Six years ago, the people of Osun State voted for change. But the votes did not count for three years. From the ballot box, the liberation struggle shifted to the court room. The legal fireworks that ensued underscored the determination of the progressive politicians to halt the plot by the conservative bloc to drag the State of Living Springs to doom. Indisputably, it was the temple of justice that saved the state from electoral terrorism and retrogression.
Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) Governor Aregbesola inherited a state almost in ruin. The period between 2003 and 2010 was remarkable for pain and fear. Oyinlola Administration was full of tension. It was an administration swimming in the pool of legitimacy crisis. Peace has deserted the state. Instead of borrowing a lead from the Aregbesola and his party manifestos, and working assiduously to the progress of the three senatorial districts, the key functionaries were only targeting the ACN family for liquidation. Some of them were hounded into detention. Some lost their lives. The symbol of the struggle was declared wanted. It was falsely alleged that he threw bombs at Osogbo, the capital. At the yearly ‘Oroki Day’, he escaped death harrowingly when state agents pounced on his vehicle and supporters.
However, when his mandate was restored, reality dawned on Aregbesola that the struggle had just started. The euphoria that greeted that change of baton withered immediately in the face of the mounting challenges. The critical sectors were on their knees. Osun, which has the largest number of towns in the country, is one of the poorest states. But that misery had been compounded by the opulence of the interlopers. To clear the Augean table was non-negotiable. For the modern-day Oranmiyan, governance could not be a tea party.
The governor had to live by example. His Spartan lifestyle became an advantage. His first step was to embarked on value engineering. One of the critical elements was the strategic reduction of the cost of governance. It smacked of self-sacrifice and denial to shun contentiousness, which the public office may inadvertently permit. Deliberately, he delayed the setting up of the cabinet of talents and other political appointments. After six months, the state had N30 billion in its coffers. Aregbesola also blocked the financial loopholes. Corruption became a punishable offence. The inflation of contract cost became a thing of the past. Since the governor only came to serve and not to pillage the treasury, it was evident that only decent people who shared his vision could cope with his style and move at his pace.
Many doubted him when he promised to create 20,000 jobs in his first hundred days. Few believed him when he said that it was time to fight the infrastructure battle. Also, his intervention in the education and health sectors has rekindled the memory of Ige and Akande era. His ethical and moral crusades have sensitised the people to the value of virtue (Omoluabi). Many believe that the fruits would be savoured beyond his tenure. Not only has Osun become a huge construction site, the prudent management of scare resources have assisted in the erection of lasting legacies in the state in the last three years.
These achievements have been lauded by many indigenes and groups who are now agitating for continuity beyond 2014. Statesmen, professionals, traditional rulers and other observers have submitted that there has been a clean break from the sordid past. But these feats have also be dismissed by the detractors, opponents, and critics, particularly in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), as a camouflage and window dressing. Returning the salvo, the governor, who hinted about his intention to extend his service beyond next year, challenged them to a duel. “We enjoy the confidence of our people and we will defeat our opponents. We represent our people and there is no cause for fear”, he said.
Aregbesola rendered the account of stewardship at the weekend during the quarterly live television programme, ‘Ogbeni Till Daybreak’, at the Osun Centre for Arts and Culture, Osogbo. The event was between 10 pm and 5.50 am. He was accompanied by his deputy, Otunba Grace Titilayo Laoye-Tomori, who doubles as the Education Commissioner. The Secretary to Government, Alhaji Moshood Adeoti, Chief of Staff Gboyega Oyetola, Senator Babajide Omoworare from Ife/Ijesa District, state legislators, special advisers, traditional rulers, and party chieftains witnessed the programme.
It was a joint review of the ACN government by the governor and the people. Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown. As Aregbesola got kudos for the jobs well done, the unfinished business of his administration was also laid bare. To analysts, he cannot afford to rest on his oars. Various callers brought into the governor’s attention the problems of their towns and villages. The response to questions on the activities of the administration was not a one-man show. Judging by the specific nature of the enquiry, the governor would ask the commissioner, permanent secretary, director or head of parastatal to make clarification.
The Commissioner for Information, Hon. Sunday Akere, who welcomed the people to the event, said that the essence of the programmes was to give opportunities to the indigenes to participate in governance. The unusual governor is administering the State of Osun in an unusual manner”, he said. He called on the people not to relent in supporting the administration to achieve more progress. The governor promised to sustain the platform, which has offered unlimited opportunities for interaction and exchange of ideas between the government and people.
Aregbesola reflected on the epic revolution in the education sector through the introduction of the ‘Opon Imo’. He explained that the goal was to ensure the democratisation of education. The governor also said that the move would guarantee access to digital technology. “Never again will anybody be denied access to total learning”, he said, stressing that education, which should be total, qualitative and functional, should be the birthright of the youths.
