By Bamigbola Gbolagunte
The memories of those who lost their lives in the course of Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola assuming office as governor of Osun State linger. Between April 25 when Aregbesola declared his intention to be at the helm of affairs in the state, through his Oranmiyan campaign group, and November 2010 when the court restored his mandate as governor, scores of his supporters and citizens of Osun defending democracy were brutalised.
Some got killed. Even the octogenarian mother of the governor was not spared. The woman, popularly called Mama Olobi, according to Aregbesola, “had to leave her unbroken habitat of over 50 years on April 15, 2007 due to my political engagement.”
He added: “She was harrassed, traumatised and irreverently ,chased out of her home not because she is a politician but because her son dared to democratically challenged a ruthless despot.” All the blames for the brutality were put at the doorstep of the Osun ruling party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and the then Governor Olagunoye Oyinlola.
The elder ,Aregbesola, the son said, “eventually returned to Ilesa, her habitat, in November 2011, four years after she was chased out without any offence committed.
Aregbesola himself was a victim of the brutality as he and his associates were attacked during the 2006 Oroki Oshogbo Day celebrations held at Igbona, Oshogbo. Weeks after, a financier of the Aregbesola campaign group, Alhaji Hassan Olajokun, was murdered at a spot on Ife-Ibadan Road.
In the 2007 gubernatorial poll which Aregbesola contested on the platform of the Action Congress of Nigeria (can), no fewer ,than five supporters of the governor were killed by suspected thugs or state agents. Those killed include Saheed Adebiyi, Samson Olarewaju, Ayo Oni and Gbenga Soho.Their offence: Trying to prevent the PDP from rigging the election.
The can members in Osun detained on account of the poll include the state chairman, Alhaji Moshood Adeoti; secretary, Prince Gboyega Famodun; and the then director of research and strategy, Mr Sunday Akere. On Tuesday, November 29, 2011, Aregbesola described those who fought for democracy in Osun as heroes and matyrs of democracy.
It was the day set aside for the remembrance of the departed politicians who paid the supreme price for democracy to thrive in the state. Money was given to members of their families, just as the state government promised to give scholarship to their children up to university level.
The Centre for Black Culture and International Understanding, venue of the celebration, was filled to the brim by politicians, members of the families of the deceased persons, and leaders of the ACN from across the country including Lagos State governor, Mr Babatunde Raji Fashola.
Fashola, who told the audience he was happy to identify with the revolutionary government of Aregbsola, said the first year is not always easy to do exploits in government considering the expectations of the governed, stressing that the Osun governor has done well within the first year of his administration and no one can doubt his commitment to the overall development of the state.
“ I am confident that in another three years the story of success some of which are already manifesting will be meaningful to tell beyond the shores of Osun state. I have worked with this man before as a cabinet officer and I have no doubt at all about his capacity when he sets himself to a task,” the Lagos governor added.
“Today is not a day to celebrate, today is a day to commemorate and remember what it took for all of us to gather like this and sit in this hall today in freedom without tension, without anxiety and without fear. The road to this freedom we are enjoying has not been easy.
I can tell some parts of the story. The details of the story that I cannot tell will be unfolded to us today. I can tell the story of some of the victims of this struggle. I can tell the story of Hassan Olajokun We have also been told the story of Wale Ologbenla, Saidi Adebiyi, Sogo Adekoya, Tajudeen Nasiru and many others.
They were the true heroes of the freedom that all of us enjoy today. But let no body take this freedom for granted. It is the duty of all the people of the state of Osun to ensure that these people did not die in vain.”
Aregbesola drew inspiration from the Holy Quran in his speech. He lamented the gruesome killing of the ACN stalwarts. He said: “Whether you live like Methuselah or as short as Saidi Adebiyi who was killed in his prime, the distinction is the impact you make on the society by your life.
This is however a difficult one to accept. The truth is that this state will forever remember each and every one that was brutally killed by those who thought at that time that they could kill time. Nobody has ever succeeded in killing time.
Truth is immutable and, because of that, truth will never fade, truth will remain permanent. After all, by the time they were doing that which robbed us of our dear ones; they never thought there would be a day like this. They thought that with their power and awesome influence in Nigeria there will be no day of reckoning. Apart from their sure day of reckoning with God, we are today recalling their brutality, callousness and dastardly act.”
