BACKPAGE BY REUBEN ABATI
Tomorrow, November 27, 2019, it would be exactly one year since the Governor of Osun State, Adegboyega Oyetola was sworn in as Governor of Osun State. The circumstances of his emergence as Governor were quite controversial at the time, especially as the Osun Gubernatorial election was analyzed in the context of the then forthcoming general elections in February/March 2019.
The election in Osun, and the one that came earlier in July 2018 in Ekiti state were both seen as dress rehearsals, and indeed a test for the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the security agencies and all the institutions and stakeholders involved in the election management process. The Osun Gubernatorial election was held on September 22, 2018. The Electoral Commission declared the election inconclusive in seven polling units across four council areas in the state, and a re-run in those areas was scheduled for September 27, 2018: one polling unit in Oyere in Ife-North, one polling unit in Olode in Ife-South, one polling unit in Osi, Ife South, three polling units in Orolu, Kajola LGA, and one polling unit in Osogbo.
After the re-run, Oyetola was declared winner with a total number of 255, 505 votes while Senator Ademola Adeleke of the Peoples Democratic party (PDP) got 255, 023 votes. There were protests. The Peoples Democratic Party kicked. The Coalition of Political Parties (CUPP) cried blue murder. Local and international observers reported that there had been a foul play. This was for a reason: in the original election of September 22, 2018, Ademola Adeleke of the PDP had won the election with 353 votes: 254, 698 votes against Oyetola’s 254, 345 votes. The total votes in the seven polling units that decided the final outcome in the re-run was a mere 2, 637 votes.
The PDP therefore insisted that its candidate had been robbed, and that the election had been manipulated to favour the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC). Many observers focused on the role of Senator Iyiola Omisore, former chieftain of the PDP and now, gubernatorial candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP). He came third in the September 22 election.
He was accused of selling out to the All Progressives Congress (APC) whose chieftains visited him and reportedly cut a deal with him ahead of the September 27 re-run. For record purposes, PDP leaders led by Senator Bukola Saraki also visited Omisore. Three of the contested polling units were in Omisore’s constituency: Ife North and Ife South. Omisore became the beautiful bride of the re-run. The calculations favoured the APC. The PDP lost out. In the end, the PDP dismissed the Osun election and its outcome as “a black day” for Nigeria. The party went to the Election Petition Tribunal. Its candidate also insisted before the Tribunal that he was the rightful winner of the Gubernatorial election in Osun State. He dismissed the result announced by INEC as a “419 result” that should not be allowed to stand. The APC through its spokespersons enjoined the people of Osun State to ignore the ranting of losers.
The matter went from the Tribunal, to the Appeal Court, all the way to the Supreme Court. At the level of the Election Petitions Tribunal, Ademola Adeleke of the PDP was declared winner. The three-man panel voted 2-1, to dismiss the September 27, 2018 re-run, supplementary, election as illegal. The Tribunal ruled that Adeleke won the election at the first ballot on September 22, 2018, and hence, the declaration of Oyetola as winner was “null and void.” Oyetola and the APC appealed the Tribunal’s judgement. Outcome: the Appeal Court ruled in their favour resolving 10 out of the 12 issues raised on appeal, in favour of Oyetola. The five-man panel voted 4-1 with Justice George Ita Mbaba dissenting.
The legal contestation did not end here. It continued at the Supreme Court. On Friday, July 5, 2019, the Supreme Court ruled in a split decision of 5-2 that the proceedings and the majority judgment of the Osun State Election Petition Tribunal could not stand. Thus, five Justices of the Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the Appeal Court in the matter and nullified the decision of the Tribunal. Oyetola’s election was thus validated. Aggrieved PDP politicians argued that Gboyega Oyetola was helped by the power of incumbency at both state and Federal levels, and that the Osun election had been manipulated from the polls to the courts.
