Interviews

Poverty, Economy are major causes of insecurity in Oyo State- Prof Oyewo SAN

Prof Oyelowo Oyewo SAN a thoroughbred academic has been a law teacher for more than 30 years. He rose to the enviable position of Dean, Faculty of Law, University of Lagos. Two years ago, Prof switched from Academics to governance with his appointment as Attorney General, and Commissioner for Justice, Oyo State. For him, it is an opportunity to practice what he had thought for decades! Last month, Oyo State hosted NBA-SPIDEL and he played not only a major role, but was also a fantastic host. He spoke to the Publisher, Gavel International, Mustapha Ogunsakin shortly after the conference. Excerpts:

Congratulations on hosting a successful conference of the NBA Section on Public Interest and Development Law. Looking back at the conference, in which you were an active participant, with the Governor as the host, how would you appraise that conference, and what are your feelings about the outcome?

Well, the conference had been judged to be very successful, and these are the words of the President of the NBA. After the conference, the governor hosted the NBA for dinner, and during his dinner speech, he made it clear that this was the first on-site conference of the NBA since he assumed office, and the turnout was fantastic. On the first day, we were supposed to have a variety night, and being one of the organisers, I was there around 7pm, hoping to meet people at the bar center. I was shocked to know that people were still at the Jogor Center, and they didn’t start coming until after 8pm.

When I asked, I was told that the sessions were very robust( laughs), you wouldn’t want to leave any one of them, which means that people’s attendance was followed with active participation. Then when you look at the planning and the topics, I mean every session was a topical issue that was being discussed, relevant to the development of Nigeria, which of course is the theme, “Public Interest for National Development”, and also the State Executives that  participated from all over the country such as the Bauchi state Governor, Bala Mohammed, Gov. Olurotimi Akeredolu SAN, Senator Ukweremadu, the host of the conference, both the inner and outer bar, *Mrs Folake Solanke SAN at 89 participating actively! Even on the day of the dinner I was like wow! She came, left and came back ready for the dinner, she participated actively, and till the last day we had Senior Advocates from all over, from Abuja, from the east, from Lagos. 

So in terms of participation, you can say that it was outstandingly successful. In terms of quality of discussion, if Nigeria is to pay attention to what was discussed there, then already we have various solutions to a lot of problems that were discussed.

I remember I participated also as a discussant, and in a session, I was asked to come and resolve all the burning issues, particularly when a proposal came to criminalize what we termed paternity fraud. So it’s been a success all the way. That’s the way I see it, and when you came in you asked a question, ‘how will Oyo state benefit?’ 

There are so many collateral benefits to hosting a conference. One, it attests to the fact that Oyo state is a state that you can come into to do business, because it’s safe. In fact, we just conducted Local government elections the previous week, and it was peaceful. People were even anxious when the FG declared the lockdown.  The lockdown may not be something we want to look at as being applicable to Oyo state because we have a team- a Covid team that guides us, and we have not used the lockdown approach in Oyo state, which has helped. We look at the data, both logical and scientific, and we have a team of virologists and the likes that give counsel. And of course, a lot of people use masks, hand sanitation and other protocols. So in all, we can say that we haven’t seen the end of the benefits to Oyo state. We haven’t even seen the beginning of it, but the one that immediately impacts us is to tell the whole world that this place is secure, if you want to conduct a conference involving thousands of people. we have the facilities all over the place. JOGOR center is just one of them. When people come in here, they come away with the impact of the known hospitality of the people of Oyo State. I  remember when people were talking about our Amala, Abula, our fish and I saw people drinking palm wine, which I hadn’t seen in a while. So all in all, and I think at all the formal gatherings, people have made friends, and rekindled old relationships. I was shocked when I saw so many of my students, and at one point in time, one of the government officials standing with me said “the way these students are becoming, you are a Methuselah”(laughter) 

Some of them would say” he taught me 20 years ago”, some others 25-30 years ago(laughs) I didn’t know that I’d been in this business of teaching people for this length of time, so it was such a wonderful reunion for a lot of people, because in this profession we are a close family. Beyond that, it’s a family reunion for a lot of us. We got to see each other after a long time, thanking God that we survived Covid, and knowing t5hat we’ll all survive it and see ourselves living for a very long time.

So, in all, my assessment of it is that it’s a huge success for all stakeholders, the Nigerian bar association, the lawyers, the state government, the participants and discussants, even those who came to sell their clothes. It’s very interesting to see the dynamics of the things that go on at the conference, so it’s fair to say that we have had a good outing.

