State Of Osun Is On The Right Economic Footing, Say House Speaker-In recent years, there have been lots of controversy about how the state of Osun has been running in both political and economic rail-line. From allegations of Islamic extremism by Gov Rauf Aregbesola and mismanagement of educational affairs to the issue of loan taking which has put the state in serious economic danger. The governor, having pulled down so many of the huddles of allegation hurled at him continue to convince the state indigenes that the state is on the right course of economic, social and political prosperity. In this insightful interview by Thisday, Rt. Hon. Najeem Salaam, Speaker, Osun State House of Assembly bares his mind on the state economic situation and state of affairs.
In this interview with Yinka Kolawole, Speaker of the assembly, Hon Najeem Folasayo Salaam, spoke on State of Osun Assembly have been holding the balance of power and serving as the hope for the State survival in the face of many odds. According to him, there would be a shining light at the end of the tunnel:
Osun is in a huge debt mess, which has depleted its allocation from the federation account considerably. What can you make of this?
In the first place, the state is not in mess, but a victim of dialectics of production and history and I will explain. When the country was operating a loose federation, agriculture and taxation were the mainstay of the economy of all the regions with comparative advantage, and I read that Chief Obafemi Awolowo as the Premier of Western region was able to develop the region with sophisticated infrastructure and technology ahead of many countries.
I learnt that the western region got its television before France and many countries called developed nations now. So, each region had its fate in its hand, but now we are practicing unitary system couched in federalism. Suffice it to say that we are practicing feeding bottle federalism, which dictates that the center would be spoon-feeding the states from a common wallet, and if the same centre crashes, the states crashes too.
So, the federal has crashed now in terms of fiscal responsibility, monetary policy and trade imbalance. Meanwhile, the military interregnum has not helped the matter because they got the oil boom, quick cash and negated taxation and agro-economy. Unfortunately, the long neglect of agriculture has made our relations with land tedious, except a few, who have seen the future, and the previous governments failed to re-institutionalise agriculture and the culture of taxation. So, now that the government is making conscious effort to rejig the two fundamentals of revenue generation, something appears strange to us.
So, the state is only bearing the brunt of our collective infractions, because we would be guilty of verdict of posterity if we continue to cling with the past which I describe as micro-managing poverty. Yes, some people are complaining about the debt profile of the state of Osun, even though we found ourselves in this difficult financial meltdown because of debt; it takes anyone with deep mind to see the trickle-down effect of infrastructure renewal, and its link with assured future. Yet, the debt has its biting effect now, but the denial in limited liquid cash we are subjected today in the state would leverage for promising tomorrow.
Workers claim they were getting half salaries, marketers are crying of low patronage and this financial difficulty seems to have lowered the morale of the citizens, who supported Governor Aregbesola at the last governorship election, and here you are talking about the promising tomorrow. How?
Look, I am the Speaker of the state parliament, as the effect of hard time hits the people, it touches me double because it has a multiplier effect on personal and collective demands from our constituencies; it rubs on our political clout as leaders and it is not good for our rating in the public. But one fact stands, governance is not about public opinion; it is about taking hard decisions. To the best of my knowledge, this government borrowed for capital projects, and we have seen some completed, some are still work-in-progress. So, what we owe now would be smaller if compared to the value obtainable from the projects tomorrow.
Yes, our workers are enduring, and it is hurtful that our financial power has weakened terribly, but I still have to commend the workers and identify with them on their rare sacrifices and love for this state; for showing understanding about the matrix of our productive topsy-turvy and economic meltdown. However, let it sink that we are right now experiencing national economic crisis, and no arm or tier of government is spared.
As we speak, I read that judges of federal courts have not been paid; I read that 26 states have not paid state stipends to their allocated youth corp members; salaries are not regularly paid in almost 29 states. Even, an oil state with 13 per cent derivative with just eight local governments is rolling policies that would cut off a lot of incentives for workers.
