay workers. The alternative is to either reduce the workforce or increase the state’s income.

 Are you planning to reduce the size of the workforce with the ongoing workers’ verification exercise?
 No, we are not. We believe that the exercise will expose ghost workers. It will also give us the opportunity to train our workers and to re-assign them. Now that we are talking of agricultural development, we can send people to work in areas where agriculture can be practised. The intention of the screening is not to reduce workers because government must play its role as a provider of employment. But we must ensure that we have the right people working for us. Some people are working without certificates; we have asked them to provide their certificates. In some cases, some workers need to update their knowledge. We want to help them; we want to bridge the skill gap and not to retrench workers.

 Workers of Ladoke Akintola University of Technology said the owner states,Oyo and Osun, have abandoned them in terms of funding. Is this true?
 Oyo State has never abandoned LAUTECH, but, every institution should begin to be self-sufficient. We are giving them subvention. The two states are trying to look at how the institution must be properly funded. However, the school must also look for how to be self-sufficient. I have held meetings with many of the institutions in Oyo State. The fact that we owe salaries does not mean that we have abandoned the school.

 How will you rate the early days of President Muhammadu Buhari in office?
 Buhari has done well since he came in as the President. Slow and steady wins the race. Everybody will like to rush things but Buhari met enormous problems on the ground. Nigeria was almost bankrupt. A lot of money has been stolen. I commend Buhari for what he has done so far. That is the kind of a leader we need now. Behind the success of every nation economically, you will discover that there is always a leader that changes the economy. This was the case in Malaysia. Malaysia gained independence in 1965. It even came to Nigeria to take palm seeds but now, it is the highest producer of oil palm. Dubai was not what it is now when I first visited in 1991. Today, it boasts of the highest concentration of skyscrapers. We need a strong, committed and courageous leadership and Buhari has these qualities.

 Are you following in Buhari’s foot step by not naming your cabinet yet?
 The civil servants are the ones doing the work. The cabinet members are just political heads. Most of what the ministers direct are done by civil servants. What is the noise about cabinet?

 How soon are you going to appoint aides and commissioners?
 I will name them when I am ready.

 What is delaying their appointment?
 In the past, when the government said it could not pay salaries, workers said that politicians had taken all the money. Now, we don’t have politicians in office, I want the workers to see that they are the ones taking the money. Today, we still pay over N5bn, where are the politicians? The truth is, politicians don’t take 20 per cent of what the civil servants earn in salaries and pensions.

 Why did you relocate from the Government House to your private residence before the general elections?
 I feel more comfortable in my house. The Government House is old and dilapidated. I found out it would cost a lot of money to repair it. We did not have money to fix it. Besides, being a governor is temporary; I can only spend eight years. I don’t want to get used to the place; I am used to my own house. But now, we have begun repairing the Government House and before the end of the year, I will move into the place.

 It is the belief in some circles that governors who stayed there during elections did not win a second term and that you actually left to avert defeat. How true is this?
 The magic to win the second term is performance, courage, sincerity and above all, the grace of God. Someone had to break its second term jinx and God decided it would be me. We have introduced merit into governance. The era of ‘amala politics’ had to go. Oyo State is a pacesetter state. We told people not to trade on the streets and they said we had sinned against the people. My job is to make Oyo State develop, not to please some groups of people. In the past, the IGR was shared by politicians but we can account for what we have spent.
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