A look at governance in Osun State since the inception of Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola brings home once again the essence of governance. Considering the focus and the gradual multi faceted transformation going on in that state, one is bound to conclude that the new approach/orientation brought by Aregbesola into governance throws a challenge to the mimetic that being welfarist puts impossible ‘financial burden’ on the government for which the abdication of certain responsibilities are inevitable. Needless to say that this is a challenge to the status quo of how we have come to understand governance in Nigeria.
An overview of Ogbeni’s governance will reveal the following: (a) a people-oriented programmes and policies (b) a focus on cost effectiveness and long term benefit (c) a balanced approach in the employment of societal resources where the tide of ‘private accumulation’ is stemmed by a proactive collectivism that is as effective, competitive and protective of the weak, and (d) a strive to reach the largest number of people with programmes and policies that cut across all the strata, all the divides of the society.
There is no doubt that Ogbeni intends to follow the steps of the late sage, Pa Obafemi Awolowo when he brought out his six-point integral action plan as his ‘pact’ with the people. The link between the contents of the pact shows that it goes beyond just employment of catchy words to defraud the people, when in substance such so-called programmes could be lacking. Essentially, the programmes in his ‘pact’ are integrated (related to one another which affords for leveraging), and also connects the various grades of people in the society – the young, elderly, men and women. Again, the content of the pact which is six in number shows not only the centrality of the people in the ‘thought processes’ of the programme, but also the link between peoples’ empowerment and societal growth. The ‘Action Plan’ contains basically the following: to banish poverty; to foster communal peace and progress; to promote functional education; to banish hunger; to restore healthy living and to create work and wealth.
The centrality of the people: To start with, hunger and poverty no doubt stifles rigorous thinking which militates against the germination of ideas and holds a people down. Every right thinking government ought to be concerned about how hunger and poverty are banished or reduced to the barest minimum in order to extract the full potentials in the individual. This kind of concern (unlike some bourgeoisie formulations which expects the ‘magical’ hands of a thoroughly manipulated market to ration resources, leaving the weak vulnerable) connects the various needs and potential growth areas of the society. For instance, the ‘O Meal’ ‘food-subsidy’ programme which targets around 254,000 school children for feeding on a daily basis connects farmers (of whatever size) to government’s patronage, provides an avenue for moderate income and wealth, and gradually reforms and repositions the agricultural sector of the state. Through this singular initiative the support structures and institutions needed for a thriving agricultural sector are expected to start picking up such as the agricultural boards, the River Basins, the silos, and other elements associated with agro allied industries – the forward/backward integration between the industry and agriculture that has eluded the country for long may gradually return! In this way, farmers have ‘backers’ (the government) which serves as ‘lender of last resort’ to them by ensuring that harvested crops are not allowed to waste or get sold below their value out of fear of their perishing. India recently in its bid to stamp out hunger and revive its agricultural sector floated a record $200 billion bond ‘food security.’ With such initiatives in the state of Osun, the era of ‘Agro-Dollar’ may be beckoning!
In the area of education the government not only decided to make it free and accessible but equally strives to take out some of the inherent burdens on some households which may make the assimilation of knowledge on the part of some pupil difficult; and this explains the ‘O Meal’ programme. For the secondary school students, the Opon Imo has become a programme which every serious minded government is thinking of copying as a sure way to resuscitate the fallen standard of education right from the secondary school. Students not only have all their subjects compiled in one piece, but also have access to a ‘virtual’ class room and library. The ‘tablets’ are not only cheaper and more durable than the normal books, but through it an ‘entrepreneurial’ base dedicated to providing back up services could develop. These are multiplier effects of a genuine endeavor to improve the lives of others. With the Opon Imo tablets, the state has an edge and is positioned to outclass others by the time the results would start to trickle in
Prudence: One common thing about the above stated programmes (the O Meal and the Opon Imo tablets) is their cost effectiveness, which is a product of both a rigorous way of thinking and an innate sincerity. It is the lack of these factors (rigorous/critical thinking and sincerity on the part of most leaders) that has made some people to pronounce that free education is impossible and that welfarism as a state policy is outdated. As a landlocked state with a moderate income level, the state strives to improve its most feasible resource base, agriculture- with a target to reach 10 percent of the Lagos food market part of which was responsible for a leap in its internally generated revenue (IGR) from a meagre 300 million to a whooping 700 million naira! This explains why it was one of the first states to quickly key into the railway revamping project of the federal government by making the stopovers in the state ‘hubs’ for transporting agricultural produce to Lagos. The partnership with UNICEF in the area of agriculture also shows his ability to sense opportunities where some exist. Around 1830 rural farmers have access to farm inputs through the partnership. Besides UNICEF is a big spender on foods and grains for the numerous impoverished children around the world; a symbiosis that connects the state to the world food market may be emerging!
