Otunba Dayo Adeneye, the Ogun State Commissioner for Information and Strategy in an interview with Cletus Akwaya and Kazeem Akintunde of Leadeship newspaper, spoke on how the state government has been able to attract huge investments and turn around the fortunes of the state:
On the recently launched School feeding programme, what are the plans of the Ogun State Government for its sustainability?
First of all, let me say that it is a federal government initiatives by President Buhari. It was part of his campaign promises during the election, part of the change he promised and let me allay the fear of our people, yes we have had projects in the past that were not sustained but I can assure you that this particular one will be different. I mean you and I you could remember that when we are growing up, we had free meal in school, there is no reason why the federal government should not be able to sustain this. The cost is not that much and there has been a correlation that has shown that well-fed children are easier to teach, they pay attention better and learn faster than children that come to class on an empty stomach. We must sustain it; it is something we owe our children. So I can assure that the federal government will not relent in delivering and of cause you know Ogun State, we are also supporting, we didn’t just sit on the federal government initiatives, we also assisted in terms of materials, training and some supplements for the local vendors, the opportunities abound and the value chain is tremendous.
Have you been able to capture all the Primary and Secondary School students in the State in the programme?
Not yet. We are presently serving primary one to three pupils and we are starting with about 500 schools, it is a gradual process and you should remember that all the vendors have to be trained on how to cook and how it should be presented and served to the children so we are launching in batches and we hope that in the next couple of weeks the entire student populace would be captured.
How has it been projecting the image of this administration in the last two years?
It is good news in the sense that the promises that were made during the campaign are being fulfilled one after the other, this is not even something that we should be beating our chest on, we need to feed these children, if we want them to learn. Every child deserves at least a meal a day, it is something we owe them not just as parents but as a government. So I think it is good. My only reservation is that it took this long to start but when you look at the logistics, it is better to cross all the “Ts” and dot all the “ls”and start on a sound footing, rather than kick, start and stop. We are glad that we have kick-started it and we hope that our citizens appreciate it and help us sustain it.
Let us talk about federal government bailout funds. The story from some states is not that palatable, what is your own story?
Ogun State is unique. The first we received was budget augmentation or bailout as people called it but those funds, in receiving them, we used it to clear backlog of salaries and the auditors, in the ministry of finance, listed Ogun State as one of those states that have complied. I will also tell you that in the repayment of those loans, Ogun was the only state that opted for a 10 year repayment plan as opposed to the 20 years that other states asked for. By so doing we were able to save Ogun tax payers money to the tune of over N80bn. It has made our monthly repayment to go up because we should have been paying around N500m but it’s now up to between N1bn and N1.1bn a month. But we are saving our citizens huge chunk of money. Whoever is going to inherit this government is not going to be saddled with the responsibility of payment back huge debts. Secondly, when we received the Paris Club refund, we received just a little over N10bn and the federal government said states should spend 25 percent in clearing salary arrears and pensions but this government chose to spend the entire amount and also added around N3bn. So we allocated about N13.5bn to salaries, pensions and gratuities, so that tells you that this administration is complying more than the directives. We are very much happy in taking care of the welfare of our workers and citizens.
With so much going to the emoluments of workers, is this not at the detriment of other sectors?
No I won’t say that. I want you to drive around the state capital and see things for yourself. We have diversified the economy of the state from day one. We have increased our IGR from N700m, an amount which we met when we came in 2011. But it now rovers around N4.5bn to N5bn monthly. I think these workers, public servants help us to generate this IGR and their welfare must be paramount to us too. And that is why they will continue to work hard for us so that Ogun State will continue to enjoy its rightful place in the scheme of things. We became the industrial hub of Nigeria on the strength of what they put in and their welfare should be of utmost importance to us.
As you are very close to Lagos which is the commercial nerve centre of the country, what things have your government put in place to endear the state to investors?
