Ogun state governor, Dapo Abiodun in this interview provides insight into his relationship with Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, APC national leader Bola Ahmed Tinubu, two former governors of the gateway state Segun Osoba and Gbenga Daniel during his struggle for the governorship seat in 2019 and now. He also speaks about some salient governance issues in the state as presented by ELIZABETH OGUNBAMOWO.
You have always attributed your emergence as governor to God. But many people believe certain political bigwigs, including Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, Chief Olusegun Osoba and Otunba Gbenga Daniel, among others, helped your ascension to power. How do you define your relationship with these personalities during the election and now?
Very cordial. They have been the pillars behind our emergence and have been supportive all the way.
You set up some committees on assumption of office as the governor of Ogun State to look into some policies and actions of your predecessor. But one year in the saddle, people are still expecting White Papers on the findings of these committees, what is possibly delaying the reports?
When we came in, we found out that many of the issues we met on ground require further explanations because the hand-over notes we got were rather hazy and we needed to hit the ground running. Yet we have so many uncompleted projects from previous administration so we need to take stock and be sure we prevent future occurrences of such. For instance, about a week after I came into office, I paid a visit to the State-owned tertiary healthcare facility at Sagamu – the Olabisi Onabanjo University Teaching Hospital based on information received at an earlier meeting with the hospital’s management. I was shocked at the level of rot in the hospital. That Teaching Hospital used to be one of the best medical facilities in the country but, it had become a shadow of itself. Most of the medical equipment were obsolete and others dysfunctional. The mortuary and the entire vicinity were filled with bad odour, due to lack of maintenance and non-availability of needed equipment to make it functional. I had to set up a nine-man committee headed by the Chief Medical Director of Reddington Hospital, Dr. Yemi Onabowale. The committee’s specific terms of reference include: to assess the current operations of the hospital in line with expectations as a teaching/tertiary institution; determine the state of facilities of the various units and departments and make recommendations to the state on the steps necessary to ensure sustainable operations in the institution.
The committee was also to determine quick wins and palliative actions to stem further degeneration of the institution and facilities and review all third party arrangements in the institution, including the Private-Public Partnership (PPP) and other services provisioning arrangement and determine their level of compliance at the time of their engagement and with the efficacy. We had an administrative panel on the Moshood Abiola Polytechnic and the Moshood Abiola University of Science and Technology. Moshood Abiola Polytechnic (MAPOLY), which the ex-governor purportedly converted to Moshood Abiola University of Science and Technology (MAUTECH) without the wherewithal to nurture the new institution. It is instructive to note that while the institution was being converted, on paper from MAPOLY to MAUTECH, the staff of Tai Solarin College of Education were being owed 24 months’ salaries. When you consider the fact that MAPOLY had produced many leading lights in this country and was probably the most flourishing institution, being able to substantially generate and pay its staff’s salaries as and when due, the disruption caused should give any right-thinking administrator some concern. It was most galling misadventure. These institutions were not functioning. Another Committee set up was on the Review of Appointments and Promotions in the State Civil Service and Enterprises, to give us an informed assessment of employments and promotions between February 1 and May 29, 2019. Yet, another one was set up to review the appointments, installations and promotions of 75 traditional rulers in the State in the twilight of the previous administration. Of course, we set up one to investigate the propriety of the last minutes contracts and projects. None of these was set up to witch-hunt. They were set up to provide the right type of leadership to enable the state to perform optimally. All the people brought in have the requisite training, exposure, experience and integrity to drive the sectors where we called them to serve. To review the appointment of 75 coronet Obas, we had a paramount ruler, the Olu of Ilaro, Oba Kehinde Olugbenle and other traditional rulers and others drawn from that institution. To head the projects, we brought in the President of the Nigerian Society of Engineers, Engr Adekunle Mokunolu as Chairman. You’ll see that in ensuring that we provide focused and qualitative governance, we didn’t politicize these important assignments. Luckily, the state is renowned for its professionalism, commitment and dedication and I’m happy to report that all these committees delivered. They were thorough and we have started implementing their reports. They were set up to bolster participatory democracy, to promote or highlight the features of a solution, product, or service. OOUTH is gradually returning to its pride of place. You can see what they have been doing in the fight against COVID-19. That is where the first state-funded molecular laboratory is located. MAPOLY is running seamlessly. TASCE now has a Governing Council; it held its first graduation ceremony in 11 years as a result of the Panel’s activities. We didn’t set up any frivolous committee. These panels tried to perform the dual role of presenting firm government policies while at the same time inviting opinions upon them. These are the essence of White paper in Government as first used in Britain under Winston Churchill in 1922. We have also been able to mainstream almost 2000 workers into the workforce and none of the 18 Permanent Secretaries lost their jobs, even when we spotted grey areas in the manners of their promotions and appointments.
