With about 15 days to decide who takes over the mantle of leadership from the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) administration which had been in the saddle since November 10, 2010 in Osun State, the amphitheatre is gradually being set as the electorate and the generality of the people of the state of virtue prepare to queue behind the contestant of their choice.
Presently, there are 48 governorship candidates, from varied political parties, angling to occupy the governor’s office, located within the precinct of Bola House, Osun State government secretariat and the popular Oke fia Government House.
Though, major governorship candidates; Mr Gboyega Isiaka Oyetola of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Senator Ademola Adeleke of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Senator Iyiola Omisore of Social Democratic Party (SDP), Action Democratic Party (ADP), Chief Moshood Adeoti, Alhaji Fatai Akinbade of the African Democratic Congress (ADC), Alliance for Democracy (AD) flag bearer, Mr Olugbenga Akintola, All Grassroots Alliance (AGA), Mr Lawrence Olufemi Kehinde, Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN)’s flag bearer, Mr Adedeji Olanrewaju Adewuyi, Pade Okunola of the Accord Party (AP) and host of others have begun campaigns, there is no doubting the fact some germane issues already on the front burner of public discourse may play a major decimal in the election.
As these set of political gladiators step up their intrigues, horse trading and electioneering campaigns, consultations and persuasive messages which are rhetorical features of Nigerian politicians are being deployed to market their manifesto and blueprints to the electorate. While they transverse the length and breadth of Osun, making tall promises, bookmakers are of the view that the recurring Osun West agenda, high debt profile of the state, votes buying, workers’ welfare and health service in the state may be on the front burner ahead of the epical battle. While some of these issues dominated public discourse before August 9, 2014 governorship poll, only Osun West agenda and votes buying are fast gaining prominence among these critical concerns.
As the contenders jostle for the 1, 213, 026 votes of the people who have collected their Permanent Voters Card to take over Aregbesola’s job, keen watchers of unfolding political undercurrents hold the notion that it is too early to predict who would win the September 22 gubernatorial poll in Osun. However, the acumen and technical know how to frontally tackle the aforementioned issues, with the ultimate decision of the voters are obvious determinants of whoever carries the day.
Osun West agenda
The deafening clamour for the Osun West to produce a successor to Aregbesola has refused to give way as the promoters of this agenda, across party lines trudge on to realise their seemingly difficult objectives and mission statement. While the petrifying odour from the sour created by Osun West agenda in the ruling APC still pollute the air among the rank and file of the party following the exit of the immediate past Secretary to Osun State Government (SSG), Mr Moshood Adeoti and five lawmakers from the Osun State House of Assembly as well as key appointees of the governor, the agitation has refused to die.
The three lawmakers of the Osun State legislature that defected to the ADP include Hon Debo Akanbi Kamarudeen (Ede North State Constituency), Hon Tajudeen Famuyide (Ilesa West State Constituency) and Hon Abdulahi Ibrahim (Iwo State Constituency) while Hon Laolu Oyeniran, who represents Odo Otin State Constituency, decamped to African Democratic Congress (ADC).
This came against the backdrop of another loss of immediate past chairman of Osun State Local Government Service Commission, Mr Peter Babalola to the Peoples Democratic Party. Nonetheless, Aregbesola had said that the defections of these stalwarts were blessings in disguise for him and his party, saying it provided ample opportunity and barometer to decipher between moles and genuine APC members, who really wanted continuity in the governance of the state.
In a press statement signed by Aregbesola’s media adviser, Mr Sola Fasure, which was forwarded to the Nigerian Tribune in Osogbo, the governor averred “the gale of defection could not in any way affect the victory of the party”, saying “APC remains strong on account of its wide acceptance by the people”.
Aregbesola, who addressed APC supporters in Ilawo community of Ejigbo Local Government Area during the birthday ceremony of the Speaker, Osun State House of Assembly, Honourable Najeem Salaam reportedly said that he and members of his political party were not in any way deterred by the defection of some members of the party to opposition parties.
According to him, “This defection has made us to know those that are genuinely with us and those that are not with us. We have known friends, enemies and cunning individuals among us by this defection, but we are not afraid of their antics as we remain united, strong and committed. We are confident of victory. We know God is on our side and we believe in Him, we believe He will lead us to victory.”
Stakeholders within and outside Osun, have continued to express fear over the recurrent high debt portfolio of the state government under the current administration in the state, the issue had been cause for disagreements even before the conduct of last gubernatorial poll of August 9, 2014, it dove tailed into this year’s election four years after the opposition and other stakeholders have used it to lampoon the APC-led state government as mortgaging the future of generations yet unborn in the “State of Virtue”. While many of the major contenders, currently waiting in the wings to take over reins of power are using it as reference points to describe Aregbesola as an harbinger of financial misadventure, the outgoing governor had argued at different fora that this debt, which hovers around N143 billion as at April is good and sustainable debt, bearing in mind visible infrastructural facilities, such as road projects, dotting the landscape of Osun and state of the arts mega, middle and elementary schools constructed by his administration to reposition the education sector.
