Youth Empowerment And The Future Of Democracy

Speech by Osun State Governor, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, at the First Honourable Justice Bolarinwa Oyegoke Babalakin (JSC rtd) Annual Lecture on the occasion of the 20th Anniversary of the Liberation Chambers of the Faculty of Law of Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife at the Ogunbanjo Hall of the university on Saturday, September 24, 2011.

I must thank profusely the Liberation Chambersof the Faculty of Law of the great Obafemi Awolowo University for the honour and privilege of delivering the First Honourable Justice Bolarinwa Oyegoke Babalakin (JSC rtd) Annual Lecture on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the chamber. It gives me much pleasure to be here this afternoon therefore.

Justice Babalakin who is being honoured today is a man of honour, an eminent and incorruptible jurist in the class of Lord Denning. He was not only well educated, he is imbued with the spirit of wisdom of the Solomonic dimension. He is one of the rarest species of judges that have laid the solid legal foundation for the country which still makes many to have confidence in the judiciary as the last hope of the common man, even in the midst of the outrage that greeted recent malfeasance emanating from that arm of government.

Unlike in the past when election rigging was greeted with violent protests, earning the South West the uncomplimentary appellation of ‘Wild Wild West’, the people have gone one step ahead of the political manipulators by shifting their gaze to the judiciary. They resolved that henceforth, the battle of political empowerment would no longer be fought with slogans, sticks and stones on the streets but with the weapons of the intellect. Since the elections of 2007 were massively rigged, we saw the aggrieved heading to the courts, and backed by the intelligentsia, making use of the mass media to expose the shenanigans of the oppressors.

I was a victim of electoral manipulation and voters’ disempowerment and for three and a half years, we were in the courts, moving from one tribunal to the other. I thank God however that relief came our way through the courageous and God fearing judges of the Court of Appeal in Ibadan who restored our mandate and kicked out those usurping the peoples mandate.
As you we all remember, ours was just the culmination of a process that began in November 2008 when Governor Adams Oshiomhole was declared winner of the Edo State Governorship election by the Court of Appeal in Benin. This was followed by the February 2009 judgement declaring Governor Olusegun Mimiko winner of the Ondo State governorship election by the same Benin Appeal Court. By October of 2010, Governor Kayode Fayemi, after a long and tortuous process, also cleared the hurdles, including the infamous Ido-Osi saga’ and was declared winner by the Appeal Court in Ilorin. It was a revolution that elections would be reversed through due process, and riggers would be thrown out of power through constitutional means and not through the usual coup d’état.

The significance of this might have been lost on some of us. The experience from the First, Second and Third Republics is rich in infamy, that election rigging would trigger massive and violent protests which always provide the basis for coup and then a prolonged era of military rule. This time however, people resorted to constitutional means and brought about the desired change without bloodshed and constitution overthrow. What happened in the South West raised the hopes of democrats in other regions who have also besieged the courts for succour over alleged electoral injustice. This revolution, however, did not go well with the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) whose dubious electoral fortunes have suffered irresistible reversals. The cue the party has taken from this, regrettably, is that not only has it been dispossessed of what it stole; it might not be able to steal elections again in the future. It has therefore embarked on the persecution of the judges that stood by the truth and judged the election petitions based strictly on law and their conscience, while resisting every inducement and threat put to them. The party has also singled out our party leader, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, for retribution and unconscionable persecution. This is not the first time this ugly scenario will play itself out. We consider it imponderable that every time progressive leadership coalesces around an individual in Yoruba land, such individual becomes a marked man.

Chief Obafemi Awolowo was the first victim in the First Republic. It was Chief Moshood Abiola’s turn in the aborted Third Republic. We all remember vividly the circumstances in which Chief Bola Ige died. He had discussed his resignation with the then president, arguing that he had to beat a retreat in order to put his house in order in preparation for the 2003 elections. The PDP rose in unison to rebuke him for daring to do so. The refrain then was that he was invited to come and eat and he could not abandon the table. Ige insisted on his honour and stood his ground. A few days later he was shot dead in his bedroom.