There were also two other theories: one, that Oyetola was chosen as Rauf Aregbesola’s successor based on an internal arrangement between him and APC leader, Bola Tinubu and two, that Oyetola is Tinubu’s relation who was installed to sustain and re-affirm Tinubu’s influence in his “alleged original homestead”. In politics, there is never a shortage of conspiracy theories. But in an unusual show of magnanimity, Senator Ademola Adeleke, the PDP Gubernatorial candidate, promptly congratulated Governor Gboyega Oyetola on his victory at the Supreme Court. He said he accepted the ruling of the Supreme Court, “no matter his misgivings” because for him, the election was “never a do-or-die affair”. Good point.
While the litigation lasted, Governor Gboyega Oyetola ran what could at best be described as an “interim government.” He was Governor of Osun state for 10 months with just a handful of supervisors – seven actually- and a few aides. It was only on September 24, 2019, two months after the validation of his mandate by the Supreme Court that he sent a list of commissioner-designates and special advisers to the Osun State House of Assembly as Governor. My preliminary comment is that there are many lessons to be learnt from the debacle of the Osun State Gubernatorial election of 2018 and the emergence of Governor Oyetola as de facto and de jure Governor of the State.
Osun State was meant to be the dress and technical rehearsal for the 2019 general elections in Nigeria, but ironically, it is from this same Osun State that we have seen the most notable demonstration of civility, common sense and maturity in the management of electoral crisis. The leadership of the two major political parties in the state – APC and PDP, against local and external promptings, refused the temptation to escalate the political differences in the state. Adeleke displayed maturity. Oyetola of the APC has been calm and level headed through the storm. They have both shown us that whereas elections may lead to a storm, it is the survival of the state and the people’s welfare that is supreme. Other elections have been held since the Osun election of 2018 and we have all seen on graphic display, the greed and madness of the political elite. Osun despite all negative predictions, remains stable and peaceful.
As Gboyega Oyetola celebrates his one year in office tomorrow, and his survival of the travails of his emergence, it seems to me that he deserves a round of applause. Let me state that I don’t have a dog in Osun politics, what the people of Osun state do to themselves cannot in any way affect the price of a cup of garri (cassava flakes) in my own state of origin. I am a completely neutral observer, taking us back to the roots of the 2019 electoral process and what became of our expectations in the case of Osun under review, for us to look back, remember, reflect and ask the question: how far? When political gladiators fight, it is the people that suffer.
Whatever happened in Osun state in 2018, is not even anything close to what we have witnessed in the Gubernatorial elections in Rivers, Zamfara, Kano, Kogi and Bayelsa states and it is the people who are waiting to suffer. What I see in Osun is the attempt by the Governor to make up for the delay and the crisis that attended the process of his emergence. From functioning as an interim, cautious leader, he has since the Supreme Court verdict crawled out of his shell. The appointment of Commissioners and Special advisers is one indication of his determination to set sail.
But perhaps the biggest and loudest demonstration of his vision, ambition and focus is the Osun Economic and Investment Summit, 2019, which held in Osogbo, the state capital, November 19 -21, 2019, that is last week, and just a week ahead of Oyetola’s one year in office. The event was originally scheduled for June 25 to 27, 2019 to be declared open by the Vice President of Nigeria, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, but it was then postponed, I guess understandably. At the originally scheduled time, Oyetola had unresolved matters before the court, challenging his status. As at July 5 2019, his position as de jure Governor had already been confirmed. His decision to hold the Osun Economic Investment Summit, November 19 – 21, was in a sense an affirmation of his confidence in his status. If anyone was in any doubt about Oyetola’s mission, he has now made it very clear what that mission is. The Osun Economic Investment Summit is meant “to promote investment in identified sectors to guarantee continuous growth of the state’s economy: youth employment, food security, agricultural development, tourism, and the state’s mining prospects.” The theme of the summit is “pathway to economic growth for the state of Osun 2019.” It was a well attended Summit and by all accounts, it was successful.
