On the day of his shining, Osun State Governor, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola was clearly taller than his height. He exuded charisma, strength and power. Not so any more it appears as the governor fights for his political future with a combustible workforce breathing down his neck, even as a vexatious impeachment threat has just been lifted off his neck. Olanrewaju Oyedeji takes a look at how the maverick “Aregbe” lost his high ground and how he can regain it.
His emergence on the nation’s political scene was initially not with any much high drama. After his days as a student activist, the youthful ‘Mushin Boy’ found a spot in the neo-emergent Bola Ahmed Tinubu Campaign Organisation (BATCO) and was to contribute most vibrantly to the campaign success of his principal, Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu. Post-election, the Osun indigene was to be rewarded with the very critical position of Commissioner of Works in the Tinubu administration. He was riding high.
Appreciating that all political power flowed ultimately from very close interaction with the grassroots, Aregbesola however continued to keep a very close hold on the politics of Mushin and the extended BATCO campaign organization. Another strategic thing he did was to also remain most loyal to his principal, even as Tinubu warded off blows from all sides. Funsho Williams. Chicago-gate. Kofo Bucknor. Olusegun Obasanjo. AD. Afenifere. It was a most stormy season but Aregbesola remained the active and ebullient supporter of Bola Tinubu all the way.
When the then fledgling Action Congress took the decision to spread beyond Lagos and pitch for power across the states of the South West and beyond, it was almost naturally its youthful and battle tested Turks like Aregbesola that were to be given flags to lead the battle charge in their respective states.
At first, Aregbesola’s fight to displace the incumbent PDP Governor, Olagunsoye Oyinlola seemed like a David and Goliath conflict. Oyinlola was a battle-hardened Army General who had run Lagos State, been a solid plank in the dreaded Abacha dictatorship and was already serving one term in office as Governor in the state that the youthful upstart from Lagos was coming to ruffle. But Aregbesola forged on and in one of the most determined contests of that season was finally to be declared winner of the April 14, 2007 governorship election held in Osun state after three years of a grueling and most protracted political and legal battle by the Appeal Court sitting in Ibadan.
Indeed, the seeds of the present crisis go as far back as the period of that election. In Osun state then it was just typical that indigenes of the state were divided into factions, a faction was loyal to the candidate of the action congress while the other faction was loyal to Oyinlola. For instance in the Ife area of the state, the indigenes were basically in support of the People’s Democratic Party candidate while indigenes of Modakeke preferred to cast their votes for the Action Congress. Such was the divide in the state then. This division can be traced to various reasons, some of which included the part of the state each candidate hailed from and there was even an assumption that “it is natural and normal for indigenes of Ife to vote for the PDP while Modakeke indigenes will always vote for the opposition party.”
So heated was the tussle that it had to take legal arithmetic to resolve.
At a sitting of appeal court located at Ibadan, Justice Clara Ogunbiyi canceled elections in ten local government areas of the state. These include ; Boripe, Boluwaduro, Ayedaade and Atakunmosa west. At the end of the appeal court decision, Engineer Rauf Aregbesola had 198,799 votes while Oyinlola had 172,880. Owing to the new figures, Engineer Rauf Aregbesola emerged winner of the election and was sworn in on the orders of the court.
Walking the talk
It should not be forgotten that in 2007 Governor Aregbesola made several campaign promises and many persons expected a lot from him and his administration.
Due to the decision of the Appeal Court then, Osun state was the most popular state with many persons making reference to the decision of the Ibadan appeal court and it was expected that the government of the “state of Osun” should perform excellently.
SUCCESSES AND CONTROVERSIES OF AREGBESOLA’S FIRST TERM IN OFFICE
Taking a critical look at Aregbesola’s performance during his first term as governor, it is important to weigh his campaign promises against his government’s actual performance during his first stint as governor of Osun state.
The manifesto of Aregbesola in 2007 was titled ‘My pact with Osun people’, and in the manifesto he promised to create immediate employment for 20,000 people within his first 100 days in office, he further stated that “5000 of these places shall be reserved for those who were retrenched and able to work.” The government has been commended for fulfilling his campaign promises in this area, a check on the activity of the government during the first tenure of Aregbesola revealed that many indigenes of the state got busy with OYES, their participation in the programme improved employment opportunities in the state, with many young and ready to work youths participating in the scheme, it was a case of happiness for the formerly unemployed in the state, although there were complaints during the start of the program, specifically in 2011, the program was hit with controversy with some people complaining that they have been made to use obsolete equipment to carry out their duties, for instance some complained of been made to use cutlass in cutting grasses, they also said they were made to go through unnecessary hardship.
