…Nigerian youth should be innovative to make money
Hon. Olakunle Oluomo, (All Progressives Congress) is the Speaker of the Ogun State House of Assembly. He represents Ifo I State Constituency in the House. In this interview with the Publisher, Nigerian NewsDirect, Dr. Samuel Ibiyemi, he speaks at length on top national issues and matters of interests peculiar to Ogun State. He commented on issues of diversification and development efforts of the Ogun State Government towards strengthening its domestic economy. He clarified certain gray areas with regards to controversies surrounding the subject of constituency projects. According to him, the ongoing social media war against the Government in the wake of the #ENDSARS protests will not yield any result if the youth do not engage actively in politics and think creatively outside the box to make money. Some key quotes from his words lie below. Excerpts:
What is Ogun State House of Assembly doing to strengthen democracy amid the #EndSARS protest?
Well the essence of democracy is based on good governance and relating with people as their servant – that is what I believe democracy is all about. They define it as the government of the people by the people and for the people. As you likely know, it is people that voted us in. So, what we are doing in the house of assembly is that we are creating laws that will impact on the lives of the people; laws that will make life easier for them and allow dividend of democracy to get to their table. I think that is the essence of democracy.
Without a strong economy, we can’t talk about democracy. Do you agree to this assertion?
Yes, I agree with you. You know that we are running a monolithic economy in Nigeria, but as of today the government at the national level is diversifying the economy and that is exactly what Ogun state government is keying into. We are keying into that and if you look at our record very well you will see us actively in the area of agriculture. We are promoting agriculture and a lot of youth are now into agriculture in Ogun state. We are encouraging young entrepreneurs to come up in Ogun state by offering them the necessary support they require.
We have passed a Public-Private law which allows opportunity for the government and the citizens of the state with provision for funds to partner together to do a lot of things. It can be on the area of education, road, market development, and power/energy. It can also be on all aspects of life in terms of joint entrepreneurship within the state and for individuals towards the benefit and advantage of the people. So doing, you develop the economy of the State. We have recently just launched our Adire (a digital marketing platform for tie and dye) for international purposes and it carries both economic and cultural value for Ogun state. The people who are making Adire in Abeokuta will develop economically, make more money, sell our culture to outsiders. When they go on internet, they admire the Adire, buy and it wear it. It promotes the Country and Ogun state at large. I have a lot of experience when I travel abroad. I recall a particular date in Atlanta where someone working in the hotel where I stayed insisted that I should give her Adire. I was forced to give her because she didn’t allow me rest. I think it is promoting my own culture to the outside world and that is what we are doing to develop our economy. We are attracting a lot of investors into Ogun state and giving them chance to establish various industries. As the state government is investing in agriculture ourselves, we are asking people to come and establish in Ogun state. Don’t foget that Ogun state is a hub of industrialization and we are the most industrialized state in the country as of today.
What are your roles as regards ease of doing business?
In the area of ease of doing business, we have passed the necessary bill that allows people to invest in Ogun state. The state has passed the Investment promotion law which is intended to create a one-stop shop for investors that will come into the state in terms of provision of land, certification, survey, among others to get their company running in Ogun state. The one-stop-shop bill has been passed in Ogun state. In fact, we are even making sure that we don’t only have an office in Oke-mosan here in the ministry of trade and investment, but we also have an office between the Lagos and Ogun states boundary. So if you want to come and establish business in Ogun state, the tendency is that you may not need to come to Abeokuta. An investor can just work into an office and ask questions. So, on the area of ease of doing business; we are doing our part to make sure we are communicating with people.
There has always been row over the issue of multiple taxation bill passed by the House of Assembly?
Well for your information, we have tried as much as possible to harmonize our revenue in Ogun state. So, with that harmonization, the issue of multiple taxation will no longer be applicable. We have a law before the House of Assembly which is the Ogun State Safety Commission Law. As it is now, we used to witness that in the government agencies from the environment, fire service and tax revenue with each visiting to collect tax. However with that law, everything will be in one phase.
