For Osun, a New Chapter Opens

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There was a significant change of guard in Osun last week, when Governor Gboyega Oyetola mounted the saddle at a swearing-in witnessed by the crème de la crème of the society. But of concern to many observers is how Oyetola intends to marry the controversial legacies of his predecessor, Rauf Aregbesola with his own promises of a new era, amid huge debt profile and paucity of funds, writes Olaseni Durojaiye

The change of leadership baton in Osun State from former Governor Rauf Adesoji Aregbesola to Alhaji Gboyega Oyetola signified a new chapter in the state even as many analysts opined that the lot of the new governor is not enviable in the least, given the issues that characterised the last eight years of his predecessor in office.

Aregbesola’s came on board amid high expectations from the people. The expectations are both on account of the performance of Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola, a retired General and former Military Administrator of Lagos State, his perceived people-centric campaign leading to the widespread following he garnered going into the elections, and his pedigree as a former Commissioner for Works and Infrastructure in Lagos State.

Indeed, his eight years as commissioner in Lagos State was largely considered meritorious. As commissioner during the eight years tenure of the National Leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC) Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, the state witnessed commendable infrastructure renewal across the length and breadth of Lagos State and many in his camp credited him as the driver of the initiatives.

But his critics differed slightly and insisted he was merely the enforcer of the Tinubu dream in terms of infrastructure renewal in the state of aquatic splendour. Whichever divide one sees it from, his profile soared during the time and he leveraged it as a selling point during his campaign to govern Osun and the Osun electorate bought into it.

His campaign was also full of strategy that resonated with the people. A former Director of Organisation of the old Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), Chief Ebenezer Babatope, assessing his campaign strategy had disclosed in an interview at the time that, he sees a master strategist in Aregbesola going by how he went about his campaigns and warned the then ruling party, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to buckle up. As a former party organiser, Babatope should know.

Upon assuming office in 2007, he set about the task ahead of him and initiated a handful of people-centric policies in line with his revolutionary streak, although largely controversial. Among them were Osun Youth Empowerment Scheme (Oyes), O-meals and traffic management cop among others.
Upon assuming office after a court of appeal pronounced him winner of the state’s governorship election, he set about the task of turning the state around for good. Indeed his developmental footprints abound in the state.
Aregbesola changed the face of education in the state. He built modern school buildings different local government areas of the state, employed qualified teaching staff in both primary and secondary schools, and also introduced handheld mini computers dubbed ‘Opon Imo’ meant to take learning beyond the brick and mortals of the classrooms and school feeding.

Those in his camp listed 3685 new classrooms, allegedly fed over 1.5 million school children through O-Meals programme, adding that he created 7,057 jobs through it. He was also credited with the employment of 12000 teachers between 2011 and 2013 in secondary schools, adding that approximately 3,230 regular teachers were absorbed for elementary schools, coupled with the provision of 45 school buses distributed amongst schools in the state to make free transportation services available to all school pupils and students.

But by far his biggest achievements, some of his allies contended, was his interventions in the areas of infrastructure and human capital development. In this regard, they credited him with construction of over 1000 km of urban roads, 231.057km Council roads across all the 30 local governments, 27 intercity roads, 81 township roads covering over 255.47km and many others have been constructed to give access roads to inhabitants of the state.

The United Nations International Children Emergency Fund (UNICEF) declared Osun State as the leading state in the provision of social protection programmes and commended Aregbesola for his commitment to social, educational and economic development of the state.
Nigeria’s representative of UNICEF, Mr. Mohammed Fall, said the various social security programmes of the Aregbesola administration have attracted the attention of the world, because of its impact at eliminating poverty.
Fall, who was represented by Andrew Buffon, spoke at the launch of Osun Protection Policy and Law stated that “Osun has become a leading state in the provision of social protection programmes in the entire country, hence the interest of UNICEF in supporting the state in the funding of the programmes,” adding that the state was always presented as an example to the world whenever the issue of social protection in Africa is being discussed.

Even with his accomplishments as governor, the Che Guevara and Fidel Castro apologist however, Aregbesola created some controversies along the line. Neutral commentators insisted that some of the controversies were avoidable and added that plunging into those reflected his poor reading of the political barometer of the state at the time.
In the education sector, his introduction of unified school uniform was seen as taking his reform of the sector too far just as his handling of the wearing of Hijab to schools by Muslim was heavily criticised. Some critics of his administration also alleged that the introduction of Opon Imo tablet was skewed to enrich his son, a computer programmer and graduate of a Cuban university.

Perhaps, more poignant criticism of his administration bordered on fiscal management of state resources. Indeed, the state is not known to be very wealthy or boast of a robust Internally Generated Revenue (IGR). This fact became an albatross when oil revenue to the nation dived southwards and thus affected his ability to fully and promptly pay workers’ salary and pensions.

Not unexpectedly, his political opponents including a former deputy governor of the state Senator Iyiola Omisore, the opposition PDP took advantage of the situation and de-marketed him for political gains. But then, which opposition wouldn’t do that?
Even then, some commended the way he managed the situation by paying varying per cent of workers’ salary as against what obtained in other states, where civil servants were owed backlog of salaries until the federal government bailed them out.
His woes were however compounded in the run-up to choosing his successor. The preference for Oyetola masked in the adoption of Direct Primaries saw to the exit of some of his allies from the days of struggle when they all joined forces to retrieve his ‘stolen mandate’ from the Oyinlola-led PDP government in the state.

The cumulative effect manifested in the near loss of the governorship election that brought Oyetola into office. The political intrigues, trade-offs and outright shenanigans and oppression of the APC are still fresh in the memory of people of the state, thus, the conclusion that Oyetola is inheriting an avalanche of challenges.
No one envies Oyetola. And this is on account of the baggage that his immediate successor left behind for him to deal with. Really very few people will sympathise with him, if for nothing else, but the fact that he was a part of the Aregbesola administration in which he served as Chief of Staff.

Another burden he will shoulder is the debt burden of the state. Many of Aregbesola’s critics lamented the debt profile of the state and accused him of plunging the state into its current debt position. How Oyetola navigates the state out of the precarious debt situation will form another yardstick of measuring his performance in office as well as his leadership skills.
Certainly, he will require a high standard of human and resource management skills as well as discipline to navigate the stormy times that lay ahead of him. Dealing with some of the challenges may require the political class showing some understanding as it may be necessary for him to drastically reduce the number of political aides, and not the cosmetic approach of delaying the composition of his cabinet as Aregbesola did on the two occasions that he was governor.

Whichever route the new governor chooses to follow, a couple of things are certain: he must creatively think outside of the box and find ways of boosting the state’s IGR; he must adjust priorities and doing this will require that he listens to the people more and not continue to force some of Aregbesola’s unpopular policies down their throats. But clearly, his emergence signifies a new chapter in the life of the state.