A powerful industrial revolution is sweeping across Osun State and already the wise are tapping into the opportunity offered by the state government. The young and old entrepreneurs, men and women from all walks of life, the rich and the not-so-rich are also making inquiries and sealing legitimate transactions.
The opportunity, which began less than three years ago, runs from rural and urban development to road construction and rehabilitation, aesthetics, as well as tourism, agriculture, small and medium scale development, and those who have long nose for business are already sniffing and reaping the benefits.
Since Osun was created 23 years ago, the state and its people had never witnessed the rapid transformation they currently enjoy. Apart from a brewery and publishing houses, agro-allied industries, all privately-owned, as well an unorganised tourism sector and a comatose cocoa industry, one could not boast of any big industries existing in the state before now. Federal industries have long become decayed infrastructure.
Hitherto, the state could only boast of a huge population of 3.4 million (2006 census), with commensurate available resources left untapped, 30 local government areas and a landmass of 14, 875 square kilometres yearning for development. Unless you have visited the state, this sounds like a fairy tale.
The sleepy, dog-weary rural dwellers are now fully engaged in one form of economic activity or the other. Many of the activities are wholly or partly sponsored by the state government and are consequently arresting rural-urban migration.
Those in urban centres are content with the state government-organised life, which has jerked them up from their socio-economic doldrums, while indigenes in the Diaspora are struggling to have a ‘base’ at home.
Honour must, however, be accorded to whom it is due. The incumbent governor, Mr Rauf Aregbesola, is working and the results are manifesting.
He began with rural development. A structure without a solid foundation cannot stand and Aregbesola re-jigged the rural base, home to 70 per cent of the population. Access and feeder roads have been constructed to link various farm settlements with urban centres to facilitate evacuation of agriculture produce.
The state Agricultural Corporation has also cleared vast hectares of land for farmers, who have been granted credits and farm inputs, including fertilizer. Poultry farmers are not left out, with many of them benefitting from the Quick Impact Intervention Programme of the state government.
The World Bank-supported Fadama project is flourishing, and Osun pays its counterpart funding promptly and is among the leading funders of the programme in Nigeria. The Oloba Cattle Ranch at Iwo has also been refurbished for anybody interested in cattle business.
Perhaps, the best gift handed over to farmers by Aregbesola is a good practice put in place to evacuate produce to Lagos by rail, and making Osogbo the hub of food distribution to the neighbouring states. Osun is an agrarian community, but unfortunately, much of the produce is lost in the farm with middle men making a kill of the rest.
Consequently, in partnership with the Nigerian Railway Corporation, produce is transported to Lagos at no cost to the farmers, with the aim of slicing a chunk from the Lagos State food exchange value put at N3.5 billion.
In addition, with the established warehouses, manufactured and fresh produce will be moved periodically out of the state to ensure all-round food, stabilise prices and keep the farmers busy all-year round.
A regular commuter will also attest to the fact that Gbongan, a farming town between Ile Ife and Ibadan, serves as a food basket, where motorists stop over to purchase foodstuffs. The roadside market has been re-organised to offer patrons and consumers the best for their money.
It is no accident that a recreation park has been added to the market for relaxation, the type that exists in developed countries to rejuvenate long-journey motorists and commuters, and make travelling seamless and pleasurable.
The sprouting of new industries, road network, beautification of its major cities, the revamping of tourism industry and development of the skills of the indigenes are fast changing the perception of the people in Osun, once a civil-servant state.
An Information Communication Technology company has taken off in Ilesha, in partnership with a foreign firm; a garment industry is rolling out designer wears in Osogbo, and the cocoa processing industry is being reactivated in Ede, while the state government has set aside N4 billion to boost small scale businesses.
In spite of the dwindling federal allocation (Osun holds 34th position) and the slim internally-generated revenue, the governor manages resources prudently to provide well-constructed road network, carved out of industrial layouts, as well as initiated the construction of an airport, all aimed at strategically situating the state for economic activities.
The culture-rich state is bouncing back to glory. The landscaping of Asejire interchange, the renovation of its museums and a comprehensivere-structuring of the Osun festival and the environment have once again turned the state into a tourist haven, with more visitors thronging in.
Already, the state has been tipped as having one of the seventh largest economies in Nigeria, and a leading emerging market investment bank in Africa. This is because consumer companies are likely to find the greatest opportunities in states with highest per capita incomeand high population densities of which Osun is one.
Rattled and baffled politicians in the opposition, who never thought the state could be lifted from grass to grace in so short a time, even with meagre resources, recently attacked the governor, claiming that he had plunged the state into an everlasting debt of almost N400 billion. Sadly for them, the Debt Management Office (DMO), a Federal Government agency, which coordinates loans obtained and financial risks undertaken by the federal or a state government, says Osun is one of the best states with public debt management, adding that the debt profile of the state is a very sustainable one, healthy for its economic growth.
The Debt Management Office describes the debt burden claim as a mere propaganda and hoax, adding that the state should be used as an example for other states to emulate.
Segun Lawal, a big-time fish farmer in Okuku in Odo Otin Local Government Area, is transfixed at the transformation within two years of his business. A jobless graduate five years ago, Segun poured accolades on the governor, saying he would be the first to vote for his re-election on August 9.
“If he can do this for me within four years, I bet I will go places by the time he completes his second term in office, ‘’ Segun, who has 20 workers in his fish farms, remarked.
“A public debate should be arranged between the governor and other contenders for them to tell us what they have been doing, or what they intend to do with our lives and money,’’ he added.
Another beneficiary, Sunday Fadaunsi, who is in the hospitality industry, described Aregbesola as the right man at the right place, at the right time, asking the electorate not to be misled by empty promises.
“We have witnessed what the man can do, what other proof do we need?’’ he asked, adding that the man had virtually touched every home with his welfare projects right from the grass roots.
“I have just opened an Osogbo branch of the hotel I started in Ilesha 10 years ago, and I nearly folded up because there was no patronage, not that the standard of the hotel is low. Now with the new branch, I believe it is worthwhile to identify with Aregbesola, a lucky man,’’ he said.
Mrs Ebunoluwa Alabi, who is now a big-time dealer in fish feeds in Osogbo, observed that she had been trying her hands on various projects in the past seven years until 2011, and now, there is no going back.
‘’This is because Aregbesola has created so many opportunities for business, and which ever you choose, as long as you remain focused, you must succeed, because the man has opened up a floodgate of business activities, and it is like the sky accommodating all birds.
“Now that he has laid a solid foundation, common sense dictates that he should be allowed to continue and finish in his second term,’’ Mrs Alabi said.
Mr. Funsho Oseni, a big-time poultry farmer in Iwo, who had been in business for six years and had planned to relocate to Ibadan due to the dull business climate, said it was like a miracle when things started turning around for the better within a year.
‘’Will I be a fool to allow the ugly old times to reincarnate, certainly no,’’ the father of six said emphatically. ‘‘I will go for the man, who is replacing poverty with prosperity, not political termites and visionless noise-makers.’’ he added.
Adeoye, a public affairs analyst, writes from Osogbo.