Makinde’s Approach To Governance Is Commonsensical,Yours Is illogical–Sen Kola Balogun Replies Armchair Critics
TRANSCRIPT: SENATOR MOHAMMED KOLA BALOGUN WITH MAYOR ISAAC BROWN ON FRESH 105.9FM COVID-19 SITUATION ROOM ON MONDAY 4TH OF MAY, 2020
Mayor: Distinguished Senator, Kola Balogun. Good morning, Sir.
MKB: Good morning, Isaac Brown. How are you? Please permit me to say, ‘Good morning’, to the beautiful people of Oyo South Senatorial District and by extension the good people of Oyo State. Good morning, Isaac Brown. How are you?
Mayor: I am alright. Many thanks for joining us. Let’s get it cracking. My first take this morning has to do with the fact that we do not have a vaccine, we do not have a drug to deal with this virus, the only thing we have are policies from the governments: federal and state. Let’s take off with policies and measures taken thus far by the federal government. I want you to be specific; how would you assess the selective lockdowns of some couple of states in our country and the financial intervention made thus far by the federal government at combating this pandemic .
MKB: Thank you, Isaac Brown. I think that government at all levels are trying their best , given the fact that this virus is novel and considering our state of unpreparedness in terms of medical infrastructure and within the limits of available resources. You know, I believe very strongly that we can use this grim period to alter the trajectory and structure of the Nigerian economy by appropriating at least 10% of our GDP as a stimulus package for investments into health and education infrastructures, agricultural value chains, solid minerals value chains, renewable resources of energy, petroleum industry value chain, infrastructure and public works: roads, railways, harbours, power, waterways and et cetera. Investments on integrating research science technology and innovation into agriculture, industry and manufacturing. So we can take this period as perhaps a blessing in disguise. And give our people a turn-around. And begin to work and prepare. We are not praying for the outbreak of a pandemic, but we should always be prepared for things like this. So, that’s my take on that, Isaac Brown.
Mayor: I’m going to link this! I just asked you about the financial interventions, thus far. Lagos is getting a lot of money because of the strategic nature; the spike. You think, the federal government should in terms of financial intervention , treat states equally, or what they are doing now, states that have a spike, we’ll push money there! Because, folks are asking that if Oyo State is able to get more money, maybe Governor Seyi Makinde would have done greatly compared to what obtains in Lagos.
MKB: The Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs has been in charge of palliatives to states, take for example, cash transfer and food palliatives. There’s been a mishandling of the scheme, of the exercise and that’s why the National Assembly was displeased with the way the initiative was being implemented. And so the leadership of both houses are stepping in and as an important arm of government, as stakeholders in the Nigerian project, and so we say look, we have to be carried along because we, not you are answerable to the people. Yes! Some criteria should be followed, you want to look at the numbers in each of the states, you have to look at the population as well, but the important thing is to be fair and transparent. But we didn’t see all of that, and so we challenged the ministry to prove to us. If you go to Oyo South, for example! And ask them, who and who are getting this palliatives and cash transfers, you would hardly get anybody.
Mayor: Are you saying, nobody has told you in Oyo South that they have received government cash transfer and food palliatives?
MKB: I have a couple of people that told me and they have been on the programme for some time before the pandemic, then they said, they have not received it in the last three months, so that’s not good enough. I have some APC senators who are complaining, so the complaints are general. And so we now say, ‘Look, we are answerable to our people, so we must be carried along, we must know what you are doing and so this is why you now have Senators talking in terms of monitoring who they are giving money to. And in their various districts making sure that the money and the food palliatives, the cash transfer gets to the vulnerables, to those targeted audience. So, this is our involvement. So far we are going to take privilege of oversight functions to ensure that henceforth, it’s no longer going to be business as usual. So we are not going to leave everything to the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs to carry on.
Mayor: In the case of food palliatives, federal government did send rice to Oyo, there’s been back and forth on the state of the rice. Oyo State government claiming the rice is bad, federal government insisting through Customs that the rice they gave out was good.
MKB: The case of the rice in Oyo State, is not just Oyo State. I think the Nigerian Customs should bury its head in shame and what they should simply do is to admit their faults and apologize to the people of Oyo State. I understand that Ondo State is also trying to return the same rice. Some APC states are keeping quiet, they don’t want to rock the boat because of party solidarity and what have you. Look! Most of the seized rice is mainly from the South West and Ibadan is the headquarters of South West, Nigeria anyway. So if you are now talking in terms of contributions to these seized consignment, you have most of it from the South West. But then, you have to ask yourself, how much of it is being given to South West? A state the size of Lagos getting 6,000 bags; with Oyo’s population, 1,800 bags, most of which are contaminated. Look! How can you give contaminated rice, we are not hearing the same complain from other places, where did they take the rest of the seized consignment to? So, if we are not being treated fairly, we have to speak out. But I think that it is the responsibility of the customs authority to come out in clear terms. After all, I think I read one of the statements in which they admit that, ‘yes it wasn’t all the rice that was contaminated, but some of the rice was contaminated!’. So if you have admitted that you have some contaminated rice, the next logical thing to do is to apologise to people you are giving it to. These are no animals, we are the people of Oyo State.