Our own Asiwaju has established himself as one of the pillars of democracy in the country and has naturally emerged as Yoruba leader. In the process, he has been able to match that party, beat it to its game and has constituted a thorn in the flesh of oppressors. For this, he has also become a marked man. Now, this evil train has moved once again in the direction of Asiwaju Tinubu as they keep throwing every conceivable missile in his direction. This time, however, they will fail. Can you imagine that the entire PDP machinery and the Federal Government have been thrown into a fit of apoplexy on account of Tinubu?

The legacy of the man we are honouring today and what he stands for has made it imperative on us all that we rescue the judiciary from the evil clutches of desperadoes who are bent on subverting it and using it for clobbering the opposition. The judiciary is the last line of defense and should be saved from the present travails.

I am not unaware of the subject of this discourse: Youth empowerment and the future of democracy, they are interrelated. A common denominator to our yesterday, today and tomorrow is the youth. The kind of leaders we have today and what hope exist for our tomorrow is a function of how we treat the youth. The accomplished scientists, inventors, great entrepreneurs, renowned clergies, astute political leaders and statesmen of today as well as the political thugs, election riggers, crooked politicians, assassins, armed robbers etcetera were not made today. They were the youth of yesterday. They were the ones whom good education and moral instruction have shaped or the ones with bad or no education and whom moral instructions have no effect upon. The youth is therefore the seed of tomorrow planted today.

If we want a better today, we must therefore begin to invest in the youth. These investments are categorical imperatives. The first is education. When the then Prime Minister of Britain was asked what would be his first three priorities, he replied: Education! Education!! Education!!! A few years later, students in Britain were smashing their GCSE and there were fears that the examiners were generous.
A review of the scripts reveals that they were indeed under marked. How do you compare that to the legacy we inherited from Osun State in November last year when the results of SSCE and UTME reveal that less than 10 per cent of the candidates are actually qualified for admission into any higher institution? Yet, this is a state where we inherited an N18 billion loan, N600 million monthly debt servicing and repayment and N8.3 billion abandoned projects for which money had been paid in full. For us therefore, we are irrevocably committed to the education of our youth. One of the first things we did was to hold an education summit with stakeholders. We have comprehensibly reviewed education in Osun State and I am saying that under my watch, no child will be left behind. Basic education will be free and compulsory.
Our first task is the repositioning of public schools. We are going to rebuild public schools and construction has started in some places. Very soon, we are presenting the model of our mega schools to the public. We want to make a statement on the conducive atmosphere for learning, in addition to infrastructure, curricula and faculty. We have also given directive that school fees in UNIOSUN be reviewed downward.
This is in fulfillment of our promise that we will make education affordable to all citizens of the state. Earlier, we have reduced school fees at Ladoke Akintola University of Technology and all the tertiary institutions in Osun State. We are also introducing free feeding programme in public primary schools.

We have the benefit of science that a malnourished child will be no better at learning. While we are working on one hand to empower the parents through our various schemes, we are also mindful of the nutrition needs of the pupils.

The second imperative of youth development is job. Social scientists have established that crimes will be cut by at least 75 per cent if all the youths are engaged in one gainful economic activity or the other. One of our tasks again was to create 20,000 jobs through the Osun Youth Empowerment Scheme (OYES). We have taken the scheme to the next level by absorbing nearly 6,000 of the volunteers who have degrees in education or any of the teaching subjects into the teacher cadre, retrain and deploy them to the schools.
The next and by far the more subtle and nuanced is mentoring. Statistics have also shown that children from broken homes and dysfunctional parents are more likely to be engaged in crimes. However, the more open mentoring every child is exposed to is the conduct of our leaders. Children are unconsciously trained to be liars, cheats and robbers by watching the conduct of our leaders who rig elections, steal public funds and subvert the institutions of state in pursuit of vendetta and personal interests.
It is our collective responsibility therefore to secure our tomorrow by strongly condemning every wrong doing by our leaders in order for the youth not to imbibe such habits. More importantly, we must all do what is right at all times and take a stand for honour, justice and integrity. Nigerian youth have an enviable past in spite of the present floundering. Students were in the vanguard of the independence struggle and the abolition of the Anglo-Nigerian defence pact. The youth were also at the centre of agitation for democratisation. With the right leadership, it is a paradise lost that can be regained.
I thank you for your attention.