A Nigerian state goes in the right direction - P.M. News

A Nigerian state goes in the right direction

Medical Mission-1

Governor Rauf Aregbesola’s vision for the revival of the State of Osun yields bumper dividends

BAMIDELE JOHNSON

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The mess was huge. Astounding levels of decay in physical infrastructure, spiralling youth unemployment, dire health and educational facilities as well as general social tension reigned in Osun State. This was the grotesque situation that Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola inherited when he took over as governor of the state in November 2010. Despite the grim conditions, the depth of public expectations was oceanic. Aregbesola’s campaign promises won him large armies of supporters, who resolutely stood by him all through the struggle to retrieve his stolen mandate, but expectations still had to be met–and quickly, too.
While the will was there, the means to do so was virtually non-existent. The state Aregbesola inherited from his predecessor was a shell, rendered so by almost eight years of imprudent spending. “We met an insolvent state; a state that was mired in the worst form of poverty. If a state had a debt of N18.3 billion and its monthly income at the time we assumed office was N1.5 billion, you call that debilitating…We are talking of N18.3 billion that was already tied to projects, by our own reckoning, that had no bearing at all to either the growth of the society, the wellbeing of the people and general future of the state. What are those projects? Stadia construction, moribund skill and technical education programme and some other totally irrelevant commitment,” Aregbesola said.
A process of financial engineering was launched. To meet statutory obligations, the Aregbesola administration took a bridge finance of N1 billion monthly. And by March 2011, the debt had been refinanced and liability was turned into an asset. “We have succeeded in staving off the suffocation that the loan constituted and turned it into almost an asset. It is not as if we are not servicing the loan. We are servicing it in such an easy manner that we do not even know we are servicing it…We are easily meeting our obligations to our creditors and we have managed our resources so well as to make it possible for us to embark on projects that, by the standard we met, were simply impossible,” the governor disclosed.
The restoration of the state to financial health bred hope in spades. Hope, in turn, bred faith, which arose from fulfilment of campaign promises. A major one was the creation of 20,000 jobs within the first 100 days of the adminsitration. It seemed far-fetched. Critics, especially in the dislodged Peoples Democratic Party, scented a major opportunity to hit the Aregbesola administration, as they were almost sure it would trip up on the promise. It did not. On 5 March 2011, Aregbesola launched the Osun Youth Employment Scheme, OYES, a rolling initiative designed to tackle graduate unemployment. The scheme immediately delivered jobs for 20,000 volunteers, each earning N10,000 monthly. The scheme costs the government N200 million monthly in salaries, an aggregate of N2.4billion yearly. This sum comes directly from the governor’s security vote. The impact was enormous. Graduates, who had earned nothing in as many as seven years after leaving school, found themselves earning something, though little, and learning a variety of job skills as well as moral and civic reorientation. That way, youths that could have turned to crime were successfully taken off that route. Aside from that, tailors in the state also benefitted, as they were contracted to make uniforms for the volunteers. “Talking of money entering the economy, we must not fail to see the impact of the Osun Youth Empowerment Scheme. Through that scheme alone, N200 million enters the Osun economy every month. It’s not as if recipients get a million naira. But what they get cannot fly out of the economy,” Aregbesola explained.
It did not take long for the scheme to start drawing admiration. Sector Leader, World Bank Human Development in Nigeria, Professor Foluso Ogunmadewa, recommended it to other states. World Bank officials also led representatives of seven states and the Federal Government to Osun State for the purpose of studying the scheme. Abubakar Abdullabi, a Federal Government representative said: “Taking 20,000 youths at the same time, honestly, it is not an easy job… One thing I see as a challenge to other leaders in this country is that this man is using his security vote that he would have used in enjoying himself. Honestly, we wish to call on other governors to emulate Governor Aregbesola.”