Mayor: The people of Oyo State need to listen very well to this. Dr Kola Balogun, I’m aware that you are currently on an initiative. There is this fund: Covid-19 Financial Scheme by the CBN. We are getting reports you’ve been working very hard towards ensuring that the people of Oyo State have access to this fund. I’m getting reports of 3 million to 50 million that the people of Oyo State can ask for this loan, Covid-19 Scheme, help us make sense of this which you are driving as we speak.
MKB: Well, thank you Isaac Brown. Again, this is part of our resolve to ensure that every federal government agency, be it CBN, Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, and what have you, do the right thing in terms of federal government schemes and programmes. So, it is part of the stimulus package to jumpstart the economy since the Corona virus pandemic has succeeded in taking out a lot of businesses and livelihood. So, what I have done really, because we have agreed; the leadership of the Senate, and the management of the funds, they have pledged their readiness, their willingness to be transparent and be fair and therefore, what I have done really is to encourage our people, people of my district, to take advantage of this scheme since the managers have pledged to be transparent. And you know it’s a 2-year repayment plan at 5% interest. So, if one is qualified but is being denied, we are here. We are in a better position now to step in and fight for such individuals. So I want again to encourage and advice my people in Oyo South Senatorial District, we have put out the information, you have the documents with you, make sure that you provide whatever is being expected of you to provide. Be sure that you have reliable guarantors. And once you have all that in place and you apply online, what you need to do is to send copies of the application to my office. There is a phone number of my Legislative Assistant that you can call if you have any questions. So we are going to mobilize our people to take advantage of being this scheme and make sure they access the funds as much as possible.
Mayor: The fund is as low as how much and as high as how much?
MKB: It’s as low as N1,000 and as high as N25,000. Mayor, you can apply for N200,000, 5 million, 3 million, it depends on the scale of your business, you know. But the maximum your can apply for is 25 million. So, my job is to ensure that those who are qualified also get the funds so that we can jumpstart the business and the economy of Oyo South in particular and Oyo State in general. This is the way we are going to go about it.
Mayor: That is what the Nirsal Covid-19 Financial Scheme backed by the CBN is all about?
MKB: Yes, that’s what it’s all about. Yes!
Mayor: What’s your stand on this Vaccination Bill and the request by the federal government to burrow more money which the House is expected to also Ok?
MKB: The Vaccination Bill has not come to the Senate yet, but by the little that I know and read about it, it will not have my support. It’s obnoxious, it amounts to a trampling on the fundamental rights of Nigerians. And I know a lot of progressive Senators who would also not support it. The good thing about this practice of democracy is that when you push any bill, that is anti-people, even when it passes the first and second readings at the Senate or even House of Representatives, you still have to the opportunity to wait for them at the public hearing. Take for example, the bill on social media and what’s the other one; those controversial bills. The Social Media Bill, even some of us did not support it, it passed first reading and it passed second reading, but it was shot down at the public hearing. So, this bill, I don’t think will pass. [Mayor cuts in: You won’t vote for it?] I will not vote for it! I can speak for myself and of course I’m sure I can speak for a number of my colleagues who are progressive minded. But of course, I cannot speak for everybody. But then, even if it passes first reading and second reading, I’m sure Nigerians will mobilize people and support and they will come to the public hearing and kill it there. So, I’m not going to support that bill.
Mayor: The request by federal government to burrow and then wanting you to rubber stamp?
MKB: I don’t know the one you are referring to, if it’s the 8.5 billion we just swapped! We didn’t just pass it, it had been passed, we swapped it. It was either we burrow 8.5 million from the foreign market or we source 25 billion from the domestic market. But now that the economy is what it is, it will be cheaper now to burrow domestically than to burrow more internationally. So what we were asked to do was just to simply swap it, which is what we did at the last seating. You know, my take on burrowing, in a situation where the price of crude oil has gone down tremendously. And where you still have the 2020 budget (which is about how to find money to implement it). And life must continue! But the most important thing for me, we must set our priorities right. If you burrow and you target the spending of such burrowing to help education infrastructures, agriculture, solid minerals, renewable energy, because there is no reason why we should still be worried about crude oil. Let us build refineries, let us get the private sector to build refineries. Let us refine our petroleum products and begin to export refined petroleum products. We can make a lot of money, add value to it. So for me, I think this should be a wake up call for us as a government, as Nigerians.
