Osun governorship election: Aregbesola’s big challenge

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Mohammed Harunna


If elections are won or lost on character and performance, as they should, Osun State’s governorship election coming up on August 9 should be a shoo-in for the incumbent, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola. But then, as we saw in the June 21 Ekiti State governorship election, the almost universally hailed character and performance of the incumbent, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, seemed to have counted for practically nothing when he suffered heavy defeat at the hands of Mr Ayo Fayose, the candidate of the country’s ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

In Ekiti at least, what seemed to matter most was instant gratification for the people through the so-called “infrastructure of the stomach” and, even more importantly, the use of Federal Might (with capital F and capital M) to cow any opposition (It’s only a foolhardy man who would challenge the well-armed 30,000 security agents drafted into the state for the election who, as the governor said based on intelligence at his disposal as the state’s chief security officer, had instructions to “mow down” anyone who dared raise his figure in protest at their open partisanship).

As it was in Ekiti so would the PDP like it to be in Osun. One big difference, however, is that, unlike in Ekiti, a not-so-subtle religious propaganda weapon against the governor is being added to the other two.

No less a person than the PDP governorship candidate himself, Senator Iyore Omisore, gave this game away. Asked in an interview in PUNCH (July 18) if he was sure he would win the election, he said: “Of course, yes. I mean the indices are there for all to see; the decaying infrastructure, the disrupted education system, THE RELIGIOUS BIGOTRY, infrastructural inconvenience, social malaise, impoverishment of our people.” (emphasis mine).

Omisore went further to accuse the governor of wrongly “lumping students from Islam-based faith schools with students of Christianity-based faith schools together AND EXPECTING ONE RELIGION TO SUPERCEDE THE OTHER…” (Again emphasis mine). As a Christian, it is obvious Omisore is accusing the Muslim governor of favouring Islam.

Since Aregbesola dared to declare a public holiday to celebrate an Islamic New Year in the state two years ago, many of his critics have worked overtime to cast him in the image of a Muslim extremist. For many of such critics, the absurdity of the logic that what is good for one religion is necessarily bad for the other has clearly escaped them.

Not surprisingly, beneath Omisore’s apparently inadvertent betrayal of his religious animosity towards the governor, an even more insidious crude religious campaign is being waged where Christians in the state are being told that a vote for Omisore is 10 votes for Christ!

In this manipulation of religion to gain power, Omisore is only in the excellent company of our president, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, for whom the Church had for a long time become his platform for issuing policy statements and indirectly denigrating Islam. Even then for anyone to equate Omisore with Christ is really the height of blasphemy. But then this is Nigeria where politicians think nothing of invoking the Good Lord’s name in vain.

For someone who, at the least, is not averse to being compared to Christ, it was truly amazing how he could lie through his teeth about his relationship with the late Chief Bola Ige, whose murder several years ago he was implicated in and tried for and eventually acquitted.

In the PUNCH interview I’ve referred to, the newspaper asked him point blank if he did not kill Ige. “I did not,” he replied, “kill Chief Bola Ige at all. I can’t kill anybody, anyway, not to talk of Chief Bola Ige. Chief Bola Ige was my leader. He was like an uncle in-law to me.” He did not, he also said, instigate the removal of Ige’s cap and glasses in the palace of the Ooni of Ife, a humiliation which presaged Ige’s brutal murder in his own residence in Ibadan.

An amicable relationship between the two was definitely not what it looked like nearly 13 years ago when Omisore denigrated the chief in an interview in the rested TEMPO weekly newspaper (December 27, 2001). In that interview, he called Chief Bisi Akande, who he was deputy governor to and from whom he was estranged at the time, some of the foulest names imaginable and added Ige to the target of his diatribe.

“Recently too,” he said in the interview, “Bola Ige came on radio here to insult me and my family. THAT IS THE LAST ONE. He was beaten yesterday, the people of Ife beat him up and he was crying like a baby as they removed his cap and his glasses…He was disgraced out of Ife, he had to be dressed like a woman to get out of town.”(Again, emphasis mine).

Asked in effect if he approved Ige’s humiliation, he said yes in effect. “He has offended Ife people. If he insults me, he has insulted my people and they have the right to react.”

Omisore concluded the interview by describing Ige as a Yoruba traitor. “Bola Ige,” he said, “is a traitor to Afenifere… He is the Akintola of our time. What Akintola did to Awolowo is what Bola Ige is doing to Adesanya and to the Yoruba people.”

It is truly amazing how the man can now turn around to say he never held anything against Ige but, instead, had always regarded the chief as his leader and an “uncle in-law”, whatever that means.

Omisore would not only tell a lie about his relationships to curry favour with Osun voters to the extent that his implication in the murder of Ige is an issue in the elections, it is also obvious he is afraid to engage Aregbesola in any debate over what each of them can offer the good people of their state. Challenged to a debate by the governor, first he said Aregbesola was mentally unfit. When that did not seem to wash with the public he changed his tune and said in effect that the governor is a thug-in-chief. “Going to participate in a debate with violent people with array of thugs will be too much of a risk to take for us,” he said in another interview in PUNCH (July 20).

In an interview in The Guardian (July 10), Aregbesola said he was confident he would win any election in his state that was “credible, transparent, free and fair.” Therein lies the catch; an election can look credible, transparent, free and fair but the reality may be totally the opposite. An election in which a central government squeezes the opposition by slashing revenue allocation to states under the guise of falling revenue due to massive oil thefts and delays the release of even the little that is left in order to cause disaffection between opposition states and their civil servants, an election in which huge numbers of security agents are deployed to intimidate the opposition, etc, such election can hardly be described as credible, transparent, free and fair.

Actually the rigging of elections can be even more cynical than financially squeezing opposition states and deploying massive force to intimidate. The other day, I received an email about the election which, on the surface, seemed too far fetched.

“Do u ever thk along this line…” it said in the arcane language of texts. “200,000 ballot papers thumb printed in Abj, CBN abj convey to CBN Ado ekiti, CBN Ado to some selected commercial banks, some selected commercial banks to some party leaders in Ekiti land, party leaders to some ward leaders, ward leaders to 10 women per polling unit…Each woman with 10 already in their body, they pick one each and drop 11 in the box where they v bought agent.”

My instinct was to dismiss this as an outlandish conspiracy theory. But then when I remembered the memorable words of Major-General IBM Haruna, a former minister of information, in one of the most interesting interviews published by the rested Citizen, which I headed, I said to myself this may not be as outrageous as it sounds. As the general said, any time anyone tells you something is impossible in Nigeria, consider it done.

In spite of all these great odds against Aregbesola, I believe Ekiti is unlikely to be repeated in Osun on August 9. But then so many impossible things have happened in the country since 1999 that it will not surprise me if, in spite of Aregbesola’s character and performance, he loses the election.

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