Ismail Omipidan is the Chief Press Secretary to Osun State Governor Adegboyega Oyetola. In this interview, he speaks about the recent governorship poll, insisting that the governor did not lose the election, but he only lost the ‘vote counts’
How has it been in the last three and a half years?
Governor Adegboyega Oyetola came into office in November 2018. He came in at a time when nobody really gave him a chance. There were few issues that heralded his election, especially issues of salary payment, reclassification of schools, single uniform, among others. Owing to the fact that Mr Governor came on board at a time when the country was facing economic downturn and when Osun in particular was financially challenged, a lot of people feared and felt he would not perform and have difficulty meeting government’s obligations like payment of workers’ salaries. But thankfully, three and half years down the lane, and up till this morning we are not owing any worker a dime, we pay salaries as at when due, and we also pay pension and gratuities to the retirees on a monthly basis.
In addition to that, we have invested heavily in infrastructure, despite paucity of funds. It is on record that the Oyetola administration has done over 500 kilometres of road construction and rehabilitation across the state. The interesting part is that some of the critical roads we reconstructed are roads that had been neglected for 20 to 30 years.
For instance, in Osogbo, there is the Alekunwodo network of roads that we constructed in less than two years we came to office. As a matter of fact, we fixed that road during the peak of COVID-19, and you know the pandemic also came with its own challenges; it affected businesses, and even our ways of life. Ordinarily, if we were to be a government that is not serious and responsible, COVID-19 was enough excuse for us not to have done a lot of things including fixing the Alekunwodo roads but we did it.
I recall vividly when we were inaugurating that road, the ‘Ataoja’ of Osogbo who was a special guest at the occasion, rose up to commend the governor for constructing that road, saying that since the creation of Osun in 1991, no government had touched that road. He even said he had lived in the area with some notable leaders of a party that was in power for seven years, and they still could not fix the road. “But in less than two years that Mr Governor came into office, he fixed the road,” the monarch said.
Is that all?
Another major road that we fixed is the Ede/Ara-Ejigbo road. That road is located in Ede Federal constituency and in the political history of Osun, that constituency had produced three speakers of the State House of Assembly who served for a cumulative of 20 years. We had Adejare Bello who was in office for 8 years, Najeem Sallam for 8 years, and Professor Mojeed Alabi for 4 years, making a total of 20 years. On the day the road project was inaugurated, Adejare Bello appreciated and praised Oyetola for fixing the road, a development, he said those of them who had been speakers from that area for 20 years could not influence or facilitate.
We also reconstructed the 13.15km Ada-igbajo road which was last touched about 33 years before our intervention. There are other critical roads that we have fixed; the Moro-Yakoyo road that was last touched 44 years ago, Ejigbo township road, Gbongan township road, among others. We also have various ongoing road projects in Ikire, Ife, Ilesha, and the Lameco-Ifon road which we flagged off its reconstruction few weeks to the governorship election. The Oyetola administration constructed the Olaiya flyover bridge in Osogbo, which has added aesthetics to that area and also significantly reduced cases of accidents along that axis.
While we have done a lot of road projects across the state, several others are ongoing and people keep wondering how we have been able to do all these despite the financial challenges occasioned by the state’s indebtedness and low federal allocation. But, what I keep telling people is that we were able to accomplish all these because of the ingenuity of Oyetola and the fact that he prioritizes his expenditure and he’s extremely prudent with the resources of the state.
In the health sector, we have fixed three general hospitals in each of the senatorial districts, we constructed 120-bed ward and new doctors’ quarters within the state hospital at Asubiaro, Osogbo. The Oyetola administration has also revitalised and rehabilitated Primary Healthcare Centres, PHCs. From the outset of this administration, we set out to fix 332 PHCs, one per ward across the state. As I speak to you, we have done over 320 of them, and I need to place it on record that in the history of Nigeria, Oyetola is the first governor that would take on over 300 PHCs at once, with the intention of fixing them for the benefit of the people of the state. The Osun Health Insurance Scheme is another success story of our administration.
In the education sector, we carried out some reforms. We have built classrooms, recruited new teachers, and also trained and retrained teachers in schools across the state. We have also resolved some of the inherited knotty and controversial issues within our education system. To be precise, we resolved issues of single uniform for students, reclassification and renaming of schools, over which, some old students’ associations had dragged the state government to court and also declined partnering with the government in improving standard of education in the state. After addressing the issues, all the old students’ associations who had vowed not to have anything to do with the government came back to embrace what we are doing.
Before we came on board, Osun was the only state that did not adopt the 6:3:3:4 national policy of education. The early child education system which cost us support from UNICEF has also been restored and as I speak, the reforms are yielding positive results because the school enrollment has increased tremendously.