So, it is a national experience. Speaking to your emotional outburst on how, I would tell you that the present situation has no deduction with the last governorship election won by Governor Aregbesola, though we can infer that people yearn for more development and incentives like free meal for their children in public schools, stipends for the aged, support for widows, micro credit facilities for their small scale trade and so on.
All those incentives cost huge money, and the cash is no longer forthcoming due to catastrophe in oil market, which is our sole economic mainstay. Therefore, it is a case of temporarily truncated dream. Let’s formulate questions for the cynics: should a governor be elected to manage poverty? Should a government be instituted to service the interest of the few with our collective resources? Should we encourage the government to borrow for consumption or life changing projects? Should we encourage utilitarian or mob rule? All these questions are the many tough choices a governor must contend with. But, we should not blame anyone until we are able to understand his or her state of mind.
What can be done to remedy the Osun situation now?
Osun as a state is not faring badly as projected by the critics and perceived by some elements. So, I think the questions we should ponder our mind on are some fundamentals before we cross-examine the superstructure. The fundamentals here start from causes of our challenges. Let’s begin from the architecture of our nationhood. Do we still need this compromised federal structure or we should reconfigure it.
Are we ready to surrender measured independence to the federating units, for each state to source its revenue and negotiate with its workers, and design its own security architecture or do we resort to the regional government laced with parliamentary democracy of Pre and post-independence? These are the fundamental questions that could have compelled some people to insist on the outcome of the last Jonathan conference. Good as it sounds the conference was midwifed by compromised representation, and has no legal status.
So, it was more or less a “committee of finding something for the leaders.” That rubbed on the deliberations of the conference. However, I am glad President Buhari subscribed to the calls for economic conference. Credible people, experts, budget historians, economists, and policy makers and policy executors were assembled, and who knows, some of the fundamental issues might have come out there. Having settled that, then we can now talk of what will become of individual state.
As touching Osun, I can assure you that we are brainstorming on the way out of the woods. In the first place, we have agreed that our challenges could not be removed through oil money. So, we are working on agriculture as an alternative, but Governor Aregbesola disposes more to intellectual commodity, and it will soon pay off. Do not bother about it, because I would not expatiate on it. Certainly, Osun will soon be out of the woods.
Is it true that the government has sacked hundreds of workers in the polytechnics and colleges of education and that the assembly had to intervene at a point?
Aside from making laws and oversight functions, resolution of conflict has been added to our schedule ever since I have taken the mantle of leadership in the state parliament. Yes, there was conflict between some staff of these institutions and their governing boards plus managements, and some of the staff were right-sized, according to information available to us, but because existence was attached to the struggle; we elected to mediate and files are being screened to know who did what, and by the time the committee ends its investigation, all parties would consider our position on the matter a fair deal.
What about the striking doctors?
We are intervening on it as well, and we are talking to the doctors to place the interest of the state above interest of the few. Yes, it is their inalienable right to demand for appropriate wage and other incentives to work, but all conflicts need a compromise. Our doctors are expected to reconsider their hard line stance, while we are ready to support them on their struggle based on the reality on the ground.
It pains me that the situation is turning out like this, but I think it would be encouraging if they resume and come to the table according the demands of their employer. If that is done, we shall ready to check the two extremes: doctors’ interest and the position of the employer with a view to placing the justifications on the resources available.
I trust our doctors, I have many of them as friends, and I can understand their plight, but they are part of us, the larger society. Therefore, they would certainly bear with us. Our mission now is to prevail on both sides to come to the table with justifiable points, not closed mindset.
How come the governor has not constituted his cabinet for close to 16 months now?
Governor is the Chief executive, by constitution who has the power to hire and fire. Unfortunately, the constitution does not stipulate when a governor could constitute cabinet. Besides, he knows when and why his cabinet must be constituted; the core if it is that the business of the governance has not stopped, but I would not dabble into the issue, because I am the head of legislature, mine is to receive governor’s correspondences on how he is faring on his job, not to speak on his job description.
