Soft-spoken Ilesa, Osun State born Shola Fasure has a gentle man and he is easy-going. The dude who is the Senior Special Assistant to Governor Rauf Aregbesola of Osun State on Media in this interview with Akinlolu Abayomi spoke on sundry issues.
As a principal member of the media team of Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola’s government; how would you assess his administration?
How will I assess the administration of Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola? Well, that is a good question. I have been part of the government since inception; the government has this unusual dose of hard times and challenges but in spite of all these, the government has done admirably well. It faced the challenges courageously; it focused on its programmes and governance and it is going to leave a very good and worthy legacy.
People have made the issue of the loans obtained by the government a topic and claimed that the state is highly indebted. Do you really think the state has the financial capacity for the repayment of the loans?
You make some assumptions, which I don’t find quite agreeable, I will say. The state may appear indebted but the state is not indebted beyond its capacity to cope, we must be very clear on that. Loan is the basis of development, there is no country in the world that is developed and didn’t do so with loans and financial assistance in one way or the other and so the government is not indebted beyond its capacity to cope. What you refer to as indebtedness here is because our country as a whole is not productive, if we are productive as a country our loan profile is a non-issue, because when you distribute it per capital, the per capital of the loan portfolio of the state is not even up to a thousand naira ((N1000) for each citizen, whereas what I read about the United States is that for each citizen in America, the per capital loan is $22,000 , so if Osun loan is less than N1000 for citizen, then that N1000 is just about $2. What we are working towards is making the state to be productive and once the state is productive and we are able to raise revenue by ourselves then we can govern effectively without any effect of the loan. Loan became an issue because the Nigerian government lives on rent, you don’t do anything, you just go to Abuja every month and then you collect revenue, and so when oil revenue falls, then everybody is in trouble. What Osun State is receiving from the federation account is now about 20% of what it used to receive in good times and then regrettably the expenditure too had almost tripled.
Wages alone, when the governor came in, the salary was N1.2billion, that was the wage bill every month, but when the federal government negotiated minimum wage on behalf of everybody which in itself was an aberration under federalism in a federal republic, the federal government can only negotiate minimum wage for itself and its workers, if the federal government is not paying on behalf of the state. If you are not the one paying, how can you negotiate, how much the workers will collect, but the federal government did that, from N9000 the FG negotiated N18000, that is twice the old amount and from N1.2billion the wage bill ballooned to N3.6billion and it coincided with the fall in the oil revenue, first coming from the alleged theft of 600,000 thousand barrels per day, under the Jonathan’s administration, later oil price now fell to about $22 from the Olympia heights of over $100, so it threw spanners in the walls but we are in that situation generally because the whole country is not productive. We are not producing anything, we are only consuming, we import virtually everything including foods but the government has weathered all that in spite of the financial challenges. There is prudent management of resources, the governor is not frivolous, he has been able to manage the resources very well, he did a lot of financial engineering and that is why he has been able to keep his head afloat in spite of the challenges, he is running all his fantastic programmmes-education, schools, roads, human development, health, social protection. He has been doing these unfailingly in spite of the challenges.
When people come to Osun, they find it difficult to believe that, in spite of the financial restraints, how did the state develop though debt is a challenge, but it has not stopped the administration from functioning effectively.
You made reference to the fact that there has been a very good prudent management of the resources but many particularly, the opposition party will readily allege that the large chunk of the loans went into the private pockets?
Opposition is opposition. Opposition when they are outside, they throw stones inside. Not many people know this but I want you to take it from me and you can investigate it, there is no administration in the country that is as investigated and harassed by the law enforcement agencies than Osun particularly under the Jonathan’s administration, EFCC, ICPC all of them. They kept harassing the contactors handling government projects, all the banks in custody of the state account have all been thoroughly harassed, they kept looking for the slightest shred of evidence, they have not got any, because there is none, there is no case of misappropriation of funds here, so you can imagine if they had got something. Opposition will only allege but if opposition has the slightest evidence, they would have brought it forward. Or have you seen any of such evidence? No! Because there is none. If you are receiving a lot of money, let us say you receive 1million every month, you can afford to do many things with it now, you don’t even need to save, you can say you want to go and be living in a pent house of a hotel, buy cars on credit knowing that once your 1million naira cheque comes, you will be paying on installment basis. You can do anything with your 1million naira, however when your 1million naira suddenly reduces to N50,000, will you still be living the way you were living before? It is not possible, you can only spend money because you have it. So that is what people don’t understand at a time the government was taking an average of 4billion naira every month but when it now reduced to about N5million or even at a negative, will you spend what you don’t have? It is not possible and one of the things you must understand is that before the loans are approved, you have to expose all your books to the regulatory agencies and if your books are not good, it will not be approved. The DMO kept saying that the loan portfolio of Osun is sustainable and the opposition kept coming up with different spurious figures. At a time they said the loan portfolio was N500billion, then they will say it’s N400billion, then they will say it’s N600billion. They just keep forwarding figures as their minds could be, they just keep churning out figures but you will never find any document. The last one was when the DMO published the loan portfolios of all the states and said that Osun portfolio was N179billion, so it can’t be more than that, it can’t get more than that because something happened recently. When the state had a bail out, actually it was not really a bail out but a concessionary loan, it wasn’t a bail out really, it was a concessionary loan, that’s one thing many people don’t understand, they kept saying it was a bail out. It was not a bail out and it was not the federal government that gave the loan, it was the banks, there is usually a reserve, a strategic reserve and that is the best way to describe it, which the banks normally have but which they cannot touch. It is from that reserve that the loan was given to the states, the federal government only guaranteed it, implying that incase the state defaults, the federal government would pay, so it wasn’t the federal government that gave the loan, the federal government only guaranteed loan. So when they were to do that, all the states were asked to declare their indebtedness, many states hid their indebtedness but Osun did not hide anything, so many of the states that appeared on the surface to be buoyant and when you see what they earn from the federation account you think they are okay, they are not okay because they under- declared, so when they receive the allocations, the bank is already waiting for them to pull out their money. On the surface they look healthy but they are not. But Osun brought out everything, Osun brought out everything in the spirit of transparency and Omoluabi, that’s why it appeared as if Osun is the most indebted state in the world.
