Oyebisi Alamu needs no introduction in Osun State politics. He was the Commissioner for Works and Transport and later moved to Water Resources and Rural Development under Chief Bisi Akande as the Governor. Alamu, a Chartered Accountant, with a successful private practice, is one of the aspirants for governorship under the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the state. In a chat with newsmen, the erudite accountant speaks on what he has in stock and how he plans to turn the fortune of the state around. Excerpts:
Can you briefly introduce yourself?
I am Oyebisi Alamu. I have an English name that I decided to downplay because unlike James it doesn’t have a meaning and that is Johnson, Johnson Oyebisi Alamu. Those are the names on all my official credentials but I decide to go by Oyebisi Alamu or simply as Bisi Alamu. I am a Chartered Accountant. I have gained experience in several areas of accountancy and I have also been in government for some time.
Some people would refer to you as a green horn in politics. Are you that new?
I am not; I have been in politics since the beginning of this democratic dispensation since 1998. And my entry into politics was dramatic but I will say divine. It was in the course of an activity in the church in Kaduna because I used to live in Kaduna. My pastor wrote a book and he wanted a book review at the launch and the name of Chief Bola Ige just came to my mind but because nobody knew how to get a hold of him so they told me to go ahead – that was how I got a hold of Chief Bola Ige. He didn’t eventually come to review the book even though he accepted. The time of the launching of the book, he was in detention as a prisoner of war by the then military administrator of Oyo State. But from there we formed a very strong relationship. I became conscripted into politics by him. He invited me to come to serve and join Chief Bisi Akande and the others in building the newly formed Alliance for Democracy at that time. And I was appointed commissioner by Chief Akande in 1999. I managed two key ministries at different times, I was first at Works and Transport then Water Resources and Rural Development and since that time, I have been actively involved in politics at the grassroots. I was at a time, a member of the police reform implementation committee at the Federal level and now I sit on the governing council of Osun State Polytechnic, Ire. I have been a delegate to the National Convention of the All Progressive Congress since 2014. So these are the things I have done in politics.
That is quite a lot. Why do you think APC should continue in Osun State and as you are one of the governorship aspirants, what do you have for the people of the state?
I believe government is a continuum. The major problem we have been having in politics is when a new government comes, he disregards the policies and the programs of the outgoing government whereas there are certain things that are good and should be continued, there are other things that can be reviewed that can make them effective and there are new things to be introduced. For example in Osun State, I believe that Governor Rauf Aregbesola has done really well in the development of physical infrastructure. He has also taken bold steps in empowering the people; however, a lot still needs to be done in that area.
For example, the State government has a pact with the Bank of Industry to empower people to industrialize. But I will introduce a new policy that I have and I call it the Ivorian Model. It was actually introduced by the French in Ivory Coast. What they do differently is that they don’t just give people loan, and ask them to produce, but there is constant monitoring and those who excel are further encouraged. I have discovered quite sadly that a lot of politicians will take loans especially ones given by the government as their own share of the national cake thereby blocking the chances of others to enjoy such facilities. The resource available to the government is limited and so it is not something they can continue to take from without refunding the earlier given facilities. It is a revolving thing and concrete steps will be taken to ensure that it is actually revolving and provisional advancement will be provided for the participants of the scheme. I intend on having a bureau of empowerment and job creation and to be minded by core professionals who are experienced in business development and who can assist such businesses. Perhaps it may interest you to know that Osun State is largely endowed with mineral resources that are largely untouched. It is as a result of a number of factors, for example, the Gold which is in the Atakumosa West local government. There is a Gold bet that runs across Osun state that runs as far as Kebbi State but the largest deposit is in Osun State. Several attempts have been made at exploring but I have been a business management consultant for a long time. I found a way that we will tap into it, and begin commercial exploration of the gold mine that will tap into it. Luckily, the Federal government has given approval to explore resources in their various states under the regulation of the Federal Ministry of Power known for mineral development. We also have a lot of mineral resources. Osun State is much endowed with a lot of mineral resources like granite for example, granite, and granite is a commodity that is largely sought within and outside the country. I conducted a recent study and I discovered that we import a lot of granite tiles from Europe. And I ended up finding out that those tiles are from engineered rocks and not natural rocks and market even exist in Europe for our natural granite, because they last longer, they are of better quality and they have higher aesthetic value. I have discovered that we have Kaolin, white marble but the extent of deposit of white marble is still to be proven. It is something that I discovered myself as a result of my work as a commissioner of works. We were constructing a particular road and I discovered that a part of the soil looked different, so I took a sample to be laboratory and it proved to white marble, so we can launch into that. We also have bauxite, betonies, and lot of mineral resources that are largely untouched. The state government will partner with private entrepreneurs because government cannot run a successful business particularly in Nigeria because of so many reasons, so the government will partner with these private entrepreneurs and these solid mineral resources will be mined to the best advantage of the state.
