Political parties in Osun state are gradually gearing up for next year’s gubernatorial contest. Tunde Sanni and Sheriff Balogun who have been monitoring political developments in the state, identify some of the factors that may shape the contest
Two years into the next gubernatorial polls in Osun State, political events may have started to take shape. The men are now being sifted from the boys and that remains one factor that might play a defining role as events get tougher in the countdown to the poll.
Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, severally assailed by the opposition political parties, especially the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) may have resolved to start off with infrastructural policies aimed at pulling the rug off the feet of the opposition parties who have vowed to unseat him, if to pay him back for his failed efforts in Ondo state. He has described the infrastructural development as his selling points for the polls.
In one of the till-day-break (TDB) programmes organised by the state Ministry of Information and Strategy in Osogbo to commemorate his second year in office, Aregbesola had declared: “I am too sure of my second term in office. My ambition to rule the state for a second term was not because I have failed, but to continue with my developmental agenda and ensure that Osun is rated as the best in the black race. The people of the state will give me a second term because they have seen what my government is doing in the state.”
This is because, according to him, “the transformation going on in all parts of the state are enough to tell any discerning mind that the ACN led government cannot be compared with the PDP led government. We have given the state a face-lift and history will judge us well. We have done the best for this state within the last two years and we shall not hesitate to do more. Only those who have no sight to see what we are doing will complain about our visionary government. Also, those who have sight but who cannot see clearly will complain.”
Aregbesola noted that the developmental programmes of his administration in the last two years would serve as campaign elements for his second term ambition.
Political observers argued that the declaration for second term in office by Aregbesola might have closed the gate for other contenders in the ruling party. To them, it amounts to shifting the goal post before the start of the match. It is argued that it may be the party’s undoing with a reference to the manner some chieftains of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) who had, in the heady days of their clash with former governor Olagunsoye Oyinlola, had flocked to the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) for refuge.
Unfortunately, they had returned to their former party when body languages in the ACN was suggesting that the faces and physical presence of indigenous Osun natives were not to be reckoned with following the selection of the running mate to Aregbesola, who was discovered not to be resident in the state at the time as well as some other critical appointments in the then governorship campaign organization. The action irked some of the natives who grudgingly returned to the PDP while others who loathed the PDP became political vegetarian ever since.
Perhaps, his contempt for the natives had also driven him to Lagos to pick the Chief Judge of the state from Lagos judiciary. The Governor’s insistence on the appointment of Justice Olubunmi Oyewole from the Lagos judiciary as the Chief Judge has continued to attract ill-feelings from the people of the state, especially civil servants who see his action as a slap on them and a negation of their loyalty to the government.
Political geologists argued that in case the governor has his way on the appointment of Oyewole, it could lead to an elite/civil servants gang-up against the governor at the polls. Political meanings are already being read into it; that Aregbesola may want to use the judge for a dirty job, hence his insistence, “else his bye-passing the most senior judge on Osun bench for a judge in Lagos is uncalled for,” a source told THISDAY.
Former chairman, Senate Committee on Appropriation who was also a former deputy governor of the state, Senator Iyiola Omisore, had disagreed with the governor on Oyewole and described the position of the governor as inconsistent with civil service procedure while alleging that the choice was aimed at planting his surrogates in the judiciary for some hatchet jobs.
Omisore who is considered a major contender in the governorship election said: “It is high time Aregbesola is called to order before he messes up the judiciary and from there, dashes the hope of the common man. The appointment of a Chief Judge of a state is the prerogative of the National Judicial Commission (NJC) and not his. His action is bound to create confusion and disharmony in the judiciary. The import of his action is that he is rubbishing loyalty and seniority in the civil service. It is not good and he should be called to order.”
If Aregbesola and his appointees have been flaunting their developmental projects on the facebook and other social media, Omisore has not been amused as he told newsmen recently that “there is no development in Osun under Aregbesola. The government has collected N219 billion in federal allocations, N100 billion in loans through stock exchange and banks, N15 billion through deductions from local councils and with all these money, there is nothing on the ground to show for it.”
Instead, he alleged that the Governor has been parading himself around Federal Government’s projects like roads, purporting them as part of his achievements.
“There is the Osogbo-Ilesa Road, the dualisation of the Osogbo-Erin-Ile Road; the Sekona-Gbongan Road and the Ibadan-Ife Road- all these are projects of the Federal Ministry of Works but which Aregbesola has been taking photographs and claiming them to be his achievements.”
