From Oluseye Ojo, Ibadan
Dr. Gbade Ojo is an associate professor of political science, and two-term Head of Department, Political Science, University of Ilorin. He is on leave of absence, serving in the administration of Governor Abiola Ajimobi of Oyo State. During the first term of Ajimobi, he served as Special Adviser on Political Matters.
Currently, he is the Chief of Staff to the governor. He speaks on why government sacked 662 workers recently and the February 11, 2017 local government elections among other issues.
At least, 662 civil servants were recently dismissed. Don’t you fear that the restructuring exercise would create tension?
The governor has said for the umpteenth time that he is not interested in retrenchment. Government cannot be timid if it wants to retrench and the principle anywhere is last to come, first to go. Rather than retrench, government expressed optimism that the economy will improve. Notwithstanding, if there are bad eggs involved in things like certificate racketeering, we cannot continue to retain such people in the system.
And, if anybody has been wrongfully sacked, such a person should be able to defend himself and can sue the government. There are young graduates with good qualifications who are unemployed. Why should those with bogus certificates continue to draw salaries from government? People can verify their certificates from the issuing authorities and confirm. An employer has the right to verify the certificates of his employees from time to time. The government will continue to conduct the verification exercise regularly.
Some perceived this administration as too elitist…
Leadership is about perception. For any leader, followers will have different perceptions of his characteristics traits. If people perceived that the government is elitist, it depends on their conceptualisation of elitist. Anywhere in the world, any government worth its salt must be operated by those that know their left from right; and at least with sufficient education to drive the system.
The governor is well read with two Masters degrees from the United States. He is a widely travelled person. You cannot be too elitist and become a governor. How did you relate with people that voted for you? In the hierarchy of government, we have the federal, state and local. The local government chairman is the one at the grassroots, working with the governor. The governor interacts with different categories of people.
The second term of Ajimobi-led government has full of ups and downs, with inability to pay salaries regularly to the crisis that greeted the “no automatic promotion” policy in schools, participatory management of schools and cases of violence in Ibadan.
What has changed about how the state is being managed this time round?
Being the first governor to be given a second term opportunity in Oyo State, there is opportunity to compare and contrast his first term with second term. The truth of the matter is that the second term governor is an experienced governor in the sense that the he must have learnt a lot of lessons from the first four years. He might have, perhaps, made some mistakes he would not want to repeat in the second term.
In Nigerian politics, we have quicksilver change of events. Everyday, there are occurrences in an attempt to manage human beings. Human beings are not robots. Different issues will come up and government will be thrashing them as they come up. If government does not effectively manage crisis, it could dovetail into political cataclysm.
For instance, the burning of schools, what caused it? It is the government’s policy that automatic promotion should be discarded so that the performance of students and candidates in public examinations will improve. That is a good policy. There is no public policy anywhere in the world that will be satisfactory to 100 per cent of the people.
The basic philosophy in public policy is the utilitarian theory of greatest happiness of the greatest number of people. There may be few nihilists while there are others who may be happy, causing trouble, you cannot satisfy them. Oyo State has about 631 public secondary schools and some miscreants protested and burnt down one, do we call that crisis?
Also, at no time did government moot the idea of selling schools. In a capitalist system like ours, with human face, there are public and private schools. How would anybody buy public schools or how can any government consider selling schools when another government can retrieve such? Why would anyone consider selling schools when such person can invest such money in setting up his own school?
The idea was that private individuals, old boys/girls’ associations, alumni, who may be interested in assisting government may be involved in the administration of schools. The opposition cashed in on that to say that government wanted to sell schools. When the government is talking about asking private people to come in, the society has the right to ask the level at which the private people would come in. The policy is not outright take over.
When one is starting off as a first term governor, one may be anxious and elated, but when one has mastered the game, there is no reason to be over-excited. The second term of Governor Ajimobi is less than two years and he has achieved the free trade zone, with Chinese investors keenly interested in coming down to Ibadan.
The governor has equally awarded a number of road projects like dualisation of Idi Ape-Basorun-Odogbo Barracks Road, dualisation of Saki township road, dualisation of Agodi gate-Old Ife road to Adegbayi junction and expansion of Oke Adu-Agodi gate-Idi Ape-Iwo road interchange.
Also, water projects are ongoing, while the government has organised town hall meetings, targeted at bridging the gap between the government and the governed, among other ongoing projects.
The second term is sufficiently eventful, apart from the issue of salaries payment. However, the issue of salaries is not peculiar to Oyo State, but it is due to the current recession. If out of 36 states, only three can comfortably pay salaries on monthly basis, that is not a problem that is peculiar to Oyo State, and that does not make government less eventful.
The statutory federal allocation to the state every month, as gathered, is not enough to pay workers’ salaries, while the Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) of the state hovers between N1 billion and N1.5 billion. Where is the ingenuity of this government in being able to adequately attend to its obligations?
Ordinarily, government woke up to the reality that the statutory allocation kept on dwindling every month for reasons best known to Nigerians, including brazen corruption at the federal level in the past, the drop in the price of crude oil in the international market because of our monoculture economy, the restlessness of the Niger Delta boys, who bomb pipelines almost every week, disturbing production.
