Osun: Understanding Ogbeni Aregbesola the Unusual Governor

Posted by Farouk Adebisi Danmole | 18 May 2013 | 4,611 times

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I have known the Governor of the State of Osun for almost two decades. And for those who know him, that is indeed a long time to get to know and understand the man, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola. This piece is my attempt, therefore, to share with the general public a compacted presentation of what I know of the person of Ogbeni, to help the public have a better understanding of him.

Aregebesola is a man whose commitment to serve comes with an unusual passion. Once we were together in a committee of one and half a dozen people to set up a school for our community. I was passionate about the task, and so was everyone else; but Rauf was extra-ordinarily passionate. So committed was he to the task that one would be tempted to assume that there was something in it for him, beyond the public benefit. That was my first close contact experience of Ogbeni, and sincerely if you do have a close contact or even a cursory look at him, that is the foremost feature of his person. He is unusually usually committed to all tasks, especially those of public interest. This was a path he has chosen before his public life; he was a student activist, socialist, human rights activist, etc. That path may have shaped and propelled him for political office.

As the immediate successor (Commissioner of Works) to the Marwa  government which was largely acclaimed by many as having performed in the area of roads, Aregbesola would have done (usually) well if he had continued the road rehabilitation (as the need arose) and occasional construction of new roads that earned Marwa the reputation. But Aregbesola was unusual; he initiated and piloted a multi-billion naira (N13b) massive road work (first of its kind at the state level) to open up the ever congested Lagos road that was then turning Lagos to a failing state. That huge investment on roads will best be appreciated if we are reminded that the entire budget of the Marwa government a few months earlier was less than a billion naira. Again, the impact of his effort will best be appreciated by those who knew what the road system/traffic congestion of Lagos was and what it became after eight years of Rauf Aregbesola as Commissioner of Works, Lagos State.

Similarly, he initiated an all-round the year’s work crew on road repairs (Road Gang), road cleaning (Highway Managers) and drainage clearing (Drain Ducks) in Lagos, contrary to as the need arises system that he met in place. That was a solution that was not done by any government before him.

Now, the numerous achievements recorded under his name were not by happenstance. These successes were hinged on another of his prominent feature, which is hard work. Years before his first public appointment, I usually knew without being told that he was not in town if the light in his office was not on late in the night when I returned from work. He resumed at the earliest time, and closed late. This was the practice he brought to the public offices he occupied. It is unusual for files to overstay in his office, and as such it became a pattern for everyone who worked with him to ensure the speedy movement of files as required. At the ministry, Aregbesola had no closing time, and numerous were the days when he had to work until the next morning at the office.

It was in recognition of these features that those who know him had great expectations when he became Governor of the State of Osun. During his inauguration ceremony, a childhood friend of his said to us: “If you know Rauf, you won’t expect anything less (than outstanding achievements). Just like the Yoruba saying, Igbin tenu mo igi ogun, when Rauf is confronted by an obstacle, he does not rest until he surmounts it. That has been the man, for as long as I have known him, and that is the secret of his successes. Osun is blessed to have him.”

Now, one of the easiest means (for those who live outside the state) to find out if Ogbeni has been able to perform in Osun is, for instance, to gauge the voice of the opposition or the value of their criticism. In my recent visit to Osun, I realised why all that is left to talk about (for those who must be in opposition) is the beard of the governor and his cap. With modest words, Osun is fast becoming an exemplary state, not only for poor states like Osun, but all others.

For us to fully appreciate the magic going on in the state, we must be told that Osun ranks 34th among the poorest states across the nation, in terms of earnings (internal revenue and allocation). Poor earnings notwithstanding, Osun after 30 months of Ogbeni’s administration has raised the bar in all spheres of governance.

Roads: Expectedly, roads would be the foremost area of performance gauge for a man who was once undoubtedly the most dynamic and outstanding Commissioner of Works in the nation. And, indeed, Aregbesola has not disappointed the people in this sector, which he has on several occasions described as the catalyst for economic and social development. Massive road construction and rehabilitation, the manner never experienced in the state, is being witnessed in all nooks and crannies of Osun. These include 61 township roads (128km), 20 intercity roads (294km), and three super highways, which are the East By-pass road, the Osogbo-kwara, Osogbo-Lagos and Gbogan-Osogbo roads to connect Osun to Kwara, Ogun and Lagos.

