Ogun State Governor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun, is a man nobody can ignore in discussions on the affairs and politics of Nigeria. An accomplished accountant, Amosun was a senator of the Federal Republic and now two-term governor.
In close to six years of his governance, there has been noticeable turnaround in the finances and infrastructure in the state and he has made a consistent pledge to leave the state better than he met it.
In this exclusive interview with a team from The Sun comprising the Managing Director/Editor-in-Chief, Eric Osagie, Editor, Daily Sun, Onuoha Ukeh, Editor, Sunday Sun, Abdulfatah Oladeinde and Ogun State Correspondent, Laide Raheem, Governor Amosun bared his mind on his sojourn in politics, his relationship with President Muhammadu Buhari, leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and former Lagos State governor, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and his predecessors in office. He also spoke about how his successor would emerge, among others.
You are an accountant by profession. If I may ask, what is an accountant doing in politics?
I have always argued that I am not a politician, but an accountant in politics. And after my sojourn in politics, I will go back to my calling, because I still want to be in my profession. The truth is over the years, I have found out that it is easy to sit in one corner, complain, criticize and say this is what is supposed to be happening, particularly in the area of governance. But you must get involved. I am not saying that everybody should be in politics or maybe in elective office. There are people who are in the private sector and they are doing well for the people, their states and of course, the entire nation. But I have since found out that the quickest platform to have a say and contribute to what will happen in your local government, state or even at the national level, is politics. I don’t know of any other quicker platform than politics. So, for me, the easiest way to contribute my quota to the development of my people is through politics. You might be lucky if your people vote for you, if you opt for elective office. This will surely offer one opportunity to influence things positively and help one to walk his or her talk.
To the glory of God, I have had opportunity to represent our people at the Senate and now I am at a wider spectrum or platform to work for the people of Ogun State as their governor.
You served as a senator and now as a governor, yet, you said you are not a politician but you just want to serve. Why do you dislike the label ‘politician’?
Let me put it in another perspective, maybe my explanation will be clearer to you. For me, I would rather be a statesman and not a politician. A typical Nigerian politician looks at the next election he or she wants to win and everything they will be doing will be geared towards winning. And when they win, of course, they will come and go. But a statesman looks at what he will do to outlive him, even if people don’t see it that way. Like I said, during a media chat on the state-owned television, when Papa Awolowo of blessed memory, started everything he did, like free education, Cocoa House, the Liberty Stadium and many other laudable projects, people criticized him. Indeed, that of Cocoa House, I heard that some politicians then, gathered women to protest and called Awolowo many names that depicted him as a corrupt person. But today, history and posterity have judged him right. That is because he was not a politician, but a statesman.
A statesman thinks beyond the now, while politicians are even afraid to take tough decisions, because they think they would lose elections. So, it is better to take tough decisions and live with them, once you know clearly that they’re for the good of all. Somebody said a good leader will do what his people need and want right now, but a very good and a wise one will take some decisions that, though, people may question and say we don’t need this right now, but is for the future. Such a leader will tell them that I think we will need this, this is where we reckon we will be in 10 years from now, and if a good foundation is not laid, it cannot be possible. A good leader will do that. I want to be remembered that I came and I took hard decisions that I know are the best for our people. Even though some of our people will be saying, “Oh, why are you doing this?” ultimately we will be proved right that those tough, hard decisions are the best for our people.
There are some critical roads you have started constructing and yet to be completed or seem abandoned, especially that one at Alagbole axis and Ilishan-Ago-Iwoye road. When do you plan to complete these roads? Also, what is the relationship between you and the President like?
The first question is simple and let me answer it first. You all know our little effort in infrastructure development and you all also know that to have proper development, you must get the infrastructure right. There should be a good road network, security, water and electricity. These must be put in place, if we wish to have a conducive environment to attract investors. And because we realized this in Ogun State, we cannot do less. We needed to roll up our sleeves. Historically, even before the emergence of Nigeria, good governance was already in place in Egbaland. So, in the context of Nigeria, Ogun State holds a very high position. So, as a government, we should know where we were and where we are supposed to be.
