In this interview with KAYODE ADEOTI, former Chairman, Local Government Service Commission and All Progressives Congress (APC) chieftain in Kwara State, Alhaji Sulyman Kayode Yusuf (Maja) speaks on the issue of the local government autonomy in the state, the outcry over the N5billion London/Paris club refund among other sundry matters in the polity. Excerpts:
You seem to have come a long way in the scheme of things in Kwara politics, how do you assert your views on it?
When we started, we had opposition but Dr Olusola Saraki played politics of welfarism, his son, Dr Bukola Saraki also played the same politics but with some improvement, I can say Baba was never hold position as commissioner or as governor in the state, he never served as grassrooter but Dr Bukola Saraki became governor in Kwara and served here, he was able to complement and improve upon what his father did and is always in touch with the people at home. He knows a lot about the town and has moved closer to the people with the government to feel what they feel and address their plight. He has really added value to our politics.
Would you subscribe to the fact that crisis in your party from the national level is taking its toll on fortunes in the state?
We don’t have any crisis in Kwara, our party became one when Governor Ahmed resumed, and they’ve been serving together with the chairman, no quarrel whatsoever between the party and the leader, Bukola Saraki and we’ve enjoyed atmosphere of robust politicking in Kwara. Our party is well settled at home. We don’t know anybody at the federal, we only believe in the leadership of Senator Bukola Saraki and he’s doing well with us, now that he’s very much engaged in national issue, he comes at least once in a month and he would stay around for three or four days to be able to attend to local issues.
What is your take on the new accolades attributed to the Senate president of being one of the most influential politicians in the country?
Yes, he is and I’ve said it over time that the allegation melted out to our leader is not part of his life at all, he’s not a corrupt politician and he is the new bride of our nation. He met money, influence, good image of his parent and also worked for it, he will overcome every problem that he encounters.
Looking at the performance of Governor Ahmed, would you say he’s attending to people’s yearnings?
In fact, the Governor is trying, our problem in Kwara is that we always have crisis even at the first year of any governor except during Sha’aba Lafiagi’s tenure, we had crisis all through until the government was overthrown during military. During Saraki’s administration, there was no crisis at all and during the birthday ceremony, Governor Ahmed was there which is uncommon. After four years in office, some governor will turn their back on their leaders, it’s not so here.
There’s an argument in the public that Governor Ahmed’s administration embarked on projects with no view for completion, can you put things in the right perspectives?
They’re just complaining, the Governor has said he will complete all the projects he inherited and additional ones initiated by him and we believe he will do it. His assurances is coming despite the economic recession that has affected states and that is why we have to salute his financial ingenuity that has seen Kwara grow as one of the best states in the country with good tax model.
Cuts in…but people are getting impatient about that
Why are they not patient, it’s a sign of progress, it’s better than somebody not saying anything concerning what he wants to do? Then the light up Kwara project is a laudable one too in the sense that government will spend nothing; some companies outside the country are embarking on that for us, that is another way of making progress in this country. I’m very sure he will fulfil all his promises
Going by the recession that is biting the country hard, do you think those projects are appropriate for this time?
Why are they not appropriate? It’s a good development to our state, we have the opportunity of someone saying I will not collect money now but until after ten years while we’ve enjoyed the project, I think what we will spend on this project in 10 years to come will be much more costly.
There have been many accusations over the N5 billion Paris Club refund, that the money should have been used on backlogs solely, what is your take on this?
Yes, it’s been used for that, all local government workers who are specifically affected in the non-payment have all received alerts, except those who have problems with their banks. We are following event and I’m very sure everybody will be happy at the end of the day.
It has been alleged that your party caused recession to the nation, in the face of this, would Kwarans still vote for APC in the coming local government elections in the state?
Ours is not about party politics in Kwara. For those of us in politics; we understand what is going on in the world generally. Which country is settled now? All are in one problem or the other, we thank God we are not in a war situation and APC came in to rescue Nigeria.
Before President Goodluck Jonathan left office, we have started seeing signal of all these problems. I remember around January, 2011, the local government and state had not been collecting their salaries regularly, so we’ve started that since then. So we inherited all these right from the PDP era. We decided to go for Buhari because he’s very neat and incorruptible to lead us as president, and we’ve started seeing the result.. If Jonathan was still in power, the corruption would have continued, look at what some ministers and special advisers were said to have siphoned.
