Osun State is currently heavily indebted to the tune of N165.91bn and this is apart from the billions of naira owed as salaries and pensions. This has, however, not prevented many governorship aspirants from virtually all the political parties in the country from jostling to succeed Governor Rauf Aregbesola.

The Director of Communications, Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, Dr. Ogbonnaya Orji, in the latest quarterly review of the Federation Accounts Allocation Committee, listed Osun State, which incidentally is one of the states with the least allocation and internally generated revenue, as the third most indebted state in the country.

Members of the opposition parties in the state, including the immediate past Head of Service, Mr. Sunday Akinwusi, who also contested against Aregbesola in 2014, believe that the debt owed by the state is far higher than the figure given by NEITI.

Akinwusi stated that the government borrowed from some commercial banks and that the loans were not part of what the state government listed as part of its debts.

The huge debt profile is not discouraging politicians in the state from eyeing the job in anyway and it does not seem that many of those struggling to succeed the governor do not care about the challenges of administering the state, particularly due to  the current economic crisis facing Osun State and the country at large.

The number of aspirants seeking to pick the lone ticket of the All Progressives Congress is expectedly high but according to experts, some of them are aware that they may need to defect to other political parties to get the chance to contest in the coming election. Since Aregbesola cannot seek a third term in office, some of the political bigwigs in the APC want to try to see how far their luck can take them in the race.

The first executive governor of the state, Senator Isiaka Adeleke, is one of the politicians jostling to pick the APC ticket. The other people in the race are the Deputy Speaker, House of Representatives, Mr. Lasun Yusuf; Speaker of the Osun State House of Assembly, Mr. Najeem Salam; a current member of the House of Representatives, Prof. Mojeed Alabi; Secretary to the State Government, Moshood Adeoti, and Chief of Staff to Governor Aregbesola, Alhaji Gboyega Oyetola, who many see as the anointed candidate.

A former Deputy Governor, Senator Iyiola Omisore; a former Speaker of the House of Assembly, Adejare Bello, a business man and a son of a former military administrator of Niger State, Kayode Oduoye, are among the leading aspirants within the Peoples Democratic Party. This is in spite of the fact that the PDP in Osun State is already factionalised, like its national structure, between Senator Ahmed Makarfi and Ali Modu Sheriff’s camps.

The immediate past commissioner representing the state on the board of the National Population Commission, Chief Lere  Oyewunmi; a former Minister of Youth Affairs, Senator Akinlabi Olasunkanmi, and many other aspirants are also seeking to pick the PDP ticket.

A former governorship candidate of the Labour Party in the state, Alhaji Fatai Akinbade, and a former SDP governorship candidate, Mr. Sunday Akinwusi, are also seeking opportunities to have another shot at the governorship seat.

There is a crack within the ruling APC in the state and although this has been there for a long time, it was recently made public by a prominent leader of the party, Alhaji Fatai Diekola Oyedele, who vowed that Aregbesola would not be allowed  to impose any candidate on the party. Diekola, as he is popularly known, spoke at the empowerment programme organised by Lasun for his constituents. He added that he and other like-minded people would send the governor back to Lagos at the end of his tenure in office.

Diekola’s declaration jolted some party supporters, some of whom, especially the governorship aspirants, have been using the opportunity to reassure Aregbesola of their loyalty.

Traditional rulers are not left out and some monarchs, including the Akinrun of Ikirun, Oba Rauf Olayiwola; the Aragbiji of Iragbiji, Oba Rasheed Olabomi, and other monarchs addressed journalists and hailed Aregbesola for his “unprecedented achievements in the state.”

They also indicate that Aregbesola’s successor must be his replica in all ramifications. Similarly, the Ataoja of Osogbo, Oba Jimoh Olanipekun, and the Orangun of Ila, Oba Wahab Oyedotun, also commended the governor at another forum.

However, some of the leaders of the APC, who are advocating that a home-based politician should succeed Aregbesola, explained that “foreigners” don’t usually know the pains of the people. This, according to them, is the reason why the current administration patronises contractors outside the state at the detriment of local ones.

Whichever way the pendulum swings, it is obvious that Adeleke may be favoured and many are saying that he may need to defect from the ruling party to win a ticket to contest the governorship poll as some analysts believe the party’s machinery is structured to favour Aregbesola’s Chief of Staff, who is also close to the APC National Leader, Senator Bola Tinubu.

It is too early to predict who will pick the PDP ticket because the party is divided into two factions, but some of the leaders are working to unite the two factions led by Soji Adagunodo and Dr. Bayo Faforiji. Although, some of the party chieftains believe Omisore should allow other aspirants to take a shot at the governorship seat, the former deputy governor remains a factor that cannot be ignored within the party.

