Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola has been on the saddle as governor of the State of Osun in the last 40 months. In this revealing interview, he spoke on the revolution taking place in the education sector in the state, his unusual approach to governance, the regime of financial engineering that brought the state back from the brink, infrastructural development, the real issues behind allegation of Islamization agenda and other sundry matters.
After that,we went to education. By the time we assumed office ,we found out that education was not just there. We showed concern and my presentation at the education summit was that the summit participants must look at the possibilities of closing schools for two years, for us to effectively do something about the situation,the capacity of the teachers and others. But my view was not popular in that summit.the summit concluded with some action plans.heading that summit on education was Prof.Wole Soyinka.so,the reforms we are implementing on education,was the directive of the summit which we convened less than two months into office.
We take care of the elderly. We selected 1,000 of them and we ensure we give them N10,000 monthly. It was not based on any sentiment. We also do home based medical care for the elderly state-wide. I only want to paint to you our human-angle approach to governance. There is no class of people that we do not touch. Our administration is the first that can say that no household in Osun exist without an impact from our administration.
We support farmers to increase productivity. Our school feeding has positively impacted the agriculture sector. We have a 25 percent increase in enrollment today, Osun has the highest primary school enrollment in Nigeria, according to NBS data.
Q: Several criticisms have trailed the state’s education sector, especially the perceived Islamisation which has affected your administration negatively.
A: Let me talk about two things that gained some currency in the media. The first is that our school reform is an Islamisation agenda. When they say so, I just laugh. The poorest of the poor are those who send their wards to public schools, not only in Osun but all over Nigeria. People with very limited resources, consider public schools as the only alternative. So, with the recommendations of the summit, came the need to critically examine all aspects of it. In our examination, we discovered that there are students without teachers, whereas there are teachers without student in others. What was left to us was to restructure in such a way that we will have students as well as adequate or near-adequate number of teachers.
Two, we change the structure of education from the popular 6-3-3-4 to 4-5-3. This does not change the curriculum but the age bracket in each level of education. Before our intervention, we had six years of primary school. With our new structure, we now have elementary for pupils between six and nine, middle school for between nine and 14 and high school for student between 15 and 17. For us to now have this, we must relocate pupils. For the elementary schools, you mustn’t move beyond 500 metres to where your parent either live or work, depending on the choice of your mother. For the middle, it may be one kilometer or two. For the high level, there is no limit where the distance of your school can be because that is the adventurous age.
We never thought of any sentiment in all of this. But even at that, we are not unmindful of sentiments. In the re-classification and consolidation, we never moved pupils from Christian named schools to Muslim named schools. I never said Christian schools or Muslim schools. Since 1975, except for states that have done something about reversal, the law is still extant that there is no exclusively public Christian or Muslim school. All the public schools before 1975 were partially owned but after 1975, they were absolutely owned by the public, which is government. It, therefore, surprised us when people say we moved Muslims pupils to Christian schools. That was never done. We ensured that students were moved from Christian named schools.
Let me give you an example. In Iwo, we chose Baptist High School as the consolidation centre for Iwo area. We therefore moved pupils because it is named Baptist but not owned by Baptist and that name is retained. We moved pupils from United Methodist High school and St. Mary Catholic School to make up the required number of students of 3,000 in Baptist High School. But because of the report against our reform, the fact that 19 female students from United Methodist High School were Hijab wearers, which the school had hitherto allowed. Six female students from St Mary Catholic School had been allowed to wear Hijab, long before our consolidation came. We moved all of them to Baptist High School. There are, therefore, 25 female students among 3000 students in Baptist High School wearing Hijab as they were wearing in their previous schools. That was what a section of the parents in Baptist High School resisted that their school was a Christian school that nobody must wear Hijab.
