30 November 2010

Nigeria: Aregbesola - A Governor's Insistence on Accountability


Lagos — Following his successful prosecution of the energy-sapping legal battle that saw to his eventual emergence as Osun State governor, Engineer Rauf Aregbesola has come to assume the reputation of one who will never shy away from a worthy fight. His admirers in fact, insist that from the time he served as Commissioner for Works and Infrastructure in Lagos State between 1999 and 2007, he has remained a resolute fighter in the cause of justice and fairness.

It was therefore not surprising that Aregbesola spent the last three and half years at the Election Petition Tribunal and the Court of Appeal Ibadan fighting to actualise his electoral mandate which he said was |"brazenly awarded the former Governor Olagunsoye Oyinlola by a cabal of corrupt and shameless politicians acting in concert with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), a supposedly independent electoral body, and a section of the security forces."

When he declared his intention to contest for the Osun State gubernatorial seat in 2006, his expectation was that he would be sworn in as the duly elected governor of Osun state on May 29, 2007. But for the better part of the last three and half years, Aregbesola was in the news as an aggrieved petitioner determined to ensure the sanctity of the electoral process.

Even with his confirmation as the actual winner of t the April 14 2007, governorship race in Osun by the Court of Appeal on Friday November 26, 2010, Aregbesola, has not stopped being in the news. He is in fact, waging another battle on another front. Shortly after his inauguration last Saturday, the governor announced an immediate freeze of all the state accounts, pledging to arrest rising unemployment and poverty among the people of the state and using agriculture as his launch pad for the state's economic recovery. He also declared that his administration came into being not only to reclaim the mandate given to him but to restore the right of the people to choose the person of their choice, promising to channel all the resources of the state towards its social, economic and infrastructural development. "I thank God, the long night of vote robbery and resultant oppression of innocent citizens is over. Now is the time to repair our land and empower our people. Our programmes for the redemption of our state are the same popular programmes that won your hearts during the campaigns, for which you gave us a resounding victory," Aregbesola said.

Aregbesola's belief in the right of the people to choose is not in doubt as that is what drove him to the Election Petition Tribunal in the first place. From 2007 when he filed a 1004-page petition contending that INEC and the police colluded with the PDP to rig the election in favour of Oyinlola, Aregbesola had one thing in mind, the democratic right of the people. So when the Justice Thomas Naron-led five member tribunal dismissed his petition, quitting was not an option. Dissatisfied with the judgment, Aregbesola took his case to the Appeal Court sitting in Ibadan, where the Justice Victor Omagie-led panel condemned the judgment of the lower tribunal by branding it as "perverse." Justice Ali Garba led a retrial tribunal but again the verdict was doubtful. The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was accused of employing various tactics to slow down the pace of the trial. Even after the Justice Ali-led tribunal awarded Oyinlola victory, there were allegations that the state chapter of the PDP was working desperately to compromise the outcome of the case at the Court of Appeal. On many occasions, Aregbesola was arrested and interrogated by the police that accused him of forging evidence and police reports. But he never gave up.

Aregbesola's decision to freeze the state's accounts has however been attracting reactions from informed commentators. Lagos based lawyer and human rights activist, Bamidele Aturu describes the move as a welcome development that would go a long way in ensuring financial prudence in Osun State. "It is a welcome development; it is within the powers of Governor Aregbesola to ensure financial prudence in Osun State," Aturu said. Ola Makinde, another lawyer agrees arguing that "after three and half years of an illegal government in Osun State, it is expected that the state's account will have to be audited. Therefore I believe freezing the accounts will be very necessary for a proper audit of the state's account".

While opinions pour in on his action, the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), his party, has said Aregbesola's victory at the

Court of Appeal is "a final, deadly blow against election riggers." A statement issued by Alhaji Lai Mohammed, National Publicity Secretary of the party said that those who manipulated the election have now been consigned into the dustbin of history. "Osun had become a euphemism for election rigging. Even with a questionable mandate, they carried on as if they were indeed elected by the people of the state. Osun lost more people to the 2007 elections than any other state. Now, it is a good opportunity for Nigerians to use the chance presented by next year's general elections to send the riggers cascading down the bottomless pit of shame and oblivion. Nigerians should now know that even if a lie travels at the speed of sound for one thousand years, truth will eventually catch up with it. This is a lesson for the people never to give up in the pursuit of justice, as long as they believe their cause is just," Mohammed said.

Aregbesola was born in May, 1957. He graduated from The Polytechnic Ibadan where he studied Mechanical Engineering. He is a Fellow Nigerian Institute of Management (NIM), Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE), Nigerian Association of Technological Engineers (NATE) and Certified Marketing Communications Institute of Nigeria (CMCIN). He has received many awards including Chairman, Aurora Nigeria Limited (1986); Ambassador of Goodwill for the State of Tennessee, USA; Nigerian Society of Engineers Merit Award (Contribution to Engineering Discipline) and The Best Commissioner in Lagos State Award where he was Commissioner for Works and Infrastructure, from 1999 to 2007. Aregbesola was elected governor of Osun State on in 2007 but spent three years at the tribunal and Court of Appeal to reclaim his mandate which was stolen by the PDP. He was eventually declared winner of the election by the Court of Appeal Ibadan division and was sworn in on November 27, 2010.

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