As a Lawmaker and as the Speaker of the House, what can you say about the current situation of the youth in Nigeria today?
I think the government needs to give more attention to the youth. I want the youth too to be up and doing themselves. Majority of our youths believe once they graduate from school, that is the end of the story – it is not like that! Even all over the world, majority of our graduates are unemployable. When you ask our graduates what course do you study? They will reply business administration, economy, sociology science, among others; I’m not saying these courses are not good, but of what advantage are they to our economy? But if for the sake of going to the university, you graduated in these fields, you can diversify; you can train yourself and you can do a lot of things on your own. You can go into entrepreneurship; you can go into manufacturing and develop yourself; not waiting for white collar job at all time. Government they say is “the largest employer of labour”, but you need to tell me, how many people government has been able to employ?
Even the ones they employed, they are unable to pay. We realised that we need many teachers in our primary and secondary schools. We conducted exam, interviewed them but COVID-19 set in. As we are getting out of that, #EndSARS came in. After the protests, we came up with new minimum wage. So, if you want to pay minimum wage, it will be difficult for us to employ new hands because those who are here are asking for money, and our resources are limited. So, I will call on the youth to diversify and go into basic things that can bring money for them. I have a daughter who is a graduate but as I speak, she is learning hairdressing; she is a graduate of business education from the University of Lagos. I can get her a job when the time comes but will she sit down at home and do nothing? I know a wife of a former governor who studied English. She runs a saloon with so many equipments and hires young ladies working for her and she is making her money I know of a person that is well educated and had no job; then she learnt sowing and she set up her establishment. She is now into fashion. During the lockdown period, they produced thousands of nose masks and she made her money. So, let us think out of the box. Everybody wants to work with government, and it is not like that. I never worked in government all my life until I became a politician. I was once a journalist and I diversified into printing and lot of things. If I had depended on government work, would I have had money to campaign for election? I appeal to the youth to be up and doing; let them find something to do. There are a lot of things that require changes in Nigeria. People can think outside the box. Let them think of the area of life that nobody has torched. Come up with a new innovation, you’ll make your money.
I will urge the youth to look at their environment and see what you can do rather than working in a company. Wanting only to work with government won’t take us anywhere. The youth should not be over ambitious. So, if you believe in God on what you will be, you will surely be; Face your life, not Yahoo (Internet Fraud) just face your life. Whatever God destined for me will come my way if I am disciplined in what I am doing.
At your constituency what are you doing for the youth?
I have been in the service of youths for a very long time. I can say that between 1996 and the year 2002 or 2003 when I joined politics, I have been organizing annual leadership training course for youth in my constituency every year. I have done it for over 15 years. Every year, I gathered students from various schools from my constituency lock them up somewhere for camping exercise; bring important people to come and address them for discussion all over the world. I have been doing this for the youth and I am happy. My Special Assistant is a product of that programme from primary school and he is now my own special adviser. I have the privilege of taking five youths in my constituency for a trip to Germany and I have taken some to London. One of the things I am doing for the youth now is that I am buying school buses to encourage them to read because these days, some will need to get to school and pay as much as N200/day and they don’t have the money. That was the major reason I provided free school buses to encourage them to go to school. The bus will take them in the morning and drop them in the afternoon. So many areas, I sponsored them on different programmes; how to do a lot of things and so on. I am not the type of person that will start blowing his trumpet but I know that in the area of youth development, I have done my best and I am still doing it. Even now in my town, we have no stadium, and no sport facility. Presently, I am constructing a mini stadium that is ongoing and it has facility for standard football field, volley ball, lawn tennis and boxing. It will look like a mini stadium by the time it is ready and all these are for the youth to exercise the energy and take their mind from evil things.
How do you fund these projects?
As a member of the House of Assembly, I am entitled to salary and allowances. As a Prince, I inherited a lot of properties from my father. I run my business and part of the profit are spent on my community development.
For Lawmakers at the federal level, there has always been the argument of funding for constituency projects. What is the state government doing at the state level and do you still have this budget for constituency projects?
