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In this interview with TUNDE OYEKOLA, the Kwara State All Progressives Congress Chairman, Sunday Fagbemi, discusses how Governor Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq’s administration has changed the face of the state in the last three years, what the government has achieved and the plans to secure victory for the party in the 2023 general poll, among sundry issues
What is the level of the Kwara State APC’s preparations for the forthcoming general election?
I believe we are fully prepared for the election. APC is a structured party. We have the structure from the ward to the national level, and we are no novices in the game of electioneering campaigns. So, the processes are already underway to choose the campaign committees that will handle the elections.
Your party has been in government in the state in the past three years; can you briefly enumerate some achievements made in the state?
Thank God you mentioned some achievements because the government of APC in the state has recorded many achievements, and they are obvious and things that people can see. It is a complete deviation from the past. Let me start with the education sector. You can see that for some time, Kwara was a pariah state because of the non-payment of counterpart funding. SUBEB fund was not utilised, so Kwara was blacklisted but now the government has paid some counterpart funding, and now funds have been released and over 600 schools have been renovated and reconstructed. Over 4,000 teachers were recruited for schools, and in the health sector, it is the same story.
Many donor agencies such as the World Health Organisation, United Nations Children’s Fund, and others that had in the past put Kwara State aside have returned with the coming of this administration as the counterpart funds have been paid. You can see that in the wards and local governments, as the health sector has been revived and dilapidated buildings rebuilt. Health workers are now in every nook and cranny of the state. At least two roads have been reconstructed in each local government area of the state.
The Civil Service has taken on a new lease of life. Salary is now paid as and when due, and civil servants no longer receive a percentage salary on a monthly basis. Pensions are being paid on time, more teachers are employed, promotion is regularly enjoyed and over 4,000 teachers are employed in one fell swoop, which is unprecedented in the state, and you don’t need to know anybody. We are no longer celebrating anyone. Instead, the state is embracing meritocracy, with the son of nobody becoming somebody in the sense that they are employed despite knowing no one.
In Kwaprenuer, the youth and the old are taken care of through programmes such as skill acquisition, Owo Isowo (trader money), Owo Arugbo, etc.
From your answer, what is the difference between the present regime and the past administration?
What I have narrated is obvious. For example, we are now dealing with facts and propaganda; that is the difference between this government and the past. They only relied on propaganda. For example, the minimum wage was N18,000 then and they didn’t even pay up to that, now we are paying N30,000.
Let us look at the salary of civil servants. We consistently pay when it is due. The former government used to pay geri-gedi, that is, salary by percentage. Then when we talk about the Universal Basic Education Commission and State Universal Basic Education Board, we have renovated about 600 schools, but during their time, Kwara was blacklisted. They were not paying pensions and gratuities; they also treated traditional rulers with disdain as if they were an arm of the civil service but today, traditional rulers are friendly with the government. So, the difference is very clear.
Your party came to power in 2019 with the “O to ge” slogan, which the opposition party described as propaganda that is full of lies. Has the government been able to change anything with the campaign slogan?
Yes, we graduated from “O to ge” to “O tope,” and we have left that for “Ise nlo” (work is progressing), and you can see it. We are not talking about propaganda. When you go all over the place, you will see what we have done.
Though we have not engaged in noise-making or publicity about our projects because we believe that we are to serve the people. When the time comes and we unveil what we have done, the people will see.
Your party scored 100 per cent by winning all the 35 contested seats in the 2019 elections in the state; do you think you can repeat the feat in the 2023 elections?
Yes, we won the governorship, three senatorial, six House of Representatives, and 24 House of Assembly seats in that election. With what we have on the ground and with the support of the masses, we believe that we are going to repeat the victory in the next year’s general elections.
In the last two years, there were crises in the state branch of your party, which led many people to leave for other political parties. Many of the gladiators of “O to ge” who fought the last general election with you have left the APC. Don’t you think this can affect your party in the 2023 election?
We are tending to it because in any large family, even in our immediate family, there must be quarrels. The Yoruba say the tongue and the teeth quarrel though they are inhabitants of the same place, so we are looking at it.
During the crisis, some APC members alleged victimisation and neglect and left the party, some claimed they were not allowed to register during the party’s membership registration; have these been resolved?
Yes, we are working on resolving them. As you know, party registration is a continuous process. They would recall the register and sign on the last person who registered, which is what happened. I agree that many people were not happy during the process of registration, but since it is a continuous exercise, everyone is free to register.
The APC government has been accusing officials of the previous administrations of corruption. The government has set up various committees to look at some key areas, and about three days ago, the governor received an audit report that indicted officials of the immediate past administration. However, an NGO, EnetSud alleged that some contracts awarded by the APC government were inflated. How do you react to that?
I know that every contract awarded by this government went through due process. In so far as it is like that, everyone is free to express a contrary opinion. Let them bring proof.
The government made an allegation that officials of past administrations had converted government properties to their own use, and recently it alleged that some people embezzled state funds. Don’t you think the government should charge those officials in court?
I know that this government will do what is right and will not condone any act of corruption, no matter how small, and not to talk of the huge things that government officials did contrary to the interests of Kwarans, like almost N12 billion stolen from the coffers of a poor state like Kwara.
Not only that, a week before the last general election, a huge withdrawal of N2 billion was made, which is not normal, and since the audit report is out, I will want the governor to do the needful.
No criminal should go scot-free because that would be like condoning corruption. What I know is that the government will not humiliate or witch-hunt anyone but if there are facts on the ground to prosecute, why not? They are walking freely and doing what they are doing because nobody has made an attempt to stop them. The government should allow the law to take its course.
The opposition has alleged that the governor is yet to commission any project in his three years of administration. What is your take on this?
Whether the governor has commissioned projects or not, what I know is that the people of the state are enjoying what the government has done. When it is time for commissioning, the projects will be commissioned. The governor does not want to publicise what he is doing as such. He is a silent achiever, and he believes that it is his work that will announce him. We are talking about 600 schools, hospitals in all the wards, roads, an ICT hub, an International Conference Centre, a garment factory, etc. So, he will commission the projects at the appropriate time, but what is important is service to the people.
What is your advice to the people of the state?
My advice is that the people have tasted both sides because a Yoruba adage says, “Ti obinrin ko ba dan ile oko meji wo, ko ni mo eleyi to san,” meaning “When a woman is yet to try living with two different men, she might not know the better one” and because of this, Kwarans have tasted the other administrations and they have tasted ours, and as they have seen, the difference is very clear.
Let us go back to the crises in the party. Unconfirmed sources said that you are making efforts to bring back some people in Alhaji Lai Mohammed’s (Minister of Information and Culture) camp who have left the APC. How true is this?
Yes, we are making efforts to get everybody back into the fold; after all, we were one family, we have worked together before, and there’s no reason why we cannot work together again.