Mayor: Dr Kola Balogun, we want you to take an assessment of what the leader of your party, the Governor of our state, Governor Seyi Makinde, when you look at the measures he has put in place to combat the pandemic in the state vis-a-vis partial lockdown, skeletal businesses during the day, curfew in the night, social distancing measures, all these, the bottom line here is, he believes he’s trying to balance economic reality with public safety. This approach by Governor Seyi Makinde has been described by a colleague of yours, a Senator as dangerous. This measure by Governor Seyi Makinde has also been described by a statesman in our state here, an elderly statesman, as cosmetic, lip- service, more of a populism initiative with far-reaching consequences. Your take, Sir?
MKB: Again, I thank you, Isaac Brown. This Corona virus, they say it’s novel and since we don’t have vaccine for it yet, every measure that is targeted at prevention, I think is in order. So, I’m impressed by the the steps the Governor has taken so far. Look, a good soup is something you may not notice, certainly not a good government. Partial lockdown is now the order of the day even in some countries of Europe and in America where the virus was more prevailent. So, it’s a two-pole argument. If you choose to lockdown totally as a government you must be willing to provide total welfare package for the people, otherwise, they’ll be problems. But in our kind of “kick and go” economy, that is heavily dependent on the informal sector, Gov Seyi Makinde’s approach is commonsensical. Let me give you a practical example; two weeks ago, in the Lagos total lockdown, my sister-in-law, who had lived in Lagos peacefully for many years suddenly sent me a distress call. She said robbers have taken over her neighborhood, day and night. The young Turks in the neighborhood, the young men in the neighborhood also then constituted themselves into vigilante group. They armed themselves with cutlasses and all kinds of dangerous weapons to confront the robbers to in the neighborhood. I had to intervene by calling a Deputy Commissioner of Police, who is a friend of mine to please come to their rescue. Now, what does that tell you, Isaac Brown? It means we are drifting into a state of anarchy, if we are not careful. We are drifting into an Hobesian state of nature, where life is short, brutish and nasty! Ah, look, Corona virus is real, but these armchair critics who are neither medical doctors not scientists but decided to criticize the Governor are merely playing the politics of 2023. Their hype is warped and illogical. Look, I speak daily to my friends and relatives in Dallas, United States. They are all talking about the need to ease up the lockdown, you know, because everybody wants to get out there to do their business and earn their living. So, we have to make a choice between Corona virus and Hunger virus. Hunger virus, as you know, kills a lot faster than Corona virus. Imagine an Oyo State that is confronted by this pandemic and yet was not paying workers salaries, an Oyo State that is battling with this pandemic, that is not paying pensioners, an Oyo State that is battling with this pandemic and is still forcing parents to pay N3.000 in public schools. What do you think would have happened in the circumstance. So, look, there are those who are criticizing, they could do as much as they want, but the people of Oyo State know what they voted for. If you recall, the 2019 election was a revolution in Oyo State, their so-called ‘template of governance’, was ovewhelmingly rejected by the people in 2019. So, if they have not changed their style, they’ve not changed their proposal to the people of Oyo State, we are waiting for them, let them come in in 2023 and present the same agenda that was rejected. All I know is that the Governor of Oyo State, Engr Seyi Makinde is trying to give back to the people of Oyo State, the Oyo State that we have lost.
Mayor: What you have just painted, I’m not going to argue with you but are you comfortable that almost one month plus into this pandemic, the palliatives from Oyo State has not been distributed, are you comfortable, Dr Balogun, this morning?
MKB: With my closeness to the government and my knowledge of what they are doing. What is worth doing at all is worth doing well. You just spoke about the federal government palliatives that are not going to the target audience. Of what use, if you rush at pushing out your palliatives and then the needy don’t get it, does that make sense? So, I am sure that they have people who are in charge and they are working out the details and I’m sure very soon, people will begin to get palliatives from Oyo State. The important thing is that the thing must go to the targeted audience, the needy, the vulnerable groups.
Mayor: In your own capacity, what are you doing exactly for the people of Oyo South. We have Covid on our hands, we have Ramadan on our hands. If we are still expecting that of Oyo State government, any excuse concerning yours?
MKB: Well, there is no excuse but I’m sure you know what we have been doing, it’s out there, take an opinion poll [Mayor cuts in: What did you do?] I’ve done the Covid-19 palliatives, we gave out rice and beans. We also gave out free sanitizers. And even for the Ramadan, we distributed a trailer load of rice, we gave to market men and women, you can cross check, the Labaowo people will tell you, the Bodija Market people will tell you what we have done. We’ve reached out to a lot of people, different interest groups in Oyo State, we have captured as much as we can and so it’s on record. I will leave you to do your own opinion poll. Let me not exactly blow our own trumpet, Isaac Brown.
