I first came into contact with him sometime in the early days of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s tenure as Governor of Lagos State. A mutual friend had initiated an International Tennis Championship League called Governor’s Cup. The press briefing was slated for the National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos, with many prominent individuals and potential corporate sponsors and stakeholders in attendance. So impressed was I by the zeal he showed and the uncommon loyalty to his boss, evident in the energy and passion at which he drummed up support for the project, that I unhesitatingly volunteered my own support, which I would then sustain for the next six years of the Annual Championship.
His performance as the Honourable Commissioner for Works and Infrastructure in Lagos is legendary, and needs no further mention here, other than to say that his days of selfless, innovative service proved to be an incubation which prepared him for his sterling public service delivery which we are all experiencing in Osun today.
In retrospect, I was happy, not only to answer the call to be part of the people he reached out to in the early days of his consultations preceding his decision to throw his hat in the ring for the Osun Gubernatorial race, but also to play a pivotal role in the evolution of his philosophy of People Friendly Government which we later put in print as his social contract; The SIX-POINT INTEGRAL ACTION PLAN.
Coming from a leftist background, he realized very early in his political life that the welfare of the people is the only reason to be in government.
The 6-point Integral Action Plan is a testament of welfarism borne out of a conviction that you can never go wrong if you put in place institutional framework and policies for satiating the yearnings of the masses.
His strategy of happiness in the immediate run for the masses whilst embarking on long run Programs and Projects is manifested in his unique Social Safety Net Programs such as Osun Youth Empowerment Scheme (OYes), Elementary Schools Free Lunch Program, Senior Citizens Welfare Program, Program of Succor for people with special needs and the list is endless, which have engendered a bonding with the People he governs.
At the approach of the August 9, Osun Gubernatorial election, a governor had just been declared the loser in the election in a sister state of Ekiti under questionable circumstances and the predominant rationale for the electoral failure was alleged lack of due attention to the masses, giving rise to notion that the progressive states, anxious to put in place modern infrastructure and amenities in their domain, often neglected the people and overlooked their hunger, and the obnoxious terminology “stomach infrastructure had just slipped in our consciousness like a thief in the night. He was confronted by the Press with the probability of losing his bid for the second term for the same reason, and this is what had to say:
“Those trying to embark on stomach infrastructure in this late hour wil have a lot of catching up to do because we have begun long ago and are four years ahead of them. We are masters of the game”. June 2014, while granting an interview to Business day Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola proudly and confidently give assurance of his victory in the then forthcoming August 9, 2013 Gubernatorial Election. thus;
“Let me assure you, the overwhelming majority of the people of the State will Vote for us because we have represented them well in our first term, we have been accountable to them and we have served them with passion and integrity”
Indeed, he would not brood any doubt about his popularity with his people. He said this again at a public forum;
“I am a product of the popular forces, the people and I am part and parcel of them. I emanated from them and I am a product of their struggle.”
August 9, 2014 was therefore payback day, and, predictably, the people voted with their hearts, and Ogbeni rauf Aregbesola has now been given a renewed mandate to govern the State of Osun for a second term.
When Aregbesola story is going to be told, it would be that of a people-conscious leader, who has put in place some of the most audacious policies in rapid infrastructure upgrade, urbanization, and highest quantum of social service delivery ever experienced in this clime.
Interpersonally, Ogbeni is a good man. He has, over the years, been surrounded and followed by a huge community of loyalists who believe in him, and the sincerely of purpose with which he has pursued it. He shows extra-ordinary compassion for his fellow man. And he is quite generous. When you came into contact with him, you will realize his personality. He has read far and wide and has held his own both honorably and with eloquence in any setting, even abroad.
As a family man, he is the doting husband of his sweetheart, Sherifat, who , during their courtship provided the much needed encouragement to reconcile this restless young activist with his Creator, and has remained a strong pillar ensuring that he receives all the comfort and succor a General needs whenever he returns home from life’s many battles.
It is difficult to believe how a man of the People like Ogbeni could create quality time to attend to the nurture of his children who are all well behaved and now pursuing their various callings.
In matters of faith, Ogbeni remains unapologetic for his depth of piety, and why should he be? I have said on several occasions, I wish I could be as faithful to my religion as he is to Islam.
Yet he displays incredible understanding of the Bible which he quotes frequently and copiously whenever we get into discussions around ethics and morality. Not once has ever displayed discrimination against any religion, rather he is a foremost advocate of equality of the religions, and that is a disposition which is made poignantly clear by the fact that Osun is the only State where prayers are said in the Christian, Islamic and Traditional faiths at every public function.
Little wonder that he bedazzles even his most volatile traducers, and continues to wax strong as he pursues, with profound sense of urgency, his truly progressive and people-centered developmental agenda. His unique brand of People Friendly Government.
May our world be continually populated and enriched with multiple OGBENIS!