Chief Bisi Ilaka is an astute politician who needs no introduction in Oyo State politics. The Ladilu of Oyo town is the Chief of Staff to Governor Seyi Makinde. In this interview with Newspeakonline, he speaks about the achivements of the Makinde-led administration in the pacesetter state, politics and the opposition among others
Governor Seyi Makinde will be two years in office in about three months from now. His first year in office was smooth, his goodwill soared. But in the last six months, things seem to be changing. What is the government doing differently that is possibly changing the perception of people towards it?
I have been with the administration from the transition committee to having the privilege of being the first appointee of the executive governor till we were joined by other members of the administration. I think the bar was set pretty too low for us. But we set very high standards and we have maintained that by and large. Just like any other administration, there will be midterm blues and people will re-evaluate and we now pitch it a lot higher. What we have done has now become generally acceptable. The fact that kids go to school today without paying any money, they get free textbooks and free exercise books. Our hospitals are working, our economy is expanding and these are taken for granted. So people are now saying, what’s next? This is keeping us on our toes and I am sure we will definitely meet up with the challenge. We don’t expect it to be plain-sailing all the time. And again, we are operating against a backdrop where the other side is made up of a team of propagandists who are willing to spin and spin. We also live in an environment where there is a lot of fake news and this makes it further challenging for all parties concerned to dissect what is true from what is not. But what is most important to us is that we have remained focused. We have set the objective all along that it won’t be business as usual. We know we will never be perfect, but we will strive for perfection nonetheless. We don’t expect it to be easy. We are up to the task as to the various challenges. We expect a multitude of challenges and our heart is in the right place. We have men of great intellect working with us and I am sure that with that combination we will get the results that the good people of Oyo State deserve.
You are of the view that people have already taken for granted what you have achieved in the last 18 months and are now asking for more. With what has been happening in the last six months, is your government rethinking how to do governance in a way that will impress voters again or you are just concentrating on how to win 2023 elections?
When we got in, we quickly realized that in as much as we might have campaigned in poetry, we would govern in prose. We live in the prose and we have been doing that thus far. We have moved from that active politicking to serious governance. It is a major change. Somewhere down the line, we asked for the job and those that we asked for the job from will give us a scorecard and we are mindful of that. In alignment with that, we are keeping our scorecard and we know we are on track. The people we put in various positions to man various operation centres are discharging their responsibilities as they should. We are pretty confident that the electorate will say we have actually done very well.
Could you share with us those projects your government will be rolling out the drums to celebrate in May and telling the people this was not before but is now by the reason of our government?
I can run through a number of things. I will say basically our people like to see a lot of physical things. What I will talk about will align with the pillars and thrust of the administration which are education, healthcare, security and expansion of the economy. In the area of education, when we came in Oyo State was languishing in terms of the ‘league table’ for NECO and WAEC. We were in the 26, 28 and 29 positions at various times in the last administration. But the last examination, we came 11th because we really had our hands properly on the steering in terms of education since we came on board. The changes we have put in place will percolate through and will become permanent and I am sure next year we will be in a single digit position and do even better. Oyo State has always been regarded as the centre of excellence for education and fountain of knowledge in Africa. We have also succeeded in getting the sole ownership of the Ladoke Akintola University of Technology (LAUTECH) which has been pretty contentious. In terms of finding funding for the school, we will continue what we have been doing solely. I am sure our people are quite happy about that, that we brought the old tussle with Osun State to a permanent end. We kept and maintained the Technical University in Ibadan. The mandate of the school has expanded and they are also firing on all cylinders. We have looked after our tertiary education system. We came in when lecturers were being paid 25 per cent of their salaries. We have been paying them full salaries and promptly too. We even promised to pay the arrears owed them by the previous government and we are doing that. We are rolling out wi-fi in our schools. We are teaching and training teachers in ICT. We have a whole lot of teachers being trained at Saint Annes’ School and Government College. The cabling for the wi-fi in our schools and major health centres has been done and we are talking to all kinds of people. Talking about infrastructure, our secretariat is the only one that has wi-fi in the country today, even Lagos State has not got that.