Mayor: While commending Governor Seyi Makinde, it’s quite key all over the world that one of the most important ingredients that you must do scientifically to defeat Covid-19 is to ensure that you are able to test enough of your population. This Governor has actually situated here in Ibadan, a diagnostic centre and as we speak, Adamasingba is busy with more active testing. He’s got a target of 10,000. But will you be brutally honest? Do you think that your colleague and others have a point in the critisism actually labelled against this Governor. Will you say, it is appropriate for Governor Seyi Makinde to order back to work, workers, senior cader, in a state where as I speak to you Sir, as at this morning we have not tested up to 1,000 of our citizen. Do you think it’s wise to now ask these same citizens to move to work, balancing public safety and of course, what you have also alluded to, the economic reality. We have not tested up to 1,000 this morning, I can tell you authoritatively. Asking senior cader of workers to resume has been described as dangerous. And finally, when are you donating towards Oyo Relief effort in your own personal capacity?
MKB: Thank you, Isaac Brown. Can I answer your question with a question, please?
Mayor: Please, go ahead, Sir?
MKB: Would you say, it’s appropriate for the federal government to now ask – and that has been done since about a week or so ago – a certain cader of civil servants to go back to work? What is the rationale behind it? Do you think it’s appropriate, even for some countries in Europe and America to begin to do a phased easing of lockdown? So, if you are now saying that some people said what Engr Seyi Makinde is doing is inappropriate, what do we say about these. . [Mayor cuts in: Look, look, Dr Balogun, sorry to butt in, Governor Seyi Makinde never locked down this state. Those countries that you are mentioning had total lockdown before they started talking about easing. In Oyo State, we had partial, that’s the difference.]
MKB Continues: Don’t forget that Engr Seyi Makinde had constituted a task force that’s being headed by Professor Temitope Alonge, former CMD of UCH. You have the scientists as members of the task force, you have all kinds of discipline as members of the task force. I am sure they are in the field, they know what is happening. If they feel that Oyo State require a total lockdown, I’m sure they would have advised Engr Seyi Makinde to do so. Not doing so means, not necessary. If you ask Donald Trump how he’s been dealing with the issue of Corona virus pandemic in America, he’s relying on experts and expert advice. I also recalled that even when President Buhari was addressing the nation, he alluded to that fact. So, I’m not a scientist, I’m not a medical doctor, Engr Seyi Makinde is not a scientist, he’s an engineer, he’s not a medical doctor.
Mayor: Are you not worried? 10 cases few days ago, 3 cases day before yesterday, a case yesterday. We have 33 cases, as I speak , 33 recorded, 22 active.
MKB: But then, would total lockdown have prevented that? That’s not the reason you are having these cases. It’s because, they’ve increased the tempo of testing and that’s why you are having these numbers coming up. It has nothing to do with whether you are partially locking down or you’re totally locked down. So for me, the thing that I would advise is that, Engr Seyi Makinde, should continue to listen to the advice of those who are on the field. And the task force, there are experts on the task force.
Mayor: When are you donating to the Relief fund?
MKB: That would be between me and the Governor and the government of Oyo State.
Mayor: Will you donate towards that fund?
MKB: Isaac Brown! Yes, I will donate but let me tell you, whatever we have been doing is also to complement the state government’s efforts and that is very understandable. But when and where and how I will donate and how much I will donate, that would be between me and His Excellency the Governor of Oyo State.
Mayor: But you are telling the people of Oyo State, you will surely donate?
MKB: Of course, of course, when you are talking about this pandemic, you must do whatever you can to support government effort.
Mayor: Though you are doing something for the people of Oyo South, when you donate, it goes round the whole state, right? Everybody gets captured. I want to have you on record!
MKB: I’ve just told you that. You won’t know. Even if I donate, you will not even know, when and how I have donated.
Mayor: It would be announced anyways, they will tell us, they keep telling us people that have been donating.
MKB: Then you will have to wait till when they tell you!
Mayor: At least, you will.
MKB: Very soon, very soon.
Mayor: What do you have for our brothers and sisters in the state, it’s Ramadan?
MKB: First, let me use this opportunity to thank our people in Oyo South Senatorial District for their patience and also to encourage them to continue to listen to what the government is advising them to do in terms of social distancing, in terms of hand washing and sanitization of our hands. And then finally to say Ramadan Kareem to our Moslem brothers and sisters in Oyo State. May God Almighty give us the grace to witness many more of it. Thank you, Isaac Brown and thank you to my good people of Oyo South Senatorial District.
Mayor: Thank you so much, our highly Distinguished Senator.