By Dele Sobowale
“Leadership is always somewhat mysterious. Leadership can be summed up in two words: intelligence and integrity, or, to use two synonyms: competence and character.” John Brademas. 1984. (VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS p 125).
Certainly, most good leaders are enigmatic individuals who invariably sharply divide the society. Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola of Osun State is one such political leader. Since making his grand entrance into political office in Lagos State, Aregbesola had carved for himself a niche as a workaholic and an original thinker. He is also totally passionate about what he chooses to do. And like late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, late General Murtala Mohammed, late Gani Fawehinmi and late Chief Bola Ige, you always know where he stands on any issue. That, to me, is the most important attribute of a leader. One might not always agree with him, but, you know where he stands. Very few Nigerian leaders who had occupied executive positions could be so described. So despite the setback to the All Progressive Congress, APC, in Ekiti, there is no hesitation endorsing this most complex of all the governors in Nigeria.
As usual, there is a need to state some things upfront; although I have learnt that most Nigerians don’t comprehend what they read. Weeks ago, I stated that Nigerian governors will be assessed on the basis of food first, health second and education third. My column on Abia State fetched a lot of rejoinders about Aba roads not tarred. Osun state will also be assessed on the same basis. In addition, I want to state, without fear of contradiction, that, Aregbesola and I have never met. The only opportunity to meet at Iwo, a few weeks ago, was missed because I wanted to return to Lagos before sunset. So, this assessment is purely based on the basis of trips to Osun State in the last thirty-three years.
Finally, the reader needs to know where Osun State stands on the League of States in terms of Federally- allocated revenue. So nobody should start comparing Osun with Lagos, Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Delta and Bayelsa.
Last week, I classified all the 36 States into seven groups – with Lagos standing alone. Osun is at the bottom of Category 4; which includes Imo, Jigawa, Benue, Bauchi and Sokoto. Incidentally, all the states share another significant attribute in common – they are all heavily dependent on money from Abuja with little Internally Generated Revenue, IGR, to speak of. None is industrialised and the private sector consists mostly of shop keepers.
Starting with food production, and considering the land available for cultivation, Benue is the only state which had increased agricultural output more rapidly than Osun State; which has more cities than any of the states in the same category. Sokoto State, for example, has only one. By contrast, Osun State has Osogbo, Ikirun, Ede, Iwo, Ife and Ilesha in addition to large towns like Ikire, Gbogan, Otan, Ipetumodu – all of which cover vast areas of land. Yet, the state had not only managed to produce food, it has diversified the content of its food basket. Years ago, all one could find in Osun were yams, cassava, maize and vegetables. Now carrots, cucumbers, lettuce, sweet potatoes and other crops are in great supply. Food is cheap in that State today.
However, if there is one aspect in which Osun State had left every other state behind – including Lagos and the Category 2 States – it is education. Aregbesola’s introduction of the Opon Imo or Knowledge Tablet was, by all measures known, simply revolutionary. The introduction of computers to thousands of kids, at an early age, represents a quantum leap in education whose dividends, later on, can only be surpassed by the free education policy of Chief Obafemi Awolowo in the 1950s. Expectedly, there had been several criticisms of the initiative, ranging from the cost to the limited distribution. Let me admit that some of the objections have merit. But, I have not read anyone stating that it is a wrong step. So, there is consensus on its merit.
The fact is, despite its limitations and the initial problems with implementation, Opon Imo represents the most original undertaking by any state governor since Governor Audu Bako, in 1960s, embarked on turning “barren” Kano State into a great food basket for Nigeria. Today Kano is probably the most self-sufficient State with respect to food of all the states. In a very short while Osun students will have competitive advantage over their counterparts in other states of Nigeria which are still wedded to eighteenth century methods of learning.
We have had such sparks of inspiration in the past with long term benefits. The Western Region surged ahead of the other regions and today people from the Southwest still dominate all the professions – medicine, law, engineering etc – all because of free education. Bendel State (now Delta and Edo States) became dominant in sports when the great Sam Ogbemudia decided to create champions. The effect is still with us till today. Ogbemudia and Audu Bako were in the same class of governors; both left lasting legacies in one field of endeavour or another. Irrespective of what happens on Election day in August, Osun will eventually lead in computer literacy. But, it will be better if the people of Osun State give Aregbesola four more years to make this revolution irreversible. They will be short changing their children and generations unborn to truncate it now.
WHEN LYING BECOMES AN INCURABLE HABIT
“0805-562-2179 Food everywhere, how do you move it WITHOUT A ROAD [capitals mine].
Despite the fact that it was stated that food, health and education constitute my basis for assessing governors, this “educated Nigerian”, from Abia state, not only sent in this text message and went further to claim that there are no roads in Abia State. My first visit to what is now called Abia State was in 1974. I traveled on roads then. When Abia was part of Imo State, late Governor Sam Mbakwe built roads. I have visited Abia at least six times every year since then traveling on roads which this “funny” fellow says don’t exist. Judge for yourself.