By Olalekan Bilesanmi
Senator Iyiola Omisore, a former deputy governor of Osun State and erstwhile Chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriation, is the candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in the September 22 governorship election in the state. In this interview, Omisore speaks on his ‘Restoration Agenda’ for Osun if elected governor, and why he is advocating freedom for the people and power shift from the incumbent All Progressives Congress (APC) government to the SDP. Excerpts:*Omisore
The Social Democratic Party (SDP) released your manifesto called the ‘SDP Agenda for Restoration in Osun State,’ highlighting five thematic pillars among which is economic management and accountability. What do you think is wrong with Osun’s economy?
The Osun economy is, no doubt, the worst in this country as seen by everybody and I believe that transparency, accountability and people-oriented policies will drive the economy to yield the desired results. At present, there are wastages, leakages; so much money has been wasted through consultancy, inflated contracts, undone jobs already paid for. I will block leakages and ensure that Osun money is spent on Osun people. The idea is to establish linkages with national processes in a way to achieve global Sustainable Development Goals. Then, for the implementation of our programmes, we are going to maximally harness Osun’s human and capital resources to lay a solid foundation for an enduring turn-around of the state as an economically prosperous, socially harmonious and a model for democratic governance in Nigeria. Our goal is to ensure that everyone has access to inputs to thrive, and assets to protect human dignity.
You talked about inflated contracts, meaning that money had been taken out unjustifiably. Do you have any plan to retrieve the money or would there be any form of probe of government activities?
Well, contracts have been done, but there are a lot of avenues for waste which we need to block. The blockade will be done carefully so as not to slow down government and, talking of probe, that is not an issue. We are going to look at all these positions professionally without minding whose ox is gored, and without being biased or without any sentiment, fear or favour. We will review all activities critically and ensure things are done correctly.
You also highlighted the issue of professionalism and performance. If we look at the civil service generally already heavily criticized for slowing down the processes of governance, but with a peculiarity to Osun now, and the issue of salary payment, are these also bothering you?
To whom much is given, much is expected, and to whom less is given, less is expected. You can’t expect optimal performance, and what we call optimisation and leverables from workers who are not paid for over 36 months or are paid half salaries. So, basically, their morale will be low; their drive to work will be low; efficiency will be low, there is no doubt about that. That is why I think the driving force for any economy is human capital development. Hence, we are going to reinforce human capital development to ensure that we increase performance and motivate them, professionalise and train them, so that they can deliver our manifesto and vision.
As you said, workers are being owed for 36 months, one of the reasons being that there were no funds to run the state; how are you going to resolve this to ensure salaries and pensions are paid?
The APC government says there is no money whereas they just collected about N17 billion Paris Club refund, and the wage bill is about N2 billion per month, and they said they are paying half salaries, which means that over N16 billion can pay for 16 months. But there is no courage; there is no will. There is no sincerity to defray the costs; rather, the government prefers to use it for bogus contracts and election campaigns. Now, it is evident that Osun is comatose, and it is not in doubt that its current APC leadership has admitted its inability to cope, which is why the second term of Governor Rauf Aregbesola is being completed with a serious increase in hunger and poverty in the state and the private sector is nearing collapse. Similarly, the confidence and motivation in the public sector is eroded and now at its all time low since Osun was founded. Everyone is frustrated and the increasingly restive people of the state, including the aged, pensioners and our youths, are calling for urgent action. Surely, the September 22 election has provided a democratic opportunity for action, an opportunity for people to vote Omisore of the SDP as the new governor of Osun.
The government just employed more O’YES cadets, said to be earning N10, 000 per month, which, at a time, you spoke against. What will be the fate of these cadets under your administration if you are elected?
The O’YES cadets who are Osun indigenes will be given gainful and pensionable jobs. We are not going to sack anybody, but we are going to employ across board. Teachers will be recruited, likewise other categories of staff. There are huge vacancies but the government is not interested in empowering the people; employing our youths or getting them engaged is a major assignment for us.
The concern of your party is also in the area of equality in access to services such as education, health, gender, agriculture among others. In what form will this take?
This is in the area of distribution of wealth across board. Distribution of infrastructure will be across board, health will be across board; overall, this will ginger equality. There is no single clinic in Osun that has drugs, but we are going to ensure that our hospitals are resuscitated and well stocked. Our schools are brutalised and teachers are being thrown out. This will be corrected; we are going to distribute amenities across board. There is no water in Osun. These are issues we want to address because the public infrastructure has collapsed. Presently, there are challenges identified which are long standing obstacle to economic growth and investment in the state, especially in the area of agriculture, a very critical sector which engages more than 75 per cent of the population, and its neglect is impacting negatively on the yield of major cash crops and produce. But we will engage in partnership to build sustainable investment linkages with the private sector and strengthen the engagement of other providers, including the civil society and community based organisations, because, at present, Osun is under an intensive care unit (ICU). But given my courage, my experience and my pedigree, by God’s grace, we will bring back sanity to the state.
