Ours Is A Success Story – Gov. Ibikunle Amosun of Ogun State
Prior to the time you assumed office, you must have had certain expectations. By the time you assumed office as governor, what differences would you say exist between your expectations and the realities you met on the ground?
It has been very challenging but we know what we have ahead of us is not a tea party. What we found on ground was far more than what we have envisaged, of course we all know that it was bad but we never realised that in our wildest dream that it was that bad. What we have going for us is the support and love that the people have towards us which has shown that truly they voted us in, because in the last one year, whether from East or West, everywhere we go they show massive support, cooperation and understanding. For me it has been so far so good even though the challenges are more than what we expected. Every moment of it is good and we enjoy doing what we say we will do for people of Ogun State.
Your predecessor reportedly left behind a huge debt portfolio. How have you been able to manage the debt profile and what is the value of the debt?
Let me mention two things with all sense of responsibility and without any intention to go personal. Remember that when I was campaigning, I mentioned it that I was not interested in carrying out any probe and the reason is so straightforward. We are aware that even time will probably not permit us to achieve what we have as vision for our people, so I do not want to use my good time in chasing the past. I want to concentrate efforts on the time we have to do the little bit. But when you come in, and you begin to discover that people are being owed so much and I remember those in the medical field, some (being owed) 19 months, 29 months and so on. Even many agreements that we met on ground suggest that people forget the office is not a permanent thing. When you see an agreement that says the chairman [of a government agency] will be the governor up to May 29 and thereafter it will be immediate past governor then you begin to wonder who we are making the law for, are we making the law for the goodwill of Ogun State or for an individual. Of course that tells you that they never imagined that they would leave that office. Again, I am more interested in doing my bit and let people see it and there has been so many people that compare what people have done.
How have you been able to turn things around?
In all things you have to thank God for giving us the opportunity to serve our people, but most importantly, the team that the Almighty has allowed us to put together has been wonderful and very hardworking. The team includes the civil servants from the head of service, directors, even everybody. We work together and we have been able to achieve the little we have achieved because of the burning desire and commitment to serve our people.
Your administration is said to have moved internally generated revenue, IGR, from about N500 million to N2 billion as at February 2012. What efforts went into making this happen and what were the challenges?
When we came they (former government officials) announced that they were in debt of N50 billion, so when I came we did forensic state audit and we discovered that the debt was more than that. And as we speak we have not agreed on what they (creditors) said the state owes them and what we believe the state actually owes. This is a democratic government and we want to follow the rule of law, to explore all available opportunities to resolve issues with all those affected. When we realised that we had this huge debt, we began to clear the debts that were not paid and we have paid the civil servants except for those in some agencies though we do not owe them but we pay as and when due since we have resumed.
You have hit the N2 billion mark now. By the time you are completing your first term in office, what is your projection of the IGR the state should be recording?
The challenges are there but we have to be ingenious. We try to block loopholes. Even as we speak we have not blocked all the loopholes that we are trying to block. We are looking at our initiatives, and we have not reached our full potential. The idea is that between now and December we pray that our IGR will be about N3 billion and God willing between the next two or three years, Ogun State would have exceeded the N5 billion that is our drive. So in four years we will have moved our IGR from N700 million to N5 billion that will redefine everybody. And very soon, Ogun State will not have to wait for what comes from the federal allocation before we pay our wages; that is the primary thing we want to achieve. Anyone that has a business that cannot pay wages should fold up; that is why we are doing everything that whatever happens we want to make sure that we are self sufficient such that we can fend for ourselves. We do not want to borrow to pay salary but we can borrow to improve our infrastructure because if we do not do this, the state will be a failed state.
What efforts are you making to tilt the balance between recurrent and capital expenditure more in favour of the latter?
When we came, almost 70 or 80 per cent of our expenditure was on recurrent. Now capital expenditure accounts for about 60 per cent and recurrent is about 40 per cent or thereabout. What we seek to do is to look at 65 per cent and 35 per cent in ratio, so that we can develop the state to what we have termed ‘Ogun standard’. Ogun State is unique in its ways and most of the time I ask myself why is it that Ogun State has the first doctor, first lawyer, first accountant and so on. That is why you do not need to look far before you see that the Nobel laureate is from Ogun State, the first woman that drove a car was from Ogun State and so on. Without sounding immodest, if you remove Ogun State from Nigeria, a significant part of Nigeria would have been removed in terms of human resources and intellect. That is why we have ‘Ogun standard’ and it is going to be the bench mark of everything that is good; construction of roads, rendering of services, education, housing and urban renewal, employment, among others.
Being an agrarian state, agriculture remains one of the major ways Ogun State can hope to bail itself out of the dependence on monthly handouts from the Federation Account. How much of effort is going in this direction?
