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Monday, April 15, 2024

Buhari’s Forfeited Salary Is Nothing Compared To His Benefits – Fayose [INTERVIEW]

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Governor Ayo Fayose has come out to condemn President Muhammadu Buhari and his Vice, Professor Yemi Osinbajo over their much publicized pay cut, accusing them of playing to the gallery when the forfeited salary was nothing compared to the other benefits they are entitled to.

Speaking during an interview with Tribune’s Deputy Editor, Sam Nwaoko, Governor Fayose spoke on a wide range of topics ranging from the bailout granted to states by President Buhari and the recent resurgence of  Boko Haram attaacks.

Read excerpts of the interview below:

SIR, how do you see being a governor under President Muhammadu Buhari?

Elections have come and gone and, as I always say, President Muhammadu Buhari is the president of Nigeria, not by his own grace or by my own grace but by God’s grace. If I tell you that I wanted Buhari as president, I am a liar. I wanted Jonathan but God has given it to Buhari and so, we all have to submit to the will of God, the will of Allah, because He gives power to whosoever He willeth. So, I have congratulated Buhari; I wish him success and a good tenure. However, that does not remove the fact that if he is not doing it rightly we will not state our mind. It is a free society; there is no almighty governor; there is no almighty president. We are all governed by civility and by the constitution. It was in those days that somebody would just wake up and sack a state’s House of Assembly and start fumbling, like it was in the days of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. Such things can’t happen again. So, we are moving forward to civility in Nigeria. We are moving forward to constitutionality and obeying the rule of law. The fact that Buhari became the president, nothing has changed, because he is going to govern Nigeria; Ekiti is just a unit of the country and Ekiti is a federating unit. We have our autonomy; he can’t come and govern my state. Everything that is federally connected, he has right to it but in my state, I am the chief executive. That is why they call me “Executive Governor”. If he wants to assist Ekiti people, it is not about Ayo Fayose. And I’m sure President Buhari is a man that will not want to dwell on pettiness or operate by it because Governor Fayose did not support him. When Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was in power, the All Progressives Congress (APC) members, who were in the opposition, operated peacefully in their states. Jonathan did not say they should come to Ekiti and remove Kayode Fayemi from here. It is a system in which the people dictate who they want.

And that brings me to the fact that Ekiti is gone for good from the hands of APC. Even if Senator Bola Tinubu [the leader of APC] becomes the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) chairman, they will lose in Ekiti, because they are not on the ground here. The kind of politics I play is that wherein I tie myself to the people, not the people tying themselves to me. If you look at the processes of the botched impeachment, what happened aftermath,  was a defence put up by the people, not even me. We, however, thank God. It was the Lord’s doing.

Buhari is the president, by God’s grace. We wish him well. But I must also state without mincing words that I don’t curry favours that I don’t need. I represent my people and my duty is to make sure that I cooperate with the Federal Government. When you say Federal Government, Buhari is the face. When you say Ekiti government, I am the face. We will cooperate, collaborate and work with the Federal Government and it will not end up as personal issues between the president and Fayose. That will mean pettiness. Buhari too needs opposition; the country needs a virile opposition for the system to survive. The people said PDP was not doing it well, they voted us out. Okay. PDP was not doing well, let us see what APC has to offer. But for me, they have not started well. This pace is too slow and they are playing to the gallery too much.

 

But the APC has been saying that President Buhari is performing well.

Do you expect them to say that he is not performing well? You want them to say he is not performing when Boko Haram has virtually taken over the country now? Apart from other issues like the North/South dichotomy, religious sentiments and change in itself, one of the key reasons, in terms of policy and in terms of needs, why Nigerians voted for President Buhari is security. They want to be secure. Everybody was shouting “bring back our girls”, the APC was shouting that Jonathan had no capacity and that the moment Buhari comes in, within 30 days, Boko Haram will be inside the River Niger. Rather, Boko Haram is now spreading their tentacles and growing in confidence. Both opposition and the government must stay together to fight insurgency, but I need to remind them that they were the people politicising this thing. So, it has come to the fore. But it is a different ball game now: Governance and opposition. When they were in opposition, they could be using propaganda to deceive the people, bamboozle them and use the press to their advantage. But you cannot use propaganda to lead the people. Look at an instance: they came out to say that they had done a bailout. To whom did they give the bailout? Are they also bailing themselves out? Nobody has bailed Ekiti out. We have only got our legitimate allocation which is tax from NLNG. It was Ekiti’s basic entitlement under the allocation procedures. I got N2.1 billion and my wage bill is N2.6 billion. So, when you now say bailout, a bailout that cannot pay one month’s salary, how do you explain that? I said about a week ago that there’s no issue of bailout and I cannot be telling the APC-led government that that they are deceiving Nigerians and playing to the gallery. The so-called bailout issue is playing to the gallery. So, to me there’s no issue of bailout. When Jonathan was there, this tax from NLNG went straight to the federation account. Today, they are in power, they can say whatever they have to say. Jonathan is gone, they should leave Jonathan alone and face the act of governance. They said PDP cannot do it well; they are there now. They should, please, try their best for us and leave propaganda. Another thing is that the president and vice-president announced that they will forfeit 50 per cent of their salaries. That is also playing to the gallery.

