Friday, May 24, 2013. 35 governors gathered to vote for the Chairman of the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF). With the initial postponement and intrigues that surrounded it, it was going to be a night of long knives. With the Presidency interested in the outcome and with Governor Amaechi determined to give it another shot in spite of his open confrontation with the President, it was going to take more than ordinary determination to navigate the treacherous waters.
It would take grit, uncommon courage and the ability to outfox the henchmen of the Presidency. At the entrance of the venue of the election, all the Governors were mandated to submit all their mobile phones. But one man particularly suspected there was going to be foul play so he sneaked in a pen camera.
He recorded the vote counting surreptitiously until when Governor Godswill Akpabio noticed they were being secretly recorded. When controversy sprang up on the actual winner of the contest, he released the video to the public. The man who exposed the lie for what it was was Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, the Governor of Osun State.
Controversy is his middle name. For 9 months, he operated solely without commissioners. He renamed Osun State and gave it a new nomenclature called ‘State of Osun.’ He fashioned a new educational policy and called it reclassification of schools. In one fell swoop, schools were merged and bedlam ensued. In one school, we were treated to a picture of students dressed in choir robes, hijab and masquerade attires as uniform. Some suspected Muslim fundamentalists broke into a school and flogged a teacher. For the first time in the South West, religious embers were stoked. Then came the uniform controversy. All the public schools were mandated to adopt the same uniform all over the State. Fakunle Comprehensive School, Osogbo was demolished despite pleas that a school with such a grand tradition should be allowed to stand. He declared Hijra as a public holiday for Muslims, the only state to do so in Nigeria. Then he declared another holiday for traditionalists called ‘Isese Day’. Suspected of being a religious fundamentalist, he donated N35m for the burial of late Prophet Timothy Obadare. And then the ‘Opon Imo’ controversy. Then came the issue of the ‘Sukuk’ Islamic bond. His tenure could be appropriately termed ‘one week, one trouble’.
In spite of the unending controversies and despite the appointment of an Osun State indigene Jelili Adesiyan as the Minister of Police Affairs, it is my carefully considered opinion that Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola will win the August 9 election. Here’s why I think he will trump Otunba Iyiola Omisore, the PDP’s candidate.
1. Omisore’s Poor Candidature
Iyiola Omisore is not Peter Ayodele Fayose. He lacks the charisma of Fayose. He is not a Jimi Agbaje. He lacks the character of Agbaje. He doesn’t have the mass appeal even though he has the notoriety. While you cannot deny that he has a semblance of structure having been the Deputy Governor of the State and also a Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, his major Achilles heel is that he has been successfully tainted by the accusation of involvement in Bola Ige’s murder. This is one accusation that has refused to go in spite of his protestations. In addition, his campaign is a poor caricature of Ayodele Fayose’s. Whoever is his campaign director needs to get fired as he has run one of the most bizarre and lacklustre campaigns ever. His efforts to align with the masses fell flat- his handling of two roasted corn cobs in both hands, his ride to a campaign venue on an ‘okada’ and his absurd combination of two different ‘Ankara’ materials as cloth are images that have defined his campaign. He has not successfully exploited Rauf Aregbesola’s obvious weaknesses.
When it was time to debate Ogbeni, he didn’t show up. That was an opportunity to redeem himself but he failed to utilize it. Ayo Fayose challenged Kayode Fayemi for a walk on the streets of Ado-Ekiti but Iyiola Omisore claimed he didn’t come for the debate because he didn’t want Ogbeni to beat him up. Is it any wonder that the President has not attended any rally in Osun State even up till now? The President must have read the handwriting on the wall and there was no point dissipating energy in the wrong direction. PDP lost it when the ticket was given to Omisore because he is irredeemable. If he’s banking on federal might, he got it wrong this time because you can only rig successfully where you are popular. In fact, Ogbeni will be gifted this election not because of his superlative performance but primarily because of Omisore’s poor candidature.
2. Disunity In The PDP House
No situation exacerbated the looming disunity in Osun State PDP than the statement credited to the Minister for Police Affairs that he will beat Senator Isiaka Adeleke when he leaves office. Adeleke claimed he was assaulted during a party meeting and he subsequently defected to APC. Fatai Akinbade, a former Chairman of the State PDP and a man who served three different times as Commissioner under three different military regimes also defected to the Labour Party. Former Governor Olagunsoye Oyinlola has not come out openly in support of Iyiola Omisore despite belonging to the same party. In fact, he was even courted by the top echelon of the APC. As a former National Secretary of the party and also a former Governor of the State, his body language speaks volumes. Oyinlola is a Prince of Okuku, the capital of Odo-Otin Local Government, one of the 30 Local Government areas in Osun State. It is instructive to note that Odo-Otin is one of the three local government council areas with the highest number of 15 wards in the state after Osogbo and Iwo.
