In Defence of Aregbesola and the State of Osun by Azeez Olaitan
One of the reasons the conservative party won the UK elections in 2010 was their relentless attack against the then Labour Government on the issue of national debt. They labeled Labour party ‘reckless’ for plunging the country into more DEBT. They said the only language Labour understands is “Borrowing, borrowing and more borrowing”. The conservative manifesto also read: “Failing to control our debt would be more than an economic failing, it would be a moral failing – leaving our children and grandchildren with debts that they could never hope to repay.” People bought it and they voted Labour out.
The Conservative Party came to power in 2010. By 2013, they had borrowed ‘more’ in 3 years than Labour did in 13 years. In 2016, it was reported, the conservative party had created more DEBT than every Labour government in history i.e created more debt in 6 years than Labour did in 23 years. Isn’t that incredible!
My point is, no state or nation can pursue any meaningful programmes or projects without borrowing, regardless of their IGR or how stable their economy is. Politicians or parties that say otherwise are simply not telling the truth, just like the UK conservative party. And anyone with knowledge of governance wouldn’t believe it a bit.
States like Osun, with huge infrastructural deficit, poorly skilled working population and decayed educational system, lack the most basic of elements that attract investors. That is a fact. No investor will bring their money to a state with dilapidated infrastructures, a poor skilled working population. And that is what Osun was before Aregbesola. Some do say states should look inward. Of course, they must do so. But they can only go so far in improving on their IGR if they don’t invest in infrastructures and develop human capacity. Boosting economic growth and building IGR that knows no bounds requires investment in critical sectors complemented with progressive policies; this will ultimately create an enabling environment for businesses. No two ways about it.
According to Awolowo, three things must be worked on by any government to boost its economy: Infrastructure, Education and Health. On Health, he further said, it is safer and economical if a government pays more attention to preventive medicine which consists of measures taken for disease prevention, as opposed to disease treatment. Since Aregbesola came to power, all his policies and programmes have revolved around these three key elements.
Since he came to power in 2010, Aregbesola has built more roads than all democratically elected governors of the state combined. It earned him an epithet from the populace, ‘Ona baba ona’. Road constructions/improvements decrease transportation costs, improve access to markets, foster economic integration and provide a number of other wider economic benefits. This is why roads construction/improvements are frequently proposed as a strategy for economic growth, integration and local economic development. His government has constructed over 1000km high class urban and rural roads.
Osun is not the first state to initiate a school feeding programme in Nigeria. It has been done by some other states, but they failed. When Aregbesola started Osun free school feeding programme, many people said it will also fail just like those before it. They said it was a white elephant. The programme is now over 4 years old, and it is still going strong. The state has now become a model to all states of the federation in the area of the school feeding programme. Niger state recently sent a delegation to Osun to understudy the programme- not to mention the FG delegation. The programme was also well applauded by the international community. The Governor was invited by Imperial College London, where he was the keynote speaker, he spoke on the success of the state’s school meal programme. The programme feeds over 250,000 children every school day. It provides direct employment to over 3,000 women, with indirect employment of over 7,000 and purchases food from over 1000 local farmers.
School enrollment has increased by 62% since the inception of the programme. What the state is doing on education is as clear as daylight; and it is not just structures like some do say. The impact reflects in the performance of students from the State. The WAEC success rate in Osun was 6.86% in 2007, it is now 46.3%. Of course it can be better, but there has been a giant leap in the performance. The State of Osun is now among the top 3 states with highest university admission in the federation. All these do not happen by sheer coincidence.
Before Aregbesola came to power in 2010, the IGR was about N300 million monthly; now it swings between N1 billion and N1.2 billion. The highest was N1.5 billion but dropped due to the current economic situation. The few programmes I highlighted and many others require funding to put in place. Relying on IGR and FAAC alone cannot just do it. Osun used to be a civil servant state. What that means is, the government only pay salaries to civil servants, 99% of the populace benefits close to nothing and all these left the state completely stagnant. Since Aregbesola came on board, the resources of the state is being evenly spread. I doubt if there is any household in Osun that has not been positively touched one way or the other.
The Nigeria Extractive Transparency Initiative, NEITI recently reported that Osun debt stands at N165.91. To put this in perspective, the state has put a burden of N5.56Kobo on every citizen (4 million) of the state. Osun feeds every pupil in the public school with N70 every school day. This and other achievements of Aregbesola since 2010 that has catapulted the state from completely nowhere to be ranked top of the lowest unemployment rate in Nigeria today; Second after Lagos with the least poverty rate in the whole federation and one of the state with lowest crime rate.
I sincerely believe the debt profile of the state is nothing, compared to what has been achieved in the state. We can moan and moan about debt or size of it, it won’t stop any government that aspires to positively transform the state to the benefit of the people in borrowing to facilitate its agenda.
Naturally, politicians and political parties will prey on the ignorance (on the part of some citizens) but the truth is when they get there, they will do the same or even worse. The other thing that can also happen is, not to borrow and allow the state to remain stagnant just like some governors are doing. Governors are elected to move their respective states towards prosperity and not just to pay salaries or do nothing, just like some are also doing. It is no coincidence that the least indebted states like Zamfara, Yobe, Plateau are also the states with the highest level of unemployment and highest poverty rate in Nigeria. I will rather have a Governor who will borrow to invest in critical sectors of the state and the citizens, move the state positively from what it used to be than the one who will borrow to loot or only pay civil servant salaries and stagnate it.