By SHOLA OSHUNKEYE
There is a line often chorused by the opposition in most states controlled by the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, and that is: ACN governors so kowtow to the party’s national leader and former governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, that they may have to seek Boudillon Street’s (Tinubu’s residence) approval before they could go to bed or rise from it.
But Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, the populist governor of the State of Osun, one man who should know, rubbished such suggestion in a chance-encounter I had with him, last week. He said though their leader deserves all the reference and adoration they, and, indeed, Nigerians could give him for his selfless roles in deepening democracy in Nigeria, he (Tinubu) neither lords things over ACN governors, nor expects them to treat him like a mythical king that rules over a thousand thrones. Pointblank, Tinubu doesn’t demand sheepish submissiveness.
In the spirit of the chance-encounter, I pointedly asked Aregbesola if Tinubu was his godfather. Twice, he answered me with the same words: “Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu is my mentor.”
So, who is Ogbeni Aregbesola’s godfather? I pressed the governor further. “God is my godfather,” he responded almost automatically. And added: “Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu is my mentor.”
Before he gave these answers, the governor had enlightened me on the phenomenon of godfatherism, putting things in perspective.
“The word ‘godfather’ is very holy,” he informed, “were it not to be so, Christians will not be requiring a godfather for baptism and confirmation. You cannot be baptized, you cannot be confirmed as a real Christian without a godfather. Yet, you must bear in mind that the word ‘godfather’ has been bastardized.
“But whether bastardized or not, the essence of godfatherism must not be lost. Godfatherism, in true and genuine form, is an elder or a leader that guides the surrogate. A godfather is a role model to an upcoming person who must inspire the acolyte to the highest level of performance. It is in that context I want take that question. And my simple answer is that Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu is my mentor.”
Aregbesola also dismissed the allegation by the opposition that his administration has compelled female Muslim students to wear hijab, a type of veil used by Muslim women, on top of their school uniforms, even when some Muslims had gone to court praying it to compel the state government to allow their girls to wear hijab to school.
Though miffed by the glaring contradiction in the allegation peddled by his traducers, the governor put the matter in perspective. “The facts and the claims are so contradictory,” he declared. “If a governor had used his executive power to impose the use of hijab in public schools, as they are claiming, that act itself would have pacified the Muslims and prevented them from going to court. So, is it logical? How come the Muslims are now in court seeking for a right supposedly given? It is so false that it beats the imagination. There is no basis for it and there can’t be any basis for it.
“The question that all logical and reasonable persons should ask is: why would those who have supposedly been permitted a right to wear hijab go to court to demand for that same right? Is that not ridiculous? It is ridiculous. You can’t have a right and still go to court to demand that right. The circumstance of this entire disturbing drama clearly exposes the mischief around it, because it beats the imagination of any rational mind.”
After punching off the jabs from his antagonists over hijab, the governor also fielded questions on some development issues in the state.
There is politics in the air in the State of Osun, with a lot of people coming up with and demanding all kinds of ideas. Are you amazed at what you see at this initial stage?
What I see is too ordinary and innocuous to be strictly relevance. Nobody can be amazed. If I say I am amazed I will not be doing justice to the entire democratic process. Politics, and, by its natural extension, democracy, are too important to be trivialized. Therefore, I cannot accept the word ‘amazed’. I am concerned about the destination of some of the contenders because the society itself, its security, its stability, its harmony with itself, are so important and fundamental that whoever seeks to be part of the process of the administration of the society must be very, very careful about what they say and do.
While I conceive the need for engagement in the political turf, it should be premised on the highest idea of progress, peace and stability. Whenever the process of political engagement degenerates to the promotion of hatred of whatever form, primordial sentiments, simulation of partisan interest that could adversely affect relationships and orderliness of society, one must be quite careful. It is in that regard, and with that in mind, that I will want to clearly say that what we are witnessing at the moment from the opposition must be put in proper perspective such that we do not get ourselves into a situation that we must never allow to happen in our society.
What kind of situation would that be?
I don’t know. Where you see people stoking embers of sentiment that are not there, on the basis of pure and plain falsehood, then, there is the need for caution. The long and short of my response is to call for caution in the overall or larger interest of all of us.
You are entering the contest with two caps: one, as the chief security officer of the State of Osun, and, two, as the incumbent governor…
(Cuts in…) Point of correction please: as a possible candidate of my party.
Sir, what do you mean ‘as a possible candidate’?