When we came in, we were very resolute and we knew what we wanted. In doing that, we identified about 32 roads, which we felt that in the next 10 years, if we are able to fix them, Ogun will move ahead of other states. This is because we know that if we are able to do these 32 roads and 26 flyovers, it will bring about serious industrial and agricultural development and what have you. And thank God, today, we have been able to touch 24 or 25 of such roads in various degrees and levels of completion. Out of the 26 flyovers that we envisioned, I think the one we are using now is eighth and two are almost completed. We have another five; in fact, one is almost ready along Sango-Ojodu road. Then the other four along the axis and there is no one that is not above 50 per cent complete. So, if you do the arithmetic, out of the 26, 15 are available. And because we did that, Ogun is today number one industrial state and hub of Nigeria. But we are being short-changed in Nigeria, in terms of allocation we get from the Federal Government. In the area of non-oil revenue that goes to the federation account, Ogun is second only to Lagos State. Whether it is corporate tax, VAT, withholding tax and the one that is key, the duty that they pay at the port.
Most of the companies that pay these duties are in Ogun State and when they bring anything into Nigeria, they pay duties at the port. You can find this out at the Federal Office of Statistics.All I am saying is documented there. But sadly, when they are allocating this revenue, we are still number 26, in terms of allocation. It is very unfair.
Are you protesting this?
Yes, we are going to the National Assembly with our elders to protest this anomaly. Indeed, everybody will march there to let them know we are being treated unfairly as a state. We cannot continue like this. So, because of the big plan that we had, people thought it was esoteric, but within the first two years, flyovers were ready; roads were ready.
On the issue of Sango-Ojodu road, governors before me ran away from that road. You know why? It’s because of the capital-intensive nature of the road. Whatever you spend there would probably take 20 years to recoup. But for me, that is not the way. I said let’s push it, if we push it to a level, we will get support and that is what is happening now. On that road, we have spent between N15billion and N18billion out of over N50billion it will cost us to do it. That road is already built, but we have a huge population there. The only revenue we can generate there is probably either if our train project is working or something like BRT we are trying to do there. And we want to toll that road, and maybe we will generate the money in the next 10 to 15 years. That is the way it is.
You see, roads have to be based on their economic importance. This 10-lane road, when completed, the money we are going to generate on the axis will be much, that it will help us to complete the Ilishan-Ago-Iwoye road you mentioned, to finish Sango-Ijoko-Alagbole road and so many roads that are in various stages of completion. That is what we are doing.
But you have a limited time?
Yes, I told my people that I would not leave any road that is not complete…
Where will you get money?
That is what people often ask me and I tell them that this is our turf. Let me situate it so that you will understand. When President Muhammadu Buhari came on board, we agitated that money we spent on federal roads should be refunded. A delegation of engineers from the Federal Ministry of Works and Ministry of Transportation was led here by the Minister of Transportation, Chibuike Amaechi. They went round the whole nation and we submitted a claim of about N146billion; they came back and said what they could see was valued at N123billion. That is good for me, pay that and you will see what I will do again. We are hopeful that they will pay us on time. What we do here is that we plan and we schedule the payment for our contractors. We tell our contractors, like eight of them, that maybe you get N30million every month and don’t leave the sites and they are doing it. When we came in, we said the totality of the road we would do was approximately about N300billion, and our opponents were shouting for our heads, saying Amosun had incurred N300billion debt for the state. It is not like that. If I award a road contract and there is no cash backing it, nobody will go there. But if I tell the contractor that will do a road worth N60billion to move to the site with N2billion and I promise to be paying that every month, in one year, you know how much would have been paid and you will see the work of such amount. It is like building a house. It is gradual but consistent. If you plan very well and strategize, you get it right.