However, whether he will succeed or fail at the poll in 2018 is another issue that will be determined on the field.

Oduoye, who is one of the young and vibrant aspirants in the PDP, said the “misunderstanding” in the PDP would not affect the fortune of the party at the poll in any way. He said no member of the party was defecting, saying if there was a crisis, many chieftains and even members would have left the opposition party.

He said the party was basking in the eagerness of the masses to put an end to the reign of the APC in the state, which he said had brought them suffering.

The PDP aspirant said it was callous for the governor to be paying workers half salaries since about two years ago irrespective of the harsh economic condition in the state and the country.

Commenting on the state’s debt profile, Oduoye said the governor just foisted the debt burden on the people of the state without seeking their consent.

Oduoye said, “Governance is business and the governor, who is the equivalent of a chief executive officer, must learn to carry the people along in every decision, otherwise; he will run into problems. As the CEO, you have to carry the mandate of those who elected you.

“You must learn to be responsive and be responsible to them. You will put this to the House of Assembly, not just to do your wish without debating it. You should hold town hall meetings to let the people know what you want to do.

“I am very sure that the workers would not have given him the permission to borrow if he had held a meeting with them and told them that he would use their salaries to pay back the debt.”

Oduoye also chided the governor for spending N1.35bn on building the Osogbo Government School beside an existing Osogbo Grammar School, describing it as a huge waste and an opportunity to patronise the APC members at the expense of the over three million people of the state.

While expressing optimism that the party would dislodge the APC from the Government House in 2018, Adagunodo said the governor had plunged the state into a deep mess that would challenge the management capability of whoever succeeds him.

Adagunodo said, “The governor has rebuffed all attempts to make him come clean on the level of indebtedness of Osun State at different fora in the past. The NEITI record, which puts the debt of Osun state at N165.91bn is scandalous, frightening and portends danger for the fragile economy of the state.

“We have it on good authority that the figures provided by NEITI did not take into account several other loans sourced from commercial banks in the state, especially in the past three years. We  wonder  why Osun, which is always on the lowest rung of FAAC allocations and has a small internally generated revenue, will be classified on the topmost debtors’ list alongside Lagos, Akwa Ibom and Delta, which are some of the highest revenue earners in Nigeria.

“This in effect shows that Mr. Aregbesola has run the economy of the state aground through wastage, frivolities and lack of transparency in the management of the state’s resources  and has rather created a huge financial burden for generations yet unborn.”

But the APC Chairman in the state, Mr. Gboyega Famoodun, described those criticising the governor for borrowing funds as illiterates, who lack a sound sense of economics. He lambasted the opposition, especially the PDP, saying the party was after cheap publicity.

He said, “Even the blind can see that this administration is working. There is nowhere in the state that this government has not touched. But we have to concentrate on the state capital in order to attract investors and boost the economy.

“Apart from the International Breweries Plc and the newly renovated Cocoa Processing Industry in Ede, there is no company that employs more than 100 workers. This is what the governor is trying to correct. The PDP chairman and all armchair critics should see the good works of the administration. But I pity the PDP chairman because he must be saying something to remain in the news because the PDP is fast going into extinction.”

The media aide to the governor, Mr. Semiu Okanlawon, challenged the PDP to make public the exact figure of the state’s debt profile if it had the information.

He said, “If they know the actual figure, let them say it. Are they now tired of the humongous fabricated figures they have been bandying around for years now?

“If they don’t know the road to the Debt Management Office, please show it to them to confirm what it is. What does the PDP know than fabricating lies?”

Similarly, a chieftain of the APC, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told our correspondent that the governor had said the decision of his administration to borrow was in the best interest of the state.

He said the debt repayment was structured to last for as long as 20 years, saying the development projects which the money was spent on would attract investments that would boost the economy.

Since there is no magic that can make the state to pay off its debt between now and November 27, 2018 when Aregbesola’s tenure is expected to expire, stakeholders believe that Osun State needs a more prudent leader to succeed the incumbent and the person must be able to service the huge debt and boost the economy without adding to the debt burden.

The governor, has however, described the debt burden as being exaggerated. He said the money borrowed could not be compared to the development projects executed and what would be the multiplier effects of the legacy projects.

He said, “To analyse this alleged N165bn debt, Osun has four million residents. And this debt has been transformed largely to a bond organised by the Federal Government and it would last for 20 years.

“Let us now divide N165bn by four million people for 20 years. This will give  N2,031.25 as cost of N165bn debt to every resident of Osun per annum.

“Ironically, this debt that people are shouting and crying about summed up to N5.56K per person daily. This practically means that every Osun resident carries a burden of N5.56K per day.

“This government we are talking about that puts burden of N5.56K to every citizen of the state feeds every public school pupil with N70 every school day.”

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