The Man-of-the-Year is a difficult proposition. And for a reason. In our dysfunctional polity, the parameters set have to be exacting. As is known, the Republic is ill at ease with itself.
Dashed hopes, disappointed expectations as well as promises unfulfilled make the task of picking an individual who has made an outstanding contribution daunting. From time to time, a nugget representing a beacon of hope comes up. When for example a few years ago we picked the venerated Chinua Achebe, it was an inspired choice.
This is because by refusing to subordinate his principles to immediate expediency, Achebe caught the imagination and made picking the Man-of-the-Year easy. This year’s discourse was typically ferocious. The central theme being, who has attempted to break the mould? Who is today’s contrarian who has at least attempted in a positive direction to alter the terrain of discourse and operations? Who has been making resolute attempt to clear the fog of widespread cynicism and disenchantment with the polity and most of those who navigate the shop of state?
The choice of the State of Osun helmsman is in response to the need to roll back the tide of cynicism. We know of course that there is an intellectual-in-residence in the State House in Ado-Ekiti. Concomitantly there is also an activist in residence in Osogbo, the capital of the State of Osun.
Often times in history the activist has disappointed in office. Engineer Rauf Adesoji Aregbesola has here bucked the trend. He has shown a knack to turn deep philosophical conviction into result-yielding good governance. It has helped in that he actually prepared himself for office both intellectually and practically. He has in this way merged ideological fervor with the practical act of governance.
The practical act of governance was horned on an exhilarating eight years of being the infrastructure czar of Lagos State, good old rambunctious, perennially demanding Lagos state. A seminal performance in Lagos State has been horned into administrative sagacity in the state of Osun.
The intellectual preparation has also stood him well. He came into office armed with a seminal six point agenda spanning the key socio-economic issues affecting the State of Osun. This has proved to be a very sensible thing to do. For taking over the state after a ludicrously long judicial battle came with a hefty debilitating prince tag.
The lacuna was that the state had barely seen even perfunctorily sensible governance for a long-time. The state’s public finance was not just opaque, it was in shambles. Waste, bizarre duplication of effort leading to cost inefficiencies had led to bureaucratic elephantiasis. Huge recurrent expenditure, insecurity and a general feeling of desperation was fast turning Osun State into a by-word as the generic term for maladministration.
The distinguishingly factor about Aregbesola which facilitated our choosing him as our Man-of-the-Year, is that he redefined the territory of discourse and operations. The state’s public finances had to be re-directed away from consumption towards the arena of production. Recurrent expenditure has been slimed down thereby increasing the capital votes. Emphasis on production has led to an increase in the capital votes in geometric proportion.
The difference is clear. The State of Osun today has a spring (pardon the pun) in its step. The emphasis is now on production and jobs led economic trajectory. This new thrust has implications for the nation far beyond the narrow confines of partisan politics. This is because if the unfulfilled promises that have resulted in widespread cynicism are to be rolled back, the nation must become a proper democracy.
A proper democracy is based on social solidarity, community cohesion and a convergence of ideals centred on a social contract linking the political establishment with those they govern. Aregbesola has become a symbol of this new thrust. Imperfect yes, sometimes imperious. Nevertheless his policy thrust like his engagingly humane heart is in the right place.
Nowhere has this shown more than in his policy on education. A sweeping repositioning of the education sector is clearly leading to a situation where generations will now be technically prepared and empowered to face the reality of a brutally competitive world.
Some of it is contentious, certainly. Fine tuning has had to be done in implementation of course. However, this is nothing like the flak that United States President Barak Obama is today receiving over the implementation of Obamacare. In instances such as this we must be careful not to throw out the baby with the bathwater.
This sort of issue raises the bugbear of plas ce chang. Nothing ever really changes that much. In the process of the sweeping transformative repositioning of the Western Region in the nineteen-fifties, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, faced the same dilemma. This being how to negotiate a democratic agreement on key policy issue. No democracy has ever functioned effectively without this.
What Engineer Rauf Aregbesola has done in the State of Osun is to redefine the terrain of thinking and practice. He has set a mark that must be a pointer to the future. If this country is to prosper, it must move in the direction of the new thinking determined by people like Aregbesola.
The emphasis must be on production rather than consumption. Social contract must be the trajectory of policy developing both human capital and the physical infrastructure. Government must be located as the engine room for real sustainable development, the BIG D.
This is why warts and all, in a fiercely competitive field, we have chosen the State of Osun helmsman as our Man-of-the-Year. He represents a new wave of governance. A symbol of the aspirations of generation next that we need not be enmeshed in cynicism and defeatism. He also embodies the new federalist ethos to be used as a battering ram against the military induced overtly centralist state. As the symbol of the new thinking, he deserves to be our Man-of-the-Year. He has earned our appreciation.
Aregbesola emerged from a list of other distinguished Nigerians including the former Governor of Lagos State and leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu as well as the Head Coach of the Super Eagles of Nigeria, Stephen Okechukwu Keshi.
Tinubu made a significant showing placing second on the ballot.
In a political space full of divisive characters, Bola Ahmed Tinubu divides opinion like few others. As the man leading the resurgence of the South West economically and politically, comparisons with the late Obafemi Awolowo are inevitable, and it is perhaps in this area where he divides opinion the most. His supporters view him as a master political strategist who is a worthy heir to Awolowo’s legacy, while to others he is merely a political hustler who cannot be mentioned in the same breath with a man Ojukwu called ‘the best President Nigeria never had’.
The story of Keshi is not lost on anybody who has been following soccer events in this country. When Keshi was appointed, the team was at its lowest ebb, having failed to qualify for the 2012 edition of the Africa Cup of Nations. The failure was not because the team lacked what it needed to sail through, but due to indiscipline that has taken root in the team.
It was during this sorry state, and against all expectations, that Keshi turned around the team’s fortunes to become champions of Africa by winning the Africa Cup of Nations, 19 years after. By this feat, he became the second man in history to have won the Africa Cup of Nations both as a coach and player.