Two years after your appointment, how have you found the switch from the Academia to the Public Service?

Well, I don’t think it’s been difficult for me for many reasons. I didn’t start out in academia, I started out as a state counsel in the Federal Ministry of Justice, so I would say that I’m a bit familiar with this terrain even though it’s at state level, but the organisational arrangement is similar to that of the federal ministry of justice. It’s just that the operational approach may be different. Then in terms of service to the public, one of the beauties of a university academic or scholar, is that you get pulled into public service very early. I’ve been involved in one public service activity or the other, I served as the consultant to the National Assembly, chaired Law drafting activities.

The one I take most pride in  is when one of my former students who was a staff of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority insisted that I must be included in the team that  would draft the civil aviation act. 

When we were having the plane crash, ICAO suggested that we change our laws, and I was mildly surprised when I got there and was made chairman of the drafting team before I could say anything. Interestingly, I worked with one of my former students who is now a Senior Advocate and the two of us bonded and were able to deliver amongst so many other people that served together. It was very interesting, as we went on tours to places where we had the aviation… we went to Kano, we were in Lagos, Kaduna, Abuja, and definitely there have been so many government forays that I’ve done before coming here, it all comes together. That is not to say that Oyo State is like those places- we still have challenges, but there are certain skills that will come in handy, with your knowledge of the law…

As Attorney General, the state depends on you to be very knowledgeable, and then in terms of practice, I’ve been participating in legal practice either as a technical partner, or a partner in a law firm, so the terrain of advocacy and litigation are very familiar. The only area that I can say that I have not practiced for a long time, is the area of criminal prosecution.

In terms of managerial skills, having gone through the university managerial system, I served in various capacities including being the Dean of the faculty. So managing people, managing the deliverables, and of course the deliverables will differ from one Organisation to another, so here you have to manage not only the state counsels, but also the MDAs that we service and also be prepared to answer any question relating to your own area,and also to be the face of the government to the public, in respect of law and other matters relating to justice, interface also as a member of the Judicial service commission with the judiciary, and be a bridge between the judiciary and the legislature. So, it’s a very intricate balance, but once you have an understanding of it, I believe one will be able to deliver on his mandate.

We have heard a lot of stories about different crises that have happened in the state. The Igangan crisis and the Shasha crisis were prominent. How have you helped your governor as his chief law officer, to quell all these problems?

Well, the gift that Oyo state has is in the leadership of Governor Seyi Makinde who is highly cerebral, endowed with experience, calm in the face of problems, and reflective to a point that can sometimes be exasperating. He thinks ten steps ahead, so when you bring a problem to him, he’s not going to have a knee jerk reaction to it, and he has a comprehensive approach to problems that makes the solution look easy. 

For instance, when we came in, we had the problem of Covid-19 and most people recommend to him that we should build covid-19 isolation centers, but in his wisdom, he just asked one question “so what happens to the isolation centers after covid-19?” and they said well, there will be another… but he said ‘No, I won’t be waiting for crisis, but rather, the resources we have, we will use it to upgrade some of our Primary Health Care systems and Tertiary Healthcare institutions. So you find out that the sectors that we have invested the money in, we are still reaping from it, because they just translate themselves from isolation centers to primary healthcare centers seamlessly. Examples are LAUTECH, OLOMI and all the other places. We have places where investments have been made, and our money has gone far in upgrading those institutions to secure the future. 

Then when we faced the issue of insecurity, the governors of the Southwest got together, and came up with a regional network- the Western Nigerian Security Network- which was  the brainchild of the governors, giving the mandate to the Development Agenda for Western Nigeria(DAWN) Commission. Then we also have the AMOTEKUN. I tell you, there’s been a positive impact of the activities of the AMOTEKUN, we also have inter-agency collaboration that we call ‘Operation Bust’. And then, the governor also believes in involving the totality of non-government actors in integrating them into activities that hitherto have been mainly dominated by governmental actors. 

