On the 9th of August the State of Osun governorship election would hold. It is an election I have more than a passing interest in, for that is my state. It is, therefore, of great concern to me who will be in charge of running the state for the next four years.
It is no secret that my sympathy rests with Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, the incumbent governor seeking re-election. And not without reason. Although I’ve known him well before he became governor and had inkling of the stern and (socialist) ideological stuff he is made of, what I’ve seen of him since becoming the governor has far surpassed my imagination. I can say, without exaggeration, there is no governor, nay, no public servant, here in Nigeria or anywhere else in the world, with greater commitment to service, more suffused with vision and passion, more flogging of self almost to the point of masochism, and more acutely alert of mind and intellect, than the Ogbeni.
Ascetic in his lifestyle, what comes to mind observing Rauf at close quarters over the past four years as governor is Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s assessment of himself. Here: “While many men in power and public office are busy carousing in the midst of women of easy virtue and men of low morals, I, as a few others like me, am busy at my desk thinking about the problems of Nigeria (Osun) and proffering solutions to them. Only the deep can call to the deep.” The only difference, a shocking but pleasant relief, is that whilst the late Awo perhaps would fumble on a dance floor, Ogbeni is a dance maestro, and a populist politician of the Adelabu Adegoke school of oratorical performance.
But Ogbeni is not without his own foible. He is in a hurry to push Osun to modernity in all spheres thereby finding himself and his government at loggerheads with many of his publics who feel being stampeded into a pace and sacrifice too staggering for their level of preparedness. Yet the development is there for all to see.
The citizens love what they see, they are astounded at the evidence that sticks all in the face – in urban renewal and massive road infrastructure; in education and the groundbreaking opon-imo (knowledge tablet) and the primary school pupils feeding programme; in social welfare through the monthly allowances to the aged; in employment; in agriculture; and so on and so forth – but the sacrifices and discipline necessitated have not been enjoyed.
Those adversely affected especially by demolitions of their property in the course of urban infrastructural development, or plugging of public funds loopholes, are complaining and lending themselves to preaching disaffection for the government. The people want to eat omelets without breaking eggs!
The State of Osun under Rauf has so far been adjudged by appropriate federal agencies and international bodies as the best governed state in Nigeria with the lowest unemployment rate, and 2nd in the poverty reduction index. As to be expected, malicious rumours fly fuelled by detractors and the opposition. The good thing about Ogbeni is that of all the dirty rumours peddled, none says he is corrupt or, in the euphemism of the time, that he has “mismanaged” public funds.
Moreover, the religious labelling of Ogbeni as a Muslim radical desirous of Islamising the state has waned largely out of the fear that such religious card might backfire in a state where Muslims are truly in the majority in all but two of the eight largest cities. Rauf himself dismisses the charge as lazy and un-intellectual. “The world has passed the stage where anybody can force his religion on anybody,” he says. “How many years does a governor have to stay? If the white men who were here for 70 years could not force Christianity on all the people, with all the powers they had, why would any one think a governor can ever conceive such thoughts?” He asks.
Ogbeni’s main, or most feared, opponent is Senator Iyiola Omisore of the rival PDP, a party in control of the Federal Government and purse! The result of the recent Ekiti governorship election where the PDP underdog created an upset beating the incumbent APC governor by an unprecedented margin has energised the opposition, making them believe a repeat is possible, even probable, in Osun too. Conversely, it has created unease in the camp of the incumbent who would otherwise have been sleeping with both eyes closed, resting assured that his meritorious performance would put him beyond view of any rival in the court of the electorate.
I know Iyiola Omisore, some. Though he is much younger than I am, I must say I am impressed by the respect or honour he accords me on the few public occasions we have met. Those occasions deflect the generally held view of him as a roughneck capable of the most heinous of crimes. The Osun public refuses to forget that he was accused and charged for the murder of their darling political leader, the cerebral ‘Uncle’ Bola Ige, shortly after both fell apart and had public altercations, even though Omisore has not been found guilty of the allegations.
What Omisore would chalk as his achievement in public sphere include serving as deputy governor for three or so years in Osun State under Chief Bisi Akande, and a term as senator of the Federal Republic during which he was chairman of the mouth-watering Appropriation Committee. It is probable that in the course of these he has benefitted some people, particularly in his Ife constituency, but he is far from being the Osun version of Ekiti’s Ayo Fayose who had spent a long period cultivating the masses and genuinely was with them. A picture of Omisore lately mounting an okada and posing with roasted corn-on-the-hub in both hands went viral on the Internet drawing guffaw from the public at such infantile mimicry of a “grass-roots man.” One Facebook comment tagged it “the Con Man.”
Just as Omisore is not a Fayose, so is Ogbeni not a Fayemi. And so it will be silly for anyone to interchange the Ekiti result with Osun. Ogbeni, as already mentioned earlier, embodies an Awo and Adelabu Adegoke in one. He is at once cerebrally committed and rambunctiously populist. But with question mark being drawn on the genuineness of the Ekiti result, and high-tech rigging suspected for the magnitude of the margin if not the victory itself, there is serious anxiety in the State of Osun that such despicable stratagem may be deployed to thwart the people’s will. Already, rumours are flying of massive infiltration of the state by “aliens” for INEC registration, and, worse, one party spending big to induce thousands of voters in places where the other party is strong to sell their voter-cards just for the sheer purpose of destroying them, disenfranchising the owners, and thus depressing the number of possible voters in such places.
Moreover, the fear is rife that the massive militarisation and overkill of security forces in Ekiti whereby leaders of one party were prevented from going into Ekiti to participate rightfully in their party rallies whilst leaders of other parties were not equally barred; allegations of manhandling and detention of officials of one party at vital moments; and the general intimidation of their members, the fear is rife that such blatant force and violation of constitutional rights of people may be visited upon Osun. It will be sad if that happens, for then not only would our fledging democracy be threatened, the seed of dismemberment of the country, already planted by Boko Haram and other insurgents, would be watered into full germination.
On August 9, let there be a free and fair election and let the people of Osun decide who governs them in the next four years. And that’s saying it the way it is!