Read more about ‘Aregbesola ‘ll not compromise workers’ welfare’
Ayo Akinola is a Senior Special Assistant to Osun State Governor Rauf Aregbesola. In this interview with MUSA ODOSHIMOKHE in Lagos, he speaks on the people-oriented programmes of the administration and other issues.
How cordial is the relationship between workers and Osun State governor?
The relationship is very cordial. This will surprise many cynics who stay far away from Osun and theorise about how things should or should not be, or on how things are. We are transparent and that is the major reason workers are behind us. The other reason is because Osun as a whole has not had it this good since its creation. And the good thing about it is that all government spendings are targeted at the masses, the ordinary people, and the vulnerable. That is why the governor has a cult following among the people. You need to come to the state anytime the governor has social outings. He is almost always mobbed by cheering crowds. You’ll see market women and men, children, the ordinary people abandoning their shops and wares to escort him any time he is in town, out of the office for engagements. As for the elite in the services and elsewhere who have been used to diverting developmental money for personal convenience, I can’t say if they love this government, and they are in the very minority. Note that empty barrels make the loudest noise, especially when things are no longer what they used to be for them. If the picture they are painting were true, it would have been a different scenario from the teeming masses. You know you can’t stop or gag them not to express their minds. In this country, we’ve seen when and where a governor or some governors were pelted with all kind of things to register their displeasure.
You talked about transparency. What do you mean?
I don’t know of any government in this country that has the confidence or temerity to engage any past labour leader, not to talk of a fiery one like Comrade Hassan Sunmonu. I was a kid in secondary school when Sunmonu then as national labour leader engaged the Federal Government led by Alhaji Shehu Usman Shagari. It was as if we were in a war situation as far as his demands for welfare of workers were concerned. Up till today, I doubt if we have had a labour leader better than Hassan Sunmonu in the pursuit of welfare of workers. If this is the same man the government of Osun appoints to oversee the equitable distribution of resources of the state on a monthly basis, so as to ensure transparency, then, we need to appreciate the head of such government. In other lands, governments stay at bay from labour leaders, whether retired or serving, like, “don’t come near my government” because of skeletons they most often have in their cupboards. This singular act says something about our governor and transparency. Till today, no worker has accused Comrade Sunmonu of betrayal. I think there’s need for commendations.
Critics say the government is more concerned about building roads, flyovers and school than paying attention to workers’ welfare. How true is this claim?
Nothing could be farther from the truth. We are also aware of this assertion, but government is not bothered because it is mere hearsay. People make statements without even making efforts to look into records. At least we already have the Freedom of Information Act which empowers every citizen to seek and get information on how they are governed. Why can’t they go to government to obtain facts and figures? It is because they themselves lack credibility and focus. In matters of public administration and policies, you don’t make assumptions. You go for the source of information and obtain it.
The truth of the matter, as I often say, is that quite opposite is the case. Let me say here and now that payment of salaries and pensions, in the past seven years of this administration in Osun have, in fact, stunted the growth of this state to no small measure, and this is so sad that our future as a state is bleak if we continue in this way. Let me also tell you that this governor has over-leaned on the side of workers, trying hard to please them, most times to the detriment of real growth. How do I mean? At the inception of this administration, some of us thought that the best thing to move this state forward would have been to ration the work force. We thought, and rightly too, that the workforce the new government met on round would be detrimental to the true growth if we didn’t downsize. The government thought otherwise, to the extent that in other climes, the workforce is the pivot of growth if every single worker contributes value, real value. Look at China and other Asian countries like India. They have huge workforce, in line with their huge population and everyone, to no exception, works towards the growth of the economy. Somebody some time ago, described the average Chinese as a working ant. Do you take time to study the ant? Every single one of them works to the betterment of the colony, without exception. That is Asia for you. Look at the Asian tigers; the Four Asian Tigers, Four Asian Dragons or Four Little Dragons, are the economies of Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan, which underwent rapid industrialisation and maintained exceptionally high growth rates (in excess of seven percent a year) between the early 1960s (mid-1950s for Hong Kong) and 1990s. It was their workforce that brought this to bear. So, a huge workforce is good inasmuch as everyone takes on the gauntlet of work and work, work and work in the private and public establishments. With this huge workforce, we will witness fast and best development. But what do we find here generally with the black race? Consumption without the correspondent will to create. It is so sad. Professor Niyi Akinnaso once wrote an article ‘What is wrong with the black man and Africans?’. It is pathetic that a continent that prides itself as the cradle of human race, human civilisation, human development, in arts, science, medicine and crafts is now the docility of the modern world; it’s now the most backward human race; the butt of jokes of the modern world. The world has left us behind in all factors of development. We are now at the bottom pit. Religion is now our pride which we shamelessly export and showcase to the originating nations, milking and under-developing ourselves in the process in superstitions. Modern religions started in the east, modernised by the west. But, both have moved forward, but we are still holding tight, not to let go because we’ve refused to think.
To answer your question, we went into government financial and expenditure records and the findings were disheartening. Within the seven years of the government of Rauf Aregbesola, a whopping N200 billion was spent on payments of salaries, allowances and pensions while a relatively paltry sum of N60billion naira went into infrastructure, or what we call capital projects. This translates to 77 per cent to 23 per cent respectively. The reverse should have been the case. No nation develops this way and it is so sad. So, when people falsely declare that Osun government is building infrastructures to the detriment of workers’ welfare, it is laughable.
A new national minimum wage is in the offing. What is your take?
I was in this country, though a child, when the minimum wage was raised to N25 in the early seventies during the General Yakubu Gowon military era. Civil servants went on a spending spree, buying television sets which were on “four legs”, drinking to stupor from night parties organised by civil servants, who just received the Udoji Awards. During the time of Hassan Sunmonu as labour leader, the minimum wage went to N125 or thereabout, from a demand of N300 by organised labour. What did we have in result? We had galloping inflation to the detriment of same workers. General Ibrahim Babangida’s military administration raised wages more than six times during his tenure. Did it serve the average workers any good? Why do we like doing things the same way and expect to see better results? Can’t we be creative for once? I’m not saying raising workers salary is bad. But we must be scientific about it. Wages must be commensurate to real productivity, not a sweeping raise where the productive and non-productive workers are lumped together. It is detrimental to growth.
Why can’t we spend money to encourage the creative industry and discourage going into the civil services? When you pump money into the civil service, you’re encouraging an upsurge in youths going there, which does little to explore and explode their creativity. But if you put money largely into cottage industries, similar to the N-Power initiative, as well as the back to land initiatives which Aregbesola has been engaging in, you’re encouraging creativity and productivity. This is what can take us to the Promised Land, not putting the entirety of our resources into the civil services which engages less than one percent of the total population.