Agriculture will be more or less a pivot on which all of these other programmes will rest on. For instance, quality health care, free education and so on, you need a lot of fund to do it. When we were planning our manifesto, we realised agriculture is the most potent of all that we can use to actually generate the much needed revenue. Do not forget in those days it was agriculture that late Obafemi Awolowo used to redefine the entire landscape of the Western Region so much so that when the colonials came they realised that the Western Region was far ahead particularly in the area of development. It was agriculture that was used to do free education, roads, beautification of infrastructure, Liberty Stadium, Bodija, Obafemi Awolowo University and many others. Look at Lagos State, Lagos is doing everything but they do not have land like Ogun State has. We are gifted. Now because of technology and development we now have value chain and value addition in agriculture. What we need to do is to take the advantage and benefit of the value chain in agriculture, what it can give to us and that is why for us now, whatever we grow we need to process it immediately. Gone are those days when we grow something and someone will come and buy it. In doing that you begin to create wealth and employment. For us, agriculture is key. So we set aside, in all the three senatorial districts, agricultural desks and we have investors that are coming to assist to take advantage of the potentials that we have in agriculture. It is just a mater of time now. With what we are doing, everything will begin to manifest. We have the ready made market that we want to feed Lagos and house, clothes and move Lagos which is very key to us. We are investing heavily around the borders and we know we will benefit from it. So that is what we are doing in the area of agriculture. But in the area of Industrialisation, we said agriculture would lead us to Industrialisation, because once we take advantage of value chain that agriculture offers, whatever we grow we will process and package and begin to sell. We have the market there.
Government is said to be a continuum, in what areas have you built on the achievements, if any, of the past administration?
Yes for me, if and when you are in a place and you see one or two good things, we do not need to cancel them after all there are some agencies that we met that the intention is good though the execution maybe poorly done.
Those that we feel is ok, we inherited it and moved along with it. They have what they call the Public Works Department, some call it direct labour, of course it has good concept, the only thing I think is not appropriate is that they should be for road maintenance and not construction of roads. There are some structures we met that are as old as the state but we left them. For me I am more focused and determined on those things that we think we should do. When I came, I saw a good idea that we want industrial cluster which any sane government will want to do but you now look at the execution, that is why you see that in the next few months we are about to sell lands and once we do this, you will see the quality and calibre of companies that will be there.
Beyond that, what are those things you would describe as the signature projects of your administration in the last year?
There is one that I want to save for the last, that is the Olokola Free Trade Zone, which is the huge industrial revolution that is beckoning. In areas of industrialisation we have set aside some area where we want to have the industrial cluster, so if you observe when we were doing our one year we have our industrial park, one in Ogun Central, Ogun East and Ogun West.
The one in Ogun Central is from Onijoganjogan, if you go there you will see that all the things being manufactured are produced from there and exported to the Western world – it is called Incubation Centre. We get graduates to go into skills acquisition; when they are trained we set them up. I launched the one in Sagamu recently. We seek to attract all entrepreneurs and businesses that do not have place to establish their factories. We offer land and making it easy for them, they pay only 20 per cent and 80 per cent for the cost of land for agriculture and for manufacturing, they pay 30 per cent and other businesses you pay 60 per cent and 40 per cent is being given in.
Which of these projects would you say is dearest to you?
There are several, but the one people are talking about is our education programme. There is nothing you can give to people that is more than education. An educated citizen is very easy to govern. One thing that thrills me is that there is nowhere I go that people will not stop me to say thank you for the education policy. There is no student in Ogun State that does not have writing materials, exercise books and textbooks such that people in private schools are leaving for public schools. We have been able to restore confidence as such that whether you are the son of the poor or rich everybody must have equal access to education. What I am happy about today is the model school we are doing, first class, schools. Look at the area of security.
What Lagos did was to make Lagos State a very difficult terrain for hoodlums and turn Ogun State to comfort zone. But I say no, so we bought patrol vans kitted with communication gadgets. We gave 125 vans fully kitted with gadgets. We bought 30 world-class APCs that will move like cars in terms of speed. Even armed robbers know they cannot mess up with it. People are talking about the roads that we are doing, so we are going to have a world-class road, with walkway, open drainage, streetlight, traffic light, CCTV; roads with ‘Ogun standard.’
You rode into office on the back of a popular election and the expectations were high. Are there times you feel under pressure and unable to meet the expectations of the people?
In one breath yes. I became governor because of God; we are products of the masses; God used them to make me governor. That is why it was difficult for them to rig the election because people were ready. I enjoy every beat of it. I enjoy doing my job.
Given this sort of pressure and your passion to deliver the dividends of democracy, how much of a toll would you say this job has had on your health?
Maybe am prepared for this office, everyday we are busy doing things. We are being groomed for the office. It is the love I have for people, I want to show appreciation and play with the people.
What is your average day like?
My day is my day and I wake up early to see those that want to see me. The work is there and there is no time for frivolities. By December or January, people will see a lot of things that they will be asking, ‘Is this Ogun State?’ That is what I want.