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Progressive Govt: Osun’s Long Walk To Freedom

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By Ismaeel Uthman

Today, November 27, marks 10 years that the then formidable opposition party, the Action Congress of Nigeria, came into power, thereby becoming the ruling party in the State of Osun, following the judgment of the Appeal Court sitting in Ibadan, Oyo State that declared Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola winner of the April 14, 2007 election. November 27 is a date with history. And history is an event happening now that will be remembered in the future, owing to its importance and significance. The 26th President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt Jr, who ruled from 1901 to 1909, said: “The more you know about the past, the better prepared you are for the future.”

The course of history was altered in Osun, a State in the South-Western part of Nigeria, on November 27, 2010. A slender frame of determined, focused, plucky and progressive spirit of Rauf Aregbesola, the former Commissioner for Works in Lagos State, with the tireless, unwavering, undaunted and ever-militant members of the Action Congress (AC), as the party then was, led the movement for the alteration of history in Osun.

Aregbesola and the AC members did not set out to alter history in the real sense of it, rather than taking over government of the state from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in 2007. The intent was to win the April 14, 2007 governorship election as the flag-bearer of the AC and administer the state in line with their manifestoes. Nothing more! Aregbesola was oblivious of the fact that the master of fate wanted more than just a victory for him – He wanted to reshape history for his cause.

Aregbesola was contesting against a retired general, Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola, the PDP candidate who was seeking a second term in office. Earlier before the elections, the then President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, had on Saturday, February 10, 2007 declared that year’s general election a do-or-die affair. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had a compromised willing political tool as its head. All the state machineries were not in favour of Aregbesola. What the AC candidate had was just ‘the people’ who were more than willing to vote out the PDP government. The people actually voted for Aregbesola on the war-like Election Day, but their votes were not counted, neither did it count, as INEC declared Oyinlola as the winner of the election.

On the Election Day, AC party agent in Igbajo, Ayobami Oni, popularly called Ayo Kemba, was gunned down. Samson Olanrewaju was shot dead in Ile-Ife. Saheed Adebiyi was also killed at Okeroko polling unit in Ikirun, among other people who were killed.

The outcome of the election was rejected by the people: protest engulfed almost every town and city in the state, which then became unsettled for weeks. PDP instigated the police to clamp down on the protesters. Aregbesola was arbitrarily declared wanted by the police. In a secret video recorded by an unknown person, Oyinlola was seen directing the military and police in Ilesa to declare Aregbesola wanted and hold him responsible for the violent protests after the governorship election.

According to the Chairman of Campaign for Democratic and Workers’ Rights (CDWR), Comrade Rufus Olusesan, at a press conference on May 9, 2007, the police charged over 400 persons to court for politically related offences at the instance of the PDP-controlled government within a week.

After the governorship election, Aregbesola approached the Osun Election Petitions Tribunal to prosecute the reclamation of his stolen mandate.

His ground of petition was that the governorship election was rigged in 10 local government areas of the state – Atakunmosa West, Ayedaade, Boluwaduro, Boripe, Ife Central, Ifedayo, Ife East, Ife South, Isokan and Odo-Otin. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) had recorded 253,789 votes for Oyinola, in the 10 affected councils, while it recorded 41, 923 votes for Aregbesola. He asked the court to declare him as the validly elected governor of Osun State.

Few months into the legal battle, scandal rocked the election petitions tribunal, led by Justice Thomas Naron. The tribunal was alleged to have been compromised by Oyinlola’s lawyer, Mr. Kunle Kalejaiye, SAN. Both Naron and Kalejaiye were exchanging phone calls and text messages, through which they plotted to ensure victory for Oyinlola at the expense of Aregbesola. The popular ‘call log’ saga and unprofessional conducts of the duo were published by a newsmagazine ‘The News’ in July 2008.

Following the publication of the The News magazine, a group of civil rights activists under the umbrella of Campaign Against Corrupt Leaders (CACOL) wrote a petition in which they demanded the disbandment of the Justice Thomas Naron tribunal. The activists, led by Comrades Debo Adeniran and Waheed Lawal trooped out in large number to submit the petition to the Registrar of the Osun High Court, Mrs. Oloyede Folaranmi. After submitting the petition, a team of armed policemen, led by Mr. Johnson Moronike, the then Commissioner of Police stormed the court and arrested 24 of the civil rights activists. They were detained for a week at the State Criminal Investigation Department before they were charged to court. Justice Jide Falola of Osun Magistrate’s Court, remanded them in prison for a total of five weeks.

As envisaged (based on the established compromise), the Justice Naron-led tribunal threw out Aregbesola’s petition and controversially affirmed Oyinlola as the winner of the April 14, 2007 governorship election in 2009. The judgment left the entire people of Osun in a very gloomy mode. “It was a miscarriage of justice”, said Aregbesola.