So non-governmental actors are brought in, because they too are stakeholders. So traditional rulers, local governments, there have been so many levels. I made a joke that when we talk about AMOTEKUN, it’s only AMOTEKUN we see, we don’t see IRUMOLE Irunmole actually are those people who are not engaged formally, but are engaged informally because of their knowledge of the terrain, and some other things that help to secure their environment. So they bring the intelligence to AMOTEKUN, the information is then passed to the police Operation Bust, and I remember when some herders where in one some forest, it was these people that were backed up by AMOTEKUN and Operation Bust, that were able to dislodge those herders from the Ibarapa that you talked about. Yes, there are certain problems that are perennial, for instance, due to poverty, they are some areas of the border that are notorious for smuggling, and there’s always a constant crisis between the smugglers and the men of Customs, the police, and this has nothing to do with tribe or anything, it’s just economics. Because those people’s lives are dependent on bringing rice from the border, so if our governance doesn’t bring about security and economic advancement it becomes a problem. 

That’s why you find out that the four Cardinal points of our administration are education. Educate people! Make them healthy- which is health, create security and then economic development. So those four pillars of the Makinde administration are interrelated, and in all these you find out that the Ministry of Justice is playing a Synergistic role with the other main ministries directly in charge. So when it comes to education, there’s nothing contractual that they want to do that we are not involved in. Health, of course we get to give them legal advice, in fact we passed the covid legislation to help them with their activities. Security wise, we drafted the law that gave birth to AMOTEKUN, and when it comes to the economy, of course the Oyo state Public-Private Partnership Agency is interacting with us. So there is the synergetic approach to the performance of our duties that collaborate, complement and comprehensively deliver on the promise of this administration to the people of Oyo state.

Some Time ago, there was an arrest made by the police of some OPC members that claimed to have arrested a Fulani herdsman around that Igangan, Ibrarapa area. How far is that case? The OPC claimed that some of their members were arrested while trying to apprehend those who had been killing their people, and the police took them to Abuja. Did the state get involved in this matter at all?

There is nothing that goes on in the state that the state doesn’t get involved in. There was a lot of misinformation on social media in respect to this particular saga. It was in ibarapa. I think some people who had been settlers as Hausa-Fulani selling cows in that area, I think one of them-the children in collaboration with people there started engaging in kidnapping. There is an adage that says if the wall doesn’t open its mouth, the wall gecko cannot enter it. From security reports, most of those activities there will be indigines who are in on it too. At the end of the day, when OPC went there- although they didn’t go alone. I think they went there with some other agencies, and at the end of the day, those people were arrested.

Now, the challenge is which story to believe. Some said they killed a pregnant woman, but there was no direct evidence of it, the OPC that went claimed that they were involved in kidnappings and it was said that ‘okay, where is the evidence?’ .

So it became an evidential burden to produce direct eyewitness accounts, it was the storytelling. But at the end of the day, the administration waded in and with the collaboration with the police, I think the matter has been put in proper perspective. Those that are meant to be released have been released, those who require further investigation are being investigated, and those to be prosecuted, if not for the JUSUN strike, we would have been able to release the names of those to be prosecuted.

Entering your office, I saw an inscription: C of O Made Easy. What has happened about this inscription, what is the position, and what have you done to make it easy?

Now, before we came in, there was a backlog for the process of granting C of O, so the government believed that people should have access to land. This became a government policy being managed by the Ministry of Lands. What you see is publicity, so as many people that can benefit from the opportunity. Once you meet the criteria, you’ll be processed and upon payment of the fees, you’ll be granted your C of O.

Lack of C of O makes obtaining collateral security of titled documents hard. It further makes transfer and inheritance difficult, and that’s what this administration is trying to cure, by making sure that when  you have land, and you have the titled documents, you can use it for business, you can transfer it to your children, and you can do whatever you want with it, and also secure even the family against those that will try to dispute over property ownership after the demise of the property owner. Hitherto, people were always crying out, but now they know the procedure, the ministry in charge, the personalities and the fees, so when they go there, they are well informed. It’s a process which has had a positive  impact on the process of land holding, and having titles to your documents in Nigeria.

Before your administration came in, Oyo state was under APC government, but from nowhere you came in as a PDP government. How far have you gone to improve on your electoral mandate?

