As Osun state goes to the polls again on August 9, 2014, in what seems to be a two-horse race between the incumbent Governor, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola and the People’s Democratic Party candidate, Senator Iyiola Omisore, the election will again test a few principles in our perception of the parameters of governance. The limitation in choices is not official but is due to sundry factors that may not be unconnected with the relative nascence of our democratic experience as well as the huge costs of elections. It certainly takes a lot to build a political structure that will make any meaningful impact in any election that involves millions of potential voters.
Osun state is not Arkansas or Manchester; the level of enlightenment differs and reasonably, the quality of candidacy will only get better over the years as the state and the nation evolves. Of the top two candidates however, I am better persuaded by the promises the candidacy of the incumbent Governor holds for our collective dreams of an industrialized nation. His policies while in government have shown evidence of some thought, the presence of a plan and a cohesion that should gradually drive the state into general flourishing if sustained. His opposing candidate has been low on formulating a stronger governance template as I expected, or even testing current policies with empirical efforts to assert the necessity of a change but has rather relied on ethnic sentiments and simplistic promises of taking the state to the centre – whatever that means.
With recently recurring questions about the place of idealism in the Nigerian democratic experience and the place of the individual quest for daily survival in making electoral decisions, Osun becomes a veritable laboratory. Under Aregbesola, there seems to exist a balanced idealistic pursuit of development without losing touch with the people. Starting with his decision to be addressed as “Ogbeni” rather than “Your Excellency”, a gesture that welded a closer affinity to the deeply cultural population of the state, he took on a more daring step in rebranding the state along the ethos of the Yoruba-cherished “Omoluabi”. While his preference for the American-styled renaming of the state as “State of Osun” raised more than a few eyebrows, his deft handling of the matter to bring his people to agree with him equally earned him a lot of admiration.
Branding in a culturally deep setting like Osun is one thing that Ogbeni Aregbesola deserves some credit for. The blend of mass appeal and the exotic in the governance efforts of the administration indicate a conscious reckoning with the necessity of attention to all details as the policies implemented and branded similarly stand in good light. The Osun Youth Employment Scheme (O’YES) which has assimilated 40, 000 people thus far, initially seemed like just another vague attempt at keeping thousands of youths busy doing nothing really. The programme has however evolved into both a vocational training scheme and a launching pad for the thousands of graduates who have volunteered to go through it. His efforts in the area of education are equally dynamic though they came with excess media hype. The 150, 000 e-learning tablets with the catchy culture-nominal reference “Opon-Imo” distributed to secondary school students in the state is a first-of-its-kind initiative that reflects the intention to shelve the laidback attitude initially attached to education in the state, matched with befitting school infrastructures being put in place. I can recall at least three occasions when I passed by some of the schools and co-passengers were so awed by their aesthetic delivery they mistook them for private schools for the rich, one person even arguing for a few minutes until we stopped to examine the signboard together before she could be convinced. The O-MEALS programme under which 254, 000 school children are being fed daily to enhance proper nutrition, is also a commendable effort.
Aregbesola’s tenure began with a radical fervor, making immediate impact in such areas as environmental sanitation, security and health. Beyond filthy surroundings, the Ife-Ilesha axis used to be the hotbed of armed robbery where we lived in fears and prayed before entering bank premises but the state-powered Operation SAS under Aregbesola immediately nipped the vice in the bud. The 125 patrol vans, 5 armoured carriers and helicopter purchased by the administration is evidence of seriousness about securing lives and property. Similarly, many lives have been saved as a result of the efficiency of the O’Ambulance, the ambulance patrol service introduced by the Aregbesola administration.
Perhaps building on his experience as a Commissioner for Works in Lagos in time past, Aregbesola took the internally generated revenue of the state from N300million to N1.5billion by addressing the laxity in the tax system previously in place. It is not unusual for those paying to complain but they can also see the benefits in the projects implemented. The administration has embarked on an Urban Renewal Plan tagged O-Renewal with manifest deliberateness at putting in place better road networks and modern amenities in the nine zonal headquarters of the state, even down to lush greenery at the state’s land borders. The equipping of over 1,800 farmers with varying farm inputs under the Osun Rural Enterprise & Agriculture Programme (O-REAP) has also resulted in the cultivation of about 10, 698 acres of farmland. The dredging of 123 kilometers of arteries and waterways equally helped address flooding that used to be a major occurrence during rainy seasons, with a very catastrophic incidence on July 10, 2010 still in mind.
To a great extent, Aregbesola has maintained the balance in a state with such religious complexity as Osun and arguments about a supposed islamization agenda have ultimately turned out unfounded and puerile. His cabinet-makeup is evidence of absence of the fundamentalism alleged and his introduction of a public holiday for traditional worshippers reflects an understanding of the complexity of the religious setting in the state, same as his administration’s sponsorship of rail transportation for residents travelling in and out of the state during festive seasons.
Questions should of course be necessarily asked about the cost of the projects implemented by the administration but such matters are not resolved by mere speculations but resort to proper costing and surveys by appropriate personnel. The aesthetic quality, durability and practical utility of the projects so far implemented will however speak volumes, no doubt. In the absence of a more formidable development plan by those seeking to check the Ogbeni out of the government lodge in Osogbo, I am of the opinion that the state will be better served by the continuity of Aregbesola’s current framework.