Aregbesola’s real ‘Transformation’ By Mohammed Haruna

Even the most casual observer of the country cannot help but notice the huge gap between President Goodluck Jonathan’s 2011 campaign slogan of “Transformation” and the facts on the ground; in spite of his administration’s bravest efforts the country has been anything but transformed for the better. On the contrary it has, in spite of all the brave claims to the contrary by the president’s men (and women), been on a slide in almost all sectors of society; employment, education, infrastructure, health, good governance, name it.

The gap between the presidential rhetoric and the substance of the word has so much discredited it in the public eye that even the Peoples Democratic Party would look foolish to stick with it as its slogan for the next general elections in 2015. Yet there are governors, some PDP, some in the opposition parties, who can credibly use the word to describe the impact their policies and programmes have had on their states since their ascension.

One such governor is the State of Osun’s Ogbeni Rauf Adesoji Aregbesola. Since coming to power three years ago the man has provoked much gratuitous attack from PDP as the leading opposition party in his state and from some sections of the media variously for adopting a state flag and anthem, for his urban renewal programme and for declaring the first day of the current Islamic year a public holiday, among others.

Of all the criticisms he has come under, the most reasonable-sounding are about his urban renewal programme. This has involved extensive demolition of buildings and removal of containers used as business premises by road sides. However, as any fair-minded critic would agree, such demolitions and relocations of mobile structures are inevitable; as the chef said, if you want to make omelette you must break eggs.

And as the governor said on the occasion of his interactive session with the media only last week, urban renewal is not just about the beautification of our cities. More importantly it is also about the health and safety of their residents.

“Those of you who think I am a Lagosian, I am not a Lagosian,” he said on that occasion. “I was born and bred in Ikare (fifty six years ago). But interestingly, when I was born there and bred there, I found out that there was nothing like what we have now. The colonial masters left a tradition that made it impossible to erect any illegal structure to occupy the frontage of any building. As it was in Ikare, so was it here…It was everywhere in the Western Region.  Then what happened to us? Why was this decline and degeneration? Was that the effect of Independence that there must be a decline? No!”

The abandonment of proper planning for our towns and cities is obviously what has led to the kind of devastations from floods experienced in recent times and to the easy spread of epidemics occasionally.

What is important, therefore, in trying to recreate and, of course, improve upon the safety and healthy environment of our colonial past is that no governor hides behind his urban renewal policy to illegally demolish the property of his adversaries or to refuse to pay adequate compensation for properties that have to go. So far no one – not even his worst traducers – has accused Aregbesola of either. Nor has anyone accused the man personally of inflating contracts for selfish reasons.

One important element of his urban renewal policy is the airport he is building on the outskirts of Osogbo, the state capital. The first time I heard of it, my instinct was to dismiss it as one of those things politicians do more for their symbolism of statehood than for their economic value. Later, however, I found out this one was with a difference; it is mainly to provide West Africa with its only facility for helicopter repair and eventually also for the repair of aeroplanes. Right now, all the aircrafts operating in the country go abroad for such repair.

One of the marks of effective governance is a leader’s ability to attract direct foreign investment to his charge. Until the last three years under Aregbesola, no governor of the state since its creation in 1991 had attracted any such new investment. Since then, however, three companies have set up shop in the state, the first, a garment company in Osogbo that will employ 3,000 workers, the second in Ilesa that will produce flat screen television, laptops, iPads and phones, and the third, and for me the most important, to produce the potentially revolutionary Opon-Imo (Yoruba for tablet of knowledge) for use not only in the state’s primary and secondary schools but also possibly elsewhere in the country.

Of all the tools any leader can use to lift the people of his state or country out of their ignorance and poverty none has the effectiveness of this tablet of knowledge. The reason is simple and obvious; knowledge is power and countries all over the world have increasingly come to adopt and adapt the new information technology as the most effective tool for imparting knowledge.

As a lengthy article in The Economist of June 29 pointed out, even a country as literate as America has had to resort to this new information technology to stop its slide in the international ranking in education during the past three decades from first to tenth of the educational level of those leaving high school, and from third to 13th for college students. The magazine’s earlier editorial piece on the same subject in the same edition showed how the new education technology, edtech for short, has been making a big difference in the learning curve of children and adults alike both in America and elsewhere.

The wisdom and foresight of Aregbesola in investing much of his state’s lean resources in the new edtech lie in his focus on primary and secondary school education. As a journalism teacher at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, in the last five years I can attest to the alarming semi-literacy of undergraduates in this country. The single biggest source of this problem, whose most dramatic manifestation are the scandalous rates of failure in West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) and the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) examinations, is obvious; the inexplicable abject neglect of primary and secondary education since the First Republic.

The economics of Opon-Imo alone should recommend its use all over the country. As the governor pointed out to reporters in defence of his spending on the gadget so far, the accusation that he was being wasteful is laughable.

“The charlatans,” he said, “bribed their way into our system, stole a document and published it. You all read it. They said we bought all the textbooks, digital textbooks for two hundred million, and that is all we spent for the over fifty-six books that are in Opon-imo. If you are good in mathematics divide 56 textbooks costing 200,000,000 from Evans by 150,000, the cost is 26 Naira. Tell us where you can buy a book for N26. Opon-Imo is a world beater!”

My own arithmetic showed the unit price was actually N23.80. But the beauty of the tablet of knowledge is not only in its economy but in how effectively it can raise the quality of primary and secondary school education in the country the way it is already doing elsewhere in the world.

In an article entitled “Pass the Books. Hold the Oil” in The New York Times of March 10, 2012, an article which should interest Nigerians as citizens of a major oil producing country, its columnist, Thomas L. Friedman, said when asked every so often which country was his favourite outside his own, he always mentioned Taiwan.

“‘Taiwan? Why Taiwan?’ people ask. Very simple,” he said. “Taiwan is a barren rock in a typhoon-laden sea with no natural resources to live off of — it even has to import sand and gravel from China for construction — yet it has the fourth-largest financial reserves in the world. Because rather than digging in the ground and mining whatever comes up, Taiwan has mined its 23 million people, their talent, energy and intelligence — men and women.”

Almost alone among the country’s leaders Aregbesola seems to have appreciated the significance of mining the talent, energy and intelligence of the children of his state for its future development by massively investing in their education. The dividend of his faith in the youth as tomorrow’s leaders has already manifesting itself in the latest statistics from the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics which shows the state as the first in primary school and girl-child enrolment throughout the country.

“Steve Job,” as he said in his final words during the media interactive, “was not a super human. He only had early interactions with computers. Bill Gates is not a super human. He only had early encounter with technology. Who says our own pupils cannot? That is our vision.”

Of course, gadgets alone cannot bring about the realisation of his lofty vision. Along with gadgets you need good teachers, something he has also been investing in. Above all, you need good leaders who teach by example. As I have cause to say on these pages not too long ago, Aregbesola, by his simplicity, humility and uprightness, among other virtues, is among this breed of leaders that are rare in the country.

Hopefully, he can persuade the citizens of the State of Osun that he is the man to beat at next year’s governorship election in the state.


About the author


In the beginning...Let there be Light

Leave a Comment