Dr. Akinade Ogunbiyi is the Chairman, of Mutual Benefits Assurance Plc. He is also the Osun State governorship candidate of the Accord Party.
In this interview with FEMI ADEKOYA, he talks about his agenda and economic plans for the state.
What is your motivation for seeking to be Osun State governor and what are your chances?
My motivation for seeking office is pure—to give Osun State a fresh start. There are claims that the state has no resources for the government to leverage, yet I can see opportunities abound. I was a member of the Osun Development Association; I was their Vice Chairman for 18 years where we interact with various governments. I have a clear understanding of what goes on within the state and I have the intention, the desire and the passion to give it a new start.
What is your economic agenda for the state and how do you want to execute it?
We have five key areas. First and foremost, we want to reform education. Education is my priority and our first-year budget will reflect that. If our secondary school students cannot boast of good results, then what are we producing? So, I will focus on primary and secondary schools. I don’t want to promote the current government but with the little I have seen happening at Osun state university, I think they are doing so well. The only thing is they need to change the focus of their teaching so they can produce graduates that will be relevant to society. Apart from that, they are doing very well. But primary and secondary schools are the foundation of education. So, I will focus on education. There will be compulsory free primary education for all our children.
Secondly, I mentioned agriculture. Obafemi Awolowo used agriculture to develop the Western region. But what has our government done in the area of agriculture in the last 15 years? Nothing. We have cocoa, which Awolowo developed and deployed massively. But how much cocoa are we selling now? Who is buying? I went round Osun and this is the second time I am doing so. In 2018, I went around the nooks and crannies of Osun, sometimes I get to a location and I will be crying. Are these things so bad? And again I have gone round, we have all these cash crops that are wasting away, and I will link them to agric-related industries. Oranges, for example, come, but nobody harvests oranges again. Mango, nobody harvests mango again. The little we have is only for consumption. We have companies who depend solely on fruits. I went to Songhai Farm in the Republic of Benin where they process fruits. I will not encourage the government to go into what private companies can do. But we will create an enabling environment so that they can come in.
Like I said, we need to retrain our civil servants. We need to actively retrain them because, without effective civil services, no government can succeed. I will pay attention to that. I will motivate them to be at work, I will guarantee payment of their wages. People who are due for promotion will be promoted, and we would ensure payment of their pension. All these things relating to workers’ welfare would be given priority because you can’t develop anything without effective civil services.
We will bring in agric-related industries. Look at oil palm; Malaysia came in 1969 to take oil palm seed, today Malaysia is the largest exporter of palm oil. What are we doing? I went round, there is no village I went to that I did not see small-scale palm oil processing by the people, using what we call ‘eku’. So, every available resource will be channelled into productive activities. What is missing now is, one, there is lack of initiative in the area of productivity. When the initiatives are not there you cannot talk about getting things done. When we have a government that has initiative, I will use my network to bring in private sector people who will put in money into these various things.
In the area of industrialisation, how do we want to industrialise Osun State? Aside from agro-allied industries, do you know that Osun has 26 commercially viable mineral resources? Ask the government, who are the people mining our gold? Can you identify them apart from Segilola? And they mine raw gold; it is the purest anywhere in the world, 98 per cent pure, and you can put a structure around that gold so that Osun State will earn 13% derivation revenue. We can take a cue from the oil-producing states. I have had engagements with people in the Ministry of Solid Minerals in Abuja. It is about $6 million to do a standard gold refining and processing plant, why can’t we have it?
Today you cannot say this is how much gold is coming out of Osun. Whoever gets a licence, we would supervise the licence. We will know the quantity of gold that is available. We know that mining is on the exclusive list but there are things you can do collaboratively with the federal government. Zamfara is doing it now. So if you produce gold, we will know the quantity of gold you are producing and FG takes it, then I can now request for 13% derivation revenue. How much is the resource? Do you know that the medium of exchange in the world is the dollar but gold has taken over.
