•OYO FINANCE Commissioner, BIMBO ADEKANMBI
Like a Goldfish which has no hiding place, the Oyo state’s Commissioner for Finance and Budget, Abimbola Adekanmbi has proved his mettle as a thoroughbred technocrat in this dispensation. He is one of the exceptionally brilliant men in Governor Abiola Ajimobi’s cabinet. Last week, City People’s Correspondent, Dare Adeniran was able to pin the charismatic commissioner down for some minutes after several attempts. Adekanmbi, in this interview, speaks extensively on achievements of Governor Abiola Ajimobi’s administration in the past 6 years, his experience as Commissioner for Finance as well as many shocking things people don’t know about him. It is quite revealing.
We have less than a year before the end of this administration, how did the government fare in these past years, especially in the area of development?
Let me go far back. when the government came in they had this tripod agenda which is Restoration, Transformation and Repositioning. It was meant to be that we will restore the lost glory, at least bring it back to ground zero from negative, then we now Transform and then do the Repositioning. I will tell you gladly that those tripod arms had been achieved. How has it been achieved?
By Restoration, we know there used to be a lot of brigandage in Oyo State, it was known as the Wild, Wild, West and a place where anything goes. But now, you can see that the security of lives and properties are better, we can’t say 100 percent because only God guarantees that, but to a great extent we have been able to make the state peaceful.
In terms of the infrastructure, we all know that it had completely collapsed, all the roads, the bridges were not working, they had all collapsed and it was a disgrace and this was made worse by the flooding of August 26, 2011 where every thing collapsed but now we can see that the major bridges, especially those ones that were affected by the flooding are now in top shape.
What the government did was to go to the World Bank and tell them we can’t do it by ourselves. We got a credit intervention from the World Bank, we started the project as a response to that flooding and you can see that for the past six years there had been no flooding.
It’s not automatic, its because serious work went into that. For instance every year all the rivers are dredged, all those bridges had claimed a lot of lives, look at the Restoration Bridge, a lot of things had come into place. Look at the Eleyele roads, all those major roads, exit and entries into major towns, Ogbomoso, Iseyin, everywhere had seen the touch of the government and this had never happened before. If you look at the successive past administrations, if they had been doing these things that the Ajimobi administration has been doing, they would have been building so that the next government will build upon what the previous had done. Something has been established which other government can do. These are tangibles, hard achievements.
If we go into the soft achievements you will notice the mind set in Oyo state, there’s now a renewed urgency on the streets. Go to Ring road, you can see the activity there, the night life has been revived, companies have started coming. Look at the Lagos- Ibadan expressway, even in real estates things have started going up. Feel the mind set, come to the public service you can see that in the civil servants there is now a renewed urgency, there is an application to work that was not there as much in the past prior to this administration.
People now take their work more seriously and they are even proud and you can see the results. It’s not as if the government is already there 100 percent , but a lot has changed, soft changes, hard changes, tangibles, infrastructures all over the place, mindset, paradigm shift, security all over the state.
Take for instance the IGR which is the bedrock of government. Like I said, that is where the government is running itself from because all the other money we get, everything goes into the salary,to make sure that the welfare of staff and their emolument we don’t play with it.
We’ve done the Revenue law of 2015 which gives autonomy to the board and when its fully implemented it becomes private entity, it changes the game totally, because you get the best brain and you are supposed to decluster it from the civil service.
Other areas where you see legacy changes is that the emolument and pensions of civil servants had suffered a lot in the past from neglect, so we had over 60 billion of arrears in that area. When people are talking of Oyo state government and the debt profile they don’t go into some components, the major chunk is the arrears of pensions and gratuity.
What the Ajimobi administration has done is to introduce the Contributory Pension Scheme which is aimed at stopping all these arrears from blowing up unnecessarily. What will happen is that the government will make contributions, so far so good we have made almost more than 8 months of contribution even while we are waiting for the Labour to join and we have put in place all the technical requirements to support this.
A lot has happened, I believe you know this government is not one that blows its trumpet, a lot of things that are shaping the fabrics of society in Oyo state have been done. As a matter of fact we are doing what we should be doing and not shouting from the rooftop and that is why the noise is not as much as it should have been.
Despite all efforts you have mentioned, why then was it difficult for the Government to meet its obligations by paying workers salary as at when due?
I will give you a wholistic explanation for that, from the macro to the micro. From the macro I mean at the Federal Government level, it first started from the drop in price of oil because all that did was to affect the kind of allocation that used to flow down to the state and by extension what we saw was that where we had a salary, wage bill of about N5.2B and we had allocations that were almost matching it and we were now dropping to allocations of about N2B, N2.1B there about, automatically the arrears started to grow.