Ogbeni while justifying the need to build the super highways (thereby taking over the responsibility of the federal government) lamented that all the access roads leading to Osun from adjoining states are narrow and single track roads. And, according to the governor, it will be hopeless to wait in vain for the federal government on such a vital need for the socio-economic emancipation of the people of the state.

Indirect efforts on the road facilitated by the state government include the 10km roads for each of the 30 local government councils in the state, coordinated by the state government and funded by the councils from the Excess Crude Oil Fund; and the 500km of the Rural Access Mobility Project (RAMP) to open up the rural areas to urban centers for development.

Government in the design of these road networks ensured that they were spread across the state to open and link up the villages, towns and cities to each other and also to the outside world, thereby facilitating rapid business development in and out of the state. And to further facilitate access in and out of the state, the Osun airport will be completed later this year.

On Education, the Ogbeni administration has totally abolished all fees in primary and secondary schools and slashed tertiary fees by 50%. Primary school funding has been increased from the N7. 4m per annum of the erstwhile government to N42m, and secondary schools from N117m to N427m; 180,000 pupils are being fed with nutritious meals everyday; all students of Osun (750, 000) have been provided with two units of free uniform each; free WAEC fees and 150, 000 e-learning tablets for SS3 students.

The government in spite of its meager resources is replacing old dilapidated school buildings throughout the state with 170 mega schools, equipped with state of the art facilities to create a conducive environment for learning. Each unit will have facilities that include an examination hall that can seat 1500 students, laboratories, e-libraries, etc., and comfortable classrooms of no more than 40 students per class. It is discernible that in the nearest future; students from the State of Osun will become distinguishable in WAEC, JAMB and other national examinations, courtesy of the state effort in revamping and developing the state education to world standard. These efforts have not gone unnoticed by others, as we may recall that the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Education, Senator Uche Chukwumerije, recently declared the education policy of the state as the best in the nation, enjoining others to put aside political differences and take a cue from the education revolution going on in the state.

Agriculture: Aregebsola’s primal objective in the agriculture sector is to turn Osun to a hub of commerce, especially for agricultural products throughout the nation. An immediate objective is to ensure that the Osun farmers capture not less than a 10% market share of the 3.5b daily food exchange market in Lagos. To achieve this, the government is doing everything possible to realise this lofty goal. So far, it has cleared over 3,000 hectares of land, and supported farmers and cooperatives with over N1b, including improved seedlings, chemicals, loans, etc. Training have been conducted locally and abroad especially for young farmers, and cleared land are given to anyone who is interested in farming. In Oyan town, government built the largest commercial apiary in the sub-Saharan Africa for refined honey production. The government in addition has opened up over a 100km of rural roads, and arranged free rail transportation of agric products from Osun to Lagos among other efforts.

On Empowerment, there is no government nationwide that has passionately pursued empowerment programmes for its people like the Ogbeni’s administration has done since its inception. The legendary success of the 20,000 OYES cadets is a welfarist programme that has been studied for adoption and applauded by governments within the nation and beyond, including the World Bank. Osun Government has strategically designed most of its programmes in a manner that in addition to its end use, there is also business empowerment for its people. Such examples include the over 3,000 indigenous caterers who are involved in O’MEAL (Osun pupil feeding programme); the over 3,000 indigenous tailors trained and engaged to sew Osun students uniforms under the O’UNIFORM scheme, etc. Others are the 5,000 youths trained in ICT skills, 6,000 youths engaged as teachers in public school and 1,700 Osun elderly citizens receiving N10,000 stipends every month, dedication to the social well being  people for those who know him is a reflection of who he was public office. Apart from being a socialist, human right activist, I remember in those days that he was an Ijesha man who would not spend money frivolously, but surprisingly constantly willing to give a helping hand to friends who approach with self-development projects for fiscal support. In addition to giving financial support, he will always show concern by giving continual moral support.

In other sectors such as security and health, the effort and commitment of the Ogbeni’s administration are not any less than the other sectors aforementioned. Two mega Police Stations have been built, and seven more to be completed; 100 Police Vehicles, a Security Control Centre, and helicopter are part of facilities and equipment provided by the state to help combat crime within the state. In the health sector, nine state hospitals and 12 comprehensive health centers are being rehabilitated, 74 primary health centers have been built, and 400 youths trained as a paramedic all for the Osun Ambulance Service Authority, etc.

