Akogun Kofoworola Babajide Adewunmi is a member of the Osun State House of Assembly who represents Ede North State Constituency. He is the Minority Leader and ranks number 4 in hierarchy in the parliament.
In this interview , he talks about the state of things in Osun State, his legislative agenda for the year, how opposition lawmakers are being unfairly treated, among other issues.
What is your legislative agenda for the year?
Well, let me first give glory to Almighty God for the grace of a new year, and once again, use this medium to wish my constituents in Ede North and Osun people in general the very best of 2021. Last year was turbulent and fiercely tested our abilities for survival, but we scaled through and that was awesome.
On your question, I will say that my legislative agenda is projecting the interest of my constituents at all times because they are the reason why I am here. They sent me here by the mandate given to me through franchise to represent them and make sure they are not shortchanged in the distribution of dividends of democracy, and it is on that basis that my 2021 legislative agenda revolves. This is what I have been doing since I was elected into the Osun State House of Assembly in 2019 upon my inauguration, and despite the unexplained hostility to our ideas by the House leadership, I have been pushing relentlessly without looking back to give the people of my constituency in Ede North their deserved voice.
So, I will be building on what I have done for the past 18 months and going further, which is letting the electorates get their fair share of what government has to offer and making sure their voices are heard. That is what democracy is all about and that exactly will be my guide.
Given that you are the Minority Leader of OSHA, what are you insinuating with hostility talk?
It is correct that I am the opposition leader in the House but the experience so far has been a disturbing one. And I am not alone with such experience, but my other colleagues, who are elected on the platform of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as myself, and it beats me really hard that the choice of our people is treated with so much disdain. This is democracy, and the practice, virtually everywhere, is for cross fertilisation of ideas for the betterment of the people, whether you are in the majority or minority.
When we got into the House, myself and my two other colleagues made the interest of the people the cornerstone of our agenda, and for the 18 months that we have been here, we have done almost everything to support the executive and the house leadership as long as we are convinced these are things that will benefit the public. That is why you hardly see us talk about anything, even though there are times we have reservations about how things are done, but because we don’t want any distraction, and we wanted government to succeed, we find a way to gloss over and pass it on but the treatment has not been palatable, especially from the Speaker, Rt. Hon. Timothy Owoeye, who has not being fair to us. Incidentally, the same Speaker had served under at least two Speakers before he rose to his current level. Alarmingly, he did not dish what he was offered in terms of equitable rights to all members without a disparity on account of partisan affiliations.
For you to get my point, I will share an experience, so ugly, that you’ll question if this is really democracy. It was the day when Governor Gboyega Oyetola signed the 2021 appropriation bill into law. After the usual ceremony and Governor Oyetola was done putting his signature, there was need for Principal Officers in the House to meet the Governor and talk. As the opposition leader and a Principal Officer, I moved forward to join others but I was turned back and to my consternation, the reason given to me was that only Principal Officers who are from the APC are allowed. It was so unbelievable but it actually happened and no one can defend that in a democracy– there is a reason why the Minority Leader position was crested by the crafter of the constitution. But the whole essence is being eroded by a party in government who had been an opposition party itself and unfortunately under the nose of a Man who was minority leader himself. This is to say the least barbaric and gives out Speaker Owoeye as a nepotistic leader.
Was Governor Oyetola aware and if he was, what was his reaction?
Definitely, he should be aware because he knows there are opposition lawmakers, and not having them in that meeting should naturally stir his curiosity. So, I want to assume he was aware about the unexplained decision to shut opposition representative out of that meeting and possibly, midwifed by people calling the shots on behalf of the Governor if not Mr Governor himself. But we didn’t deserve that because so far, we have been supportive of the government and want our people to get the best of the government. What matters to us is the overall good of the State and its people. I can count times when I joined in the driving of the policies made by this administration. Example of such was when the same school uniforms policy was reversed. I was the first lawmaker to sew and purchase uniforms and distribute freely to public school students in their thousands in my constituency. How further can we support a government? I don’t think the opposition has been treated well in the parliament under the APC led House leadership and it is worrisome.
If I tell you that we are yet to meet Governor Oyetola as it should be in a normal democratic environment despite that we have repeatedly asked the Speaker to facilitate it, won’t you be surprised? That should tell you how things have been in the last 18 months. We are supposed to be the closest to the grassroots and as such we have access to the plight of the ordinary citizens which in turn must be brought to the attention of the government and Mr Governor. The question is do we have the access? If they block access to Honourables, you must understand that the masses have been cut off their rule.