But note this: Osun state is one of the poorest states in Nigeria. Its close to five million people are mired in poverty because over the years, let’s say since 1999, successive administrations have taken advantage of the people. They reduced Osun state to a civil servant state, relying on hand-outs from the Federation Account. Oyetola is the fourth civilian Governor of the state since 1999. Before him, Chief Bisi Akande ran the state with moral authority. Olagunsoye Oyinlola had the right connections and influence. Comrade Rauf Aregbesola brought into play a socialist philosophy but he ended up being the most anti-worker Governor in Osun State since inception. Oyetola served as Aregbesola’s Chief of Staff. With his Economic and Investment Summit and road map, he asserts his independent economic philosophy. Nonetheless, he has to manage it carefully.
Osun is one of the most resourced states in the South West. It is an agro-based economy turned into a civil servant state. It is also the foremost cultural hub in the South West region of Nigeria. Osun State is the home of the cultural majesty of the Ooni of Ife, the Alaafin of Oyo and some of the foremost Obas in Yorubaland. A substantial heritage of the Yoruba Empire sits in Osun State. It is the cradle of the Yorubas. Osun State is also the home of the University of Ife, later named after the Yoruba icon, legend and spirit, Chief Obafemi Awolowo. Most Yoruba communities, local and diaspora, also trace their ancestry and roots to Osun State. The most significant tourism sites in the South West are situated in Osun State. Osun state alone boasts of 78 annual festivals and 65 tourism sites.
Osun is better resourced culturally and tourism-wise than Dubai, Hong Kong and Seychelles. It has a population of close to five million. But unlike Dubai, Osun State till date has not explored its potentials. Everyone knows about the Osun Oshogbo festival and the cultural strength of Osun State. But Osun state’s tourism potential has so far been organized as events, not as economic opportunities. In fact, some of the leading artistes in Nigeria are from Osun State: Nike, Duro Ladipo, and Wale Ogunyemi of blessed memory, Muraina Oyelami, and a long list of actors and artistes. Osun state is the cultural epicenter of Yorubaland. Ironically, it is also the crossroads of tradition and modernity: Osun State has the largest collection of pastors, prophets and prophetesses in Nigeria.
Osun state is also agro-based. Its people are primarily farmers and they are hard-working and productive. But the obsession with petro-dollar by the 70s made every Nigerian lazy. By the late 70s, the people of Osun State, like others in the Western region who used to survive and progress on the basis of the wealth and sweat of their own region in the 60s, began to depend on the extractive products of the Niger Delta region. They stopped farming. They abandoned their comparative advantage. Oyetola wants to change that. He wants to turn around the economy of Osun State. Osun State has gold deposits and an overlooked mining economy.
The Odutola Brothers of Ijebu Ode started their business empire as gold miners in Ilesa which is part of the present Osun state. As the biographer of one (opportunity provided by Baba Obasanjo) and “son/friend of the other”, I am in a positon to say that Osun state had been a viable state long before Oyetola was born. His attempt to revive the state’ s potential through economy and investment deserves support and encouragement. His focus on tourism and agriculture is brilliant.
As he celebrates his one year in office tomorrow, he should move beyond the politics of his emergence, and focus on making life better for the people of Osun State. So far, he has put his hands on a good thing. He must realize however that there are other issues of urgent consideration. He must work with the Federal Government to ensure the right enabling environment. The road to Osun state, from every direction, is in very bad shape. Whoever wants to invest in Osun State should have stress-free access. The roads, in and out, must be motorable. The security of lives must also be guaranteed.
Late-coming to events in Osun State must be abolished as state policy. He is allowed to dance and wine tomorrow, but the morning after, let him remember his many promises to the people who earnestly hope that he would do better than those who came before him. The Osun Economic Investment Summit should not be a jamboree or another event: it should be a new beginning for Osun state in all the identified sectors: from mining to agriculture to ICT and tourism, and if I may add- governance!