Well, I think the previous administration lost the trust of the people of the state. So, seemingly out of nowhere, governor Seyi Makinde was elected to lead the PDP, together with other parties that collaborated with them such as the ADP and the rest of them. You find out that when the people are dissatisfied, they seek alternative routes, and if you watched the debate – mind you, this isn’t the first time that governor Seyi Makinde will be running for office. He is quite known by the populace, and the slogan for his campaign also tells you about the vision that he has and uncharacteristically, he was one of the very first people that had a roadmap that he publicized, and that resonates with the people. He also came up with a very catchy slogan ‘Omi tuntun’ which in Yoruba, can be translated to mean change, a new era or even fresh air, etc. In the delivery of the mandate, the roadmap has been reduced to four landmark points which are Health, Education, Security, and Economic development and in terms of economic development, Oyo state has witnessed a lot. In fact, in the first two years of this administration, Oyo state has seen more roads constructed than it did in two terms of the previous administration, which is a record. In terms of healthcare, when we came, most of the primary healthcare centers were in bad shape and though we haven’t gotten there yet, there has been a lot of improvement in the last two years. It’s the same thing with schools, teachers. In Oyo state, for the first time we brought in a merit system for the process of selecting teachers. They conduct exams, and then we do a need assessment-‘how many science teachers do we need, how many art teachers’ and so on. Even in this Ministry, we are trying to encourage merit and balance. For instance, when we came in, we realized that there were more women than men….

Why is that sir?

It’s because of the selection process. Most people want their wives and daughters in a safe environment, so they use influence. So, what we did was to have them sit for exams, and attend interviews. You’d see that there has been a proportionate increase in the number of men coming into the Ministry as opposed to when it was a word of mouth approach. 

We also introduced the same approach to the judiciary. For the first time in Oyo state, those who applied to become judges were made to sit for exams and were interviewed, and I’m proud to say that out of the four people that were sent, the two who scored the highest are on the list. One of them being a Professor of Law.  So the process is objectively meritorious, which means we’re putting square pegs in square holes. I believe that the Oyo state judiciary and other personnel recruitment process will be better for it, because when you have merit you have dedication, commitment, good quality and professionalism coming out of the process, and that is what the administration of governor Seyi Makinde stands for. I believe as we progress, more successes will be recorded.

 I’ve not yet elaborated on the success recorded either from my ministry. We’ve made so many laws within the short time we’ve had. We are embarking on the process of law reforms which we inherited. We are going to establish a Law Reform Commission. We’ve established the Office of the Public Defender, the Oyo State Anti-corruption Agency. We’ve done so much related to governance.

We had our Anti Corruption Laws before Lagos. Lagos comes after us. We might not blow our trumpets like the APC government, in fact when they were talking about Anti-corruption, we had done our own in 2020. Our law is in tandem with the Supreme Court interpretation of the role of the state in anti- corruption based on the constitutional provision, as opposed to some of the clauses present in Lagos state laws that’s going to put them in trouble.

So we have been working very hard, doing many things. I think during this period, we too will let the public know without necessarily blowing our trumpets, but educate the public and let them be informed on some of the fundamental changes that are going on in Oyo state. Thankfully, we have complementary development at the federal level that is impacting us. An example is the Lagos-Ibadan express that is being transformed. It used to take about 3-5 hours travelling from end to end, but now it takes just about 1½ hours, and I believe it’ll be reduced to an hour eventually. A lot of people have been pulled away by the train also. I travel to and from Lagos by train, and it is fantastic. The trains have First class, Second Class, Business Class and standard coaches. In fact, the seating arrangements of first class coaches in the train are more comfortable than the ones in planes, and they have good toilet facilities.

What I mean by all this is that as development comes, this State is being transformed quietly, and those that want to invest should do so now because by the time they see the impact of the transformation, it will be too expensive.

Talking about investments , I noticed over a period of time sir, that there are a lot of abandoned facilities. Is the state planning to embark on PPP to put these facilities to use?  Examples are the Cultural Center, and the Amphitheater at Adamasingba Stadium.

The amphitheatre and all the things pertaining to the stadium are being transformed. The arts and culture center is being slated for transformation. We can’t do everything in one fell swoop, so we pick priorities every year that our budget can accommodate.

My question is do you involve, or do you encourage private investors to take over these properties for effective use?

We have an agency, the Oyo State Investment Public-Private Partnership Agency OYSIPPA. We also have the Bureau of Public Procurement, Due Process and all that, and we advertise. We have also become inventive because we know we don’t have the resources, so we do what they call alternative funding by having people come in, we don’t pay anything. 

We don’t do mobilization in this state. We don’t chase you, you chase after us. We just give you an ispo certificate so that after 90 days, you should have been performing, then on the basis of your certificate, we pay. That has helped projects to be completed on the deadlines, because it’s work and eat. Meaning if you don’t work, you don’t get paid. And most of it is through the bids, so we are really open to business for investors, so visit our OYSIPPA and whatever area you think you can contribute, we welcome you.

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