Of course, my party, ACN, has not even conducted a primary. So, if we go by what you assume now, you will be taking undue advantage of the right of your party to choose its own candidate. Therefore, I am at best an aspirant for the ticket of my party. Until my party so legitimately decides, there is no way I can assume I am a candidate. I am an incumbent governor, but I am yet to receive the endorsement of my party.
I asked that question against the prevalent notion that your party, the ACN, does not commit itself to any elaborate or concerted primary to choose its candidates for elections.
I don’t think that notion is right. I don’t think there is any party in this democracy that is more democratic than ACN in deciding its flag bearers. There was primary preceding my emergence as its flag bearer. What probably you are saying is that we do not go through the process common to other parties. We have our own rigorous process of selecting our flag bearer in all elections. It’s not automatic.
I want to assume that you will emerge as your party’s flag bearer. In that case, what would you be bringing to the table to ensure the stability of the state and also ensure the actualization of better life for your citizens?
There is this popular adage that says that the morning dictates the tone and nature of the day. From the very moment I assumed the leadership of this state, we made it clear to all that a primary objective of our administration is the maintenance of law and order, which guarantees peace, stability and security, which guarantees the promotion of the welfare, economic wellbeing and prosperity of the people. That is our cardinal objective. If you go back to what we campaigned upon in 2005, up to 2007, when the election was held, and we won, but our victory was diabolically manipulated by the PDP and we struggled for three-and-a-half years before we could take it back, there cannot be any doubt, whatsoever, about what we have been doing since November 26, 2010. All we have been doing clearly tallies with our vision, mission and purpose in government.
Since we assumed office, whoever attempted to abuse the opportunity that God, through the courageous judges of the Court of Appeal, did, by ultimately giving us our mandate, should be seen and dealt with as criminals. That put paid to all agitations for vengeance on the very many atrocities perpetrated by the ousted administration, and peace automatically returned to the polity. And ever since then, it has been so. People, all over the state, will tell you that for the first time in several years, there is harmony, they are joyous and they enjoy peaceful existence with one another irrespective of beliefs and political affiliation.
As part of our six cardinal objectives, we said we are going to banish poverty, unemployment and hunger. We said we would promote functional education. We will advocate and promote healthy living. We will enhance communal peace and progress.
There is no aspect of our six cardinal objectives that we have not done effectively well. Hardly will you read of any communal, political, even religious disharmony in the state. What you hear about as religious imperfection are expressions of frustration by a tiny section of a religious group who probably have had some special benefits that our administration could not give because of our total objection to special benefits for anybody. From the first day in office, we liberalised the issue of state recognition for any religion. We are the only state in Nigeria that recognises the three major spiritual expressions. We recognise the traditional believers. We recognise the Christians, and we recognize the Muslims.
Ironically, your colleagues in the opposition present this picture of you as somebody who is trying to make religion an issue in Osun politics.
The question to ask them is how they have been stoking the embers of religion, consciously thinking that that would help them. But the reality is so obvious that they are not telling the truth; and those who, out of ignorance, want to believe them or grant some credibility to their expressions should ask some simple questions. The truth is that I’m a serious Muslim. Nobody must doubt that. But we must separate my own personal belief and attitude, which is personal and which is constitutionally guaranteed, from the policies, programmes, actions and operations of my government. If you do not, definitely you are going to come to erroneous opinions and conclusions. And I want to try to explain.
A fanatical Muslim, as they want to claim, recognises all religions and gives all religions equal attention-traditional religion, Christian religion and Islam. That you cannot doubt, because in all functions, the three major beliefs are recognized. That is no longer doubtful. It is a reality. That is one. Two, from the very first Christmas, to the most recent, we have demonstrated so much interest in popular participation through decoration of our towns, roundabouts, public buildings, and not just buildings within the Government House. We have done far beyond what any administration has ever done here. With the exception of the first New Year, all the new year celebrations, December 31 to January 1, we uniquely, had made efforts at ensuring that the eve of the New Year is celebrated with maximum fanfare, pomp, pageantry, and activities laden with heavy dose of fireworks, not in one city or town but in all our major towns. We have done this in as many as 10 towns since 2011. I used the word ‘uniquely’ because no government has done so since independence.
Equally, we have always been ferrying people by rail, from Lagos to Osogbo, and vise versa, during all festivals. We ferry people, not only Christians but also people of all faiths, for all festivals. As a matter of fact, we did for Christmas, we did for New Year, we did for Easter, and we did for Muslim festivals. That is for festivals and ceremonies. Now, in the composition of all those with me, from my personal aides to the cabinet members, to legislators, to party executives, to chairmen of councils (that is those who are there in acting capacity), all the five categories have absolute Christian domination.
