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Socialist Democracy June-July 2018


8 June 2018

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AREGBESOLA GOVERNMENT'S 8-YEAR ADMINISTRATION IN OSUN STATE: A Short Review

By Kola Ibrahim

By November 26, 2018, the two terms totalling 8 years of Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola will come to an end. In preparation for this, gubernatorial election is to hold, according to Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), on September 22, 2018. Various candidates in political parties, including major bourgeois political parties (APC, PDP, etc.) are already jostling to succeed Aregbesola. However, the need to draw the balance sheet of the Aregbesola government becomes very important, in view of the legacies (economic, social and political) it will be leaving behind. Moreover, it will help to evaluate the various political parties, candidates and their programmes.

Aregbesola came in with a lot of mass enthusiasm and goodwill. In spite of the four years of locust of the Oyinlola/PDP between 2003 and 2007, thousands of Osun people braced the odds to not only vote Aregbesola in April 2007, but also defended their votes in an over 3year struggle against the PDP's rigging. Even when many so-called members of Aregbesola's then ACN ran away, many people including working people, youth and the poor suffered under the violence of PDP to defend Aregbesola's mandate. However, it should be stated also that the emergence of Oyinlola/PDP government in 2003 was caused by the attacks launched on the working people by the preceding Bisi Akande/AD government.

When Aregbesola finally won back his mandate on 25th of November, 2010, not a few Osun people jubilated and expected the government to deliver goodies to the long suffering masses of the state. Unfortunately, and in spite of the ample opportunity available to it, the government will be ending up as disappointment to millions of the working people, youth and the poor of the state. No doubt, in about eight (8) years, the government had carried out some projects. These include building of about 30 new primary and secondary schools, construction of some local and inter-city roads and the school feeding programme. However, aside the fact that many of these projects are done at over bloated costs, so many other things left undone have made the impact of these projects less feasible. Significantly, the government currently owes over 30 months of arrears of half-salaries and pensions, while it still pays fractional salaries (50% to 75%) to thousands of workers.

While the government purportedly spent over N20 billion on building about 30 schools, several hundreds of public schools are in terrible conditions with little or no facilities for proper learning. Also, the working and living conditions of teachers and other staff of public schools have plummeted with teaching staff in public schools currently collecting between 50% and 75% of their salaries since 2015.

Worse still, over N20 billion purportedly spent on building just 30 schools that cater for less than 5 percent of school children could have provided better infrastructures in many schools if the resources had been utilized judiciously and democratically. By this we mean if the government had empowered the Public Works Ministry with equipment and manpower, coupled with democratic control through involvement of communities, parents, teachers' union, and government representatives in the supervision, monitoring and coordination of school rebuilding project, such amount (N20 billion) could have done better jobs. But it seemed government only wanted to empower its political and business lackeys through award of contract. This explains the huge cost of contracts for these school projects.

The road projects undertaken by the Aregbesola government followed the same, if not worse, pattern like the school project. While more than N10 billion of local government allocation was undemocratically used to construct some 300 km of local (intra-township) roads across the 30 local governments, many of the road projects have begun to flounder. This is because, aside the cost of the road project being inflated at the rate of N33 million per kilometer, several road contracts were given out to local politicians to curry favours from them.

However, the real big issue is with the inter-township roads upon which tens of billions of naira have been committed. Some of these road projects have remained uncompleted or abandoned, despite the government procuring huge debts on them. An instance is the 30-km Akoda-Gbongan road dualisation project, which purportedly cost N29.2 billion. The project which was supposed to last 18 months has run over 50 months now with majority of the job still undone, yet money meant for this project is part of the indebtedness of the state. Other big road projects such as Gbongan-Orile Owu-Ijebu Igbo, Osogbo-East-West Bypass (18km at N14.5 billion), Osogbo-Ila Odo (36.8 km at N17.8 billion) have all remained at different levels of non-completion. Meanwhile, all these projects should have been completed by the end of 2014. Needed to be mentioned also is the fact that loans (through direct loan and ISPO) have been raised for these projects even before economic recession started; yet they remained uncompleted.

We agree that the Jonathan/PDP federal government mismanaged the economy and looted the country blind. This, coupled with capitalist neo-liberal policies implemented by the Jonathan government, dislocated the nation economically and laid the basis for the economic crisis faced by the country, which of course the Buhari/APC government has worsened with its own version of capitalist policies. However, this is not enough justification for the profligate character of the Aregbesola government. How do we justify the fact that projects upon which debts have been incurred have remained uncompleted several months after their due dates? How do we explain that on average, the inter-township road projects undertaken by Aregbesola government cost a whooping N500 million per kilometer?