Again look at the area of empowerment, it will interest you to know that all my years in Mutual Benefits Assurance when we wanted to differentiate ourselves from other players, we did it through retail insurance. That is why they call me the Apostle of Retail Insurance. And the backbone of retail insurance is empowerment. So all these market women, when you see me this is how you will see me except for Mondays that I will wear a tie because we are going to have an executive meeting but the rest of the week I am in my jeans. You will find me in Abattoir, you will find me with women selling ewedu, you will find me with people selling tomatoes in Oyingbo. The people in motor parks, spare parts dealers, you will find me there. Look, I bought 25,000 pieces of Okada for people in the North, for empowerment. Okada is the standard mode of transport there, it is the status symbol, but how did we do it for teachers? We worked with the Nigerian Union of Teachers, NUT. We said let us have the list of people that have gratuity, and we saw that their gratuity is more than the price of okada. So we bought each Okada for N65,000 and not a dime was added to it, and we gave it to them at 7.5%, and added insurance of N5,000. The same thing with NURTW, we partnered with them. If you go round all the functional airports in Nigeria, you will find these cars on hire, we bought 400 for them, and they repaid the money. So when it comes to empowerment I am the master. So there is a lot on the table which we can discuss today but I want to encourage Osun people to please free themselves from the bondage of poverty, to free themselves bondage of an unsecured future. Here is the Akin Ogunbiyi and Accord party and I have brought them hope. And the greatest thing anybody can live on in Osun today is hope for a better tomorrow.
Given the fact that Osun state is broke, with a huge debt overhang. How are you going to raise funds for these projects?
You asked how am I going to raise funds, I will create commodity bonds, I will go the way of Awolowo, I will standardise the price of cocoa, I will standardise the price of palm oil, I will standardise the price of rubber. All these cash crops, we will sit down with the farmers. I have identified 50 farmers’ groups.
Within the first six months, they would see the sincerity of our government. I will not go to borrow, it is not wrong to borrow money. Yes, Osun is leveraged, I have told you America is the most leveraged country in the world and it is still the most prosperous. There is nothing wrong with borrowing money but when you borrow money to do A, let the entire citizens know ‘we want to do this project, this is how much it is costing, we are taking this loan and this is it,’ and the project will pay back over its lifetime.
If we talk about free healthcare, of course, I have in my plans free healthcare for children, pregnant women and old people who are 60 years and above. Look, once you establish it, how do you want to fund it? If the donor people, if they first give us…they can say okay take this first $20 million, you may realise that out of that $20 million, only $1 million in cash, the rest are materials and if we can judiciously explain to them how the $1 million dollars they gave to us and how the materials are utilised, we will get more. So, when we are talking of free healthcare, free medical care for these people, it is not government money. I just need to create an enabling environment.
Let me say this, governments everywhere in the world have two principal purposes: security and welfare, welfare and security; the two are interwoven. So, I am not going to get involved in making Coke, in making this, in making that. All I need to do is to ensure their security and provide welfare. Once I provide an enabling environment for each sector, you will see people and people will trust me because of my antecedents in the private sector, they will trust me.
What are your projections in terms of job creation?
To start with, again, when you start from the beginning, chances are that you would not be wrong. I keep saying that agriculture will be the bedrock of our administration. People say young people are moving out of agriculture, but it is not now. In the last 20 years, young people have moved out of agriculture and we are left with people using hoe and cutlass and those ones even 80 per cent of their products are wasted, where it is not wasted, it is disposed of at an uneconomical value. If you come to our market here in Iwo, Idioro around early August or mid-August to the end of August when farmers want to pay the school fees of their children, you see them with 120 tubers of yam that you can buy for N5,000-N7,000.
Like I said, we are going to create a commodity market, I will reintroduce the commodity board. So, we will make it so convenient for farmers, for young people to go into farming.
To start with, in the local government, we are going to create over 4,000 jobs and I think in the first year, I should be able to create about 100,000 to 150,000 jobs. Look, from all I have said, by the time you do gold processing and refining, and also do agro-allied industry, we should be able to create at least about 100,000 jobs and people will be seeing it; we are going to be very transparent. It is not going to be an exclusive government, people will have access to our government, and they will have access to information. Every now and then, when something is done, we will address it. You can as well be my Commissioner for Information. It is not going to be only about writing stories or using the press release to publicise what our government is doing. Look at how it is done in America, if there is something important, we can have that press conference thrice a week depending on what. So, we will give out information.
Like I said, if we need to borrow money, we will let the entire world know we are taking so much.
Look, all the pension arrears and everything that is not being paid, what stops us from creating a bond. We can take a 10 or 15-year bond to clear this. That would reflect in the economy of Osun State immediately. You can see that there is a difference between somebody who has seen it all and somebody who reluctantly became something. So, we will create it. And if I tell Osun people N70 billion is the money we are owing to you in pension and from the bond we can start paying, the people will be happy. For N70 billion to come to the economy of Osun State, you can see the massive impact. That kind of money will bring at least nothing less than N10 to NI5 billion back into the purse of the government. We will create employment, we will create opportunities, we will empower people. There are so many ways and manners that you can put two and two together and the answer will still be 16 or 20 instead of four. But the most important thing is, I am very passionate about everything I am saying and I am very transparent and I have the integrity to back all my claims.