Yes of course! Constituency projects are intervention projects by honorable members (Lawmakers). I’ll give some example. The government is doing schools and road projects, but I have some local and rural areas that require ordinary water. How long does it take government to take water to the village? It may be another 50 years if they are lucky. It is the constituency project that I will use to go and make borehole for them. There are some rural areas too, where there are markets. For instance some people making fufu (edible cassava dough) inside their village, the government may never remember them, but I who went there to campaign, I am free to go there to construct boreholes; make shelter for them and buy them tools to do their productive work. It is not for the state government to do something like that; it is I as their representative; and that is why it is called constituency project. I call it intervention project and how do we do it? The government may say this is the amount we are going to give per honorable member (lawmaker). For instance, in this house it used to be N10million. I will now ask what can N10million do for my people? If I want to dig a borehole, let’s say N2million and if I want to dig about five boreholes, that will cost N10 million. What will I do when they approve N10 million for me? I will now look at a village in need of borehole, one with market square that has collapsed and another a collapsed bridge. I will now collate all these and submit it to the state. The state will then advertise it and contractors will apply and any contactor that wins the bid, the state will approve and pay directly to the contractor to make sure that he does the job. It is my duty to supervise the contracts. For instance, if I ask you as a contractor to build parking spots and you bring bricklayers from Lagos, I will send them back. It is important you use my people to do the job. When people say honourable members make money from constituency projects; I don’t know of that at my state level. For instance we are running to one and the half year in office now, and the present governor has not given any money for constituency projects. Whereas at the national level, they get it every year and in a large amount and we are yet to benefit from such at the state level. This probably is because of the position of our resources and income.
As the speaker of Ogun state, what are you doing over the state of federal roads using Ogun west area of Sango Ota as a case study?
It doesn’t make any difference, don’t bring campaign into it. Everybody knows that there is shortage of fund in this country and most of the roads that you are referring to belong to the federal government. From Abeokuta to Lagos, it is a Federal government road. From Sango to Idiroko, is another federal government road. Are you blaming Ogun state government? We are the one that have been maintaining that road. Do you know how much they sell one trailer of granit and hard rock? By the time we buy five trucks for a particular location, that is around N1 million already and by the time you start telling people you purchased the same granite at Itori, Olomore, Lala and Eleele villages, the money accumulates. When you get to Papa area, all down to Lagos and you keep fixing it, spending millions of naira whereas we could use the same in doing state’s roads and people begin to complain. People don’t get to know the difference between the state and federal roads. Imagine the road that belongs to the state in my town, the government will not be able to do it and lots of money will have been spent in repairing federal government roads.
So what are the resources of the state?
The people of Ifo constituency are enlightened, when you explain to them, they will understand. The ones that concern them I do it for them. I took the commissioner of works to my town to see one or two areas they will fix. So you people should understand our position. What will be if the people are sincere with you as the person they elected and you are doing your best? They will surely vote you back and don’t forget I am a legislator. My primary roles are three; appropriation (to approve the budget of the state); preliminary (to come to the plenary and pass law) and oversight (the money approved for the government to make sure that it is appropriated as it is planned). I am not to build schools, roads and provide anything but we do our best. I have built schools; I have built Townhalls; I have built Police station; I have taken the youth on tour to Germany and other parts of the world. I have impacted; I have given soft loans to people and interest-free give loans to women organization. I am a prince and I have a lot of inheritance and I have my personal business. I have to remove this impression; anyone that is not financially sound, cannot be an honourable member. Before you get ticket, you’ll spend money. During the campaign, you’ll spend money. When you come here, everybody will carry his/her load and put on your head. We are suffering in silence too, because when you have expenses more than your budget, what will you do?. As I sit down here, by 10th to 15th of the month, all my allowances are gone and how many people will I explain that to. So, it is easier said than done that you are passing through Ifo and you see the state of roads. The Ogun and Lagos states have been begging President Buhari now in the last one and the half year to give us Lagos and Abeokuta road. He said money is currently spent on Lagos-Ibadan express way and It is consuming billions of naira. So, we know that the road will stand the test of time and he said he can’t be financing that one and be financing Lagos-Abeokuta. We then suggested that Lagos-Abeokuta should be released for the two states, that we will look for contractors that has money and partner with them. The contractor will construct it and put toll-gate. By the toll-gate, our people will be contributing money. As you likely know, our people in Nigeria are very wicked. When you go abroad, apart from your street where you live, any road you go through, you must pay at the toll-gates. Even in the streets, if you buy a house and you are living there, you are entitled to one garage. When you buy a second car and you are parking it outside, you will start paying tax. Are we doing that here?
