By Akin Olukiran
Like most Nigerians, I am utterly disenchanted by politics. After spending two and a half decades outside the shores of this country and having seen good governance in action in other climes, I should be forgiven for regarding our politicians as liars, egotistic parasites, feeding off our collective ignorance and apathy, and our current political system as nothing more than crass bureaucratic channels of formalising the embezzlement of our common wealth by the corrupt political class.
I can’t but marvel at the uncanny similarity between our current political system and the corrupt state of politics in Britain some 360 odd years ago. The difference is that they had the likes of Oliver Cromwell who was prompted to deliver a scathing attack on the Rump parliament on April 20, 1653 in which he bawled out the whole House of Commons as “…you have dishonoured (the House of Commons) by your contempt of all virtue, and defiled by your practice of every vice. Ye are a factious crew, and enemies to all good government. Ye are a pack of mercenary wretches, and would, like Esau sell your country for a mess of pottage, and like Judas betray your God for a few pieces of money. Is there a single virtue now remaining amongst you? Is there one vice you do not possess? Ye have no more religion than my horse. Gold is your God. Which of you have not bartered your conscience for bribes? Is there a man amongst you that has the least care for the good of the Commonwealth? Ye sordid prostitutes, have you not defiled this sacred place, and turned the Lord’s temple into a den of thieves, by your immoral principles and wicked practices? Ye are grown intolerably odious to the whole nation. You were deputed here by the people to get grievances redressed, are yourselves become the greatest grievance”.
It will not be out of place to surmise that the above description refers to present day Nigeria. I wanted to set this article in context as a political observer and commentator who has no party political affiliation. In a country bereft of credible and genuine servant-leader politicians, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola has caught my fancy and is a refreshing exception to our so-called leaders to whom the above sweeping but apt opprobrium should be directed. As a social entrepreneur and a student of politics, I can’t but make reference to the key social evils of most societies like ours which any well-meaning government would seek to tackle with every ounce of energy and resource at their disposal. Aregbesola, from his programmes and published plans, has a vision of social reconstruction and social progress.
The most debilitating and crippling of all the dreaded evils that are ravaging our society today is poverty. This is the key social problem which affects all the others and aggravates their effect. Aregbesola, through his “banish hunger and poverty programmes” as part of the implementation of his six point agenda programme is addressing this giant evil. The provision of a safety net for vulnerable older people in the form of welfare support under the “Agba Osun” programme is a laudable initiative. I was pleasantly surprised when my uncle in Ilesa showed me his share of a heap of corn grains (seeds for growing) which the government distributed to all farmers in his cooperative.
Adopting a preventive approach to health through the “Walk to Live” and the “Bi-monthly sanitation” initiatives are good measures to encourage a healthy living lifestyle amongst Osun state indigenes. With this positive start, I will be disappointed if the government does not adopt the National Health Insurance Scheme in order to improve health outcomes for the citizens of Osun state – especially for the most vulnerable. The provision of meals for primary school pupils through the O’Meal programme is also another preventive initiative in addressing health inequality and wellbeing.
Education is the main antidote to ignorance. The government’s commitment to accessible quality education is evident in its various programmes on education. In the words of Aregbesola himself, “Well-educated children will have the confidence to face the future and remake their world in their own image. Uneducated or badly educated children on the other hand are not only easy recruits for violent gangs, they are incapable of conceiving beauty and all that is good about man, the environment and the good life. They are naturally predisposed to nihilism” The introduction of “Opon Imo” is a brilliant and laudable initiative which promises to open the imagination of the state’s secondary school students to technical advancement and encouraging them to become technological whizzes. Computer skills have become a fundamental part of education and despite the inevitable potential of abuse and misuse, Opon Imo provides that high level interactivity between students, teachers and subject matter whilst at the same time developing the students’ cognitive and creative abilities.
Given the unacceptably high level of unemployment in the country, the government of the State of Osun is making strides in the creation of employment. The openness of the government to new ideas and to think outside the box in order to create employment and improve the economy of the state is there for all to see. Most importantly, the recognition that the government needs to work in partnership with the private and the voluntary sectors to create job opportunities and attract investment into the state is one of the outstanding leadership qualities that the administration has displayed.
Many of our inner cities and towns are looking like slums as a result of poor planning, unauthorised buildings and out-buildings and our poor attitude to environmental sanitation. The government’s renewal and regeneration strategy is therefore bound to be unpopular since they involved the demolition of some of these aesthetically unpleasant structures within our inner cities. I do hope however, that the government will seek out private property developers to partner with in order to provide affordable social housing for the growing population of the state.
The government’s commitment to physical infrastructure development and maintenance is visible in terms of road works. I was at first critical of the government’s slow start in this area but I have been impressed – as with millions of others who have visited the state recently – with the pace and geographical spread of road construction in the state. Amongst the projects in the government’s infrastructure strategy which I hope will be jettisoned because I remain unconvinced of its economic and commercial viability is the MKO Abiola International Airport. A joint project to expand the airport in Ibadan or construct one with Ekiti and Ondo State located between Ilesa and Akure would be a better idea and better way of spending the state’s resources.
A government that encourages innovation, promotes socially inclusive policies and thinks outside the box is what any progressive state needs. One that cares about job and wealth creation, security of its citizens, social justice and a general enterprise! In a federal system like ours where there is too much reliance on the centre for monthly federal allocation and its attendant whimsical arbitrariness of the sheer weight of presidential power, the need for state generated income cannot be overstated. Aregbesola is doing a lot in this regard in calling for, and supporting business and social ideas with transformative potentials for the state – as is typified by the cultural sector.
The first four years of Aregbesola are a good pointer to what lies ahead in the next four – if given the chance. In my personal view, he deserves to be given the chance – he has earned it! Given the state of affairs of the state when he took over, especially the state of the education system and the road infrastructure and what he has been able to achieve, he should be allowed to continue. He has succeeded in creating a feel-good factor in the state which he should be allowed and supported to sustain and translate to improved economic, social, health and educational outcomes for all and sundry in our beloved state of Osun.
*Olukiran is a London-based Management Consultant