Aregbesola: Passing the Torch To Oyetola, By Niyi Akinnaso
Today, Osun is regarded as the best State in the country in social protection and investment programmes by various international indices.
“There was no file I treated that must not first pass through him (Oyetola) before getting to me. He is a major contributor to the success of this administration. He is not going to be told what to do. He knows where the work stops and where to start. I have no doubt that the future of Osun is secure. He will continue our good work and even open up new frontiers.” – former governor, Rauf Aregbesola, on the new governor, Gboyega Oyetola, during his last town-hall meeting with the people of Osun.
Many firsts were celebrated on November 27, 2018, as Gboyega Isiaka Oyetola was inaugurated as the new governor of Osun State. He took over from Ogbeni Rauf Adesoji Aregbesola, both of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
First, this was the first time in the history of the state that a smooth transition of power took place between an outgoing and an incoming administration. The two previous transitions in 2003 and 2010 were obliterated by political and legal gymnastics, respectively.
The story was different yesterday. The outgoing and incoming governors had appointed a Transition Committee two months ahead of inauguration. Besides, Aregbesola moved completely out of the government premises early enough for renovations to commence in preparation for the incoming administration.
Second, it was also the first time that the transition would involve two administrations of the same political party in the state. While many outgoing governors are at loggerheads with their outgoing chiefs of staff, the transition in Osun involved both of them, symbolising the unusual synergy that characterised their relationship.
Third, Aregbesola was the first governor of Osun State to serve two full terms in office and peacefully hand over power to a successor, whose campaign platform was the consolidation of his predecessor’s legacy.
It is now time to probe that legacy as it will provide helpful insights into the programmes of the incoming administration.
The legacy rested on two platforms, each with three areas of focus. One platform was devoted to the amelioration of poverty, hunger, and unemployment, while the other focused on the promotion of healthy living, functional education, and communal peace and progress. The six areas of focus underlied the Six Integral Action Plan upon which Aregbesola’s policies, programmes, and projects were based.
The Action Plan translated essentially into robust social protection and social investment programmes. An innovative department, the Bureau of Social Services, was created to coordinate and monitor the activities of relevant ministries, departments, and agencies as they implemented the plan.
Today, the combined findings by the National Bureau of Statistics, the United Nations Development Programme, the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Institute, and Financial Derivatives Company Limited of Lagos, all show the tremendous progress of Osun State during Aregbesola’s tenure from 2010 to 2018. A few examples will suffice.
Between 2010 and 2017, at least 406,305 people were gainfully employed, leading to a reduction in unemployment rate in the State by 69 per cent, from 17.2 per cent in 2010 to 5.3 per cent in 2017. Within the same period, the poverty rate in the state went down from 37.5 to 10.9 per cent. Osun thus had the second lowest unemployment rate, as well as the second lowest poverty rate in the country. Similarly, Financial Derivatives ranked Osun the second lowest in Misery Index in its latest report.
These statistics are corroborated by the tremendous growth in the State’s economy during Aregbesola’s tenure. For example, there was a 108.3 per cent growth in GDP from N191.1 billion in 2010 to N398 billion in 2018. Correspondingly, the number of micro, small, and medium enterprises grew by 182 per cent, from 481,451 in 2010 to 1,358,446 in 2018.
Central to these statistics were (a) a series of O’ programmes; (b) massive infrastructural projects; and (c) heavy investment in education and agriculture.
For example, under the O’YES scheme, nearly 75,000 youth volunteers were recruited, trained (at home and abroad), and deployed to work as teachers in the State’s public primary and secondary schools, as Information Communications Technology specialists, as mechatronics engineers, as farmers, as bus drivers, and so on. The monthly stipend paid to them added at least N200 million to the Osun economy every month. Besides, many of them have gone on to establish their own businesses and hired more people.
The success of the O’YES programme has led to its replication in 18 other states and its adoption by the federal government as the model for its N-Power scheme. It is not surprising, therefore, that the World Bank has also adopted it as a model for its Youth Empowerment and Social Support Operation.
The O’MEALS scheme is another social investment scheme with additional health benefits, providing the pupils with a balanced diet per school day. Within six years of the scheme, over 305 million plates of food were served at a cost of over N10 billion to over 1.5 million pupils in Grades 1-4 in 1,382 public elementary schools. The scheme involves the weekly consumption of 15,000 broilers; 8,400 crates of eggs; 10 metric tonnes of catfish; and 35 cows, not to speak of tonnes of vegetables, oil, and fruits.
