The Catastrophic ‘Populist’ policies of Rauf Aregbesola By Obayomi Abiola Benjamin
The governor of the state of Osun, Rauf Aregbesola, popularly known as ‘Ogbeni’ is no doubt one of the most outspoken governors in the camp of All Progressives Congress APC as far as Nigeria is concerned today. Aregbesola became a household name when he ran for governor of Osun in 2007 elections, but before this time; he was Lagos commissioner for works and infrastructure when he ran for election in April 2007 on the Action Congress Platform ACN, which later merged with some other political parties and became the APC- the opposition party that swept the People’s Democratic Party PDP off their feet in the just concluded elections that brought in General Muhammadu Buhari. Although, the PDP candidate in the person of Olagunsoye Oyinlola was declared the winner of that April 2007 elections, Aregbesola in his die-hard spirit appealed the decision and on 26 November 2010, he was substantially declared the winner by the Justice of the Federal appeal court, ordering that he be sworn in by noon on 27 November, 2010. This marked the beginning of Ogbeni’s popularity, as fondly called by some people; and the many challenges of his administration in the near future.
Aregbesola was widely accepted by many people in Osun state and this also gave birth to a lot of expectations from his administration. The previous administration of Oyinlola left little or nothing undone for the state. State roads were in deplorable states, the school administration were messy. In fact, in the words of Olufemi Oluwaseye, Oyinlola’s 7 years plus administration in Osun state was nothing short of “a dull and somber government”. The people needed a sort of a change and some kind of new way of doing things. It was on these grounds that Rauf Aregbesola unleashed his ‘populist’ programs, which many at first hailed him for, but in the long run brought the state into a financial mess- which the governor himself attested to that the situation now is beyond his control. Today, it is no longer news that the state of Osun is one of those states in Nigeria that have been unable to pay workers’ salaries for the past 8months. Aside from Osun state, there are over fifteen more states in this same mess. But the question is- why is everybody demanding the head of ‘Ogbeni’ for is inability to pay workers? Why are people not talking of other state governors in the same mess?
The case of Aregbesola is kind of peculiar. This is a man in his quest to impress the people as a result of his populist policies embarked on a number of projects almost at the same time. Osun state, (if not the poorest) is one of the poorest states in Nigeria in terms of how much they generated internally as the IGR, and receives nothing that bulky from the Federal Government monthly allocation. In an online poll released in November 2014 about five highest and lowest paid states in Nigeria in terms of federal government allocation, the state of Osun ranked number five in the list of the lowest paid states. But Aregbe was executing all his programs almost at the same time, not minding the state’s financial capacity to complete them. He started the OYES program- Osun state Youth empowerment Scheme employing over 20,000 youths with a monthly salary of N10,000, began constructing and re-constructing state roads, brought in ‘OPON IMO’ (Tablet of Knowledge) – a free computer tablets which was aimed at enhancing the learning skills and granting access to text books to secondary school students all across the states. This project alone gulped some billions of states fund to produce, and which many believed was a failed project as it erodes away the value of studying hard by students and others believed it is a death trap for the books market.
Aregbesola also in his bid to make Osun state schools look attractive went ahead to pull down a quite number of schools and proposing to build some new world-class mega structures replacing the pulled-down ones. It was obvious that Ogbeni couldn’t have sustained these entire projects just on state purse alone. So, it was simply obvious that the man had been borrowing to finance some of these projects. Towards the end of 2013, it became obvious that the state had been entering into some deep financial crisis. By January 2014, workers started finding it difficult to get paid at the end of the month. Crisis was looming in the World’s oil market, oil revenue started dwindling. Nigeria, being an oil-dependent nation; the drop in oil revenue took its toll on us. The effects trickled down to the states whose major source of revenue was the monthly federal government allocation. The Nigerian system is such a pathetic one in which revenue allocation is a top-bottom-approach. A major catastrophe at the top will definitely affect the grassroots.
The reality became so obvious when Aregbesola received the July 2014 allocation and it was short by 40 percent. This is serious, a whole forty percent? How will the state survived on this was the question in the minds of everybody. By this time, the debts have accumulated and the creditors were taking some huge part of the allocation to service the state’s debt. What then follows was his administration’s inability to pay workers. It is such a sad development. At some point, the governor shifted the blame to the Federal government victimization of his programs. But some of us who live here in the state of Osun are aware of how the administration got here. Let me conclude this short piece like this by asking these two questions. Did Rauf Aregbesola have good intentions for the people and state of Osun? My answer is YES. The man’s belief is simply premise on the fact that a state with adequate infrastructure is the one that will stand the test of time and also attracts investment opportunities. Did he go about it the right way, my answer is NO. I believe Aregbesola should have applied wisdom at some point. He should have consulted financial experts who could give him sound financial lessons about the state’s finances and the uncertain financial future.
Also, this is the time our dear Nation should totally diversify the economy. The fall in oil prices have taught us some good lessons that over-dependency on oil can no longer be our savior. This is the time to look into some other promising sectors like the entertainment sector, the real estate/construction sector. Thank God the Agric sector is gradually reviving. It will be my greatest joy if this new administration of President Muhammadu Buhari can simply look beyond oil.
Thank you for your time.