Osun State governor, Abdulrauf Aregbesola has been in the news since he was sworn into office last November after a protracted legal tussle to have his victory in the 2007 election affirmed. Mr Aregbesola speaks on the rumour over health, as well as his development plans and his role in Lagos politics, among others. Excerpts:
Rumour of ill health
Talking about my health, it’s not for me to say because this is life. However, looking at me closely and from the person talking with you now, whom some of you have known for a couple of years back, when you see an unsound or an infirm person, it does not require stories. But mere seeing me, you can tell that all is well. There was no basis for the speculation at all. Another way to prove this was during the elections in April. My party cleared all the seats contested. I was the arrowhead of the campaign for my party, the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) in the state of Osun, that delivered that result.
President Goodluck Jonathan won elections in all the South West states except here. This is the only state our presidential candidate won. If I had been sick, how could I have mobilised the party to the extent of winning the elections so massively in my state in April? A man could not have led a party to achieve such a victory in April and by May and you started concocting stories of his illness. The story that was circulated was that I fell in my bathtub and I broke my leg. In fact, Vanguard reported that. By the time I went to China, it had escalated and we thought that so many of the activities in China published with pictures would have silenced these people. Compass Newspaper crowned it some 15 days ago with a front-page banner. This will be shocking to even an enemy. The story published in Compass even indicated medical reports which is not true. The only medical I went through was in India and that was a rigorous one. I even conducted an endoscopic test and the outcome of the entire test is that I’m fully fit.
His many foreign trips
The trip of May was at the invitation of the Mayor of Southwark, who is an Osun indigene from Iwo. The invitation was pending for a year and he wanted us to honour him by our attendance at the Mayor’s Conference. It was also meant for the late Mayor to formalise a bond between his borough in the UK and all the 31 local government councils in this state so that they can benefit from whatever support they can get.
My travels are public and on records. The first was to the Borough of Southwark in the United Kingdom, purely on official assignment. After that, I took some few days off just to rest and during that period, I detached every aide that came with me. None of them knew where I was. After that I returned to resume my work. In June, my daughter was graduating in Dubai. In fact, I wanted to attend it all by myself, but close associates like Pa Akande were there. The only thing that indicated a medical attention was that my local doctor has been persuading me to go for medical check-up. After finishing the graduation, I went to India to conduct the test and returned to Nigeria. I used that opportunity because Dubai was closer to India than taking off direct from Nigeria. My doctor wanted me to go to the U.S. Eventually, we went to India for an intensive press scan, which was designed to identify any trace of ailment. On that trip, we spent one week and came back to Nigeria. Like I said it was just a check-up.
My next travel was to China on the invitation of All China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU), the first to be extended to any state governor in Nigeria. The Executive Secretary of the Organisation of African Trade Union Unity (OATUU), Hassan Sumonu, facilitated this trip. Agreements were signed that would make Chinese firms to establish industries in Osun State and enable our state access official Chinese government assistance.
My Deputy, Otunba Grace Titilayo Laoye-Tomori, holds forte and has performed state functions to my satisfaction whenever I am not around.
His involvement in Lagos politics
I have no quarrel with anybody in Lagos and even here in Osun. I have been involved in Lagos for half a century and do you think it is possible to disconnect myself from Lagos politics within just a year? Even if I wanted to, it is not possible. Go down there now (pointing to his waiting room), they are 10 persons from Lagos waiting to see me. They believe that once they see me their problems are solved, even when it may not be possible for me to solve all problems. Our opponents take these issues to ridiculous extent because they don’t want healthy rivalry.
Remember I was in the Lagos Exco for eight years and you cannot be active politically without being active underground or in the grassroots. I am the Generalissimo of Alimosho politics because I am one of their own and have been involved in their affairs for such a long time. No matter what, you can neither take me away from Alimosho nor take Alimosho away from me. That has no negative effects in the running of state of affairs here.
Challenges of governing the state
Going by the slogan of this state (Ipinle Omoluabi), it is unfortunate that not much work has been done before now. Much more importantly, however, we have been able to provide an identity for the state, call it rebranding if you want. Even at the critical level, before rain began in Nigeria, we had started dredging of all the canals in the state. At the time it rained heavily this year, instead of houses to be flooded, raindrops were channeled to the canal and there was no room for flooding in the state. Our intervention has given relief to the people, who have endured constant flooding in the past years. We have models for state-of-the-art intervention for education infrastructure and this covers the primary, secondary and even tertiary institutions in the state. Ede water works have been abandoned for several years and this facility covers about 15 local governments, but now we have awarded contracts to put things back in shape and about 26 percent of the job is underway. In the next six months, we will have up to 50 percent of the job done.
Delay in appointing commissioners
When people talk, I get amused. We assumed office on November 25th, 2010. Since then, it has been a successful outing, especially fulfilling a great feat with my commissioners and I can say that they are the best set of commissioners any state can boast of in this country. Initially, people were talking about our delay to constitute the state cabinet without realising the stiff opposition we had faced from the rival party in the legislature. When we came in, the PDP had about 19 members to ACN’s seven in the state House of Assembly and they were booby traps we were trying to avoid. From day one, their plans were to oust us and when we knew their plans and their sponsors, we designed strategies to truncate them. Although the constitution states that we should appoint commissioners, it did not give any specific timeframe or deadline and when we were ready to appoint commissioners, we got the best people around to do the job.
My infrastructure policy is to ensure that all roads in the rural settings are linked to the market in the urban areas. We have decided to invest more in food production in the state to boost the health of our indigenes. We have constructed roads to the farms to facilitate transportation of farm produce from the rural to the urban areas and where they can easily be transferred to regional markets in Lagos to boost the economy of the state as well as improving the life our indigenes.
We have acquired 30,000 hectres of land which we want to open up for people who desired farming in the state. In the area of urban development, if we want to describe Osun State contextually, it is the state with highest number of ancient towns with nothing less than 500 years of existence. Urbanisation in itself is an indication of civilisation. As far as the state is concerned, there are still lots of jobs to be done in terms of urban development. Osun, being an ancient setting with majority of the houses not less than 50 years old, surely needs urgent attention. This has happened because they have been neglected for a very long time.
On my assumption of office, I met a debt of N18.3 billion. Within five months of taking a loan, they had expended more than N11.9 billion on spurious projects and I met only six billion naira of the loan in the treasury. The conditions of the loan were excruciatingly painful to us. It is not wrong for a state to seek loan to execute projects, but it becomes worrisome when such loans were not deployed to meaningful projects. At that time, the totality of the state’s income was N1.8 billion. When I came into office, the state had to borrow N1 billion monthly to execute its regular commitment such as salary, subventions and other activities in the state. The debt was enormous and the state had to pay back the loan. The wizardry employed in renegotiating the loans meant that we had a breather from its suffocating demands to enable us harness resources to develop the state. This, at a point, slowed down things but we are able to bring things back to shape in March this year. That was why it was not so fast for us to respond to the salary increment demands by labour. We have agreed to pay a minimum wage of N19, 000. We have been able to accrue a surplus of N8 billion naira as at the end of July, 2011 and N4 billion for the local government as well. I also intend to raise money from the stock market though bonds and I believe I can raise something substantial to execute some projects as well. The renegotiation of the loan remains a major achievement for us and it gives us hope that we will harness resources to develop our state.