On healthcare, through the eight years of the late Governor Abiola Ajimobi, no single healthcare centre was commissioned. We have commissioned about seven and we intend to do one in every of the 351 wards in the state before the end of the administration. We know how to get the money for it and so funding is not an issue. It is not a wish-list, it is what we will do. We have got to have a kind of an integrated healthcare system and with regard to the secondary healthcare system. Adeoyo Hospital, when we came in, had a patchy diagnostic system, we have put in place a lot of diagnostic and radiography equipment. We have established a strong MoU with the UCH to provide us specialists in all our secondary and tertiary healthcare facilities. We will exchange the know-how that resides predominantly at the UCH in Ibadan. In Saki, we have set up a specialist hospital. We had the challenge of COVID-19 and I think we have done admirably well with it. The recovery rate has been quite decent.
With regard to security, contrary to what people might read in the newspapers, in my humble opinion, we inherited a lot of challenges. The main one was that in our inner cities, we have a lot of unemployed youths who create formations into gangs and cause mayhem from time to time. That is an overhang of unemployment and lack of training. Added to this is the fact that a lot of people have been displaced, particularly from Lagos and they have been literally dumped on us. We are dealing with the challenges and we are seeing some results. Since the advent of Amotekun, particularly in Oyo town where I come from, our people no longer feel those moments of angst they used to feel.
The issue of Fulani herdsmen differs from one locality to another. So, we are not trying to use a one-size-fits-all approach. We are engaging with stakeholders and federal security agencies have started responding a little bit better. They have been pretty absent for a little while, particularly the police, shortly after the #EndSARS protest. That created a void and we are filling that void. From what I hear and read from dispatches from our neighbouring Ogun, Lagos, Ekiti and Ondo States, on a daily basis, there are a lot more incidents happening there than in our state. So, we are not doing badly in the area of security.
Our major focus is that we want to expand our economy and we have put a lot of things in place with regard to that. There has been a major infrastructural deficit in the state over the years. By May, the Moniya-iseyin Road, which is a major road in the state, will be completed. The project is 80 to 90 per cent done. We have various road projects which are all scheduled to finish by the end of the third quarter of this year. These are roads in Ogbomoso, Oyo, Ibadan, Saki and people will see the roads completed. The Lekan Salami Stadium in Adamasingba will come on stream and we have also got stadia in Oyo, Ogbomoso, Saki, and Eruwa which are being totally refurbished as well.
Our farm estates are also coming on stream. With regard to cattle rearing, the issue of Fashola Farm has come to the fore again. There has been story of Fashola being a cattle breeding centre. So, we are setting up a farm estate there which will produce and process a lot agricultural products. We are partaking in the value addition of agricultural and food production because food security is a major focal point for us and we know we can become the food basket of the country. Other farm estates in Eruwa and Akufo will come alive soon and further down the road, those in Iresaadu, Ijaye and others will follow suit. Generally, we think we have a comparative advantage in agriculture because we have a landmass of about 28, 454 square kilometers and virtually everything can grow in the state because our vegetation is derived from savannah to rain forest. So, as long as you get your agronomy and other issues right, virtually everything can be produced in the state. So, we are going to use agric as a veritable tool to do that.
Our pacesetter transport system has been re-energised and it has taken delivery of about 100 buses and we expect them not only to be intra-city; they will also be inter-city. So you will see these mint buses plying the roads of the state and our neighbouring states shortly. They will also do cross-national and go to places like Cotonou and Accra. We will have our terminals up by the end of the year, our terminals at Challenge, Ojoo and Iwo Road, the list goes on. People may say buying cars for the judiciary is not any achievement, but this is against the backdrop that nobody has bought anything for them in the last 10 years. I won’t talk about the refurbishing of the mediation centre which will help us in terms of alternative dispute resolution (ADR). There are many more good things we have done as a consequence of doing governance. Governance has been absent in Oyo State for a long time. There are so many things we have done which are routine stuff. We don’t expect a big slap on the back for paying workers’ salaries on the 25th of every month since we came on board and for also adding the 13th month every December. The truth of the matter is that salaries were not regular under the last administration of the All Progressives Congress (APC). We have done all these things and we have kept faith with our people. We told them we would be honest and think about the people first, second, third and all the time, that is what we have done. We have put the people at the centre of our agenda and we intend to keep doing that.
