Oyetola, as ex-chief of staff, accountable for Aregbesola, projects’ costs
Dr Wale Bolorunduro served as Commissioner for Finance during the first term of ex-Governor of Osun State, Rauf Aregbesola. He is also a member of The Osun Progressives, a faction in the state APC backed by Aregbesola. Bolorunduro, in this interview with BUSINESSREVIEW calls for genuine reconciliation between Oyetola and Aregbesola factions before the state governorship poll
You have been at loggerhead with a group called The Osun Masterminds, which has been demanding the state debt portfolio. The question was not directed to you actually. It was directed to Oyetola and later to your ex-principal, Aregbesola. Why do you think Osun debt portfolio is becoming an issue at this time?
The issue is not centered around me, rather it is actually centered around my boss, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola and in a way to stain him, but as a professional, I want us to put the issue in a proper perspective.
When The Osun Masterminds started, the first press release was that Oyetola should provide the debt profile of Osun. I have no issue with that because I agree with it. They were asking a question and at the same time they were answering it, saying Osun debt profile was N200bn. That was a lie. Since they are asking questions, they should have waited for Governor Oyetola to answer and not them providing an answer.
Secondly, they made another false allegation that Aregbesola never disclosed the debt profile. It was a lie in the sense that throughout the tenure of Aregbesola, when I was a commissioner, he usually asked me to respond whenever such an issue came up, and when I left, he would call the Accountant General to respond.
There was a press release sometime in September 2018 in which Aregbesola gave accurate figures. He said domestic debt was N141bn, external debt was about N29.6bn. Let’s just round that up to N30bn. N141bn plus N30bn is N171bn and not the N200bn that they were asking Oyetola to confirm. That was another lie from The Osun Masterminds. As someone who was a part of that administration, I knew what transpired in that administration and that was my problem with them.
The other issue that I have with them is that in their own way, they started to raise issues regarding our developmental projects by making some statements concerning those projects and programs . They should have waited for Oyetola to also answer. The reason why I said so is that first, Aregbesola became the governor of Osun on November 27, 2010, by January 7, 2011 Oyetola joined him. He was there in the first seven months. We came in as commissioners on August 12, 2011 and by the time we came in, they had already started the debt financing program.
My role was very clear. Whenever they did an approval, my role was to fast track it by making it happen very fast. We were able to issue our first bond within 12 months of my resumption. Lagos State issued its first bond four years after it started the process. So, you could see that Lagos financing model which Oyetola was quite aware of and Aregbesola was also quite aware of was the model that we were going to follow and that was clear.
Nobody in that government stayed as long as Oyetola did with him (Aregbesola). We came in almost a year after they have started and when we left government in 2014 (during Aregbesola’s second term), no commissioner was appointed for almost three years. It was Oyetola that I handed over the finance portfolio to.
Why did I say that? In the elements of release of fund, there is always a bank confirmation. A bank confirmation after the Accountant General has issued payment voucher to banks to pay, banks should call somebody and it was Oyetola that they were calling between November, 2014 that I left and May, 2017 (that new commissioners were appointed). Therefore, Oyetola should be able to answer that question relating to state debt.
But will Aregbesola or you not provide more accurate answers to questions relating to debt and cost of projects, since they directly related to your work while serving?
If you look at the role of the Chief of Staff, Oyetola had an enhanced role. I mean all commissioners were made to pass memos through Oyetola and as the chief of staff, he would process it before it gets to the governor.
Aregbesola on his own introduced another dimension, when he was appointed as a governor, he approved for his Chief of Staff, who would instruct and process it. I am not sure many governors do that, but he was doing that to put his Chief of Staff in the know. So, Oyetola as a governor now should answer the questions on those projects.
Another issue I have with Osun Masterminds is why wait till election time before asking Oyetola to call for Aregbesola to account? The timing is suspicious. Oyetola has been governor for three years. It was after the allegations and my response, that we realized the people behind Osun Masterminds, because they lied again that Aregbesola borrowed N4bn from Guaranty Trust Bank to plant trees as part of his urban renewal.
Did he not borrow to fund that project?
That was a lie because as government we did not have any relationship with Guaranty Trust Bank, talk-less of the bank giving us a commercial loan.
But that administration had a program tagged Urban Renewal that had to do with tree planting among others in some parts of the state. Did the project fail and how did you finance it?
