Ekiti State governor, Biodun Oyebanji, who marked one year in office on October 16, spoke with journalists about governance, his six-pillar agenda for the state, menace of kidnappers vis-a-vis operation of Amotekun, among other issues. ‘YOMI AYELESO brings some excerpts:
To achieve your plans for the state, security of lives and property is key, but Ekiti has witnessed series of security breaches, especially kidnappings and other heinous crimes in the last few months. How do you intend to tackle this challenge, also bearing in mind noting that Amotekun in the state has not performed as well when compared to other states?
Well, I share your concern with Amotekun, I, too, have the same concern that we need to do more with Amotekun. When I came on board, I tried to examine their operations because Amotekun was under me when I was the Secretary to State Government under Dr Fayemi. Since I became the governor, I commissioned a team to look at Amotekun and I discovered the need to change tactics. We need to employ more people, we need to train them, we need to provide resources for them, but you know, we also need to provide clear direction for them. And when I was convinced that a new leadership is needed, I brought in the current Commander (Brig. Gen. Olu Adewa) who just left the North-east, he just retired from the Army, he has been leading Boko Haram fights in the northern states. Since he came on board, he has changed the face of Amotekun in the state. Currently, he is going round the state to even ascertain the status of the corps. He has not completed that; once that is done, we are going to sit with the local government. But, definitely, we need to recruit more people; we need to provide working tools for them. However, I agree with you that in the comparison with their counterparts in the South-West, there can be improvement and we will see to that. But this government believes in the Amotekun philosophy and we also believe that if properly managed, with the current leadership, our Amotekun will bite more. But, I must commend the new commandant; he has brought in a lot of discipline and direction into the corps. I am just waiting for him to come with his reports because Amotekun is a joint venture: the command for both the state and the local government. We have done something when I came on board, we have increased their salary like the other states, we have done that but in terms of providing tools for them, making them effective, we need to look into that but we are going to do it this time around in conjunction with the traditional institutions at the local level. So, there are a lot of structural issues with it but we will resolve that soon.
Many argue that for democracy and good governance to thrive, there is a need for a vibrant opposition. But it appears Ekiti is sliding into a one-party state with no visible opposition voice.
I believe that the best assessment of any government is by the people and if it is coming from journalists, it tells me that it is a position that one has to take seriously. As a government, we have a contract with the people of Ekiti State and we promised ourselves that we will work for them and work with them. We made certain promises to them and for the past few months, we have ensured that those promises are kept. Even if those promises come at a cost, it requires self-discipline, a lot of concentration, a lot of consultation and a lot of what I will call a stable and compassionate policy from the government. It also requires a lot of tactics and strategies and we have tried as much as possible to ensure that we are truthful to Ekiti people. We believe that trust is very key to governance. So, the first mark I set for myself is that I need to earn the trust of Ekiti people because if you are going to take them on a journey of four years, they must trust me to the point that they will follow me to that expected end and we have tried to do that. So, if this is the feedback, well, I give God all the glory but I also know that it is too early in the day for us to rest on our oars. So, the reward for hard work is more work.
With respect to buying the opposition, it is not correct. What we have done is to ensure that we are running an inclusive government and we are communicating with everybody including the opposition. Election stopped the day I was sworn in as governor of Ekiti State. I don’t see myself as governor of APC, I am the governor of everybody in Ekiti State and I relate with all of them as Ekiti indigenes. So, politics has stopped, we are in the realm of governance and governance tells me that I have to be responsible to both my party members and people who didn’t even vote for me. There are a lot of Ekiti people who don’t even belong to any political party, I am also responsible to them. So, before I assumed office, I visited every of our leaders in the state across political divides because I believe strongly that I need all of them, I need to learn from them, I also need to take feedback from them and we had useful discussions with leaders of my party, those that are non-political and those that belong to the opposition. Every time I go to them, I take note of whatever they tell me and when I have issues, because I have established that relationship, I can call them and ask for advice and all of them have been advising me. So, that may be responsible for the feedback you are getting in town, I have not bought anybody, all the support have been unconditional and none of them has asked me for any favour and that is the truth.
It is one year already and many people have been expecting what has now become the usual norm of successor-predecessor cold war and hostilities in our political system, but in your own situation, that is not the case. What is the secret?
There is no secret. Remember, I worked with Governor Fayemi for seven years. In his first term in office, I was the Commissioner for Integration, I later headed Office of Transformations and Service Delivery (OTSD) and later served as Commissioner for Budget and Economic Planning; so, I worked with him for four years. When he came back, in 2018, I was the SSG for three years. So, seven years working with him and God has used him to support me to be here. I see myself as the clone of both himself, Governor Niyi Adebayo and Governor Ayo Fayose. And since Oga (Fayemi) left, I am the one that is always disturbing him, because there are some doors I will ask him to go and open for me and he does that without any problem. I consult with him regularly, he has not foisted anything on me, he doesn’t disturb me for anything, I am the one disturbing his peace. I will call him to ask when he will be coming to Ekiti, he will tell me I should allow him to rest. There was a time he had to go to London to do something for me. He got there and he called me and I spoke with the person. Today, I have called him to do some things for me and he said he will do it. There is no basis for friction. I am actually blessed by predecessors that don’t disturb me, even those ones that belong to the opposition, I have found favour in their eyes, they give me advice unconditionally; so, I stand on the shoulders of giants and I know that it is only the grace of God who has made this to happen.
My relationship with all of them has been extremely cordial and I intend to maintain that. Governor Fayemi remains the leader, remains my boss, remains my mentor and because I worked with him for seven years, taking decisions, to a large extent, I can have a guess of what he would do on any matter. One day, we were having a discussion, I was telling him I want to do this, I want to do that, I was mentioning names and he told me that if he was the one taking the decision, he would pick those people too. This is because I sat at all the meetings as SSG with him. I was a member of the strategy team, I was a member of his think-tank, so, he has taken me through all these things. So, on any decision, I have an idea of what Oga will do. But where I have problem, I can pick my phone and call him that what should I do with respect to this. So, I am full of gratitude to him for his support and I can count on his stronger support going forward.
What should the people of Ekiti expect from your administration in the next three years?
We campaigned on the mantra of continuity and shared prosperity. Continuity of the programmes and policies of my predecessor in office which we have articulately adhered to in respect to the completion of some of the projects that he couldn’t complete, while he was here and also you will recall that before he left office, we launched the Ekiti State 30-year development plan from 2020 to 2050 and our manifestoes are offshoot of the development plan.The last budget was termed, ‘Budget of Strong Beginning’ and we named it so, so that we can put in place a very strong foundation for the prosperity of our people and now that the foundation has been laid, we have presented before the House of Assembly the budget of 2024 which is christened: ‘Budget of Sustainable Growth and Development,’ and the budget is to put the building blocks gradually for the foundation that has been laid to dispense prosperity for our people. So, what Ekiti people should expect in the next three years is a faithful implementation of our six pillars in accordance with the Ekiti State development plan and in accordance with the 2024 budget. So, Ekiti people should expect new capital projects, improvement in the living conditions of the people, those in formal sector should expect government support for the informal sector and same for private sector and they should look forward to the establishment of industries in the state. Also, we are going to put a lot of emphasis on clean environment to ensure that we clean our environment, we put emphasis on the art, culture and tourism and also, we attack unemployment and insecurity in the state.