With all due respect to all of the 2019 Oyo State gubernatorial candidates who are not from the Oke-Ogun area, it is the turn of Oke-Ogun to produce the next governor. No, I am not from Oke-Ogun, in case you are wondering. I am from Ibadan. But if I were from Oke-Ogun, I would be motivated to throw my hat into the ring because of the shameful neglect that the area has faced through successive administrations. I would be mad as hell that my people, who sit on richly arable (62% of Oyo State) landmass, have never been deemed good enough to produce the governor of the state it feeds.
Yes, Oke-Ogun is the “bread basket” of Oyo State. If you doubt me, take a trip to the region. I, too, was a doubting Thomas until a few months ago when I drove from Awe to Okaka, way past Iseyin. There were huge farms on both sides of the road, deep into the hinterland, for as long as the eye could literally see. There were even farm settlements, some of which I was told had been there since the time of Awolowo’s premiership. There were crops…all kinds of them – cocoa, cashew, cassava, pineapple, pawpaw, yam, maize…all sorts, many in organized, neat, plantation formats. Then there were livestock. I didn’t stop to inspect any livestock farm, but from the road, they appeared to be large. Clearly, somebody had heard about mechanized farming in the area.
For many years, before ever visiting Oke-Ogun, I had heard about marble in Igbeti; granite in Irawo; tantalite in Olodo; tourmaline in Budo Are and bismuth in Iwajowa and a few other solid minerals generously spread across the area. The sad thing is that beyond hearing about those things, I have not seen how successive governments have leveraged their abundance for the benefit of the entire state in general or Oke-Ogun in particular.
As I drove, I had the opportunity to look around me, savor the scenery and think about how this area had been neglected because I was not driving fast at all. In fact, from the time I left Oyo town to the time I reached Okaka, I couldn’t go faster than 40 kilometers per hour. And the reason was that the road was horrible. It was as if the farm roads from the time of Lord Lugard were just widened a bit and nothing more. I think it was only in Iseyin that I saw a stretch of paved road. There, I would have been able to do more than 40, but it was township traffic. And by the way, I was driving an SUV. Imagine what it would have been if I was driving a sedan. I asked my friend, an Awe native, if there was an alternate route from Ibadan. He said yes, but that it was even worse than the one on which we were traveling. In other words, if I had begun the trip from Ibadan, bypassing Awe and Oyo, I would have had to take a road that was worse!
Then we rounded a bend and I suddenly came up on a bridge – a bridge over the famous Ogun River. Yes, the same Ogun River you see in Abeokuta . Luckily for me, there was no on-coming traffic; because if there was one, we would probably have had a head-on collision right on the bridge. Why? The bridge was too narrow to accommodate two motor vehicles of any size side-by-side! And there were no warning signs at all. I was mortified. Even if I had taken the alternate route from Ibadan to Oke-Ogun, I still would have had to go over this bridge. In the Year of our Lord 2017, we have a bridge that cannot accommodate two motor vehicles on a stretch of road linking the state capital to the bread basket of the state? Incredible. Imagine this pot-hole riddled, unpaved road in the rainy season. Bad right? Now imagine it at night. No wonder Oke-Ogun people believe that more than 80% of their people who have died of road mishaps died on that bridge. And the fable is that once your vehicle tumbles over the bridge, your body can only be recovered in Ogun State. Ha! So, because of the futility in searching for you, people just let your body go.
I started to curse out all the past governors that had neglected the road. But my friend cut me off, saying the road belonged to the Federal government. Now, that just deflated me. This was a road leading to a few borders with Benin Republic – borders where the Federal government collected excise duties and immigration levies. Someone once remarked that apart from that road and some police stations, there is scant Federal presence in the entire Oke-Ogun area. Only three Oke-Ogun people have ever gotten Federal political appointments since the time anybody can remember. And that is counting the current Minister of Communications, Bayo Shittu. Why are things so rough for Oke-Ogun people?
