All eyes on Osun

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In Nigeria
Aug 1st, 2014
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Classically defined as the government of the people, by the people and for the people, contemporary conventional wisdom describes democracy as the best form of government. One of the reasons for this view is that representative democracies are predicated on the will and consent of the people and must thus be responsible and accountable to them. Since democratic governments derive their legitimacy from the will of the people and remain in power only at the pleasure of the electoral majority, it is assumed, at least in theory, that they will be more compelled than dictatorships to promote development and the public good. However, this assumption cannot be taken for granted. Its validity depends firstly on free, fair and credible polls and, secondly, on performance being a key determining factor in electoral outcomes.

What we have experienced in Nigeria since 1999 is the strange phenomenon whereby the PDP has continued to ‘win’ elections at the centre and in a majority of the states even as the fortunes of the country continue to decline in virtually all sectors and the vast majority of Nigerians increasingly impoverished under its watch. What then can be the motivation for a government to perform and keep its electoral compact with the people when it is rewarded with emphatic victories at the polls irrespective of the quality of its performance or the extent of its ineptness and moral degeneration? As the country has grown richer, at least according to the re-based GDP, unemployment, insecurity and hunger have worsened with the majority of Nigerians descending deeper into poverty. The increased impoverishment of Nigerians has fuelled the monetisation of elections with the highest bidder likely to triumph at the polls through the deployment of stolen public wealth. It cannot get more absurd than that. This is a classic case of what the late Claude Ake would describe as ‘how democracy underdevelops Nigeria’.

Matters are not helped when a desperate Jonathan presidency cynically and ruthlessly exploits all opportunities to keep Nigerians divided along ethnic, religious and regional fault lines all in a bid to perpetuate itself in power at all costs beyond 2015. Can you see, for instance, how a Chibok community, hitherto united in their single-minded quest for the return of their abducted girls by Boko Haram brigands, have been divided through monetary gratifications by a delegation’s visit to Abuja’s cash-laden presidential Villa? All that the Jonathan presidency touches, it taints and divides!

The enthusiasm and impunity with which the Jonathan presidency deploys asymmetric federal powers and resources to crush all opposition and impose its might on Nigerians no matter how lawlessly, shows that the whole idea of the national conference , purportedly convened to restructure Nigeria, fundamentally reduce the powers of the centre and create a more balanced federation, was an entire ruse. Let no one think that resolutions passed by a collection of unelected Nigerians with absolutely no legal powers can convince this president to give up the immense powers conferred on him by the existing constitution. That purpose can only be achieved by the irresistible force of people’s power expressed through a genuine mass movement. But that is a matter for another day.

Is all therefore lost as far as elections are concerned in Nigeria? Must we raise our hands in helpless surrender and watch federal might and the emergent culture of ‘stomach infrastructure’ enable the PDP actualise its wish of imposing its suzerainty over Nigeria for the next six decades? I do not think so. There are some glimmers of hope that people’s power can still triumph in elections over arrogant and irresponsible use of federal might. In the Ondo and Anambra governorship polls, for instance, the PDP could not use its federal might for its own benefit. It had to work through auxiliary parties, Labour Party (LP) and All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) respectively to contain a resurgent and threatening APC. The behemoth may be grossly overrated after all.

In Edo State, massive deployment of federal force and resources as well as crude ethnic manipulations could not displace the ebullient, high performing and grassroots-oriented Adams Oshiomhole. The jury is still out on what went wrong in Ekiti. Some attribute the unexpected outcome of the June 21 governorship election to sophisticated, scientific rigging. The APC has taken its case to the Election Petition Tribunal contending that a process tainted by excessive militarisation, intimidation and harassment of targeted party leaders could not have produced a flawless outcome. My take is that the gains of excellent governance and visionary reforms were eroded by inept, divisive and detached politics, which enabled an intellectual and moral Lilliputian like Ayodele Fayose to defeat a far more competent and credible Kayode Fayemi in Ekiti.

An excited and misguidedly optimistic PDP now has Osun as its target in next Saturday’s governorship election. The Minister of State for Defence, Musliu Obanikoro and his collaborator in mischief, Minister of Police Affairs, Jelili Adesiyan, are once again hyperactive. Thousands of heavily armed security operatives have already been deployed to Osun, driving roughly round major towns and shooting in the air like thugs and ruffians. And this at a time when we need all the men and resources we can muster to contain the raging insurgency in the North-East – a war in which the country is continuously being given a bloody nose. This is clearly the most irresponsible Federal Government in the history of Nigeria.

Yet, in Ogbeni Raufu Aregebesola, the diminutive Governor of Osun State with a razor sharp intellect and magnetic political charisma, the PDP has met its match. You cannot fault Aregbesola on the terrain of performance. Osun is 34th of the 36 states in terms of statutory allocation from the Federation Account. Apart from this paltry federal allocation, previous administrations were incapacitated by an Internally Generated Revenue of approximately N300 million monthly. Thinking outside the box and devising ingenious strategies, Osun’s IGR has grown to N1.6 billion monthly under Aregbesola’s watch. According to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), Osun state today has the lowest poverty index in Nigeria.

Through the revolutionary Osun Youth Employment Scheme (OYES), Aregbesola created 40,000 jobs, which injects N200 million into the local economy monthly. This is in addition to recruiting thousands of workers into the civil service and teaching service cadres. His massive road construction projects are visible across the state with beneficial impact on economic productivity. His administration has consistently supported the huge population of farmers to boost food production and enhance food security. His reforms in the education sector have created jobs for hundreds of tailors who produce school uniforms as well as caterers who provide one nutritious meal per day for all children in public schools. Of course, the innovative and revolutionary computer learning tablet, ‘Opon Imo’ has become a household name and even received international acclaim. There is no doubt in my mind that the flawed and insulting ‘stomach infrastructure’ hypothesis will be discredited, cremated and buried in Osun next Saturday.

Aregbesola is at home both in the company of professors as well as of farmers and marketmen and women. He is the quintessential man of the people. As a grassroots mobilizer, he is incomparable. This is why the PDP candidate, Senator Iyiola Omisore’s antics of riding on okadas and eating roasted corn with a masked gun man behind him is so utterly ridiculous and laughable. You cannot give what you don’t have. Incidentally, Omisore, who recently claims to have acquired a Ph.D in some nebulous discipline, ran away from engaging Aregbesola and other candidates in a televised debate.

Aregbesola’s grassroots mobilization skills are understandable. As a student, he was the President of the Black Nationalist Movement. Under the influence of the late Marxist theoretician and economist, Comrade Ola Oni, he became inclined towards revolutionary Marxism. We can thus understand the progressive, welfarist orientation of his politics. As commissioner for works for eight years in Lagos State, Aregbesola was a key pillar of the formidable grassroots structure of the ACN. This is why the APC in Osun is a true mass movement.  Although a fervent and devout Muslim, Aregbesola symbolises the liberal and tolerant religious outlook of the Yoruba of the South-West. The attempt to negatively tag him as a religious fanatic has failed abysmally. All religious faiths have been allowed to thrive under his administration and leading Christian clerics have openly identified with his administration. Next Saturday, we will see a confrontation between federal might and people’s power in Osun State. I am confident that the latter will triumph decisively as a signpost to the possibilities of 2015.


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