Anybody can still go to inquire about what I have said because the story is still fresh. Is there anywhere in Nigeria where students are admitted to public schools on religious basis? The answer is no. Segregation on the basis of religion is never allowed in any school in Nigeria, public or private. If admission into school is not faith based, where would I now get exclusive Muslim that I will take to exclusive Christian schools? There was nothing like that but it was taken as the truth. Let us ask ourselves, who is at risk, the minority or the majority? There are 25 student wearing Hijab in a school with 3000 students not wearing, who is at risk? This issue happened only in one school. For Baptist High School, Ede, the problem is that its name must not be changed from Baptist High school to Baptist Middle School. Baptist Girls High School. Osogbo its own grouse with us is that it should remain a Girls High School, when the reality on ground does not support a single sex school. Let us assume that there are 10 schools that have hitches in our re-classification programme out of 2000 schools. How could that constitute a threat to that reform? There are actually five and they all belong to one denomination of Christianity, Baptist. Whatever you read about it, just know that those who write about it have their reasons for such campaigns against us. We see it as a campaign of calumny and we leave them to their conscience.
Q: Why haven’t you considered returning school back to missionaries?
A: Have you considered or studied why the schools were taken over from the missionaries in the first place? The schools were taken over because several years before the complete take over, government was actually running the school especially in Western Nigeria. I attended a catholic primary school and government was responsible for the teachers, the grants for running the schools. It was the year I was leaving school that government finally announced the takeover. The missionaries protested that they must be compensated; governments agreed but let us do a balance of how much we have spent overtime for teachers, infrastructure and other investment. That was how they bowed out.
In my broadcast to the state early this year, I said as we are progressing the new school structure, spaces will be created and there will be no question of returning schools or not. It is not as if I am against return of schools, but it is the practical impossibility of it now, until I have alternatives for the pupils, declaring that I am returning schools to the original owners would simply mean irresponsibility.
Q; So there is no Islamisation agenda?
A: Not at all. In the composition of my cabinet, over two-thirds of members of my cabinet are Christians. I chose them myself.
More than three-quarters of permanent secretary are Christian. All the judges in Osun over 90 per cent are Christians I didn’t appoint those ones.
Sixteen House of Assembly member are Christians. So, where would anyone sustain this argument of Islamisation. I struggle to be devout Muslim.
The charge is more of the charge is more of my appearance and being than any reality. Rather than come out to say why we labeled you as an Islamic is because how you appear, you wear beard, you put on this cap and others. They know they can’t say that because it is uncivilized, they now tell lies.
Q: Would you really say that these all allegations emanate out of mischief?
A: You’ve hit the nail on the head. Mischief, biased and reckless affiliation to a tendency used to judge every issue.
No government in Nigeria has ever done what I initiated in religious balancing in Osun state. The day I was sworn in, I decreed that all major religion in Osun must have equal official treatment. In official function in Osun, traditionalist, Christian and Muslim prayed together.
From that alone, there should not be any basis for religious affiliation allegation against me.
Muslim where enraged on that decision. Christian fired the first salvo on me that I was encouraging traditional religion, that I am taking society back. I told them that the oath I took was to be fair to all.
Till today, no other government has joined me on this. When I recognized the Muslim New Year, that further fuelled the allegation of fundamentalism. The Muslim New Year has always been part and parcel of Islamic celebration long before Christianity and the modern trends. To causal observers, it doesn’t matter.
Q: Are you nursing any fear about the August 9 governorship election, especially when the opposition said what brought you into the office was judicial coup? And maybe all these baggages would affect your electoral chances.
A: There is no baggage at all. I always want the critical minds to visit Osun and assess the impact of administration on the people.
I am confident because I have the support of a majority of our people for my re-election. Why, we have serve them with the way they have never been serve in their history.
If election is about recompense to the administration, I told you that there is no household that we have not impacted positively in this state.
Let me tell you this, a man met me in mosque and struggled to let the Imam of the mosque to engage me.
He said he came to thank me that his son, an NCE holder, had been at home for 10 years without any form of employment.