I won’t say the project failed. It is just that it is not being managed and maintained. When you enter Osun, you will see that there is a difference because you will see those trees when you enter. If you look at it, when we came in, we did some financial engineering. Osun was paying N720m to service Oyinlola’s legacy loan. We re-financed it and freed our cash flow. That was the secret. Through it, we were able to do programs , projects and also able to do empowerment programs , urban renewal, O-beef, O-reap and O-yes in our first three years.
If we talk about debt, there are two things I will like to mention. In developed countries, they all borrow to develop their countries and programs . The Federal Government also borrows. When we came in, the internally generated revenue of Osun in a year was less than N4bn. It was about N3.5billion. Today, Osun IGR is N19bn, courtesy public figure of the current administration in 2020.
If we didn’t do all those developmental projects and programs , we won’t be where we are. Osogbo would have been just a glorified local government headquarter.
The people of Osun have seen what the money has been used for. We have seen secular roads in Osogbo. We have seen the urban renewal of the freedom park, though it is being outgrown by weeds now. We have seen all those mega schools in Ilesa, Osogbo, and Iwo. Hopefully this administration can finish them before the election because it has abandoned them. There is the trumpet bridge at Gbongan junction. That is why people are always happy to welcome Aregbesola whenever he comes to the state.
But people are complaining about the costs of executing those projects because they appeared too huge. Isn’t that correct?
Let me tell you how we started. I like to do external confirmation as there are times when you need another person to help you clear your head.
Take this for instance: it has become controversial, but something came out of the controversy and that is the truth. Gbongan-Akoda road and Osogbo garage to Kwara boundary roads were awarded at N48bn when we awarded them.
When the Federal Government came, they did their own valuation and they put it at N46bn. What is the difference? N2bn. So, anything that is within five per cent is estimate. On those two roads, the state government of Osun has been collecting refunds from the Federal Government. The figure is also controversial because they have refused to publish it until we started asking them to publish it. Whereas, for me it was N17.5bn as at the end of 2020 that they had received from the Federal Government on those roads.
But then, one commissioner said it was N11bn while another commissioner said it was N13bn.
Many people believe that you are coming out with all these allegations because of the rift between Aregbesola and Governor Oyetola?
No, that wasn’t the reason. If the current administration of Oyetola will come out and clear the air, there won’t be need for someone like me to talk since the former Chief of Staff during Aregbesola’s administration is now the governor. He knows everything.
But the people that are writing rubbish are telling lies and they are very close to his cabinet.
Then what were the remote and immediate causes of the disagreement between Aregbesola’s men and Oyetola?
At the beginning of this issue between the two of them, I was going to each of them, trying to pacify them not to fight. Whenever Oyetola’s cabinet released any false allegation, I would go to Oyetola and plead that he should caution those behind it because I knew he didn’t originate it. I did the same to former Governor Aregbesola. I was playing the role of the ombudsman to the extent that I had to go to Baba Akande, who is our national leader. I said, please call the followers of the two parties and baba did.
My own personal grudge with Oyetola is when he himself as the governor took the microphone and said that he had lifted the ban on staff promotion that was suspended in 2012. We didn’t suspend promotion in 2012.
Aregbesola promoted staff till his second term. It was during his second term that he was not backing up the promotion with cash which he did during his first term. For me, I felt very bad that Oyetola who was a part of that administration, knew that statement was not true and went ahead to make it public.
Did you confront him after he made the statement?
I would like to keep what transpired private.
But what do you see as the aftermath of this crisis between the two camps, when you realise that election is less than seven months away from here?
It’s not up to seven months. It is slated to come up in July and that is less than seven months. Well, I pray we resolve the issues before then. I know at a particular point in time, the national body of the party will have to intervene, especially those people that are not remotely or even connected with the complaint. The national leadership that is dispassionate, that is not part of the problem, they will come in and they will resolve the problem.
How hopeful are you on this matter being resolved before the election and how far do you think that reconciliation will go in assisting the APC to win the governorship poll?
Once that is resolved and the current governor and his followers adjust and they begin to involve and include all the people that they have ostracized for being the followers of Aregbesola. You will see a change once there is party unity.
But people in other group have been saying your group has decided not to relate with the mainstream party and possibly tear the party into two. How true is that allegation?
It is not true. When this issue started, I told you my own role in trying to make both parties not to allow the fight to escalate. What happens is that when you are playing that role, they ostracize you. When it was time to do the congress, they ostracized everybody that had anything to do with The Osun Progressives (a group backed by Aregbesola).
In my ward, the three people chosen were from one town and they were all from Ilerioluwa’s group, and my ward since 2014 has not produced any state officer. I was ostracized in my ward. The same thing was replicated in my local government and politics is local.
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