Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola tells us that the focus of his government is the enrichment of the common man. He says his ambition to make the State of Osun a much better place, is driving him to seek re-election. Excerpts:
So far, many people in Osun say you have done well in the first three and a half years. What is motivating you to seek a second term?
In the first term, we have laid the foundation for a great and prosperous state in education, agriculture, job creation, security of lives and property, urban renewal, cultural renaissance, infrastructure development, youth development, women development and general human development. We want to guide the good foundation laid to fruition, consolidate on our achievements and leave behind a state that can never fail.
I want to be judged by my completed works and achievements. This I believe is possible in eight years which the constitution recognizes and has made available.
Looking back at your first term, what gives you the greatest satisfaction?
That we have demonstrated to the good people of Osun, and they have now realized, that good governance in a democratic setting is possible from a government they have given themselves, one that is accountable, responsible and responsive; that it is not rocket science.
One of the issues people have been pointing to in recent times is that of “stomach-infrastructure”. Would you say you have managed to balance development in infrastructure and social welfare programmes?
That concept is strange to Yoruba cultural and political tradition. In the First and Second Republics, members of the Action Group and Unity Party of Nigeria used to contribute to the party’s coffers, and not support the party based on what they take out. This of course is derived from a political community where politics is largely driven by ideology and pursuit of public interest. Chief Awolowo won election not because he was throwing money around but because the people believed in him and his cause was counted as worthy. That is why he defeated the NPC/NPN moneybags. That tradition is still here and it is very much alive in Osun.
Let me assure you, the overwhelming majority of the people of the state will vote for us because we have represented them well in our first term, we have been accountable to them and we have served them with passion and integrity. It is not lost on our people and they want more of this because they can see the future in us. The opposition’s investment in subversive gifts will turn out to be calamitous. The few people taking their money and expired and unwholesome rice are their tiny members and hangers-on who ordinarily would not have voted for them. However, our own stomach infrastructure lies in providing direct jobs for 40,000 youths through the Osun Youth Empowerment Scheme (OYES), a programme designed and executed at the assumption of office to engage our youths in community development. The programme also energised the economy of the state because the allowances we give to participants of this programme have the capacity to impact the economy. Besides what went into their training during the programme, there is a continuous injection of over N200 million into the economy through the OYES cadets. The money is not big enough to engage in anything outside their immediate community, but it is enough to inject into their communities.
More than 7,000 jobs have been created as a result of the Osun Rural Enterprise and Agriculture Programme (O-REAP) an agricultural production programme; our investment is huge materially and emotionally. It is not a one-off but a continuous thing.
O-MEALS and all the other O’s are feeding 300,000 pupils daily in public schools, granting N4 billion microcredit to thousands of our people in direct empowerment and other interventions that empower families and put smiles on the faces of our people, right from our first 100 days in office. Those trying to embark on stomach infrastructure in this late hour will have a lot of catching up to do because we have begun long ago and we are four years ahead of them. We are the masters of the game.
Which of your projects are you anxious to complete?
All our projects are important to us because they are a response to the yearnings of the people. Therefore, the question of wanting to complete a particular one does not arise. Every project has a time frame. This time frame was arrived at considering available resources and what is possibly deliverable. We are on course and working diligently to deliver on schedule.
We have had challenges, especially the 40 per cent shortfall in revenue from the Federation Account, but through astute financial engineering and prudence, we are keeping faith with all our projects and we will deliver on schedule.
Can you give us an assessment of the amount of investment which you have attracted in the past three and a half years.
The greatest investment is in imbuing our people with self-belief which has triggered their industriousness and creativity. This is primarily manifested in the way many people have returned to farming, set up cottage industries and returned home to partake in the revolution going on in the state.
We have the best investment-friendly climate in Nigeria, security is guaranteed, and the air is clear and clean. There is no pollution of any nature. When you talk of agriculture, Osun now has the largest poultry industry providing eggs and chickens for the 300,000 pupils being fed daily in our public schools.