He said the day that boy came to give him something as his own share of the first salary he receive as an O’ YES candidate. He ask him, where he got the money , he said the new governor gave him the employment as an O’ YES candidate , and that is his own share of the salary, he said he has assumed that he will serve the boy till he die; but I change that.
See, we are affecting life. When you enter Osun from anywhere, you will see changes in the environment.
No tension, no harassment, people now sleep well.
For anybody to aim at disrupting that system, that person must be super- powerful. It can not be those who have had the opportunities for 90 month but fail to do anything for our people.
As we speak, we are working on a minimum of 210 kilometer of road in all the local government; we have done close to 500 kilometer of road and doing landmark road work.
I tell people that the only way the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) can win is to kill a lot of people. They have to march on the blood of the people to displace us. Again, God is a God of justice not injustice. You cannot reward good with bad and vise versa. We started campaigning for this election since the day we were sworn in. I do community work with our people every month, through physical exercise-Walk to Live. You see how popular this initiative is among our people; it’s a momentous carnival. I also engage them on a quarterly basis on Ogbeni Till Daybreak, close to ten hours of critical engagement. Lately, we have introduced another one called ‘Gbangba Dekun’, where we are in each federal constituencies to take questions, comments and opinions from people. If you add our people-oriented approach to governance, God be with us, I am looking at how they will do it. Jimmy Cliff had a lyric, ”the harder they come the harder they fall’.
Q: What is the financial state of Osun against the insinuation that the state is in huge debt?
A:During the campaign in 2007, I wrote it that we are going to run government unusual.I have increased the revenue base of Osun from N300 million to N1.6 billion. I have been very prudent in the way I handle small-small surpluses I had that still use it to augment whatever inadequacies I have. I had the best experience of governance particularly learning from the person I believe is the best public fund manager in Nigeria, Asiwaju Bola Tiunbu. The combination of my background and the experience I garnered from him, made it possible for me to manage the resources of the state in such a way that before we can be said to be insolvent, the entire nation must be down.
The debt we have is within the capacity of the state to cope. That is why we never appeared in any of the report of those mentioned as insolvent by concerned institutions. I want to assure that we are operating within the limit of the law of Nigeria. We are not insolvent, we are not indebted. We run project that are un-burdensome. Our projects are done on flexible financing scheme and its paying off. We have not exceeded the threshold. The financial institution can not be manipulated. We must be commended for taking Osun from its financial rot to even start having financial relationship with institution. We are in the Capital Market. Our first appearance at the market for bond fetched us by far what we sought. Our second attempt, we were oversubscribed. These people criticizing my government are bad in their relationship. They are not honourable.
Q: What is your take on the Rivers State crisis and 2015 elections timetable released by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC)?
A: On the Rivers crisis, the best answer is to use Obasanjo’s word paradoxically, I dey cry o. why I may not laugh is that the situation is gory.
On the timetable ,when you are in the situation we found ourselves in Nigeria, the less you say about something, the better for you . Well, my concern is for us to have credible, free and transparent elections. The best thing would have been to have all the elections in one day .But whichever way it is, what is very germane is the need to give democracy full, genuine and unadulterated expression in
Nigeria .Because if we can give democracy genuine expression in Nigeria, there won’t be any problem. But because we know that under a free and fair process, some people cannot even smell public office, the best is to complete the process in a single day. Nigerians have demonstrated the resilience and capacity that handing five ballot cannot be a problem. They know what they want to do with the ballots .If you want it to be easy provide different boxes for the offices.This will. eliminate all collateral effects.What I am concerned with is the fairness and transparency process.
Look at Ghana;they were able to do a fairly free election .Nigeria has no business not to replicate the same. That is why some of us are waiting for biometric. Let it be impossible for anyone who didn’t register to vote. The day we can eliminate proxy voting, ensuring that the votes that are cast are counted and announced, that is the end of all shenanigans in all elections. We believe we will get there,and we will struggle to get there.