Issues have been raised about the priority of projects like the bus terminals and even the cost, which some say could have been handled via a public-private partnership rather than government solely shouldering it. We know you ask contractors to go look for funds for these projects and they get back their money bit by bit…
Before we came in, time after time, there has been this Yoruba adage that awo o ka oju ilu [the membrane is not enough to cover the circumference of the drum], against that backdrop, we knew funding was going to be a challenge, not just for this administration but all other administrations because government wants to do a lot of things, but it can’t do all things. So, we have to be innovative, hence this alternative project funding strategy by our administration. One, we have had a plethora of badly done projects, uncompleted projects in the state, even projects that have failed shortly after they were commissioned. The state is dotted with all these badly done projects. So, what we have done is to find a way whereby we get the funding for projects and we don’t have to pay all at once. We have got a lot of contracts where advanced payments have been made and the contractors varnished either through the collusion of our predecessors or others. That was the norm in the state. So, we came up with this strategy to shift the risk back to the contractors. Let them go and perform and based on their performances, we will pay them bit by bit. One thing we know for a fact is that none of those projects will fail and they will all be delivered and they will be in Oyo State and people will be able to point to them and see that they have got value for their money. Instead of paying lump sum on such projects, we stretch our money over two or even three budgetary cycles. The fact is that our contractors will deliver world-class projects because we are benchmarking against the best projects globally. This government is always striving for that value proposition for our people. Before he does anything, the governor asks the question: what is in it for the people of Oyo State? This approach of ours is the best method, new and innovative as it might be, at the end of the day, it focuses on how to get value for our people.
Again, we don’t try to do all things. The things government should do we are doing and will continue do. We are also always looking for the inclusion of the private sector for them to bring their skills, know-how and appetite for risk into the government sector. So, most things we do, there is private sector participation one way or the other. We know we don’t know it all and the private sector is quite a lot more nimble than the public sector. So, we are looking to leverage on that. As to funding, we will pay all our contractors. There has not been any default on our part in terms of any payment. If we had defaulted, the news would have been all over town.
Some of us who are observers notice that things is not well with the PDP in the state. Some leaders are bellyaching about the style of the governor. As the Chief of Staff, are you not worried that the matter may escalate if not nipped in the bud now?
In politics, everybody is important. Having said that, I know politics to always be a story of strife. When it is blissful, the strife will always come. So, we will always have challenges. We have dealt with this particular challenge in a number of ways. My role as Chief of Staff is to address a lot of issues behind the scenes, without asking for thank you from anybody. I won’t expect people to thank me for doing my job. It is a job I took and I know the job description and I will work at it. I am sure a lot of people’s challenges will be addressed. Politics is all about style. Not everybody can love the style of Governor Seyi Makinde. There will be dissenters. But we are one band of happy family and I am sure in that family we will find a way, when the chips are down, to understand that this is one family and we can’t allow unnecessary division in our house. The house shall not fail. The house shall remain as one. We will do the job in order to ensure that the house remains as one.
Yes, there are certain concerns. There are some people who feel they contributed to the return of the PDP to power in the state. There are all kinds of different tones, not necessarily discordant. A lot of hands came on deck, a lot of diverse groupings came together and the governor is ploughing through this multitude of interests, satisfying them one after the other. These are the challenges that the governor has to deal with. The thing that endears me the most to Governor Makinde is that his heart is in the right place. He has a keen sense of justice and I know he will do what is right at all times. At the end of the day, we will all sit down and iron out our differences.
Part of their grouse is the way the governor rewarded those called technocrats with juicy appointments such as the lady who heads the Due Process Unit and even the Secretary to the State Government, who were said to be nowhere when others were knocking on doors, asking people to vote for Makinde.
I don’t see any merit in such an argument in as much as I know it exists. The fact of the matter is that the governor or the party is elected to serve everybody, those who voted for the governor and those who didn’t; those who are politicians and those who are not. What is most important to the citizens of Oyo State is that we have a functional government, a government that works and delivers for the man on the streets who will never have the opportunity to say ‘consider me for X,Y,Z.’ And there is a lot more of such people than us.
