By Ismaeel Uthman
Nigeria’s Minister of Interior, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola has his name written in gold in the delivery and promotion of social protection programmes in the State of Osun and the country at large.
Aregbesola’s social protection programmes in his eight-year administration as former governor of Osun earned the state various global awards and special recognition by the United Nations International Children Emergency Fund (UNICEF).
A former Commissioner for Social Protection, Sports and Special Needs in the state, Comrade Biyi Odunlade spoke with Bioreports in an exclusive interview on the social intervention thrust of the immediate past administration.
According to Odunlade, Aregbesola is the harbinger of social protection progarmmes in Nigeria as he was the only governor that genuinely and painstakingly initiated and implemented lifetime policies, programmes and projects designed to address the issues of vulnerability, old age, health, education and other inadequacies in the society.
Odunlade said: “The social protection thrust of Aregbesola is to capture the welfare of the vulnerable people in the community. Our society is one that does not provide for the weak economically; those that are weak in the provision of essential services like health, those that are disadvantaged in the area of education, age and all other areas.
“Aregbesola came in and introduced the Ministry of Social Protection, Sports and Special Needs. That was not in place before his arrival. It was such a deliberate policy to address social inequality, vulnerability, despondency and so on. That is the general concept.
“The Federal Government’s Social Investment Programme (SIP) was patterned after Aregbesola’s initiative. That is why I say that Aregbesola has a date with history in the area of social protection in Nigeria because he initiated quite a number of programmes that were not in existence before his administration came on board.
“Let’s take for instance, the issue of the destitute programme called Osun Destitute Rehabilitation Programme (O’REHAB), there is no state in Nigeria that takes care of people with mental retardation or mental challenge except Osun.
“The mentally challenged people are captured under O’REHAB. It is done in a way that you do not look at one side of the mentally challenged but his/her overall welfare. We had the three or four Rs of O’REHAB: Retrieval, Rehabilitate in the Hospital and the Psycho-social therapy because mental health is beyond medical rehabilitation and Re-integration.”
Odunlade, who described the O’REHAB programme as expansive that cuts across tribes, religions and race, said about 150 mentally challenged persons of different categories were rehabilitated and reunited with their family during the Aregbesola era.
Part of the social protection programmes delivered by the Aregbesola’s administration was the Elderly Welfare Support Scheme called “Agba Osun”.
“Agba Osun was a programme that provided for the vulnerable elderly persons. We had a demographic survey of elderly persons which gave us about 140,000 elderly persons in the state. We had to screen them and after the processing of the data, we got to know those who were vulnerable in terms of needs, health, disability and so on.
“We were able to identify two broad categories after that, those that had challenges with their health and those that were poor; the critically vulnerable. Based on the resources that the state had, we were able to select 1,602 based on the complexities of their situations. They were given them N10, 000 every month”, said Odunlade.
Asked about the connection between Aregbesola’s social protection programmes and the general development of the state, Odunlade said: “The essence of any government as stated in chapter four of the constitution is the welfare and security of the citizens. These are the two basic key areas of governance.
“The area of welfare is when you avail the citizenry the opportunity to access social services in the area of health, feeding, housing, education and so on. We had the Six-Point Integral Action Plan of the government and all the points listed in the action plan were addressed by the social Protection programme of the Aregbesola administration.”
According to Odunlade UNICEF in December 2018 declared Osun the leading state in the provision of Social Protection programmes in commendation for Aregbesola’s commitment to social, educational and economic development of the state.
On November 20, 2018, the Osun Social Protection Law 2018 was signed into law which made Osun perhaps the only state that has a Social Protection Policy and a law for Social Protection among the 36 states. This was one of the last policy documents executed by Aregbesola before he handed over to Governor Adegboyega Oyetola.
As Minister of Interior, Aregbesola has also been championing reforms in the Nigeria Correctional Service (until recently known as the Nigeria Prisons Service, NPS). The Federal Government through the Ministry of Interior, headed by Aregbesola has been decongesting the correctional centres across the country.
Speaking further, the former commissioner added: “We also had a programme for the handicapped; those with Special Needs. The handicapped had special categories but one policy that Aregbesola brought in to start with was there must not be discrimination of anybody that is either physically challenged or handicapped in one way or the other. He gave it a priority that when you were employing people into the service of the state, you must give a quota to persons with special needs.
“Today, out of those that were recruited in 2013, some of them are becoming Assistant Directors, Deputy Directors in ministries today. He went further to employ some of them that were politically conscious into the political level. They were given Personal Assistants, Senior Special Assistants, Special Assistants to the Governor in charge of physically challenged people or those with special needs.
“Not only that, we had the category of persons with special disability: we had the autistic children, the down syndrome, the albinos who also had peculiar challenges and Aregbesola’s government every one of them. When albinos go to school they do not do well, there was mass failure of persons with albinism.
“On our research, we discovered that in schools, they mix them with other children whereas they need to sit very close to the board. We made it a policy that in any school they were, they needed to sit very close to the board and they were provided with free reading glasses and we had some many programmes with veritable impacts.
“I must say without any intention to romanticize Aregbesola and his administration, he is a phenomenal achiever, a leader of substance who was concerned about the welfare and the progress of the state in all ramifications. He came, he saw and he conquered.
“He had both short-term and long-term policies and these policy objectives were met. O’MEAL for instance is a programme that achieved tremendous success which the Federal Government adopted its template for its National School Feeding Programme. In all, he is an achiever.”
The Osun Ambulance Service introduced by Aregbesola is a lifetime legacy that has been saving thousands of accident victims in the State.