If you take a critical look at Osun before 2018 and Osun from 2018 till date, you will agree with me that we have done significantly well in all aspects of governance including welfare of workers. Some persons would argue that payment of salary and pension is not an achievement. But I tell you with all sense of modesty that for me, considering where we are coming from, it’s an achievement. In 2018, it was a major campaign issue, as candidates of opposition parties including PDP and ADP were promising workers that if elected, they would pay full salaries. So, the mere fact that we are now doing it seamlessly does not mean that it is easy to meet up with. That is why I do tell my brothers and sisters in the PDP that for me, it is an achievement and I would beat my chest any time any day to commend my principal for living up to expectations in that regard because if we were unable to pay salaries, it would become an issue especially because of the global economic meltdown. At the moment, many states are owing salaries, and we are not just paying regular salaries in Osun, we are paying minimum wage.
If your governor has done all these, what are the factors that caused the outcome, is it the party issues, or do you think people don’t want Oyetola back?
I think there are combination of factors that led to the outcome of that election, and I will not want to ascribe to the fact that we lost the election. I think what we lost is the vote count, I want to put it like that. In 2018 only about 254,000 or thereabouts voted for Governor Oyetola but in 2022, more than 375,000 people voted for him. If you do the calculation, he got like 50 per cent increment in number of votes he got 4 years earlier. So, would you say such a person is not loved by the people?
For me, I think there are other factors which can be attributed to the outcome of that election which I will like not to mention here because the case is already in court. But I will like to place it on record that there were some irregularities that marred the exercise. For example on the day of the election, while different media houses were reporting around 7p.m that voting had ended in polling units across the state, voting was still going till around 9 pm in Ede North and South that are strongholds of the PDP candidate, Senator Ademola Adeleke. Though the INEC guideline stipulates that electorate who are on the queue by 2:30pm must be allowed to vote, I have it on good authority that those who voted in Ede between 9 and 10pm on election day were not on the queue by 2:30pm.
I stated this fact a day after the election when I appeared on Channels Television’s Sunday Politics programme. And if you look at the conduct of the election, you will agree with me that the usual tension and anxiety and desperation that usually accompany such exercise was nowhere near Osun contest and that is largely because of the personality and the character of my boss, Governor Adegboyega Oyetola. Go and check very well, most governors who seek reelection are usually very desperate, and would do anything and everything to win the election. However, that was not the case in our own election because we know we have performed very well to the admiration of the people. We were too sure that the people were going to vote for us. And they indeed voted for us. I won’t want to go into details that may be responsible for us losing the votes count because the case is already in court and I believe we will emerge victorious in the end.
Did you think the vote count was responsible for the APC’s loss?
If you look at the margin, it is not large. It is 28,000 and that was exactly the margin from ?d? North and South local government areas.
We have filed a petition at the tribunal, and we are challenging the results in over 700 polling units across ten local governments. I will leave the tribunal do their work and I’m convinced beyond reasonable doubt that with the votes we got, we shall come out victorious by the end of the court process.
What do you think about Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola and Governor Oyetola not reconciling?
I can only speak for my principal and won’t be able to speak for Ogbeni Aregbesola. If you know my principal very well, you will know that he is a very peaceful man and he loves peace. If you look at the way he governed the state, you will realise that in the history of Osun, this is the first time a governor will be in the saddle and for close to four years, no strike or protest was staged by either the workers or students. Apart from the national protest like the ENDSARS, we have never had any protest, industrial or labour dispute in the last 3 and half years. That will tell you about the man and his character. He is peace-loving and will do anything to ensure peace reigns. He has done that in the APC, but you know you cannot force an unwilling wife to stay when she has probably made up her mind to go.
I will give you an instance. When the APC was conducting its membership revalidation exercise, the committee started with President Muhammadu Buhari. After that, they came to Ila to do for Chief Bisi Akande being the first interim National Chairman of the party. After Chief Bisi Akande, because they were in Osun, they did for Mr. Governor and his wife. When they were done, the Governor deemed it fit to invite his predecessor, Minister of Interior, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola to come and do his, the governor proposed two days to him. It was not as if I was told, I was there when my principal was talking to him. Mr. Governor proposed a Monday date and he said he would be traveling with the president to either Katsina or Kaduna, I can’t remember now and Mr. Governor proposed the next day which was a Tuesday and he again said he would be traveling with the Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed to Kwara. But he promised that he was going to inform Mr Governor 48 hours earlier, anytime he was going to come and do his own. Unfortunately, we never got the notice. The only thing we got is that one Friday, we heard he was in Ilesha and he was saying they were trying to block him from doing his registration. The next question I asked was, “by who?”
This was a man Mr. Governor spoke to personally and they had an understanding that he was going to give 48 hours’ notice for us to get prepared and receive him so he could do his own re-registeration. What we got from him is that he was in Ilesa and saying it publicly that they were trying to block him for revalidating his membership of the party.