What are you doing in that regards to boost the state’s Internally Generated Revenue (IGR)?
Well it is not my duty as a lawmaker to increase IGR; that is the function of the executive, and when they bring laws to that effect, we are supposed to make the law. We are not supposed to fix tax. Even when they over tax people, we are the one telling them what they are taxing is too much. For instance, immediately after COVID-19 opening days, they went to hairdressers to pay N5,000 each. I had to stop them! People have not been going to party and you are asking tailors to pay N5,000. Where will they get the money? It is the duty of the executive to generate tax, our own is to ensure that the tax you want to change is lawful as stipulated in the constitution or the one that occur to you in your state which the constitution has the power to take. That’s why we are bringing companies to come and establish in agriculture among other sectors in Ogun state.
Talking about the future of democracy with all these #EndSARS and COVID-19 challenges, are you going to contest for second term?
I will definitely come back than to start complaining without taking actions.
A foolish man will stand there and keep complaining and will not take action. Those who know that our democracy is not working well, should come and join politics. It doesn’t do you anything, get yourself involved, register to vote; join a political party. If you say you are a youth then come outside and join a party. In the party you can “Soro so Ke”. If they are selling form for chairmanship of the local government, you obtain the form. If they are selling a form for counsellorship, obtain and get the youth among yourself to form part of the party. When they want to do the primary election and your number is higher than others, then you win.
Is the constitution that we have good for the youth to actually participate in politics?
This President Buhari’s administration is the first government in Nigeria to bring down the age of contesting elections. What else do they want? Not-too-young-to-run bill; It was Buhari that signed it into law. The bill stipulates that if you are 30 years above, you can become anything in Nigeria. What else do you want? And that is why today across the country, we have young people who could have waited for five or 10 years before they can contest election and are now at the national assembly. So, I think it is foolishness to be doing your politics on WhatsApp and Facebook. When I open my Facebook and I see youth complaining, I just laugh. I am not on Facebook and I won’t be there and I don’t have business there. The media war on social media will not win. My people who voted for me are in the village and are enlightened. These are old teachers, old civil servants and head masters.
Can you say this government has delivered since resuming office?
You are asking me to mark my own script and I won’t fail myself. It is my government and my party. But in fairness to my conscience, the government is not making noise and has impacted clearly. Look at education, look at your surroundings. I don’t think you won’t see yellow roofs in schools. The schools were abandoned for year, but he (The Governor of Ogun State) has started repairing them. Look at your primary health centres, the man is working on it. Look at the roads. I never benefited from former governor Ibikunle Amosun roads for eight years and now, road construction is going on in my constituency. All the ones abandoned by Amosun are currently undergoing construction across the state. He has started developing our hospitals to high standards. Look at housing policy, Governor Dapo Abiodun has been building housing and so on. He is working across the state and none is left untouched. Sango-Ota has been the first beneficiary from the road that links Lagos. The purpose of that road is to relieve traffic along the Lagos toll-gate road. Go into local areas, you will see no where the governor is not working.
Is the house currently probing anybody?
Let me just say we aren’t probing anybody. All we are doing now is oversight functions on auditors’ reports submitted to the house. The constitution provides for Audit of the state in which all Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) are to submit their audit report to the House of Assembly. So, what we are checking is the auditors’ report. If Auditors’ say certain things that are not clear, it is our duty to ask.