Aregbesola: Beyond The Inauguration Ritual

Viewpoint-illustration2Our performance in the first term endeared us to you and convinced you to give us the mandate for another term

   – Governor Rauf Aregbesola in his inauguration speech on Thursday, November 27, 2014.

Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, Governor of Osun State, had at least three reasons to celebrate when he was inaugurated as governor for a second term. My focus here is not so much on the reasons for celebration as on their implications for our young democracy. However, I first have to bore you with the reasons for celebration in order to appreciate the discussion that follows.

First, Aregbesola won a hard-fought electoral battle against the power machine of the Peoples Democratic Party. The PDP operatives maligned his administration virtually throughout his first term and distorted his records during the campaigns. In the days leading up to the election, Osun voters were intimidated by unprecedented security presence. Finally, on the eve of the election and the very day of the election, Aregbesola’s supporters were harassed, and as many as 700 of them were arrested or otherwise prevented from carrying out their legitimate duties. Clearly, these are not the best ways to grow a democracy.

Second, in spite of all odds, Aregbesola won the election by a wide margin. Not only did he win with 55 per cent of all lawful votes, being the widest margin of victory in recent governorship elections, he garnered over 70 per cent of the female votes.

Third, Aregbesola would be the first governor of the state to have legitimately won reelection and, therefore, the first to serve a legitimate second term in office. Interestingly, his predecessors had teamed up with him and were by his side during the inauguration.

What is more, Osun voters, who made his re-election possible, were at the inauguration in all their diversity – traditional rulers, religious leaders, political leaders, business leaders, professionals, market women, artisans, youths, and so on. It was an unusually large crowd for a second term inauguration and on a week day.

My encounter with one of the voters at the inauguration venue was quite instructive. The woman was pleading earnestly with the security at the gate to let her into the stadium. I decided to intervene, when I observed that she had a child on her back, while holding her young daughter by the right hand and her son by the left. The security at the gate would not let her into the VIP section of the stadium. Besides, she had no invitation card. I decided to lead her to another gate and pleaded with the security there to let her in.

On the way to the other gate, I asked her why she came with her children, and without an invitation card. She said she wanted to see the governor who feeds her children in school, gives them free uniform, and gets “Ijoba” (the government) to buy fruits from her kiosk. “Iruu re s’owon pupo (his likes are very scarce)”, she added. The sentiment she expressed reflects the attitude of most Osun women towards Aregbesola.

This leads to the first of three key issues arising from Aregbesola’s inauguration, namely, the role of performance as a qualification for re-election in a democracy. This is an important issue in Aregbesola’s case, given the historical, political, and media contexts of his re-election. Historically, no governor before him since 1999 ever won re-election. The odds were equally stacked against him politically: If there was one governor the PDP and the Presidency wanted out of power, it was Aregbesola. Moreover, he was a target of negative press, which often jumped on the bandwagon of the opposition to blow up distorted information about the man and his programmes.

So, why and how did he win? Two short answers: Outstanding performance and the resilience of an appreciative electorate. Here is how Aregbesola put it in his inauguration speech: “We revamped agriculture and made it a profitable venture for farmers. We have positioned our youths for greatness by providing them with quality education. We have redefined the infrastructure of education by building state of the art schools, and proving cutting edge technology, free school uniforms, free meals and so on. We have empowered our people economically through all the ‘O’ projects: O’REAP, O’MEALS, O’BEEF, O’HUB, O’HONEY, O’CLEAN and so on. We have made micro-credit available to our people on a large scale, … we have lifted the GDP of the state, making Osun the seventh largest economy in Nigeria. We have cared for the environment in an unprecedented way. We have banished flooding and cleaned the environment of filth … There is no local government that did not partake in our local and intercity road projects. We have embarked on a most ambitious urban renewal programme. We have cared for the old, the weak and infirm while special people have not escaped our touch. We have delivered on our six integral action programme”.

This leads to the second issue: Why and how was Aregbesola able to accomplish so much with limited resources and within so short a period? First, it must be appreciated that Aregbesola is a trained engineer, a pragmatic and seasoned administrator of people and resources. For eight straight years, he was the Commissioner for Works in Lagos State, under whose watch the unprecedented urban renewal projects in Lagos were crafted. His knowledge of policymaking and project execution was deployed to its fullest when he became a governor in Osun. Even more importantly, he has long adopted an ideology of governance that puts people first. The lesson here is simple: Elect candidates who have cognate experience in governance and have verifiable track records.

Second, Aregbesola recruited the best people, all professionals in their own right, to his cabinet and created the Bureau of Social Services to monitor and oversee all state projects. The Bureau, headed by Femi Ifaturoti, is staffed with engineers, architects, lawyers, quantity surveyors, and other project specialists, who monitor and provide monthly assessments of all ongoing projects throughout the state. BOSS, as the department came to be known, has become an institution in the Osun government circle.

Third, Aregbesola got national and international sponsors, private partners, and Osun citizens involved in appropriate projects. He also employed direct labour, where appropriate, by engaging volunteers and thousands of young graduates in his O’YES programme. Most importantly, he ensured that every single project he embarked upon generated jobs for Osun citizens and he encouraged the reinvestment of their earnings within the state. As a result, Osun became the seventh largest economy in the nation.

Finally, he adopted a governance ideology of progressivism, which views social and economic development as twin engines of growth. It was not enough for him to invoke Obafemi Awolowo. He reinvented him in his approach to governance, by putting people first in all his programmes and projects. Surely, his style is different from the sage’s; but the results would have gladdened the sage as they did Osun voters.

The critical question now is about the sustainability of the programmes and projects. For a start, Aregbesola’s To-Do list over the next four years must include four items.

First, he should consolidate the programmes and projects he has so far embarked upon. Second, he should focus more on the necessary infrastructure that connects the people with one another and with the projects. Third, he should ensure that institutions, such as BOSS, are so entrenched in Osun governance paradigm that future state governors cannot brush them aside. Fourth, future leaders must be identified and groomed, who would share the same philosophy of governance and advance on the programmes and projects. He should develop an enduring Osun brand.