Accommodation: Communal peace and progress is another impressive area of Ogbeni’s administration and this was why we said that his thinking and imaginative ability challenges existing beliefs about governance. While some states in the country are thinking of obliterating the cultural/religious differences amongst their people by substituting for that a ‘stony secularism’ that bears semblance to no one, Ogbeni taught accommodation of all elements in the society based upon the principle of equal consideration. This ensures that the various socio-religious elements are provided avenues as well as resources to ventilate their conviction. If one could recall, this was once one of the things that made America a cultural ‘melting’ pot until recently when some inept leaders abandoned this principle and embarked upon a racial/religious chauvinism. For equity, justice and peace among a diverse people, a study in Ogbeni’s method is recommended!
Flexibility: With his reputation as a socialist notwithstanding, Ogbeni has demonstrated the flexibility necessary for achieving good governance through adaption of useful elements from rival ideologies, not the least because of their insufficiency. If socialism had crumbled and capitalism wobbles, he has employed a middle course which focuses on achieving results amid the prudent utilization of resources for now and the future. In line with the cautious opening up of the economy of the state, there is a partnership base for individuals to thrive even as the government plays the role of a balancer cushioning socio economic disparities that may arise. The outright employment of over 40,000 youths through the O YES programme is a direct intervention in the redistribution of state resources. As for economic drive, Osun State assumed its essential role by putting itself at the centre of development as a practical correction of the misunderstood concept of ‘private sector’ driven economy. The private sector would only be able to drive an economy that is already developed and well articulated through a roadmap that only the government can formulate if all must be protected, and if economic growth must translate to economic development which in the ultimate means getting economic gains to the largest number of people.
As Harold Laski said ‘the title of (or the entitlement) of the state to obedience lay in its performance of three functions: (a) it secured order, (b) it provided a technique of peaceful change, and (c) it enabled demands to be satisfied on the widest possible scale’. Aregbesola obviously continues to strive about how the demands of the citizens would be met far and wide; he has without reliance on the use of force secured order. Although the content of the order secured is usually a source of friction/tension in societies especially when under such ‘order’, primitive accumulation goes on by those who secure the order. Transparency and fairness has been demonstrated so far with regard to the utilization of state resources and this explains why security is not brought about by heavy security/military presence in the state, but rather by the confidence and trust which not only the government command from the people, but also one which is shared among the people themselves. As to a peaceful technique of change, the people will definitely expects a man of similar orientation when the time comes for him to leave the saddle; and if what has been achieved in the state is a reflection both of his ingenuity and the position of his party, the people may not be willing to change a winning team soon!
In the final analysis, the elements of people’s empowerment, equity and accessibility to socio economic opportunities, peaceful communal relationship, provision of support for the otherwise vulnerable ones in society and a high educational target are some of the most visible aspects of Aregbesola’s governance in Osun State that stand him out among his colleagues. A repetition of some aspects of these elements in other states of the federation would definitely move us closer to the Nigeria of our dream. We therefore salute such towering courage and believe the sky is just the beginning!
•Olumuyiwa Jimoh is a member of Lagos State House of Assembly representing Apapa