The Moving Train Called Aregbesola By Segun Tomori
The outcome of the Ekiti election had instilled some fear in me about the triumph of Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, incumbent Governor, and All Progressive Congress (APC) governorship candidate in the forth-coming gubernatorial elections in the State of Osun, but all that vanished into thin air after my visit to the State this past week. It was the turn of the ancient town of Ede to host the APC campaign rally that fateful Tuesday so my friends and I left our base in Lagos, late Monday afternoon to proceed on our journey to Osogbo, the State of Osun Capital. We arrived there late in the night and just moved into our hotel rooms after a tiring and hectic journey marred by heavy traffic and bad roads.
I began to appreciate the uncommon transformation of the Aregbesola administration on Tuesday morning when we headed for Ede, the venue of the campaign rally. I remembered the comatose state of roads in the State Capital just three and half years ago when I last visited to attend the epoch-making inauguration ceremony of the Governor after the historic judgment that restored his stolen mandate. How time flies! What was however amazing is how the same Osogbo is now resplendent in well paved roads, fly-over bridges, street lights, beautiful parks and greenery across road medians that has altered its landscape and launched it into modernity. As we moved past Osogbo we saw that the State was virtually a construction site as on-going projects jostle for space with numerous completed ones and you begin to wonder where a State, 34th on the revenue ladder gets the funds to execute its ambitious projects.
As we got closer to Ede town, we needed no soothsayer to tell us something massive was about to happen within the community. People stood in front of their homes, shops with some walking or staying around the roads with their brooms, ecstatic and cheering us on after identifying us through our customized campaign shirts and souvenirs. Loads of buses with people singing and dancing laced the lanes and caused such a traffic snarl that made us move at snail speed. I now noticed something that amazed me in the history of campaign rallies in Nigeria. People actually begged to join buses conveying people to the venue! Nobody was sharing money, nobody was coercing. People that couldn’t take buses were trekking down, singing, sometimes satirical in characterizing the PDP candidate, Iyiola Omisiore and dancing as if they just won a fat paycheck or bonanza. I saw the raw display of a somewhat emotional attachment of the common man with Aregbesola. I didn’t however imagine that what I saw was just a tip of the iceberg compared to what awaits us at the venue.
The venue, an expansive school compound was already filled to the brim with people with more still trooping in. The speakers blared songs composed for the Ogbeni by different local musicians. This is another aspect of the campaign I found innovative and interesting. Several local musicians that can’t be less than a dozen have songs done specially for the Governor chronicling his achievements. Apart from customized brooms of different hues and shades, I marveled at the sight of a customized Ludo board bearing the portrait and ensemble of Aregbesola. I must commend the industry of the Osun people. Our crew cut up with some people for interviews and we discovered an uncanny passion of the people to defend their votes and ensure the Governor’s re-election. All of the enthusiastic interviewees concluded they’ve never had it so good in the history of Osun and vowed to resist rigging or any form of malpractices with every fibre of their being and with any available arsenal. Another remarkable experience was the struggle by a certain local rap artiste that claimed to be based in Ilesha to feature in our interviews. As we gave him audience, he reeled out numerous ways in which the Governor had impacted on the people’s lives ranging from the feeding programme in schools, the “opon imo” computer tablet distributed freely to students, the massive infrastructural renewal, employment opportunities amongst others. I saw a young man deeply touched by another man’s compassion for their plight; he spoke from the heart with such unbridled passion about the legacies of the Governor. He concluded by doing a short rap freestyle to support Ogbeni’s re-election.
I have read about the biblical triumphant entry of Jesus Christ to Jerusalem. What I didn’t bargain for was that I’ll experience something similar on the grounds of a political campaign rally, but lo and behold, it was a virtual re-enactment when “Aregbe” as he is popularly called arrived at the venue. Within seconds every available space vanished! The people overly ecstatic surged in such frightening numbers towards the Governor’s convoy singing and dancing enthusiastically to tunes coming from Wasiu a.k.a KWAM 1 hailing the man of the people. The masses climbed trees, fences, and any available space around the venue just to catch a glimpse of the Governor and listen to him. I began to wonder what could have motivated such cult-like following for a leader within a space of just 3 ½ years. I concluded that Osun had been badly governed. She had faced excruciating pains and misery under the PDP 7 ½ “years of the locust”. Aregbe obviously had that in mind when planning his programmes which instantly had a far-reaching effect on the masses and synced with people at the grassroots.
