WAHEED Lawal, a comrade and known activist in Osun has over two decades of pro-democracy activism in the South-West state. He could go on and on to reel out the nitty-gritty of the various pro-democracy and human rights struggles in the recent history of Nigeria, especially as they were organised in the state.
“We know when to organise our people to defend their rights and protect democracy and demand for good governance,” says Lawal in a chat with our correspondent during a recent visit to his office on Station Road, Osogbo, Osun State.
“But in spite of your claim to being a frontline member of the pro-democracy groups in the state, the CSCEO (Coalition of Civil Society for the Emancipation of Osun) appears to have taken the shine off you,” the reporter queried.
The reporter’s observation seemingly drew Lawal’s anger. Looking straight into the reporter’s eyes, he queried: “Who are the people behind the group you just mentioned? They are nothing but a hired group of misguided youths sponsored to blackmail the government of the day.
“You media people in Lagos, Ibadan or Abuja or those reading the newspapers may take the noise they make seriously, but the few people that call themselves the coalition have no relevance here because they have never been known to lead any good cause for our people here.
“Their sudden emergence is attributable to the determination of the opposition elements against the government of the day to ensure the government achieves nothing.”
The conversation between Lawal and our correspondent took place against the background of incessant allegations against the government of Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola. At the begining of July this year, the CSCEO began to send press releases to media houses detailing various allegations against the governor.
Apart from accusing the governor of embarking on too many projects which, in its own conclusion, have led the state into many months of unpaid salaries, the coalition has accused the governor and his party of intolerance, alleging that some of the opponents of the governor have come under attacks in recent times.
“But that is part of the blackmail. Call a dog a bad name in order to hang it,” said Semiu Okanlawon, spokesman of the Aregbesola government.
“They make outlandish and outrageous claims and allegations. Why not just ask for one proof of these allegations? For instance, how do you accuse a governor whose works already delivered far outweighs the resources available to him within the same period? How do you see a governor whose initiatives in the areas of employment, security, education infrastructure, poverty reduction and others keep earning him local and international recognitions? Those are the achievements those few bellyaching individuals seek to divert attention away from. But they cannot succeed in that.”
The group had claimed responsibility for the July 6 protests in Osogbo, the state capital, purportedly in support of a judge in the state, Justice Folahanmi Oloyede, who wrote a petition against the governor and also in solidarity with the unpaid workers of Osun. But the government says the wage crisis in the state, like in many other sates of the federation, has only been turned into an opportunity by the opposition to pillory the Aregbesola government, having failed in all the legally acceptable means to get the mandate of the people of the state.
The government described the coalition as “a gang of misguided and disgruntled individuals who are just being sponsored by many of those who lost in the August 9, 2014 election in the state.
“They are no more than errand boys of Iyiola Omisore of PDP, Niyi Owolade of Accord Party and Segun Akinwusi of Social Democratic Party. It is an emergency group put together to give voice to the opposition’s joint battle against this government.
“All they do is to send out false information in press releases everyday to confuse people and misinform the general public. The last of its release was that there was danger to the life of the petitioner judge, Folahanmi Oloyede,” Okanlawon said.
In a release signed by its media coordinator, Seun Adeoye, on July 4, the CSCEO, which though was less than one week old, had claimed responsibility for the protests in Osogbo.
A part of the release had stated: “For your information, CSCEO is just a week old today. We have no allegiance to any political party in opposition to Osun State Government or financiers as being wrongly insinuated by the ruling APC regime. Rather, we are together as men and women previously slumbering but have all been woken up by the realization of the doldrums in which we now find ourselves as a result of the recklessness, cluelessness and wanton disregard for time-tested principles of public management and international best practices of those who we have trusted with our collective destiny in the last four years.”
But Amitilu Shittu, Executive Director of the Committee for the Defence and Rights of the People, a popular human rights and pro-democracy organisation in Osun, says the group has chosen very wrong reasons to sell itself to the people.
Shittu said: “If you say you are in opposition here, the people will ask you what you are really out to oppose. This is because opposition must have its logical reason. Do you oppose a government that has provided the kind of infrastructure that Aregbesola has provided in the first four years?