The governor had maintained that the seeming intimidating debt portfolio, both local and foreign would be defrayed by the year 2020. Without being unmindful of the position of the Debt Management Office (DMO), in Abuja and the position of the Fiscal Revenue Commission (FRS), listing Osun as among states that have exceeded their borrowing limit by 480 per cent, the state government declared that the stand of the opposition and its critics on debt is not justifiable. Though, Irrevocable Standing Payment Order (ISPO) is being used by the Federal Government to deduct from the source debt owed by Osun State government to the tune of about N2 billion from its monthly allocation, Aregbeola had allayed the fears of the people, saying the debt challenge is not an issue.
To say that Aregbesola’s reform in the education sector has not yielded fruits might be a fallacy. This is evident in the building of gigantic schools edifice and reclassification of these schools into elementary, middle and high schools, which locations are spread across the three senatorial districts and federal constituencies in the state. Just as the opposition and other stakeholders in the education sector have not ceased to criticise the high cost of implementing these projects and express concern over the current rating of Osun in 2018 by the West Africa Examination Council WAEC) as occupying 24th position among the 36 states in the country, the state government had argued that position on the ladder should not be a yard stick for measuring the performance of public schools pupils in external examinations.
The Commissioner for Education in the state, Mr Wasiu Omotunde-Young, recently emphasised that the state’s rating in West African Senior School Certificate Examinations (WASSCE) which stood at 15.68 per cent five years before Governor Rauf Aregbesola’s administration had improved to 44.47 per cent, pointing out that it was incumbent to make public statistical data on the performance of the state’s students in WASSCE, with a view to debunk misleading and false information being bandied by detractors of the government, regarding the education sector in Osun.
He said, “Aregbesola’s detractors have continued to attempt to hoodwink the society by deliberately spreading false and unsubstantiated information that is not backed up by any credible evidence. To ensure the truth is told, the Ministry of Education applied to West African Examination Council to officially furnished us with the performance results from 2006 to 2017 in the West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE).
“The results, official from WAEC, shows that the best performance by students in Osun, for those with five credits including English and Mathematics in WASSCE in the five years before Aregbesola was 15.68 per cent. With focused, deliberate and purposeful intervention from government, the state has achieved 284 per cent improvement in the performance of students in the same examinations from 15.68 per cent in 2010 to 44.47 per cent in 2017.
“Not good enough yet, but it is a pointer to a better future based on the foundation laid by Aregbesola’s government which should be allowed to germinate to fruition with continuity by those who shares his vision,” Omotunde-Young remarked.
Another topical issue that would be used cannot be de-emphasised as Osun inches towards September 22 gubernatorial poll is the workers’ welfare, which is presently nothing to write home about. As a result of the economic meltdown, which affected the nation few years back, with its biting effects taking a toll on the comity of states, across the federation, Aregbesola deployed the adoption of modulated salary, popularly known in workers’ circle as “half salary” to pay the wages of civil servants in the state. Though, the junior workers on Grade Level one to seven were being paid their full salaries, other categories of workforce in the senior cadre are receiving 50 and 75 per cent salary. From the foregoing, the state government is presently owing a backlog of 36 months’ salary arrears to these workers, including 2016 leave allowance to all categories of pension and backlog of contributory pension deductions of workers that had not been remitted to Contributory Pension Funds Administrators (PFAs), subscribed to by individual worker. The same thing goes for pensioners in Osun State, who are being owed gratuities and monthly pension allowance, running into billions of naira. Though, Aregbesola had promised to pay these backlogs of salary and pension allowance to civil servants and retirees, some of the gladiators are utilising it as a campaign tool while the major governorship candidates are holding meetings with the labour unions on how they would at handle their pitiable condition if they win the polls.
Vote buying is not alien to Nigerian politics and it is an age long vices that have been a major obstacle to the conduct of credible electoral process, even in the advanced democracies. But, its ignoble traits in the conduct of last governorship poll in Ekiti State had further re-awakened the consciousness of the people and relevant authorities to the vicious danger it poses to free, fair and acceptable polls in Nigeria. There are fears that the winner of the September 22 election in Osun may be determined by the highest bidder among the contestants, taking into cognizance, the debilitating effects of poverty on the psyche of the people. Despite the measures being planned by the INEC and security agencies to checkmate votes buying, not a few have expressed worry that votes buying may not be totally eradicated in the coming poll.
The Resident Electoral Commission (REC) for Osun State, Mr Olusegun Agbaje at a stakeholders meeting with leaders of political parties in Osogbo restated the readiness of INEC to synergise with security agencies in ensuring that votes buying would not create room to cast aspersions on the credibility of the exercise As parts of the moves to nip in the bud possible incidence of the Head of Department, voters education and publicity of INEC in the state, Mr Stephen Akin Ojewande, Deputy, HOD Voters Education and Publicity recently declared that any voter caught displaying ballot after casting votes would be prosecuted with the delicates of electoral laws.
The delivery of health service in the state public hospitals and clinics would definitely be the focal point as the electioneering activities enters its final stage. Medical personnel in the state are facing hardship over the payment of modulated salaries with sizable number of doctors and nurses, exiting Osun to find greener pasture within and outside the country.
Though, bookmakers are still exercising restraint on who among the major contenders would take the glory after September 22 election exercise, it may not be out place to affirm that these salient issues and sacred decision of the electorate would definitely play decisive role on who takes over from Rauf Aregbesola by November 10, 2018.