The Deputy Governor of Osun State, Benedict Alabi, has said that the distribution of relief items for residents during the coronavirus pandemic is not a statutory government duty but a form of gift.
The deputy governor in an interview with PREMIUM TIMES at his office also spoke on the state government’s fight against the coronavirus, the coalition between the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Social Democratic Party (SDP), the alleged rancour between the Gboyega Oyetola administration and former governor, Rauf Aregbesola’s administration, as well as why some of the latter’s policies are being reviewed.
Mr Alabi also addressed questions on prosecution of arrested illegal miners, the educational sector and the agonies of pensioners, among others.
PT: How is Osun State managing the spread of Ccronavirus, especially in rural communities despite the high number of returnees from francophone countries with the disease.
Alabi: The secret of the success is that when the pandemic was discovered in Nigeria, the State of Osun took proactive actions by setting up a committee to combat the virus including the likes of Professor Isaac Adewole, former Minister of Health and others. We started very early and we took it seriously by engaging in community risk communication about the virus. The government’s strategy was to allow the people in the state to own it as their fight and it made everybody conscious.
The case of returnees from Ivory Coast was a blessing in disguise because we observed that their coming made our people realise that the virus truly exists. 127 returned and 18 were tested positive for coronavirus. The protocol of the NCDC at that time was that only people with symptoms should be tested but the State of Osun government insisted that since they were all returnees, they should be tested. This did not make us have community transmission.
PT: Even though the state government said it has done the needful to enforce interstate travel ban, we have it on record that hundreds of persons still find their way into Osun on a daily basis and we are aware of all irregularities that happen at borders. We trust the government cannot pretend not knowing about the breaches?
Alabi: Thanks for your observation. The thing is that our people are so defiant. They want to get to anywhere despite government directives. Some people even follow the bush path with their vehicles. So, what we did was that we barricaded all the bush paths. When we realised that we were still having issues curtailing this, the Oyetola government further took the steps of being the first to launch the Amotekun (South-west security operatives) to also curtail interstate movement and it generated results.
I can tell you that yesterday (Sunday), over 100 people were arrested. We can’t win the battle when it comes to human movement but the state government is trying all its best to encourage our local government chairmen, Amotekun and formal security operatives to help reduce the influx to the barest minimum.
PT: When the federal government ordered total lockdown, Osun State did the same and during that period, the government boasted that they were dishing out palliative to different wards. However, some residents raised alarm that the government shared expired or spoilt rice to them. The response that followed then from the government was that the source of the rice would be investigated. Till this moment, Osun residents are yet to know how it ended.
Alabi: Palliative is a gift and not a statutory duty of government to give to its people but because there was lockdown and workers may not have access to earnings, the government did the necessary to give their people palliative. However, out of 332 wards in the state of Osun, only two wards have the problem (spoilt rice). Being a listening government, we replaced the rice for them and also tried to investigate the suppliers who were thereafter sanctioned.
PT: We recently published a report on the challenges of nurses and midwives attending to coronavirus patients and many who spoke with us said there was no special plan for health workers combating coronavirus. Is that true?
Alabi: Before the issue of coronavirus, State of Osun government paid health workers as at when due and when coronavirus started, those identified to work with us were put on special allowances being paid weekly. Sometimes, when they are not paid for a week, they get double payments the following week. I’m proud to tell you that health workers in this state are insentivised to do their works.
We didn’t also stop at that, we also did N3.5 million insurance each for the health workers. Later we increased the insurance to two. Now, they have double insurance. One with Leedway Insurance and the other with Lasaco. This include the drivers, nurses and all other people who are frontliners. So, health workers are properly renumerated in the fight against coronavirus.
PT: Some days ago, Governor Oyetola said this administration would provide 15,000 jobs for Osun residents after COVID-19. So, tell us how you plan to achieve this?
Alabi: For every disappointment, there is always a blessing. We understand that there are a lot of people who want to go into craftsmanship and this, we are working alongside with Bank of Industry to ensure that anybody who wants to learn a new trade has the opportunity of doing this.
We want to make state of Osun a hub for craftsmanship and we are sure that when this is done, people will have opportunities of engaging those who are well trained in their various trades and there will be opportunities of livelihood. One of the major factors that mitigate against SMEs in Nigeria is funding and that is why we are working the talk with Bank of Industry to ensure that our citizens interested in all these trades have financial resources.
PT: So, let’s speak more on governance. We recalled that when your administration came on board, there was a coalition agreement between the APC and SDP. As of the time we are speaking, is the coalition still effective or dead?
