How Rauf Aregbesola secured the future for Osun.
REMIER of the then Western Region of Nigeria, the Honourable Chief Obafemi Awolowo, hugely popular, was in 1954 set to introduce free and compulsory primary education throughout the region and needed money to finance the social welfare project.
He had earlier on January 7, 1952 launched the welfarist and progressive government that kick-started the second stage of Yoruba civilization with the attendant prosperity and development of Yoruba land in all facets.
Detractors of Chief Awolowo and of his government mounted vitriolic campaigns against his welfare package and had brainwashed the people that should Awolowo be allowed to make education available free-of-charge to all and sundry, there would no longer be labourers and servants; farmers would lose their children who hitherto were the unpaid hands on the farms to the schools and a heavy tax burden would be inevitable for the people to bear.
On a sunny Saturday, January 9 1954, the then sleepy town of Ago-Iwoye erupted in unprecedented riots. The town’s hitherto beloved monarch, Oba David Meloniti Osiyemi, had to flee the burning palace and trekked through the bush to Imodi in an escape route to Ijebu-Ode. He was an Awo ally. He cheated a certain death by the whiskers to escape detractors of the late Chief Awolowo who were opposed to the regime’s policies.
Ogbeni Rauf Adesoji Aregbesola arrived the world three years later on May 25 1957. Right from childhood, he imbibed an inquisitive mind, a can-do spirit and an unusual humanist flare. He grew up with the conviction to be ‘his brother’s keeper’. Kind hearted and caring, he abhorred injustice and the man-made human suffering and deprivation. He was a mere two-year old boy in 1959 when the immortal Awo completed his mission in the West. Rauf did not know the Awo of pre 1959, but the spirit of Awo lived in him.
“If ever I had the opportunity to lead, I will serve humanity with all my strength, vigour and absolute transparency. I will inculcate the dictum of ‘Mind is the Master of Man’ and make education and acquisition of knowledge the corner stone of my covenant with people I lead and serve” was the common saying attributed to Rauf Aregebsola, an extremely studious and voracious reader, while going through high school and tertiary institutions.
At the Ibadan Polytechnic, Dr. Gbolade Osinowo then a lecturer and later a senior aide to late Governor Olabisi Onabanjo of Ogun State and recently to President Olusegun Obasanjo, remembered young Aregbesola as a most formidable debater, a great student leader, a visionary and an unusual science student who was more concerned with liberal humanism and people’s struggles.
It was this kind of background that prepared Rauf, widely acknowledged as an exceptional grassroots campaigner and mobiliser, for the daunting task of turning a hitherto civil-service cum agrarian state into a vibrant, competitive and technology driven modern State of Osun.
Journey to the top of the ladder was not easy or smooth, though he got his political, administrative and managerial teeth sharpened by an unbroken eight-year tenure as Commissioner of Works and Infrastructure in Africa’s most prosperous and active state of Lagos with a population of 24 million restive cosmopolitan beings. Rauf was reputed to have worked exceptionally hard and prepared himself for governance. He later underwent three and half years of grueling legal and political battles to regain his mandate as Governor of State of Osun in November 2010.
Quickly, he settled down to serious work and within the first three years of the administration his vision and mission had produced a catalogue of impressive landmarks. Some of these imperishable legacies include:
Feeding more than 353,000 elementary school pupils nutritional meals daily through a revamped ground-breaking home grown feeding and health programme, the O-MEALS.Provision of more than a million uniforms for all publicschool students.Reconstruction and upgrade of all dilapidated schools in the state into new state-of-art educational facilities.Empowerment of 5000 micro entrepreneurs through the O-MEALS programme as caterers for the elementary schools.Raising primary school enrolment from 155,318 to 353,000, an increase higher than 80%, with the introduction of the O-MEALS programme.Provision of 45 Omoluabi Scholar Buses for easy transportation of students.Increase of the primary school running grants from N7.4 million to N424 million per year.Increasing the secondary school running grants from N117 million to more than N427 million a year.Introduction of the E-Learning Tablet (Opon Imo-Tablet of Knowledge) for students in SSS-1 to SSS-3. The digital device described by UNESCO as ‘first of its type in the world’. It runs on Android 4.0 Platform with 512MB RAM and internal storage capacity of 32GB. It has three learning environments, including E-Virtual Classroom and Integrated Test Zone.Establishment of mega high schools with 3000-student capacity. The schools are equipped with ultra-modern high-tech facilities and state-of-the-art sporting/recreation facilities and 3000-sitting capacity halls.
All these were in keeping with his vision of a greater tomorrow for his people through liberalisation of education.
