We ’ll reduce unemployment to zero-OSOPADEC boss
The Chairman of Ondo State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission, OSOPADEC, Mr Olugbenga Edema speaks with EVELYN OMOTOYE on the activities of his commisison to better the lives of the people in the mandate area. He equally discussed some misgivings in the public that the commisison’s funds were being diverted for other purpose.
There was a publication in one of the national dailies alleging the OSOPADEC of funding the Office of the State’s First Lady, is this true?
There is no doubt about the fact that we have a relationship with the Office of Her Excellency but whether OSOPADEC is funding projects of the Office of Her Excellency is another thing entirely. But I want to say that it is not true that we are using the OSOPADEC resources to fund the activities of the Office of the First Lady.
The true position of things is that the wife of Mr governor has a lot of pet projects, one of which is BEMORE. It is a project designed by Her Excellency to enhance the capacity of the girl-child in Ondo State and this we found laudable as far as we are concerned since it would enhance the capacity of our children in our own mandate area.
In 2017, when we heard about that project, we keyed into it but unfortunately when we were ready to be part of it, the programme had closed. Her Excellency told us it was going to be too expensive for her to take us all alone. So that was why we had to register our children for 2018 edition. And I can tell you that out of 120 of our girls that we enrolled and were trained in ICT, solar renewable energy, power energy, makeup, bead making among and other vocational trainings put up in the programme in that exercise , I can proudly say that one of our children that attended the training, one Ebiseeni is one of the five people that was shortlisted for Technovation challenge, a global annual competition for teenage girls using technology to solve everyday problems. She will be going abroad. So, what we did at OSOPADEC was to present our own Children for BEMORE programme and funded it.
So what we did was to present our own children for the programme and funded it.
And this is one of the reasons OSOPADEC was created. So the money did not go into the purse of the wife of the governor or directly into her pet projects but only meant for our own children to benefit from the programme. Just like any other group of persons who might have also registered to benefit from BEMORE because our children were not the only set that participated in that programme. This programme I learnt had 400 girls participating.
So, I think those who are saying that are mischievous but we have to put the record straight.
The Office of the First Lady has a lot of programmes. In OSOPADEC, we look for programmes that can impact our people’s lives positively. Just like ITF came with a programme few months ago and we encouraged our people to participate, we sponsored them for that programme and they all benefited. So, the fact that BEMORE is being funded by wife of Mr Governor does not make it different from others as far as I’m concerned. What is more important to me is what our people will benefit from any programme put in place by any organisation. So, once the programme is credible, we are in a position to sponsor our people to participate in it.
Can you state other programmes of such that the commission has been sponsoring the people in the mandate areas?
In the last two years, like I have said, the industrial training fund came and brought to us a leadership programme that we sponsored our people for. African Network For Environment And Economic Justice (ANEEJ) which is an acronym for an organisation that also came to partner intervention agencies including OSOPADEC. We also sponsored our people for that programme. Partnership In Niger Delta (PIND) also came with a programme for the women in the riverine areas all over the Nigerdelta region, we also presented our people for participation. And other programmes too, what is more important is who are the beneficiaries? It is our responsibility to support and develop our people.
We must sincerely appreciate the wife of the governor for her initiatives. Ebiseeni Aanuoluwapo, is one of the children that will be taken abroad for the programme. If she had not participated in that programme, there is no way she would have been able to benefit. There is no way her life will remain the same when she return. She was trained in ICT and all other participants were given a computer each, about 120 of them. We are also presenting 120 people for the 2019 edition plus 20 from the previous edition who will be their mentors. So, we don’t have any regret at all that we are partnering with Office of Her Excellency for our people’s benefits.
Some youths from Ilaje protested at the governor’s office agitating for autonomy for OSOPADEC, what does this mean to you?
Well, I don’t know what they mean by autonomy. I have tried to look at the meaning in the dictionary which mean distinct, independent. So, is it possible for OSOPADEC to be independent going by the law that set it up? The law says the Chairman and the board members will be appointed by Mr Governor, so where is the autonomy, autonomous from the influence of Mr Governor? The law says in the exercise of his function, the governor shall direct, control and supervise OSOPADEC, that is what the law says! So, what kind of autonomy are they talking about? Is it that the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, should conduct election for the position of the person who becomes the Chairman and members of board of the commission?
The law has already stated clearly who governs the commission. That Akeredolu is now in the saddle does not make any difference, the law is sacrosanct. It is the same law that states that the headquarters should be in Akure and area offices in the mandate area. So, there is nothing new that we are doing except that people are mischievous or they don’t know what they are saying.
So let the agitated youths elucidate further what they mean by autonomy but as far as I’m concerned we are practising what the law says about OSOPADEC. The fund dedicated for the commission is intact and used for the benefit of the people. Yes, the fund has gone down over the years because the price of oil has also gone down.
Can you pinpoint some of the developmental projects recorded in the mandate area?
