A former Commissioner for Justice and Attorney General of Oyo State, Honourable Bayo Lawal, is the acting governor of Oyo State. In this interview with WALE AKINSELURE, he speaks on the experience as acting governor, commitment of Oke-Ogun geopolitical zone to the second term ambition of his principal, Governor Seyi Makinde, local government funding and administration, politics and governance in the state.
In few weeks, you have moved from being a running mate to deputy governor and then, acting governor. How would you describe the experience as acting governor?
First and foremost, I will like to say that events that led to my emergence as acting governor were not anticipated. All of a sudden, the House of Assembly removed the former deputy governor. It became public when the House of Assembly asked the former deputy governor to react to some complaints. In reacting, the House of Assembly, in line with constitutional provisions, asked the Chief Judge of the state to set up a panel for the former deputy governor to respond to some indictable offences.
In short, the former deputy governor was indicted and was impeached and then removed. All of those happened rapidly; so you could imagine the events that brought me up as acting governor. However, I must give it to the governor himself, Engineer Seyi Makinde, who even when I became the deputy governor thought it wise that I could stand in for him as acting governor.
That is quite unprecedented in the annals of political circumstances in Nigeria. Flipping back to the first republic, we have not had such an experience, especially in South Western Nigeria. This will be the first time a sitting governor will devolve powers to his deputy. With profound respect and humility, I thank His Excellency for trusting and reposing confidence in me that I could act in for him while on vacation. Initially, I thought it would be a tea party. Don’t forget that even before my emergence as deputy governor, he gave me an assignment as Chairman, Oyo State Housing Corporation. But, our activities at the Housing Corporation are incomparable to the larger picture of governance associated with the office of the governor. In this office, there are multifaceted responsibilities, particularly in a state like Oyo State. There is security, political, social, economic responsibilities. There is also relationship between government and traditional rulers; relationship between government and civil servants; relationship between government and the organised private sector.
The list is endless and a governor must contend with these areas. If you say we have 30 hours in a day, it will still not be enough, let alone 24 hours. The responsibilities are enormous. Nevertheless, we must allocate time and apply what I often call critical path analysis in navigating all these responsibilities. This means we prioritise and sieve before decisions are taken. Let me add that when the governor was going on vacation, he left the state with me to exercise discretion; to take responsibilities unfettered for which I am grateful.
You mean you do not have to place a call through to the governor to seek final approval on any decision you want to take
No. Crosscheck. If I take a decision, it is with full responsibility as acting governor of the state. I have never sought any clarification since I assumed this office of acting governor. And he has not, for a moment, asked any question. That is the relationship and how far we have been going.
Your emergence as running mate for the 2023 governorship election was greeted with questions about your religion. Where did that come from? Why was your religious background being doubted?
I have always known that truth will stand erect; nobody can bend truth. I was born a Muslim; I have not for once changed religion; my parents were Muslims and I have not had any cause to doubt myself as to whether I am a Muslim or not. Let me say that in this game of politics, as I have often told my associates, anywhere competition is in place, it is a game of disqualification. Nobody will qualify you. For quite some time, you have been in my house; that is a mosque there. I have been living in this house for more than a decade, with a mosque. Even on appointment, I have always worshipped at the Oyo State Housing Corporation mosque.
They had a smaller mosque when I got there, and as a Muslim, I saw the need for expansion and there is an ongoing construction of a mosque at the Housing Corporation with support of all my colleagues there. It is just that I have been quiet about it. I have supported Islamic organisations, Muslim establishments with blocks of rooms. I have contributed about N20 million in a single act of supporting a Muslim cause. I have people around here that can bear witness to all these claims. But, since it is a game of disqualification and people bring up things. I have Imams, Islamic scholars around me who have said that making that allegation alone is a sin. For a Muslim to accuse a fellow Muslim, who consciously tells you he or she is a Muslim, is a crime for which they must apologise to Almighty Allah. May I tell you that all those who have raised the allegation have come to me to apologise.
We approach the 2023 general election and one recalls the circumstances upon which you emerged, especially the removal the former deputy governor, Engineer Rauf Olaniyan, who is your kinsman from Oke-Ogun. Don’t you fear that those circumstances may affect your desire for bloc Oke-Ogun votes for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the election?
