Aregbesola: Exit And The Blaze Of Glory By Semiu Okanlawon

Former American President, Barrack Obama’s valedictory speech remains one of the greatest in the annal of political speech-making. I lifted the lines below from that speech finding them significantly relevant to this piece.

Obama had said to his audience with tear-laden eyes on his exit from power: “If I had told you eight years ago that America would reverse a great recession, reboot our auto industry, and unleash the longest stretch of job creation in our history…if I had told you that we would open up a new chapter with the Cuban people, shut down Iran’s nuclear weapons program without firing a shot, and take out the mastermind of 9/11…if I had told you that we would win marriage equality, and secure the right to health insurance for another 20 million of our fellow citizens – you might have said our sights were set a little too high.

“But that’s what we did.  That’s what you did.  You were the change.  You answered people’s hopes, and because of you, by almost every measure, America is a better, stronger place than it was when we started.”

For a moment, imagine the outgoing Governor of Osun Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola’s expected speech on November 27, 2018 when he is constitutionally expected to hand over the baton to his successor, Alhaji Gboyega Oyetola: “If we had told you that we would create another Osun where a new set of values and orientation in tandem with the Omoluabi ethos would take over; institute good governance that would ensure provision of infrastructure that had never been witnessed in this state before; change the face of our education system and make it functional again with state-of-the-arts facilities and raise the performances of our students in WAEC from a miserable 15% to 70%; create a new network of roads that map the path to future progress and developments; halt the expanding and frightening population of unemployed people and create a new empowerment and employment template that Nigeria and indeed Africa would find most ingenious and applicable; enthrone sustainable peace that would make this small corner of the globe a beckoning attraction for businesses and holidays, you would have said those amounted to mere figments of and in political demagoguery.  

“But today, we stand before you, proud that we have even surpassed the very targets we set for ourselves. That, however, is because you have made it possible for us to redirect the ugly course of our state with your cooperation and involvement. The lesson we have learnt, we must admit, is that development, real development, only happens when the people are involved.”

There shouldn’t be doubts over the state in which Aregbesola is handing Osun over to his successor. The eight-year tenure has simply redefined the over four million populated-state in so many ways. We admit that naysayers might controvert this, but it is certain that history will record Ogbeni as the visionary who came to make Osun rediscover itself with a new life that confirms its sustainability.

Controversial? Yes, he may have been! But in this part of the world, it is doubtful if anyone in such critical position would make any headway, set new records and templates if he elects to go by the existing norms and afraid to break the rules. 

In the dogged pursuit of his Messianic mission, there were no ways the resolve to phase out the old order in the educational system would not  have triggered some uproarious protestations. There was no way tearing down structures including mosques and churches and schools to give ways to developments and urban renewal would not have caused some hoopla. And was it really possible for a new government to seek an overhaul of the bureaucracy for effective service delivery without inviting some condemnations unto itself? 

For every sector where Aregbesola recorded resounding and remarkable achievements, there was always one brick wall or the other that had the capacity to truncate the dreams. But with his wills, there were always the ways out.

It is within those context that you would get the explanation for the controversies that hallmarked the eight years of the Aregbesola administration.  

Aregbesola sought doggedly to give his state a new life. But in doing that, he must necessarily thrash some existing orders. Some people took Aregbesola’s controversies as needless creations of the governor. However, he is currently basking in the euphoria that most of the experiments he risked and endured have been adopted by majority of those who called him unprintable names in the middle of his relentless experimentations. 

These were not only even about the physical developments of the state he governed. Critical examinations of the Aregbesola ways showed a systematic challenge on some of the anomalies of the federal system Nigeria claims to practise. Without saying so, Aregbesola indirectly bailed the states of the federation out of their lethargy that had also somehow trampled them into some kind of servitude. 

Until the rebranding of Osun, components of which were a new crest, an anthem and a flag, not many states of the federation realized the enormity of their independence from the federal might. And until the then Vice President Namadi Sambo visited the state and Aregbesola was not on hand to receive him, it never occurred to many Nigerian states and their governors that they were not constitutionally bound to obey such protocols.

 The message is this: In many ways, federalism has been better served as Aregbesola sought to build his state creating that awareness that states are not in master-servant relationship under a true federal system.

In some ways akin to how the government of Ahmed Bola Tinubu stood up to the Federal Government to claim the rights of Lagos as a constituent unit of the Nigerian federation, the Aregbesola administration sought to and succeeded in giving fillip to the independent entity that Osun represents within the federal system. 

Taking cues from that, I doubt if there is any state in Nigeria today that has not keyed into that; created its own identity and sought to reinforce it as part of the prerequisite for economic, social and political prosperities.

And so, the story of the successes under Aregbesola transcends the physical, gigantic infrastructure that the state is now blessed with. Though we know many would easily want to applaud the feats of this governor on the strength of the size, colour, aesthetics and grandeur of those educational institutions; innovations as exemplified by the birth of Tablet of Knowledge (Opon Imo): the quality and durability of the wide network of new roads; the state-of-the-arts security equipment, ambulances stationed in strategic points throughout the state. Those who recognize the indices of true development would appreciate his eight years of hard work infusing a new culture that appreciates productivity and responsible citizenship. 

Through the instrument of one of the widely acknowledged empowerment initiatives, the Osun Youths Empowerment Scheme (OYES), there is a new orientation that elevates work ethics above the increasingly unbridled desires for wealth.

In an age where wealth without work has seeped into the culture of the people, the Aregbesola administration has, while seeking an ingenious solution to the growing unemployment scourge, killed two birds with one stone(as Yoruba would say) by ensuring that the over 60,000 Osun youths who have passed through the rigors of the scheme emerge as ambassadors and preachers in the new work ethics and orientation gospel that comes with the volunteer scheme. 

In the same vein, the people of Osun have been made to accept taxation as being synonymous with responsible citizenship. It is part of the ways to teach our people that you cannot hold any government accountable for good governance if you are not a partaker through the instrument of tax commitment. 

There is a new spirit in town. At least, as far as Osun is concerned. Governance has been given a new definition never known to those who had suffered stagnation. 

For the first time, the state has been given a 10-year development plan through the efforts of its economic strategists. A good understanding of the model of development which has lifted the state to what Aregbesola will be handing over to Oyetola come November 27, 2018 shows that the people will be better off with continuity. 

No doubt, the years ahead promise to demonstrate how a solid foundation has been laid. May the people, the focus of the whole efforts, reap the benefits of the superstructure.

  • Semiu Okanlawon is Special Adviser, Information and Strategy, State of Osun
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