As an engineer and a builder, it is said that there are grounds to cover in infrastructural development. Talking about local content and innovation, as part of your campaign programmes, how do you want to go about this, especially in boosting Osun IGR?
The issue is that we are going to ensure that jobs, contracts, sub-jobs that can be done by Osun indigenes are not given to outsiders. Of course, there can be major jobs given to major contractors, but we will ensure that our people here, the carpenters, the plumbers, the goldsmiths, the iron benders, are engaged to ensure that the money goes back to the state. All we need to boost the GDP is half the money being wasted on contracts. Before the advent of oil, we depended on agriculture in the old Western Region, and the major focus was on cash crops, the majority of which were from Osun. So, we go back to cocoa farming, we go back to oil palm and cassava farming, and encourage farmers. We do all the roads network, we give access to rural and community projects; we encourage and offer them high yielding seedlings that won’t take time to grow. We will do that to shore up our IGR and also encourage people to go back to farm.
You have also raised concerns on the issue of security. In what form will this take?
Security may not necessarily be physical, but the physical security is good. However, we also have job security, food security, health security and so on. But, it is security in all paraphernalia we are talking about. In this regard, we are focusing on neighbourhood to neighbourhood watch. We have people with goodwill with us, but a good government also should focus on security; and, with this, there won’t be hunger. There won’t be greed; there won’t be lack. People will be happy, and the people are safe generally. So, security is very important; it is a matter of concept and things of the mind. A good government will create the room for innovations aiding success and sustainability. This is a very important area, since the encouragement of local content is fuelled by innovations in specific areas, which will, in turn, make an impact on every other pillar of the agenda for restoration. Basically, our challenges in Osun require quick thinking and innovations in implementation, which has already been taken care of in our robust manifesto.
The outgoing government has put some policies in place which had been criticised, for instance, the merging of schools and same uniform for all schools in Osun. What will you do on this if elected governor?
The issue of uniform is not too good because it is unprofessional. School ethics start from uniform, and I believe every pupil has a pride, so as to know how to behave. When you give everybody the same uniform, you allow for hooliganism, ‘commonerlism’. It encourages lack of belonging, which can also lead to lack of knowledge. If different uniforms are given to schools, they will have their own pride; they will check whoever is misbehaving among the students and this will give us a better society.
But the incumbent APC government is clamouring for continuity, because it said its enormous ongoing projects already started in the state must continue, if you assume power, what will you do about these said projects?
All projects in Osun in eight years are still in progress. There is no single project that has been completed in the eight years of the APC government. Look at the Gbogan junction; look at the Ring Road, still under construction. Their campaign for continuity is to cover their fraud and ensure they perpetuate themselves in government; there is nothing continuous in this thing and it is nothing more than a cover-up. They have auctioned the state and they have milked it dry. That is why they are desperate. So, as earlier said, all projects will be reviewed on merit. I won’t stop any project, but we will continue with all projects under good terms and conditions which will not negatively affect the people.
You contested in 2014 but did not win, though you said you were rigged out. And now, you are contesting again; the wrongs that you said robbed you of victory, have you perfected them in a way that will give you victory this time round?
The most important thing is the issue of rigging of votes. But with vigilance, which I think will go a long way for us now, we are going to be victorious. We won in 2014; we were in the tribunal, but things were manipulated, and, better still, we are going to be more vigilant now.
Some people are still linking you with the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) which you have left, with an insinuation that you may still go back to the party. How will you address this?
The issue is, it is the PDP that is telling lies. I am not in PDP. I am in SDP, and, on their part, that is a sign of failure. When you see the opposition using your name to campaign, that means you are popular and they want to use your name to win election. So, if they want to come and join us, they are welcome. We left the PDP with 70 per cent of its structure, and, today, SDP is the largest party in Osun. PDP is fragmented; APC is fragmented, and SDP is the only party that stands firm. So, we are in SDP and for real.
You expressed concerns over the insincerity of INEC to conduct a free and fair election in Osun, yet, you are taking part in the election. How do you marry the two?
We are going to watch and I’ve told the international community to watch out for INEC too. We have told the people to be watchful. Even, their plans to rig the election are all over the place, but we will insist that it doesn’t work out that way. Our people will be more vigilant and they have been told to remain resolute to protect their votes. Nothing will happen contrary to our victory. We are sure to win, and we will only ensure that we remain more vigilant and ensure INEC does the right thing.
Are you also satisfied with the level of security put in place for the election?
There is nothing in place yet; it is still a proposal, but let’s wait to see how it is done, believing that if security agents can man all the polling booths as they have promised to do, there won’t be any problem.
Then the issue of vote-buying as was the case in Ekiti, what are you doing about this?
Vote-buying is an electoral offence, and INEC and the security people have been mandated to arrest anybody found with money on them, and I’ve told my agents too to resist anybody found with money on them, collect it and throw them out of the polling units. The resolve of Osun people is to have Omisore as their governor and just in a few days’ time their dream will be fulfilled.