The question to ask, therefore, is: where is the basis for their false accusation? It is their imagination. It’s just their fancy way of smearing our character and maligning us. There is no iota of truth in all of their claims.
What about the issue of hijab?
The most ridiculous of their claims is the issue of hijab. Let me tell you how totally false, how absolutely false the allegation is. The facts of the case totally defeat their claims. If they think Muslims have been officially permitted to use hijabs in public schools, how come the same Muslims are in court? The facts and the claims are so contradictory. If a governor had used his executive power to impose the use of hijab in public schools, as they are claiming, that act itself would have pacified the Muslims and prevented them from going to court. So, is it logical? How come the Muslims are now in court seeking for a right supposedly given? It is so false that it beats the imagination. There is no basis for it and there can’t be any basis for it.
The question that all logical and reasonable persons should ask is: why would those who have supposedly been permitted a right to wear hijab go to court to demand for that same right? Is that not ridiculous? It is ridiculous. You can’t have a right and still go to court to demand that right. The circumstance of this entire disturbing drama clearly exposes the mischief around it, because it beats the imagination of any rational mind.
Between the two extremes, there will be a truth and the more likely truth is that there is no official position on hijab. If there has been an official position on hijab, there wouldn’t be any need to go to court to demand for a right that you already have. It is mutually contradictory. We must state this emphatically for Nigerians to understand the deep-seated mischief, manipulations and blackmail that are here.
I’m sure you came here with a development agenda. If we are to do an overview of this development agenda, would you confidently say that the life of an average Osun man or woman is better than it was two, three years ago?
Extraordinarily so. Not just ordinarily so.
What do you mean sir?
With high sense of responsibility and modesty, and with due appreciation to God and the people of Osun, I want to say that God has imbued us with so much capacity to undertake the enormous task of revamping the economy. Given the moral value, the ethical value, the commercial capability and the overall impact we have made on the entire lives of our people within this period, there is no household in the whole of Osun that is not directly affected by our programmes. And that will be the first time ever in the history of any government around years. How do I mean? From the OYES (Osun State Youth Employment Scheme), which, by the grace of God, has given some measure of fulfillment to 40, 000 youths today, to our intervention in schools…
Many graduates; some NCE and OND, but you must have a minimum of OND. Having served for two years, at least 20, 000 youths, all OYES products, are either in some government schemes or are self- employed. Some are looking toward employment in the teaching scheme. As we speak, another 20, 000 are in the second batch running through their two-year scheme. All the 40, 000 beneficiaries are people from Osun. They are from within. And there is no household without a beneficiary.
By February 28, 2011, a major ethical revolution took place here, in which the traditional values of our people were, first, thrown up, then, popularized, and have been gradually coming back in the lives, activities, engagements and relationship of our people. The Omoluabi Culture is gaining ground. Lost values are being regained and people are turning out to be better citizens, better human beings, to the extent that the hitherto despised, degraded and totally unpopular public basic education centres are now made attractive through, one, reorientation of teachers, improvement in the support of government, and budgetary supports. Before our advent, N7 million was the maintenance grant given to primary schools. Now, it is N400 million.
It is not limited to that. A very fundamental intervention of our government is the fact that we now feed 254, 000 pupils in primaries one to four in all our public schools. We feed them with nutritious meals every school day, Monday to Friday. The meal is so rich that now, every week, Osun pupils consume 254, 000 eggs every week.
That, on its own, should create a huge poultry industry…
Every aspect of our programmes has linkages, from the core programmes to several other associated schemes, or opportunities that benefit very many layers of our citizens. The whole meal that 254, 000 primary school pupils are fed every Monday to Friday, is the scheme of about 3, 000 vendors that prepare the food for them. It is also a spin-off to the tailors that sew the uniform of the food vendors. It is the raw material for the farmers, which includes fish, beef, chicken and eggs, with fruits. The children must take fruits every day. So, a whole industry, from farming to trading, to vocation, has sprung up to support just that. But what is important is that, besides the associated opportunities, the core scheme is so far-reaching that one can say there is no family in Osun that is not affected by it.
And to drive that home is the fact that within the first three to six months of introducing this scheme, school enrolment figures jumped by 50, 000 and attendance improved tremendously. Beside guaranteeing healthy mental and physical growth is the added impetus of improvement in attendance and enrolment in our public primary school system. This is not to talk about our amazing agricultural programme through which we now have very many people engaging in fishery, poultry, animal husbandry and crop cultivation.
