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#Nigeria States should not depend on handouts from FG — Aregbesola

Osun State Governor, Rauf 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

However, it is ironical that while the state security service was reading treason into the  activities of  Aregbesola of Osun State, the World Bank led officials of the federal government and 15 states to Osogbo to understand the employment generation programme of his administration. -Femi Falana

UN’s Ban to Address Myanmar Parliament With Suu Kyi’s Seat Empty



(Bloomberg) When United Nations Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon becomes the first world leader to address Myanmar’s year-old parliament today there will be a notable absentee: Aung San Suu Kyi.
The refusal of Myanmar’s most famous dissident to take an oath to “safeguard” the constitution after winning a seat in by-elections this month puts Ban in the middle of an impasse between her and President Thein Sein, the retired general behind the country’s awakening from five decades of isolation. Suu Kyi wants the oath changed to say lawmakers will “respect” the constitution, which guarantees the military 25 percent of seats, according to her party’s spokesman, according to Bloomberg report.
“I am hoping all sides will adopt positions that are flexible,” Ban told reporters over dinner in the capital late yesterday. “I know this is a sensitive issue.”
The vacant seat threatens to slow the pace of political and economic changes that have prompted the U.S. and European Union to ease sanctions against a country of 64 million people where one in 30 has a mobile phone. Suu Kyi’s demand is a risky early test of her clout, according to Vikram Nehru, a former economist at the World Bank.
“If the request had been granted it could strengthen her hand,” said Nehru, now a senior adviser and analyst with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. “But a flat-out refusal could have the opposite effect.”
On April 1, Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party won 43 of 45 seats in by-elections, the most inclusive vote in two decades. That outcome convinced Western nations to loosen sanctions and development agencies to contemplate a resumption of financial aid. As Myanmar’s biggest creditor, Japan forgave about $3.7 billion of debt in a bid to infiltrate a market dominated by rival China, its biggest trading partner.
Ban, making his first trip to Myanmar since July 2009, will address the 664-member lawmaking body that is controlled by Thein Sein’s Union Solidarity and Development Party and the military. Suu Kyi’s party “welcomes” the address even though it likely won’t attend, spokesman Nyan Win said.
“I don’t know exactly if we will participate in Parliament,” he said by phone from Yangon yesterday. The standoff may end “in one or two weeks,” he said.
Three years ago, Ban said he was deeply disappointed to have been barred from seeing Suu Kyi, known in her homeland simply as “The Lady.” Her father, General Aung San, was an independence hero and was assassinated when she was 2 years old.
Tomorrow, as he wraps up a three-day trip, Ban will meet the Nobel Peace Prize winner for the first time by Yangon’s Inya Lake at her family home, where she spent 15 years of the past 23 years under house arrest.
“The pace as well as the nature of the change has been in some ways extraordinary, and perhaps far in advance of what had been envisaged,” Vijay Nambiar, who is traveling with Ban as the UN’s special adviser on Myanmar, told reporters last week.
In Naypyidaw, unveiled in 2005 as the new seat of government to replace Yangon located 200 miles (322 kilometers) to the southeast, Ban will meet the retired generals who now form the face of an elected leadership looking ahead to the next nationwide vote expected in 2015.
Since taking office in March 2011, Thein Sein has freed political prisoners, held talks with Suu Kyi, dismantled a fixed exchange rate that distorted government revenue and halted the construction of a $3.6 billion Chinese-backed hydropower project in response to growing criticism China was exploiting Burmese resources. He has also sought peace deals with ethnic-based armies that control certain border areas.
Apart from Thein Sein, 67, Ban will hold talks with Lower House Speaker Shwe Mann, 64, ranked No. 3 in the junta that ruled Myanmar until last year, and the railways minister, Aung Min, 62, who has been negotiating peace agreements with ethnic rebel armies.
While in the capital, UN officials will also offer advice on methodology for Myanmar’s first census in 30 years. Population estimates vary widely, with the World Bank putting the figure at 48 million, the Asian Development Bank at 60 million and the IMF at 64 million.
The Washington-based World Bank will open an office in Myanmar in June to help assess the country’s debt levels. The ADB is preparing to offer Myanmar several hundred million dollars per year in grants and loans if the government clears overdue debts and Western nations give approval.
Ban will seek clarification during his trip on the government’s priorities. About 75 percent of the country lacks access to electricity and more government funds are needed to improve roads, bridges, hospitals and schools, the ADB said this month.
Ban will travel in a helicopter to Shan State, a mountainous and isolated region where opium production is rampant as farmers cultivate poppy fields as a cash crop to buy food and other basic goods. Myanmar is the second-biggest producer of opium after Afghanistan and has a rising number of drug users that have led to the third-largest HIV epidemic in Asia, according to the UN’s program on HIV/AIDS.
The UN Office on Drugs and Crime last month expressed “cautious optimism” that government efforts to eradicate opium in the region have made significant progress, in part due to negotiations on peace deals with minority ethnic groups.

“These ceasefires present the opportunity for a new beginning, but what is really needed for the people of Shan is a permanent end to all conflict through the acquisition of a lasting peace,” Jason Eligh, Myanmar country manager for the UN drug office, said in a March 23 statement. “The path to achieving this peace is lined with poppies.”

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