Mr. Man, Who Is This Ogbeni?

94c241200d6ca11b222be2340ae5dafa_L“Ogbeni”, a word popularized by Rauf Aregbesola, Executive Governor of the State of Osun, simply means – “Mister” in Yoruba. But why does Rauf prefer to be called “Ogbeni” rather than “Your Excellency”?

Frankly, the word  ”Ogbeni” gives us a window into the soul of a man who sees his role as governor as one amongst the governed. As simple as it is plain, “Ogbeni” reflects the Governor’s character, his nobility, his humility, his accommodating nature and his unpretentiousness. Unlike previous administrations, intoxicated by the trappings, pomp and circumstance of power, he is more concerned with government making meaningful change in the lives and fortunes of ordinary people in the State of Osun.

That said, beneath his unassuming simplicity lies a steely resolve and unshakeable belief that it is not unnatural for the wealthy to be few. However, it is natural that prosperity is for all. Obviously, Ogbeni understands that you can’t solve all problems for all people all of the time, but governance means creating and sustaining conditions where all can prosper and poverty can be alleviated. This is indeed the hallmark of Ogbeni’s administration.

As many Osun indigenes will verify and acknowledge, our state is very different today. It is a more peaceful, prosperous and better place to live, learn, earn, rest and play in, than it was under the previous administration. That is not to say Ogbeni has won over all detractors and critics. To some, Ogbeni’s sterling qualities and progressive views are grotesque, defective and deficient. Some have accused him of always playing to the gallery. Some detractors would have people believe that the man is an enigma with a stigma. They distort and misrepresent his steadfastness for stubbornness, his tenacity for dogmatism, his vision for delusion, and his policies for extravagance. But above all Osun has risen; the beautiful ones are here in Osun, apologies to the popular Ghanaian author, Professor Ayi Kwei Armah. Indeed, Osun ti n dara!

His first major decision was to set up the Osun Youth Empowerment Scheme (O’YES) employing 20,000 youths, in his first 100 days in office, to provide some essential services to the people of the state. Today, the first set of 20,000 O’YES graduates are now gainfully employed. The result is that Osun now has the lowest unemployment rate in the country as well as the second lowest poverty rate in Nigeria (Source; National Bureau of Statistics). But that’s not all, the Federal Government in conjunction with the World Bank launched a programme largely based on the O’YES template and invited Ogbeni to speak at the occasion. INFACT, he was the only Governor invited to speak. As O’YES, effectively goes national 740,000 direct jobs will be CREATED; 3.7 million indirect jobs will be GENERATED; these will INJECT N7.4 billion into the economy monthly.  A clear proof that there is dignity in hard work.

In creating a new state identity, new logo, state anthem and slogan, he has set a trend that is being followed by other Governors. Interestingly, the PDP Governor of Bayelsa, the President’s State of Origin, was one of those who have followed the trend set by Aregbesola in creating new identity for his people. This policy largely criticized but eventually copied!

In creating the Sukuk (Islamic) Bond in the state, he introduced a new affordable and manageable means of raising finance for capital projects. It was so successful that the Bond has been oversubscribed. The British Government recently decided to introduce Sukuk bonds. Need we say more about the islamisation intent? To add spice to it, the Sukuk Bond recently won an award in far away Dubai, United Arab Emirates. At the award night of world acclaimed Islamic Financial News magazine, Osun Sukuk won the ‘Deal of the Year’ award.

By making the day of Hijrah in the Islamic calendar and “Isese Day” state holidays, Ogbeni has preserved the celebration of core traditions and the rich and diverse culture in Osun, the cradle of civilization for one in four Nigerians and over one hundred million people of this descent in the Diaspora. It is no surprise that Osun is only one of two states in Nigeria that can boast of a United Nations World Heritage site.

The introduction of “Opon Imo” (tablets of knowledge) to students in senior secondary schools in the state has propelled Osun into one of the leading states in ICT-driven education. Hundreds of millions of naira that would have been spent in buying textbooks for the students have been saved. Meanwhile, the state government has received accolades at home and abroad for introducing Opon Imo. This same e-learning educational delivery device won the United Nations World Summit Award as the best in 2013 in e-content and creativity. Need we say more about this endless list of proven achievements?