Let me unequivocally and unambiguously put it on record that in Oke-Ogun, comprising 10 local government areas, there is no individual, as of today, of my age, experience, exposure, political stature that can rival my political influence across the 10 local government areas of the zone. I am saying that with seriousness and assertion because there is no socio-cultural organization in Oke-Ogun that I have not been a member, including Oke-Ogun Progressives Movement (OPM), Oke-Ogun Development Consultative Forum (ODCF) and others. It is either I was their secretary-general or member of their Board of Trustees among others. In the 70s, I was part and parcel of when OPM was formed. The oldest person in that forum is Baba Oyedemi of Okeho. I was involved in all the agitations of the forum either for state creation or for institution of higher learning or for others.
My office was the natural office of such movements from Oke-Ogun. Only last week, the Council of Oke-Ogun indigenes came on a courtesy call. It has never happened to any Oke-Ogun indigene. I am not only a current trustee of ODCF; I am Secretary of the Board of Trustee and ODCF is the umbrella organization of Oke-Ogun. In my own town, I am Bamofin of Kisi land and I know my activities within the community. I have lived all my life in Oyo State, particularly in Oke-Ogun. Politically, since the inception of this republic, I have participated very actively to the extent that between 1999 and 2003, I was the Honourable Attorney General of the State. I came from that Oke-Ogun bloc and I have done my bit to support my people from that region.
I have contested Senatorial election, and this captures the entire Oke-Ogun and part of Ogbomoso zone. So, who can say that Bayo Lawal is not a political figure in Oke-Ogun zone? A testimony to that is that when I emerged deputy governor cum acting governor, all the traditional rulers, at the last count, 41 of them, paid a courtesy call on me. The League of Alfas and Imams have also come to pay a courtesy call on me. In the last two to three weeks, that I have been acting as governor of Oyo State, virtually all the socio-cultural organisations in Oke-Ogun have paid me courtesy visit. You are a journalist. You can compare and contrast. I will not raise issues of popularity with anybody but I am here to say that I am standing on a very firm ground of prominence in Oke-Ogun area.
If people feel that because I am coming on board as running mate, they are jittery, that is their own cup of tea. Moving together with my principal, the governor of Oyo State, we are going to win convincingly in the forthcoming general election. I have told people that the 10 local government areas of Oke-Ogun zone will deliver such great margin of success; we are looking at 90 percent delivery for the PDP. The other political parties can share the remaining 10 percent. Anything below 90 percent delivery, local government by local government, will not be good enough for us, by our standard. Governor Seyi Makinde has tremendously assisted us in Oke-Ogun and we must reciprocate the good gesture he has shown to us.
Beyond Oke-Ogun zone, you need votes across the state. Quite a number of people in other zones have left your party. Some of them, including those who were part of the coalition and were instrumental to the victory of the PDP in the 2019 election, have left the party. Are you and members of your party discountenancing that such defections from your party may dampen the chances of the PDP in the 2023 governorship election?
To neophyte politicians, that may mean much. To experienced politicians, there are variables, parameters, computations based on personal interests. And, if those interests could not be fulfilled, on a particular platform, some people may opt out. But, the good thing about politics is that people are exiting, more people are coming in. The gauge to consider whether actions of some people will rub positively or negatively is when you look at it on a global scale.
You ask, are you losing more people than you are gaining. To us, in PDP, we know that far more people are joining every day. Who are those people that are exiting? There are also some of them who are grumbling but are not leaving. When it comes to observing political movements, I can predict where it will end. If people are saying that people are leaving a political platform and joining another platform, the test first, is where are those people moving out going? Are they going to a strong political party that can contend with the platform they are moving out from? If you say people are moving out of PDP, where are they moving to? Some have gone to the Social Democratic Party (SDP), New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP), Labour Party (LP), Accord Party (AP), a few to the All Progressives Congress (APC). I will say that is a good development for the PDP. Since 1999 till date, nobody who has experience, will move out from a strong political platform and join a very weak political platform that cannot win even local government election. I will encourage those who are dissipating energies on third force parties to align and come on board. Let us drive PDP together; it is wide enough to accommodate everybody.
Ten percent of something is better than 100 percent of nothing. If you come on board and you are able to secure 10 percent of what is available in PDP, it is better than 100 percent of nothing elsewhere. I am not seeing anything that can tilt the scale against PDP in the forthcoming election. We will double our efforts. There is a legal maxim that: ‘Don’t rely on the weakness of your opponents; develop your own strengths.’ We are strongly developing our own strengths and there is no doubt, we are coming victorious in 2023.
