As part of activities commemorating his first year in office, Oyo State governor, Seyi Makinde, granted an interview which was monitored live on the Broadcasting Corporation of Oyo State (BCOS). The interview touched on the programmes, policies and challenges of his administration in the last one year.
It is 365 days since you were inaugurated as the governor of Oyo State; looking at the last 12 months, what would you say is on the ground now compared to the days before your assumption of office?
We thought we were dealing with a transparent system and we tried to have a feel of what is going on in there but when we came in, we found out that things are not really as transparent as they ought to have been but we kept digging.
If you listened to my inaugural address, one thing I emphasised to the people was that there must be continuity in governance; that any project that has been started by the previous administration, which is beneficial to the people of Oyo State, will be completed. Quite frankly, administrations will come and go but our state will remain. Those previous administrations did not use their personal funds but put our commonwealth into those projects and we have to derive value from them. That is what we have been doing for the last one year.
I have heard people say we are commissioning other people’s projects but let me tell them now that we have been extracting value for Oyo State’s money from the projects the previous administrations started.
It will interest you to know that we met projects that were started as far back as 2003, even up to the time of Alhaji Lam Adesina.
Recently, we went to commission the Police Mobile Squadron 72 in Ago-Are. That location was given to us by the Nigerian Tobacco Company and, on our way back, we stopped at Ijaye in Akinyele Local government. The Quarry and Asphalt plant there had been moribund. It was started by High Chief Rashidi Ladoja’s administration and there was an attempt during Chief Adebayo Alao-Akala’s time to put it back into shape but it was not successful. For like eight years, there was nothing, because the government did not put in a dime. We had to invite private investors and they came in. They put in their money and that place is alive now.
In some way, we met things rotten than we thought but we promised the people that we were not going to look back but always focus on the future. That is exactly what we have been doing. So, when you take such approach, nothing will surprise you, because whatever you see, you take it like that and forge ahead. That is what we have been doing so far.
When you came in, you met some debts on ground; were you not disturbed about how to fix the situation?
True, we met huge debts when we came in. When we investigated it in Debt Management Office, we discovered that Oyo State was owing N99 Billion and foreign debt was 137 Million Dollars. If you calculate and convert everything together, it is about 150 Billion Naira. We found out further and saw that when Governor Alao-Akala was leaving office, he left N4.8 Billion. So, it means the administrations of 2011 till 2019 borrowed more than N145 Billion.
I came from a private sector where borrowing is not really an issue. To borrow money is not a problem because, sometimes, if you are expanding, you need to borrow but in such a way that it will be convenient for you to pay back and not leave the cross for the upcoming governments to bear. You should not borrow for consumption. We can borrow to expand economy and for infrastructure too. But we cannot be crying over spilled milk. So, we saw all these things and we thought we should be transparent with what we met on the ground. We have also moved forward to take charge of the amount that should be debited from federal allocation for the state. Where we saw they wanted to
borrow for what would not yield anything good for the economy of the state, as the governor-elect, I went to Court and blocked them from accessing the money; about N7.6 Billion, which they had already signed. I wrote the Central Bank of Nigeria and we planned that the loan should be diverted to develop our farm estates in Eruwa and Akufo. And after we are done with that and they have seen what we have been able to put up there, we will develop other farm settlements into farm estates.
When we came in, there was really no money. As a matter of fact, all political appointees were using their personal cars until after the first anniversary in office, we just started giving cars to some commissioners and other political appointees.
Let me sound this again clearly, we have not come to feather our nest but to serve the people of Oyo State and that has been our guiding principle. We want to use the Moniya-Iseyin road as a heartbeat to expand our economy. When you talk about expanding agribusiness in the state, we need to open up Oke-Ogun. By the time the Moniya-Iseyin road is completed, it will be a flagship project and that is the standard we want to maintain.
Recently, we sought a N2.5 Billion loan to be injected into our health sector to deal with the spread of COVID-19 and further expand our health care facilities. Also, we sought for another N20 billion for some other infrastructure projects that we want to do; junction improvement, light-up project and ultra-modern bus terminals. So, we are actually on the path to doing these.
There are two major ways that you can get revenue. One is either through the federal allocation or your Internally Generated Revenue (IGR). When we came in, we were generating less than N2 billion in IGR and about N5 billion of federal allocation was coming to the state. The salaries for the civil and public servants as of then were still around that amount.
If you ask anybody who wants to leave Lagos to any state in the South-West, Ibadan will be the first choice for them. For us, we are also the regional capital. Certain things were done in the past. We had Cocoa House, road infrastructure and all that but we allowed them to decay.
The impression being created in some circles is that Oyo State has not been doing enough in handling the COVID-19 challenges?
Six months ago, nobody could have known that the entire world will be brought down by this virus but in Oyo State, coming from an Engineering background, I said our reaction will be driven by science, logic and data and, so far, we have not failed. Many have called us to lock down but we said we would not because we were trying to look after the well-being of our people and their economic well-being. So, we had to strike a balance.