On transportation infrastructure, today, the reconstruction and dualization of the 47-kilometre highway to the border of Kwara State is ongoing; the dualization of 27 kilometre Akoda-Gbongan Road with a flyover is visibly ongoing; about 61 township roads covering 128 kilometres have been upgraded while 20 inter-city roads covering 294 kilometres are undergoing massive upgrading.

Under this, the Governor recently commissioned 15 township roads in Ilesha covering 29.71 kilometres; in Osogbo, 21 township roads are being rehabilitated and constructed; in Ede, 13 township roads have been repaired; 79 kilometres of intra-city roads under construction in the state; while there are 20 other roads covering 294.27 kilometres are at advanced stages of completion.

Still under road construction, the Aregbesola administration is constructing six selected roads in the six geo-political zones in the state covering 74.1 kilometres; the eight road rehabilitation projects inherited from the Oyinlola administration covering 44.29 kilometres are all almost being completed; works is going on seriously on the Gbongan-Orile Owu-Ijebu Igbo Road while the Ogbeni administration has begun construction of the Osogbo East Bye-pass road covering 17.5 kilometres which when completed will not only have a railway underpass at Ofatedo, but will also have an interchange at Ataoja, with two bridges across Osun River.

The forward-looking educational policy is the latest initiative. The quality of education is a function of the facilities and inputs that go into teaching our kids. Hungry children do not learn as well. New school buildings are being built by government, pupils in public primary schools enjoy free nutritious lunch, students are given new and free school uniforms, the government has increased funding of education in the state while the government has been paying WAEC fees of students. The process of teaching and learning has taken a whole new dimension.

The school reforms programme of the Aregbesola administration has among others: raised primary education funding from N7.4 million a year to N424 million annually; secondary school funding has been increased from N117 million to N427 million annually; Opon Imo (tablets of knowledge) are being distributed to students of senior secondary schools in the state; public school students are being kitted with 750,000 free school uniforms; the government is building model elementary, middle and high schools respectively throughout the state; over 180,000 elementary school kids are fed daily with nutritious lunch which menu include fish and egg. Aside the improvement of the nutritional and health status of kids, this effort has stimulated a geometric increase in school enrolment and development of small and medium scale enterprises for those who directly provide these services.

Within three years of Ogbeni’s monumental revolution in the education sector, 1,724 classrooms have been built in 39 schools across the length and breadth of the state. The government has started commissioning the state of the art school buildings across the state. 100 of such buildings are meant for the Elementary Section, 50 buildings will be built for the Middle Section while 20 have been earmarked for the Senior School Section, all making a total of 170 modern school buildings to be built for students in the state. The modern school buildings will each accommodate 1,000 pupils at the Elementary and Middle levels while that of the senior cadre will accommodate 3,000 pupils each. In addition, each building has 28 classrooms, hall, sickbay, staff room, grassed courtyard, recreational toys, basketball court with an area fitted with children play swings, and other toys.

This year alone, 15 middle schools, 13 elementary schools and 10 high schools will be delivered by the Aregbesola administration. Worthy to note that through the school reform programme, 3,000 caterers have been empowered to provide meals for elementary school pupils in the free meal programme while the free school uniform programme has led to the empowerment of over 3,000 tailors. The recognition of Ogbeni’s educational reforms by UNESCO and other international agencies has further energised him to do more in this very important sector.

Critics have leveled allegations against his policies and initiatives. His signature, Osun Youth Empowerment Scheme (O’YES) programme was labeled as giving stipends and handouts to graduates for performing “menial” and ‘undignified’ jobs. When Ogbeni changed the identity of the state, created a new logo, state anthem and slogan, he was accused of sedition and fomenting secession. When he introduced the Sukuk Bond and declared the day of Hijrah in the Islamic calendar as a State holiday, he was accused of Islamizing the state. When he declared the “Isese Day”(the traditional new-year) as a state holiday, he was accused of idolatry. When he introduced the ‘Opon Imo’ (Tablets of Knowledge) to digitize the classroom for students, he was accused of creating a white elephant project. When he merged schools to improve service delivery, he was accused of destabilizing the education system in the state.