With the present Federal allocation and the Internal Generated Revenue of Osun State, how do you think all the projects can be financed?
You will see that all the programs I have highlighted so far are income generating projects. We cannot only rely on the revenue of the state even though it is not spent on any other thing, particularly the gold. It was estimated that a sum of $1.5 billion was needed to mine the gold successfully in year 2000 because the quality of gold we have here is the same as the one in South Africa and it is the main stream of their economy. We will partner with development institutions both home and abroad. They are income generating ventures that will finance themselves and still bring returns for the state. But there are some other things; the governor has done so well in providing physical infrastructures for schools. We will go into Human Development Infrastructure.
I am a teacher and I trained at Wesley College Ibadan and I know what it is to develop the education sector, to develop people who will man the structures put in place. If you see some of the model schools built by the present government in Osun State, you will see that they are beautiful to behold. It is a good learning environment that intoxicates. The people need to be developed so they will be able man them to a level that will complement the physical infrastructures put in place.
How can the government raise the present IGR?
Talking about raising the IGR of the state, the IGR is low. A spillover of developing industries in the state might be raising the IGR. But as an accountant, I have been in practice for over 31 years, I will not focus solely on raising the IGR, I will also focus on blocking wastages. This is because no matter the level of IGRs you have, if there are loopholes, conduit pipes, it will amount to nothing. That is the first thing that I will look into to ensure that whatever the state generates will be spent on the benefit of the citizenry. Then, thereafter we can think of ventures that we can engage in that will boost the IGR of the state and we will also encourage taxable adults in the state to come into the tax merge. In actual facts, by the time they see what the tax payers money is doing, everybody will be encouraged to come into the tax merge.
For example, when I was the Commissioner for Works, I managed a World Bank project and towards the end, the engineers thought they will not have enough money to complete the project, but I looked into the whole structure of the project and I discovered that we could complete them. To be on the safer side though, I wrote an application to the governor that we may need additional money from the treasury to complete the project but I am not asking for it now, conserve it, if we need it we will come back for it but we do not need it will remain there in the treasury. To the glory of God, we finished the project without asking for a kobo more of the project, we still saved up about N70 million from the project. People wanted to share the money saved from the project so that everybody will be happy, they even went as far as sending some of my colleagues on the cabinet to me that I was being crazy that if I wasn’t a Chartered Accountant I wouldn’t have been able to save any money. If I saved it because I was a Chartered Accountant and I spent it, it was not fraud. And I was quick to mention that part of the reasons that was cited for my inclusion into the cabinet was because I was a Chartered Accountant. And I was expected to bring my experience and provisional knowledge to bear on the job that I am doing. So what we did was to buy brand new construction equipment for the Ministry of Works and those equipments are still being used up till today. When I got to the Ministry of Water Resources, I discovered that build a hand held borehole, they were taking N450 000 from the government. I looked into the cost structure and I brought the amount down to N150,000. I was not even using the whole N150,000 we were using N109,000 for each borehole and the remaining N41,000 was being kept in our equipment maintenance account. We were repairing our vehicles and other equipments without going to the treasury for money. And that was what I meant about blocking wastages, if I could bring down the cost of drilling borehole by thirty percent of what was being taken before, it will block a lot of wastages. Then to drill a motorized borehole, I was spending N550,000 naira. As of that time, the borehole would have submersible pump and overhead tank. At the same time, the Federal government was giving out the same project for N13.5 million. I was able to make a lot of savings for the state. I think if I am able to cover every ministry as the Governor, I will be able to save more and we will have enough finance the activities of the government.
Some politicians believe that if their ambition cannot be actualized in a party, they will move to the next party, what do you feel about this?