I think it is only us, after Lagos that does not wait for what comes from Abuja. We rely on our IGR. When we came in, it was around N730million in a month. To the glory of God today, before this economic recession, we were netting above N7billion monthly. It nosedived and we were doing just over N6billion. With the crisis now, the IGR has come down to N5billion, but I know that things will improve with what we are doing now. In the comity of Nigeria, Ogun State was 29th in terms of IGR. Today, we are second to Lagos. If we have moved to second position from 29th, that means we are getting some things right in what we are doing.
When we came in, Ogun State was like a pariah. The World Bank rated us as number 36th on the ease of doing business index. I think we were in New York, where there were development partners and major financial institutions in the world and one woman was presenting from AFC and talked about our position as a state. And I told them that by the time they would do another study in Nigeria, the story would be different. And lo and behold, when they did another one in 2012, they singled us out and said that Ogun State, which did poorly, was now among the best four in the country. So, what does that tell you? World Bank is with us now. Before now, the international financial institution did not want to touch us with the longest pole. Now, we are making atmosphere conducive for business to thrive and that is why, in the last five years, over 500 new companies have berthed in the state. But we don’t even count all those; we count only companies that have investment between $200million and over $2billion in the state. And as we speak now, we have about 110 of such companies.
Indeed, again, Mr. President will be coming to inaugurate about 11 that are ready now. When you were coming, you saw Nestle at the Sagamu Interchange and Olam. The biggest brewer in the world is coming to that axis. Every week, I think they have three flights from Lagos, carrying what is made in this Ogun State to Europe and to the rest of the world. And that is why our IGR has been able to move up from the paltry N700million to almost 1, 000 per cent of over N7billion, after which it dropped to between N6billion and N5billion. It is not this state alone, even Lagos that was doing N29billion, dropped to N24billion. So, we are determined; we know what we want to do. We are resolute and we are going to get there.
It has been observed that in your first term in office, you moved like lightning, but the case seems to be different since you came in for second term. Why slowing down now?
On the contrary, the speed at which we continued this second term is even far more than that of the first term, but people don’t know. Let me explain. You want to write an exam, you get in there, you get your questions and pick up your pen and you are answering them. Such a person won’t even pass well. But if you study your questions very well and begin with the ones you understand very well, then you will succeed. That is the strategy I used and it worked. We sat down to ponder very well on what we wanted to do and we planned. We are done with planning and that is why, recently, we were able to pay over N13billion to offset backlog of gratuities, deductions of workers and severance allowances for former political appointees.
Clearly, we were given N10.6billion by the Federal Government and we were advised to use like 25 per cent or 50 per cent for workers’ emolument, gratuities and so on, but we used 100 per cent and even added more. If we had failed to plan, we wouldn’t have been able to do that. Even when Labour went on strike, we agreed that we would be paying N200million every other month for gratuities; if you multiply that, it will give N1.2billion. We also agreed that we would be paying deductions every three months; if you multiply that again in a year, we pay four. And in one fell swoop, what we have paid now is N6billion for gratuities, as against N1.2billion that we signed and we paid N5.5billion as well as the N1.5billion we paid as severance allowances. That shows planning and it shows we know what we want to do. So, everything we will be doing now, people will be wondering where we are getting the money.
Now that we have settled our civil servants, we have a clear head to do other things. So, we are not slowing down. By the way, I pray that when I am leaving office, the car will pick me from the stadium and drop me at our train station, from where I will bid our people goodbye. I want to let them know that this small boy is leaving Ogun State better than he met it, not just the road, because we’ve started our rail system in January. And I said that Mr. President will come; he will fly to our airport and hop into our train, to come and see what we are doing in Ogun State. Those are parts of the projects we will embark on from now and we will not look back.
That is why I always challenge our people in the media, who are based in Lagos, to come around once in a while and see what we are doing in the state , because in Lagos it is easy to see everything they are doing well because they have money. We are here running around to get that money and once we get the money, of course, we must work well.
