Before he became governor, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola always let the world know that he was a communist. That is yesterday’s ideology, even if North Korea and Cuba still latch on to the fragile and terminal gasps of the idea.
Yet students of history know that communism saved capitalism after the Second World War. The welfare state enjoyed a rebirth when countries, especially those in Europe lying prostrate after the conflagrations, kindled a romance with the idea Marx and Lenin wrought. The liberal canons of democracy and free market became lost in the cloud when the ordinary citizen craved the heres and nows of food and shelter.
The West, including the United States, strengthened the social buoy of the poor and vulnerable although the idea dated back to the years of German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck in the 19th century. That way, the countries kept the communists on the fringes while the Soviet Union glamorised the fantasy in the so-called Third world with champions like Cabral, Ortega, Lumumba and Castro.
Yet, the capitalists could not deny the idea of compassion for the poor. You cannot joy in the spoils of capitalism while the poor gnashed their teeth. In The Secret Agent, Joseph Conrad observes that the condition for luxury and opulence is security.
Long before either capitalism or socialism became organized ideas, Shakespeare expressed the philosophy of compassion in his play, Coriolanus: “that distribution undo excess and each man have enough.”
What Ogbeni is practising in the State of Osun is not communism, but the beginnings of what the Western countries did to save their system: protecting the vulnerable.
In his world, the vulnerable are those in the underbelly of a rabid capitalist system. They are the old who cannot earn any more money, the young and old who cannot get healing, the children too poor to afford books and food at schools, the disenfranchised business person who cannot get seed money to pursue the dreams of independence. They are the people whom Abraham Lincoln referred to as the reason for government: those who cannot stand well on their own.
I had an opportunity to sit as an observer at the state of Osun’s executive council recently and observed the essence of his style. The meeting lasted about eight hours, and two main commissioners were asked to present their stewardships in the past two years. One of them impressed me: the deputy governor who also doubles as the commissioner for education, Titilayo Laoye-Tomori.
Its uniform and feeding projects in schools were the most telling. As Laoye-Tomori showed in her power-point presentation, in the past year the inflow into schools had leaped from between 25 percent and 30 percent. The students would now have school uniforms, spinning an industry and a jobs spur that locals are taking advantage of to tailor and provide the uniforms all over the state.
This narrative is touching in that education is perhaps the greatest driver of development in the modern world. American dominance has been attributed to education as the supreme driver. The world we know today is American, whether it is the car, airplane, the internet, the cell phone, the ipad, the movie, the suburb, the radio, television, the electric bulb, etc. They did it because they drove innovation. It is a country that makes things because it knows things. The thousands of children in Osun who are abandoning idleness at home and on the streets for school are witnessing the greatest liberation: of the human mind.
At one stage at the meeting, when he referred to the ambitious education programme, he burst into a Sunny Ade song “aiye nreti eleya mi o…”. He stood up in his characteristic soulfulness and some of his executives wafted along with him. It was a song of irony. It meant his detractors were waiting for his failure, but it was also a caution to his team not to disappoint. It costs N30 billion, the biggest project in the country.
The tablet of knowledge, a computer that would have all the lessons and books for the students is a new thing, and the deputy governor said it was close to readiness. I anticipate that as it combines modernity with the potential for commerce and jobs.
The other point of compassion is Agba Osun, and it is not its N10, 000 a month to elders that so touched me as the medical system that provides treatment to the vulnerable, especially the elderly and handicapped, in their homes. This cannot work without having all of them in a data base, and the young of the OYES programme built the data base. This is what the youth are doing but interlopers, in their willful ignorance, said they are militias for secession. The state has obviously a mobile medical system where communication between the deprived and the caregiver is streamlined. It is not perfect, and I am not sure everyone has enjoyed this even if the government is impressed with what it has done so far. I recall, too, that in the number of intakes in schools, the deputy governor’s figures were questioned in one of the districts, if for a negligible discrepancy.
What is being done for the elderly in terms of free healthcare in some states, like Lagos, Delta, Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Ekiti, will help improve life expectancy. But personalised care in Osun raises the stakes.
A peep into his style was his conversation with permanent secretary. Ogbeni had accused the ministry of not making an input into the education programme. It is a tribute to his open-mindedness that the permanent secretary was at ease to lash back in her courteous way. She said they actually offered their proposals but the governor did not implement. It turned out she was right. But ever the irrepressible Ogbeni with his tuft of beard, lean face, eyes alert, he asked the ministry to express the ideas and they were debated. I learnt that the Aregbesola administration in less than two years has convened more executive meetings than the seven and a half years of Oyinlola’s Gestapo era.
After the U.S. won the war of independence, Jefferson accused President Washington of apostasy for creating an elite society with Alexander Hamilton when he set up institutions for a strong federal state. This tension led to the birth of the two-party system with Jefferson breaking away from the Federalists to form the Republicans that protected the weak. That tension exists today with those who believe that anyone who is poor and fails is necessarily lazy. Philosopher Herbert Spencer says welfare institutionalises indolence. From the droves of children going to school in Osuns now, we know that is not true.
It takes an Ogbeni to prove that.