I’m just giving you that instance to allow you and the reading public to judge who – between the two of them – is prolonging what looks like a crisis. My principal is not quarreling with anyone. There may be disagreement on style of governance. But beyond that, my principal has no issue with him or any other member of his TOP group.
And all through the APC congress and governorship primaries, my principal said it publicly that the door of reconciliation was widely open but we must be genuine in our intentions. Because there’s no point constituting yourself into an opposition and you keep saying that you are in that party and you want to work for the party. We all knew the role each and every one of them played in the last election. But thank God, we did not lose the vote count by 100,000 or more. The 28,000 margin despite the gang up and the conspiracy shows my Principal is still very popular in the State.
What plans are you putting in place to restructure the party so it won’t lose the general elections?
Mr. Governor said it from day one that there will be need to carry out some reforms in the party. But not the restructuring some of our brothers and sisters are talking about. A house has been built, you deliberately set fire on it, but by divine providence, you did not succeed in bringing down the house, and you said you want to restructure, which house are you restructuring? The one that you set on fire?
In any case, the constitution of the party is very clear, those who have been elected into leadership positions in the party are allowed to run for four years.
and claim to be the victim at the same time. It is not done anywhere.
I can assure you that subsequent elections in the State will be won by the party and don’t forget that after the 2018 election, regardless of what transpired, the next election that was held in the state, the 2019 general election, Governor Oyetola delivered President Muhammadu Buhari. He delivered two out of the three senatorial districts, he delivered six out of the 9 House of Representatives seats and he delivered majority in the State House of Assembly. So what are we talking about?
I say it with all sense of honesty that the fortune of the APC started to decline in 2017 when the party lost Osun West Senatorial by-election to the PDP, where they lost 9 out of 10 local governments in the senatorial district.
It was that decline that caused what happened in 2018 but immediately Oyetola was elected governor, we started seeing significant improvement in the fortunes of the party.
You could see that in the 2019 general election and you could see that in this 2022 election. It is an improvement from what we had in the past. It is easy to destroy but it is difficult to build. Oyetola is trying to build back the fortune of the party and to ensure that the party becomes attractive once more to the people of the State. And that was why most of the policies and programmes of his administration were deliberately done in the interest of the people of the State. We addressed all the issues that made the people raised eyebrows about the party and the immediate past administration.
I have told you about the issues of salary single uniforms and re- classification of schools and what have you. These were some of the issues that the people of the state were complaining about. Oyetola fixed them. And results showed in the election of 2022.
What do you have to say about people who think oyetola is too calm, too gentle to be a politician, and that is why he lost the election?
If your definition of a politician is someone who believes in violence, lies and propaganda, then I tell you that Oyetola is not your kind of real politician. With my association with him in the last three years, I have come to realize that you can be a politician and still be true to your conscience. You can be a politician and still govern with the fear of God. That is what has happened as far as governance is concerned under Oyetola. He doesn’t believe in desperation, and all these came to play not only in his governance of the state but also in the election.
I’m sure a lot of people would have expected him to militarize the state because of his second term ambition and unleash violence on the state but he is not that kind of a politician. Yes, he is calm. A state like Osun needs a calm and calculated leader because if you have a leader that is unnecessarily excited, you run into problems. Governing Osun requires a cool, calm and calculated human being that would think outside the box to be able to ensure you keep the state afloat.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the governor and his team had noted the need to diversify the economy of the state because we are desirous of changing the narrative of Osun from being a civil service state, to one bubbling with commerce and industries.
That is why we focused mainly on three key sectors of our economy; Agriculture, Tourism and Mining, which we call it “ATM”. With the investments we have done in the three sectors, especially mining in the last one year plus, we believe that Osun will no longer rely on the Federal Government allocation in the nearest future, and as part of efforts to help industrialize the state, we are partnering with the Nigeria Airforce to fix our airport. This comes with a lot of efforts. The Air force is building an Aviation City in Osun, the first of its kind in Nigeria and Africa, and you know what this means. We are doing this without spending a dime.
I say this with all sense of modesty, since we came in, we have not spent ten Kobo on the Osun Airport project but work is ongoing there and in no distance future, we will no longer travel to Ibadan, Akure, or Ilorin to fly to destinations of our choice in the country.
It would be very difficult to get someone as prudent as Oyetola. There was a time we had an emergency to travel to Abuja and because it was an emergency, we couldn’t get a commercial flight that would accommodate us all at once, and they came up with the option of a chattered flight and the least they got was 10 Million Naira, the Governor shouted that “ha, this is too much. Ten Million just to take us to Abuja?” We eventually shared ourselves into three, some went through Ibadan, some through Akure and some through Ilorin.
I’m not sure there are too many governors who would sacrifice their own personal comfort because they want the state to grow. Very few.