And the other question you asked is political, I don’t like answering political questions just like that. That is why I parried the question in the first place. However, I must say that my relationship with President Buhari is not even about politics. I have known him way back, even before all my leaders. We have been together. He is like a father to our family. Anything he is doing I am there and anything we are doing, he is also there. So, it has nothing with politics; it is just like a family thing. But you know, people will want to read politics into everything.
What brought you together?
Well there is something anybody will not take away from him; his integrity. He walks his talk. Nobody will say Buhari is a corrupt leader; he is unassuming and he carries himself with no airs and doesn’t bother himself about material things. That is one thing that is worthy of emulation. That alone, maybe, is what I really like in him.
You talked about the rail project. Are you referring to the existing ones by the Federal Government or you are building new ones? If so, what is the scope? Do you also think you will be able to finish the project during your tenure?
Oh, certainly! We are not using the FG rail alignment; it is still there. That one starts from Iddo in Lagos, to Mushin, to Agege, to Agbado, to Ifo, to Owowo, to Aro, to Olokemeji and so on. I can tell you all the stations till Jebba. For your information, my dad worked with the Nigerian Railways for 37 years. The one we want to do now will start from Panseke in Abeokuta and we’ll link it with old Aro Bridge to join that of the FG corridor. For example, somebody is coming, maybe from Kano and going to Sagamu or Ijebu-Ode, he will drop at Aro and be moved to Panseke. And move to another station in front of St. Annes Catholic Church, adjacent to the Government House, and will go straight line to Sagamu and beyond. We want to take advantage of what the Federal Government is doing. I tell you, the way God structured Ogun State is excellent. The state is arguably the most important state. I will tell you, everybody wants to be in Lagos, but there is no way you won’t pass through Ogun State. This is the reason we have the busiest road in Nigeria or even on the continent of Africa. That Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, 86 per cent of that road lies in the corridor of Ogun State. The second busiest one, that is Sagamu-Ore-Benin Expressway, 62 per cent of the road is also in the corridor of our state.
What the Federal Government is doing is building two rail lines. They are doing the usual alignment that we all know, and the new one will come from Badagry to Idi-Iroko, to Ilaro, to Papalanto and get to Interchange and goes to Ijebu-Ode, to Olokola Junction in Waterside, to Ore, to Ekpoma, to Benin and goes straight to Calabar. That is coastal. So, whichever one they are doing, we have positioned ourselves to key into it. When we join that one at the Interchange, we will then go straight to Lagos. We will drop a station at the RCCG Camp and probably at NASFAT; we will drop a station for Mountain of Fire obviously, to serve Arepo and Magboro axis and the last one will be at Kara Market to join that of Lagos that will have its red line at Agbado. Lagos and Ogun are anchoring their rail lines in Agbado; so anybody that is going to Lagos does not need to take the old alignment again. Ours will be better and faster; it will take just 29 minutes to get to Lagos from Abeokuta, when it is finished.
The intra one, we are not doing yet. Whoever is coming after me will do that, but we have laid the foundation. We have marked the one that will run within Abeokuta, the one that will run from Abeokuta to Sagamu and from Sagamu to Ijebu-Ode. Fortunately, the Federal Government is doing that one. Once we take our own to Sagamu, we are okay; the FG will take it to Ogbere, in Ijebu East Local Government, where we are relocating Kara Market. And that at Alagbole road will be done to burst out at Kara and there will be overhead bridge there. And we are going to toll the road, though it will be a social tolling. When you are coming into Abeokuta from Berger, we will encourage you by not asking you to pay. But if you are getting out of the state, you will be asked to pay. Those are the ideas we have put in place.
One of the problems in this country is the belief that things don’t work. When you were coming in as governor, did you feel this way too?