Are you saying you’re pushed aside in the House because of your party?
Really, that is how I see it and every attempt to try and straight things out is fiercely rebuffed. Last year, I toured my Constituency and noticed the deplorable condition of roads, and as their representative, I came up with a motion to draw attention and possibly, get government to fix them. But do you know what happened? The motion is there and up till now that I speak to you, I have not been allowed to raise it on the floor of the House. I called, text and did everything to persuade the Speaker to get the motion raised, but none has yielded and I don’t seem to understand why. As I noted earlier, I am here because my constituents said so and voted for me, and the essence of sending me here, just like my other colleagues, is to get them their fair share of what government has to offer. But the Speaker is saying otherwise that we can not have a say in how we are being governed. I leave the people to judge and most importantly I am speaking out because of posterity sake having endured for near 2 years to see if there will be changes but all to no avail.
Did you get any reason for the maltreatment and zero audience from the Speaker albeit the Executive?
Not really, and as I told you earlier, I called, text and everything possible to get the motion moved but it wasn’t allowed. Issues as important as road should fall under matter of urgent public importance, which ordinarily should give my motion consideration. But here we are, and it is lying fallow, not moved, talkless of it getting deliberated and recommendation made to the Executive for repair or construction– whichever one applies. Is that still a democracy?
Aside the motion that I have not been able to move, it will interest you to know that I submitted a Bill, and for like four months now, it is yet to be mentioned, let alone taken through legislative process. Why we’re getting such treatment is what we don’t understand. And this does not happen to the favourite Lawmakers under the APC nomenclature in the House.
Few months ago, Governor Oyetola marked two years in office, how will you access his performance?
I think in accessing Governor Oyetola or his government, one needs to be holistic, and not look at one side and avoid others. When you look at some of the policies of the immediate past administration that the Governor reversed and the decision on Ladoke Akintola University of Technology (LAUTECH), you will applaud him. Take, for instance, students in public schools now go to school in their respective uniforms, and you don’t need to struggle knowing where a student belong. The same with single sex schools running as they should because I find it funny for a boy to hold certificate from a school that was boldly identified as girls only school. All these are steps in good direction.
But the shortage of teachers in public schools in the state is alarming and when a delegation in the Education ministry led by the Commissioner of Education, Honourable Folorunsho Bamisayemi, visited the House of Assembly last year, I raised the issue of recruitment of teachers in our schools. At that engagement, the delegation gave a November deadline for the recruitment process to be concluded and newly recruited teachers posted to our schools, but we’re in January now and nothing is heard yet. I believe this is one area Governor Oyetola needs to give a lot of attention so that students will have teachers to handle their trainings. They have sold forms to job seekers but contrary to their promise the jobs are not there and no account is done anywhere.
But the Governor scored high in salary payment, why are you not talking about that?
(Laugh) You see, we seem to have a differing opinion on that. Let me ask you something, do you get paid by the organisation you work for? Why is your employer not considering that as an achievement that warrant rolling out drums to celebrate? The truth is, we are unwittingly lowering the standard of governance if we count paying salary as performance. Is the Governor working pro bono hinself? I’m not saying the Governor did no good by paying salary of workers regularly, but my point is that should not be something extraordinary that we celebrate. The Governor of Borno State, Zulum affirmed my point sometimes ago that salary payment is not an achievement. All Governors pay salary for example. Infact, I find it unfair that salary of workers is a centre of discussion almost everytime because it is a right not privilege. Dangote has a workforce higher than that of Osun State, and at no time did anyone think he does the unusual by paying them for the work they do for him. So, let us leave salary issue out of it and focus on other development areas. He promised during the electioneering that he will offset half salary arrears running to close to 2 years debts. Has that been fulfilled? We are still not there yet. Not at all.
During the last administration, your party do attack Rauf Aregbesola on the issue of workers salary. Why isn’t it praising Governor Oyetola for regularly paying salary?
Let me ask you a question– why should someone who works for a whole 30 days be denied his/her entitlement? It is cruelty and no opposition party will ignore such. One of the primary responsibility of government is the welfare of the people, but when the same government fail to pay the entitlement of its workforce, it will be irresponsible for an opposition party to be quiet. So PDP did the right thing by standing with Osun workers throughout the turbulent time. Even the Bible and the Holy Quran admonishes us on the importance of paying wages of people who work for us. What you are also missing is that the government sources of income has improved with many capital projects reimbursement and repayment. The allocation also is running.