In as much as you have talked about efforts of the Makinde government in road infrastructure, especially, linking zones, there is still a lot of deplorable intra-city, inner roads. This is being attributed to the fact that local governments are not getting enough funds to fix roads in their domains. Do you really think the state government is empowering the local governments enough to carry out their responsibilities as expected?
Who has complained to you? Where did you get that information from? Road construction is discernible. We are running a federation of three tiers of government: federal, state and local. From the federation account, money is shared among the three tiers. Constitutionally speaking, the structure and composition of local governments is put under sections 8 and 9 of the constitution under the administration of the state government.
The local government, as it were, do not have complete freedom because they are tied, constitutionally, to the apron strings of the state executive. Notwithstanding, it does not mean that they are being denied the money due to them from the federation account because their structure is under the state government. If you accuse any administration of lack of development of roads, you are being mischievous in the sense that the Oyo State government has undertaken road construction that traverses all the local government areas of the state.
The state is not constructing its own roads in the air. All the road projects that the Oyo State government is doing are situated in particular local government areas. Are you telling me that the Moniya-Iseyin road does not traverse local governments? Are you telling me that Saki-Ogboro-Igboho road, that is ongoing, will not traverse particular local governments? Are you saying the one from Gate to Alakia is not traversing particular local governments? About two weeks ago, I moved out to inspect road projects within the Ibadan metropolis and I identified and directed that some spots must quickly be filled. Where is the basis for the assertion that the state government is denying local government funds? As of now, we decided that each local government should propose five kilometres of roads that they can quickly do under the scheme of Oyo State Road Maintenance Agency (OYSROMA).
They have submitted the list of roads across the 33 local government areas of the state. I will oversee that and we will swing into action. Even in advanced democracies, the business of governance does not stop. It is still a work in progress. We cannot cramp the entire job that a government should do into one administration. Since 1999 till date, it is still work in progress. Have they not been making roads? And it will continue.
Your administration is hinged on four pillars: Security, Education, Health and the Economy. Perception about how well you have fared differ among residents of the state, how well do you think your government has fared in each of the pillars?
In security, we have five layers of our security architecture. But for him, it would have been practically impossible for Amotekun to take root and flourish as it is. Today, Amotekun is the in thing in the South Western geopolitical zone. If there is any challenge, the first point of call for response is Amotekun, across the South Western states. This is because, unfortunately, the Nigeria Police has not been catered for adequately and properly to the extent that in various states of the federation, it is the support of state governments that is sustaining the Nigeria Police. In every state administration, you have to buy vehicles; you have to kit them; you have to give them allowance. The only thing perhaps the state administration is not doing is providing arms and ammunition. We are spending a lot of money on security. Oyo State is so large that it is more than three states in the South-South and South-East put together and we are security it.
In education, we talk about human and material improvement. Because of profound interest in educational development, larger chunk of Oyo State budget, since 2019, has been sunk into education. Without motivation of workforce, there cannot be anything tangible coming from education; payment of salaries as and when due is significant, and gives a lot of confidence to our teachers. They are okay just as workers in other segments of the economy are being paid on the 25th of every month.
That is a significant motivation for educational development. As we speak, the financial obligation that the Oyo state government needs to fulfill to the Ladoke Akintola University of Technology (LAUTECH) is in the region of N5billion. Ever since we started reducing the level of obligation, we have not failed as a state to Osun state government and today LAUTECH is fully owned by Oyo State government. I need to add that the ASUU strike does not concern Oyo State government because our obligations are being rendered to the staff of LAUTECH. They embarked on this strike unadvisedly because they needed not embark on it at all.
They called it sympathy strike. Since inception of this administration, we have recruited nothing less than 5,000 teachers for our secondary schools apart from auxiliary staff of about 2,000. We have provided instructional materials, refurbished school buildings to the extent that people are withdrawing their children or wards from private schools to public schools. If our educational system is not being run properly, people will not withdraw their children or wards from private to public schools. Government is also embarking on building model schools across the state.
In health, government is showcasing itself. We have started the provision of health care centres across the 351 wards of the state. So, each ward will be serviced by a primary healthcare centre. Even general hospitals are being refurbished and new ones being established and kitted. About four weeks ago, we were at Tede to inaugurate a new general hospital. That outfit is a state-of-the-art medical centre. There is no local government that is not serviced with a general hospital. You will see the marvelous improvement at the general hospitals at Ring Road and Yemetu. No government can complete the art of governance in one tenure. We are trying to alter positively the face of healthcare delivery in Oyo State. In terms of provision of facilities, we converted a general hospital in Saki to a specialist hospital where all diseases can be handled.