I had planned to head straight for Oshogbo the capital of the State of Osun on Monday March 31st when I arrived Lagos from Houston on United Airline. The mission was to have a heart-to-heart talk with the Governor of the State, who some old students of Imesi-Ile High School, Imesi-Ile still fondly call “Comrade”. That was how the young people in my lone home-town’s High school referred to the radical and cerebral young man who they said had fireballs in his belly, gusto in his bones, wise and weighty words always from his mouth and speed in his feet as he drove to want to “change the whole world”.
But before you change the world, you must change the corner where you are. He was just straight out of High School in 1975, and it didn’t take him too long to win the hearts of many, and of course incur the wrath of some. Some of the people he swept off their feet with his candor, straight talk, almost restless and restive moving-train approach to work are still with him today dredging holes, building bridges, building roads, constructing world-standard schools, feeding the hungry, clothing the elderlies, and touching lives in his administration even after almost 40 years of relationship. When you meet this guy once, you will want to meet him again.
Taking his rightful seat in the expansive government quarters as governor was very rough and arduous for him. The travel lane was brutish, gruesome, eerie, and some of his close aides and friends fell under the hammering effect of sharp-edged axes, cudgels and machetes of known and unknown murderers and miscreants, while some breathed their last when hot bullets from assault rifles were pumped into their bodies during that memorable process of trying to get back a mandate that was in the tenacious grip, clasp and grasp of the opposition party PDP and its leader-governor, Olagunsoye Oyinlola. But today he is Governor, Ogbeni, or simply Rauf Adesoji Aregbesola.
My appointment was originally for Tuesday April 1st at 8pm, and I was looking forward to taking the governor on regarding a lot of issues especially the whispers and gossips about Hijab and Islamisation policy which his opponents have cunningly architected as an albatross (though now weakened) around the neck of his administration. 8pm came and crawled to 9.., 10…, 11… and close to midnight, my governor was a no-show! Then a phone call came from one of his confidants profusely spewing out apologies that I was already boxed up to accept. I didn’t travel across the Atlantic Ocean to eat Oshogbo bush-meat; there are make-shifts in Milwaukee that will make me equally happy.
The governor, I learnt was on his way from Abuja the nation’s capital around that time of the night and then he would preside over an executive council meeting that would last until the wee hours of Thursday. “That’s how it is every day, except when he travels outside of Nigeria”, someone told me. “When does this guy sleep”, I asked? I secured a rescheduled appointment for 10 a.m. Thursday morning. I got as far as his house, saw him in his black jeep as the convoy sped past me to Ekiti State for a campaign event with Governor John Fayemi. But this man had asked that I should come talk to him! I was livid, but as a pastor, I didn’t want to show it, but the governor’s confidant who also is a pastor knew I was done. I then took a self-consolation tour of the vast premises of the Governor’s quarters; snapped some pictures, enjoyed the breeze of the beautiful town of Oshogbo, broke my 100-days fast, and decided to call my protocol officer in Madison to put me on the next flight back to Milwaukee en-route Houston. Then a revelation I had before I left the US flashed in a reminder before me. In the revelation, I met the governor and he hugged me and set a dinner-table before every one of us present, and I dined with him. “I will meet this man”; i said to my soul.
But there was no dinner table set before me when I finally met Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola on Thursday night. Our discussion was feisty, friendly and generally sweet-tempered while it lasted. He even poked fun at himself when he showed me a caricature in a Nigerian Newspaper depicting him as an Islamic cleric, a “Mullah” who speaks no other language but hard-core Arabic. That was one of the few times he laughed very hard. He loves his faith, he believes what he believes, and he is who he is as we are all who we are. But anyone saying he is an Ayatollah should understand that out of the 38 members executive council of the government (Commissioners and Special Advisers) 24 are CHRISTIANS, four of them are pastors, and he single-handedly appointed them. He didn’t have to.
Out of about the same number of Permanent Secretaries, 30 are CHRISTIANS. Out of the 26 members of the State House of Assembly, 16 are Christians. To call this guy an extremist who wants to condition all of us to worship Allah is far-fetched in my assessment of him as a servant of God and as a behavioral scientist. I guess in politics, everything is fair game. Rauf had a lot to say, and he wanted to continue talking to me, but almost 40 people were in the lobby waiting to talk to this man and shake his hands. And this was already after midnight!
To be continued…