Another innovation that I think is quite commendable is the State anthem which was recited with gusto by the locals after the national anthem. It is the practice at State functions in Osun to recite the State anthem after the national anthem. This I saw has given the people a sense of belonging and made their cultural heritage sink within their psyche. Good thinking, good product I must confess! After the Governor and his entourage took their seat, speaker after speaker mounted the rostrum to reel out the achievements of the Governor and encourage the people not to be intimidated by the antics of the PDP. The most instructive however was the address by the “Serubawon’ himself, the first Civilian Governor of State of Osun, Sen. Isiaka Adeleke, himself an indigene of Ede. The epithet, Serubawon which means “scare them away” stuck to him like glue since the time preceding his elections, and his days as Governor in the short-lived 3rd Republic. He gyrated with aplomb to the tunes from the speakers and charged the arena for some minutes. When he was through, he itemized what the Ede people had benefited from the present administration and also spoke of a factory to be established in the town soon. He charged the people to come out and vote and never be intimidated by soldiers or security agents deployed by the federal authorities. He further explained that the opposition in the State claimed to be on a “rescue mission’ while its Government at the centre had failed to rescue the Chibok girls for over 80 days! What the people needs is continuity of the laudable programmes of Aregbesola, he thundered, with the people cheering him on. As the man the people were waiting for, the Governor, mounted the rostrum, the crowd went into frenzy chanting the Alaye remix by LKT blaring from the speakers. He spoke extempore on his programmes and why the people should vote for him and protect their votes. We left the venue at the tail-end of his address to escape the heavy traffic that would ensue after the rally.
The following day, I went to town boarding motor bikes a.k.a okada to interact with the people. Everybody I met including the okada riders, market women and artisans concluded they’ve never had it so good. They said Aregbe had done tremendously within a short time. Of particular note was a bike man based in Osogbo that vowed to vote for the first time and travel to his country home at Ila town to exercise his franchise in favour of the Ogbeni. I found out that the PDP supporters, where they exist are in absolute minority and wisely hide their heads to prevent any confrontation with the passionate and intrinsically motivated Aregbe supporters. What is evident is that the people are battle-ready to ensure no Jupiter steals their vote or try to manipulate the electoral process. The Ekiti experience is an eye-opener, the people are now extra-vigilant, they won’t be intimidated, they will be their own leaders in various hamlets, villages and cities to guard and protect their votes! Arresting APC leaders on the eve of the elections will have absolutely no effect in the State of Osun. The masses have taken charge of the electoral process. Woe betides any battalion or miscreants that try to test their will.
The last event I attended was the commissioning of the 20 Armored Personnel Carriers (APCs) at the State house. The APCs, the latest in technology is factory fitted with equipment, cameras, and ammunition and is the first of its kind in any Police formation in the country. Each of the APCs is likened to a platoon command as it can accommodate 12 heavily armed officers. The purchase of the carriers is an addition to the 5 procured in 2012 but which was found to be inadequate to sufficiently counter the increasing sophistication of criminals and the threat of insurgency that now stares the South-west in the face. The intelligence and foresight of the Governor was highlighted when he told the gathering that the payment for the APCs costing N1.3b would be spread over 5 years. A clueless Governor would have folded his hands while criminals ravage his state and claim paucity of funds prevented him from acting, but not vintage Aregbesola! He thinks out of the box to ensure the job he was employed to do is done by any means possible not like some “clueless” man employed to the top job in our country that gives reasons and lays blames for his utter ineptitude on the doorstep of imaginary enemies!
Those that have plans to manipulate the elections in Osun should perish the thought. Ekiti is different from Osun. The common man, the grassroots form the bulk and the backbone of the overwhelming Aregbesola support base. He probably had an eye for re-election even before he became Governor or how else can someone explain the deep connection and attachment he has with the grassroots? The only explanation for this is the direct impact of his pro-people policies and programmes on the common man. That’s why I say Aregbesola is a moving train that will CRUSH anything and anybody that stands in his way! To those soldiers and security forces that the Federal authorities will be deploying, we implore you to “do your jobs professionally and we will give you doves and flowers, as a sign of peace” to quote the Ogbeni, but if they do otherwise, they and their sponsors will have bitter tales to tell, that’s if they manage to stay alive to tell their story. A word, they say is enough for the wise…
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