Also, China reduced purchase of our oil; Angola that was not vibrant in the international oil market has now been massively producing oil, America has reduced purchase of our crude oil because they continue to come up with better alternatives. All these factors means that what comes to the Federal Government has reduced, as well as what accrues to states and local governments.
In that wise, government will face how to improve its IGR. But there are two things we have to take note of: one, what is the tax potential of the people of Oyo State. Can you over-tax people that are already pauperised? There must be tax potential. You cannot compare Lagos with Oyo State in terms of ability to pay tax? If government overdrives the effort, there will likely be a boomerang effect.
The 1929 Aba Riots was because of taxation; when women were asked to pay taxes. In essence, government believes more in general reorientation of the people before we bring up a new vigour in terms of revenue drive. Some weeks ago, market women were asked to converge on the Trans Amusement Park in Ibadan, and they were sufficiently enlightened on why they should be paying taxes. In the next few months, there will be improvement in our IGR.
Government talks about conducting local government election in February. However, in various interactions with the Oyo State Independent Electoral Commission (OYSIEC), it complained of lack of funding. Is the government really serious about the election?
I am not supposed to speak for OYSIEC, because the commission is believed to be independent. I have not read anywhere the commission complained about lack of funding. Since the inauguration of the electoral commission, there has been a physical facelift at the commission’s headquarters, which would cost some money.
If a commission that has not been active for the last nine years has been resuscitated with new cars and buses, I think they would not complain of lack of fund. When they get to a river, they will know how to cross it. Do not also forget that the government that appointed and inaugurated members of the commission is aware that OYSIEC has announced date for local government election.
Stakeholders at a recent forum contended that the delineation of wards and boundaries are unclear. When will government reveal the map that accommodates the new LCDAs?
As of the time when OYSIEC had the stakeholders’ forum, it wasn’t the responsibility of OYSIEC to do the demarcation. The gazette that created the LCDAs clearly stipulates the communities that fall into each LCDA. The map showing the new LCDAs is available as prepared by the office of the Acting Surveyor-General of the state. All local government chairmen have copies of the map and have been asked to produce more copies. As the LCDAs take off, the implementation committee is in possession of the map. The map showing existing local governments and new LCDAs has been prepared. It will sound funny if LCDAs are created and government cannot demarcate boundaries. That will be too ridiculous.
Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, frowned at governors cornering funds meant for local governments. What is your take on this?
I read Dogara’s statement very well. Dogara said that the North was a region without oil and that the only resource available to politicians there was local government funds. He was more emphatic about the North. Local government funds cannot be toyed with and the governor cannot toy with those funds. This is evident in the fact that we owe the salaries of staff on the payroll of the state government more than those of the local government. Dogara was emphatic about politicians in the North.
In the South, there is a modicum of experience in handling government fund and processes. Without being immodest, we have a wonderful heritage in good governance from the era of Chief Obafemi Awolowo. The Joint Account Allocation Committee is not between the state and local government. The committee is made up of the people of the local government system themselves.
At the committee level, the salary of primary school teachers is considered as first line charge. Going by the constitution, primary education is exclusively under the purview of the local government. Nobody can toy with local government funds because the responsibilities of local government are already heavy.
Before the creation of State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB), public school was no more fashionable. It was shortly before the creation of SUBEB that we observed an upsurge in private nursery and primary school when members of the public lacked confidence in public school. Whereas today, you hardly have any private nursery and primary school that can parade the quality of teachers in the employ of the state government. The private schools cannot afford to pay teachers huge salaries that public schools pay.
How would you appraise the manner President Muhammadu Buhari is addressing the issue of corruption?
Nobody can say that the anti-corruption stance of the government is a bad policy. There cannot be development of a country with pervasive corruption. The way in which the anti-corruption war is being fought may be criticised and government may be advised to consider a review. Going to burgle judges’ houses in the middle of the night may be questioned. That is not good in a civilised society. The security agencies can go there any time of the day with a search warrant.
Also, the whole war against corruption is cosmetic. I expect a Federal Government that while waging war against corruption is also embarking on reorientation of Nigerians on the evils of corruption. If Buhari quits tomorrow, do we have any assurance that his successor will have the same zeal to fight corruption? Can’t Nigerians return to their old habits?
I expect that in the curriculum of primary and secondary schools, universities, young ones should be taught not to be corrupt for the country to develop. They should be taught to be satisfied with their legitimate income and not steal resources.
But today, the National Orientation Agency (NOA) is comatose; the NOA is not talking to anybody and not offering reorientation. Government is only struggling to look into available files, arrest some people alleged to be corrupt and recover money looted. That is not sufficient. In our airports, several officers solicit stipends. When you are arriving, they request for dollars; when you are leaving, they request for naira.
Can the Inspector-General of Police tell us that the police do not collect money from drivers every day? These things are done in public in our airports and on our streets. The government is fighting corruption from the top, but nothing is being done at the bottom. The EFCC and ICPC are not enough to fight corruption. The anti-fraud arm of the Nigerian police should be re-animated. Can’t the police arrest and charge corrupt persons to court? These are the gaps in the anti-corruption fight of the Buhari administration.