SALUTE TO SERVICE: A Walk With Aregbesola
GOING to Osun soon? Just a piece of travel advice: pack a pair of track suits and trainers. Reason: you may get conscripted into the monthly Walk to Live army. But, that shouldn’t be a bad idea, if you have been finding it difficult to rein in a bulgy tummy.
This reporter got drafted last Saturday by Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, governor of the State of Osun, during a visit to Osogbo, the state capital. I got some perfect fit kits, courtesy of Special Assistant Biyi Odunlade whose job is, among others, to ensure that all is well with the monthly programme that has grown from a mere keep fit routine into a large canvass on which the administration’s philosophy- integrity, endurance, hard work, honesty and more – is etched.
Nature was friendly last Saturday in the capital city. The skyline was a bit dull, the clouds caging in the sun as it was struggling to break loose and signal the beginning of a bright day. By the time the long convoy of vehicles ferrying the participants to the starting point got to Ikoyi, Isokan Local Government Area, it was as clear as day that it was going to be sunny.
Then, the crowds began to gather, first in trickles and then in droves. By the time Aregbesola led in members of the state executive council, Ikoyi was already throbbing with a sea of heads, most of them in white shirts emblazoned with the Walk to Live inscription. There were dignitaries-traditional rulers, judges, civil servants and frontline politicians. There were students of higher institutions and pupils of primary and secondary schools. There were young boys and girls; old men and women. There were the physically-challenged, who trudged on in a symbolic manner that exhibited the resilience of the human spirit.
A sea of people. Muslims. Christians. Traditional religion adherents. And atheists. No class. Rich and poor. Just people.
The walk began slowly, like a locomotive engine humming to gather enough steam at take-off. It became intense as the crowds found space to stretch out. On guard were members of the O- Yes, the group of youths trained in paramilitary tactics to tackle many civil problems, such as crowd control at state ceremonies.
There were signs that it was all going to end in a carnival. A group of women, backed by some youths banging away at some rugged drums, burst out in a song. As if to tell those who were yet to make up their minds to join the walk, they chorused:
B’o ba Aregbe lo o
B’o ba Aregebe lo o
Iwo lo mo
B’o ba Aregbe lo o.
‘It’s up to you if you don’t follow Aregbe
It’s up to you if you don’t follow Aregbe.’
As if by some strange connection, the crowd swelled as the women sang. Loudspeakers mounted atop a bus blared forth some Fuji music. Amid the din, there was excitement on the faces of the people who smiled and cracked jokes, even as they wiped sweat off their faces.
Galloping beside this reporter was a physically-challenged young man. “I’ll surely finish up,” he said when asked if he could do the five kilometers. In a few seconds, he was off, slicing through the crowd onto the side of the road to gain space for better speed.
An old man held his pair of slippers in his right hand, a skull cap that has seen days perching on his head and his off-white lace dress drenched in sweat. He walked on briskly, acknowledging greetings from fellow participants who hailed him, obviously, out of curiosity.
“Take it easy, sir,” I said as the old man bumped into me. He was pushed by some youths who held one another by their hands apparently to have none of them missing in the crowd. Their uniform announced their identity. They were automobile mechanics.
“Why are you walking, baba?” I asked Pa Basiru Amusa.
“I think this is history and I won’t want anybody to tell me the story. I don’t want to be a spectator; I want to participate,” he said.
Pa Basiru is not sure of his age. “When Nigeria got Independence, I wasn’t married, but I was a grown up man,” he said.
“You must be well over 70,” a young fellow interjected.
“Yes, yes; you’re right,” Pa Amusa said, his face wreathed in smiles.
He said members of his family asked if he was, indeed, serious about joining the walk. He assured them that he was for it. They then wished him good luck. As the walk was about to begin, according to Pa Amusa, his people sent an emissary to confirm if he was doing fine. He waved them an exciting bye.
Asked why he thought the people trooped out to join the programme, Pa Amusa said he thought it was because the governor had done well in many areas. “But, let me tell you, I think it is also spiritual. It is between him and God,” he said.
As the long train rolled on, meandering through the long road from Ikoyi to Apomu, old women stormed out of their homes, brooms held aloft, to hail Aregbesola. Kids threw their hands in the air, screaming: “APC!”. By the time the long train rolled into ADC Grammar School, Apomu, where the walk terminated into a session of physical exercises that preceded a revelry, the sun had become a bit harsh. It was biting.
To the participants and the massive crowd of spectators that had massed on the school’s soccer pitch, the burning sensation of the sun’s rays was no demotivation. The session was as entertaining as it was instructive.
A group of movie stars staged a drama sketch to advise the people on how to choose their leaders. A politician with a protruding tummy urged the people to vote for him because, according to him, a vote for him would end their poverty. His tummy, which he kept on slapping menacingly, he said, was full of cash. “What are you going to do that our governor has not done?”
The ‘politician’ replied: “Look at the sky. It’s dark. We will repaint it, change the colour and make everybody happy.”
“What are you going to do for women?” he was asked. “My deputy will handle that,” the big man with a big tummy replied.
Said the deputy: “My people, don’t worry; just vote for us. Women will have a nice time, enjoying the good life.”
“How about our mothers in the market?”
“Hmmm…it’s okay for them to be selling vegetables now. What else do they want?”
“How about students?”
“Students? They should just stay on their campuses o, peacefully.”
Apparently confused that the duo could do them no good, the people chased them away and resolved to stay with their leader who had done a lot for them in education, commerce, agriculture and others.
The crowd roared in salute of a great parody of our contemporary politics and its unreliable players to whom the people’s interest means nothing and their selfish interest is everything. The Nollywood group was led by Toyin Adegbola (Asewo to re Mecca, who introduced herself as Aweso to ni NAFDAC number.
A group of pupils- boys and girls -drew a loud ovation for their gymnastics. Their agility amazed the audience who sighed and clapped at the same time. So impressed was Aregbesola that he stood up to shake hands with the youngsters.
Another group enthralled the audience with their acrobatic displays. In the background, bata drums sounded as the audience kept screaming.
In the cheering audience were Deputy Governor Otunba Titi Laoye-Tomori, Secretary to the State Government, Moshood Adeoti and Chief Judge, Justice Oyebola Adepele Ojo.
The Chief of Staff, Alhaji Gboyega Oyetola, was represented by his wife, Alhaja Kafayat. There were also party chiefs Elders Lowo Adebiyi and Peter Babalola.
By the time Aregbesola mounted the podium, the party had hit a feverish pitch. He was all smiles as the crowd hailed him on. But, Ogbeni would not be in a hurry; he would like to dance onto the podium. The Oranmiyan Band dished out his favourites. As he raised his hands, swaying from side to side, his wife Alhaja Sherifat sprang up to her feet, throwing her hands sideways and rolling her waist. The crowd, in salute of a First Family’s grand performance, rose to sing and dance.
Aregbesola spoke about the importance of the walk to health, saying a healthy body and a sound mind are necessary for development. He spoke of his achievements and told the people that they had a great future in the All Progressives Congress (APC).
By the time it was all over, the crowd that was leaving ADC Grammar School was so thick I could not find Pa Amusa whom I last saw at the school’s gate. How did he feel? Did he walk home? Did he mount a commercial motorcycle?