3. Ogbeni Aregbesola’s Above-Average Performance
In spite of his controversies, only a blind man will ignore Ogbeni’s performance. He has built mega schools, many of them super infrastructures with commendable appurtenances. He has constructed over 20 intercity roads and more than 15 intra-city roads. This is apart from some very ambitious dualization projects embarked upon. The free festive inter-city train ride from Lagos to Osogbo has become a constant feature of his administration. I was informed that he has built 74 primary health Centres all over Osun State. He has increased IGR in Osun from N300m to N1.6b and has not been known to borrow from any financial institution, save for the Islamic bond he took. His O’Meals project is laudable. Love him or hate him, there’s no denying the fact that he has improved the face of governance in the state.
4. Ogbeni’s Massive Campaign Network
Ogbeni has embarked on a blitzkrieg of a campaign. Maybe due to the lessons learnt from Ekiti’s recent election, he has left no stone untouched. This is the first time I’m seeing an incumbent campaign as if he’s the under-dog. He has run a very good campaign so far- both terrestrially and on social media. Going by his student unionism antecedents, one is not too surprised that he has at least 2 former student leaders in his cabinet and they are both active in running his campaign. Most of the controversial issues raised have been either effectively addressed or well mitigated by this team. When the issue of religious fundamentalism came up, they released the video of Bishop David Oyedepo’s visit. Ogbeni has been photographed genuflecting to Pastor Enoch Adejare Adeboye. He attended a major night vigil organized by a white garment church. He has been dancing ‘skelewu’ at all rallies to show he can connect with the populace. He has run his campaign without Bola Tinubu being visible so the issue of the overbearing influence of the APC leader has been largely well managed. Ogbeni runs the best propaganda machinery in the South West and the effect can be seen in how he has successfully diverted attention from his controversies while making Omisore seem to be the controversial one.
5. The Seeming Inconsequential Position of Osun In National Politics
In the calculation of the PDP, Osun State may not really be worth the trouble. Like Ekiti, one would have expected a massive support from the centre but apart from the involvement of the Minister for Police Affairs Jelili Adesiyan and party big wig Buruji Kashamu, no other major PDP political actor has been to Osun State. Not even the Vice President Namadi Sambo who usually represents the President on most occasions. The PDP Chairman has been missing in action conspicuously and in my opinion two major issues come into consideration here: firstly, the antecedents of Osun politics where the State was the only one won by the erstwhile ACN candidate Nuhu Ribadu during the 2011 Presidential elections without having any impact on the outcome of the full national election results. The resources are limited and they would rather concentrate such where they can get the greatest political capital- Adamawa, Nassarawa, Edo, Oyo, Ogun and Lagos States.
The second is the opportunity to take the wind out of the sail of APC’s complaint that Osun’s elections will be rigged by the PDP just like they suspected it was done in Ekiti. Furthermore, it is PDP’s calculation that APC will be misled to believe they have stopped PDP’s incursion in the South West. Consequently, if APC wins Osun, the party will be seen to be a bad loser anytime it complains after another loss. So PDP can afford to lose Osun State without batting an eyelid.
6. Ogbeni’s Grassroots Support
Rauf Aregbesola is well schooled in the art of politics. He has been able to successfully marry both politicking and governance which was one of the major issues Governor Kayode Fayemi had. You can accuse him of everything but you can never accuse him of not connecting with the populace. With the pupils, he has appeared in their school uniform on many occasions. He has held his health walk in several towns across the states. He has several mushroom groups such as De Raufs located all over the state and these ones project his ideology. He has given himself the identity of ‘Oranmiyan’, a progenitor that the Yorubas respect. His support base is not limited to a particular demographics – he has a broad base across all sectors in the state. Ogbeni is street smart and can fight dirty if need be. A veteran of many political battles, he is not a gentleman like Kayode Fayemi and can be very rambunctious. That was why he asked people to come to the polling units with charms on Election Day. If there is anyone who is a true protege of Bola Ahmed Tinubu, he is one. That is one of the reasons the Ekiti story cannot repeat itself in Osun State.
7. The Geo-Political Demographics in Osun State
The geopolitical demographics currently favour Ogbeni Aregbesola. Ogbeni is from Osun East Senatorial District, the largest district in the State.Though Iyiola Omisore also hails from the same district, Ogbeni is from Ilesa, one of the three biggest towns with the highest number of voters in the state while Omisore is from Ile-Ife. Osun East with a voting strength close to 500,000 comprises of 10 Local Government Areas- 4 in Ife and 6 in Ijeshaland. There are about 1.2m registered voters in the state. Ogbeni is expected to have a clean sweep of all the 6 Local Governments in Ijeshaland while Omisore will sweep his own 4 Local Government areas. However, Ogbeni’s deputy Mrs Laoye-Tomori is from the state capital, Osogbo and so he’s expected to pick up the votes in the town. Iwo, which is the largest town in the State is predominantly Muslim and this will also play to Ogbeni’s favour.
Omisore’s deputy, ex-Speaker Adejare Bello hails from Ede, the same town Senator Isiaka Adeleke hails from. ‘Serubawon’ as the Senator and former Governor is popularly called has more grassroots support in Ede than Bello. His family even has a University called Adeleke University in Ede.