To further tackle unemployment as well as boost food production, the Aregbesola administration launched a process to encourage existing farmers and attract school leavers with interest in farming. The vehicles through which these are being done are the Osun State Rural Enterprise and Agricultural Project, OREAP, and Quick Impact Intervention Programme, QIIP. OREAP was conceived to make all abandoned lands useful for farming, help prospective farmers, construct roads leading to farm settlements, grant loans and furnish farm settlements with basic amenities. Last year, when the project kicked off, the administration prepared about 2,474.17 hectares for farmers. For the current planting season, government spent about N120 million to clear about 1,600 hectares of farm land. Part of this sum was devoted to the upgrade of rural roads. Also through the project, the government has intervened in its four farm settlements at Ago Owu, Orile Owu, Iwo and Esa-Oke, offered financial support to 110 farmers’ cooperative groups as well as granted loans to 223 individual farmers and built mini-warehouses in some councils, with the major ones in Oyan and Osogbo. The sum of N104 million has been expended on subsidy for about 100 tractors to be owned by farmers in the state. Fertiliser has also been made available at subsidsed rates. Similar attention has been paid to poultry farming, on which the sum of N340 million has been spent. A remarkable element of the revolution in agriculture is the synergy the government has established with the Nigerian Railway Corporation. Through this arrangement, agricultural products are transported to Lagos at government expense.
Just as in agriculture, the scalpel of the Aregbesola administration is on the grotesquely deformed educational sector, where a massive reconstruction surgery is in process. The operation is being overseen by the 10-man Osun Schools Infrastructure Development Committee, O’Schools. The goal is the delivery of a restructured sector and the provision of modern infrastructure in public schools within the next two years. A sum of N30 billion has been allocated. This is expected to deliver 20 high schools, 50 middle schools and 100 elementary schools. The government is also providing free school uniforms to public school students, free meals to elementary school pupils as well as pays examination fees for final year students of all secondary schools in the state.
The government also recently unveiled what it calls OPON IMO (tablet of knowledge), a computer system modelled after the iPad. This is designed to contain the curriculum of about 39 subjects offered at the School Certificate level, past questions and answers. The device will enable students study anywhere without the burden of having to use text books and has the advantage of not requiring electricity to work.
At the tertiary level, all the 98 medical students of the Osun State University, whose education was stymied over the last three years because of the absence of a teaching hospital, have been sent to Ukraine to complete their studies at government expense. This is in addition to the drastic reduction of school fees being paid by students of state-owned tertiary institutions under the previous administration. At the university, fees in the Law and Health Sciences faculties were slashed from N200,000 to N100,000; Sciences/Engineering from N175,000 to N75,000, while others were slashed from N150,000 to N75,000.
Another significant achievement in education is the amicable resolution of the dispute arising from the joint ownership of the Ladoke Akintola University of Technology, Ogbomosho, Oyo State. The immediate past adminstration in Oyo State attempted to appropriate the institution, intially sparking a disagreement with the previous administration in Osun and later a seeming acquiescence by same. The current administrations in both states have since resolved to continue to a co-ownership of the institution.
The Aregbesola adminstration inherited a state in dire need of an enviromental make-over. Years of government indifference had blighted the environment and conditioned the people to view such deformation as normal, even creating a resigned attitude to mishaps that came with it. In July 2010, a heavy downpour in Oshogbo resulted in huge flood waters, which destroyed properties and yielded some fatalities in some areas. The government of the day treated the occurrence as a minor local disturbance. On assumption of office, Aregbesola quickly moved to prevent a repeat of the sordid incident. As the rains of 2011 approached, the governor directed that all rivers and streams prone to flooding across the state be channelised to prevent disaster, which had by then become a fixture.
This took in problem areas like Ogbagba/Alekuwodo, Gbonmi and Okooko rivers in Osogbo; Osere River in Ikirun; Odo Eran stream in Ilesa; Esinmirn, Agbara and Ogboku streams in Ile-Ife; Oke Moro/Fiditi/Naira & Kobo rivers in Ikire; Olowa/Okun streams in Ode-Omu; Aiba River in Iwo as well as Alagbaagun/Osun Ojomo rivers in Iragbiji.