Radical innovations were geared towards employment generation. 5000 youths were trained in specialist ICT programmes; 31 other youths were trained in mechatronics in a train-the-trainer scheme while 40,000 boots were produced by the Osun Footwear and Leather Workers Union for Osun Youth Empowerment Scheme, the O-YES cadets with N100 million invested to revive moribund shoe factories in the state. The more than 80,000 uniforms of O-YES cadets were produced locally in the state by members the Osun tailor unions.
The success of O-YES has made it a reference point in youth empowerment. The World Bank adopted the O-YES initiative as a model for its Youth Empowerment and Social Support Operation and the concept is being replicated in 18 other states.
Farmers in the state, 3,645 of them, benefitted from N476, 350,000 Government Guaranteed Agriculture Loan Scheme. Not fewer than 5000 new farmer cooperative groups were registered in the state between December 2010 and June 2014 and a 78-hectre cattle hub with a capacity for 10,000 cattle was established at Oloba in Iwo.
While meeting the objectives of food security, employment and wealth creation, the listed schemes including fish farms, piggery and ram fattening have also served as reliable sources of fish, poultry, beef, etc. supplies for the Osun Home Grown School Feeding and Health Programme.
Another radical visionary initiative was the Training for Youth in Agriculture: 3,806 O-YES cadets have been trained in modern agriculture at the O-REAP Youth Academy, Odua Farmers Academy and the Leventis Foundation.
Rural electrification projects were implemented in 38 rural communities alongside several bridges to ease transportation across the rural areas of the state.
Huge investments also went into culture and tourism development. Large scale rehabilitation, rejuvenation and refurbishments of about a hundred tourism icons which include the legendary Oranmiyan Staff at Ile-Ife, the Olumirin Erin Ijesha Waterfall, the Osun Osogbo groves as well as promotion of cultural festivals such as the Olojo Festival, Iwude Ijesa Festival, Obokun Festival and Odun Ade Festival.
Aregbesola’s vision of robust health for his people led to provision of free treatments for tuberculosis and leprosy patients after he built brand new 80 fully equipped Primary Health Centres and provided 50 state-of the-art ambulances.
He also initiated the monthly Walk-to-Live programme; an initiative where the people of the State of Osun get together in an endurance trek every month to raise the consciousness for a healthy life style.
On security, he realised meaningful development cannot happen without peace and safety and to that end he provided several Armoured Personnel Carriers and 100 patrol vehicles for 24-hour security cover of the state.
Afforestation and beautification projects went hand-in-hand while 200 kilometres of streams, rivers and other water bodies were dredged across the state.
There is hardly any aspect of life and living in the state, including water resources, environment and sanitation that Aregbesola’s visionary leadership did not impact.
In Osogbo, the state capital, under the Aregbesola administration, 21 quality township roads with concrete drainage stretching for 26.31 kilometres to form an inner-city ring road were constructed and commissioned. In Ilesa, 17 township roads totalling 29.7 kilometres were reconstructed and commissioned, while Ede got 13 township roads rehabilitated through direct labour.
Spread through the Federal Constituencies of the state, 79 kilometres of intra-city roads were constructed and rehabilitated. In addition, 20 other roads traversing the cities and covering a total of 294.27 kilometres have been done. These are added to the construction of six selected roads that covers more than 74.1 kilometres in the six geo-political zones of the state.
Aregbesola’s administration inherited eight road rehabilitation projects of 144.29 kilometres from the previous regime and has since completed them. Also, Governor Aregbesola encouraged the 30 local government areas, including the Osogbo Area Office, to initiate and complete the construction of 238 kilometres of road with savings from the Excess Crude Account to the local governments. The State of Osun in conjunction with the World Bank is working on 200 kilometres of rural roads to access farming communities for easy evacuation of commodities and produce under the Rural Access Mobility Programme (RAMP) of the World Bank.
The recent publication from the National Bureau of Statistics clearly shows the macro and micro economic effects of Aregbesola administration’s interventions in human and infrastructure development in the state. It is very graphic. The tables show the formal transactions in banks in the states of the federation, from 2010 to 2015; a period that captured very effectively Aregbesola’s tenure so far. The credit section is the outflow from the banks to the populace, while the deposit tables represent the inflow from the populace to the banks. The combination of the two clearly exhibits the strength, dynamism and vibrancy of the economy of the states. State of Osun has the highest growth in credits among the states in Nigeria, with the N13.2billion in 2010 rising to N170billion in 2013. This was phenomenal and cannot be overlooked. There are other indications and interpretations. What is not disputable is the strength of state’s economy as a result of Aregbesola’s constructive developmental agenda. It is little wonder Aregbesola emerged the Daily Independent Newspapers Man of the Year in 2013.