He hinted that the human capital development drive of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN)-controlled government has been fraught with lies and deceit.
Yet, the refusal of the Governor to conduct elections into the 30 local government councils in the state, two years on, is another factor that would shape the outcome of the election. The PDP had said that the inability of government to put in place democratically elected structure in the councils stemmed out of the fear of the unknown from the ruling government.
The party claimed that the governor was using the excuse of an appointed structure in the councils to cheat the council administrators and stagnate developments in the local government areas of the state.
PDP chairman, Alhaji Ganiyu Olaoluwa, once said: “Mr Rauf Aregbesola has completely taken over functions of heads of councils, including financial expenditures at the local government level, thus turning them into lame duck. Available information has revealed that the state had used the councils in Osun as collateral to access financial grants from banks.”
“Even the payment of salaries to council workers cannot be effected without the Governor’s approval,” he said, stressing that the third tier of government could not function in this manner and an atmosphere that was inimical to socio-economic growth of the people.
But reacting, Director of Publicity, Research and Strategy of the ACN in the state, Mr. Kunle Oyatomi, said it was fallacy to say that Aregbesola had taken over the management and operations of local government councils.
“Every individual with clear vision can see what Aregbesola-led administration is doing in all parts of the state. It is a pity that the PDP has lost little attention when over 8,000 members of its members left and joined the CAN.”
He said when the PDP had the opportunity to make life better for the people of Osun, they turned masses to victims of hunger and unemployment for 90 months.
Another issue the Aregebesola administration would have to contend with as politics gradually takes over from governance is his deep involvement in the Ondo gubernatorial poll which the incumbent, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko, won. He had been vilified by both the PDP and the Labour Party that he diverted the state’s funds to prosecute an election in which his state has no stake and worst, coming out of the polls deeply humiliated.
He recently responded to the tirades of the opposition when he clarified that he “did not use Osun State resources to fight Ondo governorship election. If I had used Osun resources to fight Ondo election, where then did I get the resources to pay workers salaries in my state and still able to execute those projects.
“What I did in Ondo State is what any democrat all over the world would do. I went to Ondo State to campaign for the candidate of my party and I don’t owe any apology for doing that. Now that the result has gone the way it did, I have put that behind me and I am moving forward,” he said.
He attributed the outcome of the Ondo election as what “gave some people the reason to brag. We will allow them to brag. It is normal, but their bragging season is almost over. You cannot keep on bragging over and over because after bragging what comes next is bashing.”
There had also been questions on the actual number of unemployed youths engaged by the Aregbesola administration in his O-YES programme. The government publicity office has maintained that the state government has employed 20,000 youths but conservative figures made available to THISDAY indicated that the number employed so far fell far below the 20,000 declared by government. There are also reservations about the monthly stipend of the O-YES vanguard. The opposition claimed that they are waiting for the appropriate time to confront the government on the figure and the stipend.
One other area the governor might find challenging as the months collapse into weeks is the unity in the main opposition party in the state, the PDP. Since his ouster from power in November 2010, the elders of the PDP who had been divided on ambitions and aspirations appeared to have discovered their hidden treasures and come together to sound a note of warning.
Today, all the chieftains of the party are under one umbrella. Political analysts blamed the unity and cohesion in the PDP on alleged maladministration of the Aregebesola government, pointing out that it was easy for the PDP top shots to find a reason to be united to face the ruling party in the 2014 governorship poll.
Following the prevailing unity in the PDP is the strengthening of the party by the Federal Government. Former deputy governor of the state, Erelu Olusola Obada, has since 2011 been made the Minister of State for Defence. She has, however, been acting as the substantive minister following the inability of President Gooduck Jonathan to announce a substantive minister with the removal of the former minister, Muhammed Bello.
Oyinlola is also now the National Secretary of the party. These two positions, observers pointed out, was not for the fun of it as it was meant to demonstrate the seriousness of the party as well as Federal Government’s resolve to recover the state from the sitting party, knowing full well that the ACN got into office through a controversial court judgment.
The PDP had toured all the 30 local government areas in the state ahead of the election to reconcile with all warring members of the parties with a vow to take over from the ruling party in 2014, hence the reconciliation of members of the party. In addition to this is the anticipation of support from the Federal Government.
