#Nigeria States should not depend on handouts from FG — Aregbesola
Osun State Governor, Mr. Rauf Aregbesola, in an interview with journalists in Osogbo bares his mind on the style of his administration and other sundry issues.TUNDE ODESOLA was there
What is your reaction to people, who believe that you are arrogant?
Am I really an arrogant person? You can say I am unusual. I am not your conventional governor. I don’t have the attitude of people you traditionally find in this position. If you say I do not behave like a classical public functionary I will say yes. Since 2004, I had prepared what would be my programme in government. I developed a six-point integral action plan. Everything we are doing today is in strict compliance with the provision of that agenda. Three of them are basically agricultural. We say we would banish hunger, poverty, unemployment. All those are based on agriculture. If there is serious food production, hunger will be history, unemployment and poverty will reduce.
Some think that you don’t give the Osun State University the deserved attention?
Education has lost its focus. People are just going to school, especially at the basic level. What is the total population of Uniosun? At best, it will be 5,000. In the basic education phase, we have at least 750,000 pupils without any future who are certainly doomed in terms of the school that they go and the quality of education. I put together an education summit with clear a guideline on how to make education functional and beneficial to the society. We realised that virtually all the public schools in the state were constructed by the late Pa Obafemi Awolowo. The schools were built with mud.
Mud in this part of the world has a lot of iron which gets oxidised and leads to big cracks. The buildings are already collapsing. We have no choice but to clear the debris and weak structures to build functional infrastructure for education. I intend to build within the next 24 months, 20 high schools with each having capacity for 3,000 pupils and 50 middle schools with capacity for 900 pupils each. I will also build elementary schools (100) with 1,000 capacity at urban centres and as low as 50 in the very rural communities.
It is not just infrastructure alone, we also want to assess out teachers and prepare them in terms of giving the students the best guide. We are re-orientating and motivating our teachers. But I have no problem with the university teachers. But, I do not come to terms easily with the philosophy that fund should only be pumped to the university or that school fees be increased. If you have basic education that is in doldrums and you have no provision to improve it while you focus on tertiary education, who will attend the university? The second is the high fee regime.
There was no one living and working in Osun State that could afford to send their wards to that university because of the high fee. If the highest paid worker and business men could not afford to sponsor their wards to the state university whose interest is the university serving? Our university is well supported. But my commitment is on strengthening the basic education though I will not abandon the tertiary education.
You were reported to have promised to capture 80 per cent of Lagos food market in your agricultural programme. What steps have you taken in the last one year to achieve this?
There was never a time we targeted capturing 80 per cent of Lagos food market. One would be extremely selfish and uncaring to take 80 per cent of the entire food exchange value in Lagos. I believe that if states in the South-West states take 10 per cent each, and they are five, outside Lagos itself, that is 50 per cent. The remaining can be left to other states to have their own share. Why must we have such desire? In terms of location, the states are the closest to Lagos. As such, we should take a maximum advantage of that. That was my projection.
Before I set out for the governorship seat, I made it a primary objective to develop the agricultural potential of Osun to capture just 10 per cent of the food market value in Lagos. Immediately we assumed office, we declared to the world that it would be totally wrong for any entity — be it human or geographical — to claim independent existence and still be dependent on others. When a territory depends absolutely on others, it is no longer independent but a possession of that authority that gives it life.
What exists at present is that most of the states are in this sort of derogatory relationship whereby without the handout of another government — whether federal or central — they cannot survive. Our goal is first of all to ensure that we reverse that ugly trend. We want to be like Lagos, which in the worst scenario can still survive on its own. We have looked around and there is no other way we can have independent survival outside agriculture. After all, the majority of our people, aged though, are into subsistence agriculture. Our primary objective is to help subsistence farmers multiply their production through expansion of their farming capacity, improvement on the techniques of farming and assistance to move their goods to railway terminal for upward movement to Lagos free of charge.
Toward this end, we went to the Nigeria Railway Corporation to finalise agreement to ensure free freight of agricultural produce from Osogbo to Lagos. This is not limited to produce of Osun alone. If yours is from Sokoto and it gets here, for as long as it is agricultural produce, we will transport it for you free. Essentially, this is to motivate our farmers. We are clearing land for potential farmers who could come from any part of the world. We produce improved seedling for high yield free of charge and give fertiliser at subsidised rate. As I am talking to you, we have over 300 metric tons of fertiliser in our store.
Agriculture is the primary focus of our administration. We invest most in agriculture and commit more of our time and energy to it. We have cleared 3,000 hectares of land for agriculture, including land for rice cultivation. If you know, it costs a lot of money to clear 1,000 hectares of land. We are equally opening access roads to farms and providing electricity and water. We are being supported by France and World Bank in the rural accessibility programme where we are targeting a total of 500 kilometres of rural roads to service farmers in various locations.
What it means is that we may not tar all the roads but we shall ensure that all the water crossings are with bridges and gutters so that there will be no reason for farmers not to be able to move their goods from the farm to the nearest centre. But farmers have yet to take advantage of the free freight because they are still held down by the old method of transportation. There will be no discrimination on sources of produce. If produce gets to Dagbolu, which is the centre, the Osun State Government will move it free of charge to Lagos.
The railway is not functioning well, how will you ensure transportation of produce when farmers eventually subscribe fully to your programme?
I have moved people free of charge from Lagos to Osun on a daily basis. I want to tell you that I am improving on the Memorandum of Understanding between our government and the Nigerian Railway Corporation.
The railway has its own challenges and the corporation won’t move beyond its challenges. I don’t worry myself with the problem of the corporation; I only use the railway. I need wagon and locomotive engine and operate at will. If I have enough commodities to move, I can move every hour. You worry about how I do it; that is the creativity. That is why I am different. But the truth is that as of today, my facilities are not fully ready. I have not completed Dagbolu (the food hub) to the level I want and I am still working on Osogbo station.
My Lagos depots are not fully ready. I am looking at having 57 Osun markets in each of the 57 local governments and development centres so that this products on getting to Lagos will be transported straight to the food marts and whoever is interested will get them at Osun prices. The goal is to make farm produce available at farm gate prices in Lagos. What determines the frequency of my rail is the availability of produce.
Source- The Punch