Ogbeni at 60: the Power of Conviction, By Semiu Okanlawon
Viewed in totality, the harvests of the Aregbesola years in Osun – in spite of the enormous constraints of finance, negative attitude, opposition of naysayers and the vast areas of intervention required to make more impact – give credence to the words of Vaclav Havel…that “Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.”
Early in the life of his administration, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola brought up a video for those he believed were going to play critical roles in the implementation of his development agenda. It was a video on Bogota, the once decrepit, dreaded slummy province of Columbia. It was a story of tearing down and building up what many had resigned to as the fate of a settlement that was beyond redemption. But Bogota was redeemed. The essence of that exercise was to inject in the veins of those who would later play critical roles in the transformation of Osun, the passion for delivery.
From that moment, those who may not have given very serious thoughts to the essence of the credo that Aregbesola subscribes to that “Power is Responsibility” must have then commenced ruminating over what lay ahead with a man who carries with him such revolutionary zeal.
In the fullness of time, Nigerians would indeed discover that the confident expression, “I am as large in Osun as I am large in Lagos” was a mellowed stamping and confirmation of a political relevance that actually transcends Osun and Lagos. The disciples of Aregbesola’s ideals in political engineering are emerging in Ondo, Kogi, Oyo, Ogun, all in the South-West zone of Nigeria just as they may be mushrooming in states outside the South-West.
Is it surprising that he is large in Osun as he is large in Lagos? It’s only if we find a personality, a political figure with as much history and record of dedication, commitment and achievements in phenomenal infrastructural revolution in Lagos between 1999 and 2007, and in Osun from 2010 till date, that we can begin to debate the claim.
The cosmopolitan nature of Lagos might have silenced what could have been the hue and cries over Aregbesola’s ‘unusual’ ideas. It was not even his show. The Lagos affair was the show of his boss and mentor, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. That was unlike Osun, the not-so-cosmopolitan enclave of four million highly agrarian people with little or no shock-absorbers to withstand the high wave of ‘strange’ development ideas needed to make the huge difference that the state needed.
The resistances that have attended, confronted and threatened almost all his novel ideas in education, urban renewal, youth engagements, labour and wage issues, freedom of worships and others could scare the lily-livered off the tracks.
In the decades to come, the novel ideas that have worked in Osun are going to provide case studies for those in search of solutions to various social, economic and political problems.
The latest statistics by the Joint Admissions and Matriculations Board (JAMB) in 2017, which confirm Osun as the second state after Imo on the list of its applications for univarsity admissions is instructive. This only comes as addition to previous landmarks such as the state with the highest schools enrollment and the state with the best template in the schools feeding scheme in Nigeria. All these have undoubtedly been made possible because Aregbesola would not toe the beaten paths.
Based on convictions, Aregbesola has fought wars to ensure the survival of his educational policies, which those rattled by such new ideas could not understand. The schools reclassification into the Elementary, Middle and High Schools in Osun met a resistance that has gone down in the history of the state as one of its most tempestuous period. The dimension of religion which was dubiously introduced into it by its antagonists threatened what was aimed at bringing out the complete new man who would be useful not to himself alone but to the society from the Osun school children.
Similarly, when the government signed on to using nine cities – Osogbo, Iwo, Ede, Ilesa, Ila, Ikirun, Ife, Ikire and Ejigbo – as models of urban renewal under the UN-Habitat Programme, development experts saw it as smart moves to achieve what the architects of modern Bogota, Dubai and other such previously slummy and rustic human settlements have done for their people.
But the naysayers of Osun never saw the opportunities cities that meet modern requirements for sustainable development and decent living could offer. The protests against the removal of illegal structures to give way to the needed beautifications were more than enough to have halted the zeal to proceed.
What stands today as the enhanced cities of Osun remains the product of a conviction that what is good remains so, no matter the cacophony of naysaying around it.
It is the same dose of convictions that have led to the survival of Aregbesola’s interventions in the much needed strategies for taking idle youth off the streets of the state. Today, the Osun Youths Empowerment Scheme (OYES) resonates well with not only the state but Nigeria. Faced with millions of idle, able-bodied young men and women, Aregbesola’s concern was more on the stability of the society in the face of a multitude that has nothing to engage them. He would not wait for the scourge (joblessness) that brought about the tragic wave of insurgency in the North-East part of Nigeria to find its way into Osun before taking the most courageous decision that has seen to the positive engagement of over 40,000 youth of the state.
But it came, not without its own price! The antagonists of the youth empowerment scheme merely saw what they called the ‘paltry’ N10,000 monthly stipends for volunteers whose qualifications ranged from university degrees to diplomas and other allied certificates. On the basis of this arose the vociferous condemnations that were sustained over a long period, and aimed at making the cadets loose self-confidence and esteem. But a new re-orientation has taken place in the determination of the Aregbesola administration to instill a new culture of work ethic into the future leaders of the state and by extension, Nigeria. Apalara, the motivating, inspirational ethos which makes the Yoruba man take hard work serious has been imbibed by thousands of youth in the state. Today, to be absorbed into any major state employment would require a certification in the OYES pride.
The same conviction is what has gone into Aregbesola’s implementation of his other agenda which aptly illustrate his tenacious hold to the fact that nothing good comes easy.
Viewed in totality, the harvests of the Aregbesola years in Osun – in spite of the enormous constraints of finance, negative attitude, opposition of naysayers and the vast areas of intervention required to make more impact – give credence to the words of Vaclav Havel, the last president of Czechoslovakia and then first president of Czech after the split, who said that “Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.”
Happily enough, his experiments have turned out to be profitable and rewarding, lifting Osun up to be counted among the states of the federation brimming with the definite hope of survival. The state was created in 1991. Aregbesola became its governor in 2010, 19 years after. But a measure of the landmarks of the first four years undoubtedly have compelled developments analysts to admit that the gains of four years under his watch far outweigh those of the first 19 years.
It would look untidy to examine Aregbesola without a look at the propelling ideology behind his actions and thoughts. A Communist, it takes little effort to feel the dialectical view of social transformation embedded in his policies, relationships and postulations. He is ever proud to proclaim his affinities to historical figures that have used the Marxist ideology to change the conditions of their people. His heroes and models include Chairman Mao Tse Tong, Fidel Castro, Obafemi Awolowo, and in more contemporary times, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu and other known revolutionaries.
Small in frame but huge and robust in ideas, Aregbesola’s obvious ascetic lifestyle and devotion to ideas that break the norm place him on the same pedestal with his heroes.
In his almost two decades of public service, he has succeeded in demonstrating his affinities to the ideals of Awolowo and other revolutionaries.
Open to debates to enrich his original ideas, Aregbesola, without being pretentious, has established that he has no time for what Awolowo called “spending whole days and nights carousing in clubs or in the company of men of shady characters and women of easy virtues”.
This is just as the results of his engagements have equally shown that here is a leader who is “busy at…(his) post working hard at the country’s problems and trying to find solutions to them.”
At 60, he has been called to the deepest levels of the historical, revolutionary figures that have inspired him.
Semiu Okanlawon is the Director of the Bureau of Communication & Strategy, Office of the Governor, Osogbo.