The rift between Governor Gboyega Oyetola of Osun State and his predecessor, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, current Minister of Interior, deepened Wednesday as their key loyalists traded blames over the huge debt profile of the state.
While supporters of Aregbesola said Osun’s debt incurred during his tenure had been liquidated, those in Oyetola’s camp said the former governor and his loyalists are economical with the truth as the Fiscal Responsibility Commission (FRC) recently disclosed that “Osun State under Aregbesola was hugely indebted to the tune of about N170 billion.”
Speaking with Daily Independent, a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Osun, who played a key role in Oyetola’s emergence as governor and also served in Aregbesola’s administration, said Oyetola was still paying back the huge debts incurred by Aregbesola, yet has not defaulted in payments of salaries and other responsibilities since assumption of office.
“We all know what transpired under Aregbesola. Months of unpaid salaries and a situation where religious bodies and civil society organisations were donating food items to Osun people, especially civil servants. Osun was just like Somalia under him. We are thankful to God that despite challenges and paucity of funds, nothing of such has happened under Governor Oyetola”.
“Some few months ago, the former governor and most of his loyalists, including a former commissioner in the state, Hon. Bola Ilori, were everywhere gloating over the fact that Osun’s debt had been liquidated and as such, supporters of the current governor, Adegboyega Oyetola, have no justification for complaining over paucity of funds”.
“But reports in the papers appear to have exposed their lies and propaganda. For instance, in one of the reports in one of the national dailies, published on April 6, 2021, it stated that for Osun, the public debt stood at N169,784,799,861.33, while the revenue stood at N24, 222,272,968.42. This puts the debt to revenue ratio at 700.94 percent. It, therefore, exceeded the 50 percent rule by 650.94 percent.”
Curiously, however, political watchers of events in the state believed that what was on ground under the former governor does not in any way justify the huge debt profile of the state.Those who hold this view are quick to also add that the about N170 billion debt does not include debts owed to local contractors and other commercial banks in the country.
“I have been part of the APC government here since 2010 and I can tell you authoritatively that the current administration had paid debts of over N40 billion since it came without borrowing money from anywhere,” he said.
“There are occasions when after deducting at source the debts owed by the state, it is left with very low amount as ridiculous as N50,000. In fact, there was a newspaper that reported that we had zero allocation from FAAC after deducting our debts sometime last year,” he added.
He again said, “On some refunds that were made to the state, the refunds were on the ongoing road projects and the state had deployed the funds into funding the road projects it inherited from the previous administration.
“Crosscheck your facts, when Ogbeni (Aregbesola) was leaving, Akoda-Gbongan Road was less than 18 percent. So, the refunds were expended on that road and others the government inherited. The refunds would have become handier if the projects had been completed before the refunds came. So it will be presumptuous to conclude that government got refunds on those roads to do other government business,” the source said.
Reacting to the claim, a senior aide of Aregbesola, who asked not to be named, said it is hypocritical for Governor Oyetola to blame the minister for incurring debt when he (Oyetola) was the negotiator for the loans as the Chief of Staff to the governor.
“I can only speak within my knowledge. The current Commissioner of Finance in Osun will shed more light on this because he was also the Commissioner for Finance in Ogbeni’s second term.
“These people are just hypocrites. The Chief of Staff then, Oyetola is the governor now. The truth is that, all of us took these loans together. Oyetola, who was the Chief of Staff to Aregbesola is a signatory to all the loans. He was the chief negotiator of salaries and pension matters and he cannot deny that.
“I can send you pictures where he (Oyetola) as Chief of Staff to Aregbesola signed an accord for modulated salary. There is nothing that happened under Aregbesola that he did not know about. So, why is he now playing the ostrich and acting as if he became governor under an opposition party?
“You cannot take any loan without the signatory of the Chief of Staff and the Commissioner of Finance. As I said, the Commissioner for Finance in Aregbesola’s second term is still holding the same position under Oyetola. If there was financial mismanagement then, will Oyetola retain him?
“What did Aregbesola use these loans for? Building schools which are one of the best in the country today. Those schools are there today and Oyetola who is crying about loans is today the beneficiary. He took sukuk loans at zero percent interest rate for the 11 high schools projects. Now all the monies have been paid back and Osun still has the schools.
“Aregbesola also took loans for road projects. Federal Government has paid back to Osun and the current governor earned the money.
“The biggest loan that is creating problem is the bailout loan by the Federal Government. If you remember, it was given to all the states for payment of salaries. The governor of Osun is a very petty, funny and strange fellow. Oyo State owed salaries under former Governor Abiola Ajimobi and they also took bailout. How many times have you heard Governor Makinde who is from an opposition party complaining about the bailout loan taken by Ajimobi?
“To us it is not about loan. Oyetola and his men are only after demonising Aregbesola and I can assure you that they have failed. Aregbesola is busy doing his job in Abuja to the admiration of Nigerians; let Oyetola also focus on his job in Osun,” he said.
When contacted, Chief Press Secretary to Governor Adegboyega Oyetola, Ismail Omipidan, pleaded to be excused from the conversation.
But when pressed further, he said, “We don’t dwell in the past. We have moved on. Yes, it is an open secret Osun is one of the 36 states that is owing some debts, but I don’t have the figures off hand. Only the finance commissioner can adequately respond to that.
“However, what is certain is that the governor in this last two years plus has proven that with the right man at the helm of affairs who has the right attitude and who is knowledgeable about creative financing, it is possible to run a state like Osun in a depressed economy without inflicting additional pains on the residents and citizens.
“My principal has control over his expenditures; he’s been able to block leakages, he is extremely prudent with the little resources at his disposal and he sets his priorities right. He does not spend frivolously. If you have a programme to run, you have to think twice before presenting your budget”.
“That is why I laugh when people try to judge him by their own standard by saying he was spending millions to stop someone else’s programme. If you dare give him such a budget, he will tell you the number of workers’ salaries the amount could cover or the number of hungry citizens and residents the amount could feed. He is transparently prudent”.