Since the beginning of this democratic dispensation and my involvement in partisan politics I have always been a disciple of the Awo’s crew of politics and that is why I have moved from Alliance of democracy to Action Congress of Nigeria and now APC. When we were rigged out in 2003, the government of Price Olagunsoye Oyinlola was trying to buy legitimacy and so they targeted some of us who were seen as very close to Chief Bisi Akande. Initially, what they wanted to do in my own case was to harass me into submission. When I was in the Ministry of Water Resources, my desire to create boreholes in the state, we could not provide pipe borne water so we wanted to provide borehole water which could serve as alternative means to the rural of the rural communities. As at that time, we only had one rig which was given by UNICEF and has been in use since 1995 so what we decided to do was to buy two additional rigs. Unfortunately, the rigs that we got were not particularly useable in the state. After all efforts to make the rigs work failed, we now wrote a letter to the suppliers to take it back and they should refund our money, unfortunately none of that had been done when we left the office. We returned one but the second one was still in the state. But when Oyinlola’s government came, they tried to make a scandal out of the rig. They invited me to come and meet with the governor but because I knew what they were planning, I refused to meet the governor in private. Eventually, I was invited by the State House of Assembly. On July 23,2003 was the day I appeared at the state house of assembly. There were lawmakers who were understandably hostile because during that time, we had 24 PDP members and only two AD members and of the two AD members only one was around, Colonel Ogunsehimi that was representing Ori-Ade State Constituency that was present at the floor of the house that time so they were very hostile. Eventually they noticed that I could not be shaken because I took all he precautionary measures to ensure that we get the best and I took all corrective measures to ensure that we had value back for our money. Funny enough, Governor Oyinlola travelled to London with some of the staff responsible for rural water and not only did they bring the rig back, they even paid more money to the suppliers which was curious. When they saw that they had failed, they and could not harass me into submission, they became conciliatory and they even dangled the carrot before that I should come and become a commissioner in the cabinet but I turned that down. I asked the people that came to me. I have said so much negative things about PDP because that is what I see in them. Will I now say that what I said about them was not correct or I was not in my right senses when I highlighted them or that the situation has changed, so I remained where I was that is in the progressive camp.
During the national congress of APC in Abuja, some states disagreed openly, what can you say about APC in Osun State, was or is there any rancor?
There can be family disagreements; it is when it becomes intractable that you call it rancor. Even in the nuclear family, there can be disagreements. It is the resolution machinery that should be sharpened so that nobody feels cheated. The congress to select our aspirants should be coming up in July. The gubernatorial election itself is coming up on September 22 and the swearing in of the governor is on November 27 by the grace of God. I am sure that whatever disagreement that may ensure, the leadership of the party is up to the task in solving them.
There is a strong clamour by the people of Osun West Senatorial district that it is their turn to produce the next Governor and you are from the senatorial district, what is your take on this?
We are meeting particularly those of us from the Osun West Senatorial district and are agreeing to support whoever emerges as the governorship candidate of the party. We are meeting with the others because we believe that they should not aspire to be governor again now. For example in Osun Central, that is where my Governor, Chief Bisi Akande came from for four years. That’s where Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola came from and he spent seven years and a half making a total of eleven and a half years. Osun East Senatorial District is where the current Governor came from and by the grace of God, on November 26, he would have been eight years old in government. Osun West produced the first governor of the state and that is late Dr Isiaka Adetunji Adeleke who ruled for only 22 months before it was truncated. So we believe in equity and fairness so we should be given the opportunity to produce the next governor of the state and that is why all of us have come together. We are all core professionals and we believe that the party leadership should be able to identify with one of us who will carry out the ideals of the party and give him the nod to carry the party flag at the election.
During your time as the Commissioner for Works and Transport, you execute lots of laudable projects, how did you manage to do all these?
Luckily, my Governor, Chief Bisi Akande was a very prudent and conservative man. Don’t forget that he was in both the private and government sector. He was SSG to Chief Bola Ige. Prior to that, he was an employee of British Petroleum and he was in the Accounts department and some other related departments. By the time we came to Osun State, we discovered that so many reasons were responsible for high contract cost. The first was that contractors were not sure of prompt payment after executing contract. Several contractors do not have the financial capabilities to run contracts so they will go to bank and obtain loans and of course when contacts application premium is paid, bank interest will be running. So the first thing the government did was to ensure that the money needed for all projects was already conserved. So as soon as contractors submit their evaluation certificates, they are paid. So nobody was owed, that brought construction price down considerably. In the case of government secretariat, what we did was to select high caliber contractors who had the financial muscle and who could not abandon projects and one of the ways of disallowing them from abandoning projects was to make them finance the projects up to a certain stage before they are paid and that was exactly what worked for us. I remember that shortly after we left office, Governor Oyinlola was sworn in, one staunched PDP member told me in confidence that the governor’s office which we built for one billion naira, that if it were to be in their own government they would have built it for nothing less than four billion naira even as at that time. For other contracts that we engaged in, what we did especially for those we used indigenous contractors for, we give them 60 percent mobilization, complete the contract then come back for your balance. Of course, if you are a serious contractor, 60 percent will take you somewhere. Even if you are to borrow, it will be minimal. That was how we operated and that was what brought glory to the State.
Prior to Chief Bisi Akande’s government, virtually all government offices were operating from rented apartment all over town but we were able to bring all ministries to one place and even reduce the cost of governance.