My dad, before he died, always told his children to be wary of a child hustling to be sent on a particular errand. ”If he isn’t expecting something,” he would warn with that native Yoruba wit, “then something is expecting him.”
The street-wise moral is clear: people seldom embark on a mission without some motives, most times, un-altruistic.
I wouldn’t know what Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, governor of Osun actually, wanted by seeking to govern a run-down state like Osun, when he had his political future virtually secured in Lagos, in both the politics of mobilization and the policies of development.
In the old Alimoso (the most populous local government area in Nigeria), he was the mobilizer-in-chief. Politically, Lagos calls that zone, teeming with voters, “Tinubu’s Country”.
As Infrastructure czar, the Commissioner for Works and Infrastructure, the Lagos infrastructure renewal of the Bola Tinubu governorship era (1999-2007), had his clear signature, in those critical days of harsh Lagos rebooting.
Why then the virtual Osun suicide mission?
Suicide! Even well before running for office in 2007, he could easily have been felled. It was a tale of flying bullets during an Oroki Day, the Osogbo yearly celebration of glorious community.
The Aregbe side claimed it was an assassination attempt to, once and for all, eliminate the nuisance, before it attained its full value. But the incumbent government counter-claimed it was a security breach; since Aregbe, with the infectious political moniker of Oranmiyan, sauntered in when the governor was already seated.
Whichever claim was true, the cold fact was that Aregbesola could have been history, had things got awrier!
But if that Oroki Day event was reported and controversial, I was right there, on another occasion, when death, hot death, again came whistling.
It was but a few days to the 2007 elections — yes, that same election that the outgoing President, Olusegun Obasanjo declared was a do-or-die. We were all there, the Media team, that night at Oranmiyan House, Aregbe’s campaign headquarters, on Osogbo’s Gbongan/Ibadan road.
There was Roy Jibromah, head of the media team. I was also there, with our team. I can’t remember now if Gbenga Fayemiwo, the hitherto Aregbe media czar, whose team the two “Tekobos” (Lagos émigrés) – Oga Roy and I – came to strengthen. Of course, also there were Kola Olabisi, then the Osun Defender editor and his team, who had moved into Oranmiyan House, because of dire intelligence about the safety and security of their bungalow office, farther up road, on the stretch to Gbongan, on the same Gbongan/Ibadan road. Outside was a mix of Osogbo denizens, enjoying free cinema, courtesy of a multi-media big screen by the Aregbe campaign, outside the campaign office. The African U-17 championship was on in Benin Republic, and the Nigerian lads were playing a match and winning well.
Then, it happened! Ra-tra-ta-ta-gbam! Bullets started whistling from nowhere and from everywhere! In panic, I clutched my laptop – in a laughable effort to protect campaign materials stored in there. Then, direr news came: Kola Olabisi, Osun Defender editor, had been gunned down!
Rasheed Mabayoje, head of the broadcast unit of the campaign media, brought the shattering news. In panic, we all bolted down the stairs – the Media Office and Osun Defender annex suites were on the first floor – when things quietened a bit. Lo and behold, we ran right into Olabisi, confused, dishevelled and incoherent, the buba top of his reddish Yoruba two-piece attire in virtual shreds!
“Kola!” blurted I, “are you dead?” What a question! But he indeed looked like an apparition!
He wasn’t dead, of course – thank God. But he had a frightening, near-death encounter, with bullets zipping through his top garment, grazing his belly, penetrating his Mercedes Benz 200 car but somewhat ricocheting off the fuel tank. Had that happened, it would have triggered an explosion and perhaps a big fire!
But more dreary news was to come. Snipers, perched on the adjoining hill after the Osun River bridge, had aimed at the head of the chair in Aregbesola’s office. Since the four-storey Oranmiyan House sits in a valley, the summit of the hill is level with the building’s fourth floor. Had Aregbe been there, and he was seated in his office, dozing as usual after a most punishing campaign, and the top floor crawling with party people of the defunct Action Congress (AC), the snipers would have neatly picked him out – him, with other party folks! But thank goodness! For the media team, on the first floor, the building was empty.
Talk of a suicide mission to govern Osun! Those were perilous times!
The election itself – do-or-die, as Obasanjo decreed, living exactly up to that – would come and go; with its many murders in polling precincts (remember AC poll agent, Ayo Kemba, murdered in a most gruesome manner at Igbajo?); with its brazenly stolen mandate, triggering post-vote riots, to which the ham-fisted government response turned part of Osogbo and most of Ilesa into a war zone, for some three weeks after; with its long, long legal challenge, spanning almost four years; and the final mandate reclamation, when all hopes seemed completely lost!
That post-election terror! We had all stolen out of town to escape arrest. In my own flight to Lagos, travelling incognito in a public bus, like Peter thrice denying the Christ at the crow of the cock, I saw the Police occupy Oranmiyan House, dealing with the campaign staff trapped in there as prized criminals. Oga Roy would later send chilling tales from the Ilesa battle zone, or more accurately military occupied territory, for daring to protest the brazen steal of their vote.