 

People expect you to also do the same.

I can forfeit everything. I can forfeit everything, because salary is meaningless. The president should go a little bit further and forfeit other benefits he enjoys.

 

Benefits like what, for instance…?

For instance, all the benefits of the State House in Abuja and protocol. There are a lot of benefits that will accrue to the president in terms of travelling, in terms of sitting allowances and other allowances that are due the president. He must cut the cost, because the benefits are more far-reaching than salary. The president’s salary is N1.1 million. Is the president telling us that he has forfeited N550,000 to Nigerians to change our fortune? No. Even my own salary is about N700,000; I’m ready to give it out without complaining and I’m not going to announce it on the radio or television. And, interestingly, you cannot forfeit it by words of mouth, because there is nowhere you will post it anyway in the revenue mobilisation law. You can take it and use it to promote the cause of Nigerians, but don’t tell us you are ready to forfeit half of your salary and it’s a big deal. No, it’s not.

I’m ready to forfeit all of my own… the whole salary, not half, because we know the truth. We know where people in government make money. They should stop playing to the gallery. They should be able to take decisive steps to advance the cause of Nigerians beyond sentiment.

They’ve been there almost two months and they had about seven weeks before swearing-in. Yet, they’ve not been able to give us direction that they mean well. I’m speaking this way because I’m in the opposition, I’m not in their party.

 

You would also be clocking a year in office in a few months. What projects have you been able to execute with which you could mark one year in office?

If you compare my first coming and now, I have not done much, because this state is as good as being mortgaged. I have stopped talking about it because it is public knowledge now in the country and beyond. And in most states controlled by the APC, the debt burden is unfortunate; it’s not something to talk about. N25 billion bond is on Ekiti, which I cannot do anything about. They take money from source. The N31 billion commercial loan is there; they are deducting it. I’ve been saying it and I’m also trying to tell President Buhari that he should try and take a stock of what he is sitting on before he starts making a lot of promises, because the factors and variables are different. For me, we’ve done reasonably well within the ambit of what is available. I met two months of salary arrears owed by Governor Fayemi, but under my own government, I do not owe anybody.

 

Have you paid the two months arrears?

That’s what I’m explaining, that I’ve not paid. But under my administration, I do not owe any salary.

 

Are you not going to pay the arrears?

I will, of course. As soon as the funds are available, I will pay, because it is the people of Ekiti he owed, not politicians. Because of my love for the workers in Ekiti, that is why I have even delayed in appointing political office holders. It’s been difficult paying workers so how do I now join political office holders to it? I am just now trying to appoint a few people to be able to accommodate the interest of politicians. Don’t forget, civil servants in Ekiti are about 51,000 out of the 2.3 million population of the state. So, it is the 51,000 that is enjoying all the money that comes. I stand to be corrected. But I don’t mind, because paying salary is like keeping people alive.

We are building a Women Centre in honour of the deputy of Governor Fayemi, Mrs. Funmi Olayinka, because she was only put in the tomb there inside the bush. The building, when completed, will be named after her; to immortalise her. All the housing estates here, the roads have been tarred by my administration in my second coming. The road to the Police Headquarters, also in the state capital, which is about seven kilometres, is ongoing. A lot of channelisations are ongoing. The gallery at the Ewi’s Palace in Ado Ekiti is also ongoing. The Car Wash Road to Afao Road, about five kilometres, is already completed. However, what I’m saying is that within the ambit of the funds available, I am doing my best and the people appreciate me. The people are peaceful and there is no complaint or unnecessary unrest. You will notice that since after the exit of the 19 Boko Haram APC lawmakers here, the state has witnessed absolute peace. So, my efforts here can only be measured by the body language of my people.

