The State of Osun Governor, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola is still focusing on the implementation of his laudable people-oriented programmes in the face of dwindling revenue to fund them. A recent appraisal conference in Osogbo, the state capital, dissected the problems confronting the seven-year old administration and the way out of the logjam..
Rauf Aregbesola, engineer and governor of Osun State, had a vision. During his inauguration in 2010, he promised to re-invent the miracle of the Awolowo era. This he has attempted to do through his people-oriented policies and programmes designed to uplift the state. However, the State of the Living Springs has become a victim of economic recession, which has limited the governorâ€™s capacity to sustain the tempo of achievement.
In Osun, governance is not a tea party. Gone were the days of business as usual. The governorâ€™s intervention policies has made him a model. He earned a second term in 2014, based on votersâ€™ appreciation of his good works. He became the hero of the vulnerable class, the poverty-stricken masses, artisans and peasants. But, the governor also filled the consciousness of the elite, who marveled at the developmental efforts, despite the meagre federal allocations and infinitesimal internally generated revenue. Encomiums have been showered on Ogbeni Aregbesola for fighting the infrastructure battle. Indigenes have hailed his initiatives across the sectors. Apart from constructing and rehabilitating roads, the governor has invested heavily on education. More schools, with modern facilities, have been commissioned across the three districts, thereby creating a conducive atmosphere for teaching and learning.
At a recent appraisal conference in Osogbo, the state capital, participants beamed a searchlight on Aregbesolaâ€™s score card, highlighting the constraints to effective performance at the twilight of the administrationâ€™s life. The theme of the conference organised by Urban Media Resources Limited was: â€˜From Osun to Abuja: Investing in Social Infrastructure in a Recession.â€™ The lead speaker was Dr. Charles Akinola, the Director-General, Office of Economic Development and Partnership, Osun State. The moderator of the panel discussion was Prince Adekanmi Ademiluyi, a journalist. Discussants included Dr. Harry Olufunwa of the Department of English, Federal University, Oye-Ekiti, and Mr. Sanya Oni, Editorial Page Editor of The Nation Newspaper.
Aregbesola inherited a state in despair, seven years ago. He believed that an institutionalized social protection policy was urgently required. In his manifesto tagged: â€˜My pact with the people,â€™ the governor articulated his six-point integral action plan. The plan, which formed the philosophy of his administration, was reminiscent of the late Chief Obafemi Awolowoâ€™s slogan of â€˜Freedom for all, life more abundantâ€™ in the defunct Western Region. According to the document, Aregbesola set out to banish hunger, poverty and unemployment. He sought to promote a healthy living, functional education, communal peace and progress.
Up came five cardinal programmes designed to achieved the objectives. They are Osun Elementary School Feeding and Health Programme (o-Meals), Osun Youth Empowerment Scheme (O-Yes), Programme for Women, Programme for Elderly (Agba Osun) and Programme for Destitute.
O-Yes was established within the first 100 days of the administration. No fewer than 20,000 unemployed youths were beneficiaries. The scheme redirected energy from indolence to public works. It also halted dullness and indolence while also averting an attraction to social vices. O-yes created a bridge to employment, equipping the young men and women with positive work ethics and culture, self-sustenance, resourcefulness and respect for the environment.
Beneficiaries received N10,000 monthly. The sum could only cover basic needs. Government has committed over N200 million to the scheme monthly. Participants cut across the 30 local councils. â€œOver 40,000 youths have passed through the O-yes Scheme and over 60 percent of them have been given permanent employment in various ministries in the state. In Februay 2011, it was discovered that an unacceptable acute shortfall of teachers existed in the secondary schools. The Teachers Corps in O-Yes was set up through which 5,400 graduate O-yes cadets were seconded to schools,â€ said Akinola.
Explaining how the scheme has boosted rural economy, the Director-general added: â€œOver 300 O-yes cadets have received training and a total loan of N100 million was given to them to act as cocoyam intermediaries between cocoyam farmers and food vendors.â€
Today, many states have copied the O-Meals Scheme from Osun. It was designed to tackle hunger, improve nutrition, encourage school attendance and support local livelihoods. Many parents, who hailed the initiative, said it has enhanced enrolment and reduced absenteeism. However, the programme is not restricted to feeling. Akinola said â€œcomplementary interventions such as deworming and provision of micronutrients are also integrated.â€ The multiplier effect is that farmer have taken an advantage of the programme to produce more foods, owing to the growing demand. â€œ In November 2012, the Partnership for Child Development(PCD), the United Kingdom and Osun State Government signed the Osun Elementary School Feeding (o-Meals) Transition Strategy Plan Document to further strengthen the programme.
