Rauf Aregbesola: Visionary Leader In Troubled Times

By Tola Adeniyi

imagePremier of the then Western Region of Nigeria, the Honourable Chief Obafemi Awolowo, hugely popular, was in 1954 set to introduce free and compulsory primary education throughout the region and needed money to finance the social welfare project. He had earlier on January 7, 1952 launched the welfarist and progressive government that kick-started the second stage of Yoruba civilisation with the attendant prosperity and development of Yoruba land in all facets.

Detractors of Chief Awolowo and of his government mounted vitriolic campaigns against his welfare package and had brainwashed the people that should Awolowo be allowed to make education available free-of-charge to all and sundry, there would no longer be labourers and servants; farmers would lose their children who hitherto were the unpaid hands on the farms to the schools and a heavy tax burden would be inevitable for the people to bear.

On a sunny Saturday, January 9, 1954, the then sleepy town of Ago-Iwoye erupted in unprecedented riots. The town’s hitherto beloved monarch, Oba David Meloniti Osiyemi, had to flee the burning palace and trekked through the bush to Imodi in an escape route to Ijebu-Ode. He was an Awo ally. He cheated a certain death by a whisker to escape detractors of the late Chief Awolowo who were opposed to the regime’s policies.

Ogbeni Rauf Adesoji Aregbesola arrived in the world three years later on May 25, 1957. Right from childhood he imbibed an inquisitive mind, a can-do spirit and an unusual humanist flare. He grew up with the conviction to be ‘his brother’s keeper’. Kind-hearted and caring, he abhorred injustice and the man-made human suffering and deprivation. He was a mere two-year old boy in 1959 when the immortal Awo completed his mission in the West. Rauf did not know the Awo of pre-1959, but the spirit of Awo lived in him.

“If ever I had the opportunity to lead, I will serve humanity with all my strength, vigour and absolute transparency. I will inculcate the dictum of ‘Mind is the Master of Man’ and make education and acquisition of knowledge the cornerstone of my covenant with people I lead and serve” was the common saying attributed to Rauf Aregebsola, an extremely studious and voracious reader, while going through high school and tertiary institutions.

At The Polytechnic Ibadan, Dr. Gbolade Osinowo then a lecturer and later a senior aide to the late Governor Olabisi Onabanjo of Ogun State and recently to President Olusegun Obasanjo, remembered young Aregbesola as a most formidable debater, a great student leader, a visionary and an unusual science student who was more concerned with liberal humanism and people’s struggles.

“I knew he would go high in life,” Dr Osinowo testified.

It was this kind of background that prepared Rauf, widely acknowledged as an exceptional grass-roots campaigner and mobiliser, for the daunting task of turning a hitherto civil service-cum agrarian state into a vibrant, competitive and technology-driven modern Osun State.

Journey to the top of the ladder was not easy or smooth, though he got his political, administrative and managerial teeth sharpened by an unbroken eight-year tenure as Commissioner for Works and Infrastructure in Africa’s most prosperous and active state of Lagos with a population of 24 million restive cosmopolitan beings. Rauf was reputed to have worked exceptionally hard and prepared himself for governance. He later underwent three and a half years of gruelling legal and political battles to regain his mandate as governor of Osun State in November 2010.

Quickly, he settled down to serious work and within the first three years of the administration his vision and mission had produced a catalogue of impressive landmarks. Some of these imperishable legacies include:

The recent publication from the National Bureau of Statistics clearly shows the macro and micro economic effects of Aregbesola administration’s interventions in human and infrastructure development in the state. It is very graphic. The tables show the formal transactions in banks in the states of the federation, from 2010 to 2015; a period that captured very effectively Aregbesola’s tenure so far. The credit section is the outflow from the banks to the populace, while the deposit tables represent the inflow from the populace to the banks. The combination of the two clearly exhibits the strength, dynamism and vibrancy of the economy of the states. Osun State has the highest growth in credits among the states in Nigeria, with the N13.2billion in 2010 rising to N170billion in 2013. This was phenomenal and cannot be overlooked. There are other indications and interpretations. What is not disputable is the strength of the state’s economy as a result of Aregbesola’s constructive developmental agenda. It is little wonder Aregbesola emerged the Daily Independent Newspapers Man of the Year in 2013.

Then, the bubble burst!

Nigeria, which operates a monoculture economy, met its Waterloo in the falling price of its largest revenue earner, this coupled with unprecedented looting of the national treasury and the huge theft of a chunk of the crude oil lifted for international market. The immediate impact of this calamitous fall in federal revenue was the slashing by more than a half or in extreme cases by two-thirds the monthly revenue allocations to states. States that normally base their planning majorly on the funds coming from Abuja suddenly became orphans and several of them, about 30 of the 36 states could hardly pay salaries and pensions to their citizens.

In 2015, the net statutory allocation for January was N1.25 billion, by February it was N1.12 billion, in March it dropped scandalously to N624 million while the April figure dropped further to N466 million. The statutory allocations began the precipitous fall in 2013 while salaries and emoluments began a steady climb. The contrasting allocation to Osun from the federation account is highlighted by the peak of the allocation of N5 billion received in February 2013 against the N466 million received in April this year.

These details put a lie to the accusation of alleged profligacy, especially considering the fact that statutory allocation alone cannot meet obligations on salaries and other emoluments. The financial challenge faced was enormous and daunting and a disaster was mitigated only by prudent management and sheer financial wizardry that allowed the state to make so much from so little. It could have been worse. But the cup in Osun State’s finances remained half full, rather than half empty.

The challenge on salaries delay is not peculiar; it is the story in 30 states. The sharp drop in revenue affected the state’s ability to pursue developmental programmes and projects for further economic activities that could be ring-fenced into the state tax net to push the annual internally generated revenue from N10billion to the medium term yearly target of N18 billion.

Luckily and through astute financial management the debt of the state is within its capacity as certified by Debt Management Office, the federal agency mandated to issue such assessment and opinion. Rauf’s skillful financial engineering informed his use of creative funding to finance road projects; rather than make payments in advance, he chose to transfer construction risks to the contractors and only pays whenever substantial milestones are reached, at times paying through promissory notes, which could be discounted by the contractors or sold to their financial partners. This is a secondary market for construction/financial consortium. This derivative financing method has been adopted by the Federal Government on federal roads that are being constructed by the Julius Berger. The approach is a responsible way to conserve resources, pay only for jobs done and spread payments over certain periods.

•Chief Adeniyi sent in this piece from Lagos.

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