Frank Talk: Ogbeni Aregbesola, this is no time to flex your muscles

Ogbeni Raufu Aregbesola
Ogbeni Raufu Aregbesola
Ogbeni Raufu Aregbesola

Frank Talk: Ogbeni Aregbesola, this is no time to flex your muscles

Olabisi Deji-Folutile

Olabisi Deji-Folutile
Olabisi Deji-Folutile

I have on my table a protest letter from the Office of the Secretary to the State Government, Office of the Governor, State of Osun.   The main complaint in that letter is that the PUNCH titles have not been fair to Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola in their reports.

There is no point defending PUNCH on this. From my experience as an editor, this is a common complaint, especially from politicians. I can’t count the number of times that both the Peoples Democratic Party and the All Progressives Congress have accused PUNCH of working for the opposition. To an average Nigerian politician, any story that does not favour   his political party or members is sponsored.

The state government’s protest letter notwithstanding, I can’t help but bare my heart on the current imbroglio in Osun State between the government and its lecturers on the one hand, and the state and its doctors on the other.

Indeed, for the people of Osun, it has been a circus show since the election of the “financial engineer” more than five years ago.   First, the governor slashed tuition drastically at the state-owned university, Osun State University, and refused to provide funds for running the institution. Not too long after, the institution’s lecturers went on strike because the state couldn’t pay their salaries.

Again, the governor merged about 850 secondary schools in the state into 70, in what he described as the “Omoluabi Essence.” By that merger, Christian schools were merged with Muslim colleges where the mode of dressing involves the wearing of hijab. That also created problems. At some point, some students dressed as masqueraders to school to prove a point. It was really confusion galore!

In October last year, there were rumours that the state was planning to merge all its colleges of education. This was also greeted with many protests. Though the state debunked the reports, the sacking of lecturers in some of the colleges of education has further fuelled the rumour of merger.

Last Friday,   141 members of the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics and Non-Academic Staff Union in the state-owned tertiary institutions were laid off. The dismissed workers were said to be victims of the ongoing controversial merger of tertiary institutions in the state. The two institutions affected are the Osun State College of Education, Ila-Orangun and Osun State College of Education, Ilesa.

But, the lecturers refused to collect their termination letters. Under normal circumstances, this should be regarded as an act of gross insubordination. To compound the problem, other lecturers in the state, in a bid to support their own, have embarked on an indefinite strike.

Probably, as a way of saving the governor from an imminent embarrassment, the Speaker of the State House of Assembly, Mr. Najeem Salam, suspended the lecturers’ sacking. He asked the provosts of the institutions, their governing councils, as well as officials of the ministry of education, ASUP and CEASU to appear before the House to resolve the issues.

But, interestingly, authorities of these institutions told the House that government had nothing to do with the workers’ dismissal. According to them, the affected workers were dismissed due to redundancy, inappropriate qualification, poor academic development and declining productivity, among other reasons.

Agreed that some of the reasons adduced for the workers’ dismissal could be true, isn’t it strange that the managements had to wait this long before taking a decision on these people? It is also interesting that different tertiary institutions are giving similar reasons for taking similar steps when there are no records of joint meetings of both institutions on same agenda at any point in time.

The truth is the school authorities may need to invent another lie for the discerning and intelligent members of the society.

As things stand now, if I were to be in Ogbeni Aregbesola’s shoes, I would simply embrace the political resolution that the House of Assembly has graciously offered. I will drop the idea of sacking the lecturers.

Already,   Governor Aregbesola is fast losing the respect of the state’s workforce.   He is going through what some lazy husbands that constantly crave for respect when they can’t do things that confer respect on men go through every time. No woman respects any man that delights in giving excuses for failure. Any government that can’t pay its workers has failed.

Respect is earned. One of the things that confer honour on responsible men is their ability, not only to provide the basic necessities of their families, but to also satisfy some of their indulgences. Someone once told me that his wife changed his name to “My Lord’’ when he landed a mouth-watering job. Recently, she changed his name to “My International man” when his salary was doubled.

For now, Governor Aregbesola remains a “weightless” governor. He can’t command the respect of the state’s workers. Though he has consistently tried his best to convince his people that their present predicament is a function of the global meltdown, workers who are being owed months of salaries have refused to be persuaded.

How can they when they see their governor live a life of opulence every day?   The governor and his family use a private helicopter funded by the state to travel across the states of the federation.

Who would respect an employer who has turned them to beggars? Lots of   workers in Osun State are welfare candidates in some churches and mosques. Some have even been forced to sell their property to pay their children’s school fees.

Right now, the governor is facing another set of recalcitrant workers in the state doctors. They are on strike and have ignored the governor’s threat to dismiss them. Two times, the striking doctors ignored the governor’s ultimatum for them to return to work.

These are doctors who embarked on strike to protest the government’s decision to pay them half salaries. On Thursday, it was reported that the positions of the doctors were advertised. But,   the   Nigerian Medical Association has told medical doctors in the country to shun the jobs being advertised by the state government.

Meanwhile,   the   Medical and Dental Consultants Association of Nigeria at Ladoke Akintola University of Technology Teaching Hospital, jointly owned by Oyo and Osun states, has started an indefinite strike.

How many battles would the governor fight? Unfortunately,   he seems to find it convenient to be a lone ranger.   Almost a year after he was sworn in as a second-term governor, Ogbeni has yet to constitute his cabinet. Sincerely, this is not the time for the governor to flex his muscles.

The governor can’t afford any further distractions. He needs all the time that is available for retrospection and   projections.   He should start by constituting a credible think tank that can proffer solutions to the economic problems staring the state in the face.

Government has a duty to ensure that the basic needs of its citizens are met. A workman deserves his wages. So, it is part of the governor’s responsibilities to pay his workers’ full salaries. While the state may not directly provide food, shelter and other basic needs for the people, it should at least provide an environment where the people can thrive.

The Japanese railway authorities are keeping a train station in a remote village in North Island of Hokkaido because of only one passenger – a high school student. According to Straits Times, the only two trains that stop in this village do so because of this girl.

Three years ago, the Japan Railway Company decided to shut down the station. But it reversed the decision after it was discovered that a young girl used the train to go to school every day. They are running the station pending the time this girl will finish high school.

Talk of a responsible and responsive government. A government should be ready to go the extra mile for its people, not bullying them after failing to pay them their salaries.