I have been reading Ray Ekpu’s column since the 1970s when he was at the Daily Times and I literarily went with him as his journalism career coursed through National Concord before berthing at Newswatch. I was embittered when the Newswatch dream died and became happy again when he started writing for The Guardian.
He’s no doubt had a sterling career as a journalist and columnist, save the little blight of plagiarism allegation in the late 1980s. However, his piece titled ‘Not virtuous’ of April 4, on page 9 of The Guardian, lambasting Osun State Governor, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, for not appointing commissioners, is not particularly in good taste and contains factual inaccuracies.
It is a cardinal principle in journalism that while comments are free, facts are to be held sacred. Mr. Ekpu gave the impression that the governor whimsically changed the sobriquet of the state from ‘State of the Living Spring’ to ‘Land of the Virtuous’. Nothing could be further from the truth. State of the Living Spring was coined more whimsically by one of the previous helmsmen of the state who simply took it from the Osun River.
However, the state government embarked on a complete ethical reorientation and rebranding for the state which include creating a flag, anthem, coat of arms and other symbols and the adoption of the epithet “ IPINLE OMOLUABI “(State of the Virtuous). This was consecrated at a ceremony attended by Yoruba icons on February 28, 2011.
February 28 is significant because that day Western Region assumed self-rule in 1952 with the Avatar, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, leading the way. Omoluabi was particularly chosen to reflect the Yoruba characterisation of the whole man as the epitome of virtue in honour, integrity, hard work, knowledge, enlightenment, generosity, chivalry and never-say-die spirit that turns adversity into triumph.
This is not just the governor’s whim, the whole exercise was codified into a piece of legislation, enacted by the State House of Assembly and signed into law.
This is a more meaningful infrastructure of the mind that reminds the people of who they are and deeply entrenches them in the positive values and prepares them for their own development.
It is curious to know whose interest Ray Ekpu hopes to serve by insisting on the appointment of commissioners and forming a cabinet.
First, he quoted the wrong section of the constitution. While Section 192 sub-section 1 which says that “There shall be such offices of commissioners of the Government of a State as may be established by the Governor of the State” is indisputable, the constitution puts no time frame. However, Section 14 sub-section 4 only calls for spread in appointments and cannot by any stretch of the imagination be used to make a compelling case for the appointment of commissioners.
Secondly, Mr. Ekpu’s assertion that Balarabe Musa was impeached for his inability to name a cabinet is factually incorrect. Alhaji Musa was impeached on June 23, 1981 while on his eighth month as governor of the old Kaduna State in the ill-fated Second Republic. Contrary to Mr. Ekpu’s claim, the then governor forwarded the list of his nominees to the Kaduna State House of Assembly thrice and was thrice rejected.
This was because while the governor was elected on the platform of the populist People’s Redemption Party (PRP), the state legislature on the other hand was dominated by the National Party of Nigeria (NPN). The bone of contention then was Balarabe Musa’s refusal to include the names of NPN members in the list.
Alhaji Musa was later to allege that he was removed because he had planned to empower the masses with micro and small enterprises, which the plutocrats in NPN saw as a threat to their big businesses. So, he was a victim of bad politics and class war, and not inability to form a cabinet.
There is a clear misconception on the place of cabinet in a parliamentary system and executive system of government and I am glad Mr. Ekpu raised this issue.
This is a matter on which we must have a clear understanding. In a parliamentary system, you must first be elected from your constituency as Member of Parliament before you can be become a minister. The Prime Minister, usually the head of the party with majority member in parliament, must also win the election from his constituency before he can be asked to form the executive. In a parliamentary system, therefore, the executive came into being only after the formation of the cabinet since the ministers and the prime minister all emerged from the parliament which members nevertheless, all have strict provincial legislative mandates.
However, this is not so in the executive system where the president and vice president or the governor and his deputy have direct national and state-wide mandates to govern their domain respectively. The executive, in a presidential system, therefore, is formed the moment the president or the governor is sworn in because they assumed powers immediately and can begin to take decisions and implement them from that moment on.
Further appointments of Commissioners, Special Advisers, Senior Special Assistants and so on, will only add to the size of the executive that has already been formed.
Mr. Ray Ekpu talked about the verdict of history. But he appears to be in haste to make history’s judgement for it by writing so disparagingly about the government that has been adjudged at home and abroad to have performed nothing short of a miracle. Appointment of commissioners is a constitutional issue and it is most regrettable that force majeure has delayed this in Osun. Governor Aregbesola makes no bone of the financial constraint his administration and others in the country faced, making it difficult to even pay workers salaries.
But a government should not be judged by form but by content. While the place of commissioners cannot be discountenanced, their presence or absence does not necessarily imply good governance. It takes a lot of money to constitute and maintain a cabinet and indeed run the government. This is the sink hole that public administration in Nigeria and the Third World especially has sunk in when 95 per cent of the resources of state is used to service government apparatchiki and functionaries, which constitute less than two per cent of the population, leaving nothing for the rest of the people and their development.
This is a subversion and negation of democracy which conceives of political power in the service of the government of the PEOPLE by the PEOPLE for the PEOPLE.
Governor Aregbesola, with little resources, had been able to raise the bar of governance in Osun, transforming one of the poorest states in Nigeria to an enviable status. In 2013, the NBS rated Osun as the state with the lowest poverty rate in Nigeria. The following year, Renaissance Capital (RENCAP) in its 36 shades of Nigeria economic review of states ranked Osun as the 7th largest economy in Nigeria. Then in 2015, The Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI) rated Osun Second Highest in Human Development Index among the 36 states in Nigeria.
Governor Aregbesola’s administration has embarked on the most ambitious infrastructure and human development agenda in the annals of the state. On his watch, 230 state roads spanning 368 kilometres, were rehabilitated and completed. The administration also partnered Local Governments to deliver 226 council roads across the 30 local governments and the development area with a combined length of 216 kilometres.
With the assistance of World Bank by providing the counterpart fund, RAMP 2 programme delivered 250 kilometres of rural roads to open up farms in rural areas. In all, more than 1000 kilometres of roads have been delivered. Work is on-going on four superhighways with bridges and interchanges, the first of its kind in the state.
The Aregbesola administration has also completed 20 brand new state of the art elementary schools, 22 middle schools and 11 high schools in an unprecedented education infrastructure development.
The state government under Aregbesola with the O’MEALS programme, has been feeding 262,000 elementary 1-4 pupils sumptuous meals every school day since 2012. In four years, over 200 million hot meals have been served. Osun was the only state doing so until the Federal Government intervened last year.
Aregbesola set up the O’YES to absorb 40,000 youths in public works. No state has ever done that. The ambulance service he set up, O’Ambulance, operates 24 hours every day and saved 1,774 lives last year alone. The Osun Destitute Rehabilitation initiative, O’Rehab, has taken care of 160 destitute and lunatics, resettled and or reunited them with their families.
These and many more were achieved and still ongoing with or without commissioners. This is because government is a system and with a visionary leader at the helm, it will run and deliver good governance, with or without a cabinet.
Aregbesola should therefore be lauded for running the government with little or nothing and has achieved so much with little. The verdict of history will surely not be complete without the impression of the children who had decent meals, the lives saved through response in accidents and the thousands of men and women lifted from poverty through the various empowerment schemes. It is doubtful if cabinet formation would be an issue then.
Fasure, Senior Special Assistant to Governor Aregbesola, writes from Osogbo, Osun State