BREAKING: Why I stopped lying about my age – Ondo commissioner

Emmanuel Igbasan is a chartered management accountant and Ondo State Commissioner for Budget and Economic Planning. His grass-to-grace story as a former bricklayer, commercial motorcycle operator and commercial bus driver would no doubt constitute a source of inspiration for many. In a chat with journalists, including OSAGIE OTABOR, he explained why he stopped lying about his age, among other issues of interest….CONTINUE READING....CONTINUE READING

What does it mean to work with a man like Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu?

I see the governor as a highly insightful person. I see him as a man devoid of offence towards anyone. He takes actions as it comes to him out of free consience. I had studied him when I came into governance. He is a lover of intelligence and a lover of critical issues. He is intolerant of indolence and lies, and this has made some people to misunderstood his person.

I have a very close relationship with him. I enjoy attending the National Economic Council meeting with him. He is a man of great conviction. If he is convinced, he would go ahead.

If he makes a genuine mistake, it is not intentional. That is the kind of person he is. He is passionate about developing Ondo State to the best of his ability. He also loves people with sincere hearts.

Working with him has further enriched me to make sure that I am sure of my facts and figures before I talk to him. I don’t talk to him as a politician; I talk to him as a technocrat and a coordinator of the economy. I do tell him the truth no matter what.

Did you set out to become a commissioner in Ondo State?

Did I ever think I would become a commissioner? The answer is no. Most of us come from mud, not even from stone. I earned my first degree as an Okada ( commercial motorcycle) rider. I was also an apprentice to a bricklayer, and my master then turned out to be the one that built my house in the village. He’s still a bricklayer till date. I was also an apprentice driver. I drove from Kubua to Kano to eke out a living, even after my graduation. I prayed that the future should be alright for me. The future has not arrived, but we are in the next bus stop.

Having passed through these experiences in life, how did you feel when you made your first million naira?

The first good money I made was N40,000. When I finished school, I worked with a microfinance bank. They paid me N7,500 per month. One day, I asked the bank Manager how many years he had spent on the job, and he said 16 years. His clothes and shoes were too bad. I called another worker there, who was a graduate and had also spent 12 years on the job. He lived in a room with his wife and children. I then decided to resign from the job because that was not the kind of life I wished for myself. I started looking for work but my age had advanced, so I removed 10 years from it.

Pacific Bank called me for an interview. When I got to the interview, they realised that I lied about my age. Hence I was not employed despite the fact that I performed well. They wrote that “he is brilliant, but he is a liar.” I went back home and tore my CV.

I knew that because of my age, God had excluded me from seeking for Job.

I have had lots of experience in advertising. I have been into editing. I have been a consultant to Federal Internal Revenue Service in Lagos and a consultant to Ogun and Oyo states before I found myself here. Every Man’s life has been designed by God. Rely on him, He will take you there. I don’t know what the future holds for me but I know the one who holds the future. So I knew that my future would be brighter.

What is the debt profile of Ondo State?

We have internal and external debts in the state. But when you bring the totality together, the conceptual debt amounted to N220 billion when we took over. Rght now, it has reduced to between N90 billion and N92 billion, including multilateral debt. All the salaries we paid were part of the debt. The cumnulatuve debt of pensioners was N35 billion when we took over. Even if we deploy the resources of the state, we cannot offset this. Then we decided to give N200 million to them yearly to sort the pensioners debt.

How they handled it is also another ball game, but I have my reservations on it. We also allocated N300 million for their pallaitive. We have paid all leave bonuses except for Level 9 to 15 in 2019. As of today, with all the work that has been done, I am not sure we are owing up to N10 billion as conceptual debt.

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How has it been since you came on board the administration of Akeredolu in 2017?

When we came on board, we engaged the citizens on budgeting. We believe the people should be part of decision process on how we deploy their resources and engaging people on our budgeting process. Luckily, the governor gave us the go ahead. After doing this, we received many global partnerships. In the past few years, we have upheld physical transparency, accountability, openness and citizens engagement.

In 2019, when the European Union did a comparative analysis for physical transparency, Ondo State came first in terms of budget and physical transparency. The Budget and Economy Planing Ministry is the blood of the government and the life wire of the administration. Nothing moves in the state without the knowledge of the ministry because extra budgeting spending is an offence punishable by impeachment. For us in Ondo State we occupied this critical function to ensure optimum allocation of resources.

Apart from resource mobilization and optimum allocation for the betterment of our people, we liaise with all developmental partners across all sectors. Our ministry is the first port of call for any national or international agency before they do anything in Ondo State in any of the sectors. We relate with development partners such as the World Bank, WHO, European Union, African Union and many more. This is necessary because we should be able to guide them and direct them in line with the economic objectives of the government. You cannot just come in and go into any area and begin to function without alignment with the objectives of the Government of the day. This is what we do.

Many Nigerians do not understand whether your ministry makes any impact on their lives…

The impact of this ministry on the adminstration is very important. Sometimes you cannot see it physically unless you take a deeper look or you are an expert in this area. It holds on us to know something about everything for us to function efficiently. Incidentally, the result has been showing through our resources management.