So from macro which is Federal government, mono-economy , dependence on oil prices and then oil prices crashing and then the negative head winds on allocation to the State and by extension, expenses were greater than the in-flow, that was what happened and we started piling up arrears of salaries.
What were the measures put in place to control that?
I want to give you a background so as to put them in proper perspectives. When this started to happen the Labour Unions embarked on a strike and they were adamant they were not going to call off the strike unless the arrears were settled. Of course we started negotiations and at several of the negotiations we made all the data available, that was revenue expenditure and after a while the Labour too faced the reality, they found out that there’s no way the arrears could have been settled based on the prevailing condition at that time and it was agreed to shave that N5.2B which was unmanageable, we were talking about N5.2B wage bill and an average of about N2.4B coming in at that time and it was very bad. So we said look, let’s shave the wage bill, we paused some items, we didnt remove them. I used the word paused with great respect.
Items like Car loans, Housing loans that’s why I used the word pause. So we said let’s put these things, the ones we can decrease, by subvention we started decreasing it to 50 percent for tertiary institutions and I think the bill dropped to about N4.2billion and like I said there were arrears that were already built up and the money that were coming in were not enough. So for every two months at that period we would get N2.4B and that is a wage bill of about 4.4billion, so we started saying every other month we are paying off a month, so we started going down on the arrears.
Other measures we put in place is that we keyed into the opportunity available at the Federal level. For instance we had a Budget Support Facility which the Federal Government introduced then and initially we were going to be given N1.39 billion for the first three months and N1.11 billion for eleven months after that, so the total of it was about N14.9billion, so we keyed into that and we were now applying 100 percent of what was coming from Abuja and 100 percent of the fiscal support plans which was the bail out money.
We now applied it towards the salary and it started going down little by little.
Another area where we were able to manage the arrears and bring it down is that we started keying into the Paris Club, the refunds given by the Federal Government. What happened was that Oyo state was supposed to have been excluded, we were told that we were not eligible for the Paris Club refund in any way, shape or form.
So the Governor went to Abuja where he made a case asking how could we be left out, they said we had collected it in past administrations. The Governor went and made a case for the state to be included, we did a lot of reconciliations and meetings which was passed through the Federal Ministry of Finance, eventually Oyo state was placed on the list of states that were receiving the bailout, so we started receiving the money .
Immediately the bailout was received, the first one we received we spent 60 percent of that on salaries, as it was stipulated by the Federal Government that we should spend minimum of 50 percent of it on salaries . The first one we received we spent 60 percent on salaries, we started paying what we called ‘onibeji’, those were the response to the arrears. What we did was that we paid two months of arrears as supposed to one month, so that the next salary we get from the Paris Club bailout we had allocation from Abuja which was 100 percent, Budget Support 100 percent, we had dumped everything at the arrears in a bid to bring it down.
The second one which was about 5.03 billion, we used 100 percent and we paid the onibeji again.
The third one, I think we spent about 65 percent. With the Paris Club we never spent 50 percent, we always spent a minimum of 60 percent, there was a time we spent 100 percent. So we were able to pay the onibeji, we were very dogged and we applied urgency to it and we used it to cover for money we had been using elsewhere. The only money we use even up till now is the IGR and to the glory of God, from owing seven months we are now almost down to zero, that is the journey of the arrears.
What else is the state doing to boost the IGR?
The key and most physical thing is structure. If the body that will generate the revenue is sick then the revenue will be sick . We talked about the IGR and the 2015 Revenue Law which we granted full autonomy, and of course for that law to be implemented we’ve done the advertisement for the roles, we’ve done some interviews for the management cadre and the appointments will happen any time soon,so the structure needs to be right.
Other areas to improve revenue, if you have been following news in recent times you will notice that. budget is predicated on two key areas, one ministry of lands, we are expecting that we will be making about 40 billion from there, how do we want to make it? the government has opened up six new GRAs, so we expect a lot of money to come in from those GRAs, its not like the laws are actually bad but a revenue as bad as it should be, what has happened is that there are lot of gaps in enforcement so the government is wiping that aspect.
The level of compliance in Oyo state is very low, the ratio of Gdp to tax in Oyo State is small,its not even up to the minimum standard prescribed by all the economies in the world.
