Aregbesola’s 5th Year: Visionary Leadership In Troubled Times

By Semiu Okanlawon

The book, Asiwaju: Leadership in Troubled Times could easily frighten the meek-minded away from leadership responsibilities. That publication, co-authored by columnists, Sam Omatseye, Segun Ayobolu and Tunji Bello (now the Secretrary to the Government of Lagos State) in honour of former Governor, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who then clocked 60, succinctly captures what storms (expected and unexpected) could hallmark a particular period of leadership.

And when such economic, political and social hurricanes emerge, they end up defining that era; serving to bring out the best in leadership qualities or presenting the leader as one never prepared for the rigors of office.

Five years into the two-term tenure of the governor of Osun, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, the “troubled times” that leadership faces are real as evidenced by the events of the half a decade.

Forget the last one year of acute global economic upheaval which has turned into shreds, Nigeria’s monolithic economy relying solely on sale of crude oil in the international market. That was a disaster foretold! It now threatens to cripple the country save the ingenious application of survival strategies of a new order at the centre.

Almost two decades into its birth as a state of Nigeria, Osun’s state of being could not have been an attractive project for those in search of “low-hanging fruits” at the time Aregbesola set out to be its governor.

No doubt, a state generating less than N300 million monthly as internally generated revenue from and for its almost 4 million citizenry could not have been a comfort zone for those looking for tea parties. It was already a state begging to be fixed. Five years down the line on November 27th, the surgical operations through the instrument of a six-point development agenda called “My Pact with Osun”, have changed the skylines in what must be a good study in “tearing down and building up”.

I have seen historical cases of how fortunes of hitherto despondent people were turned around. The story of Bogota, the Columbia capital slum which became a shinning example of development through vision is one. Today, history remembers Mayor Antanas Mockus for promoting culture of citizenship which brought about an articulate analysis and comprehension of the multiform and multifarious complexities of that slummy city. That led to a change of attitude. Second is that of Mayor Enrique Penalosa which built on the foundation of a completely reorientated citizenry to cause development and inflow of investments and infrastructure.

Jim Krane, in City of Gold: Dubai and the Dream of Capitalism tells us the sweet story of how a dusty desert land became the tourists destination of the whole world within a spate of three decades. Today, Sheikh Rashid Ibn Saheed Marktoum is revered as the father of modern Dubai.

Osun, in five years has similar tales to tell. Put together, the works that have gone into a holistic transformation and development agenda rank Osun among people who had resigned to fate only to be jolted by a phenomenal change in their state of being.

The works that have gone into education, roads, security, social welfare, health, agriculture, rural development are responsible for what visitors to Osun adjudge as true essence of leadership.

By the end of the first term in 2014, the Aregbesola administration could boast of over 900 kilometres of completed roads of various grades. The impact of that on economic activities are rippling.

Within the same period, Osun witnessed the construction of more than 50 new mega schools in the Elementary and Middle Schools categories in what have gone down as the most attractive learning centres to be built in the state in its more than two decades of existence.

The exciting unveiling of the Wole Soyinka Government High School, Ejigbo on Wednesday November 23, 2015 has further confirmed that the experts and stakeholders who sat for the 2011 Education Summit did not just engage in empty talk shop. They can see the outcome of their brainstorming sessions emerging in world classrooms, Tablet of Knowledge (Opon Imo), improved teaching personnel, increased funding for school administration, highly impacting school feeding for elementary school pupils, phenomenal increase in school enrollments among other landmark initiatives.

The result of the above is the 61 percent improvement in the performance of Osun pupils in examinations. Comparing the performance of between 2008 – 2010 which had 13.26% performance level with the period 2011-2013’s 21.32% obviously shuts the mouths of those who had attempted to pick holes in the educational policies of the Aregbesola administration.

A recent report of the Oxford Department of International Affairs Multi-Dimensional Poverty Index rated Osun as next to Lagos in Nigeria. This was an indication that in spite of the hullabaloo over financial crisis, the state has been making tremendous progress through silent transformations.

Two weeks ago, the World Bank ranked Osun the best state in the implementation of the Rural Access Mobility Project, a project opening up access to rural farmers and dwellers to improve the wellbeing of the people.

But before then, the National Bureau of Statistics had earlier rated Osun as state with the least unemployment rate in Nigeria. Of course, that is not without its own concomitant effects on security lives and investments. Osun appears to have remained impregnable for hoodlums who have made life hell in some neighbouring states.

And what do the figures point to? Development analysts won’t have problems identifying the various intervention moves of the Aregbesola administration that are responsible for these positive rankings of a state that had occupied the unenviable place as second to the last on federal allocation ladder.

The state does not just flaunt an array of branded projects. OREAP, (Osun Rural Enterprise and Agriculture Programme); OYES (Osun Youth Empowerment Scheme), O-CLEAN) Osun Environmental Sanitation Project), O-SCHOOL, (Osun School Infrastructure Project), O-AMBULANCE (Osun Ambulance Services) and a host of others! These brands have not just been brands but vehicles in the development journey of the Aregbesola administration.

In the end, his era would be remembered for how many hitherto slummy ghetto settlements like Old Garage were transformed into Nelson Mandela Freedom Park which is today a world-class center of commerce and relaxation in the heart of the state capital.

His tenure would be identified with the number of dilapidated schools that turned out rascals that were transformed into excellent mega-schools with world class learning facilities positioned to churning out confident, well-groomed and productive citizens who can compete with any of their peers across the globe.
Above all, he would be judged on how much his visionary leadership in this troubled times have affected humanity as a whole.

Late Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s whose “jewel of inestimable value” was given a final burial rites on Wednesday, never had it rosy in the face of his determined development journey. It is on record that free education, the instrument with which that visionary leader set this region on a faster lane of educational, political, economic and social advancement was, in the beginning, unpopular with the people.

In the face of a daunting economic dilemma facing Nigeria, occasioning delays in salaries and pensions payments, meeting contractors’ obligations, funding budgetary provisions for capital projects and overheads, the message is clear that times like these demand critical and genuine assessment of situations in order to be in tune with the realities of the moment.

Three years ahead and still a work in progress, there is no doubt that more “troubled times” lay ahead if development must be achieved. The “trouble times” only lies in the readiness of the citizenry to see the genuineness of a vision that is focused on true development and buy into it. That will be when “troubled times” meet their match in visionary leadership.

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