On Thursday, May 25, 2017, family, friends, and well wishers converged on the newly built De-Distinguished Multipurpose Hall in Osogbo for a colloquium to mark the 60th birthday anniversary of Rauf Adesoji Aregbesola, the Governor of the State of Osun. The event, attended by a cross-section of dignitaries from across the state and beyond, could well be regarded as the second Raufnomics in the transformation of Osun.
Raufnomics, coined by Aregbesola’s associates, was launched last year as a shorthand for his profitable use of strategic planning and an innovative economic model to transform the lives of the people of Osun through mass-based and people-centered programmes and projects, especially in education, health care, infrastructural development, youth employment, and social welfare.
Against the backdrop of Osun’s lean profile, when Aregbesola took office in November 2010, and the state’s declining fortunes in the last three years, Raufnomics has turned out to be about using limited resources to guarantee the maximum good for the maximum number of people. This is better appreciated by considering the cumulative impact of all the programmes and projects as a whole, rather than viewing each programme in isolation.
The colloquium, featuring four presentations on Raufnomics, focused on how Aregbesola was able to accomplish his goals: (1) Good governance and challenges of leadership by Mahamoud Abubakar Balarabe (SAN); (2) Democracy and ethics of good governance by Professor Akin Oyebode; (3) Leadership and politics of power struggle by Professor Niyi Akinnaso; and (4) The essence of the transformation agenda of the state of Osun by Dr. Charles Diji Akinola.
As the titles of the presentations suggest, the recurrent themes of the colloquium were leadership; ethics; democracy; and good governance. While Balarabe, Oyebode, and Akinnaso expatiated on one or the other of these themes, Akinola focused on the specifics of Aregbesola’s transformation agenda in Osun during the past six years.
In what follows, I explore, not in any particular order, how these four themes provided the backdrop for Aregbesola’s uncommon achievements. First, Aregbesola gave meaning to our fledgling democracy through his programmes and projects, by involving relevant stakeholders in the distribution of political goods across the state.
His democratic roots date from his student days when he participated in student activism and social movements for the transformation of society. Like the young Fidel Castro, whose political trajectory developed from sympathy for the Black labourers on his father’s sugar cane plantation, Aregbesola has always been drawn to the plight of the masses, especially the downtrodden.
Although an engineer by training, Aregbesola devoured literary pieces, especially African literature, perhaps in his bid to better understand human nature, especially African sensibilities, as he consumed political writings, especially socialist, Marxist, and leftist literature. It was this eclectic literature and his burning desire to transform society that shaped his brand of democracy. It is a liberal, participatory democracy, shaped by elements from various sources, including Mao Tzsetung, Karl Marx, Fidel Castro, and Awolowo. The result is a pragmatic politics, rooted in the people he is appointed or elected to serve.
By the time Aregbesola joined the NADECO fight for democracy, following the truncation of MKO Abiola’s presidential victory in 1993, he had signed up for political struggles that would consume his time for years to come. He would later join the Alliance for Democracy on the return of democracy in 1999 and adopt progressivism as a driving ideology of governance.
But progressivism did not come to him overnight. Right from his student days until today, Aregbesola never departed from the progressive ideology underlying the programmes of the old trilogy of Action Group, Unity Party of Nigeria, and Social Democratic Party and the contemporary trilogy of Alliance for Democracy, the Action Congress of Nigeria, and now the All Progressives Congress. Aregbesola’s progressivism is in the Awolowo mould of “life more abundant” for all, as evidenced by his programmes in education, health care, agriculture, youth employment, social welfare, and infrastructural development.
Aregbesola is as emphatic in his belief in the rule of law and the importance of debate as drivers of democracy as he is an unapologetic federalist, who believes in the sanctity and relative autonomy of the federating units. He demonstrated this when he led the rejection of the National Assembly’s attempt to encroach on the oversight functions of State Assemblies.
Second, Aregbesola’s achievements are driven by his consistency and loyalty to people and causes. He is a man of uncommon ethical standard, guided by his faith in God, people, and good causes. I have watched him on several occasions agonize over the misrepresentation of his programmes and outright falsification of his intentions. At first, I wondered why a politician should agonize over such behaviours, given the tendency of Nigerian politicians to criminalize political opponents. Upon reflection, I discovered that such behaviours are outside the code of conduct Aregbesola had set for himself.
And what did Aregbesola do that they did not falsify or otherwise run down? They criticized his education reform and school reclassification. The project triumphed. They criticized and lied about the free school uniforms he introduced. The project triumphed. They condemned his school feeding programme, by sidetracking its multiplier economic benefits for farmers, market women, and neighbourhood food vendors as well as its health benefits for school children. The programme became a best seller in the nation, attracting adoption by many other states and even the Federal Government. They also criticized his urban renewal project, despite praises by development experts and part sponsorship by the UN Habitat Programme. They protested the removal of illegal structures in the selected cities as they did school uniforms, but to no avail.
Finally, they said he diverted bailout funds meant for salary payments, because they wondered how projects could continue to be executed in the state in the face of dwindling resources. They failed to unlock the secret behind Aregbesola’s innovative financing options, including flexible financing, and the ability to maintain a strict boundary between funds for recurrent expenditure and funds for capital projects, especially when some of the latter funds were borrowed to accomplish specific projects.
Third, Aregbesola succeeded because his government operated by the major indicators of good governance, including transparency and accountability, rule of law, regulatory control, political stability, and control of corruption. He also delegated authority, using, for example, the Bureau of Social Services as an oversight agency for all kinds of projects in the state.
Moreover, he always ensured that major stakeholders were involved in decision-making, and he would always go back to them for updates. For example, when the state’s financial fortunes began to decline, Aregbesola summoned all labour unions and other stakeholders in the state, and laid bare the state’s financial records. I examined those records at the time, and also met with leaders of the unions. He then set up a committee to oversee the distribution of resources as state allocations were received.
The result was an agreement on structured salary payments, which has sustained the state till today. This effort, of course, did not prevent political opponents from organizing pockets of protests and coopting willing reporters into false reports, even when nearly 30 states were in a similar dilemma.
Fourth, Aregbesola demonstrates the qualities of good leadership, including honesty; confidence; commitment; positive attitude, even in the face of adversity; and faith in his ability to transform the lives of his people. Moreover, he is highly communicative about his goals, policies, and projects.
Above all, he exhumes an inclusive praxis that only a leader could exhume, who is rooted in grassroots politics. I observed this during his re-election campaign in 2014. It was demonstrated again during the colloquium, when every segment of Osun society was represented. Aregbesola painstakingly acknowledged them all, sometimes with the signature song for each group. Everyone has a place in his heart as they do in his programmes and projects.
Has Aregbesola been able to accomplish everything he set out to accomplish? Certainly not. His second term has been hampered by the economic recession which gripped the entire nation. This has opened him up to all sorts of criticisms, including lack of foresight in the allocation of resources. Not even the spread of the economic scourge to at least 30 other states could absolve him of blame by ardent critics.
It is also not the case that Aregbesola has no weaknesses of his own. He is often overenthusiastic and approaches every project he believes in with excessive zeal. While these may well be the weaknesses needed in a leader, who is determined to transform his society, there is no doubt that they are also targets of criticism, and may need to be moderated.
*Akinnaso, a professor of Linguistics and a columnist, was on the panel of discussants during the 60th birthday Colloquim in honour of Governor Rauf Aregbesola of Osun on May 25, 2017