Things don’t work because we don’t want them to work. Most of us here have traveled overseas; we have seen how things have worked out there. We have to know that public offices in those places are used for service. Even some of their CEOs don’t have personal chauffeurs but drive themselves. Though we are not there yet, here, we are changing the orientation and you must live by example. If you want the people to follow what you are doing, you must walk your talk. Everyday I want to leave home and by quarter to seven, I am at my desk. And we should be responsible and responsive to our people. There is one thing about Nigerians; if they see that you are a genuine and committed leader, they will obey you. When I told them nobody should put their refuse on the median, but by the roadside, we were able to effect the correction in our people, though it took us like three weeks.
Before, the issue of land usually caused crisis, but once I reached out to our traditional rulers and showed them the sincerity of purpose, they would allow us. This is because they trust you and know that you will not abuse that trust. When we wanted to start road construction, I would go to our people and explain to them that we will need to demolish houses for the good of all. Initially people felt it would not work, but when they saw what we have been able to do, they are the ones now calling us to come and do their roads and demolish houses, if the need arises. So, they trust you and they believe you. Though one will feel bad that things are not working properly the way they are supposed to, I believe it is an ongoing exercise and one day, we will get there.
You are a governor of a state that has produced great men like Awolowo, Obasanjo, Shonekan and many more like that. What are the disadvantages and advantages of being a governor in such a state?
Governing a state that has produced eminent Nigerians comes with a huge task. When people say Obasanjo does this and that in their states, I laugh and tell them that they are dealing with photocopy, but me, I am dealing with the original. That is why I say we are Ogun State because we have pedigree. You just mentioned some. In order of protocol, I am probably number four in Ogun State because if I am at a function and OBJ is there, of course I am the governor, but OBJ had been number one in the country. We have so many firsts, which to me, has given us the positive edge.
The first Chartered Accountant, Chief Akintola Williams, is still alive and 98 years. He is from Itoko in Abeokuta. The first woman to drive a car, the late Madam Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, was from here. The only Nobel Laureate in Nigeria, Professor Wole Soyinka, is also from here. The great Fela himself was from here. The late MKO Abiola, who died for the democracy we are enjoying now, came from here. The first Professor of Medicine, Professor Ogunlesi, is from here. It is his son US President Donald Trump invited to join his team. I can go on and on like that. Whatever we want to do, we go to them and hear them out. For example, when I went to Baba Obasanjo that we wanted to start work on the 10-lane road and that we would demolish his fence and maybe, part of the OOPL, he was reluctant at first, but when he saw what we were doing, he asked us to demolish the fence and whatever it takes to ensure development. So, we are truly leveraging on the reservoir of eminent people we have in Ogun State.
What about the relationship between you and your two predecessors, Chief Olusegun Osoba and Otunba Gbenga Daniel? What is the crux of the matter between you and these two?
Both of them are, indeed, illustrious sons of Ogun State in their own rights. In fact, Chief Olusegun Osoba is my leader. That is why I said I would like to be remembered as a professional in politics and not just as a politician. And I know Chief Osoba too is a professional media person, and we know that the history of journalism in Nigeria will not be complete without mentioning the contribution of Chief Osoba and what he is still doing. But you know in politics, we may have divergent views on the same issue. I defer to him; he is still our leader, as we speak.
What about control of political structure in the state?
See, elections have come and gone, there is nothing like control of structure again. Our relationship is cordial. Though we may not agree on some issues, because of ‘politicians’ in us, but he remains my leader. And to my immediate predecessor, he had his time and it is not for me to judge him; the people are there to do that. But I think he did well; he did his bit and I am doing my bit. And when I leave office, people will judge me also. There are three judgments – people’s judgment, that of posterity and the ultimate one: God’s judgment. So, in all the three, I don’t want to be found wanting.
Well, have you picked the person that will succeed you because we heard that you said you knew those who cannot succeed you?