If you rate the popularity enjoyed by Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola as at 2010 when he became the governor via the court of appeal ruling and now, do you think he still enjoys the same level of popularity? If yes, that is good, but if the answer is in the negative, do you think it is the combination of factors resultant from various allegations and some other campaign of calumny against his person and his government that led to that?
Well, let me first state that he didn’t become the governor through the court of appeal‘s ruling, election was conducted, he won, his mandate was wrongfully stolen and given to another person, the electoral process includes appeals so we cannot say that the electoral process had concluded until the appeals have been heard so it was still the electoral process that played on for three years; in the end he was vindicated and he won, what the court of appeal did was to validate his election. So it is very important how we make the narratives. It was not the court of appeal that awarded the governorship to him, they were still in the electoral process which also include appeals. Of course, if your challenger did not challenge you then that means the electoral process had terminated with the declaration of results, when he won the re-election, his opponent also pursued the result until the supreme court dismissed the petition, saying it lacked merits, that was when the electoral process ended but as long as there is a challenge, then the electoral process is still on. So we must be careful and not say it was the court of appeal in Ibadan that awarded the governorship to him. He contested an election and won, that was what the court of appeal affirmed and the person who was there was occupying the position illegally; that was why he started a fresh mandate of four years.
So that is about that, on popularity, there is no doubt that the governor is popular, have you seen any of his public outings in the state, how he was always mobbed and how tumultuous crowd comes out to receive him in many communities he enters. I even expect him to be more popular now than he was before he came in, because when you look at some of his social protection programmes, you will notice that no government in that state has affected the lives of people more than Aregbesola, I mean look at it, 261,000 pupils eat nutritious meal every school days in the state, you know how many families that he has assisted, that is just one, more than 40,000 people have gone through ‘OYES’ and they have received soft landing in various vocational programmes. Some about 5000 or 8000 of them were absorbed into the teaching cadre; some became farmers, they are in all the various ‘O programmes, ‘O’ this ‘O’ that, many of them were sent to Germany for training in advanced farming practices so a thousand and one things have been done that affected the lives. Look at ‘O Ambulance’, how many people they have saved; people who could have died, you think people will forget? No. why was he able to win his re-election with ease, I mean in a landslide and he defeated his opponent, with all the intimidations with all the coercive apparatuses of the federal government that was brought and he still defeated his opponent that had all the support. Remember how they were distributing money as if money was going out of fashion, so in spite of that, he still won. The opposition members are getting sadder and more desperate everyday and they cry louder than they have ever been. You will think they are more than their number because when you have 100 people in a place and then 10 people are crying uncontrollably, then you might think the whole place is in turmoil but when you take out the 10 people who are crying then the ninety people are silent. When you hear the voice of 10 people crying you might think that all the 100 people in the place are crying, so that is what is happening.
What do you think are the chances of your party ahead of the 2018 governorship election?
That is next year, chances of my party in the election. Do you see any opposition to the APC on ground? There is no opposition to the APC on ground; the real election in the state will be the APC primaries. That is all.
Many are quick in saying that the recent election in Osun West stands as a precursor to what to expect in the 2018 guber poll?
That was just a flash in the farm, there were so many factors responsible for that, and of which was rigging, there was rigging. Although in the spirit of sportsmanship, we didn’t contest the results, there was misplaced sentiment and there was internal sabotage but we have discovered all that and we have put the necessary checks in place but next year’s election will be. I can assure you the margin with which our party will win will be more than that of Aregbesola’s re-election.
Could you tell us about yourself?
Myself? Well, my name is Shola Fasure, I am a journalist and a writer. I worked before my present assignment, I was editorial page editor in The Nation newspaper, I went to University of Ibadan, I studied political science, I specialized in comparative politics, I have a Master’s degree.
Being on the field as a journalist and being an image maker; how do you compare the two terrains?
Well, there are similarities, there are distinct areas, as the government spokesman, I am a media user as compared to being a media practitioner. I am a media user now but the basic skills in journalism will still be used here, writing, media access and media penetration are what I do now. There are differences but there are overlaps too; the only thing is that, I try to put up a perspective for my principal so that he will be seeing things in proper ways. One might not be known; one might appear dark and you try to put them in light but also in journalism we do that, we try to enlighten, we try to inform, we try to educate in journalism, we put out the truth, and I do that now as government spokesperson.