A witness to excellence
At that critical juncture in history, God indeed gave the State of Osun that man of vision, courage, commitment, compassion and positive action in Ogbeni.
It is with a joyful heart and profound gratitude to Almighty Allah that I write this piece, on Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, from the deepest recesses of my being as he approaches the end of his momentous, eventful and unprecedented two-term tenure as Executive Governor of the State of Osun (2010- 2018). I thank the Almighty for granting him the life, good health, wisdom, sagacity, prudence, vibrancy, energy and dynamism with which he has maximally utilized this office to turn around the fortunes of what used to be regarded as one of the most underdeveloped rural states in the country with little or no potentials for radical transformation. His tenure in office as governor of the State of Osun has helped to uplift millions of the poor and deprived from the humiliating depths of poverty while laying a firm foundation for and laying new vistas of previously unimagined opportunities for the future development of the state. I make bold to say with all sincerity that His Excellency, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola’s political career brilliantly exemplifies the great sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s assertion that “the glory of a king lies in the welfare and wellbeing of his people”. For the last seven and a half years, his driving passion has been the upliftment of the State of Osun to a higher pedestal of progress and modernity, enhancing the material and existential circumstances of the ordinary people and imbuing the people of the state with a new sense of self-esteem, confidence and self-respect.
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In closely observing and contemplating his conduct, underlying philosophy, selflessness, courage, commitment and sense of purpose in public life over the last two decades, he reminds me of the immortal saying of Martin Luther King (jnr) 0n June 23, 1963, that “There are some things so dear, some things so precious, some things so eternally true, that they are worth dying for. And I submit that if a man has not discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live”. As a student union leader in his youth, he was at the forefront of the black power movement that uncompromisingly advocated and struggled for the liberation of South Africa and the entire Southern African region from the stranglehold of apartheid.
At the same time, in line with his democratic socialist beliefs, Ogbeni played an active role in movements and organizations working for radical social change in Nigeria and the abolition of all forms of injustice, inequality, poverty, indignity and inhumanity of man to man in our society. It was thus not fortuitous that it was in the trenches, during the struggle against the annulment of the June 12, 1993, presidential election won by the late Chief Moshhod Kashimawo Abiola specifically and military dictatorship in general, that he struck a close working comradeship with our phenomenal leader, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. Both he and Asiwaju have consistently shown the rest of us the light to enable us find the way to a land where liberty, equity, justice and democracy reign supreme. These are values, which the Ogbeni showed a willingness to die for if need be for the greater interest of Nigeria, Africa and humanity.
When he became the second democratically elected Governor of Lagos State in 1999 after Alhaji Lateef Jakande (1979-1983), it was no surprise that Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu appointed Rauf as Honourable Commissioner in the strategic Ministry of Works and Infrastructure. Asiwaju had, no doubt, noticed his industry, versatility, doggedness and incomparable commitment to the public good during the dark and dangerous years of the struggle for democratic restoration in Nigeria. Ogbeni’s sparkling and undeniable success in that office for eight years, made the Ministry of Works and Infrastructure the flagship and point of reference of the Tinubu administration. It is to his everlasting credit that the Ministry laid the foundation for the radical modernization of roads and ancillary infrastructure in Lagos State that succeeding administrations have been building and improving upon so remarkably to the benefit and glory of Lagos State. There is, therefore, no doubt that Ogbeni Aregbesola assumed office as Governor of Osun, after a protracted and herculean legal struggle, with impeccable credentials of competence, character, integrity and indelible achievements in public service. It would have been so much easier and more convenient to set very low standards and be content to leave the State as he met it. He could easily have opted to let the state remain dependent on monthly allocations from the Federation Account while being content with simply paying salaries of government workers as well as pensions and letting the State of Osun remain what it had always been – a civil service state lacking in dynamism, virility or creative governance. Demonstrating great courage and audacious vision, this man of honour said ‘no’ to a path of ease, complacency and indulgent leadership. He said no to the broad and easy path of perpetual dependence on handouts from the Federation Account, preferring to lead the State of Osun along the narrow and demanding path of laying the foundation for self-reliant development with the prospects of future prosperity despite unavoidable short-term hardships. The path he chose: that of hard work, sacrifice, pain and hardship in order to realize the dream of ‘abundance for all’ in the long run, reminds one of the poem, ‘Give us Men!’ by Josiah Gilbert Holland (1819-1881): “God give us Men! Men from every rank, Fresh and free and frank; Men of thought and reading, Men of light and leading, Men of loyal breeding, The Nation’s welfare speeding; Men of faith and not of fiction, Men of lofty aim in action;
Give us Men – I say again, Give us Men!’
At that critical juncture in history, God indeed gave the State of Osun that man of vision, courage, commitment, compassion and positive action in Ogbeni. He boldly set forth a ‘Six Point Integral Action Plan’, which encapsulated banishing poverty, banishing hunger, banishing unemployment, restoring healthy living, promoting functional education and enhancing communal peace and progress. In enunciating such an ambitious developmental agenda in a state widely believed to be irredeemably poor, many of his critics and even supporters thought His Excellency was out of his mind. Where, many wondered, did he expect to get the resources to realize these objectives? But then, he was, even if subconsciously, obviously motivated by the immortal words of the poet who declared: ‘The man who misses all the fun Is he who says “It can’t be done”. In solemn pride he stands aloof And greets each venture with reproof. Had he the power he’d efface The history of the human race; We’d have no radio or motor cars, No streets lit by electric stars; No telegraph nor telephone, We’d linger in the age of stone. The world would sleep if things were run By men who say, ‘It can’t be done’. Because Ogbeni believed the revolutionary transformation of the State of Osun could be done, he was bequeathing to the state a legacy of breathtaking infrastructural modernization and service delivery.
Abdul-Lateef is the Commissioner for Home Affairs and Culture, Lagos State.
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