By Owei Lakemfa
Abdulrauf Adesoji Aregbesola, the Minister of Internal Affairs is an enigma with a knack for attracting youths and maintaining a devoted followership. Since his days as the chief mass mobiliser in Alimosho-Lagos, Works Commissioner in Lagos State, berthing in Osun State with his ‘governance unusual’ and current station, his work and charisma entice many and, of course, attracts antagonists. He has a Mandela sense of history, a Magafuli streak of stubbornness and audacious courage.
Even within the ruling All Peoples Congress, APC, he does not back down from a fight he thinks is inevitable. During the February 2019 presidential campaign rally in Ogun State, he described then Governor Ibikunle Amosun and his followers as hypocrites, “staying in door and fighting the home from outside”. When in February 2021, a former Osun State Deputy Governor and his followers joined the APC, Aregbesola advised the party against admitting “suspects, murderers (and) character assassinators”.
On Africa Day, May 25, 2021, Aregbesola’s allies held a virtual conference to mark his 64th birthday which fell on that date. The theme was: “Africa: Interrogating the Leadership Question.”
Odia Ofeimun, poet, political scientist and public intellectual who was the Lead Discussant, built a solid theoretical foundation for the conference. He argued that the old order saw leadership as whoever was on top of the pie; a charismatic and messianic leadership with what Ali Mazrui called a monarchical tendency. Under such leadership, he said, criticism sounds like treason.
Olutayo Charles Adesina, a professor of History said Africans must move beyond leaders that are focused on welfare issues like provision of roads and hospitals to those that can take them to the moon. The type of leaders the continent needs, he argued, are those that would release the human possibilities, create vitality and provide a “grand strategy”
I found Professor Adesina’s hypothesis that the peoples’ welfare should not be the primary aim of leadership, farcical. People belong to a state primarily for welfare and security. Provide the people bread and water, clothes on their backs, shelter from rain and sun and where to rest their arching bones, healthcare and education for their children, and you can lead them to any path you want.
Hunger and poverty are not reasonable; they drive the people to desperation and revolt. To expect a hungry person to be reasonable, patriotic and part of a transformation agenda, is illusory. Even if a leader is a messiah and is taking the people to heaven, they will prefer to eat on earth before embarking on the journey to the transformative heaven otherwise, such a leader will face revolt.
Hafsat Olaronke Abiola-Costello, civil rights activist and founder of the Kudirat Intiative for Democracy, KIND, argued that Aregbesola’s simplicity, sense of duty, hard work, courage and pro-people tendencies, make him a model leader. In laying the basis for her submission, she gave two examples of outstanding Nigerians in the United States.
First, Dr. Oluyinka Olutoye who achieved a rare medical feat by successfully operating and removing a tumour from an unborn child. Secondly, Tanitoluwa Adewumi who, while living in a homeless shelter in 2019 at age 8, won the New York State Chess Championship.
These cases, she argued, show that the problem in Africa is not primarily leadership, but that Africans are not meant to realise their potentials in the continent. She said while it seems that the 55 Africa countries are not working, it is more the global economic system that has chained them. She added that leaders like Thomas Sankara, Patrice Lumumba and Sylvanus Olympio who try to give true leadership, are quickly murdered. To her, Africa is not going to have the leaders it deserves unless we can protect them.
Abiola-Costello posited that as long as good leaders in Africa are expected to be like the Japanese Kamikaze suicide pilots, it cannot get the needed leadership. She quoted a report by the Soros Foundation which showed that Africa is a net exporter of capital; giving the developed world $50 billion annually. Africans, she argued, would need to democratise the war to end the unequal exchange between them and the developed world.
She gave the example of the Democratic Republic of Congo which given its exploited natural resources like supplying 80 per-cent of world coltan – which is the essential ingredient for making cell phones – should be one of the richest countries in the world, is actually one of the poorest countries. She said if the buyers of African resources can steal, rather than create a market for them, they will continue to ruin the continent, instigate wars and insecurity. To develop and produce good leadership, Africa, she concluded, must be able to protect its resources, markets and leaders.
Anthony Kila, Professor of Strategy and Development, argued that political leadership must be able to protect the citizens from internal and external danger and guide them beyond where they are today, to a better tomorrow. He said any political leadership that cannot do this is a failed one. Technology he said has changed the world so much that people cannot be governed in the old way.
Ogaga Ifowodo, Ph.D., lawyer and poet said Aregbesola is celebrated because, apart from providing welfare and infrastructural development as Governor of Osun State, he also provided quality education partly with the provision of tablets of learning. Nigeria, he said, is a warped federation with a huge bureaucracy through which its resources are wasted. Good leaders, he argued, should literarily be able to make bricks without straw.
Those who worked with Aregbesola in Osun State like the Deputy Governor, Grace Titilayo Ponle; Alhaji Razak Ayobami and Senator Surajudeen Ajibola Basiru spoke glowingly of his leadership style and achievements.
Aregbesola, who prefers to be called Ogbeni (Mister in Yoruba) began his response by praying for the repose of the souls of the late Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant-General Ibrahim Attahiru and the ten other officers who on May 21, 2021 lost their lives in an air crash in the line of duty. He posited that power, which he relates to leadership is, basically, responsibility.
To him, a leader is that person who by virtue of his knowledge, experience and position, sees farther than those he is directing, shepherding or leading. Leadership, he said, is the opportunity to offer vision and capacity to lead a people or community to a batter future. He said that listening to people greatly helped him in all the leadership positions he has held.
When asked if he would be contesting the 2023 presidential election, Aregbesola said he has no response to such a question as he belongs to a group of focused and serious politicians: “We do not just jump up to contest. I have never done so.”