Of course, we set aside the appointment and promotion of Obas because they didn’t conform to laid-down statutes. So, we have started implementing the reports and that should put to rest any fears and establish that we set these committees up to be seen as an ethical, fair and firm administration.
Your predecessor said that his administration had paid all the contractors handling road and other infrastructural projects in full, yet, several uncompleted roads and projects litter the state. What is your take on this?
The Kunle Mokunolu committee is peopled by professionals – structural engineers, architect, quantity surveyors, civil engineers, and lawyers etc to give us a balanced idea in ascertaining if or not there was budgetary provision for the projects in the Budget Estimates for the year. They were also to identify all outstanding significant construction/projects in the State, ascertain the process of award of contracts in line with the established procedures and necessary regulations; determine the level of execution and quality of output of the projects; assess the disbursement pattern in line with the established process and procedure and to recommend any viable pathways for the completion of project, or in alternative, determine other actions, including, but not limited to reversal or cancellation of the contract that best align with the intent of the State Government. I am sorry to say that most of these projects fall short of the demands of international best practices. But we are determined to ensure that projects met on ground are completed since taxpayers’ money is involved and the welfare of the people is our priority.
Yes, most of them were fully paid for before these projects were and most without certificates but now contractors are still asking for variations. We had to intervene before the Judicial Complex could become functional. We have moved into the supposed 250-bed specialist hospital now and we shall ensure that no project is turned into the people’s nightmare, no matter the nature of its conceptualization. You have seen that some hitherto white elephant projects have been tweaked to become relevant today. For example, the Tech Hub on Kobape Road on the outskirts of Abeokuta was one of the supposed Model Schools that was moribund for eight years. Ditto for the one in Ikenne. We have turned that into a 128-bed Isolation and Treatment Centre for COVID-19. No project will be allowed to waste. We will creatively put all of them into purpose-driven ventures. The process for the preparation of year 2020 budget started with a sensitisation programme on the vision and mission of government. It was followed with town hall meetings in the three senatorial districts. We discovered the centrality of roads and so, we started rehabilitating roads by bringing the Ogun State Public Works Agency. Cognizance has been taken to eliminate white elephant projects or any such projects that would boost the public perception of any political actor in the state. We have realized the futility of channeling efforts towards the routine patterns for the use of public resources for those in power. We therefore devised a system of strategic allocation of resources, which ensure politics is secondary and that projects and programmes of the government in the first full budget have impact on the people who are the real essence of government. Trust me, we won’t abandon any inherited projects.
Local government areas in your state are manned by transition or caretaker committees, which have been described in some quarters as unconstitutional. When is your administration planning to conduct elections into these local governments?
The tenure of the elected Chairmen of the Councils ended in October last year, necessitating the need to set up the Transition Committees to temporarily run the Councils’ affairs. Like the name implies, what we have now is a stopgap arrangement. We recently sought permission of the House to extend the tenure for three more months, ostensibly because of the pandemic that has distorted everything in the world. But we are committed to hold free, fair and credible election into all our local councils as soon as peace returns to the world. We are democrats and must live by the dictates of democracy – free election, accountability, rule of law, people’s participation or inclusiveness, etc
Having signed a timely memorandum of understanding with the organised labour on the implementation of new minimum wage, reports indicate that your administration had yet to commence payment of the minimum wage. Why the delay?
Let me say that I am committed to a “social contract” with the workers of Ogun State. We have always paid promptly since I came into office and never owed any worker. Our administration provides a ‘people-centred’ governance that identifies with their yearnings and, not the one that glorifies the welfare of cronies and family members. Our administration will continue to take the welfare of the civil servants as priority to guarantee industrial harmony. We shall continue prompt payment of salaries, leave bonuses and other allowances. That is why the agreement of Wednesday, February 5, 2020, on the payment of the new minimum wage, with effect from January 1, 2020 remains. We have considered its affordability and sustainability, I can only appeal to the Joint Negotiating Council (JNC), Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC), that they should trust us to pay. If in spite of the economic challenges on COVID-19, we are still paying regularly and not owing, we’ll not only pay the promised minimum wage, which in our case is higher than the national minimum wage, we will pay the Consequential Adjustment of 27 per cent for Grade Levels 07 and 08 (20%), Grade Level 09 (19%), Grade Levels 10 to 14 (15%) and Grade Levels 15 to 17 (14%) as well. We shall not renege. We are adjusting the budget to accommodate these.