THURSDAY Column with Mohammed Adamu
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If ‘governance’ was ‘rocket science’, as politicians would have us believe, what I felt –after just three days of visit to the State of Osun- was that ‘governance’ at last had met, in Governor Aregbesola, its own ‘Albert Einstein’. Because after what I personally saw, and after gorging myself with a ‘library’ of literature on what I saw, I must admit that Osun is truly where ‘empiricism’ –rather than tokenism- has come to season ‘political governance’: the vision, the mission, the thought processes occasioning the birth of every idea and the meticulousness by which these ideas are implemented, is simply as laboratorial as would the ‘Einstein Observatory’ itself.
By the way, Einstein was the one who said that “Genius is 1% talent and 99% hard work” –and which other thinkers may have corrupted to ‘1% inspiration and 99% perspiration’. But Einstein was also the one who said that “Intellectuals solve problems, geniuses prevent them”; suggesting that ‘intellectuals’ are ‘re-active’ by nature, and that ‘pro-active’ motivation is the province only of the ‘genius’. But sometimes even geniuses may be doomed to tackle ‘problems’ their prodigy could not, at first, have averted. And in which case even they sometimes may have to act ‘intellectually’ first -by being reactive- to certain prevailing problems, before they get to act ‘ingeniously’ second -by being proactive- like geniuses do.
I ended last week’s with a sneak preview of what Aregbesola had inherited, an insolvent State “owing a ‘suffocating’ N18.3 billion when its monthly income was a measly N1.5 billion”. In actual fact what Aregbesola inherited was N22 billion, made up of what a commissioner described as an ‘irresponsible’ N18.38 billion short-term loan to build ‘six stadia’ and some smaller local loans totaling N4 billion. But it was the N18.3 billion that was debilitatingly at issue -both in its irrelevant ‘purpose’ and more worrisomely in the suffocating short-term ‘tenure’ of its repayment. Nothing defined ‘irresponsibility’ better than borrowing such amount on a short-term and, ironically only to build such ‘long-term’ social projects like stadia, amidst a frightening falling standard of education. But debt was already an infliction, the handling of which had occasioned something even more benign, namely a resort by the infant and insolvent administration to taking a “bridge finance of N1billion every month” just to meet its statutory obligations.
Thus saddled with a virtual fait accompli, the Governor had to be the Einstein “intellectual” first, by solving an inherited problem reactively, even though the shrewdness he had to apply to relax the grip of that stranglehold required more of the Einstein ‘genius’ of ‘1% inspiration’ and ‘99% perspiration’ than bare ‘intellectualism’. As Einstein himself would say “Imagination is more important than knowledge”. The loan was carefully re-structured first to ease the grip on the jugular of the State –so that it now repaid N100 million monthly instead of N600 million- and even to free some resources for the execution of vital projects without having to compromise the State’s obligations to its creditors.
And as the Governor himself had said: “we… re-financed that (loan) through some ingenious means and our own goodwill; through our own strategy of usually turning liability into asset”. Needless to say that many a governor on such death-bed struggle would, disingenuously, have indulged in more reckless –even if more suffocating- borrowings.
In fact that loan restructuring was the reason also that the State could accommodate a new minimum wage which had just shot salaries from N900million to N1.8billion. And –contrary to media umbrage- it was the needless rancor ignited by Labour over the Governor’s systemic approach to accommodating the new wage that actually led to an unwarranted strike, which in turn occasioned the infamous salary backlog by which the opposition was bent on hanging the Governor. Just as –on the hijab issue- it was an innocuous state-wide schools merger bringing together two mutually exclusive school uniforms that CAN and partisan politics divisively played up to de-campaign the man.
By the way, to get his ‘Six Point Integral Action Plan’ fully off the ground, Governor Aregbesola had also ingeniously tapped into a delicate financial instrument, namely the use of ‘promissory notes’ to finance especially highly prioritized projects, riding –as Dr. Wale Boluwaduro, his Finance Commissioner had said- on the crest of his impeccable ‘credibility’ and his unassailable ‘pedigree’. Soon with a combination of rescaling and reprioritizing of irrelevant, loan-backed projects, coupled with ‘prudent’, ‘transparent’ and ‘fiscal discipline’, the State had not only come out of insolvency, but the Governor now even had a pool of funds to play Einstein with.
And with his many socio-economically empowering programs, especially the skills-imparting Youth Empowerment Scheme which injects into the State economy N200 million monthly (representing N10,000 monthly pay for each participating youth in a revolving series of a three-monthly program), money circulates regularly not only to reflate the economy but to empower the people to create wealth. Which is consistent with Ogbeni’s personal philosophy, that as “companies invest in profit, government must invest in the people” -to empower them he said, so that when they create wealth and especially when they pay taxes, “they in return can empower the government”.
And in fact by ‘improving efficiency’ in administration, ‘cutting down on recurrent expenditure’, ‘blocking leakages’ and ‘maximizing revenue collection’ Aregbesola, in no time had improved Osun’s savings and significantly upped her Internally Generated Revenue, IGR without necessarily having to increase tax heads or tax rates. In much the same way he had radically reformed education and improved pupils’ and students’ performances without having to sack teachers. And in much the same way also, that –unlike his equally prodigious Kaduna State counterpart, El-Rufai- Aregbesola has, in the last seven years, been feeding over 350,000 pupils under the School Feeding program, ‘O’Meal’ without counterpart funding from the Federal Government.
But that is not all. Aregbesola has constructed over 300 kilometers of roads across the State; initiated a Free Train Ride to and from Lagos during festive seasons and particularly for freighting of farm produce; introduced a social welfare for the aged (Agba Osun) providing monetary support and free Medicare for the State’s most vulnerable elders; pioneered the distribution to students, of IPADs (called ‘The Tablet of Knowledge’ or ‘Opon Imo’), regarded as the “first Stand-Alone-E-Learning System in Sub-Saharan Africa containing 57 textbooks, past JAMB/WAEC questions and a Virtual Classroom for all subjects from SS-1 to SS-3”.
And I was wondering why, in spite of all these achievements, it had to take a personal visit to Osun for one to know, after all, that Aregbesola, rather than the fatwa-issuing-mullah on students ‘hijab’, or the ‘sadistic’ salary-owing Chief Executive, is actually a reincarnated Awo gifted with the Einsteinian sleight of hand to revolutionize political governance in Nigeria. No matter how prejudiced you are against the man you cannot fail to apprehend a conscious effort by one man to reason differently, to govern sincerely and to apply systemically.
When we finally sat for an interview, very late in the night, it was virtually amidst intermittent dozes that he alluded to a Report of Nigerian Bureau of Statistics confirming Osun as the best in governance on the human, poverty, unemployment and environment related indexes. But for all partisan politics care, ‘so what!?’ After all the Scottish writer, Andrew Lang has said that “Politicians use statistics in the same way that a drunken man uses lamp posts –for support rather than illumination”. And which was exactly what Aregbesola himself -in a 4th May 2012 interview with Punch Newspaper- once said, despondently: “When I tell people that what we have done for this State is extra ordinary, they don’t want to listen”.
But “Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored”. Or so said Aldous Huxley.