With 10 out of the 33 Oyo State Local Government Councils in Oke-Ogun, rich human and natural resources, Oke-Ogun should not have to kiss up to any other region for the privilege of producing the next governor of Oyo State. All they have to do is first, get themselves together – all those serious 2019 candidates from across all the political parties – and agree on a “consensus candidate” that will run on the platform of one of the more viable parties. With a united front, they can now negotiate with the leadership of other parties. Excuse me, please: I know it is easier for the camel to pass through the eye of a needle for that to happen.
But if they somehow manage to pull it off, the challenge such a candidate would face, of course, would be how to defeat a candidate from Ibadan, and especially if Ibadan people now believe there is a gang-up against them. With 11 local government councils and 53% of the population, Ibadan is believed to control 50% of the electoral votes. So, if they vote homogenously, it is almost impossible to defeat their candidate. But this is 2017, and we are talking about 2019 when our people will have been even wiser. Ibadan people are not going to vote homogenously in part because Ibadan is not homogenous like that. So, if a great candidate emerges from Oke-Ogun – a thoroughbred, incorruptible, non-demagoguery, humble, educated, young and vibrant candidate – and the person runs an honest campaign, Ibadan people will vote for him or her. I don’t see why Bayo Shittu, Debo Adesina or Laolu Akande cannot earn votes from Ibadan and even Ogbomosho if they can convince people about how they would pay workers’ salaries on time and keep state government institutions of learning open the entire academic year.
I know it sounds naïve, or maybe even heresy, asking people like Bayo Adelabu, Seyi makinde, Femi Lanlehin, Azeez Adeduntan and Rashidi Ladoja (I always wonder if he is alright) – all from Ibadan – who have invested heavily in the ambition to govern the state, to shelve their plans. I can’t imagine who would present that kind of argument to either of them. And I can’t imagine what they would tell their own supporters. So, quite frankly, I do not see any of them unilaterally disarming for an Oke-Ogun “consensus candidate”. And perhaps they shouldn’t. Perhaps it is even better for the candidate from Oke-Ogun to win convincingly so he/she is not beholden to anybody but the people.
Now, it’s not like we have never done it before in Nigeria…”electing” our presidents by an unofficial zoning system. The powers that be have “worked the system” so that preferred candidates for the time could emerge. The powers that be decided that Jonathan and the South-South had had enough of the presidency, and it was not the turn of the Yoruba. So, they engineered Buhari’s ascendancy. When Jonathan became president, it was not because of his good looks or oratory skills or charisma (he didn’t have any). It was because Obasanjo was able to make a good pitch to the powers that be on behalf of the minorities. Yar’Adua’s emergence as Obasanjo’s successor was a natural turn of events. Obasanjo had just spent eight years as president. It was the turn of the north. And we all know that if Obasanjo had not “won” the election in 1999, given the June 12 saga, only God knows where we would be right now. In all of these cases, we all voted. We trooped to the polls and voted. And when our candidate “won”, we all cathartically jubilated all over the country.
So, just as it is becoming necessary that we have an Igbo-born president for Nigeria (although Kanu and his IPOB movement have made it a little harder now), it is becoming necessary for the rest of us in Oyo State to find a way to say to the Oke-Ogun people that they are our equals. One way is to facilitate the election of one of them as governor soon. And 2019 is soon enough.
Perhaps a governor from that area would understand the importance of empowering farmers not only to mechanize their farming, but to dive fully into massive agro-based industrialization that would have as its integral part storage, preservation and packaging of farm products. Perhaps a governor from that area would understand the need to move away from creating unnecessary civil service jobs that overloads the state’s revenues, and invest heavily but smartly in the commercialization of the mineable solid minerals by partnering with indigenous businesses or conglomerates that are experts in mining. Perhaps a governor from that part of the state would concentrate on applied education, affordable healthcare and sensible infrastructural development for the entire state.