 

You enjoy riding in an old Mercedes car. Where did you get the idea from sir?

Naturally, that is me. It’s like when I wear my shirts and I don’t wear agbada and all that. Everybody’s style is different. I’m not saying that driving big four-wheel vehicles and all that is not good, but that is common. I do things differently, little things that make a difference and they attract attention. That is me. My riding that antique car is my way of being different.

 

Are you not scared about your security, because doesn’t appear to be bullet-proof?

I don’t even drive bullet-proof cars.

 

Are you not concerned that something could happen to you?

When you are doing the people’s will, there’s no need to be scared. It is public knowledge that I’m popular in this state. Everybody in this state knows that Fayose is popular. When you are in tune with the people, they will protect you. They will stand up for you. My departure from the state, they all suffered from it. When I was leaving, I left over N10.4 billion in the coffers of Ekiti State government. Today I came to meet debts running to almost N80 billion. When I was here, all outstanding debts of the state, like the one being owed Omega Bank at that time, which took the title documents of Ekiti property in Abuja and the one at Ojulobun in Lagos, I got everything back. We owed N980 million at that time, we paid everything and got the title documents back. N980 million is about N1 billion. N1 billion at that time is about N6 billion now. All the outstanding debts of salaries then, I paid and this one ahead of me too, I believe that there will be a way where we think there is no way. When a man is willing, God will make a way for you.

I call all the workers together whenever money comes and I present the documents. I tell them ‘this is all the money’. I go to the radio and television and reveal to the people what we have and how we are sharing it. You can’t please everybody, but you have to try your best. You have to be seen to be doing your best.

 

About your leaving here in the past which you spoke about, did you ever think you would ever return here as a governor after what you went through?

The truth is that I have never lost hope for one day. Before man and God, I never lost hope for one day. And the simple reason is this: I still enjoy the confidence of the people even after my departure from office. One thing you cannot take away from me is that, even if I’m not governor now, there is no election in this state in which I will not have a major influence. But the real thing is not even the governance by itself, but relevance and influence. When your influence is far-reaching, nobody can ignore you. In Nigeria today and even in PDP, nobody can insult me because they know that I have a base. When you have a political base, you have confidence. I speak by the strength of God and my people. Everything I do, I come to the radio and television to make myself accountable to the people: ‘my people, I said because of this and this was why I said this.’ Everybody cannot like you, but I know that the majority loves a governor that is courageous, strong and resilient and have strength of character.

So, when I left here, I knew one day as long as I was alive, God would bring me back here because I did well when I first came. God helped me when in my first term, and till tomorrow I don’t deal with politicians, because they are a bunch of betrayers. I deal with the common people on the streets. Even if you give a politician your whole wealth, he will still say ‘how much is this?’ But when you reach out to the ordinary man, he will not have an opportunity to come and say thank you. But they will keep their thank you for a payback date. They call me Teachers’ governor here; they call me Workers’ friend, they call me all sorts of names. This is because if you are doing even naming ceremony, I will be there. If you want to go to agbo jedi (herbal medicine sellers’) sector, you will see me there. On Sunday, you have the kolobe (pounded yam without soup) joint. You buy pounded yam only there and get your soup elsewhere; I will be there once a month. You have to go to beer parlour late hour; you go to certain sectors at certain times. They know that you will come. In the market, I didn’t mention that we built shops there; I told every ‘big man’ calling me that they want shops there that they have to apply like all the other traders. They must obtain forms like everybody else.  I want to make it transparent. I rolled the papers in the open there and any number you pick is your shop number. So, I make the people to own the government; they own the governor and they believe in me.

When APC is telling lies they will just be sending me text messages. I pick their calls; I give out my telephone line on the radio and television. I sometimes get over 600 text messages and I reply them late in the night and early mornings, because I don’t always have the time to do that in the daytime. I get requests such as ‘give me money’, ‘send me credit’ and so on. When they request for N50,000 I will reply that I can only give you N10,000 and when the person says yes, I will say ‘send your account number.’ When they demand for call credits, I have N200 and N500 call credits in my house. I cannot give one ‘big man’ N1,500 call credit. I also have smaller denominations of the Naira in my car because when you get to certain joints you have to drop ‘something.’ That is part of “stomach infrastructure.”

 

What advice do you have for your fellow governors who are still unable to pay salaries?

I don’t have advice for them. No advice. Everybody should mind his business. Ekiti is my business, I will mind my business and I want to remain a minder of my business only.

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