You consistently talk on the plight of pensioners, is it that the government under Oyetola has not been forthcoming on their entitlements?
I must be sincere with you, anytime the plight of pensioners crossed my mind, I feel so disturbed. If people used most productive part of their lives– 35 years– to serve the state, I’m not sure if it is morally right that they should have to wait for so long to get what is due to them. Interestingly, most of the entitlements are what they contributed over time, hoping that when they leave government job to rest, they will have something to fall back on. It is really pathetic and I feel obligated to raise their plights.
Recently, I hosted some pensioners from across Osun State in my office, and their individual stories broke me. Many of us usually focus on their monthly pension, but the real thing is their gratuity, which to a large extent they have been finding it so hard to get. For instance, one of them who retired as far back as 2014 said out of more than N3m he was due to get as gratuity, all he has gotten is N1m and he cannot say when he will receive the balance. This is not different from the story of others except for some section of pensioners, Triangular or what are they called, who I learnt are favoured by the government for politics.
So, we need to know what are the issues and more importantly, find ways to offset whatever they are due for so that they will not be going through tough times when they are supposed to be having a good rest. Pensioners doesn’t deserve to go through hard route to survive or die because they do not have money to buy drugs to manage whatever health conditions they are battling. I have on good authority that many pensioners especially on the contributory scheme have not been paid since 2016. How do you explain withholding peoples earning for more than 4 years. Their monies is trapped because the government failed to add up its own counterpart contributions. In Osun State or State of Osun, we are killing our pensioners and I wash off my hands from that cruelty as Leader of opposition in the House on behalf of my minority colleagues.
Given the level of indebtedness Governor Oyetola inherited, will it not be fair to say he has done well?
You’re right about the level of indebtedness in the state, but the truth is, Governor Oyetola cannot be excused from the troubling situation of Osun State. While it is correct that Rauf Aregbesola was the Governor when Osun State was recklessly plunged into humongous debt, however, Governor Oyetola was an integral part of that government, and infact, Aregbesola severally refer to him as the ‘Engine Room’ of that government. If you follow a recent exchange between supporters of Aregbesola and Oyetola on social media, you will notice those from Aregbesola side saying Oyetola cannot deny knowledge of most of the things that transpired in the last administration, including throwing Osun State in the ocean of debt. So, he is not free of blame. They jointly imposed the ill fate on our state and people.
But those debts were spent on infrastructures across the State?
Infrastructure like what? I think the media help politicians to manipulate citizens and it is unfair. If you think there are infrastructures that justified the humongous debt incurred by the Aregbesola government, then you should outline them for the public. Most of the roads, like the Osogbo-Gbongan road is left unfinished. How about the Airport in Ido-Osun? Despite the billions of naira reportedly expended on that airport, it is still a bush and you wonder, what are those infrastructures that gulped the billions that Osun is indebted to creditors. If Oyetola want to convince Osun people he is unaware about the reckless handling of the state treasury by his predecessor, he can initiate an inquiry on what happened to every fund that supposedly went to the Airport. Though I heard the Governor is involving the Federal Government to construct the Airport, but the question that needed an answer is where did those money that Aregbesola claimed had been spent went to?
Look at Dagbolu International Market for instance, we were told that billions of naira has been expended on it and how it will be the number one destination for trade in West Africa. But what happened? Nothing, and recently, I heard it has been handed to investors who will do almost everything Osun government claimed it has spent money on. And when you look at Aiyegbaju or Aje Markets, you will have more questions than answers. So, what are those infrastructures? Don’t forget that Osun also made billions in revenue, both from FAAC and IGR sources, when the borrowing spree was going on. If they want to say debt was used on infrastructures, though, they didn’t commensurate with the level of indebtedness, what happened to the revenues that accrued to the state treasury? So, we don’t need to pretend because the reality is right before all of us. With the multiple bailouts that Osun State received from the government, we are not supposed to owe any worker in the civil service. Alas, individual worker has more than normal debts being owed him or her by the government under APC in Osun State. It is sad that we are all bearing the brunts for the mismanagement of the people we call leaders.
So, what can be the reason for this reality you’re saying?
