OPINION: Osun’s Politics Of The Belly

Governor-Rauf-AregbesolaIt had got to be the limit — Bayelsa senator, Ben Murray-Bruce’s attempt at wannabe activism.  He had “donated” his anticipated wardrobe allowance to feed hungry Osun workers — and a few Bayelsa widows.

Hare-brained activism never made a more hare-brained start!

Homeboy, Iyiola Omisore, also made a quiet rumble: doing his little bit to feed the hungry Osun multitude.  However, had he wanted to cause a stir, he would have parked trailer load of grains at the Osun Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) secretariat in Osogbo; and invited the starving plebs of Abere, the state government’s secretariat, to come have their fill!

In Mr. Omisore’s world, charity and politics co-mingle for devastating effects!

Why, the controversial Buruji Kashamu, Omisore’s deep ideological soul mate in democratic feudalism, also sent in his own words of hope: trailers, creaking under loads and loads of victuals and myriad provisions, were snailing and snaking into Osun!

Has the SOS caravan arrived?

O, the media also weighed in; in the Osun wage hysteria.  Abimbola Adelakun (The Punch, June 11) intervened with a piece that betrayed structural split-personality. The headline, “Ogbeni Aregbesola, pay your workers” was a cynical taunt, in the classical Yoruba traditional sense.  But it ended with basic reason and admission that Osun’s problem stems from a national systemic failure. In-between were emotive and neo-liberal snarling against “populist” policies.

Ms Adelakun’s newspaper would later pour cold water on efforts, at the end of June, to start paying the salary arrears, suggesting, by its cynical angling of the news, that the efforts were too little, too late.  Of course, between The Punch and Aregbesola’s government, there appears no love lost.

Still, the very limit would come with a crusading jurist, ensconced in the Osun judiciary, inflicting great violence on judicial reticence and the separation of power doctrine.

Justice Oloyede Folahanmi, an Osun high court judge, wrote a petition calling on the Osun legislature to impeach Governor Aregbesola, over the salary arrears.  Her tone suggested the governor wilfully held salaries back to punish and intimidate workers.  But logically, why might he do that?

A few have defended Justice Folahanmi’s unprecedented conduct, insisting she wrote in her personal capacity; and not as a judge.  Still, the notorious fact (as her constituency would say) is that she is a sitting judge, sworn to some service ethos and etiquette!

Besides, if that apologia held, then the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), writing as a citizen, could  well gift himself the liberty to write the National Assembly for the president’s impeachment, should the Federal Government falter on salaries!  You see how misguided judicial activism could easily court anarchy?

But something should be clear.  Between friendly and hostile camps to the Osun governor’s salary odyssey, there is no high moral ground.  Both are driven by the logic of public policy analysis, a media activity critical to democratic deepening.

So, what is Ripples’ angst at the stand of Justice Folahanmi and co?  Good question; but before an answer, another caveat: other things being equal, salary delays are degrading and indefensible.  Their ripple effects can make a family really, really miserable; and it is a path no self-respecting adult wants to tread.  Besides, even a month’s delay is bad enough.  For months’ delay, one can imagine the anguish on the affected families.

So, what is wrong with telling it as it is — as Aregbesola’s media critics have done — and reading out the riot act to the governor: pay or quit?

The approach.  While compassion is noble, emotion-milking is vile, wilful and cruel.  It can only create two victims: the governor as demon, useless and uncaring; and hurting workers, fed on the daily diet of gubernatorial loathing.  Both can only work up emotions; but hardly solve the problem.

Besides, the skewed attention on Osun, when more than a half of the 36 states are involved in the salary meltdown, suggests a media roasting most bizarre, with the media becoming part of the problem, instead of navigating the polity towards a solution.

Of course, such unconscionable muddying of waters suits nicely Aregbesola’s political traducers.  That is where Omisore and co belong; and to the amoral political class, all is fair in war.

But the media, becoming ready and merry tools to fight these unholy wars, is tantamount to the media becoming smashed mirrors, from which only skewed images of society can emerge.

And for a serving judicial officer to unthinkingly barge in, is the judicial equivalent of dancing naked.

But the most tragic consequence of this politics-of-the-belly approach to a serious crunch, which calls for radical financial restructuring, is deliberate misdiagnosis, which has nothing to offer but mischief.

In the heat of the crusading passion, Aregbesola became the irredeemable Satan, not Goodluck Jonathan; under whose presidency the national purse became a sieve, putting most states in the present bind.

For instance, the Jonathan presidency declared daily stolen 400, 000 barrels, from the 2.6 million produced each day.  Though that should have translated into some 15 per cent reduction, states suffered a 40 per cent drop from Federation Account (FA) takings — without any cogent reason.

Then, the global oil price crash.  The cumulative effect of Jonathan’s leaking purse and the price dip, crashed Osun’s revenue by some 55 per cent.  Now, Aregbesola’s only blame here appears his huge appetite for developmental projects, financed with sundry loans and bonds,  invested in social and physical infrastructure.  That tenuous balance left the state heavily leveraged.  The shock, from this sudden financial storm, smashed Osun’s monthly FA taking below the N3.6 billion monthly civil servants’ wage bill.  That explains the salary default.

Even then, Osun’s internally generated revenue (IGR) for 2014, from National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) figures, was N8.5 billion, placing 11th out of 25 states.  Compared with Akwa Ibom’s N15.6 billion (seventh placed, though Nigeria’s highest FA drawer), it would appear Osun is using its meagre resources to deepen its local economy, while Akwa Ibom, flush with oil derivation cash, seems largely content with its FA takings.

Besides, a global multidimensional poverty index (MPI) survey of Nigeria, with 100 other developing countries, has introduced a fresh perspective to Osun and poverty.

The MPI is based on a 10-point indicator, based on three broad poverty criteria: education (years of schooling and school attendance), health (child mortality and nutrition) — both gauging the meeting of a child’s social infrastructure needs  — and a six-point indicator under “standard of living”: assets, cooking fuel, floor, water, sanitation and electricity.

Under MPI, quoted from an Oxford University document called Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (2015), Osun placed second, only to Lagos, among Nigerian states least affected by poverty, via a pile chart tagged  ”Headcount of the ratios of MPI poor and destitute”.

That means that despite all the salary hoopla, Osun has somehow devised ways to improve its poverty level.

Still, many newspaper commentators thunder, from their Olympian heights of raw passion, that Aregbesola should scrap his high impact developmental programmes, because of the salary hoopla.

The Ogbeni, to his peril, would listen to such Mephistophelean counsel; though he should try his best possible to clear the salary arrears.