Yes I said that. Though I am no God, but a mere mortal. However, you know God will not come down. I know I am part of the people God will use to pick the person that will be my successor by the time I talk to our paramount rulers and eminent citizens. Though they are apolitical, but they’re influential. I will move from there to market leaders and women, then go to the baales and associations, and present our likely candidates. They will all join me in choosing the right person for the job.
What about your relationship with Asiwaju Bola Tinubu? Is it cordial as well?
Ignore what you read in the papers. I have a special relationship with Asiwaju. I will even bring him to this award (The Sun Awards). My daddy told me that I should never be an ingrate. Asiwaju was there for me when I needed him most, not in terms of money, but he was actually there for me when we wanted to take a shot at this seat. He stood by me. And for that reason alone, I cannot but hold Asiwaju in high esteem. I fondly call him ‘Asiwaju of the universe,’ for you to know my reverence for him. I will never fight Asiwaju. People can be saying whatever they like, but the way we were brought up, I cannot disrespect him for whatever reason. But that does not mean I cannot tell him my mind on some issues.
What about the ministerial appointment issue?
There was no issue about the ministerial posts; it was the people that are just making things up. You see, we are no cowards or traitors; it is only those two categories that will not say things the way they are. It is even better to take a wrong decision than not to take any decision. To be on the fence is not good. It is only cowardly people that will sit on the fence. I will say it the way it is and take my position. Taking a decision does not, to me, mean I disrespect Asiwaju. It is even in his own interest for me to take a decision, even, if the position does not tally with his own. But people will just sit in one corner and start conjuring all sorts of things.
For example, some print media will resort to picking what is written in the social media and use that as facts. But The Sun is not part of those ones. How can somebody claim that he has an audio where I said I would deal with Asiwaju? I dared them to play the audio. If it was the making of those who want to be governor, I have told them those who have approached me are many. And some of them, in their own right, are cerebral people who can do it, but because of where they come from, for political correctness, I will not support them. For example, if somebody is from Ogun Central now, however good you may be, I will not support you because it is not fair. I have been there from Central for eight years, and it will be political miscalculation to support any aspirant from the axis. For those people, their ambition is dead on arrival.
On a lighter note, we saw your official car and observed that it is still looking good despite the age. How do you manage it? And when are those colleagues working with you getting their official cars?
They will get their official vehicles, definitely very soon. They should be rest assured that others might be eating chicken now, but our people will soon be eating beef. But in the case of my own car, yes, they asked me to drop it but I said no. When my successor comes in, I will hand over the car to him. He will buy cars he wants to buy, but I will tell him that for eight years, I have used this, take the key and keep it. The car that Queen Elizabeth used for her coronation, they still warm it for her. The vehicle we used to carry the remains of Mama Awolowo, was brought from Ibadan then, we still keep it, though, we have new ones. In other climes, those cars and other items will be kept in archives for generations yet unborn to see them. The car I bought as a politician and took to do registration on February 8, 2000. That is the car that traversed all the nooks and crannies of Ogun State when we were campaigning for my immediate predecessor. The car is still there. I am still using it and I bought it in 1999.
In fact, I have a tradition. Whenever I had my babies, I would buy the latest car for them and when they are getting married, I will give them the cars. All of them were born outside Nigeria, when they were bringing them to Nigeria one month after their birth, I would use the new cars to pick them at the airport. I will give them all their photographs, showing their first teeth, their first tuft of hair and all that, when they are getting married. That was how my dad kept things. I want to do this for them to learn the culture of maintenance and keeping things. The garment that I wore on the day of my swearing-in ceremony in 2011 was given to my dad by his own dad and passed down to me. Maybe one day, my son too may have cause to wear it like I did. Though it is almost worn out, but we are still managing it.
What is your impression about The Sun Awards?
Let me thank the Board and Management of The Sun Publishing Limited for honouring me with this award of The Sun Man of the Year. It humbles me. It challenges me, and the award is for the good people of Ogun State and the team working with me to give dividends of democracy to our people.