Let me say that the most important thing is security. Ogun State is the most secured state in the country. No visitor, not to talk of investors, will be willing to come to a state where you are not sure of your security, where you can’t sleep with your two eyes closed. Not to talk of investing in the state. We have invested heavily in security, we have rejigged our architecture on security. Ogun is now very attractive to these investors. We have the manpower that they are looking for, we have the land, the space which they are looking for which may not be available in the neighbouring state. We are the gateway state and you can’t access other parts of the country without passing through the state. We have a one stop shop where they could access all that they needed. When we came in in 2011, I think the world bank rated Ogun state number 35 with ease of doing business in the country. But going by the last report in 2014, we are among the first five and it has stayed like that. Those are some of the reasons why we have been able to attract investors to the state. In the last 5 years, we have about 118 new investors in the state who have invested between $200m and $ 1.2 bn.
Going by that estimate, we could assume that you have been able to attract over $100bn to the state?
You could safely say that we have quite a lot of manufacturers that export from the state. We have a number of ceramic products, from the local cement and the quarry that we have here. We also have our bi annual investor’s forum which we used to showcase what we have to the outside world and that has kept them coming.
Talking about the diversification programme of the federal government, to move from oil to other sectors of the economy particularly Agriculture, how is the state tackling it?
Like I said we have been at it since this government came in in 2011. The Single Treasury Account, (TSA) that the federal government instituted recently started from day one in 2011. So we have always looked for other areas to generate income and agriculture is one key area that we have tapped into now. if you visit some of our farm settlements you will find Phd. holders at Owowo. The last time I was there I counted 15 young Phd. holders that are into husbandry, farming and they are doing fine. Our neighbouring state has a population of close to 20m, somebody has to feed them and we are praying and hoping that it will be Ogun State. We want to be able to feed not just Ogun State but our neighbouring States and Nigeria. We are investing heavily in agriculture too. The Agric Minister has been here several times as well as others stakeholders involved in the sector. What we need is assistance from relevant government agencies.
What is your government doing as regards completing ongoing projects around Alagbole and some other border towns in the state?
Let me take a wild guess, you live around there. Well, I answered this question almost on a weekly basis because most of my friends, who are journalists, live around these areas. Look, we are very concerned about our border towns. I will say this because my friends do accuse me of neglecting the border towns but I will always tell them that these things require capital. Yes the government can say who gave you the building permits, where did you buy the land? Is it from the government? Now you want us to build the roads, provide electricity, schools etc, but you work in Lagos, shop in Lagos pay your tax in Lagos. Though it is our sister state but you want us in Ogun State to provide all the amenities for you. But be that as it may, you are Nigerian citizens, we shall provide those amenities. We will. We have been urging our people in that area to pay their taxes where they reside which is Ogun State. Having said that you can see that we have started those projects. We are building five bridges along that axis. The least completed is about 60-70 percent complete. The road according to the engineer won’t take more than three months. It is those bridges that have been giving us headache and everybody knows that it consumed money. We started those bridges because we are very ambitious to develop the state but along the line things nosedived and that is where we find ourselves as a country, things slowed down a bit, but now we have partners who are coming in to assist us so we are going to resuscitate those projects and that is why we have asked our citizens there to be patient with us. The previous administration that saw the need of that axis didn’t touch it because they knew that it would consume a lot of money, nothing less than N70bn to N80bn to complete that road. That’s a lot of money and that was why previous administration didn’t touched it, in fact, they ran away from it. This administration has been bold enough to take the bull by the horn to tackle it. If it is finished it would open up the entire area and that is why we have been pleading for patience. Look at the Palms shopping mall in Ota, the management told us that what they sell in a month is more than what they sell sometimes in South Africa in a year. So that tells you that this administration is forward looking. We know what our citizens want but the challenge is where we have found ourselves in terms of capital. We urge our people in our border towns to please remember to pay your taxes where you reside and also please be patient with us, we are coming back in the next few weeks.
Culled from: LEADESHIP
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