Osun 2018 and the 'invisible' landmines
Expectedly, the race for the top seat in Osun state, come 2018, is gaining gradual momentum. The two leading parties, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), have seen some of their members shown subtle interest to pick their respective party ticket's and possibly, go ahead and win the seat when presented as candidate's.
Though, so low, the sound of political activities can be heard from across the major parties and the various sections in the state. Each of those eyeing the seats, invariably, works behind the scenes to outsmart other contenders and placed themselves at vantage edge to succeed Governor Rauf Aregbesola, when he might have exhausted his two-term limit on November 26, 2017.
Interestingly, not only politicians have taken to the permutation rooms to compare thoughts on who takes charge of Osun state from November next year, the people of the state are as well involved. From the students to the petty traders on the street, everyone is keen on who becomes governor of the state. They understand that the choice of who oversees affairs of the state bears so much on their respective endeavours and they would not want to loss their chances of exerting their agenda on whosoever takes the seat.
Distraughtly, however, is the uninspiring outlook of the situation whosoever takes over from Aregbesola will inherit. Apart from the daunting wages and pension issues or the arrays of uncompleted projects littered across the state, the most challenging, however, is the debt stock, which to a large extent threatens the economic flow of the state. The debt stock of the state, even when no one has clear picture of its worth, stifles the abundant hopes people may have already invested in whoever takes charge of the state as from November 2018.
That is the unfortunate reality we must prepare ourselves to bear. The humongous debts incurred by this outgoing administration has placed the incoming one in a precarious situation that only financial ingenuity can resolve. The effects of the loan burden is already telling on the state, as government struggle to meet up its basic obligation of paying salaries and pensions, which have now being slashed by half, while other commitments, including capital projects, have witnessed drastic reduction.
Though, the Aregbesola-led government have kept the public in the dark on how much the state indebtedness is worth, but the deduction figures give a clear glimpse of how bad the situation seems. Between January-July, 2017, figures revealed that Osun state serviced its debts with N16.91bn from the N21.34bn it received as allocation, leaving it with N4.43bn to cater for its over 4m population within that period. That is, for seven (7) months, each citizen of Osun got about N955 or N136 monthly, when put into per capital perspective. And, this is a trend that will take about 20 years for the loans to be repaid. This thought alone overwhelms the prospect of the state.
For decades, Osun have observed some principle of economics, which encouraged development at the pace of one's available resources and means– a diligent observance that have translated into the erection of one of the best secretariat in the South-West region and the establishment of its own university, even ahead mother state, Oyo, among other notable developments. But that narrative was altered by Aregbesola, who went to draw from future revenues, however, massive, placing a huge burden that will take decades to offset. This, no doubt, has been a serious concern for what awaits the state in the nearest future.
As I reflected on the implications of the debt burden, I observed that the deduction of about 79 percent of the allocation of the state every month to refund loans incurred, is a big issue that suffocates the financial worth of the state. If for every N100 due to the state, N79 will be expanded on repayment of debts, then, I wonder what will N21, which is the left over be able to address. Worst still, these huge indebtedness were no committed to revenue generation ventures/projects which would have provided assurance of complimentary funds, rather, the state is fixated in debts that it goes beyond its capacity.
In a state which economy revolves around civil service, indebtedness of the worth widely being suspected would have drawn no ruse if it had been committed to diversifying its economy. The potential of the state in agriculture is an established fact, which Governor Aregbesola himself admitted could fetch the state N3b on average monthly if explored. What however dished his thought of investing part of the loan to that sector and guaranteed a stream of revenue which would have relieved the effect of deductions of our allocation to repay loans, is what I could not fathom. What, again, stopped him from considering investing in technology, as he had before demonstrated with the state partnering a private firm in establishing a phone assembly plant in Ilesa, is what worries my thought.
Borrowing to build roads when the living standard of the people is sharply falling; borrowing to build classrooms when the teachers– a core factor of a productive education system, are not adequately catered for; borrowing to plant flower without any corresponding economic benefit, and others, is to the least of my estimation, misplaced priority. The essence of any government is to build the future and give hope to the people, but when it instead burdened it, it limit the potential of the people. Going by the lofty six-point agenda of Aregbesola, which convinced the people to stick to his choice as governor in 2007, it is unexpected that the state would end in this disturbing situation.
As things currently stand, the financial prospect of the state is not encouraging and this poses a great deal of challenge to whoever takes over from Aregbesola by next year November. Unlike any other time, those eyeing the top seat in the state must acquit themselves of the reality and give it a serious thought on how they could salvage the situation. It must be emphasise to their understanding the political awareness of the people of the state, which implies that trading blame may not be welcome by citizens. The citizens are gradually losing their patience, and giving excuse(s), rather than answers to their needs, will unravel their furry.
As aspirants jostle for advantage, many factors must be considered by all stakeholders. Sound workable manifestoes should be prioritised during the campaign. Aspirants must explain how they intend to address the debt overhang among others. The parties must know that mere sloganeering will not help them. Voters want real answers to their challenges. Aspirants must know that their templates will be scrutinised by the people. Osun people will only support a party with a candidate who has workable practicable solutions to the state's many challenges.
Ibrahim Sarafa runs an online blog, www.theswitchnews.com and writes from Osun state