Feelers from the party confided in THISDAY that already, not less than four strong leaders have signified intention to slug it out with Aregbesola. Apart from Omisore, there are others prospective contenders like Alhaji Fatai Akinbade, former Secretary to the State Government in the administration of Oyinlola, Senator Olasunkanmi Akinlabi, former Minister of Youths Development and Hon. Oluwole Oke, former Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Defence. All the four aspirants in the PDP are said to have started mobilising at all levels to ensure that their dreams become a reality.
Publicity Secretary of the party in the state, Prince Bola Ajao, said the party would welcome other aspirants to join the existing ones if any individual shows interest in the governorship race, assuring that transparent screening would be done for all the aspirants in such a way that whoever emerges as the party’s flag bearer would be supported by other aspirants
The PDP maintained that the party is sure of victory in the 2014 gubernatorial election and would flag off its campaign early enough to ensure that the people of the state are kept abreast of the programmes of the party before the election is near.
Ajao who insisted that Aregbesola was day-dreaming with his second term agenda said: “Aregbesola cannot get a second term in office as the people of the state are no fools. The PDP in the state has united to chase Aregbesola away come 2014, contrary to his belief that his second term is guaranteed.
“How can his second term in office be guaranteed when he has demolished peoples’ properties and rendered many people homeless in Osogbo and other major cities across the state? Osun people are no fools; they know what is right and wrong. I am sure the people of Osun will demolish him with their votes the same way he demolished their structures. We are well prepared for the 2014 election and we are seriously working round the clock to ensure that the PDP takes over what belongs to it. We are sure of victory in 2014.”
Ajao cited Aregbesola’s inability to conduct elections into the local governments almost two years after the dissolution of the State Independent Electoral Commission (OSIEC) as one of the sins of the Governor. “His government lacks respect for the rule of law and constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
However, there is a downside to the PDP chance. The fear is that the unity being enjoyed in the party may evaporate as the gubernatorial race hots up except the party leaders manage the gubernatorial primaries effectively.
The PDP had headed for similar implosion in 2010 until the court pronouncement disorganises the aggrieved gubernatorial aspirants with an endorsement of Aregbesola as the governor of the state.
Yet, there is the fear of possible ACN/PDP implosion which the Labour Party is expecting to reap from and fight back Aregbesola for his meddlesomeness in the affairs of the Labour Party-controlled government in Ondo. It has been speculated that Mimiko may be dragged into the contest. However, sources in Ondo State government have said Mimiko may not be interested in what is considered vengeance fight, especially if the party’s candidate in the election is not a popular candidate.
That notwithstanding, the Labour Party has suddenly found its voice and had announced its readiness to wrest control of the state from the ACN. Through various press statements and public sensitisation programmes, the party has been painting the political horizon of the state with its imprints as part of the build up to the 2014 gubernatorial tussle.
For sure, the party would be waiting for the turn of events in the two main parties before announcing its candidate for the 2014 polls.
Labour Party chairman in the state, Chief Afilaka vowed that the party would pose serious challenge to Aregbesola and the ACN in the next gubernatorial election, saying the party is now strong in the state and was ready to use all legal means to ensure that it unseats Aregbesola. The LP is now seen as a serious threat in the state as it now has functional secretariat and campaign vehicles unlike in the past.
But again, the issue of zoning cannot be brushed aside in the election that is yet to come. As it is, one of the zones, Osun West is presently clamouring for the slot saying it's the turn of the district to produce the next governor of the state.
Justifying this, people of the zone argued that the last two governors of the state: Chief Bisi Akande and Olagunsoye Oyinlola came from Osun Central Senatorial district while the Osun east senatorial district which is Ife-Ijesa is currently occupying the position for both the governor and the Minister.
This argument was predicated on the fact that the serving Governor is from Ife-Ijesa, while the current minister from the state, Erelu Obada is from Osun East senatorial district. With this political calculation, the people of Osun West are seriously rooting to produce the next governor which has only had a stint in the days of Senator Isiaka Adeleke.
As it is, this argument may have been punctured by the clamour for a level playing party primary where the most qualified and suitable candidate is expected to emerge. But certainly, with the prevailing indications and factors working for and against the parties, the next governorship election in Osun promises to be as interesting as it would define the future of the politics of the state.