How would you react to people’s allegations that they’ve not seen adequately the impact of the KWIRS?
What of the money they’re using to support local government salaries? When Saraki was here, they were taking about N3.5billion as allocation per month, but as at the beginning of second term of Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed, the state started collecting about N1.2billion as allocation, even sometimes N900million and they needed more than N2billion for salary.
Cuts in…are you saying this administration will not be able to clear all the backlogs before it’s term ends?
By God’s grace, that will be done, especially with the appointment of TIC chairmen, which has reduced the wage bill of the state workers. Instead of councillors of 10 wards, supervisory councillors for 5 wards, secretaries and all of that in each local government. Lot of money will be saved in the process.
What significance has the reduction of local government executives had on the salary payment, which is the bane of problems in councils?
It will take time, maybe three to four months, people shouldn’t expect miracle as regards this. Take for instance, 10 councillors who receive salaries of over hundred thousand monthly amounting to over N1million, how many people’s salaries can that pay? Can it clear what a local government owed. So it will take time before we start seeing the effect of the government’s method of saving money.
The opposition has criticised the ruling administration of extending TIC tenure, how do you react to this?
Constitution allows it, they’ve been in court over it, but I will not like to be commenting on it because the matter is still in court. It’s not legal to speak on it, but none of these accusers have won their case against the state government over the constitution of TIC. Ogun state has been to court, Oyo likewise Osun, they never won. Again, it’s a means to save money, there is no money anywhere, Kwara State can’t be imposing taxes on people, they will not feel happy about it, wherever they’re getting their money.
Would you also support the local government autonomy or the creation of some more of it in Kwara?
The bill is on the floor of National Assembly, they all want local government to be autonomous. Everybody are in support of it now having seen the need and how it will help the economic system. As for me, I will support creation of more local government councils, it will enable people to be closer to their government, and everybody will be able to solve their minor problems on their own. You can see what is happening in Oyo, Ondo, Kano where we have 42 local government councils, the government officials will be closer to their people and they will be able to assess easily the performance of individuals, unlike where we have 42 polling units, one councillor in Ajikobi ward, Alanamu, we have about 42 wards, one councillor, Alanamu starts from Oja down to Pakata, what can one councillor do in such a situation, I’m very sure once more local governments are created, more wards will be created too.
This is 2017, people are now looking at the local government election, going by the strategies deployed by the opposition parties to get people’s attentions, do you think your party will not be beaten this time?
They’re in crisis now, from the national, state, local to the wards, majority of them are now talking to us, they are coming down, they want to be with us despite the fact that there is no money in the country. Our own leader doesn’t leave us, whenever he comes around; he has been taking care of the party and its members. Who do the opposition have as its leader? Iyiola Oyedepo was a former member of our party, he rose to be commissioner and member of the state assembly. Also, Sunday Fagbemi too was a member of our party, when Dr Bukola Saraki became governor; they know what they were able to take home.
The opposition parties have alleged that KWASIEC is an arm of the ruling government, what is your perception towards this?
People who are saying that actually don’t know what they are saying because KWASIEC is for Kwara and they are working for everybody. The moment you go to buy nomination form, they work for you because they process your form and all that, but you cannot remove the state government from the commission. KWASIEC cannot say they want to hold election on a particular date when they’ve not been cleared by the government. Look at INEC, would you say it’s working for federal government or one party?
On the newly appointed Local Government Service Commission chairman, it has been rumoured before now that you were highly favoured for the position, how do you feel about it now?
To me, it’s all rumours, I never lobbied for anything. Before I became chairman of that commission, they mentioned a lot of people too, and the person that left the position when I came in was from my ward, so you can’t say Maja will be appointed to the position for a certainty. We cannot dictate for the leadership of the party but we are loyal. If you’re a very loyal member, then it means you have to take whatever comes to you because it’s a collective decision of the party, and I’m very happy that somebody like me was appointed to that position. Although she is a woman but she’s the iron lady in our party. I know her very well from when she was a staff of local government; I was serving as a councillor then in Ilorin West, when she joined politics. She is a woman that will perform and I urged all staff of the local government to cooperate and give her all the support required. Both the governor and leader are working together and they know where and what belongs to every member of the party, either in state, federal or even local government. Some that had served in the House of Representatives later came back to serve the state and they are doing it with vigour and passion. That is the spirit. So it’s about the leadership of the party and everybody recongnised and respect the decision.