Following the inclusion of primary four pupils, the beneficiaries rose to 254,000. This has led to the empowerment of 3,007 community caterers. Food vendors are mandated to work in a cooperative groups of 25. This is to enable them leverage resources and materials to maximize profit. The menu is provided in accordance with guidelines by the Nutrition Department of the Ministry of Health and local consultants. There is also an oversight function by the Ministry of Education. The scheme has attracted more children to schools. According to the National Bureau of Statistics, in its July 2013 statement, Osun has the highest population of primary school enrolment.
Under the â€˜Agba Osunâ€™ Scheme, vulnerable elders receive N10,000 monthly from the government for their upkeep. The stipend is assist aged people who lack social support. â€œThose in need of urgent medical support are treated. At some point, free eye treatment was also provided in association with a group, the Oranmiyan Worldwide. A large number of the elderly received free eye galsses and free surgery,â€ Akinola said.
The special population is not neglected in Osun. Under the Osun Destitude rehabilitation Programe (O-rehab), destitute, homeless and vagrants, who could also be psychotic, and others with artificial disabilities are assisted. Lunatics are taken off the street, treated and rehabilitated. Some were reintegrated into the society when they returned to their families. Others were resettled, made to undergo apprenticeship training and assisted to establish trade.
Aregbesola has received commendation for these feats. O-Yes was under-studied by by the World bank and recommended to the Federal Government and other states. Also, O-Meals has been adopted by the Federal Government. It is being implemented in phases in the country. Other states joining the programme have sent their personnel for training in Osun. In June, UNICEF brought representatives from some states to Osun to understudy the social welfare and protection programmes.
However, Aregbesola may have been slowed down by dwindling resources for development. Although the recession was biting hard, he refused to terminate the social welfare programmes. Although he had planned to extend the O-Meal beyond primary four, he could not do it. Also, two batches of O-Yes, making another 40,000 cadets ought to have passed through the programme, the goal could not be accomplished. There is limitation to social engineering due to lack of funds.
Lauding the governor for the successful implementation of the programmes, Onisaid: â€œYou have to be a miracle workers to be a governor in a time like this.â€ He praised the governor for constructing the ring roads and bridges, which have reduced the long time spent on the road. Oni said the care of the vulnerable is also commendable. â€œOsun stands out as a template in economic administration. It is not an accident that development partners have come to partner with Osun,â€ he added.
Olufunwa said: â€œDespite its lack of money, Osun has performed more than many states. It is wonderful that 250,000 pupils are being fed daily.â€
At the conference, Aregbesola acknowledged the constraints. Osun contrasts sharply with lagos State where he had money as Commissioner for Works and Infrastructure to provide amenities for the people. The governor acknowledged that government and governance are about economy, adding that, when there is paucity of revenue, no programme of action can be meaningfully and comprehensively executed. He cautioned against the over-dependence on petro-dollar economy, saying that it is dangerous. He said the state must restrategise, look inward, boost its productivity, and create a conducive atmosphere for more remunerative labour and industries to thrive so that it can earn taxes for development.
According to economic experts, things are not rosy in Osun. The governor is not responsible for the turn of events. Aregbesola has tried to avert the non-payment of salaries, despite the lean resources. â€œ95 per cent of the monthly allocation from Abuja is used to pay salaries. The population of workers is one percent of the population of the state. The one per cent takes 95 percent. How do we take care of other people? That is the dilemma,â€ Akinola lamented.
In responding to the stack financial realities, Osun has embarked on a financial restructuring of sorts. It has entered a dialogue with labour unions. A standing committee headed by veteran union leader, Comrade Hassan Sumonu, has agreed on a modulated salary structure. Under the arrangement, Level 1 to Level 7 collect full salary; Level 8-12 collect 75 percent while Level 12-17, described as the fat cats, and all political office holders collect 50 percent of their salaries.
â€œThose on Level1-7, who receive full salary constitute 68 percent of the workers; Level 8-12 constitute 25 per cent while Level 8 and above constitute less than 10 per cent. This implies that, even in a recession, the most vulnerable segment of workers has been given social protection,â€ Akinola said.
Source: The Nation.
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