By Kazeem Akintunde
On January 11, some prominent members of the All Progressives Congress (APC) as well as members of the cabinet of Osun State Governor, Gboyega Oyetola, were at the party national secretariat in Abuja to pick Expression of Interest and Nomination Forms for him to contest the July 16, 2022 Governorship election in the state.
The politicians, led by the Senator representing Osun Central, Ajibola Basiru, who call themselves ‘Friends of Governor Oyetola’ said they took the decision on their own volition having been impressed with his performance in the last three years. Other members of the team who went to ‘Buhari House’ were two federal lawmakers in the House of Representatives from the state- Kemi Taiwo Oluga and Bukola Oyewo as well as the serving Finance Commissioner, Bola Oyebamiji.
What the team failed to acknowledge, however, is the fact that until the internal crisis within the APC in Osun State which has pitched the incumbent governor, Oyetola against his former boss and predecessor in office, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola is resolved, a second term ticket may become ‘a bridge too far’ for the governor.
It is no longer a secret that the two gladiators are done fighting the battle through proxies and are now ready for ‘war’. Ogbeni Aregbesola’s open declaration few days ago that there exist a faction within the APC in Osun State called The Osun Progressive (TOP), led by him, put a stop to all the pretences in the past. There is a battle of attrition between the duo. And if it is not resolved before the July 16 governorship election in the state, Oyetola may as well kiss his plum job good bye.
The relationship between the two politicians was cordial until the tail end of Aregbesola’s tenure when it was time to pick a successor. Aregbesola knew that his political godfather, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu and the former interim National Chairman of the APC, Chief Bisi Akande would have a say in who will take over from him but Aregbesola also felt that he should have a say in the emergence of his successor. He prayed fervently for someone that will continue on his legacies and the ‘solid foundation’ he had laid for the development of the state.
He discussed the issue with Tinubu who wasted no time in picking Gboyega Oyetola, his cousin and Aregbesola’s chief of Staff to be the next governor. Aregbesola, however, was not happy with the choice, and it is for a good reason. He told his godfather that it would be inappropriate for Oyetola to take over from him due to the fact that he is from Osun Central, a zone that had produced Chief Bisi Akande and Olagunsoye Oyinlola as governors. He, Aregbesola is from Osun East and has just completed an eight-year tenure and that for political balancing, someone from Osun West should automatically be the next governor, for equity and fairness.
For questioning his choice, Aregbesola incurred the wrath of Tinubu who became angry that his godson queried his decision. There and then, a decision was taken to curtail his rising profile within the party in Lagos especially in Alimoso local government as well as in Osun State politics. In partisan politics, 99.9 percent loyalty amounts to nothing; it must be 100 percent. Aregbesola has no option but to accept the choice of his leader and he did all within his power to market Oyetola to the people of Osun State.
Oyetola eventually became Governor of the state though with a slim margin and when it was time to form a government, there was a gentleman agreement that those who joined Aregbesola’s cabinet during his second term should be retained. Aside from that, Aregbesola wanted to be given the honour of nominating both the Chief of Staff and Secretary to the State Government (SSG). For the position of chief of staff, Aregbesola picked Alhaji Rasaq Salinsile and for the office of the SSG, he wanted the then speaker, Hon. Najeem Salam.
Oyetola however, had other people in mind. He argued that he should be allowed to choose as chief of staff, that he thought he could work with, and instead of Salinsile, he chose Dr. Charles Akinola, another strong ally of Aregbesola. Aregbesola had suggested Salinsile, who was previously the secretary of the party in the state because he also took over from Oyetola as acting chief of staff, when Oyetola resigned to run for office. Thus, naturally, he thought he should continue since he already understood the office.
But with Oyetola not comfortable with his choice as Chief of Staff, Sansile was again positioned as chairman of the party. But the governor still preferred the incumbent chairman, Gboyega Famodun, who is from the same central senatorial district as him, to continue.
Oyetola is from Iragbji, while Famodun is from Igbajo, under the same central senatorial district. Aregbesola was of the view that allowing Salinsile, who is from Osun West, to emerge as the chairman of the party, would reduce the cry of the people of Osun West who were beginning to feel marginalized in APC. But Oyetola stuck to his decision and the face-off gradually began. Alhaji Salinsile is now the chairman of Aregbesola’s recently declared faction of the APC.
Again, for the office of the SSG, Oyetola didn’t mind working with Salam as suggested by Aregbesola but Salam wanted to remain as Speaker till the end of his tenure before assuming office as the SSG. Of course, governance won’t wait for him and Oyetola picked someone else for the office.
Then came the issue of policy reversal. The first thing Oyetola did on assumption of office was to embark on a tour of local governments to thank the people for electing him and to have an idea of what their pressing needs are so that they could be incorporated into his plan. What stood out was the request from many indigenes for the governor to take another look at the education policy of his predecessor.
Aregbesola, while in office, had introduced a novel policy known as 4-5-3-4 educational system operated only in the state. He also introduced a single school uniform policy as well as the building of mega schools in a state that is mostly rural in settings. Many in the state became uncomfortable with these policies and called for a reversal. In fact, at the first cabinet meeting, the Commissioner for Education, Folorunsho Bamisayemi, came with a prepared memo for the review of the policies. He also wanted a decision taken at that maiden cabinet meeting on the issue but the governor chose to handle it differently by setting up a committee, headed by Professor Olu Aina, to consider the possibility of reversing the policies.
After the committee submitted its report and recommended that the reversal was the right thing to do, the governor went ahead to reverse the policies and Aregbesola concluded it was a move to undo his legacies, pushing their misgivings several notches higher.
Interestingly, the education commissioner, who led the charge to reverse the policies was the House Committee Chairman on Education for the eight years that Aregbesola was in office and was obviously comfortable with the policies then.
Aregbesola who felt that the governor was out to rubbish his eight year rule soon began to attract politicians who had lost out in the crude power politics of Nigeria to his side and it was not long before prominent APC politicians such as former Secretary to the State Government, Alhaji Moshood Adeoti; former Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Lasun Yussuf; former Speaker of the Osun State House of Assembly, Hon. Najeem Salam and Comrade Gbenga Awosode, and Alhaji Sansile among others, and their followers formed The Osun Progressives (TOP) within the APC. The crisis has festered since then with both Tinubu and Chief Bisi Akande unable to reign in the two gladiators but have always given tacit support to the governor. It is a known fact that both parties organized separate ward congresses which has led to the emergence of two factional chairmen for the party in the state.
With the Osun Governorship election six months away, can Oyetola swing it all alone without the support of Aregbesola and his faction? Senator Basiru, who is also the Chairman Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs said that prominent politicians in the state are not bothered about the internal dissension within the party, adding that the victory of Governor Oyetola was a done deal. Oyetola believes also that he has changed the dynamics of Osun politics by delivering dividends of democracy to the people which would guarantee him a second term ticket. Part of his achievements is that he has been able to clear most of the outstanding salaries and pensions Ogbeni Aregbosola government owed public servants in the state, reduction of the state debts incurred during Ogbeni’s reign as well as directly touching the lives of many indigent people in the state through the provision of monthly food and stipends to the poor and the aged.
While he may be right, in politics, the Aregbesola group still remains a formidable one. The earlier the APC puts its house in order in the state of the living spring, the better for both gladiators. Otherwise, the PDP is waiting in the wings and may explore the internal squabble within the APC to spring a surprise on July 16th.
See you next week.