In this interview with Daily Trust Saturday, the Ekiti State governor, Biodun Oyebanji, spoke on his relationship with former governors and opposition leaders in the state. He also spoke on how his government is run on a lean budget, as well as plans to boost the activities of the Western Nigeria Security Network (WNSN), popularly known as Amotekun Corps.
Ekiti is more or less running as a one-party state. People say you have bought the opposition over and all their leaders are coming to you. What is your take on this?
It is a good feedback. I believe the best assessment of any government is by the people. It is a position that one has to take seriously. As a government, we have a contract with the people of Ekiti State and we promised ourselves that we would work for them and with them.
We believe that trust is very key to governance. So, the first mark I set for myself was the need to earn the trust of Ekiti people because if you are going to take them on a journey of four years, they must trust you to the point that they would follow you to that expected end. We have tried to do that.
So, if this is the feedback, I give God all the glory. But I also know that it is too early in the day for us to rest on our oars. The reward for hard work is more work.
It is not correct that we bought the opposition. What we have done is to ensure that we are running an inclusive government and communicating with everybody, including the opposition.
Election stopped the day I was sworn in as the governor of Ekiti State. I don’t see myself as the governor of the All Progressives Congress (APC). I am the governor of everybody in Ekiti State and I relate with all of them as Ekiti indigenes.
So, politics has stopped and we are in the realm of governance, and governance tells me that I have to be responsible to both my party members and people who didn’t even vote for me.
There are a lot of Ekiti people who don’t even belong to any political party; I am also responsible to them.
Before I assumed office I visited every of our leaders in the state across political divides because I believed strongly that I needed all of them. I need to learn from them. I also need to take feedback from them. And we had useful discussions with leaders of my party, those that are non-partisan and those that belong to the opposition. Every time I go to them, I take note of whatever they tell me. I have not bought anybody, all the support has been unconditional. And none of them has asked me for any favour; that is the truth.
You appear to shy away from taking political decisions. During the selection of commissioners you said nobody should come to you and you didn’t want to impose anybody during the local government primaries. Why?
I am a product of a system, I ran on the platform of a political party, and when I went to canvass for their votes during the primaries, I made certain promises to them based on the feedback we got from members. There were complaints that the party was not involved in a lot of things, and I told them that I would return it to leaders. I made that promise to them and I don’t think it will be right for me to assume the seat of governorship and renege on that promise. I believe in the supremacy of the party. I believe that the party knows everybody because we gave them certain parameters to follow in fairness. There are certain conditions I gave to the committee when I inaugurated them – they must be competent, compassionate. And they must be people that can run with the vision, understanding the pillars of the administration. I believe strongly in their ability and capacity to do that.
It is not that I shy away, I am not here to build a structure for myself, the structure must be built to serve the people of Ekiti State because it is larger than the governor.
The people want to know the finances —internally generated revenues, monthly allocations from the federal government and the debt profile of the state in the last one year?
Well, as respect to what I met on the ground, there is no state that will not be indebted, but the question is: What are the debts spent on? So, it is not an offence for a state to owe money, but what do you owe money on?
There are a lot of capital projects going on in the state. We know that the state resources may not be enough. It is even better for you to do all these things taking out a loan than to wait because of the rate of inflation. And has there been manna falling from heaven? Well, in fairness, there has been an improvement in what comes to the state.
I see Ekiti State as a company, so before I make any decision I will ask myself what would be the best decision if it were my company.
We have run an austerity government for the past one year. My style of leadership is servant leadership – the people first. We have stopped unnecessary workshops, frivolous seminars and travelling that will not add value to the state. As the governor of this state for close to a year, I have only travelled out once and it was the UNDP that sent me to Kigali.
We have changed the focus of governance. We have not owed salaries. Yes, at times we take overdraft to pay salaries. We put N2.5 billion aside per month to pay salaries because I don’t want to owe workers’ wages. We are dealing with arrears of gratuities. We have paid CONHESS to local government staff and provided resources for local governments to function. I have spent a year in office and have not bought any official car. I am still using the one left by my predecessor.
I was elected to serve the people, so it is not about my convenience or comfort. I still believe that leaders should make sacrifices; and because I am conservative, most of my colleagues will check themselves before bringing any frivolous file on my table because they know that you have to put the people forward.
Dumping of waste is a major challenge in the state capital; what is the government doing about it and to stop building structures on waterways?
Immediately after we were sworn in, I told myself that we would reduce the impact of floods in Ekiti State because every year, people go through harrowing experiences. When I assumed office I called the government agency concerned to let me know those critical areas in Ado-Ekiti that are prone to flooding. And as early as November we started dredging. We couldn’t get everywhere before the rain set in, and as at that time, NiMET had not released the projection for the year, so I did not know that Ekiti would be flagged red. We just started dredging and clearing the canals as part of my responsibility to my people.
There is a connection between flooding and refuse disposal and illegal dumping of refuse everywhere. Government must also make refuse disposal bins available for our people. We have to be compassionate, we don’t want to inflict unnecessary pains on the people because they are already stressed.
How are you handling the issues of workers’ welfare, infrastructure, learning and others?
We came on board in the heart of arrears and subventions that were not paid, but I think we have reduced it to just one month. We have not also failed in releasing their subventions every month. We have constituted their governing council, people that can actually bring a new lease of life to those institutions. But my position on this has been certain and constant – the money is called subvention, so it should not replace the ability of the institutions to generate independent funding. There is no way the government will carry 100 per cent of the load of the university. I have told the universities that they should look into research to get more money to supplement whatever the government is giving them.
There are state universities in the South West that don’t collect subventions from the government. Ekiti State University is the most subvented in the South West. Ekiti subvents its universities more than others in the South West. We spend close to N1billion every month on the three institutions in the state.
Given the fact that security is key in any society, how do you intend to make the local security outfit, Amotekun effective like its counterparts in Ondo and Oyo states?
Well, I share your concern with Amotekun. When I became governor, I commissioned a team to look at Amotekun and discovered that we need to change their tactics. We need to employ more people, train and provide resources for them. We also need to provide a clear direction for them. When I was convinced that a new leadership was needed, I brought in the current commander who just left the North East. He just retired from the army. He has been leading Boko Haram fight in the northern states. Since he came on board, he has changed the face of Amotekun in the state. Currently, he is going round the state to ascertain the status of the corps. Once that one is done, we are going to sit down with the local government. We believe that if properly managed with the current leadership, our Amotekun will bite more.
What is your relationship with your predecessor, Dr Kayode Fayemi?
I am the one always disturbing him because there are some doors I will ask him to open for me; and he does that without any problem. I consult him regularly.
I stand on the shoulders of giants and I know that it is only the grace of God that has made this happen. Fayemi remains the leader.