Aregbesola’s lonely road to South West regional integration
Although many of his critics described it as a ploy to feather his personal political nests, the call by Osun State governor, Rauf Aregbesola, that individual political aspirations in the Southwest geo-political zone should not be limited by state boundaries, is a major step towards achieving regional integration.
Aregbesola who, in the current dispensation, is perhaps the greatest advocate of politics-without-boundary in the region, is alleged to be nurturing the ambition of occupying Lagos West Senatorial District seat after his two-term tenure as Osun governor next year.
As a former member of Lagos State Executive Council where he served as Commissioner for Works for 8 years and where he still maintains a strong political structure especially in Alimosho, the most populous local council area in the state, Aregbesola’s senatorial ambition, if backed by other forces, could be a fait accompli.
But long before the rumour of the senatorial ambition that was strengthened by reported sightings of his campaign posters in Lagos, Aregbesola, who however denied nurturing such aspiration, had been a disciple of bringing regional politics under one umbrella to facilitate local development.
After his November 26, 2010 inauguration as governor, Osun State became an experiment in reliving the good old days of Western regional government and attempts, albeit controversial, were made at recording the same level of successes that the defunct government made in development and regional identity.
The Western regional coat of arms, flag and anthem were adapted for the state and massive investments in the education sector, one of the greatest hallmarks of the old regime, was embarked upon particularly in the expensive school feeding programme that increased pupil enrolment to the largest in the country and spread wealth among operators.
The school system was reorganized to reflect the old days by merging institutions, introducing single uniform, expanding infrastructure, laying emphasis on indigenous knowledge and reenacting pupils calisthenics displays, a gymnastic and entertaining practice that was popular in the old Oyo State from which Osun was created to, in the words of the governor, “promote sound minds in sound bodies.”
For the first time, traditional religion was given recognition by the state government as local adherents get annual official public holidays and Ifa devotees, like Imams and Pastors, get recognized and offer prayers at public functions even as great efforts were made to partner with Yoruba in Diaspora, especially in Brazil and Cuba, for cultural renaissance.
Of course these cultural and religious revival and the effects of the school restructuring on former missionary schools, put the Aregbesola administration on a collision course with some faith-based organisations which accused the governor of promoting idolatry and attempts to disrupt the state’s religious balancing.
As the 2014 governorship election was drawing nearer, with a lot of issues being woven around the face-off between the governor and Christian groups by opposition politicians especially following the leave granted by the Judiciary for Muslim students to reflect their faith in school dressing, a major crisis hit the education system as protests erupted in schools.
In what was clearly instigated by outside forces, Christian students, while protesting against the leave granted their Muslim counterparts, appeared in school wearing choir robes while in one instance, a masquerade was sighted in one of the schools with full compliments of students who professed traditional religion.
But aside creating a Yoruba identity and agenda for the state, Aregbesola was also on the forefront of actualizing the much-touted southwest regional integration, which he displayed by establishing a full ministry in his administration to execute the mandate.
When the idea, which is seen as a practical step towards restructuring of the Nigerian federation, was mooted, the whole Southwest geo-political zone planned to work on the template of a confederation with shared development agenda to benefit the people.
For instance, the Oodua Investment Company, a conglomerate of companies and industrial concerns established by the old Western region now inherited and managed by the five states in the geo-political zone, was to build a railway line to connect Lagos, the nation’s economic hub and Ibadan, the region’s political capital.
There were also plans to have a centrally-funded electricity generating plants that will take advantage of the petroleum and gas deposits in Ondo State to boost power supply while seaports, owned jointly by the states, was to be constructed somewhere between the region’s coastal line that connected the three states of Lagos, Ogun and Ondo.
To achieve the set objectives, a commission to drive the implementation of a blueprint on Development Agenda for Western Nigeria (DAWN) was established with the aim of bringing a new dawn of development.
Speaking at a forum in Ibadan a few months after his inauguration, Aregbesola said South West regional integration for sustainable development could not be an herculean task “as the people have a lot in common especially in the area of education, agriculture, transportation, health and job creation.”
On agriculture, Aregbesola said, “The origin of our wealth is agriculture and we must return to it. There is no nation in history that went through development that did not begin with the development of agriculture. We must start that with the notion that farming is a big business with the farmers having their eyes on profit.
“Transportation is crucial to agriculture, movement of goods, personnel and general social interaction. Transportation is necessary for integration. The whole of the region should be linked together, seamlessly by road, rail, air and a common hub should be in Lagos in order to facilitate movement of goods and persons.
“It is a common knowledge that the federal roads are bad and we must seek to take over the maintenance of federal roads in the South West.
“Also, for mass movement, rail takes precedence over other modes. The current attempt to develop effective rail transportation within Yorubaland should therefore be encouraged. We have to begin the process of extending rail lines to Ekiti, Ondo and Edo States and all the major cities in the region.
“With good transportation system, the other western states can attract a large chunk of the industries in Lagos, save it from overcrowding and in the process, kick-start their own industrialization.”
Although the idea no longer enjoy the commitment of other governors for reasons not unconnected with economic recession and political differences, the Osun governor remains a strong disciple of regional integration and on his own, has opened up the state’s political space by having non-indigenes as members of the executive council and seeking economic partnerships with neigbouring states.
Last week at a public enlightenment forum, “Ogbeni Till Day Break,” an all-night audience-participatory programme hosted by the governor, Aregbesola harped more on his desire for regional integration saying if the South West blazed the trail, other regions would see its importance to human and physical development.
According to him, “the best period of growth in Yorubaland was when we were in a region. It was when the Southwest became the trailblazer in all facets of human endeavours and the spirit of unity was the driving force.”
In his reaction to the rumoured senatorial ambition in Lagos, Aregbesola said, “although I don’t have such thoughts now, there is nothing wrong with the idea. As a Yoruba man, I am qualified to contest for elective positions in any parts of Yoruba land.
“I was born in Ikare-Akoko, Ondo State, came into political limelight in Lagos State and now I am governor here in Osun State. I am as politically strong in Lagos as I am strong in Osun. So if I want to seek the ticket, I don’t need to take permission from anybody to do it.
“But I have not really made up my mind about it and I don’t want people to speculate on a decision that has not been made. When I leave office as governor of Osun State in November 26, 2018, there will be a clear six months to the 2019 National Assembly elections. People should wait till that time.”
He warned critics of his yet undeclared ambition to stop, “fanning the embers of sectionalism among a people that are united by history and culture and who have the same agenda and capacity for development.”
Aregbesola also said he would not be deterred by the criticism if eventually he made up his mind to contest the senatorial seat in Lagos stressing, “politics is basically resolution of conflicts. If I was not deterred when it was almost impossible to even look at the eyes of the incumbent in Osun, why would I be deterred now?”
But whether Aregbe, as the Osun governor is fondly called by his admirers, would have a smooth ride back to Lagos, remains to be seen as the 2019 politics of the state unfolds.