“Do you oppose a government that has provided infrastructure far higher than the resources of the state can afford? Do you just oppose a government when it keeps getting local and international recognitions for its initiatives?”
CSCEO’s allegations against the government are legion. Its Chairman, Sulaiman Adeniyi Alimi, said in one of the many press releases sent out by Adeoye that “all the characteristics of a failed state have been manifesting in this state: hunger; poverty; closed hospitals, schools, government offices and courts; internal displacement of persons and failed and abandoned projects from roads to buildings. Jungle justice in the absence of the judiciary, collapse of public utility, insecurity as burglary and petty stealing pervades the land arising from excruciating hunger and lack.
“This is not about unpaid salaries alone; it is about paucity of managerial skills and high level corruption as exhibited by Aregbesola’s government.”
Comrade Wale Adebisi of the Ola Oni Centre for Good Governance, directly links the activities of the group to the political opponents of Aregbesola.
Adebisi said: “It must interest you that this so-called group emerged after Iyiola Omisore, PDP’s defeated governorship candidate, reached his final bus stop over his election petition at the Supreme Court.
“Before then, there was no group like that. But immediately after the ruling of the Supreme Court which put a final nail on the Coffin of his governorship ambition, they resorted to these illegal means to continue to keep their few followers together as well as attempt to discredit the government.
“It is a project in the hands of the PDP and other allies to bring down the government, and that forms the basis of all these daily accusations against the governor.”
Adebisi says the CSCEO has been sending out wrong information about the state to give it a wrong image. “But they can only do that for a while before the whole world sees through their lies,” he said.
Ademola Yaya, a former Student Union leader and now researcher, who lives in Osogbo, the state capital, in his analysis of the group’s activities, explained that it is merely catching in on the opportunities that media platforms offer to gain attention.
“Before now, real activism involved deep understanding of the issues at stake. Activism involved commitment and not cash and carry pursuits. More importantly, it is the activities you engage in as a group of people fighting the cause of the people that bring you attention from authorities and the people. Now, an unknown group of people can just hide under one name and send out falsehood and the media give them audience,” Yaya said.
Asking the media to wake up to its responsibilities, Yaya said it is not enough for media houses to just take press releases from everyone who has access to the internet without adequate verification of the claims they make and the activities they claim to engage in.
His assertion appeared to corroborate an earlier charge by Comrade Waheed Lawal that most of the claims the so-called coalition sends out should be verified by media houses. “For instance, often times you read about that group claiming to have held press conferences in Osogbo whereas no press conference was held. That is unprofessional and fraudulent,” he said.
Adeoye, the regular issuer of the press statements containing the allegations against Aregbesola says he is not connected in any way to politicians in the state, yet there are those who insist that he is one journalist who has had more than casual relationship with politicians and still enjoys same with some of the leading opposition figures in the state. As a former correspondent in the state, he was was alleged to have taken a stand against the government of former Governor Bisi Akande; a situation that was said to have endeared him to Akande’s political opponents, including Omisore, the then deputy governor.
Adeoye later became two-term chairman of the Nigeria Union of Journalists’ Correspondents’ Chapel in Osun and subsequently won election to become the State Chairman of the NUJ. In all these periods, he was said to have openly identified with Omisore and his political allies.
“Call him a politician and you will not be far from the truth,” says Ibrahim Lawal, a lawyer based in Osogbo, who said he had watched the activities of the group and the involvement of Adeoye.
“I think he uses his pen to arrange imagined atrocities of the Aregbesola administration with a devious view to raising anxiety and causing confusion. That is what they send out every day in the name of press releases. But the people in this state know the truth. There is no coalition anywhere. It is just a camouflage by Adeniyi Sulaiman and Seun Adeoye.”
A quick ride through the state capital gives the impression of a peaceful city. While the effect of unpaid workers’ wages appears to have slowed down business, commercial activities in the state capital do not reflect the topsy-turvy pictures that are being painted.
Bose Ande, an event management consultant in Osogbo says the state remains at peace with itself.
“If you go by the impressions being created in the minds of news readers, you would think the state is upside down. But that only exists in the imagination of those who are doing that for their own reasons.” She said.