Aregbesola and his party rejected the verdict of the tribunal and approached the Appeal Court for redress. After months of legal battle, the Appeal Court on March 30, 2009 in a unanimous decision, ordered the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Umaru Abdullahi, as then was, to constitute a fresh election petitions panel to re-try Aregbesola’s Petition, just as it chided initial tribunal for not giving Aregbesola fair hearing.

The petition was retried by a five-man panel that included Justices Ali Garba, Benedict E. Agbattah, Ismaila H. Bashir, Muhammad T.M. Aliyu and Abimbola O. Obaseki. The retrial panel in its judgment on May 28, 2010 said it found no merit in the petition and accordingly dismissed it again.

Being dissatisfied and aggrieved, Aregbesola and the AC filed an appeal against the decision of the second tribunal. Their Notice of Appeal dated June 14, 2010 was filed on June 16, 2010. This notice of Appeal is at pages 546-601 of volume 7 of the Record of Appeal. On November 26, 2010, the Appeal Court in a verdict read for about five hours, declared Aregbesola the winner of the April 14, 2007 governorship election and ordered that he should be sworn in immediately.

As directed by the court, Aregbesola was sworn in as the fourth Executive Governor of the state on November 27, 2010 at the Technical School playing ground. The venue was filled to capacity and the air became thicker for breathing.

While fighting to regain his mandate, Aregbesola was incessantly harassed. He was once detained and charged to court on frivolous petition. His supporters were equally hounded, arrested and detained on trumped-up charges, the most remarkable of which was on the fictitious car bomb said to have occurred in a Peugeot 505 car that exploded at the Ministry of Water Resources on June 14, 2007.

The Chairman of the defunct AC, Alhaji Moshood Adeoti; AC Secretary, Prince Gboyega Famodun, AC Director of Publicity, Research and Strategy, Sunday Akere; Elder Sunday Laoye and the Spokesperson of Oranmiyan, a socio-political group, Mr. Gbenga Fayemiwo, were arrested, arraigned and remanded in prison over the bomb blast.

The protracted legal battle was a long walk to freedom, but it opened a new clean chapter in Osun politics and government. Aregbesola would have been sworn in on May 29, 2007 if the election was not rigged. He would not have had a date to himself in history. Aregbesola made another history by handing over to a successor of the same progressive fold, Mr. Adegboyega Oyetola, on November 27, 2018.

Governor Oyetola is celebrating his exact second year as the governor of the state with laudable achievements which include construction and rehabilitation of roads and hospitals.

Cumulatively, the progressive government is 10 years old in the State of Osun. The proposed celebration of the 10th anniversary by Osun APC caucus in the National Assembly generated controversies in the state and it was halted after the intention was misconstrued, to allow peace to reign.

However, it is noteworthy to reiterate that the Oyetola administration has its root from the restoration of Aregbesola’s mandate, handed over to him a decade ago. Without Aregbesola, there could not have been an Oyetola. Secondly, Oyetola cut his political teeth and horned his political skills under Aregbesola, under whom he served as Chief of Staff for eight years. So it is 10 unbroken years that began with Aregbesola and has continued with Oyetola. The 10th anniversary therefore could not be celebrated without adequate mentioning of the two years of Oyetola’s administration been celebrated with numerous achievements.

Tracing the historical presence of progressive government in Osun, Aregbesola is not the first progressive governor. Chief Obafemi Awolowo, whose name has become a brand for politicians, is the pioneer of progressive politics. He ruled the old Western Region as Premier. Late Bola Ige, the Cicero, inherited Awolowo’s progressive legacy. He was a governor of old Oyo State, where Osun was carved out. Ige was an indigene of Esa-Oke, in Obokun Local Government Area of the State of Osun. As a state on its own, Osun had Alhaji Isiaka Adetunji Adeleke as its first governor. Adeleke won the election on the platform of the defunct Social Democratic Party, which had a semblance of progressive, in December 1991. Chief Adebisi Akande won the 1999 governorship election under the progressive platform of Alliance for Democracy in Osun State. He governed the state successfully with strong legacy. Baba Akande’s second term bid was crushed by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) which manipulated elections and lorded a retired Army General, Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola, on the people of the state. The declaration of Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola as governor in 2010 restored the reign of progressive government to Osun. Aregbesola won his second term election with landslide victory on August 9, 2014 governorship election. Against all odds, Aregbesola was able to successfully hand over the progressive government to Oyetola of the same political tendency in 2018.

Speaking on the 10 years of progressive government in Osun, Adeoti, a former SGG under the Aregbesola administration said: “The 10 years of progressive government in Osun is nothing but a blessing to the people of the state. We have changed and raised the bar of governance in the state even after Aregbesola left. The development has been in leaps and bounds under Governor Oyetola. What we are praying and hoping is that after Oyetola might have completed his tenure, we will be able to win again so that the good work could continue.”

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