On Sunday, some candidates in the September 22 gubernatorial election of Osun State gathered in Osogbo, the capital of the state for a debate. Though the organisers of the debate invited five leading candidates, Ademola Adeleke of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was absent.
The candidates who participated in the debates were Fatai Akinbade of the African Democratic Congress (ADC), Moshood Adeoti of the Action Democratic Party (ADP), Gboyega Oyetola of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and Iyiola Omisore of the Social Democratic Party (SDP).
The televised debate, which was anchored by Channels television’s political correspondent, Seun Okinbaloye, was disappointing to watch. Most of the candidates seem unprepared for such an important discourse and left the impression that they saw the debate as a mere formality. Most of the responses were half-hearted, sentences were left hanging and unfinished because the candidates ran out of ideas to complete them. The debate was largely a snooze-fest. There were just a handful of sparks, the types usually associated with political debates.
Mr Oyetola, who was the Chief of Staff of the incumbent governor of the state, Rauf Aregbesola, arrived late to the debate. He got off straight to answering questions without apologising to the audience and viewers for his tardiness.
Mr Akinbade of the ADC, who had tried unsuccessfully to push through his governorship ambition, said he wanted to be governor because of his wealth of experience working under three military juntas, and then proceeded to reel out a list of clichés (I am well-equipped, prepared for the task ahead, I’m passionate) for why he should be elected governor without telling the people some of the things he had done in the past that proved his passion for governance.
Ironically, for a man who has changed parties three times, mainly because he did not get the nod to contest (he lost at the primary stage in both his previous attempts), Mr Akinbade said he was not “inordinately ambitious”.
Mr Adeoti, who until a few weeks ago, was the Secretary to the State Government and a member of the ruling APC, said the main reason he wanted to be governor was because he believed it was the turn of the Osun West Senatorial District to producer the governor, having not produced one in the present republic since1999. Mr Adeoti decamped to the ADP after he lost out in the politicking in the buildup to the APC primary election. He also added a list of clichés like youth and women empowerment, development, good governance and agricultural growth as other reasons he wanted to be governor.
Mr Omisore said he would plug the leakages in government and improve transparency in government spending if he was elected. He added that salaries of workers would be paid promptly. Some cadres of civil servants in Osun have not received full salaries for several months. Mr Omisore, however, did not say how he intends to generate the funds to offset the backlog of unpaid salaries to promptly pay the workers.
Mr Oyetola, unsurprisingly, said he would continue with most of the policies of the incumbent governor, especially in the areas of infrastructural development. He said his experience in the private sector would come in handy in running the states. He said he does not believe in zoning of elective positions in the state.
Adeoti: Still in the shadows of Aregbesola
Mr Adeoti said while some of the projects embarked upon by the incumbent were good, some of them were not beneficial to the people of the state. For instance, he promised to abolish the controversial identical school uniform for public schools initiated by the administration because the people of the state are complaining about it. He said though some of the policies of the government are good, their execution was faulty. Mr Adeoti, who hails from Osun West Senatorial District, said he supports rotational governorship.
On the economy, the candidate who blamed the state’s cash crunch on the federal government, said he intends to boost the state’s internally generated revenue by investing in agriculture especially in the cultivation of cash crops like cocoa. He also promised to increase the number of people paying taxes in the state as a means to improving its revenue.
When asked how he intends to improve education in the state, Mr Adeoti said he would increase teacher’s welfare and encourage most teachers to relocate from the urban centres with incentives. He promised to continue the school feeding programme of the incumbent government.
A recent ranking of the last West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) by an independent body placed the state at 29 out of 37 states including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). When asked what he would do to reverse the falling standard of education in the state, Mr Adeoti blamed the performance of other states on cheating and started making an analogy to show that students from a particular part of the country may have been cheating during public standardised examination but was stopped by the moderator of the debate.
Mr Adeoti did not excite at all. For a former secretary to the state government, he struggles to explain some of the policies of the administration he was part of. However, while trying to criticise his former boss, he could not come up with many independent approaches to solving the problems of the state and was caught praising and criticising his former boss in the same breath. His star was eclipsed by the shadow of his former boss. It soon became obvious that his main reason for wanting to be governor was because he thought his senatorial zone has been bye-passed.
His excuse that other states perform better than Osun in WASSCE because of widespread cheating is lazy at best. Instead of saying what he would do to improve standards, he resorted to demagoguery. His elocution was poor. He could not fully express some of his arguments. He was like a wet sheet during the entire debate.
