by Akanfe Olugbenga Diamond
Rauf Aregbesola, the loquacious governor of Osun State thrives on propaganda. Since his electoral victory at the court of appeal in November 2010, he came and rode on the wings of the awesome popularity his fortune bestowed on him and held Osun residents spell-bound for his first tenure in charge. His theatricals and rhetoric were first-class.
Here was a man who was believed so down to earth, that he communicated in local slangs, often broke into uncontrollable fits of ecstatic singing and dancing that not only entertained crowds, but really often drove them into frenzies. “Aregbe”, as he was affectionately called, was seen by his gullible followers to be a peoples’ governor, a breath of fresh air, and a welcome departure from the government of Oyinlola.
The first sign of Aregbesola’s recklessness was the utterly needless change of nomenclature of the state. He earlier pursued an overhyped branding of the state, spending millions in that regard. The change from the normal “Osun state” to “State of Osun” was weird, but effected as well. You can only imagine the cost of effecting that change. He introduced a flag, an anthem, and a ‘coat of arms’. He started going about with some unusual security personnel and was almost creating another country before the famous secessionist propaganda clipped his wings a bit.
He spearheaded a confused ‘western region’ agenda. He actually never hid his love for the brand of Awolowo politics and policies. He intended to implement the word for word blueprint of the late Obafemi Awolowo but he didn’t have the Awolowo spirit. Like I opined earlier, “Aregbe” is a classical mix of fraud and naivety, armed with a rubber stamp legislature. He began more of his doomed projects in early 2011 when he set up the Osun Youth Empowerment Scheme, OYES. He ’employed’ twenty thousand youths, and put them on a stipend of N10,000 a month and they were deployed as road sweepers. The failure of the scheme is presently the No.1 in our nation.
He decided against wise counsel to collapse the school system. He merged schools and divided them into elementary, middle, and high schools. Thereby, in one fell swoop, he erased the culture and history of different schools, creating a dangerous hybrid. He added insult to injury by scrapping their individual school uniforms, and provided them with the same sets of wears. In effect, killing the school uniforms materials market at one go. Both were needless policies that promptly failed hugely. He went ahead in his dangerous brand of “Awoism” by providing free computer tablets produced with billions of naira awarded to his son (kabiru), also almost killing the books market.
He then took his malice with his predecessor a notch further by pulling down hundreds of schools he built, and proposing to build “world-class” mega structures. Ironically, when Ondo State Governor, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko was inaugurating his own “world class” mega schools, Bola Ahmed Tinubu at their campaign in Akure claimed Ondo wasn’t yet ripe for such projects. All those projects were recklessly launched at huge costs, without considering his state’s purse. He was fond of relaying the launch of his projects live on national television costing multiplied millions of naira. What he hoped to achieve was unclear. But, if it was to endear himself to the people, he at least achieved his aim, albeit, temporarily.
By then, it was obvious Aregbesola was borrowing massively. He couldn’t fund the populist agenda only with the state purse. When money ran out, instead of stopping them, he simply borrowed more. By then, the multiple projects had started choking the state financially. He simply borrowed more. He started owing the employed youths (OYES), even as their numbers started shrinking astronomically. He smartly drafted some of them into the state civil service. But debts were still mounting. Yet, he kept borrowing. By then, elections were drawing nearer, and he mustn’t show signs of relenting. Students uniforms were tearing, and schools weren’t fully completed, things had started going wrong.
Then, an ambitious industrialisation agenda was launched. He started a notorious “airport” project and some massive road construction projects. It is to his credit that he completed most modest road projects especially at the very rural areas. He should have left it there. It was the ambitious ones that ruined him. For example, the Gbongan-Akoda-Oshogbo highway and trumpet interchange that he started, and launched with pomp, has been abandoned. And so is almost every other major project he simultaneously embarked on. He was deep into campaigns for re-election when news of deep indebtedness started filtering in.
By then civil servants were fed up, the higher institutions staff complained endlessly of being shortchanged continuously. Workers were always being owed at least two months’ salary arrears at every given time. They went on strike often, but he had a strong propaganda machine. He always painted the workers as saboteurs and as colluding with the PDP-led federal government to frustrate him.
Artisans and resident definitely bought that line, but when the cash scarcity became very obvious, his huge indebtedness, which meant his creditors were taking back a huge bulk from his monthly allocations, Mr Aregbesola, shifted the blame to the federal government alleging victimisation. He specifically blamed former President Goodluck Jonathan for “withholding” Osun’s money.
So strong was his propaganda machine that, even after series of denials and rebuttals it was and is still widely believed that Ngozi Okonjo Iweala and Goodluck Jonathan, out of envy for his popularity, decided to punish him by cutting off his monthly income. He spent the little leftovers he had from what his creditors took back for his foolish over-borrowing on elections (his’ and Buhari’s).
Word had it that he relied on Buhari to cover his unclothedness and bail him out once sworn in, it was a risk for him but it paid off, because Buhari won. Buhari having gone through the books, and seeing Aregbesola was fraudulently claiming he was owed money, quickly gave indications he would have none of that. It was only after Buhari’s statements that Aregbesola started showing signs of humility.
His populist programmes have all crashed. Opon Imo, the free computer tablets given some secondary students have proven to be a huge failure and a grand scam. WAEC results have proved this. Instead of improving, Osun students have dropped in WAEC rankings consistently since he took over. The school merger has also proved to be a failure. Despite huge sums spent on questionable school buildings, many of which although he claimed as his own have been shown to be federal government projects.
He spent SURE-P funds on acquiring school buses, and claimed his government did it out of magnanimity. Students’ uniforms are torn and some have even started wearing original school uniforms. OMEAL is paralysed. Road construction is practically dead. And workers have not been paid for seven months now. The state is at a standstill, and there is finally nowhere to hide for him. He knows he is in trouble. But Aregbesola deserves no pity because he goofed. He took people’s innocence for a ride. He was a spendthrift who was after making himself an emperor more than seeing to his people’s welfare.
He spent our state’s money on elections, the salaries of workers, sweats of labourers on establishing his personal monolith over his people’s affairs. Pensioners have been in hell under him. More than 238 have died without gratuities or pension for many months. When we warned that he was only selfishly building an empire for himself in the name of populism, we were dismissed as antagonists.
Today, he has no one to turn to. Aregbesola is not the only governor owing workers’ salaries. But he is the only one fraudulently doing so. He deserves to be punished and jailed for taking Osun backwards, and causing untold pain, and for claiming to be an Awo disciple, when in fact he only is another “mere commissioner”, a selfish propagandist, another Tinubu boy, an overlord and an ordinary butterfly who calls himself a bird. I have no apologies for this. And no one should.
Akanfe Olugbenga Diamond wrote from Ilesa