As for the Due Process woman, if they say she is not capable, then that will be an argument that I will like to get into with anybody. I know she is very competent and a thorough professional and one of the finest in the cabinet. I will say the same for the SSG. At the end of the day, Governor Makinde is the captain of the ship. So, he needs a crew that can row the ship with him. He is not going to have people on board who will be rowing the ship in a different direction. He is the leader of the ship.
In 2019 the people of the state voted massively for Makinde. The PDP was strengthened by an amalgamation of other parties and leaders and the support of the ordinary people. Since you came in, it looks like you have not been able to keep the PDP together as a party, including members of the coalition. When a hitherto opposition party wins an election and is in government, its ranks should swell after two years with many people coming to join the party. It does not look like that is the story of the PDP in Oyo State.
You obviously do not know that the PDP is the biggest party in the state as we speak in terms of membership strength and other factors. I personally have been joining leaders of the PDP and others to welcome thousands of people from all other parties into the PDP since we came on board. I look at this without rose-tinted glasses. My glasses are very clear on this. What we had from 2015 till date even beats all kinds of Hegelian dialectics because we have been in flux for quite a while. People don’t really understand the narrative, but I will give you some of it. When I first joined politics, I was in the PDP, but somehow I ended up in a party led by Senator Rashidi Ladoja called Accord. At a certain point in time in 2015, after our defeat in an election that I really think we should have won, a coalition of sort was proposed at that point. But somehow, it did not work. Post-2015, politicians were chattering all over the place about members of the opposition have learnt their lesson and were asking what’s next? Senator Ladoja, being the first among all, not the first among equals because there is none that is his equal in the state, contested to become the national chairman of the PDP. So, we all ended up in the PDP. We might not have joined the PDP, we probably might have remained in Accord. We rejoined the PDP and we said we would build the party from bottom up and so we started retooling the party on a ward by ward basis. Later, Senator Ladoja and others pulled out and some of us remained in the PDP. After the presidential and National Assembly election, we looked at our scorecard. Previously, we didn’t have any true data to work with. When we had the data, as politicians, we knew how to interpret the data. At that point, a proposition was also made to come together. So, the complexity of the political arrangements remained in permanent flux.
Having delivered the governorship in 2019, various constituent elements of this big coming together brought out their spoons to play. Some got some meat. Some didn’t like the formula thing and they felt things could have been allocated in a certain way but the governor had his own idea. He has tried to be fair to all. If you say out of 100, I think he has scored about 80 to 85 per cent. But politics is not exact science. There are shortcomings he will address his mind to. Even the PDP itself has remained in flux. Three quarters of ADC members and those who contested particularly the national and state assembly elections are in PDP today. There is no such thing called ADP anymore because majority of them are in PDP. The remnant is left with Otunba Adebayo Alao-Akala. It is same thing with the ZLP. So, in terms of that election in 2019, if you call it spoils of war in terms of harnessing most people in other parties, we in the PDP have become the conquering army. All other parties have had their hamlets deserted and they all reside in our camp. So, this political machinery has got bigger post-2019. We have some dissenters who regard themselves as aborigines in the PDP. They think those who came to swell the party have been given slices of the cake and they have not been given any, this is not so. There is a multitude of interests. This behemoth called the PDP is of all kinds of interests and those interests are being taken care of one after the other.
Are you saying if there is a new coalition in 2023 on the platform of the APC against the PDP and Governor Makinde, you are still sure of victory?
There will always be coalition in politics. Now let’s deal with all kinds of fantasies and wishful thinking because, for me, APC in Oyo State has too many contradictions within it for it to remain the same kind of party that was bequeathed to them by Ajimobi. But having said that, I personally think Oyo is a PDP state. It is for the PDP to lose. The truth of the matter is that opposition parties do not win elections. It is government who loses elections. For us, we do not intend to lose any election. I have contested on the opposition side for some time and I know a thing or two about opposition politics. Oyo has always been a PDP state. The PDP split into about four or five parties. The coming together in 2019 was easy for us because we knew each other all along and we just had issues we had to sort out.
So, you don’t see the APC posing any threat to the PDP in the state in 2023, despite the opposition party boasting of personalities like Alao-Akala, Senator Femi Lanlehin, Senator Teslim Folarin, Bayo Adelabu, Senator Fatai Buhari and others?
I know you are a man of very great words. What you have just described to me says nothing other than Oyo APC being a Tower of Babel.