In terms of tax rate we are not going to increase tax but we are going to widen it, one of the ways to do that is by enforcement. We have a board of internal revenue, the structure is better which hopefully should bring about efficiencies in the operation. It should bring about best practise and then we are blocking leakages and widening enforcement, the introduction of tax cut, and then we are working with informal sector which are the much neglected area of the revenue . We are getting good support from the informal sector, the NURTW, the marketers, the traders they have been very supportive. those are the areas we hoped to increase tax.
Another thing is, by the time you bring in security and infrastructure what normally happens is this, when you are spending those kind of money in the economic sense what it does is that it stimulates the economy. When government spends it makes activity to happen more in the economy.
For instance at the very basic level people will be more attracted to come to Oyo State knowing that they have good infrastructure, they have security, the courts are working, we have a customary court now, things are working, slowly but surely. What will happen is that when companies come there will be change in the economy because there is more money, the velocity of money increases, so generally its good for the economy. You can see an upward curve. I agree its very slow because a lot of things had got very bad from many years but that but that curve is slow but it’s surely going up.
The Governor’s recent journey to understudy cattle ranching in Denmark drew some criticism, what are the gains of that trip?
The gains are too many, they are manifold. For instance the major discuss in the contemporary space in Nigeria right now is about the herdsmen clashes and its not restricted to only Fulani and Benue people, it’s happening in Taraba, Adamawa, Ekiti, Ondo where a former Minister, Chief Falae was abducted, even in Oke-Ogun here there are several clashes all the time.
I borrowed from a quote I don’t particularly agree to but its a quote I borrowed from the Minister of Interior who said that the blocking of the traditional cattle routes is causing the reaction, the herdsmen clashes has been alluded to blockage of grazing. Mind you whether you are blocking routes or not the fact of the matter is that these clashes continue to show up everywhere in the country.
The fact of the matter is that people will continue to eat beef, there will always be demand for cattle no matter how much the sentiments. People on social media have said let’s boycott meat, let’s boycott dairy products but I’m not sure if anybody has been able to do that successfully for one day.
Fast forward to the Governor’s visit to Denmark, the Governor has been a CEO of a multinational company in the past, the governor is a savvy businessman. The best way by which you can make money is to capitalise on opportunities. I believe anybody who is sound should see what the governor is doing, this is obvious to the savvy minds. Cattle will continue to be in need in Nigeria, dairy will continue to be in need.
The skirmishes and flash points are going to affect.the delivery and supply of this down to the South. The best monies are made in period of chaos, the governor is being industrious by saying lets position ourselves, cattle is a multi billion dollar business in Nigeria, so why don’t we position ourselves and have ranches because cattle is not going away, dairy won’t go away. Why don’t we position Oyo State, have ranches that bore expertise and can supply not only Oyo state but the Saharan West Africa region.
I rewind to about two years ago, there was what we called the Oyo State Agric Initiative, go and look at the mission statement, it said Oyo state is going to be the food basket of Africa, its ambitious but of course the negative head wings arising from the herdsmen clashes is providing the opportunity for that mission statement to come into reality.
So somebody is now saying he wants to go and understudy the best practice in cattle ranching, I think people should be falling over themselves for this. It is unbelievable that anybody would wake up and start thinking that the visit is empty.
What are the things you don’t like about public service?
I think the rot in the country generally has been allowed to emit into the public service, the things I don’t like is allowing the rot to affect the professionalism that should be in the public service. In Eastern African countries. The Civil Service forms the core and the growth of these countries. The best brains in those countries, they line up to go into the civil service. In the UK and, America they call them the stars, in Malawi, Angola the best of the people, even in Zimbabwe as bad as that country is they have solid civil service.
Nigeria is not devoid of people that are cerebral in the civil service, we have smart people, of course over the years the culture of mediocrity has been allowed to to take hold in Nigeria, you find out that it has eaten deep into the Civil Service. Those are the things I don’t like.
Civil Service sometime seems to have lost its focus and a lot of politicisation has come in and a lot of mediocrity has been allowed to take hold.
You find out that in the early days there was a lot of kicking and biting to get people , there are lot of criticism and you ask why did that happen. I will tell you something ,people keep talking about corruption in Nigeria and corruption in the civil service, I would rather say its incompetence that is the danger and the enemy of progress in Nigeria because if you are competent you don’t have to steal.
Look at places like China they kill them for corruption all the time, things are happening because they are competent. Those are the things that I have issues with, we need to wrap up on that, the Governor has tried to have people thinking and kicking out of that primitive stage, like I earlier said it was part of the achievement, the paradigm shift, the change in orientation that has happened in Oyo state.