How should a poor state be administered in a period of national economic adversity? Focus, financial creativity and adjustment, resolve, courage and commitment to the vision of a greater tomorrow may serve as the bridge between despondency and survival. The audience at the popular accountability programme, ‘Aregbe Till Day Break,’ in Osogbo, the capital of Osun State, agreed at the weekend that Governor Rauf Aregbegbe has led the state from economic despair to a new period of hope through sheer administrative prowess.
For more than six hours, from midnight, the governor tendered his score card before the people. He was on the popularity weighing scale at the WOCDIF Event Centre, the venue of the event. He responded to probing questions with vigour and aggression. In a sense, the governor was combative. Reeling out facts and figures, he convinced the audience that governance was not a tea party in a period of national distress. Accompanied by Deputy Governor Grace Laoye Tomori and other aides, Aregbesola, after explaining some of his projects, would ask his permanent secretaries and other state officials to shed light on the people-oriented programmes, government’s constraints and prospects of early completion.
In another breath, the governor also brought a personal character to bear on the televised programme. A DJ was on hand for an interlude. So were iterant drummers and praise singers. It was electrifying. Their intervention was to complement Aregbesola’s magnetism and aura and to make people stay awake. ‘Aregbe Till Day Break’ was a carnival-like event characterised by a display of statesmanship and showmanship by the governor.
The governor’s achievements are visible in the nooks and crannies of the state. They are felt from the boundary towns to the capital. Various callers hailed the governor for spreading the projects evenly. But, they also asked for more.
Under his transformational leadership, cosmopolitan Osun State, which has the largest number of towns in Nigeria, has become a huge construction site. The Gbongan Junction Bridge is a sight that fills commuters with awe. There is no local government where a road project is not on-going. It is a clear departure from the past. In fact, the event was revealing. More towns and villages asked for more roads, which the resources of the state cannot accommodate.
Despite the giant strides in road construction, critics believe that not much has been done. Besides, they have alleged that the contracts were inflated. This drew the ire of the workaholic governor, who gave himself a pass mark. He acknowledged that billions of naira have been spent on the roads, which have the special characteristics of concrete drainages. They are cost-effective and the government is prudent and transparent. Some of the roads and bridges commemorate historical dates in the state.An engineer, Aregbesola explained the cost implications of qualitative road construction, which made him a trailblazer in infrastructure battle. He said: “The cost of roads is not the same anywhere in the world. We cannot compare the cost of a kilometre of road in each of the states. Our roads are done with the active participation of officials of the Ministry of Works, with absolute transparency in the rate and cost. The rate is in line with the international standard. You should ask how much they construct roads in other states. You can’t compare our roads with sensational roads. We have not inflated the cost of any of our projects.”
Aregbesola added: “In the history of Osun, the quality of roads we are constructing has never been seen or done by any government. Also, no administration has constructed the number of bridges constructed by our government in the last six years.”
The governor challenged his critics to prove their allegation of contract inflation. He said his personal lifestyle abhorred theft, graft and corruption. “They say I inflated contract. I have no building of my own in Ilesa, my hometown. And they say I am inflating contracts. I don’t spend money anyhow. I don’t look at women anyhow.”
The governor praised the House of Assembly for supporting the executive to succeed. Noting that no money can be spent without the approval of the legislators, he said it is their right to claim any project executed by the administration in their constituencies.
To demonstrate the frugality of governance, Aregbesola has bridged the loopholes. Frivolous spending is old fashioned. Even, despite the high concentration of intending Christian and Muslim pilgrims, he has cancelled pilgrimage sponsorship, owing to the paucity of funds.
The governor reminded the people of their civil obligations. Describing governance as a collective enterprise, he urged them to pay their taxes and rates.
There are fears that some of the roads may not be completed before Aregbesola leaves office. Many felt that the governor was biting more than he could chew. He tried to assuage the feelings, promising that no project will be abandoned. However, he advised the intended beneficiaries and those agitating for more roads to exercise patience. “I can’t even pay salaries. Where are the resources? I am committed to the completion of the roads in Ifon, Orolu and Ede. Even, Lagos that has an Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) of N1 billion daily cannot tar all the roads. In Osun, we realise N700 million monthly. If Lagos cannot tar all the roads, Osun cannot. We will try to tar the roads within the limit of resources,” he said.