Alabi: I’m sure we haven’t heard anything from the SDP against us. The SDP joined us not because of election but because they saw value in our government and the people coming on board. They supported us because they knew we meant well for the state of Osun. The relationship is still there.
I may also have to tell you that most of the SDP people have fused into APC because of being satisfied with the performance of the government and understanding that what matters most is services and not about party linings. A lot of them have joined us. Definitely, we have some people who may still want to remain where they are.
PT: There has been report that the current administration is working silently to rubbish the legacies of the previous administration of Rauf Aregbesola and that was what led to reversal of some of his controversial policies. How true is this?
Alabi: That cannot be true. In anything that is progressive, first thing is review of anything you are doing. The management theory tells us that at best performance, there is need for improvement. So, the present government is a government of continuity. That is, whatsoever we are doing today, some people can come tomorrow to review and improve on it. The former government did very well for the state of Osun and they achieved a lot that hadn’t been achieved before. So, how can you want to throw away what is good?
What we have done is to strengthen all policies in place before, because some are five-six-seven years policies. So, anybody insinuating that review is to rubbish former government needs better understanding of leadership and management.
PT: You will agree that change of name was also part of the policies of the previous government. Between last week and now, the judgement of a High Court is trending that “State of Osun” is not legalised in Nigeria. The argument is that Nigeria’s constitution only recognises Osun State. So, do you want to continue with the ‘illegal’ name, ‘State of Osun’, or review that as well?
Alabi: It was a state high court that made that decision, not the Supreme Court. We cannot at the moment tell you the decision of the state until we have a final judgement.
PT: Aside changing uniform and reversal to 6-4-4, what other thing is the current administration doing towards basic education in the state?
Alabi: We had engaged primary schools present and former heads as well as secondary schools former and present principals and also to the tertiary institutions level. They are to help appraise what is present on ground. How can we strengthen the sector. We will go down to the root to make sure state of Osun becomes one of the best hubs for education in Nigeria.
PT: Our platform recently published a piece on the agonies of pensioners. While your administration is proud to say you aren’t owing workers, many are still being owed. What is your reaction to this?
Alabi: This government has run for 18 months and we have paid consistently full salaries to workers as at when due and even pensioners. The problem is that when you have arrears, you can’t pay it in a single day.
The government is not only to pay salaries of workers and pensioners alone, we are to take care of the welfare of our people. Salary is there, security is there, health is part of it, and also economy development is part of the mandate of the government. We are balancing all these but we know that salary is important and pension payment is important. We started from where are and we’ve been following through. It isn’t being selective.
Mind you, I haven’t seen anybody contesting saying when I get there, I will use my money to run the government. The civil servants are the ones to do the job and will increase IGR and income. But despite the fact that our IGR has not really increased, we are still paying. The thing you should ask is knowing how we have been able to pay and what we are doing which is, we are trying to be ‘financial engineers’ and reduce expenses to the barest minimum.
PT: Residents of Osun State have consistently accused this administration abandoning the project of the past government. For instance, the damages at Olufi market and abandonment of major roads in Gbongan.
Alabi: The easiest thing to do is to criticise. They are talking about what has to be done but did not talk about those that have been done. Gbongan to Osogbo road keeps attracting our attention. It was started by the former government and we are working on it.
We are also doing new ones even at local government. We can’t do everything together but we are doing all that are necessary to make life bearable for all and sundry. If you look at the few roads we’ve done, they are roads that can stand the test of time. They are not roads that leave with us when we are leaving the government.
PT: In December, a PREMIUM TIMES report exposed how illegal Chinese and local miners carry out their activities in the state with the support of the police. The government then set up a task force against illegal mining. Amotekun recently arrested some of them. Why have the illegal miners not been prosecuted?
Alabi: Governance is about strategy and processes. If you arrest somebody – that’s executive. Prosecution is done by the judiciary. The judiciary also have their ways and processes. The same way it took us to carry the arrest is the same way the judiciary will take time for prosecution. Nobody will do what we have done, arrest foriegners and throw them back to the society. That should not come to anybody’s mind. It is not done that way.
PT: An average Nigerian sees the office of the deputy governor like a ‘spare tyre’. The former governor, Mr Aregbesola, assigned the role of commissioner for education to his deputy governor. Has Mr Oyetola given you any (additional) role? Are you a spare tyre?
Alabi: The Nigerian constitution has specific roles for the office of the deputy governor and the governor on his own could add to it for his deputy. Like you know, every manager has their own style and strategy. The strategy of Mr Oyetola is that we run the government together.
All his duties are my duties. All his responsibilities are mine and as such I don’t need to wait for his permission. I’m not limited. I think what we are doing now is far better than assigning roles. We run the government together.