Perhaps his detractors in the opposition have most to lose. For them his ability to persevere and prevail time and again against their party’s formidable juggernauts in Osun- in the face of immense rigging, institutional opposition, intimidation, assassination of his closest supporters and attempts to assassinate him, incarceration and protracted litigation – is enigmatic.

In the final analysis, he survived all efforts to silence him and prevent him from taking up the victorious mandate the People of the State of Osun gave him in 2007. Victory in the Court of Appeal vindicated victory at the polls, albeit three and half years late. Stigmata rather than stigma come to mind as a more appropriate and arguably the more deserved metaphor! His detractors will have another chance to have their say at the polls in August 2014.

But before talk of elections, let us review Ogbeni’s progressive and admittedly aggressive policies for which he has been criticized, in some cases vilified, and assess these against his performance and the acceptance or rejection of his initiatives.

2014 and Beyond;

Tired of the politics of bitterness and terror, Osun indigenes have, under Ogbeni, grown accustomed to proven results and do not want a return to the murder, mayhem, insecurity and under-development of the dark pre-Ogbeni days. One does not need to be a sycophant or a sugar-coated praise singer to applaud the strides made in these few years. That Ogbeni’s initiatives in Osun are being replicated and celebrated at home and abroad is a positive proof that progressive policy and disciplined implementation is common sense, not politics. Simply put, it is plain good governance. If imitation is the highest form of flattery, then the PDP flatters this administration- the so called opposition, by adopting its programmes – the O’YES replication at the federal level, a vivid typical example.

As the All Progressives Congress (APC) alliance forges ahead, Osun, under Ogbeni’s leadership, has led the way by its example. The state is not only the spiritual, ancestral and geographic fountain of one in four Nigerians, but has, under Ogbeni, become the heartland, pioneer and incubator for national progressive politics and inclusive socio-economic developments. The state has not witnessed the spate of varied, integrated and inclusive development since its creation twenty-years ago as it did in the last three years under Ogbeni’s leadership. Osun remains a forward-looking state, proudly steeped in its culture and history, comfortable with itself and hungry for more development. It will under Ogbeni’s leadership continue to be a worthy model for the rest of the country.

With the recent APC primaries and the unanimous choice of Ogbeni’s continued leadership, the “Ogbeni Express” has gone far but there is still plenty left to do. It has one more electoral stop to make in August 2014. All are invited aboard. This is never the time to turn the clock backwards and allow the juggernaut, that offers little else but “blood, death and tears” – their “consistent trademark”- apology to Fela Anikulapo Kuti- to derail the hard won progress.

Further to the above, I found it expedient to undertake a personal study to situate the “Ogbeni Phenomenon” within some established foundations (academic, theoretical or ideological – whichever) but I have come to a conclusion that Ogbeni himself represent an ideology that requires critical study.

Beyond that most of my quests still needed to be presented within the accessible confines of immediate practicality for the average spectator. These were therefore satisfied with several submissions mostly on federalism which were not limited to those of Professors Isawa Elaigwu, I.E. Sagay (SAN) and others including Hugo Black. With further review of political arrangements, systems of government and the contradictions that becloud issues of pluralism (of socio-cultural and/or ethno-religious nature), I reckon the State of Osun under Ogbeni has evidently explored federalism to accord individuals and groups their due recognition.

Exhibiting a near-perfect understanding of the fact that every majority is a minority somewhere and every minority is a majority elsewhere, Ogbeni has created a sustainable platform for due representation of “all” as a tact to contain the subversion that the existence of “others” may give rise to, ultimately in the collective interest of the people of Osun irrespective of political or religious leaning. This is the hallmark of Ogbeni’s political dexterity, magnanimity and his impeccable understanding of the simple depth of federalism.

Paraphrasing the words of an Irish labour leader Jim Larkin- “Those we see today as giants may not necessarily be one, the difference between them and us is; while we walk on our knees, they walk on their feet”. Ogbeni surely walks on his feet!!!. Let’s all rise and join him in a bid to finish the job he started just over three and half years ago. And, with God’s help, the will of the people of Osun will prevail and this simple, pious and dedicated man will be returned to the State House for four more years.

Binuyo, Senior Special Assistant (MDGs) to the Governor of the State of
Osun, writes in from Osogbo.