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has criticised the government for irregular payment of salaries. Aregebsola attributed the gap to the economic condition of the state. He said he could only manage to jerk up the IGR from N200 million to a meagre N700 million monthly, while the Federal Allocation to the state decreased from N6 billion to N700 million. He said the government successfully worked out a mutually agreeable arrangement with workers. One of his aides, who shed light on the modulated salary system, said workers who fall between Level one and seven are paid fully while those between eight and 12 are paid 75 per cent of their salaries. Also, those who are in Level 12 and above receive 50 per cent. The governor promised to revert back to the normal system as soon as the situation improves.
Despite the constraints, the government has continued to defend the education sector with heavy investment. New schools with modern learning facilities are on the increase. Medical students on scholarship in Ukraine are expected to complete their programme this year. Mrs.Laoye Tomori will be a special guest there.
But, the Ladoke Akintola University of Technology (LAUTECH) crisis continue to stare his government in the face. The institution is jointly owned by Oyo and Osun governments. Aregbesola, who attributed the plight of the university to financial constraints on the part of the government, urged the institution to emulate the Osun State University by looking inward. “States cannot print money. The IGR is N700 million monthly. It is a far cry from what we need to sustain the state. On the assumption of office, we based our projections on the revenue base that has changed, following the drop in oil earnings and allocations to states. It is difficult to fund LAUTECH and other tertiary institutions because of the financial constraint.
“Why can’t LAUTECH operate within its revenue base like the Osun State University? The variation in fee is N5000. There are 12,000 students in Osun State University. There are 30,000 students in LAUTECH. LAUTECH also has postgraduate students.”
Aregbesola owned up that the state has been slow in the issuance of the Certificates of Occupancy to applicants. He assured that the delay will become a thing of the past. “We will change the situation,” he said. The governor also noted the complaints about the Emergency Centres in the state. He said they will be fixed to give maximum service to the people.
The governor said the plan to create an Osun food basket in Lagos was on course. He also said Osun farmers will soon have the opportunity to register their productive capacity on an electronic platform in August. He said the state will maintain its commitment to the education and welfare of special people, who are ignored by the society. He narrated a story of how he came across a mentally challenged person at Ilesa and how she was rehabilitated and restored to a position of optimum performance.
Aregbesola added: “We are the first government that has set up an office for a population with special needs. It is a ministry on its own. It has a permanent secretary,” he said.
A minute of silence was observed for the departed colourful politician, Senator Isiaka Adeleke. The governor paid glowing tribute to his memory.
Two sensitive questions for Aregbesola as the programme were his alleged senatorial ambition in Lagos West District and succession in Osun State. On succession, he refused to disclose his plan, saying: “I am not God who knows tomorrow. The best deserves to succeed me. I beg God to give the position to someone who will perform better than me. Let’s face our work. Let’s leave succession struggle for now. The clerics should continue to pray for us.”
He added: “The succession battle is not threatening my party. Our party is as solid, strong and effective as any party could be. Our party has not suffered. We are united, coordinated and working so well. It is the opposition party that is threatened, uncoordinated and in fear.”
The All Progressives Congress (APC) Chairman, Gboyega Famodun, debunked the rumour that the succession struggle was tearing the party apart. He said the chapter was cohesive. “Our party is not threatened. It is not time yet. The party is so cohesive and united. The state transited from 30 local governments and one area office to 64 councils without acrimony. It is rare. There is no crack on the wall.”
On his alleged senatorial ambition, Aregbesola neither confirmed nor deny it. But, he said the time was not ripe. He traced his political journey his life and how God used Asiwaju Bola Tinubu to raise him to stardom. He said: “Politics is the resolution of conflict. The good of the people is the priority and it must be addressed, regardless of the method. In 2004, when I said I was coming to Osun to rescue the state, one of my relations said it was a suicide. She did not believe it was possible. The incumbent governor said I was an irritant. From an irritant, I became an Oranmiran. From Oranmiran, I became an Oranmiyan. From Oranmiyan, I became the governor.
“I am large in Osun as I am large in Lagos. If I need to contest, I don’t need to consult anybody anywhere. I thank God, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu and the people of the two states. I pray that God will prolong my life to prove to the world that politics is a noble calling and a good vacation. We have a commitment to regionalism. We should not fan sectionalism. If we want to have a regional arrangement, why discriminating against a Yoruba man in any Yoruba state?
“I was born in Ikare-Akoko, achieved fame in Lagos and became governor of Osun State. There is no such decision yet. By 12 midnight on November 27, 2018, a Tuesday, I will leave office. There will still be many gaps between then and election. We have time to make up our mind.”
Source: The Nation