FEATURE: Osun Charts A New Path

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In the past, Osun State has been described by its very nature as poor and primitive.  Not only that, based on its economic status, it has been classified a civil service state. But nowadays there’s been an important shift. The state is blossoming into a major business hub with high-profile infrastructure and the activation of entrepreneurial skills of its indigenes. 

Before now, the story of Osun State was often told in terms of poverty and pity. Its dwarf internal generation revenue, decayed infrastructure and general laid-back environment, all combined to give Osun its appellation of a civil service state. But that is changing. The conversations these days in this culture-rich state in western Nigeria have much to do with its changing landscape. For instance, in addition to several township roads and infrastructure revamp in its rural areas, a ring road that will transform its capital, Osogbo, is nearing completion.

It is estimated that by this August, the inner ring road will be completed. And when that happens, the government of Osun State would be changing the way residents live – from penury to prosperity. Already, there are smiles all around the state, despite the controversy that greeted the government reclassification of schools in the state recently. Excitement, adventure, thriving culture, booming business and ever transforming urban scene with rural connection best describe the new look of a state that prides itself in virtue. “Osun is brimming with possibilities,” said Kenneth Bryan, a Briton who visited the state recently.

Yes, a recent tour of the state revealed that much. From Asejire interchange, the beauty of Osun State comes on the face of its visitors. The landscaping of this area once known for its ghastly auto accidents and armed robbers attacks has turned it into a tourists’ haven, especially since the dam that gave the interchange its name has a primordial history behind it.

A few miles from Asejire interchange, a recreation park named after Hassan Olajoku – one of the foot soldiers who laid down his life in the struggle to reclaim the mandate of the Osun State Governor, Rauf Aregbesola – has also changed the ambience of Gbongan town.

Osun State Commissioner for Regional Integration and Special Duties, Bashir Ajibola, explained the motive behind the park.

“For us, it is about extending the frontiers of development through environment. You know if you want to attract people to develop the economy, you have to attract people to spend in that economy and people don’t go to uninviting places. They want to feel welcome, relax and have a feeling that this is a place they can be.

“This is why we are committing ourselves to ensuring that we extend the frontiers of development via environmental improvement which is what we are doing there. The political import of what we are doing there is also historical which is not lost on the people. It was at that particular spot that one of the big supporters of our movement to Osun, Hassan Olajoku was murdered while we were returning from a rally at Ilobu. So, the project is to eternally immortalise Hassan Olajoku and shame those who thought that by killing him, they will kill the effort at taking over governance in Osun State. Those are some core reasons that informed the project.
“So the park was built by the government of Osun State for relaxation, pleasure, fun, resort and basically to boost the economy of the state through the environmental improvement.”

He added: “Don’t also forget that Gbongan is a major gateway to the state capital, Osogbo and the park will serve as rest point for people travelling through the road to Ibadan. I mean that people, after such travelling, will want to relax, eat pounded yam, bush meat, drink some palm wine and do whatever they want to do. So we are creating a nice place for people to rest in healthy, nice looking, highly refreshing, inviting and welcoming environment with modern facilities that are comparable to those anywhere in the world.”

True, Osun State has been tipped as having the seventh largest economy in Nigeria. Renaissance Capital, a leading emerging markets investment bank in Africa, has revealed that Osun, Ekiti, Lagos and Oyo states are the leading economies in Nigeria. Of course, that came with indices.

Among the ranks include two oil producing states, Akwa Ibom and Rivers States while Kano, Katsina and Kaduna States respectively made the list of highest per-capita income from the northern part of the country. According to experts from Renaissance Capital, consumer companies are likely to find the greatest opportunities in states with highest per-capita income.

They noted that Akwa Ibom and River States in the South-south region and Osun State in the South-west will embrace retail banking, given the opportunities for banks to expand services and the employees in those states with high per-capita income and high population densities.  Renaissance Capital noted that they will provide the footfall required for a bank to open a branch nationwide.  The report stated that “we think consumer companies are likely to find the greatest opportunities in states with greater purchasing power, as indicated by relatively high per capita income, including Lagos, Oyo and Osun in the south west and Kaduna and the Niger Delta states.”

Perhaps it is surprising that Osun could be described as the seventh largest economy in Nigeria. The effort of the government may have promoted it.