In one instance, the government gave close to a billion naira to a private garment factory under the guise of giving free unified school uniforms to school students, only for the government to ask the students to pay a higher price for the uniform the following year. This amounted to using public fund to set up private business under the guise of giving free uniforms to students. Yet, the governor claimed in one of the public programmes that the government is not to engage in business but to provide environment that is conducive for private business. Guess such 'environment' includes doling out billions to private businesses and politicians.

In another instance, the government purportedly spent over N5 billion on Opon Imo (computer tablets) for secondary school students. The project ended as not only failure but sheer fraud. In the absence of functional facilities in schools, coupled with terrible working conditions of teachers, the project simply failed to make any meaningful impact as Osun State continue to perform woefully in external examinations. The government has tactically accepted the failure of the Opon Imo project by withdrawing the tablets from circulation after wasting over N5 billion of the state resources.

Should we mention billions of naira doled out to politicians and appointees? For instance, over N4.5 billion was doled out to 300 handpicked members of Local Government Caretaker Committees within four years. This is just a fraction of what politicians take from the state purse yearly.

With all these shenanigans, one can understand while Osun State has become one of the most indebted states in Nigeria. As at December 2015, the state owed N145 billion domestic debt, while by June 2016, the state foreign debt was at $78 million (more than N25 billion). With pending interests payments on these loans and bailout loan of N34.9 billion given by the federal government in 2016, the state's debt burden will be far more than N200 billion. Meanwhile the government received over N300 billion as allocation from federation accounts aside other funds received by the states. Between June 2015 and May 2016 alone, the peak period of the economic crisis, the state got N66 billion. Unfortunately, this amount was consumed significantly by loan repayment. In April 2016, the state collected no federal allocation as the allocation was consumed by loan and interest repayment.

In spite of incurring huge debt in seven years and earning over N300 billion as federal allocations alone, there is very little to show for it. Education sector is in shambles. Aside crisis in the primary and post-primary schools, tertiary education system is in terrible state with most state-owned tertiary institutions seriously understaffed and poorly equipped. Health sector has simply collapsed with the state having less than 100 doctors, while there has been serious brain drain in the only state-owned tertiary health institution (LAUTECH Teaching Hospital) as a result of attack on health workers and poor working conditions.

The so-called infrastructural projects have only been conduit pipe for looting. While about N100 billion was purportedly spent on five inter-township road projects, all of which have remained uncompleted as state earlier, virtually all the roads connecting Osogbo, the state capital, to other towns are in bad shape. And this is not limited to Osogbo; from Ile-Ife to Ede, Iwo, etc., all the major township roads are in poor conditions. Truly, some of these roads are federal roads, and have been abandoned since Jonathan/PDP era, but most of the multi-billion naira projects undertaken by the Aregbesola government are also federal roads. If the public works ministry had been empowered, equipped and well-staffed, it could have carried out many of the road projects and other constructions like school building and mass housing at lower costs.

But this will require democratic control through supervision, monitoring and planning by democratic committees comprising representatives of workers, communities involved, parents, government and relevant professional groups. This is necessary in order to avoid bureaucratic bottleneck and diversion of fund. But the pro-capitalist Aregbesola government could not have done this because it was premised on enriching a few under the guise of populism.

In addition, the Aregbesola government has put the state into a huge debt that will be paid for by several generations of workers and youth. Aside the state paying billions as interests on loans, the state has over N200 billion as debt. All this will be excuse for austerity policies by subsequent governments. Already, the Aregbesola government has started the austerity policies. Aside owing workers and pensioners salary and pension arrears, and paying only between 50 to 75 percent as salaries and pensions to categories of workers and retirees, the state has also sacked over 200 staff in state-owned tertiary institutions, while fees have been introduced in public primary and secondary schools. Government has also stopped paying WAEC examination fees for students, while all the tertiary institutions and hospitals are being underfunded. All this is a foretaste of what is to come, unless a radical working class government emerges in the state in the coming election.

This means that working people, youth, the poor and the oppressed must brace up for serious struggle in the coming period, if any of the anti-poor political parties (APC, PDP, SDP, LP, APGA, ADC, etc.) emerge. Workers must reclaim their unions from sell out and treacherous labour leaders who have mortgaged the interests of workers for their own pecuniary benefits. Students and youth organizations must also be prepared for serious resistance.

The Socialist Party of Nigeria (SPN), which was founded by the DSM and other activists will provide political alternative for the working people, youth and the poor in Osun State, now and beyond election. We enjoin you to join and help build the SPN, which stand on socialist programmes, as a way of providing political alternative to the long-suffering people of Osun State and Nigeria.