It is however noteworthy that irrespective of challenges encountered by OYES the “Ogbeni” has received commendations for the successful implementation of the program and drew wide applause from even those not in the state.
During his first stint as governor, he was also able to construct and rehabilitate some roads so as to ease the movement of people and also to lure investors into the state. This however did not create less controversy. Notably the award of contracts caused a loggerhead between the people’s democratic party (PDP) and the Aregbesola led government, with the PDP accusing Aregbesola of awarding contracts without due process and there were various suspicions then. In Osun state however, overall, during the first stint of Aregbesola, he was praised for developmental strides and efforts.
GETTING THE SECOND TERM
Getting the second term mandate was not really child’s play for Aregbesola neither was it “Uhuru” as he had strong opposition from the opposing party in the state with the rival People’s Democratic Party, PDP engaging in a massive campaign to oust him. That was the time of “Tesojue” a slang used by the PDP candidate in the 2014 Osun state governorship election Senator Iyiola Omisore, one would be tempted to ask during the period of campaigns if it was going to be a presidential election, especially in the strongholds of both candidates it was massive campaign with various strategies, at a point it was no longer clear who will win the election, one may not have real proof to show that the government under Aregbesola was scared as only heart surgeons will know the heart state of key party officials during the election, but events in the state showed that the state government did not want to take any chances. The security situation of the state was very tense and it was even rumored that the federal government under former President Goodluck Jonathan had special interest in Osun state, though the PDP denied the allegation, especially when the president had deployed soldiers to the state.
It was a case of the state government and flag-bearer of the All Progressive Congress, Rauf Aregbesola accusing the government of intending to rig the election; it was a state of everybody trying to be secure. When the election drew nearer, people started becoming scared of coming out at night, though this is a normal happening especially with election around the corner but it was a funny affair, the two contestants were accused of trading words, they were accused of foul languages and inflammatory words.
Quoting from the press statement of the ‘Centre for Democracy and Development” (CDD) during the period of the election, “Although Osun State has had challenges in its democratic transition just like other states in Nigeria, apparently, the nature of its political actors and their state politics is a fundamental factor that will shape its democracy and governance.”
The statement read further: “inciting the citizens to take violence , allegedly preparing a youth group to provide security as against using the police, military or other paramilitary for the forthcoming elections are indicators that the state political actors do not understand they have the responsibility to ensure peace and stability in the state,”
The statement by CDD shows the mood of the state a prior to the election proper, one will begin to wonder that why was it not easy to say Aregbesola will win? Was he not the incumbent then? Was he not said to be performing? Or he had many more enemies than friends?
Governor Rauf Aregbesola technically could not lay claim to the second term win so easily, not until the election result started trickling in, a perfect example was the instance of announcements of results in Ife central with PDP candidate winning there, there was a swift conclusion that IyiolaOmisore won the election already, such was the intrigue that played out during the bid for re-election, after the so much tension he was declared winner of the election with wide margin of votes as against that of the PDP’s Iyiola Omisore. It can be said that the current economic crisis of Osun state started way back 2014 even before Governor Aregbesola was sworn in for second term.
CONTRIBUTIONS TO BUHARI’S WINNING
During the campaigns of the incumbent President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, President Muhammadu Buhari, Governor Aregbesola was one of the notable contributors to his campaign, Governor Aregbesola was at the frontburner of the campaign and even when he was not the campaign manager, he was visible everywhere. There was even a point he called for an apology from the PDP to Buhari over the certificate saga which rocked the polity as at then. In the historic Lagos rally, his short but well-articulated speech would be remembered as part of his contributions to the campaign struggles of the incumbent President. It should also be noted that under the watch of Governor Aregbesola, APC claimed Osun state in the presidential election in an interesting fashion as he kept on assuring the youths of the state that the right leader is Buhari. Aregbesola later called the victory of Buhari a watershed.
The massively attended Osogbo presidential rally is also one of such instances in which the governor vicariously supported the incumbent President during campaigns.
AREGBESOLA’S ECONOMIC/FISCAL POLICIES AND EXPENDITURE PATTERNS
The state government has been enmeshed in huge economic problems. Notable among the problems is the inability of the state government to pay salaries of workers and even an inability to continue with projects. This has been due to financial difficulties experienced by the state government of late. There have however been controversies over who should be held responsible over the woes of the state, while some persons believe the state government has been the architect of their own downfall, others do not agree.
A critical analysis of the activities carried out by the government of state has put many things on the front burner, there are allegations that the state government has been financing the state through “debts”, while there has been other opinion that the government has been embarking on projects basically meant for the federal government, the free education program of the state has also been seen as a major reason why the government is in financial problems, looking at the assumptions and opinions especially controversies surrounding government programs, one may want to suggest that the management of financial resources is a bone of contention and working with what the government has is a problem the state was expected to tackle.