Also, we gathered experts in the health sector, professors and doctors, who exist and live in this state. We all came together to see how logical we could go on the issue of shut down without having what to give to the people. The N5,000 some of our people will make today will determine whether there will be food on their table tomorrow. So, we emphasised on physical distancing, washing of hands, use of face masks and other guidelines but this is very difficult for our people. What do you say to a situation whereby four or five people are living in a room?
Some people complained that there are not enough testing centres, and that you are looking at only Ibadan. What about other areas?
We have about 10 community testing facilities that are out there right now but the fact is that one can contact the virus through physical contact. People have done studies, we have decontaminated places and we have asked them for the efficiency of what we got and about three or four tests actually stand out. One thing is to keep social distancing. Two, protect yourself from shedding the virus itself, which is the reason why we advised that people should use a face mask and the third thing is, our people should feed on the things that can boost the immune system. We gave an advisory. Some of them are the things that we eat normally. We eat bitter cola. I enjoy taking bitter leaf soup. If I see bitter leaf soup with pounded yam, I am always at home. So, we encouraged people to do those things.
What we saw at I-SON Experience- the company that messed up the Oyo State’s number, was unfortunate. First, they did not do what they ought to have done by ensuring that the company kept to the preventive measures. But when the test from the majority of them came out, with the CT Scan and viral load, they predicted that a whole lot of them would turn negative within the shortest period of time. This is still an ongoing effort, because it is novel. It has never happened to anybody even all over the world. Every time I try to monitor what is going on and then pull in the experts and ask: “Can we weigh in on this? Can we do this or do that? Now, they say the epicentre in the world has moved from North America to Latin America. Why is it that in Africa, we have not been badly hit against all the predictions? Are there things we are doing rightly and should continue doing? Are there things that will even cement our position against the virus further, So, those are things that, every day, we constantly engage ourselves and experts on, looking at data from all over the world to tackle this.
And in terms of the finances for the state, I will like to use this opportunity to thank all those who have contributed to the Endowment Fund. People actually reacted positively to our call. We have had more than N1 billion of the total support; about N450 million in cash and th others in the donation of hospital beds and with CACOVID’s support too. When we started, some people came to me and said I should look at Ogun State, that their COVID-19 team had former governors of CBN and the like. They asked me to also look at Ekiti State too. Later, I asked them that what have those states raised compared to Oyo State? Somebody said these people are going to test 100,000 people. I was like “really?”, how are they even going to do it? And we had a session at the Task Force meeting, where I asked if we were doing anything wrong. Recently, I was reading from NCDC and that was how I even got to know that Oyo State is number 5 in terms of the number of people we have tested.
So, if anyone says what we are doing in handling the COVID-19 pandemic has not been effective, I just think that talk is cheap. For them, talk is cheap because they are the ones saying it. For us, we have to go out there and showcase what we have done. So, I will give a pass mark to the COVID-19 Task Force in Oyo State and I will also tell our people to continue to follow the advisory that we have given them. This is coming out of extensive discussion and research. There is no magic wand or magic touch that will make this thing go away and disappear. We have to learn to live with it and, as we make progress in research, maybe in the development of vaccine or medication against it,
then we can get a hand on it. But we cannot do any other thing than to keep washing, keep looking at its behaviour, keep testing, keep advising our people and I believe that if they follow the directives of the Task Force, together we would be able to defeat the virus. That’s what we are doing.
When the battle against COVID-19 must have ended, how will these isolation centres, facilities and other things you have put in place still be useful to the people?
I have made it clear that health facilities that are all over the state must be renovated. When the COVID-19 pandemic is over, we would disinfect those places as we did in Saki. It is almost 150-bed isolation centre and once the pandemic is over, it would be part of the general hospitals that would be used to treat other diseases.
For primary healthcare, you would see that a major revolution is going on in there right now. Before we came in, you may see PHCs 2 or 3 in some places, but if you combine all together, it still does not have the capacity of one. In Igbo-Ora, when we were looking for a place to turn into isolation and treatment centres we went to the health centre in Idere and I could not believe what I saw. In Oyo state, we have over 600 PHCs but they are not functional. So, I called the Permanent Secretary of Local Government Service Commission, the Head of Service, the Commissioner for Local Government and the Executive Secretary PHC Board, Dr Muideen Olatunji. I asked how they would solve the problem over there and we came up with two strategies. One is to ensure that each of the 351 wards in Oyo State must have a standard PHC. Also, out of the over 600, if we have 351 that is standard, the other ones can be concessioned. We can inform those who are interested to invest in them to do so and we will regulate them.
Your government introduced what it called Park Management System to arrest the incessant clashes over the operations of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) in the state and to also shore up the IGR of the state. How successful do you think that system has been, especially going by some complaints about it?
On the issue of Park Managers, we cannot keep doing things the same way and expect the same result. Some say it is still the same NURTW that has been existing in the state and all manner of things. I know that when you have to make changes, people must talk because some may not be favoured. So, for the Park Management System, no matter how it may seem far from perfection, there is room for improvement and we are working seriously for that improvement.