Against the backdrop of the report of the Economic Confidential, which listed Ogun among the five rich states in Nigeria, Soyombo Opeyemi, Special Assistant on Media to the Governor of Ogun State, spoke to Sunday Vanguard in Abeokuta. Recently, the Economic Confidential listed Ogun among the five rich states in Nigeria in terms of its Internally Generated Revenue. Others are Lagos, Rivers, Delta and Edo. The report must have come to your government as good news… Gov Amosun

Of course, we are elated by the report. One should however try to appreciate its ramifications. By virtue of the size of allocation from the Federation Account in the year reviewed by the economic magazine, Ogun is number 25. That means 24 out of the 36 states in the country got more money from Abuja than Ogun State. As a matter of fact, except Ekiti State, Ogun collects the least from the Federation Account among the South-West states. But we are number four out of the 36 states in terms of the size of our IGR. Again, when you compare the IGRs of states to what they receive from the Federation Account (in terms of percentage), Ogun is number four among the 36 states. This is what the findings of the Economic Confidential reveal. In comparison to the situation of the state before Amosun mounted the saddle of leadership, it shows we have leap-fogged economically. And this should not come as a surprise when you have a technocrat-politician as governor. I guess you know that the state governor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun, is a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria with track records of achievements in the private sector. Lest I forget, there was the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) report released in April this Year. The NBS rated Ogun State as number one among the 36 states of the federation in terms of percentage improvement of the Internally Generated Revenues between 2014 and 2015. Our state can be said to be   first among equals in this regard. The vision of the governor is for the state to depend less and less on funds from the Federation Account. These are reports of independent institutions. They show the quantum of progress made under the Amosun administration in terms of financial re-engineering. In a nutshell, we are thrilled by the latest report but we are not exactly surprised because there is always a reward for hard work.

The implementation of Income Tax once led to an industrial dispute in your state. How was your government able to achieve these feats?

I must thank you for that question. No governor has the power to increase the income tax. All he can do is to implement the tax law. The Personal Income Tax Act (PITA) is a federal law. It had been in force throughout Nigeria long before Amosun became the governor. Yes, the Act was amended in 2011 and I think it was the interpretation of it that led to the minor dispute, which was quickly resolved then. However, raising income tax is usually the only road known to those who cannot think out of the box in order to raise public revenue. If you create an enabling environment for business to thrive, as Amosun has done, more and industries will be established, which will pay tax to government, federal and state. They will employ more hands which will also pay income tax. So you see why you don’t talk of increasing the tax to be paid by your people even if you had the power to do so.

You can increase the tax net, by that I mean get more hands to be productively engaged so that you reduce crime, raise the standard of living of the people in the process and the government get more revenue. In the last five years of the Amosun administration, about 90 major industries have been established due to the investment of the governor in security and other services that boost investors’ confidence. These are multi-billion naira industries. If you check the reports of the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), then you know under the current government, Ogun State has attained the status of the industrial hub of Nigeria, which naturally translates into more public revenue. Besides, the governor, as I said earlier, is a financial guru with proven expertise in financial management.It is easy to forget that the public sector in Nigeria is so permissive; too tolerant of laxity and corruption.

All the current revelations at the national level should suffice in this regard. When you have a system that allows, by design or default, public revenues to end in private pockets, no economic progress is possible. All you need, first of all, is a new Sherriff in town. I recall the first thing Amosun did when he came to power was to automate all processes of collection of government revenues.

Do you know that Ogun State lost close to N30bn (thirty billion) in revenue due to racketeering at the Bureau of Lands alone before the current government came to power?

With a focus on the vision, Amosun devised several strategies. He appointed Mrs Ronke Sokefun, a lawyer, to head the Bureau of Lands and later appointed a finance manager, Mr Adewale Osinowo, to succeed her. You had Otunba Abimbola Ashiru as Commissioner for Commerce, to mention a few of the round pegs in round roles. The governor gave his team specific mandates. You should be pleasantly surprised that within a space of one year, the income generated by the Ministry of Commerce rose from the average of N45 million (forty-five million naira) per annum under the previous government to N550 million (five hundred and fifty million naira) per   annum. That is 1,122% increase! This had nothing to do with taxing anyone financially. You blocked the loopholes through a cashless policy! The same exponential increase was achieved in the Bureau of Lands, Ministry of Urban and Regional Planning, Internal Revenue Service and so on. And so it should not surprise anyone that the government revenue, which was about 730m per month under the previous government, rose to about N3 billion per month in less than two years of the Amosun administration through the implementation of e-payment.

How is your government coping with the current economic downturn in Nigeria, salary crisis, pockets of industrial action?

Is Governor Amosun planning to downsize or reduce salaries of workers? I am happy with your choice of words. Pockets of industrial action, because if you look at it, Ogun is one of the few states that enjoy industrial harmony in the country. Even in developed climes, you have these isolated strikes. Of course, things are better with regular communication between government and other stakeholders in the state. The Commissioner for Information, Prince Dayo Adeneye, has mapped out a strategy to ensure this; and by all account, it is working. So generally speaking, there is industrial harmony in the state despite the economic challenges facing the country.

Another point is the foresight of the governor. You know the signs of impending financial crisis actually began since 2013. Then that central government blamed it on oil theft. But we all know better now. As if Governor Amosun knew what lay ahead, in 2011, he slashed the salaries of political office holders. Ogun is equally among the very few states having the lowest number of such office holders. Payment of workers’ salaries as and when due remains is a matter of policy. This does not suggest that the state is immune from the current economic realities across the country.

I mean if your wage bill is about N9 billion and what you get from the centre drops to less than a billion, or N2 billion even with the current Budget Support Fund of the Federal Government, then there is a huge gap to fill. Of course, some people at a point tried to put pressure on the governor to downsize or reduce salaries of workers. The governor said ‘No, we will weather the storms together.’ In fact, once the cooperative deductions are settled with improvement in the state’s finances, he plans to implement some other welfare packages. Amosun believes that tough times will not last once you do not remove your hand from the plough.It appears there is some political realignment in Ogun APC towards the 2019 governorship race.

Is   Governor Amosun grooming a successor?

The governor has just begun his second year of a four-year mandate. Naturally, he will concentrate on delivering on his promises to the electorate. Besides, I think we all have so much to chew already with the economic situation of the country. You know the price of crude oil three years ago. You know what it is now. We know the current security challenges as well.

This is the time for all governments across the country to redouble efforts in order to cushion the effects of the downturn on the citizenry. We all need to rally behind President Muhammadu Buhari to end the financial hemorrhage in this country irrespective of party affiliations. Of course, there are political activities at the local level. But concerning the issue of governorship, I believe 2019 will take proper shape at the right time.