The O’MEALS scheme employed over 3,000 caterers, 900 cocoyam farmers, 700 poultry farmers, 310 catfish farmers, and 63 cow markets, all spread across the State. As a result of the scheme, school enrolment increased by 62 per cent, from 155,318 at the inception of the scheme in 2012 to 252,739 in 2018. Again, like the O’YES scheme, the federal government and at least 25 other States have understudied the programme, with some of them adopting it.
Other social protection programmes include the provision of free ambulance services for emergency rescue; rehabilitation of the destitute; provision of a monthly stipend and an assigned caregiver for vulnerable elderly persons; the provision of access to land for agricultural production to over 30,000 smallholder farmers; and the Osun waste management programme to enhance sanitation, all of which generated employment.
The educational component of the Six Integral Action Plan was another heavy investment, which has equally yielded fruitful results. The State’s educational outcome improved by 284 per cent in the number of pupils who passed in five subjects, including English and Mathematics, in the WASSCE between 2010 (15.68 per cent) and 2016 and 2017 (45.47 and 44.59, respectively). This achievement followed heavy investment in school infrastructure; teacher recruitment and capacity building programmes; and free access to textbooks and other relevant information through Opon Imo (the Tablet of Knowledge).
The integrated urban infrastructure and the Rural Access Mobility Project led to the construction of nearly 2,000 kilometres of roads throughout the State; thousands of boreholes; and the electrification of hundreds of communities.
The multiplier effects are felt in thousands of employment for construction workers, artisans, and food vendors; road access for over 25,000 smallholder farmers; increased yield of farm produce; and access to water and improved sanitation for over 30,000 rural dwellers and many more in the urban centres. Moreover, the construction of access roads to hitherto neglected areas in the urban centres instantly led to sharp increases in property value and reduction in vehicle maintenance costs.
Aregbesola’s proactive security measures also paid off. The combined impact of a fast-response helicopter, superb equipment supply to the police, and the government’s unusual rapport with citizens across the State has translated into eight years of unbroken peace. No incident of herdsmen-farmers’ conflict and no serious cases of kidnapping and armed robbery occured in the state. No wonder Osun is adjudged a safe corridor and the safest State in the South-West by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).
Today, Osun is regarded as the best State in the country in social protection and investment programmes by various international indices. Unfortunately, this achievement has been drowned by political opponents and a critical press that saw only non-payment of salaries and a large debt burden. Yet, only a small fraction (about 28 per cent) of workers were put on modulated salaries, while those on levels 1-7 (72 per cent of the workers) never missed a single month of salary.
Moreover, compared to many other states, Osun ranks very low in its debt burden as its debt-to-GDP ratio is only 5.8 per cent, compared to the internationally sustainable standard of 40 per cent. Fortunately, with new policies on Internally Generated Revenue, Osun’s IGR has improved significantly by over 300 per cent, from N3.4 billion in 2010 to nearly N14 billion in 2018.
How did Aregbesola manage to achieve this feat in the face of economic depression and a critical press? First, he governed on a well-articulated plan, rather than grope for a plan as he governed. Second, he deployed technology to block leakages in revenue generation and the payment of salaries and pensions. He also established an effective monitoring and quality assurance system for all projects. Third, he adhered strictly to loan conditions and ensured that each loan was expended only on the relevant project. Fourth, he ignored market noise and remained focused on the job throughout his tenure.
To be sure, Oyetola still has challenges to surmount. He must balance governance with politics. Fortunately, he has a good governance foundation and an Action Plan to work with. As the opening quote confirms, Oyetola “knows where the work stops and where to start”.
His 30-year experience in financial management, eight years in the inner caucus of power in the State, and knowledge of the State’s economy and politics should be his guide.
He cannot afford to be slow in following the developmental tempo his predecessor had established. At the same time, however, he must not rush into action. He must prioritise programmes, projects, and appointments. He must be careful in identifying true loyalists and beware of sycophants and traitors. Yet, he must not slam State’s doors in anyone’s face. He is the governor of the entire state.
Niyi Akinnaso, a professor of linguistics, writes from Akure.