Clement Adeyi, Osogbo
Bola Oyebamiji was the Commissioner for Finance in Osun State in the administration of former governor Rauf Aregbesola.
He was returned to the same position in the cabinet of the incumbent governor, Adegboyega Oyeyola.
In this interview, the commissioner expressed optimism that the state would survive post-COVID-19 challenges through a workable budget and internally generated revenue driven by agriculture and tourism.
The lockdown occasioned by the coronavirus has taken a heavy toll on the world economy. Osun State is not an exception. As the commissioner for finance, what are the government’s plans to cope with the impending economic challenges of the pandemic?
We have a working budget and predetermined courses of actions in financing the state. When we started feeling the initial impacts of the COVID-19, the first thing we did was to reduce the cost of governance by 60 per cent. This gave us the advantage to plan our cash flow very well. Our governor, being a finance guru, also understands the need for prudence. Our overhead and capital expenditure are stable. We have a stable budget and want it to continue to perform.
Despite challenges, we are paying salaries and pensions promptly. We also gave out COVID-19 palliatives to our people. We try to ensure that our input has generated a better output.
Interestingly, too, we have been able to improve on our internally generated revenue. We are also working very hard to put it on a higher pedestal. We believe that getting funds from Abuja might not be easy some times because there could be a kind of obstruction in the form of the current COVID-19 which nobody envisaged.
To be able to weather the storm during the post-COVID-19 challenges, we are already planning to review our budget. The worrisome situation does not only call for thinking out of the box but creating a box.
Part of this is to leverage on production and consumption of our local products. Since the Federal Government slammed a ban on imported rice, we discovered that we can feed ourselves. One of the lessons that the COVID-19 lockdown has taught us is that we can feed ourselves with our local products even by 70 per cent.
If we can push this ahead a bit after the pandemic, then our balance of trade would improve. We shall even be able to export our local foods.
Osun State is planning to enlarge its agricultural scheme towards achieving this.
Tourism is another avenue for economic survival after the COVID-19. That is why we are working on our transport system to ensure good road networks with a view to maximising our rich tourism potentials. That is why we are also working on our airport to make it function. When we are able to deliver these variables, then our tourism will begin to thrive.
You are a pioneer member of NASFAT in Nigeria. What values has the Islamic organisation added to your life?
We started in the sitting room of Alhaji Olasupo in Oko-Oba area of Lagos about 25 years ago. He was a manager in Wema Bank. Initially, it was not known as NASFAT because it was a gathering of about 10, 12 people who only decided to gather together to be praying on Sundays but, all of a sudden, it became a big society. It is one of the largest Islamic organisations in the world currently. It has added a lot of values to my life. NASFAT has taught me moral lessons so much that my credibility, integrity and fear of God have increased tremendously.
As a result, whatever I do, I have to situate it around God’s will. Even before I take any decision on finance, I sit back and first of all think about what God is saying about the decision. Every decision I take in dealing with individual, personal life, professional life and political life are influenced by the moral values that NASFAT has placed on me. I do tell my children jokingly that if they want to get married, they should marry somebody that has some measure of religion shaped by good moral values. Through that, they would be able to live with the fear of God and make godly decisions.
You are known to be a finance and economic guru. With the blood of professionalism that flows in your veins, you were able to leave your footprints in the sand of time in the banking sector with remarkable impacts. How did you get the dream or ambition that later became a reality and earned you this reputation?
It’s God alone that directs man’s affairs in life and I am lucky to have realised this earlier in life. As a young man, I had always loved Economics as a subject, coupled with my robust experience around commercial activities. My mother was a successful businesswoman. Economics, Commerce and Finance became natural to me. Also, I was lucky to have been mentored by people whose expertise in financial matters can not be questioned.
So, in brief, I would gladly attribute the realisation of my dream to become what I am today to God, my upbringing, passion and my mentors.
You had been a successful key role player and stakeholder in the country’s economic landscape as a banker and corporate company manager, what fired your passion for diversifying into politics?
As I said earlier, God is the one who directs the affairs of all humans. I never wanted to be in politics but the urge to affect my immediate environment has always been alive within me. So, when Governor Aregbesola invited me to head Osun State Investment Company Limited (OSICOL), now Omoluabi Holdings, I saw it as an opportunity to assist my state on a bigger platform. My appointment as a commissioner under Governor Aregbesola was also divine because it was never expected. In fact, I was actually pushing a colleague of mine for the job but when God said it was time, who am I to say no? So, my coming into politics was by divine arrangement.
Late last year, the state organised an economic and investment summit. What would you say are the prospects and the results so far?
The economic and investment summit was organised to reposition and reengineer the state’s economy and showcase its huge potentials to local and foreign investors.
It dissected and recommended strategies which would drive meaningful youth employment, enhance food security, agricultural development, activate mining prospects and boost tourism potentials of the state.
It was also intended to showcase Osun as a strategic location for investment and industrialisation.
It really announced this administration to the world. It showed clearly the directions we are heading for as a government economically. With that summit, we have demonstrated to our old friends that we mean business and we have equally won new friends along the line. We have been able to build a huge profile of foreign investors who are already partnering with us in investments to drive our economy.
With the summit, we now have an economic chart which we are following diligently and, very soon, we shall begin to reap the benefits.
Last year, you became a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria (CIBN). What lessons do you have for upcoming ones that want to toe your career path?
They should put God first in all their dealings. Secondly, integrity is key and, lastly, they should be prepared to pay the necessary price. No pain, no gain.
What lessons has life taught you?
I have learnt early enough that humans may try, but God is the only one who rewards. No need to struggle for anything; whatever will be will be.
As a very busy economic and political technocrat, how do you relax? Do you have time for your family or it just work, work, work?
I am a thorough family man. I don’t joke with family, both nuclear and extended. I make sure I spend quality time with them, regardless of my schedules. I also engage in regular exercise almost every day to stay alert mentally. Health is wealth.
After commissioner, what next?
God rules supreme over my affairs. He is the only one who sees tomorrow. He leads while I follow.