The brain behind the tablet of knowledge is Kabiru, son of the governor. The governor had initially concealed this, until the ACN National Leader Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, heaped praises on him for donating his talent and service during its inauguration. Since then, critics have alleged that he got the contract from his father. However, the younger Aregbesola only donated his skill and knowledge of informatics free of charge. The governor explained with pride and fondness that, his son, who opted for informatics instead of medicine in a university in Cuba, has added value to his administration. “He is not the contractor”, he emphasised. It was another eye opener. Experts in the hall noted that it is now instructive that children should be allowed to pursue courses of study based on interest and competence, and not on parental wish or pressure.
Apart from the allegation of personalisation of power, which the governor vehemently denied, the PDP has also accused him of incurring heavy debt. He dismissed the critics as economic illiterates. “The issue is not about debt, but what we are doing with the loans”, he said. Aregbesola explained that when the soft-term loans were used for long term projects without any bearing on the social welfare, gap existed between expectation and reality. That debilitating effects, he pointed out, have been corrected by seeking for facilities to re-finance them, stop the project and embark on progressives programmes for development. The timeframe is then, used to process access to the capital market, he added. delving into statistics, the governor said that the state receives N3.6 billion monthly from the Federation Account, although periodically, money comes from the excess crude. Workers’ salaries would gulp N2.6 billion. Thus, if the debt profile is assessed against the financial status of the state, there is no cause for alarm because, as the governor put it, it is within the limit of N30 billion.
To underscore the administration’s commitment to proper financial management, the governor said that the state has paid the May salary for workers without receiving the April allocation. To those who thought that Aregbesola has not done well by refusing to distribute state money to party chieftains, he said that his camp of progressives are keen on service to the people, and not the appropriation of the resources for development. “To that extent, they are carried along. They (PDP) believes in appropriating. That is not the essence of government”, he stressed.
In Osun State, the federal roads have become the governor’s burden. The people have been complaining to Aregbesola, who is within reach, instead of the distant Federal Government. The governor said that he could not ignore the demand for the reconstruction of the roads. Whether the Federal Government refunds the money for the construction or not, he said that his administration would not look back.
However, Aregbesola clarified that the proposed MKO Abiola Airport, which is located between Ido-Osun and Ede, is being done by the state government. He quickly added that “it must be approved by the Federal Government”. The governor also clarified that the Federal Government’s approval does not affect its ownership. The contract, which is handled by Aerological Engineering Limited, is expected to gulp N4,5 billion. The project is also expected to be completed in February, next year. The governor said that the project will generate employment opportunities.
Recently, it was reported in the social media that the governor slapped his deputy, Mrs. Laoye Tomori. He expressed sadness over the fabrication, saying that “I and my loyal deputy have never quarreled before”. The governor said that, even at domestic level, he has never beaten his children, a duty he has allowed her wife, Sherifat, to perform. Besides, Aregbesola said that it would have been discourteous of him to descend so low to beat a woman and somebody who is older than him. “My deputy is a woman. She is older than me. How can I beat an elderly person”, he queried?
Aregbesola said that he would not be distracted by the enemies of the state and the people. He promised to focus on the developmental activities that have earned him the respect of the indigenes. One of them is the robust agricultural programmes, which has revolutionalised the sector. From these farms, government has been buying free eggs and meat for the pupils under the ‘O-Meal’ scheme. Mrs. Laoye-Tomori said the government is feeding 300,000 pupils daily, adding that this has led to increased enrolment. “The foods are from the state. 15,000 fowls are killed daily. They are from poultries in the state. We used 5,000 kilograms of fish to feed the children, in addition with 8,400 crates of egg weekly”, she said.
On the controversy over the ownership of the Centre for Black Culture and International Understanding, Osogbo, which board is being chaired by Prof. Wole Soyinka, the governor cleared the air. He said that the centre belongs to the state, and not the former governor. The case is in the court.
A caller from Owena complained that erosion was threatening the border town. His claim was not affirmed. The Special Adviser on Environment, Comrade Bola Ilori, explained that people being threatened by erosion are violators of the law who built their houses on the canals and swampy areas. He urged the people to be environment-friendly. Government, he said, will not condone such violation.
On the local government allocation, Aregbesola said that his administration has not oppressed the local governments by starving them of funds. “We have allocation committee and the Head of Personnel Management are members. We look at the allocation to the state and local government and decide. We devote the money to capital projects, especially the roads in the local governments”, he added. The Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Alhaji Oluwadamilare, also explained that the activities of the committee are transparent.
Aregbesola maintained that he has served the state loyally. He said that his party will retain power in the next year election. To him, the PDP has been bragging in this season of electioneering. He said they would be judged by the electorate in 2015. He predicted success for the proposed party, the All Progressives Congress (APC). “Victory everywhere”, he said, when asked about the prospects of the APC and his expectation. “The strength of the ACN is the Southwest, CPC the Northwest and ANPP the Northeast. We will come together and there will be victory”, he added.