The state’s huge investment in infrastructure notwithstanding the salaries of civil servants are promptly paid before the end of each month, pensions are now paid directly into the accounts of beneficiaries rather than through intermediaries.

Lagos workers, especially those of his ministry will remember Aregbesola for some innovative efforts in worker’s welfare. It was within a few months as commissioner for works that he re-introduced some benefits that had long been forgotten in the system. Staff quarters, Ministries, Offices, Schools, Hospitals, etc., were all renovated with funds that have always existed in the budget, but rarely used except for most senior officers and public servants.

The question that most people will want to ask is, how did the State of Osun in spite of its financial inadequacy manage to embark on this unusual infrastructure and service revolution, and why? While reacting recently to a similar question, the governor said: “The programmes that we are putting in place are essential in the transformation of our state to be economically viable and self-reliant, and become a hub of commerce. To achieve this, we are providing and expanding infrastructure; through our educational programmes, we are nurturing leaders who will take over and increase productivity; we have enhanced health facilities, security, etc. If we are committed to changing the fortunes of Osun as we are, lack of funds cannot be a setback to such lofty goals. And it is with this belief that we engaged in some financial engineering to finance our projects, without harming our budgets, nor mortgage the future of the state.”

Early in the life of the administration, a few steps were taken to change the financial direction of the state. The Internal Generated Revenue (IGR) was raised from N300m to N700m monthly by blocking loopholes and eliminating fraud; N800m hidden investment was recovered; ghost workers were eliminated from the pay roll; and an N18b inherited debt, which required the state to borrow N1bn to offset its monthly finances, was paid off, thereby saving the state over N900m, among other measures. It will be shocking to know still that despite the huge expenditure by the state, the Ogbeni administration quite unusually made a statutory provision which prevents the state from spending its excess crude oil allocation fund, and has consequently, saved over N10bn for the future of the state.

In conclusion, my last question is, ‘How have the Osun people and others received the efforts of the new administration?’ It is easy for non-residents to be confused by numerous reports coming out of the State of Osun, mostly from politicians of the erstwhile ruling party. Indeed, I was too until I visited the state recently. My visit coincided with the state’s monthly Walk for Life programme in Ikirun local government. What I witnessed was a carnival of reception by the people, the type of crowd that I thought no longer existed in modern politics (I am still surprised why the public relations crew of the governor do not have such events on You Tube). It was a crowd of everyone in the community; the caterers, tailors, students, the elderly, traditional rulers; everyone whose life has been touched, one way or the other by the administration. I understand that this is the same manner that other people and communities have been receiving him. According to my friend’s father (Mr. Adio Lawal), an academician who actually traveled all the way from his Ibadan residence to Ikirun, his hometown, to receive (wave at) the governor in the street, ‘I am in Ikirun to do what I have not done in decades, something no amount of money can make me do at my age. Aregbesola is the modern day Awolowo; it is in the programmes and commitment to the people. We want him to know we appreciate him and that’s why we are here.”

It appears that opponents of Ogbeni noticing how his popularity soars in the state, chose the bi o ba o pa, bi o oba bu lese (“kill him or kill his image”) option. Laughable and outrightly ridiculous is the allegation bigotry against the person of Ogbeni. As a commissioner for eight years, Aregbesola kept the same confidential/personal secretary, office staff, drivers, who are all Christians (all of whom still work with him); three out of his four PAs were Christians, and even as governor he is surrounded by Christian staff; 75% of his commissioners, SAs, Permanent Secretaries and two of his siblings are Christians. As governor he has been attending church services and programmes in the state. Where is the basis for the accusation?

A former opposition member turned ally of Ogbeni Rauf has this to say: “We want to ask, where are all these lies coming from?” Simply political; the opposition cannot be seen as mute and docile, so things have to be said. Now what criticism can you raise against a man who no one in his right frame of mind can accuse of non performance?

Quite unfortunately for his rivals again he is upright, so you cannot accuse him of some of these frivolities associated men of his status. So what next...? Something must be invented for political relevance and that is the root of these incredulous stories.” Need any more be said?

Rauf Aregbesola is the unusual man of our nascent democracy; we need more people to emulate his exemplary leadership and commitment to make him less unusual, and to move the nation forward. God bless Nigeria.

Danmole writes from Lagos. Photo shows Governor Aregbesola addressing a cross section of Osun people.

Source: News Express

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