On assumption of office in 2010, Governor Aregbesola had blocked all the leakages in the state revenue which subsequently jerked up the state internally generated revenue from N300million to N1.6billion.  He did not stop at that, he also promised to put the state with a population of about 4 million on the path of socio-economic development.  So the formulation of right economic policies may have contributed to the growth in the economy of  the state which rose from N110 billion Gross Domestic Product (GDP) recorded in 2010 to over N800 billion last year.

Clearly, the ranking of Osun above Anambra, Enugu, Imo and Ebonyi among others implies that the level of economic activities in Osun is higher than these states.  It may be that the steady investment in infrastructural development like dual carriage roads, power, hospitals and education among others contributed to the growth in the GDP of Osun State.

Of recent, Aregbesola has also embarked on the construction of an international airport with the longest runway in Africa. “We are preparing for the future,” he told journalists recently.

And scattered in different part of the states, a total of 218km roads construction project are ongoing with some already completed in 30 Local Government Areas and Ife East Area Office.  Some 5 to 10km of municipality roads are being constructed in each of the Local Government Areas. It is an innovative, yet standard road being jointly financed by both the State and local governments. Creatively, the project is being financed with savings from the Local Government Excess Crude Oil (ECO) Account.

This project is also significant because local content delivery is adhered to strictly in execution. Materials and labour are sourced from within thus helping to improve the local economy so as to check capital flight and incorporating a social enterprise component to the project.

Overall, the benefits are both in the short and long term. The roads are to last for  the long term, this will help in concentrating on other projects  yearning for attention within this period, travel time will be reduced, aesthetic value will be added and a host of other benefits too.

The activation of small scale businesses is also helping the state in its current outlook. One of such steps is the new partnership between the federal government and Osun State to turn the moribund Federal Government Industrial Centre in the state into a life academy where skills acquisition will be everything the centre does. Already the government has attracted an Italian company, Global Impianti for knowledge transfer on shoemaking business. And for every graduate of the academy, a micro credit is being set up so that graduates can access funds for their operations.

To be sure, the government has disclosed that N4 billion has been set aside to boost small-scale businesses in the state. The state Commissioner for Finance, Wale Boluwaduro, while explaining some of the state’s programmes to boost the economic empowerment of the citizens recently said, “In the next dispensation, we plan to provide Micro Medium Fund to traders, agric farmers, etc – it’s a World Bank product of N2 billion.

“But, we are backing it up with another N2billion to make N4billion. The minimum each person will get is about N1.5million. We could use that to pop up commercial activities in the state.”

While buttressing the impact of the administration’s economic programmes, the commissioner said, “the National Bureau of Statistics has shown that Osun as tiny as it is with 34th position in terms of revenue allocation from the Federation Account is the seventh largest economy in the federation in terms of GDP. And it’s put at over $9billion. When Mr. Governor came in, figure handed down by NBS then was $4billion. So, within a period of three years, we have moved to $9billion. Osun is 10,000 square meters larger than Lagos. GDP of Lagos is over $35billion.

He added: “We can make more money than Lagos if we properly harness the opportunities that abound in the state. In terms of GDP per capita, which is the term in which standard of living is measured, Osun actually is number two after Lagos. In terms of standard of living, the governor has been able to deliver on that.”

As part of government’s effort to industrialise the state, a garment institute, Omoluabi Garment Institute is now providing employment to citizens in the state. In addition, a telephone manufacturing  company in Ilesa, Adulawo Technology Institute is also providing employment in Osun State.

And for its focus on tourism as well, there are good news. The National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM) latest annual report has shown how promising Osun is in the committee of states that make up the federation.

The report showed that a total of 7, 613, 515 tourists visited the national museums located across the six geo-political zones from 2010-2013. Of this number, the national museum in Osogbo, Osun State, had the highest number of visitors with a total of 1,724,851 followed by Plateau state that has three tourist attractions like the National Museum Jos, Museum of Traditional Nigerian Architecture (MOTNA), Jos and the Zoological Garden, Jos with a total of 1, 102,306 visitors while the National Museum, Lagos had a total of 879,736 tourists.

Yes, a combination of modern educational facilities, new network of roads, better structured environment and empowered citizenry have led to the emergence of a new Osun State.  The completion of at least 39 mega schools, completion of almost 800 kilometres of roads across the state, creation of better environment for healthier living, empowerment of the various strata of the society have created a strong sense of newness in all spheres of life.

Quote: Yes, a combination of modern educational facilities, new network of roads, better structured environment and empowered citizenry have led to the emergence of a new Osun State