“No doubt, the 2003 election that brought in Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola as governor of Osun was rigged and massively flawed, but our people, in order to avoid possible bloodshed, accepted the injustice with solid dignity and with resolve to fight at the next election, but however be more vigilant to protect their mandate.
This magnanimity on the part of our people had the unintended consequence of reinforcing the belief of the Peoples Democratic Party that our people could easily be cowed and their rights trampled upon.”
Narrating the attacks on him, Aregbesola said: “The attempt to arrest and prevent me from entering Osogbo on 15 April, 2005 by the police on the instruction of the then Governor Olagunsoye Oyinlola failed because I used a method that amazed the people.
Our people had gathered in their thousands from all the 30 local government areas in the state and all the roads leading to Osogbo were blocked by policemen. I came an ambulance and they could not locate me. The murderous intention of that regime was unveiled on May 25, 2005 when a killers squad attacked my convoy on my way to Ilesa to commemorate my birthday.
The bus I was supposed to board to the venue was attacked with all kinds of weapons. The seat I was to sit was sliced and the intention was to butcher me.
“The second attack on my life was at the Oro Day celebration of August 5, 2006. I was duly invited by Osogbo Progressive Union, the organizers of the event as the special guest of honour, and I arrived at the venue early, but security men attached to the former governor prevented me from taking my seat. I sensed trouble and left for my car. However, the security men followed me and shot my car. I am fortunate to be alive today because the car was armored.
Alhaji Olajokun was our strong supporter and financier who was totally committed to our cause.
He went to Ifon Osun to canvass for us but, on his way back to Lagos on May 16, 2005, he was murdered in the presence of his teenage daughters. Our supporters thus became mad men being hunted all over the place like wild animals.
“Gbenga Kayode, Sogo Adekoya, Abraham Jato, Chief Lawal Adesina, Samson Olarewaju, Saidi Adebiyi and Alhaja Taibat Orija were brutally killed by the PDP in a futile bid to silence our people. Others were Lamidi Esade, Pastor Gbenga Obalola and Ayo Oni.
Some of these people were not even politicians; Pastor Obalola, for instance, was going to church when he was accosted by soldiers and shot on his face. Chief Ade Komolafe, a frontline industrialist, was beaten to death at a filling station in Ilesa.
“On the eve of the House of Representatives election in April, 2011, a killers squad invaded the residence of our member in Ile-Ife, Hon. Rotimi Makinde, and killed five persons. These people were not killed inside the house. Taofeek Kolawole and Opeyemi Omisakin ran into a nearby church where members of the church were holding a vigil.
The pastor of the church, Prophet Joshua Akinola, his son, Taofeek Kolawole, two girls and a worshipper were murdered inside the church. In the same environment, Hon Lamidi Afolabi, who was chairman of our party in Kere ward, Ife South Local Government Area, was murdered at Araromi-Okeowu.
There were hundreds of other martyrs whose death were not reported and secretly buried by their relations. Some were given mass burial by the Wesley Guild Hospital, Ilesa.”
“The then chairman of our party in the state, who is now Secretary to the State Government, also had a taste of it; the state secretary of our party, Prince Gboyega Famodun; Timothy Owoeye, the then Minority Leader in the House of Assembly, Folarin Fafowora; Gbenga Akano; a magistrate, Ayo Oyebiyi; and Sunday Akere were also jailed. Although they have all been vindicated by court, they had to go to jail for belonging to our party.
Our only consolation is that we triumphed in the struggle and their sacrifices were not in vain. We are however determined that their killers will not go scot free. We are not seeking vengeance but the law must take its course and put an end to the culture of impunity.
To put an end to the culture of violence is by punishing them and we shall punish them by the grace of God. This is why we established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Those that try to run away from justice will be brought to justice. We shall ensure that justice is done. The families of the deceased will not forget their late people and those of us that also bear the burden will not forget them.”
Aregbesola vowed not to disappoint the heroes and martyrs by serving the people of the state wholeheartedly and make Osun a model state.