If the business of governance is progressing as you rightly stated, how are decisions taken at the State Executive Council? Would it not amount to illegality to be approving projects and taking other crucial decisions without a cabinet?
Let it be known that we have Secretary to the State Government and Chief of Staff, Head of Service and Permanent Secretaries in place. Call it the defect of constitution, I have not read why the hiring or not of Commissioners would make any decision illegal, but I am confident the governor would soon make the list of his Commissioners available to me. More so, the delay could be as a result of restructuring of ministries to cut cost.
On a compassionate ground, this man (Aregbesola) should not be vilified on some things because he understands what it takes to maintain a Commissioner, and he knows clearly he does not have the luxury now. People should know that Aregbesola is compassionate and very rational on the way he does his things.
Look, I am not defending the governor, because he is capable of doing that himself, but we must not be fault-finders, the state of mind must tally with the state of affairs. So, I urge the cynics and critics to use their heads and dissect the material condition before formulating opinion on anyone.
Why have the local governments in the state not been democratically constituted in the last five years?
Litigation and funding! Litigation in the sense that for many years, the state electoral body constituted by former Governor Olagunsoye Oyinlola’s government were thrown out for not being properly constituted, and they went to court to test the validity of the claim, and the matter was dragged up to the Supreme Court. By the time the governor constituted another OSSIEC, we had run into the economic bad weather, and election costs huge money. Can a state that owes salaries of workers prioritise election? So, it could not have been deliberate, it is an extenuating circumstance.
Some critics believe that the local councils were not democratically constituted because the governor was using their funds for his projects, and that the assembly has been compromised by the selected councils’ officials?
Trust me, I don’t play the critics’ ball because it is convenient to criticize anyone in power. I had been in opposition and I know that there is no way people in opposition could get the matrix of governance right. However, not to evade your question, I know for sure that nothing could be done with state and council funds without the knowledge of the parliament, and I have not found the governor wanting.
But if anyone has a piece of evidence as touching the allegation, let the fellow present it, and I promise you we will investigate. As for the compromise of the House of Assembly, those who think or had conceived that I could be compromised do not know me. In the place, I must have been the poorest Speaker among the 36 state Houses of Assembly, not because I do not need money, but because I have conquered my greed. Besides, I have a background that provides me the two sides of life.
I was raised as an orphan from a humble background by God’s unmerited favour on me. I am comfortable now without swindling people or government, without abusing my office or deploying my influence for wealth acquisition, and I could say without equivocation that I am micro-distributing the little resources at my disposal.
So, I don’t like acquiring wealth through dubious means; there is no integrity in that and by my faith, I know that an individual would account for his action before his Lord. From those premises, you can conclude that I would be difficult to compromise at the expense of the people, and I don’t compromise, so, who will compromise my colleagues? After all, the buck stops on my table at the parliament.
So, what is the agenda of the sixth assembly under you?
We have set our agenda already and we have hit the grounding now. Let me avail you our agenda, one we have set in motion, machinery that is deliberating on how our state would be rescued from the jaw of economic downturn, and this machinery would soon unfold feasibility study that would be forwarded to the executive for perusal. Two, we have stepped up our oversight functions which keep an eagle eye on all projects.
Three, we are embarking on the overhauling of criminal codes of the state, because the one in place is deficient if compared to the hitech crime the non-conformists are committing. Four, we are working on democratising lawmaking, a process that would tap the opinions of the majority stakeholders, and we have elected to pick third party role in any conflict that could truncate the prevailing peace in the state.
“On a compassionate ground, this man (Aregbesola) should not be vilified on some things because he understands what it takes to maintain a Commissioner, and he knows clearly he does not have the luxury now. People should know that Aregbesola is compassionate and very rational on the way he does his things.
Source: Thisday Newspaper