When we came on board, the Governor said he doesn’t want any project to be abandoned . One of the mandates we got was to identify those projects that are going to be beneficial to your people and make sure you complete them.
One of such projects we did was water project in Aboto. The treatment plant has been completed by the last administration. It was awarded at N1.9b. The pipe laying and reticulation was also awarded for about N2.3b after review. We have done everything humanly possible to make sure the project is completed for the benefit of our people. We have tested the water and it is flowing in our taps and we are only waiting for Mr. Governor now to commission it so that our people can begin to use it.
Look at the road from Irele to Ayeka, that road could not be used during rainy season. There was a year somebody died in an attempt to canoe himself across the channel. But since this government came into office, we have made sure that we complete that road. As I’m speaking now, the road is in use.
Then you would also remember that for our students in tertiary institutions to get their bursaries before was a herculean task. But since the inception of this administration, it is no longer so. We paid over N200m for the 2014/2015 session. We paid about N240m for the 2015/2016 session. We are going to pay 2017/2018 now because the process has just been completed.
In addition to this, we have just realised that for us to finance old projects, there is no way we would be able to put money in the pockets of our people in terms of paying the local contractors. Then our wooden walkway was resuscitated, this is a system that has been abandoned over the years and has become death traps. Because that is the only mode of transportation within the communities in the riverine areas, except you have canoes and how many can afford this? This is our responsibility. When the idea of wooden walkway was conceived, people rejoiced over it and they are still happy still using it. In fact, it was the yearnings of the people that made us revisited the project. As I’m talking to you, we have completed about 900km of wooden walkway in almost all the riverine communities in Ilaje local government and the contractors are already taking their money for those who have already completed their projects.
Talking about the housing units we are executing, the housing units concept is based on the fact that some of the utilities that we have such as primary schools, health centres and others, the staff there do not have place to reside and that has increased the incidence of truancy in the mandate area. So, we noticed that people wouldn’t even come to work because they are not indigenous people and hardly will they find accommodation in those areas. So, it is our responsibility to make these people comfortable so that they can do the jobs for which they were hired. We are already building housing units attached to these institutions utilities.
By and large, these are the ways we have been able to touch the lives of the people. So, it is not true to say that we are not doing anything. For those who are saying they cannot see what we are doing, well, it is quite unfortunate because they have to open their eyes wide.
What are other projects you have in this year budget for the area?
The budget that was approved for us was about N9b . We want to finance part of our N9b by borrowing. The estimate we are expecting from the federation account was less than N7b and that is what the state believes will accrue. Those people protesting, they were brandishing placards saying that we get N5b against the N9b we are actually getting. We have to pay salaries, we have to run this place too which gulb about N1.2b per annum, have paid N240m as bursary, we paid old contractors close to N2b. We have to train our workers and give them incentives . By the time we add all these together, we wouldn’t have money left to fund most of other projects if not for the ingenuity of Mr. Governor who as been able to move this place forward.
The stakeholders meeting with the people in the mandate area to keep them abreast of your activities, is it no longer holding?
It is still ongoing. We have done one or two since we came on board.
How well do you carry your people along especially youths so that they would be properly informed?
When we do our stakeholders meeting, in fact, the last one we did , we didn’t do it in one single place , we moved it from place to place. We had one in Ugbo, one in Mahin, one in Apoi and we have also had one in Arogbo. That was the first time we were having decentralised meetings, that is our way of meeting the people. Before, all of them would be put in one single hall in one day. With that, there was no way we could adequately get response or feedback from our people but because we decentralised the process and met with the people in their different locations, it was easier for us and they hailed the idea. In fact, the inputs of our communities are considered before we prepare our budget.
What do you think could cause the agitation of the youths of the area with all these developmental projects put in place?
Well, I understand that this could be borne out of the fact that election year is fast approaching. For instance, you would recall that the governor brought our people together and we were presented with the feasibility study of The Deep Sea Port in that area and they said it is feasible. You can imagine the multiplier effect having a Deep Sea Port in the entire coaster area. A government is talking about a road leading from Araromi seaside to Lagos, look at the economic implications of having such. The Free Trade Zone and the industrial city the government is already embarking on, still in the mandate area of OSOPADEC. So if it is not mischief, if it is not ignorance, I believe these alone are projects we should embrace and support the government of the day.
We are already doing massive training for our youths . Just last week, the governor visited the office of the coordinator of the Presidential Amnesty Programme so that the people disarmed, we can do something about them through the programme including training and payment of stipends among other things. They need to have to be integrated into the society. So, if not ignorance or mischief, they need to be well tutored to know that this government mean so well for them. No other governor could have done what Akeredolu is doing for them. By his own mantra, he believes Ondo State cannot be developed except the Southern senatorial district is developed, otherwise we will remain a civil service state, who else would have done that?
So, I think the people should be patient with him and allow all these laudable projects and programmes to materialize for the benefits of our people. And by the time the projects are done, except for those who do not want to work, the incidents of unemployment would have been reduced to almost zero.