It is clear, beyond doubt, that that Ogbeni is paying the price of commitment to his people. He may have made some mistakes inadvertently, but he ultimately means well for his state. The democratic instinct to wait will justify the Osun project and elevate the status of Ogbeni in the service of his people.
David Runciman in his Confidence Trap, an interesting analysis of democracy’s toil through the prism of de Tocqueville’s reading of America’s democracy in the 19th century, underlines the views of Tocqueville on the advantage of democracy over autocracy. According to him “…the long-term advantages of democracy are not readily apparent. They can’t be grasped in the moment. They need time to reveal themselves.” In its crisis mode, he noted that “Democracies are caught between their impulse to precipitate action and their instinct to wait. There is no equilibrium between these states of mind.” The state of Osun under the leadership of Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola between 2010 and now approximates Tocqueville’s appreciation of democracy in America. Today, there are few governors in Nigeria well-loved by his people like Ogbeni. I was fortunate to witness his first inauguration and could vividly recall the ecstasy and frenzy of the day in Oshogbo. For the people of Osun, “Ipinle Omoluabi”, it was a new dawn.
The bond between the governor and his people was massively displayed in his re-election, which was a test of the strength of people united behind their leader and an irredentist central government. In that re-election exercise, over 700,000 voters turned out, amounting to about 54 percent of the total registered voters, the highest recorded in elections in the country at the time, and about 55 percent of the valid votes sealed the mandate of the incumbent. Never in our history had a state election excited so much interest. It was a contest between good and evil but, of course, the people triumphed.
Ogbeni’s re-election took place against a background of a dip in the price of oil in the international market, and for a country solely reliant on one product from which it merely extract rents, it was only a matter of time before the entire economy would reveal its structural weakness. With a paltry internally generated revenue and with over 50 percent cut in accruals from oil revenue, the chicken came home to roost. The distributable pool in the Federation Account could barely pay the salaries of workers across states of the federation. At the last count, over twenty states were unable to settle their wage bills, some for upwards of eight months, and even the central government with its buffers owed workers in many agencies and institutions of government.
The states affected are Abia, Akwa Ibom, Bauchi, Benue, Cross River, Ebonyi, Ekiti, Enugu, Imo, Jigawa, Kano, Katsina, Kogi, Kebbi, Ogun, Ondo, Osun, Oyo, Plateau, Rivers, Yobe and Zamfara. Only 14 states have been able to pay workers’ salaries up-to-date. These states include Anambra, Adamawa, Bayelsa, Borno, Delta, Edo, Gombe, Kaduna, Kwara, Lagos, Nasarawa, Niger, Sokoto and Taraba. In 2014, the domestic debt of states was put collectively at about N1.7 trillion by the Debt Management Office (DMO). The case of Benue State was so bad that the previous governor, Gabriel Suswan was overwhelmingly rejected in his bid for the senate in the last general elections. Cross River, Edo, Kaduna, Lagos and Ogun states have the biggest external debt profile in the country. Currently, Osun State owes its workers up to five months of unpaid salaries. As Olusegun Adeniyi has observed in his “States of Emergency”, Ogbeni was the only governor of the lot to admit to owing workers. Sincerity ought to be a distinguishing character of democracy, as Tocqueville found out in the case of America.
At this point, the pertinent question is why the disproportionate focus on Osun State? Recently, the Osun State House of Assembly inaugurated a seven-man committee to probe the alleged financial recklessness of the governor. Indeed, the commonplace narrative is that many of the governors in Nigeria are mismanaging their states’ resources. Whereas this may be true of some states, there are other objective factors that we ought to relate with, which are largely developmental and go to great extents to explain, for instance, the Osun dilemma. These flow from the commitment of the governor to the people of his state, the price of which he is currently paying as the butt of sometimes extremely uncomplimentary remarks coming from grossly ill-informed and bellyaching commentators. Again, this is the beauty of democracy. The governor comes from the most oppositional crust of the Nigerian polity and we cherish that value. Amidst the chaos of the babel, the truth must find its way and that is the providence in democracy. I shall present in what follows concrete development steps which the Osun state governor has embarked upon since 2010, when he assumed leadership of the state.
Upon his inauguration, Ogbeni provided jobs for 20,000 youths within his first 100 days in office under the Osun Youth Empowerment Scheme (OYES), a social welfare programme in which youths are involved in community service, as well as capacity building, and that costs the state about N8.8 billion so far. This has been acclaimed by the World Bank and other multilateral institutions. The governor introduced a school feeding scheme for about 252,000 school children at a yearly cost of about N3.5 billion. Over 3000 community caterers and sundry commercial farmers benefit from this scheme. The educational development in the state also include the provision of the Opon Imo, an electronic learning tablet given to about 150,000 high school students, and gulping about N1.67 billion; the development of model school infrastructure; teacher training school; and uniform harmonisation, which has stimulated he largest garment factory in West Africa, etc. The state’s pathway to diversification of agriculture led to investments in agri-business, resulting in the development of one of the largest poultry producers in the country, while the cocoa factory in Ede is equally being restored. Oshogbo town is undergoing one of the most ambitious urban renewal projects in the country, involving the building and repair of roads and other physical infrastructure.
It is pure miracle that Ogbeni could attain all of this mileage with the state’s paltry fiscal revenue profile. Resources from the Federal Allocation Account (FAAC) between November 2010 and April 2015 was about N121.4 billion. Personnel costs alone gulped about 121.4 billion between November 2010 and November 2014. Internally generated revenue, capital receipts as well as proceeds from bonds went into recurrent expenditure and capital projects. It is clear, beyond doubt, that that Ogbeni is paying the price of commitment to his people. He may have made some mistakes inadvertently, but he ultimately means well for his state. The democratic instinct to wait will justify the Osun project and elevate the status of Ogbeni in the service of his people.
Sylvester Odion Akhaine is a visiting member of The Guardian Editorial Board.