According to Professor (Mrs.) Bukola Oyawoye, Commissioner for the Environment, the government has spent about N537 million on dredging and channelisation. This has ensured that those who live in the vicinities of these water bodies no longer flee their homes when the rains come. “The situation will no longer be different,” assured Oyawoye.
The government also moved against filth. Refuse dumps were created in towns and villages. Aregbesola declared war on filth and directed the enforcement of all statutory rules and regulations forbidding indiscriminate dumping of refuse in any part of the state. To sustain the war, the government acquired and put to immediate use refuse processing vehicles in major communities in the state. He also ordered the immediate commencement of landscaping and beautification of major towns, beginning with the capital, Oshogbo. Visitors to the capital are now greeted by beautiful flower beds. Beautification work was recently completed on the roundabout in front of the State Secretariat, Osogbo. These efforts are expected to reduce the occurrence of diseases.
In dealing with problems associated with healthcare delivery, the government has taken a variety of steps. These include making provision for the completion of ongoing hospital building projects like the 20-bed Comprehensive Health Centre at Erin Oke/Erin Ijesa; 20-bed Comprehensive Health Centre at Bode-Osi; construction of a laboratory unit and the construction of a Male Surgical Ward at the State Hospital, Asubiaro. For the upgrade of the hospital, the government approved N250 million.
Late last year, it offered free screening and treatment for eye diseases. The programme tagged “Jigi Omoluabi” delivered free glasses to thousands, while many also benefited from the free eye surgeries co-sponsored by the state Ministry of Health, the Oranmiyan Group, Aregbesola’s campaign organisation, and US-based experts of Osun State extraction. In its first year in office, the government spent over N200 million on essential drugs.
And to banish water-borne diseases, the government has ramped up its efforts at making potable water available in every part of the state. Last year, it awarded N417.5 million contract for a comprehensive revamp the Ede Water Dam and provision of items necessary for potable water availability. There are also rural water schemes, which have been supplying water to rural communities. In recognition of its efforts at providing water, donor agencies have weighed in with a support of $2.5 million.
Another area that has attracted a big slice of attention is road construction and maintenance. Having been bequeathed a network of wretched roads, the Aregbesola administration was left with no option other than to find the will and the way, despite the leaness of its means, to make movement swifter and pleasurable. It found both. Major roads in Osogbo, Ikirun, Ilesa, Ile-Ife, Ede and Iwo underwent extensive rehabilitation. In Osogbo, contracts for the rehabilitation 21 roads were awarded, while nine were awarded in Ilesa. These include the construction of ring roads that are expected to banish traffic gridlocks prevalent in the towns. The state government also recently awarded contract for the rehabilitation of six key link roads. The roads, which are to be widened, provided with medians and walkways, will also be provided with landscaping. The roads are Igbajo/Okerun/Iresi; Ijebu Jesa/Ijeda; Gbongan/Ife-Ibadan Express Road; Gbongan/Odeyinka/Orile-Owu/Araromi Owu/Ijebu-Igbo. The job was awarded to Messrs Hongye Nig. Ltd at a cost of N17.5 billion. When completed, the roads, especially the one from Gbongan/Orile-Owu to Ijebu-Igbo, will greatly assist in reducing the congestion experienced by travellers to/from Lagos at Ibadan and Ogere.
In commerce, the Aregbesola administration has succeeded in raising the commercial value of the state. Already, efforts are being made to establish markets of international standard in Aiyegbaju and Dagbolu. And to ensure the revitalisation and sustainability of trade and commerce, government has worked out a cooperative system under which artisans, traders and small scale businessmen and women are provided with loans to boost their operations.
The Ministry of Commerce and Industry has been instructed to fashion out reliable monitoring systems to ensure fair and equitable disbursement of loans to participants in different cooperative groups and see that they are used for the purpose for which they were meant.
By far, the greatest achievement of the administration is the revival of adherence to ethics and using such as a launch pad for societal development. “We adopted the almost forgotten emblem of Western Region as our own crest. We equally developed an identity, a flag for the state. All of these, from the crest to the flag and the anthem, make you see clearly, a commitment to motivate, mobilise and focus the people on their role in society and improving their perception of self,” explained Aregbesola. If sustained, there will be only one way to go: up.