American journalist and scholar Arthur Doak Barnett has recorded the unforgettable experience of a foreigner who went to Communist China in the 60s at the time the great Mao Tse Tung was establishing the foundation of what has become a superpower threatening to dethrone the United States of America as the world’s leading economy. Barnett, who could hardly be described as a friend of China’s ideological inclination, said the man, after his tour, went to Hong Kong and declared ‘with awe in his voice ‘: ‘’I never thought that human beings and society could be reconstructed so easily.’’
The impressed American journalist then added his own comments: “The plastic surgery that the Communists had been performing on Chinese society for over a decade had been painful indeed for millions of Chinese… The Chinese …have dramatically demonstrated that an effective…regime can achieve extensive social change at a breakneck pace.’’
Seven years ago when I went to shoot an independent documentary film on the first anniversary of the Rauf Aregbesola administration, I also concluded from what I saw that a template was in place in Osun for the delivery of the society of the future. What Aregbesola was seen doing then appeared chaotic, misty and cryptic.
As our film crew traversed the state, we were confronted with huge earth-moving machines that roared ceaselessly every time of our visit during the shoot. Overnight, as it were, the whole of Osun became a construction site. There were fetuses of mega schools that foretold learning centres kitted with state-of-the-art teaching techniques. Dilapidated structures that posed as government owned hospitals were pulled down to make way for those that would guarantee the balanced health of the society Aregbesola was creating. He widened and modernized the provincial roads he inherited, both in Osogbo the capital and in the hinterland.
Governor Aregbesola gave the land and its people no rest as he unveiled a 6-point integral blueprint to: banish poverty, banish hunger, banish unemployment (create work/wealth), restore healthy living, promote functional education and enhance communal peace and progress. He turned everywhere to realize this dream that he idolized. Then, he produced his Green Book with the title, My Pact with the People of Osun State. He said in the book: ‘’What I offer you…can be termed Government Unusual-A Government totally committed to unlocking the latent potential (of the people) since the glorious days of Chief Obafemi Awolowo.’’
Part of this ‘unusual’ governance was the delivery of the unlimited benefits of ICT right into the homes of rustic teens. He gave them what he called Opon Imo, customized iPads that had the whole gamut of the secondary school curriculum. This was a radical departure from the pedestrian stone age education we dished out to our youngsters. Along with this came the Omeals scheme that offered free nutritious food to thousands of the children of the poor. The initiative has since been adopted by the federal government and some states as a strategy to boost school attendance and reduce illiteracy in our society.
Still more: at one fell swoop, the governor employed 20,000 youths under its groundbreaking OYES programme to fulfil one of his cardinal goals. Again, it was the first time we had a governor doing that.
One would be wrong to conclude that only those in government benefited from Aregbesola’s reforms. He has pursued a comprehensive policy in areas where he could capture the entire state. For instance, he cleared 1765 hectares of land to support farmers and committed N4b to assist them. He then moved to increase the public water supply so the farmers would not suffer the ill-effects of the vagaries of the elements common to the Nigerian condition.
Crowning all these is Aregbesola’s clamour that the philosophy of Omoluabi (pursuit of a good name, integrity, spotless conduct etc) must guide the lifestyle of the citizens of Osun. This is what distinguishes decent men and women from barbarians. In other words, real development in society occurs when you reform the citizen, when you invest in the people.
As it happened in China in the days of Mao, there have been pains in the lives of the citizens of Osun with the hurricane speed of the governor. Despite a big jump in IGR from N300m to N1bn, there is a debt portfolio; government workers and pensioners are owed months of salaries with the authorities forced to resort to modulated payment.
The governor’s critics have charged him with over borrowing, warning that he is preparing a loan burden for the future. But the point is that development and debt are inseparable.
When the illustrious Awolowo was erecting those great structures in the 50s and 60s that we are all celebrating today, some shortsighted people attempted to instigate the society against his government which they accused of securing heavy loans for wasteful spending. We all know what happened: the masses mobilized in peaceful protests and sang: Leave Awolowo alone to use our resources for development. He is working for our future. We are not complaining.
At 61 and with only a few months to leave the scene, Aregbesola should believe in the creed that the real leader and statesman is the one who builds largely for the future from the proceeds of today. We need to radicalize governance along that thinking.
— Ojewale writes from Lagos