Talk of a suicide mission! What does a mortal need to achieve greatness – wilful suicide?
I have gone to this length, exposing the perils of those times, to show the extent the Osun powers and principalities went to keep Aregbesola out. They must have seen what mere mortals had not seen: a force coming to radically change the face of Osun politics. Today, Osun people are the clear winners.
Aregbesola came when everything was broken down – schools, roads and even the general consciousness of basic governance, not to dream of a developmental one.
What now preens in Osogbo uptown as Workers Avenue, now shaping into a glittering and gleaming high street was, at some point, no more than serpentine twine, huddled on both sides by mud houses. How does such geography, in a state capital, support a 21st century economy?
The Olaiya area was a railway junkyard, with ancient and indifferent shops and stalls. Now, that has given way to the amazing Nelson Mandela Freedom Park, complete with its grand phallic obelisk, shooting into the Osogbo serene skyline. In the night, from that obelisk, magical, multi-coloured waters tumble down, from the mouth of a “fish”, into the Atewogb’eja fountain!
Atewogb’eja is the full stretch of Ataoja, the title of the Osogbo monarch. Why? that comes with a whiff of Renaissance. Jimoh Braimoh, the master sculptor behind the obelisk, is Osogbo-born. Osogbo, the age-old city of culture, with its famous Adunni Olorisa of the Osun grove (of blessed memory), meets its famed artist-son, at its new city centre! History would recall, with relish, which governor was the glorious midwife!
And the schools! Before, Osun schools were glorified scorched shells, from a war zone. Now, the Aregbe era has birthed a new age of avant-garde school complexes that can compete with any, anywhere.
But even if you’re not impressed by brick-and-mortar, or even by IT-fired learning hardwares and softwares, as exemplified by the Opon Imo, Aregbesola Osun’s computer learning tablet that warehouses all textbooks in the syllabus, the junior school, beneficiaries of the Osun Schools Feeding programme, would never forget the governor that treated them as pupil-royals.
These Osun future would never forget that past governor, that invested the last family silver, in an age of vanished resources, to give them delicious and nutritious meals at school, even if they came from poor and vulnerable homes. Nor would the local farmers, food vendors and allied caterers forget the governor that gave them new economic life, while others folded their arms and lamented about lean resources.
And the roads! Those again are clear pin-points to track Osun history into Before Aregbe (BA) and After Aregbe (AA) era.
Well, BA, certainly there wasn’t the Ooni Adesoji Aderemi ring road, with its November 27 iconic flyover, on Gbongan road, among the three other bridges, and other glittering road projects.
Neither was there the Bisi Akande Trumpet Interchange bridge, at the Ibadan-Ife expressway-Gbongan junction. Again, history will fondly remember the governor that collapsed this junction-grave, in which many a traveler had perished over the years, and replaced it with a tri-engineering wonder: saves lives, from routine auto crashes, beautifies the environment and gives the economy a fillip!
By the way, as all of these were happening, some newspapers were busy writing skewed news, mischievous editorials and tendentious opinions, complete with explosive headlines: over alleged ‘Islamization’ that never was; salary crises, that were a pan-Nigeria challenge, among sundry media rascalities. Well, today, the people are wiser. Besides, history waits: to vindicate the just and rubbish the wicked, among them were media owners and editors, profaning sacred trusts.
And if you want to know how far Osun has advanced in peace and security, just recall the recent terrible robbery at Offa, in neighbouring Kwara State. That at Offa, danger was close, yet so far away, its no accident! It is in fact a tale of two states: how one has advanced; how the other has regressed.
Still, the Aregbesola era, as sparkling as it has turned out, is yet, a work-in-progress. The next stage would be to ensure an era of positive continuity, to proceed apace with the good work, to the glory of Osun’s future.
But to Ogbeni, the outgoing governor, marking his last birthday before stepping down, it is accolades well earned, more so, when all these were achieved in the midst of chronic economic crises, save the first two years, or so.
I still remember folks gathered at the then Protea Hotel, near Chevron, Lekki, Lagos, conceptualizing and fine-tuning Ogbeni’s policies, should he succeed in his Osun kamikaze adventure, back in early 2007: Pastor Segun Babatope, Ambassador Otunla, Dr. Charles Akinola, Femi “Sheriff” Ifaturoti, among others. Many of these folks would later join the Ogbeni government, in one capacity or the other.
It would be interesting to see how these soldiers of faith measure against the model in their collective minds back then, with what have been achieved, after eight gruelling years of service to the Osun people.
But how would dad have put the Ogbeni fairy tale – the messenger bearing greatness, that willy-nilly sent himself on a tough mission to change Osun for good? Wouldn’t know now, because the old man is gone!
Happy birthday and many happy returns, Ogbeni Governor! May greater, developmental achiever come Osun’s way again!