Before you leave agriculture, while growing up in Ilesa, I know we used to have large cocoa plantation. Sadly, the plantations are gone, today… Cocoa trees have almost gone extinct. What are you doing to bring back the glorious old days in cocoa production in the state?
We might not have the exact numbers now, the Ijesa, themselves, might not be the farmers now, but there are other farmers who are working on the farms.
Cocoa plantations are huge income earners…
Cocoa plantation takes time to grow but we are replacing the aged trees with hybrids, high-yielding varieties of improved cocoa plants.
What are you doing to discourage our youths from trooping into the cities where there are no jobs and encourage them to take part in agriculture?
They can’t be forced. We have Orita Academy where we train whoever wants to go into farming. We are giving out land, free of charge to whoever cares. We are supporting them with cash incentives, with other necessary inputs. Everything that is required to make farming interesting, rewarding and engaging is already in place for whoever wants to go into farming. And we are improving. We have just conducted a census of all farmers preparatory to providing them with support that will make farming as profitable as it is engaging.
How about post-harvest management of farm produce, whereby you encourage farmers by buying off surplus produce from them, on-season, and releasing the stored produce or products to the market off-season or during scarcity? What is government doing in that regard?
That is ongoing. Like I told you, we have put in place strategies and programmes that will make farming as engaging, and as profitable as it is engaging. The Commissioner for Agric and Commissioner for finance and Commerce would give you very explicit details of what we do in agriculture. All I know is that our agricultural programme is so rich that we have succeeded in stabilizing prices of commodity here since our advent. And we are gradually getting to the level of meeting our ultimate objective of being a major supplier of food to the Lagos market.
I know that Osun State is at the lower rung of the ladder when it comes to allocation from the federation account. What are you doing to boost IGR (internally generated revenue)?
They are all related. When you hear me say that we are promoting agriculture, it is to boost the economy of the state. When the economy of the state is enhanced, that will definitely, equally, tell on, one, the capacity of the farmers to pay their taxes. It will also help the traders to equally meet their civic obligations and all those who are involved in this programme, I mean the woman that hitherto had no visible economic livelihood, who is now a food vendor will definitely support her husband, her children and, in turn, be more socially, economic and politically relevant. Having overcome the humiliation and oppression of poverty, she will now assert herself. That is only an example of what effective administration and organization of society can do to all viable entities, human, particularly in a polity.
Our actions, our programmes, our policies, are targeted at ensuring that the human beings are enhanced, are promoted, and are made economically viable. Once these are achieved, the economic capacity of the state improves. It is all linked. A viable citizenry is the basis of the wealth of the state and nation. An unviable citizenry is a liability to the state and nation. When you focus on improving the lives of your citizens, the automatic return is improved revenue. That, essentially, explains the overall policy direction of our administration.
What was Osun’s IGR when you came in?
What is it now?
It has moved beyond N700 million. We are targeting a billion. In fact, by our projection, we should be at a billion, but we are yet to reach a billion, we are close to it.
What of the issues you are having with workers?
We have no issues with workers. Show me that place in the entire universe where workers are not complaining? Don’t let anybody make a mountain out of a mole. Don’t let us over dramatize it. We are doing well with our workers. To those of them who think probably because of the volume of work we are doing, that we are wealthy, we let them realize that we are merely using the wealth of our experience that we gained from the best public financial manager that Nigeria has ever produced, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. That must not be misconstrued to mean that we are wealthy. No, we are just deploying our wealth of experience, particularly in financial engineering, to the fullest capacity here, not because there are the resources, or that there is the abundance of wealth to do so. No, we are growing every income we have to the fullest and that is what is being manifested in our massive infrastructural development, robust human capacity development programme, effective security network, and all such things that those who care little will interpret to mean self-sufficiency. Not at all, we are just pulling the management of the resources of the state to the maximum benefit of our people.
There is this notion that you pander too much to Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. They say that you and a few of your fellow ACN governors pander too much towards Lagos with regards to the way you run the affairs of your states. How do you react to this?
If a man has proved beyond all reasonable doubts that he is competent, if a man has proved superbly efficient in the identification of competent administrators, if a man has convinced with his single-minded pursuit of the enthronement of the rule of law, democracy and justice, and you weigh all that against the proven mediocrity, maladministration and societal decay that PDP represented in our region for about eight years, what would you, therefore, expect from those who are products of such high-level commitment to peace, progress, development and life more abundant?