The osun state government and the past administration under the then President Goodluck were at loggerhead over the alleged refusal of the Former President’s administration to refund the state government’s money spent on federal roads , the federal government was even accused of reducing the allocation meant for Osun state however beyond this conflict, it is important to note that the intention of the Comrade governor Aregbesola to have a developed state backfired dueto debts that the state ran into in the process, the state of Osun is not like Lagos state and the internally generated revenue plus the federal allocation is not and cannot be enough to sustain all the needs of the state, this is more of why “working with what the state has” should have been a watchword of the administration under the ‘Ogbeni Governor’. Definitely, the government made developmental strides but the multiplier effect of the borrowing of money to finance government projects is economic crisis, the truth and reality is that the compatibility of the financial capacity of the state and the programs embarked upon by the government is a no-no situation.
One of the fiscal policies which has been at the center of controversy is the ‘Opon Imo’ program, the giving of free uniforms and other accessories is laudable but the reality is that it has put pressure on the the state economic capacity, when the resultant effect comes, people will fail to understand that there was once a sweet period, it is just a normal human phenomenon, that is why when drafting policies, people’s reaction is an important consideration.
Governor Aregbesola lost his high the moment his expenditure pattern was not in agreement any more with the fiscal strength of the state; this was the moment the government was running into huge debts and definitely there was guaranteed to be a crash at the end of the day. The government borrowed a loan of 12billion to pay salaries as at March and it was also alleged that federal allocation has been reduced by 40percent since 2013. With these, the question then would be that in implementing a policy like OYES for instance, the ability of the state to pay salaries should have been considered. Again, how many workers can Osun state employ without having to borrow from banks?
A review should be done of all major projects. Can Osun state continue to provide free food and textbooks? The reality of today’s world economy is free education is not something that happens overnight, true Governor Aregbesola is implementing the recommendations of the education summit committee that was headed by Prof Wole Soyinka but while the state government has the right to borrow money, it could just be a question of, would it not be injurious to the economy?
Go to the streets of Osun there is a sudden deterioration of praising the man who many once praised, many state has her own turbulent times.
Stubbornness will not do it
Political watchers are piqued by what they see as a stubborn streak in the Aregbesola administration to insist on carrying out its cost-eating policies no matter their present deleterious effects on the overall development fortunes of the state. Only recently, the government continued with its high horse provision of free rail transportation to Osun indigenes to come and go from Lagos to Osogbo during the Eid festivities. For a state that has been struggling to meet basic wages of its workers and pensioners, this is indeed most galling.
However, the high desire of the state government to continue with all of its vaunted projects no matter their costs was reiterated by government spokesman, Mr. Semiu Okanlawon, when asked for his comments on the subject . As he put it, all projects that will add value to life of Osun state citizens will not be abandoned.
Within this scenario, the hitherto cosy relationship the administration seemed to have enjoyed with the people of the state seems to have evaporated in a manner the governor himself will not have envisaged.
Under the project known as O’meal for example, more than 3000 food vendors were reportedly employed while 15000 whole chickens and 35 cattle were slaughtered daily for consumption. Equally, 254, 000 eggs and 400 tonnes of catfish were also provided weekly for students. Overall, the OYES program is said to have gulped about 200million naira in monthly wages to personnel even as the government was laboring under the weight of doing all of these things at the same time. There are therefore allegations now that the state is indebted up to the tune of 480billion naira.
WAY FORWARD FOR GOVERNOR AREGBESOLA
The way out is for the administration to simply undertake a fiscal policy review. It is important to note that at this point the government has to go back to the drawing table and map-out new fiscal policy strategies and review all of its existing expenditure patterns. Also, a total reorientation has to be done for citizens of the state. It is commendable that Governor Aregbesola has already slashed his salary but he has to do more by equally reducing the number of government offices. Also, the free education program should be given a critical look, not with a view to scrapping it outrightly but to ensure greater pragmatism and prudency in its execution. The governor should also look twice before embarking on federal projects. Will such expended sums be refunded?
The existing tax scheme in the state should also be looked into. If organizations want to ensure the benefit of change in Osun, they must pay their taxes. Government does not run on water, they should pay or close down, that is a way to boost the IGR of the state.
The governor should also fight for receiving more of the state’s rightful allocation from the federal government. If the federal government is reducing the state’s allocation, the man on the street does not want to hear or listen to this; all he wants is to receive his salaries and see and use good roads and other amenities at same time.