Looking at our IGR, we are the primary ministry that sits with every revenue generating agency and agree optimally what they should bring to the collective pool. We have the responsibility of resources mobilization. If there’s any leakage in the system, we ensure that it is closed. We have the monetary department; they monitor our appropriations. We are ready to absorb constructive criticism and we would do what is necessary, especially for our people.

How has your planning affected the ordinary citizens of the state?

For us to live in a prosperous and sustainable manner, we should plan on how to unleash our potential in a way that would benefit us that are alive and also benefit the generations coming. Looking at the statistics that we have out there, Wikipedia put Ondo State as number seven in the size of our GDP. In the National Bureau of Statistics, we are number six. The National Enterprises Promotion Council put Ondo State as number four. The World Bank made Ondo State number six in terms of the size of our GDP. Our GDP is at $8.4 million.

We have to interrogate the system critically. Ondo State might not have industries, but God blessed everyone with a measure of gifts. We have up to five or six forest reserves. If we properly manage what God has given to us, other states are not better than us.

You recently rolled out a 30-year development plan for the state, which was tagged Ondo 2054…

For a state to be able to meet its needs, there is critical need to access its asset, its potentials and its capabilities. As at 2006 census, Ondo State was 3.6 million in population, and definitely, we would have a growth rate of 2.8. By now we would have a population of six million people. In 2054, which is 30 years from now, how many are we going to be? We have occupied everywhere. What does that por tend for our agricultural sector? We have been known as largest cocoa producer. Now Cross River has overtaken us.

What has happened to Oda Cocoa Reserve? Have we not bulldoze it off and begin to erect structures there? If we continue in this way, how do we ensure food security for the growing population?

Many commentators have described the recently held Develop Ondo 2.0 as a jamboree…

Develop Ondo 1.0 was organised in 2018, putting into consideration some of the background information given, looking at the great potentials of Ondo State, looking at the advantageous situation and location of the state. If you would go to Lagos from Ore, it would take less than two hours. From the South East to Ore, it would take less than two hours to get to Asaba. We have close distance to the economy areas. Looking at the southern zone, we are opened into the Atlantic, which gives us natural advantage to use. That was what necessitated develop Ondo 1.0 to showcase the potentials and the benefits of partnering with Ondo State.

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One of the benefits is the development of the Air route in Akure Airport. You are aware that it is not state-owned. But for us to bring investors, transportation is key, and now we have three flights almost on daily basis. We can see that number of people that have residential houses and businesses in Ondo State has increased because they no longer need to travel through the den of kidnappers before they get to Ondo State.

Another benefit of 1.0 is security, and that was when Mr Governor championed Southwest Nigeria Security Network known as Amotekun. Today we are all beneficiaries of the peace in the community and safety of life and property. This administration brought UNDP back during Develop Ondo 1.0. They are now profitable partners of Ondo State. There is no amount of money you spend on your state that is a waste. The benefits might not materialise directly but somehow, you would get the indirect benefits. Those ones that manifested directly would attract world investors. At Ore, we have partners on our farms there, which have engaged nothing less than 4,000 workers.

Coming to Ondo 2.0, it is too early to say that there’s nothing to do. You would see that we do engaged the NDDC on the project we wanted to execute at the moment. We engaged them on our objectives; they can’t just throw projects at us. We have to develop Ondo together. Chevron has also partnered with us. The benefits have started coming in even before it ends. It is not just a jamboree.

When will Port Ondo kick off?

In the whole of Africa, the only place to find a deep sea port is in Ondo State. Other ports like Badagry, Apapa, Onne, are all river ports. Ours is deep sea port. To bring more economic advantage to Ondo, we decided to develop our deep sea port. It supposed to be projected by the Nigeria port development, but Ondo did it.

What is the plan to curb Ayetoro sea incursion?

It is a problematic and pathetic one for us as a state. If you look at the historical heritage of that place and their enterprises, it is not a place that should go into extinction. There are so many theories, because for me, before I proffer a solution, I want to dig deep into the root of the problem so that I won’t be dealing with the symptoms.

I told Mr Governor that before we can give solutions to the problem in Ayetoro, we need to know the cause. There’s no vacuum in nature. If you look at the proximity of Ondo State to Lagos and the quantum of sand that was pulled from the sea to create a city where they drove the sea several miles away, there’s possibility the sand was taken from Ondo State. Some states erected sea breakers at the buttom of the sea, which would change the natural cause of flow of the sea water. That might have been the repercussions that we are facing here.

Another perspective is the activities of the oil companies. While I was doing my research, I stumbled on information as far back as 1958, and it has been predicted that something like this would happen.

The rise in climate change and the erosion level can be the cause too in Ayetoro. They have awarded numerous projects to salvage the issues in Ayetoro. One of them brought in sand to fill the place, but within a few days, they ran out of sand.

Many of the perspectives put there are not true. We need to conduct critical survey on the solution to that place. Mr Governor, before he went on vacation, had set up a committee on Ayetoro problem. They are to look for fund to tackle the situation. The Governor was emotional, and he said this would be one of the bad things he would be leaving behind; that he left Ayetoro worse than he met it….CONTINUE READING