Aregbesola and the storm within
At the entrance of the governor’s office on a windy Tuesday morning, I saw a motley crowd of men and women cheering the convoy of the Governor of the State of Osun, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola as he snaked through the highway into his office. On the other side of the divide, a group of pensioners jeered. Many had thought he would be intimidated by the rowdy scene. On the other side of the divide, another set of people raised their clench fists in revolutionary salute to the governor, paving the way for him to wade through.
For one thing, for the past few months, the governor has been under severe criticisms from his political foes. Given the circumstances of how he won his reelection two years ago, the opposition seems to wait constantly on the edge, exploring every dissent voice for electoral prospect. The governor is accused of not paying salaries for months and of not lifting the state significantly beyond how he met it. This is just one shred of a complex story.
His critics have an equal camp of fanatical supporters. At Ikire on a Saturday afternoon, I met a little girl, lurch green, innocent and raw. She is barely 9. The girl in her little age sees Aregbesola as some sort of god. “He is my hero,” he told me point blank. His senior siblings speak with the same irreversible conviction. The parents of the children have a rich political background, their own parents having been active members of the defunct Action Group, (AG) led by late Chief Obafemi Awolowo. Two portraits of the State Governor, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola that hung on the wall of the pony apartment of this family speaks a lot. They are some of the fanatical supporters of the state governor, and they are many, with fury and passion.
“I won’t deceive you. We have never had it so good in Osun. Forget about the propaganda. Visit the local governments in the state. You will have a completely different story,” Akanni, the father told me as we settled for dinner that day.
He said propaganda and outright lies have become major tools in Nigerian politics. “When falsehood becomes a recurring decimal, it becomes the odd truth”, he enthused. Perhaps, only a tour of Osun can tell the full story, which I had the opportunity of embarking upon, courtesy of a regional professional body. Akanni’s little child, the girl, said she was ashamed of going to her former school until the government brought honour by building a school of world class.
For me, and from what I saw in Osun, the schools built by the State governor amazed me. I have travelled to virtually all the states in Nigeria. I do not know of any state government that has built such schools of European standards. Prior these initiatives, some of the pupils I met in rural communities told me, as it is the standard across Nigeria, the public primary schools were left open. Rodents and reptiles had a field day and on weekends, the schools were converted to high society parties or in some astonishing cases, armed robbers used the classrooms as hotbeds of nefarious activities. The effort has seen Osun state building no fewer than 25 secondary and primary schools with enrolment of new pupils hitting a landmark. To many keen observers, his intervention is world-shattering. Osun has built scores of such model schools across the state accommodating between 900 to 1000 students. 50 middle schools were being built for primary 5-6 and junior secondary school (JSS 1 – 111) in the age bracket of 10 – 14 years. O’meals reaches 254,000 pupils representing about 10 times the number of pupils in some states across the country. This has also provided succor to 3,000 caterers in local communities. The project has been endorsed by international organizations like the UK-based partnership for child development (PCD). The daily allowance of school pupil is N250. Comparatively, in Bornu state, it is five naira. Interestingly, the school enrolment increased by 25 percent due to the fresh initiatives.
But apart from the standard educational infrastructure, no one can dismiss the uniqueness of the tablet of knowledge-Opon Imon, distributed to the pupils, the first of its kind in the history of the state. But critics appear to deliberately ignore the green light. The tablet of knowledge is a learning tool that has revolutionalised education in the state. There are three major content categories: Textbooks, tutorials and practice questions. The State has committed 150,000 tablets to senior secondary students across state schools, the highest in any community of the same population size in West Africa. The tablets have Android 4.0pc Tablet, a dictionary, Bible, Koran and tips on health. Though the impact is being felt now, the real consequences will be in the years to come, as the pupils go to higher schools.
It is either Osun has not done enough to trumpet her flute or the voices are simply drowned by deaf ears. It appears the state has seen an orchestrated propaganda being unleashed on it first by the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP on one hand and internal rivals on the other. One cannot deny the impact of dissidents within the All Progressives Congress, (APC). To me, I think the mistake of this group of people is their failure to realize that you cannot pull down a house under which you live just because of the assumption that you dislike a co-tenant.
A top official of the state civil service told me the state has trained and employed 3,007 food vendors each with a uniform provided by the state. This drew the financial support from banks to the tune of N124.5million given to 123 cooperative groups of food vendors.
The state also partnered with the World Bank, French Development Agency and the Federal Project Management unit to build 500km of rural roads. Osun is one of the four states that qualified for the project based on standard assessment by the international group. The efforts in the area of roads to me are commendable, considering the milestones recorded with the Gbongan-Akoda Road apart from the 500 kilometers of roads across the state.
Nothing is as puzzling as the figure-made available by the Commissioner for Information, Mr. Baderinwa debunking the claim that Osun is owing workers in the range of six months or above.
Osun has come under severe criticisms on the alleged non-payment of workers’ salaries.
The fact is that the state receives 2.536 billion for instance, from January to May this year, yet it has a profile of 1.7 billion as workers’ salary every month.
How does the state cope with these meager resources? Yet, out of this allocation, the state government has paid till date 65 percent of the workforce, that is, workers on levels 7 downwards. This means that all workers on levels seven and below have been paid till date. Levels 8 to 10 constantly receive 75 percent of gross payment, constituting another 25% of the workforce being paid regularly and as at when due. These figures were corroborated by the state Commissioner for Information.
Those that have been receiving 50 percent are workers on level 12 and above. On the average, there are fewer states in Nigeria that have performed better than Osun in terms of workers’ salaries. That is the truth. But there is a major technical challenge, which all the state governors have lived with including Osun. For instance, 25 percent of the workers in Osun State gulp 52% of the resources available. It is natural to expect the state to have hurdles difficult to surmount. If Osun wishes to remove this burden, the best solution is to redeploy many of the civil servants to the Ministry of Agric. Unfortunately, good policies may raise the stake of electoral threats, which pose immense danger to the system, the reason why many state governments continue to retain parasitic clay-footed public servants.
But how did Osun lose the last Senatorial election to the PDP? Did that indicate a decline of Aregbesola’e profile? His critics say the defeat marked a bitter turning point in this downward slide. But a single election may not be enough to draw final conclusion. There are many factors that led to Senator Ademola Adeleke’s victory. First is his family’s political tree. His father was a Unity Party of Nigeria, (UPN) federal lawmaker in1979. His sibling, the late Isiaka Adeleke was a governor and a senator. I do not subscribe to the ideal that Ademola Adeleke left the APC because of imposition. From findings, he was not actually a registered member of APC. I was informed he crossed over to PDP and emerged as a Senator even though he was not a member of PDP until some six hours before the primary that produced him, when he joined the party. It is obvious that Osun people need to redefine their own image. Osun people need to tell their own stories. The people need to counter the gory images being unleashed in the media backed by assumptions rather than facts and sound logic. It is time for the state to break the mirror and perspective of adversaries in a country where propaganda is chief and performance no longer count in electoral contest. However, it may be futile looking at what states have achieved or not, when the real development of the Nigerian society can only come through a radical restructuring of Nigeria to the extent that the parasitic Federal Government will have its wings cut into pieces and the people and their communities will be free from the agonizing ring of recycled anomie occasioned by the garrison structure of the Nigerian state.
Adeoye is a multiple award-winning journalist. He writes from Lagos