THE first time I met Rauf was way back at the end of General Abdulsami Abubakar’s military government and the newly elected civilians were gearing to go. Pro-democracy fighters were coming out of the trenches, and those of us in exile (forced or voluntary) were returning home. Bola Tinubu had just become governor-elect of Lagos State and was busy putting together his think-tank, preparing for D-Day when he would assume office as the 3rd elected governor of Lagos State. That was March 1999!
Rauf was like the Chief Clerk putting together all the paperwork and co-ordinating the flurry of activities around the emerging guru. I was one of the late returnees from exile, still rather sceptical of the military’s good intention – how could people get elected even before the intended ‘Constitution’ was made public? I was not part of Bola’s ‘team’ but had come from the UK to visit the governor-lect and see in what way I could be useful to a exile-years friend in the Herculean task ahead of him.
But within a few minutes of meeting Rauf I knew this was no mere clerk, this indeed was a revolutionary in cocoon, waiting for the warmth of nature to explode into life! As it turned out, Rauf, as an engineering student at The Polytechnic Ibadan, had been my older brother (Professor Layi Fagbenle)’s student. A point of connection had been struck.
I eyed him curiously, wondering where this ajantala came from. His breadth of knowledge and grasp of local and international politics belied his youth. Here was a young man, articulate and effusive, even abrasive, yet studiously calm. He struck me as a Che Guevera with a visionary and analytical mind of an Obafemi Awolowo. I wondered where and how Bola Tinubu got to know him. And I see it as a measure of Tinubu’s acute sense of judgement and team-building ability when Rauf emerged as the new governor’s foremost Works commissioner and most trusted aide.
But I have neither seen nor heard from Rauf Aregbesola for some years now, certainly not since he began his quest to become Osun State’s governor. And, worsted by my unpleasant experience during my impetuous adventure into politics in 2003 when I ran for Osun Central Senate seat under Gani Fawehinmi’s NCP, I have deliberately kept off Osun State and its crude politics of nihilism, resisting the urge of those who believe “if you get thrown off a horse the thing to do is mount it again”!
Consequently, I have followed, only with detached interest the horrifying and sad spectacle that has bedevilled Osun State in the tussle for power between the contending forces of the incumbent Olagunsoye Oyinlola and the eager-to succeed-him Rauf Aregbesola.
Rauf cuts a picture of a crusader on horseback, lasso and holy tablet in hand, whipping up urban populist sentiments for change, with a war cry of a revolutionary mission to wipe out debilitating systems and entrenched lecherous operators, supplanting them with a new order and visionary quest.
Olagunsoye, on the other hand, a retired military general, sits princely in the saddle of power, buoyed by his incumbency and an empirical knowledge of the existential character of the people (I will never forget the “e ja’nkan’le” – drop something – riposte that kept greeting my plea for change during my senatorial campaign), and a believe that he is the preferred choice of the rural masses and their traditional leaders.
I met the Osun governor about a week ago. My friend, Segun Odegbami had called him to contribute into the funds we were trying to raise for Yinka Craig. The governor’s response had been instant; someone was to come the next day for his “widow’s mite”. The lot fell on me as Segun had some other engagement in Abuja.
Oyinlola welcomed me warmly into his office, even rising slightly behind his desk to offer me his handshake, a gesture that struck me as rather humble. I was also impressed that I was not kept waiting at all to see him. I remember having met him one-on-one only once before, and that was, again, during that election campaign of mine in 2003. It was the evening of the day of the gubernatorial election and we were both separately at Mr. Ponle’s MicCom Golf Resort in Ada, near my Igbajo hometown, to ease off the election tension. Results coming in had indicated he had won in his; and I had lost in mine. He got introduced to me as the victorious gubernatorial candidate and I was surprised at his diminutive stature. I remember him paying me some compliments on the vigorous quality of my campaign; his hometown was in my senatorial district and I had carried my battle cry into his domain.
The first thing I said when I sat before him now to collect money on behalf of my sick friend was, “I guess you know I belong to the other group”. Of course, I belong to no “group”, but in my mind, even if I had not seen or heard from Rauf, my sentiments lay with him. A bit impolitic of me since I was yet to receive the package I came for, but the old “journalist” could not resist the temptation to prick the governor.
“Yes, I do,” Oyinlola said, “but I believe that shouldn’t stop anyone from being objective.” And he went on explaining his point of view on the tussle for power in Osun State. “Rauf is a brilliant young man,” I said, “of a revolutionary mould.” “Yes, I know,” quipped the governor, “but you can’t force yourself on the people. If you truly love the people, why can’t you bring your ‘good ideas’ to the table and ask us to consider this and that for implementation? But you go about causing mayhem, fomenting trouble, believing it must be you at all cost. Which people do you want to govern if you become the governor, dead people? And this thing of “omo eni ko se’di bebere…” that some people are doing, I come from somewhere too. My own people can also insist it has to be their own son there too, or no one? This will get us no where.”
Unfortunately, it was no time to engage in long debate: he was waiting for his Executive Committee meeting to start and I was in a hurry to rush back to Lagos. Oyinlola’s personal contribution towards Yinka Craig’s cause was large-hearted and prompt, he would need to extend that to ensure that Osun State is governed with decency and equanimity as the Electoral Tribunal’s judgement is awaited. And whichever way it goes, Osun State needs peace and progress. Enough of the bloodshed and nastiness oft fuelled by sycophants and leaches in the corridors of power who throw their agbada around morning till night and feed on the chaos they machinate.
Whenever time it is, I’m in no doubt that Osun State needs a Rauf Aregbesola even more than he needs Osun State. Rauf may need to modify his approach to Osun State politics, but the quality of his mind, his Spartan lifestyle, and his visionary ideas are the stuff by which great nations are built.
•This article written by BY TUNDE FAGBENLE, was first published in the Sunday Tribune of May 4, 2008, but has now been completely deleted from Tribune database (http://www.tribune.com.ng/03082008/tunde_fagbe.html). It was also gathered that it cost the writer his job in the Tribune stable. Luckily, he now writes for the Sunday Punch.