I cannot see any other connection between us and Asiwaju. Asiwaju has shown leadership. He has shown a big understanding of method and strategy of building society along the line of progress, along the line of abundance to the people, such that unless you are anti-people you cannot isolate yourself from him. If Osun is not the better for our emergence and incumbency, then, probably our detractors will have a point. I told you, it is now left for you to say whether those schools are, indeed, of benefit to the people or not. What I had enumerated are far from all that I have done. I didn’t mention the schools that we are constructing. I did not talk about the assistance and support we are giving to the old people. Virtually all the states of Nigeria were flooded last year. Even when flooding was limited, Osun was flooded. But since our advent, Osun has never experienced any flooding. What, therefore, is there to stimulate relationship and connection other than that which guarantees security, welfare, wellbeing, happiness and joy of the people? I am very proud to identify with Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu.
Is Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu your godfather?
The word ‘godfather’ is very holy; were it not to be so, Christians will not be requiring a godfather for baptism and confirmation. You cannot be baptized, you cannot be confirmed as a real Christian without a godfather. Yet, you must bear in mind that the word ‘godfather’ has been bastardized. But whether bastardized or not, the essence of godfatherism must not be lost. Godfatherism, in true and genuine form, is an elder or a leader that guides the surrogate. A godfather is a role model to an upcoming person who must inspire the acolyte to the highest level of performance. It is in that context I want take that question. And my simple answer is that Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu is my mentor.
Is he your godfather?
Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu is my mentor.
Do you have a godfather?
God is my godfather.
I want to ask one national question. It has to do with this roiling question: granting or not granting amnesty to Boko Haram. What is your take on it?
I want us Nigerians to look at this and be very careful. I have delivered two lectures on this issue in which I said without equivocation that poverty and error of misguidance are at the root of the crises in the North. In a nutshell, three things are combined in the instability in the north: poverty, the opulent consumption of the elite, and error of misguidance. And when raw poverty sits side-by-side with limitless opulence, the implication is chaos. This has been manifesting in the Boko Haram activities in the north where the human development index is the lowest in Nigeria. It is manifesting in the southeast and the south- south in kidnappings.
We are lucky here that a man passed through south west of Nigeria between 1962 and 1969 called Chief Obafemi Awolowo, and because of that, the gap between the rich and the poor has been drastically reduced, relative to other parts of Nigeria. Of course, our mismanagement of our affairs ever since his demise and the removal of his close associates from government have affected the gain from his time, otherwise we would have mired in crises like some other places. But we are happy that Awolowo had passed through here and his policies and programmes have so much greatly affected our people, together with our own historical and customary practices such that we are, today, the most settled part of Nigeria.
But at the root of the crisis in the north that appears to be religious, that is manifesting in extremism, are the other manifestations without any other colouration than pure economic disaffection and consequent societal outburst into crime, and what have you. If that is so, then, honestly speaking, there is no gainsaying the fact that to stop the damage that our people are facing from the insurgents mustn’t be too much to do. A lot must still be done…
Like attacking poverty. Declaring youth unemployment emergency. We have to do it quickly, otherwise we are playing with fire. In fact, the time has come for the nation to declare an emergency on youth unemployment. Emergency action on youth unemployment is required without which even the amnesty will only attenuate the crisis for some time but it will not be sufficient. Poverty is at the root of the crisis that manifested in insurgency in the north. And it has manifested in the kidnappings in the south south and in the southeast, and most of the other crimes that cannot even be explained. We read in the papers, on a daily basis, horrible stories ranging from insurgency to kidnappings to road accidents to mind-boggling casualty figures in road accidents, and so many other unspeakable things. It is when there is a dislocation in the economic structure that you have such challenges. So, my take is this: let us address poverty; let us declare emergency on youth unemployment, let us engage, by all mean possible, all those who are discontent, religiously, politically, economically, territorially, yes, the Niger Delta, and come out with an all-embracing solution that will substantially mitigate the problem.
There is an urgent need to review the old theology of hate, intolerance, spite, rancour, bitterness and arrogance. And replace it with the new theology of cooperation, collaboration, love, tolerance, harmony, peace, joy, goodwill and affection. This, coupled with a well thought out anti-poverty programme, and a bold youth empowerment initiative, will eliminate terror and insecurity in Nigeria. Once we these, we would have started on the course to getting Nigeria back from the brink of collapse and ensure the long sought after justice, peace and progress.