There are a lot of issues, but what I can point out to you now is wastages. In the last ten years that APC has taken charge of the State, scarce resources have went to unexplained ventures. You hear about certain money spent on something, yet you can not see that thing coming to light. A typical example is the MKO Abiola Airport. There is also the Omoluabi Card that gulped big money but till date, no one has seen the card anywhere, nor is the money spent recovered. They went to Cuba, Ghana, and indeed everywhere to lavish money and today there is no value. The state is in distress due to the extravagant nature of the APC led government that ruled before now.
Sometimes ago, the Commissioner for Commerce claimed millions was spent to produce thousands of ‘Osunwon Omoluabi’ and the question anyone should ask is, where are those items? This is some of the things that drained scarce resources. These people are just devising means to make the hallelujah Boys in the government to survive. They are finding foods for their party men to the detriment of the populace. This wickedness can not be allowed to continue by the grace of God.
As a lawmaker in the state, you can not excuse yourself from blame as there are claims that you don’t use your Constituency allowance as dictated. What can you say about that?
(Laughs). I am happy that you asked this question. In the 18 months that we have spent in the House, we did not receive anything called Constituency allowance. Though, I can not blame those who believed we got Constituency allowance because it happened in the past. I was told that when the Speaker Owoeye was the Minority Leader, lawmakers do get as much as N10m as Constituency allowance for whatever project they want to execute in their Constituency. But we don’t get that as far as I’m aware. Infact, we’re not allowed to influence projects in our respective Constituency by the Executive as obtainable in the federal government. What you see me and my colleagues doing are from our salaries because we believe that aside legislative duties, there are certain things that constituents require or need from us. This is the difference between the PDP and other parties. We can not shy away while our people rot in abject poverty. If it means spending the little we have as salary like we have been doing, i will not stop. That is why you see lawmakers do empowerment schemes, help in putting certain infrastructure in place, like paying the counterpart fund for the Owode-Adejuwon Hall I did last year, among other interventions. Sometimes I wonder, if the Governor is settling his party men and women in the house unknown to the entire members. We are the most maltreated parliament that I have witnessed in Nigeria. And it is affecting the masses seriously.
Would I be right to say going by your positions that Governor Oyetola don’t factor lawmakers in his plan?
Well, I cannot tell what he has in mind but the truth is, we’re mostly neglected. Last year, the Governor made some Board Appointments and it will interest you to know nothing was given to us. That was not the tradition in this House. Not even under Aregbesola did that happen? Each Lawmaker then was allowed to nominate at least a caretaker member in the local government where they come from but this time around under Oyetola, it is abandonment episodes. While I cannot say if any of my colleague in their ruling party or the Speaker got anything behind the curtain, but the practice overtime is that lawmaker from each of the Constituency is allowed to make some nominations. Even during the government of Aregbesola, lawmakers without minding their party got nominees in their Constituency and which is how democracy should be. I’m however optimistic that Governor Oyetola will make amends in subsequent appointments or whatever opportunity comes, because as Governor, he’s leading everyone, no matter their political leaning. Though, our parties may be different but we want the same thing as Governor Oyetola, which is for Osun to move forward.
It will interest you to know that up till this moment, we are yet to receive furniture allowance and some other statutory benefits. We’re 18 months gone yet, what we qualified for by the virtue of our position, is not given to us. Funnily, we are the same people who deliberated and approved the payment of some of this benefits to councillors, chairmen and others. Governor Oyetola is simply not fair to us and we have always given him the support he needed. And the Speaker is comfortable at such denials.
Your party, PDP, has been engulfed in crisis for sometime now, don’t you think Osun people will consider you guys unserious?
Let me make something clear here– crisis is a common thing in a political party as people always struggle for control and influence. APC is also not free of crisis even though they are trying to pretend all is well. That is what is happening in Osun PDP and our leaders are already coming together to iron out whatever differences they had and come out stronger. I can assure you that you will soon see Osun PDP united and as a family, work together to wrestle power from APC in 2022 and have our candidate for various position win in 2023. Few days ago, a Senator under APC from Osun State was almost killed at their party meeting in Ikire which was presided by the Deputy Governor. Nothing as worse is happening in PDP. We will soon get over the little challenge.
And if you take your time to gauge the pulse of Osun people, you will notice that they are tired of APC and they see our PDP as the alternative. They actually did show that in 2018 but the power that be truncated their will, which would have informed their apathy in 2019 election. We will put our house in order and Osun people can be rest assured that through their supports, we will be forming a responsible government at the State in 2022.
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