We have a huge army of educated young men and women who are eager to contribute their quota to society’s growth. You may have observed that there are huge constructions – roads, bridges and houses – going on in every nook and cranny of the state.
We have a large garment production outfit here which was a product of our drive at education reform. We are the first state to bring about a unified outfit for our students. It is not as some media agencies present it, “one uniform for all students”, though there is nothing bad about all students in public schools having the same uniform. Our neighbour, Benin Republic, has the same school uniform for all students, from Primary One to HSC. So when some commentators are ignorant of such issues, we are amazed. Our own is not even one uniform for all. Our unified uniform covers three levels of education, namely: elementary, middle and high schools. That policy influenced the development of the Omoluabi Garment Factory, which today employs about 3,000 of our youths.
The OYES programme and the need to engage the cadets led us to a partnership with a Ghanaian company, RLG Communications Limited, an electronics manufacturing company that is training 20,000 youths on all forms of electronic devices, and also assembling electronic gadgets like computers, mobile phones and television sets.
An airport with the longest runway in Africa with the capacity for servicing and maintenance of aircraft is under construction. When completed, the airport will be the first airport targeted at providing aircraft maintenance facilities as its primary goal. The helicopter hangar, airplane hangar, the airstrip, the apron, the width of the airport is huge. We want to be the centre of aircraft maintenance in West and Central Africa. This is an investment opportunity which few people consider. And, of course, we know the market is big.
We are developing an investment manual on tourism, electricity, industry, commerce, and so on. We are aggressively reviewing our laws to serve as a confidence-building means to attract investors. Our strategy also involves the highest regard for security, law and order.
What is your vision of what you want to leave behind in Osun when your second term ends in the next four years?
My first aim is to leave a functioning democratic system owned by the people of the state; a system where government derives from the people, is controlled by them and therefore accountable to them. I want to leave a model state where unemployment is near zero level and more importantly, where we create enough wealth such that the government has enough of its own money to meet its daily obligations and does not need what comes from Abuja to survive. I also believe that our investment in education would have fully matured and the pupils in our schools would have become world beaters. I can also see our urban renewal and environment programme turning our cities into modern, clean, beautiful and safe havens.
To crown it all, I want to make human beings the centre of government and genuine agents of development. That’s all. My concern is to uplift man such that he sees himself as the only agent of change. I want to elevate the place of human beings in society such that man can see himself as the core of society and driver of development. I want to see his empowerment, upliftment and progress.
Some say they are grassroots politicians; how close are you to the people of Osun?
To answer the question, long before I assumed this office, I prepared so well for the office in a way that going by the normal run, I should not be working as hard as I’m working now for re-election. A commentator said something to the effect that I am one of the politicians that from day one began my campaign. From the day I entered this office, I started my campaign.
How many governors walk the streets with their citizens? I have been doing that since the first month in office. How many governors created interactive forum in Nigeria before me? There is none. I am the first governor that devotes close to ten hours of continuous engagement on a quarterly basis with the citizens.
The people can ask any question in a no-holds-barred atmosphere. The Ogbeni Till Day Break interactive programme is a worldwide engagement because we take feedback from social media. The ‘Gbangba Dekun’ is another monthly community interactive forum where the governor sits with stakeholders in the community to ask or make inquiries on any issue.
These are some of the direct engagements that we are doing with the people that no government in Nigeria has ever attempted to do. We also have a carnival like procession in ‘Walk-to-Live’ where we just walk round the communities and it is engaging and popular because everybody wants to be with the governor.
If you had a few words to say to the opposition candidates, what would those words be?
They should be preparing their concession and defeat-acceptance speech in the spirit of sportsmanship because the contest is over for them even before it began, given the uproariously large and near absolute acceptance we have received from the people from all the local governments, wards, gender, professional and age groups in the state.