Aregbesola: Encounter with an unusual leader
In the next few months, there will be a change of baton in the State of Osun. It has been eight tough years since a Marxist took the state by storm, after a protracted and iconic struggle. From Lagos, I drove to Osogbo on a Sunday morning, consuming the over 200 kilometers in three hours. The cloud had been threatening heavy downpour at dawn, but it turned out to be brag. The Lagos humid fumes soon gave rise to a cooler, chilling atmosphere as I got closer to the hinterland. I arrived the State House as the sun battled the cloud for recognition. The little birds on the vast lawn at the State House were already brightening up, prattling. He was decked in immaculate white, with his trademark peasant “Aminu Kano” sandals and tops, the concave cap, clean shaven head, constantly mushrooming moustache and the permanent frown that dot his eyebrow. Always looking tough yet slim but firm. Around him is usually the scent of affection and power. A handshake with him was like holding a piece of steel, his veins stretching with confidence, strength and glamour.
Hundreds of visitors milled around. He sees hundreds in one day, sometimes the count of visitors could be more than three digits, all from different parts of the country. Apart from that, a horde of radical former student leaders, Marxist ideologues, labour leaders, from the North and South, civil society people, young and old revolutionaries, have made Osun their permanent home in the past close to eight years where one of them has been in power.
“Comrade Aregbe is like the nest. We are like the bees that sting those hovering to pull the net down” one of the former student union leaders told me as we sat in the lobby with many others waiting to see him. He then warned me “When you are with him, don’t expect him to dismiss him. You won’t leave him until you are tired and ready to go.” He said many of them have converted Osogbo into “the head office of revolution,” adding that they converge on the town to offer meritorious services in the form of counselling and constructive public engagement by educating the masses on the trust of his economic and cultural policies. This may have been responsible for the setting up of the Ola Oni Centre, tailored to recruit and give ideological training to locals. This is apart from the Awolowo Philosophical School, also in Osogbo.
As I walked into the visiting room, it turned out to be a short encounter. There was a programme already lined up. I sat next to him in a public bus with a capacity of 40 people. It was a spacious bus, offering the opportunity for security operatives and the people in the bus to freely chat with the governor. We first drove into the Mandela Park he had built in honour of the African National Congress, (ANC) icon, Nelson Mandela. As usual, it happened that he came into the meeting early, but many of the guests were not yet around. His aides said it is usual of him to be at the venue of an event on time, sometimes being the one to wait for other guests. We sat in the bus. Locals had gathered, hailing and falling on each other to catch a glimpse. The CSO advised we made a detour.
The small convoy snail-drove back into the State House. We returned about one hour later. After the Mandela Park event organised by a religious community, we drove for some hours, visiting other events across the state, seeing projects like the schools and others under construction. Impressive observations: As we drove on the highways and inner recess roads to Iwo and the surrounding towns and villages, locals trooped out, waving, grinning and shouting his name. A mixture of excitement, enthusiasm and affection demonstrated by locals. He shot back with the V-sign. Anyone would wonder if it is the same governor that has received several arrows shot at him mainly from the opposition camp who often wave aside his fame. In many of the communities where we came down to interact with the people, the crowd milled around him, shaking his hands with a deep sense of pride and honour. Many natives told me that the eight years of the regime of Aregbesola has recorded more gains than loses. Many are glad to cite what they see as legacy projects across the state irrespective of the lean purse and the negative impact of the dwindling oil windfall. Many believe the paradigm shift in Osun in the past eight years is legendary. It appears that one of the stimulators is his own life of piousness, virtue and modesty, devoid of extravagance, lousy portrait and spendthrift.
He explained to me that in the past four years, Osun had witnessed downtown in revenue owing to the drop in oil prices that affected Federal Government’s allocations to states. This came at a time gigantic capital and recurrent projects have been embarked upon by the state not anticipating the economic mood swing to a sudden decline.
This has stirred opposition who consciously avoid references to the objective conditions. In fact, Osun in the past eight years is like a rock bullied persistently by the whirlwind, but nevertheless, remains unyielding. In spite of the attacks, his golden milestones cannot be denied. Osun is rated as one of the five states in the lowest unemployment rung in Nigeria by the National Bureau of Statistics in 2013. She is ranked second in human capital on Nigeria’s first sub-national competitiveness index released by the National Competitiveness Council of Nigeria. The state also has the lowest poverty level and rated as the second richest state in Nigeria by the United Nations Multi-Dimensional Poverty Index in 2017. She also came second in the national assessment on infant and maternal healthcare delivery. There are exploits that cannot be denied.
The IGR has increased from 300 million to about 1.5 billion. A total of 1.5 billion has been given to support farmers. 550 rural roads built, 150,000 pupils are proud owners of laptops, the highest average in any African country, with 17 core subjects. School funding has gone up from 7.4 million to 424 million in one year, with each student expenditure in the range of 377,533, a rise from N300, being the highest in the country. 8,000 pupils were trained in Calisthenics. Yet, observers see his mastery of resource allocation and distribution as startling. Many see his intervention in education as revolutionary.
They cite the construction of the world-class schools and the school feeding project as some of the most laudable. In the past few years, Osun had built schools of European standards across the 31 local government areas. This is responsible for the applause the state has received from UNICEF and the United Nations. Seven years ago, he introduced the Osun Rural Access and Mobility Project (Osun RAMP-2). This has been described by many as one of the most projects that have touched the lives of the poorest of the poor in the entire South West. It has opened up 448.855 km of roads linking up the deep valleys and tributaries into the mainland. But as we settle for dinner later in the evening, I asked him: “What is your greatest achievement.” He told me “Omoluabi” the valour of ethics and good character which he devotes a lot of energy promoting across the social strata in the state. He said the dialectics of human development revolves around the finest morals, integrity and principles. Surprisingly, he hinted that he looked up to being a clergy, preaching the words of Allah, in the years ahead, in order to change a troubled society where values and humanity are consistently trampled. I left him around 2 a.m., but the crowd of visitors had not receded and he did not show any sign of despair. The September election in his state will determine if the legacy of his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) means anything to the people or not.
Adeoye works with Journalist for Democratic Right (JODER), Lagos.