Then, the bubble burst!
Nigeria which operates a monoculture economy met its Waterloo in the falling price of its largest revenue earner, this coupled with unprecedented looting of the national treasury and the huge theft of a chunk of the crude oil lifted for international market. The immediate impact of this calamitous fall in federal revenue was the slashing by more than a half or in extreme cases by two-thirds the monthly revenue allocations to states. States that normally base their planning majorly on the funds coming from Abuja suddenly became orphans and several of them, about 30 of the 36 states could hardly pay salaries and pensions to their citizens.
In 2015, the net statutory allocation for January was N1.25 billion, by February it was N1.12 billion, in March it dropped scandalously to N624 million while the April figure dropped further to N466 million. The statutory allocations began the precipitous fall in 2013 while salaries and emoluments began a steady climb. The contrasting allocation to Osun from the federation account is highlighted by the peak of the allocation of N5 billion received in February 2013 against the N466 million received in April this year.
These details put a lie to the accusation of alleged profligacy especially considering the fact that statutory allocation alone cannot meet obligations on salaries and other emoluments. The financial challenge faced was enormous and daunting and a disaster was mitigated only by prudent management and sheer financial wizardry that allowed the state to make so much from so little. It could have been worse. But the cup in State of Osun’s finances remained half full, rather than half empty.
The challenge on salaries delay is not peculiar; it is the story in 30 states. The sharp drop in revenue affected the state’s ability to pursue developmental programmes and projects for further economic activities that could be ring-fenced into the state tax net to push the annual internally generated revenue from N10billion to the mediumterm yearly target of N18 billion.
From the records, problem began in 2012 when the state expenditure increased as a result of the spiral in minimum wage. Then, the total emoluments rose to N2.7 billion from the N1.4 billion met in 2010. In summary, between November 2010 and December 2014, the state got a total statutory allocation of N108.3 billion while expenditure on emoluments was N120.4 billion. It left the state with a total deficit of N12 billion on wages alone.
Another factor that raised emoluments expenditure was the commitment to pensions. In November 2010, the state was paying N200 million pension monthly. However, by 2011, this increased to N250 million. In March of 2012 pension obligation rose to N300 million monthly, costing the state N3.5 billion for that year. In December 2012, about 5,000 retirees joined the 9,000 strong army of pensioners in the state and in the following year, 2013, government increased monthly pension bill to N520 million, paying out N5 billion as pension by the end of year. That same year, another set of 3,500 workers retired at the local governments enlisted in the local government pension brigade. By the time the state started defaulting in 2014, it had already committed a total of N4.9 billion to pensions.
These are some of the difficulties that plunged Aregebsola’s State of Osun into the troubled waters and challenged the skills of visionary leadership.
Luckily and through astute financial management, the debt of the state is within its capacity as certified by Debt Management Office, the federal agency mandated to issue such assessment and opinion. Rauf’s skillful financial engineering informed his use of creative funding to finance road projects; rather than make payments in advance, he chose to transfer construction risks to the contractors and only pays whenever substantial milestones are reached, at times paying through promissory notes, which could be discounted by the contractors or sold to their financial partners. This is a secondary market for construction/financial consortium. This derivative financing method has been adopted by the Federal Government on federal roads that are being constructed by the Julius Berger. The approach is a responsible way to conserve resources, pay only for jobs done and spread payments over certain periods.
The State of Osun under Governor Aregbesola has been able to increase the annual tax revenue of the state from the paltry N3.0billion in 2010 to N10billion in 2013 before the national economic meltdown.
All said, State of Osun is rated best in Nigeria over employment. Osun is rated most peaceful by the former Inspector General of Police, Mike Okiro. Osun’s urban renewal is the biggest in Nigeria with nine cities selected as demonstrations. More than 1000 kilometers of roads already completed. Not fewer than 70 mega schools completed and some 40,000 youths engaged through the O-YES scheme and other related job creation strategies as the O-YESTECH.
A ride through major roads in Osogbo metropolis will confound doubters as Rauf Aregbesola, always a people’s leader, is hailed enthusiastically by the towns people including shop-keepers, artisans, okada riders and even children who gleefully display the ‘V’ victory sign with their fingers. Rauf is loved by his people and they appreciate him greatly; he gave their children free food, free uniforms and provides free transportation to all State of Osun indigenes living outside the state at festival periods among several earth-breaking innovations.
In the State of Osun, Rauf Adesoji Aregbesola is almost a cult hero