Rauf Aregbesola, Governor of Osun State, prefers the humbling and humble title of Ogbeni to the high-horse title of His Excellency. The Ogbeni title makes him look and sound like a man of the people, a plebian, one of the hewers of wood and drawers of water. But he is none of that. He is a two-term Governor of Osun State, a state that had the sobriquet The State of the Living Spring, but which he has changed to the State of the Virtuous.
Since he was ushered into office for the second time in October 2014, he has been in and out of the trenches, either shooting at civil servants, trade unionists, pensioners, school proprietors, religious bigots of every hue or opposition politicians. But the slim man seems as tough as chewing gum. His many opponents who have used various strategies – strikes, demonstrations, petitions and court cases – have not been able to bring him down. He is now on the home stretch of his eight-year marathon but his traducers have not stopped firing shots at him.
In terms of achievements I do not know what will be the shape of the legacy he will bequeath to his successor. I have no idea whether or not history will judge him kindly or cruelly but his failure to have an executive council will stand out as a sore thumb, as a sad commentary on the nature of our democracy as practised in Osun State.
Since October 2014 when he was sworn in for the second time he has failed or neglected to appoint state commissioners. He merely appointed the Secretary to the State Government and the Chief of Staff. His reason is that the state is suffering from a terminal disease known as impecuniosity. Of course, since the drastic drop in the price of crude oil and the mindless mangling of pipelines by some militants in the Niger Delta the take-home money by states from the Federation Account wallet has been leaner than hitherto. But that is a fate that befell all the states and all the others have managed to cope without excluding from the architecture of governance an important institution like the State Executive Council.
State commissioners are an important component of a state’s governance machinery. But Mr. Aregbesola apparently doesn’t think so because even in his first term when things were, in financial terms, still honky dory he took his sweet time – all of 10 months – before naming his commissioners. But this is a serious offence. This was one of the offences listed for the impeachment of Balarabe Musa as Governor of Kaduna State during the Second Republic. Musa failed to name his commissioners within five months of his assumption of office and he was made to pay dearly for it. Some analysts might say that the ruling party, NPN, was uncomfortable with a strategic state like Kaduna being in the hands of one of the opposition parties and wanted to teach Musa, a stubborn, steadfast, principled politician a lesson he would remember forever.
The 1999 Constitution in Section 192 sub-section 1 says that “There shall be such offices of commissioners of the Government of a State as may be established by the Governor of the State.” That is explicit enough. But the Constitution actually goes further to elaborate on the composition. In Section 14 sub-section 4 it states: “The composition of the Government of a State, a local government, or any of the agencies of such Government or Council and the conduct of the affairs of the Government or Council or such agencies shall be carried out in such manner as to recognise the diversity of the people within its area of authority and the need to promote a sense of belonging and loyalty among all the peoples of the Federation.”
At present only the Governor and the Deputy Governor constitute the Executive Council in Osun State. The two of them represent only two out of the 30 local government areas of the state. So the diversity component is flouted because people who could have been chosen from the remaining 28 local governments are shut out of the government. The diversity requirement also means that among the commissioners there should be both men and women; there should also be people of various faiths or faith based organisations. With the failure of Aregbesola to appoint commissioners the diversity provision in the constitution is flagrantly flouted.
Constitutional directives are not made in vain. A commissionership portfolio offers opportunities to the appointed men and women for training for higher calls to service. Mr. Aregbesola himself was a commissioner in Lagos State many years ago and that experience must have stood him in good stead as the helmsman of Osun State.
Besides, if he chooses his commissioners correctly from the huge pool of very highly qualified Osun indigenes the governor will benefit. Knowledge is contributory like Osusu. Those who participate in it share in its benefit. If Aregbesola had picked a coterie of well educated, experienced and exposed persons as commissioners, the chances are high that they would have helped him to overcome his financial worries. He and his deputy cannot be better equipped than a complete cabinet of educated persons who, as commissioners, would benefit from shared ideas and information on their various portfolios with other people in and outside the government. Who says that the commissioners if properly utilised would not have raked in more money for the state than their salaries?
A government that is run without an Executive Council has no opportunity for serious debates and argumentation, serious analysis of the pros and cons of projects, programmes and processes. It is these that lead to a rational, non-emotional and public-spirited decision taking. That is lost to Mr. Aregbesola, lost to government and lost to the people of Osun State. It is a pity that the State House of Assembly permits its governor to ignore a vital instrument of state governance. That is a dereliction of duty on the part of that parliament. So when they make laws for the state who implements these laws? When they need to invite commissioners for explanations on the functions of certain ministries who do they invite? The governor is setting a bad precedent and so is the State House of Assembly by its inane complicity. If they were asleep can they wake up now and ask the governor to name his commissioners for the rest of his tenure? Lack of money is not an acceptable alibi. Employ them and pay them what you can pay. Employ them and set cost-cutting limits for them. Employ them and set revenue raising targets for them.
When Aregbesola received bail-out funds from the Federal Government he decided to set up a Revenue Apportionment Committee headed by the veteran labour leader, Hassan Sunmonu. If he had a cabinet there would have been no need for a separate contraption to show that transparency was on parade. The cabinet members who owe their loyalty and their tenure to the governor would have filled the space, reporting to the Executive Council as the need arose.
In any democracy, there are rules, regulations, norms and procedures that garnish the constitution and its spirit. That is why every item of governance cannot be spelt out in a constitution. But I think there ought to be a law by the National Assembly specifying the erection of a cabinet by both the Federal and state governments within a period not exceeding 60 days. President Muhammadu Buhari took six months to name his ministers. Now Aregbesola is not even naming his commissioners at all. He is just carrying on whimsically. He is not running his private business but the business of the people of Osun State. And that must be done according to constitutional prescriptions and not according to his personal presumption. His personal presumption will not make Osun a virtuous state.