Akinbade: The zoning advocate
Mr Akinbade had nothing memorable to say throughout the debate. He made it clear from the outset that his claim to the governorship of the state was because he thought that it was the turn of Osun West Senatorial District to produce the governor. Though he said he was passionate, the only time he spoke passionately throughout the debate was when he was asked about his indebtedness to banks for building a hotel in the state.
His penchant to decamp to other parties is also a worrying sign. He had no novel idea to sell in all of the questions he was asked. He was clearly the worst candidate on the night. He said he would roll back some of the government’s educational policies. For instance, he said the identical school uniform is of no use to parents and tailors can no longer make money from sewing school uniforms because the government now supplies them. Mr Akinbade said he would stop the building of mega schools and concentrate on the rehabilitation of old schools and use the money for teachers’ welfare.
He had nothing to say about the economy. When asked about his ideas for the state’s economy he goes off about improving education first before talking about economy. “
“Education, knowledge will be taking care of before dealing with the economy,” he said.
He, however, said he would plug “wastage in the system” and make sure civil servants are paid. He said he would improve accountability and due process as without them any economy policy would fail. Some of his sentences were left hanging and incomplete.
On how to eradicate child abuse he said “it has become an international problem and any government should work to stop it.” He did not say how his government plans to stop it.
Mr Akinbade’s presence added nothing to the debate. In fact, it would have been better if he did not show up.
Oyetola: The apostle of continuity
The Chief of Staff to the incumbent put up a spirited defence of the policies of his boss. However, he added that he was ready to take different routes from those of his boss if the need arises.
He said he would continue with the incumbent’s transformation in education and infrastructural renewal. He said he does not support zoning of elective offices in the state and praised the adoption of direct primary by his party, the APC.
He said contrary to the perception in the media, the state has been paying worker from level 1 to level 7 full salaries. He said only workers at level 8 and above are being paid a percentage of their full salaries. But shockingly, the chief of staff could not say how much the state owes workers. He said the state makes approximately N800 million from internally generated revenue monthly.
On education, he said the government has paid a billion naira to offset some of the debt owed Ladoke Akintola University of Technology (LAUTECH), which it jointly owns with neighbouring Oyo State. The university was recently re-opened after being on strike for several months.
Mr Oyetola described the mega schools built by the state as centre of excellence and argued that the gains of building such schools would soon become apparent.
He defended the identical school uniform policy initiated by Mr Aregbesola, saying it was done to help parents who could not afford decent school uniforms for their wards.
“A lot of students were wearing rags and tattered uniforms to school. It was done to save the embarrassment for parents who cannot afford school uniforms for their kids,” he said.
He, however, said he was prepared to reconsider the policy.
The banter between him and Mr Omisore, added spice to what was largely a drowsy debate. Mr Omisore forced him to produce some of the figures of the government finances and debt profile.
Omisore came prepared
The sparkling light of the night was Mr Omisore. The former deputy governor of the state came prepared for the debate. He was the only candidate who came with a note. He was reeling out figures and statistics about the state’s debt profile and general economic state.
On more than one occasions he forced Mr Oyetola to admit the state was in dire financial state. For instance, he compelled Mr Oyetola to admit that the state owed up to N141 billion. Even that confession, stark as it may seem, did little to silence Mr Omisore who said the true debt portfolio of the state was in excess of N248 billion.
His occasional jokes and theatrics was a source of entertainment to the audience who roared in laughter despite the moderator’s warning that the audience should be silent.
Mr Omisore, a former candidate of the PDP, said he would roll back many, if not all of the policies of the present administration. He said the government of the state lacked “prudent management and fiscal discipline”. He said his plan was to raise N16 billion yearly from cash crops to burnish the state’s financial profile. He added that he would block wastage in the system and projected that he would raise N4 billion from blocking waste in the system alone.
He had no kind words for zoning, describing the practice as lazy and support for mediocrity. He said the state was in such a mess that what was needed was competence.
The former senator, remained composed throughout the debate. He chastised the incumbent for failing standard of education. He was particularly critical of the Opon Imo project (computer tablets), which provides tablets installed with educational materials, describing it as a scam. He said the tablets were rotated among students and lacked items like graphs for teaching mathematics.
“Opon Imo is the foundation of our debt in Osun today,” he said.