OSOBA'S BIG COMEBACK
T he Lagos Boat Club, along Awolowo Road, Ikoyi, is an exclusive rendezvous where some of Nigeria's richest men, captains of industry and diplomats come with their families and friends to unwind as they gaze at the awesome, picturesque lagoon stretching out in aquatic splendor, overlooking Victoria Island, in the far, dividing distance.
Over the lagoon itself, boats - ancient and modern - are flying to and fro at top speed, parting the water and causing turbulence on the watery highway.
On this Sunday evening, the boat club was a beehive of people carousing. The veteran highlife singer and trumpeter, Victor Olaiya, was sitting among the crowd. He was billed to perform that night. In one corner, my old reporter's roving eyes spotted our good friend, the billionaire Alhaji Aliko Dangote whom I went to greet. Casually dressed in shirt and shorts, he was in the good company of friends who all sat, munching and chatting, back against the water, enjoying the cool evening breeze wafting from the lagoon where boats are moored. Boats bobbing like Bobby Benson to the sound and motion of the water.
To be a member of the Lagos Boat Club, you have to own a yacht or a boat in the first place. Otherwise, you cannot belong. God, will I ever belong here after all these years of toiling hard like a fisherman in these stormy, shark-infested waters of journalism? What will I do to belong here? Or what have I not done to belong here, among the rich and super-rich of this Lagos Boat Club? Is it too late now? Nothing is late where God is. The spirit of God is everywhere. Even in the waters of the lagoon where fishermen toil night and day, waiting for another Jesus miracle that would fill their nets with fishes to the breaking point.
My sermon today is on: Waiting on the Lord. And the hero of my sermon is Aremo Segun Osoba, a man, who, for eight years, waited in the doldrums, cheated out of power at a time when elections were rigged and figures brazenly manipulated in some of the worst elections in human history. We had gone to congratulate him on his party regaining power eight years after PDP's stranglehold in Ogun State. He, in turn, invited us to be his guest at the Lagos Boat Club. Rather than go in his car, Osoba opted to join us in our car as I drove him to the boat club. Dimgba Igwe was next to me, while Osoba sat at the backseat.
At the boat club, Osoba was greeted triumphantly for wrestling back his state after eight years. The way he was greeted, it was as if he was returning from a long exile. In a way, eight years out of office, with PDP in power, was like exile. Today, like a man giving testimony in church, Osoba says: 'I give the glory to God who is on His throne and at the appropriate time decided to visit His vengeance on those who created havoc against my person and who thought they could rubbish whatever I have always stood for in my life.
'One must continually have faith in God. One must have the courage to resist temptation. And one must be steadfast. And there is no glory that hasn't got its price, thorns and tribulations. I thank God. He made me overcome all those obstacles and tribulations. My thanksgiving is limitless to God that I am alive today. I had been disgraced undeservedly in 2003. I know what my family has gone through in eight years, for God to now restore the glory. God is really on His throne.'
Eight years in the doldrums and out of power wasn't easy. For Osoba, it was not about bread to eat, house to live in or school fees to pay. He is already gone past that stage, the stage of paralysis of poverty, where a man is faced with the challenge of basic survival. For Osoba, it was about honour, about his name and image. Osoba says he was able to cope and live an ordinary life, 'because even as governor, I didn't let power get into my head at all. I lived my life as governor as if I was still a reporter. The only thing is the trauma of being made a failure. I have never been a failure in my life. In anything I have ever touched in my life, it's been like a Midas touch. For the first time in my life, I was made to look like a failure. This election, therefore, is more than anything for me. Whatever I have gone through, (this) is the restoration of the talent that God has given me.'
And for the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) spearheaded by Osoba, as the godfather and field marshal in Ogun State, the victory was total and emphatic. In the Senate, the party won all the seats. In the House of Reps, it won eight out of nine seats. In the governorship contest, it trounced former President Olusegun Obasanjo's PDP and Gbenga Daniel's party. Even if the two parties had teamed up their total votes scored, they would still have been trounced, judging by the total number of votes scored by ACN. As students of strategy, we wanted to know from Osoba what strategies he adopted to get back his state after two successive electoral adversities or defeats-depending on what side of the mirror you are viewing? And how much was spent? And who funded the campaign?
'First, I ran a campaign,' he answers. 'I led the campaign in Ogun State by adopting a style of village square meetings. And I led the campaign to all the nooks and crannies of Ogun State to have direct discussion with the people. For example, I even went to the extent of talking to the journalists at Arepo estate. I met stakeholders, landlord associations, community development associations, community development councils, Obas and baales, all categories of people. I didn't give it any publicity. You never heard of a line or TV coverage of my campaign. The one that was covered occasionally was the campaign of the governor who did mass mobilization campaign.
'While he was doing mass mobilisation campaign, I was doing village square, town hall meetings. Most of the opposition was unaware that I was in the field and I was sweeping the whole place clean. They came to realise too late, particularly Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo. My strategy is a grass-rooted strategy. It involves talking the basics with ordinary people and coming down to their level. One thing I am happy I achieved is that for the first time, getting Obasanjo himself to learn to know that he has to come down from his Olympian height and go direct to the grassroots.
'The thing is, when you talk of strategy, I believe in the people. The people really matter. And that is why the people voted, because we are interested in them. We didn't have the resources as the other parties. I was so confident that with Daniel it was going to be an easy victory because every village I went, it is a comparison of the level at which I left everything to what he did in eight years.
'For example, I was doing a road just before the Redeemed Camp, as a bypass for any traffic jam that may occur whenever there is a hiccup. I tarred the road from my village, Owode to another point called Ofada. Eight years after, it is still where I left off. My own asphalt surfacing is still the only motorable part of that road. And from that point to Mowe and Ibadan express road, it is still very, very bad. So, I went there, talked to the people in Mowe. I asked them: 'After this road, what did you gain in eight years? The transformers I gave to you in Mowe are still the transformers you are using. What else was done in Mowe?' That was it. And that was the case all over the state.'
According to Osoba, 'Daniel, was emphasising white elephant projects: cargo airport, international market in Owode, Yewa and even Sagamu - yet nobody is marketing there. Nobody is selling and buying anything there. I concentrated on people-oriented programmes: road network, supply of electricity to urban and rural areas. Those are the magic that did it. My road, eight years after, has no single pothole. The dualization he did in Abeokuta is being patched up every other day. That is an example of the comparison of our own performance and his performance. I didn't destroy the legacy.'
Osoba is confident that the new ACN Governor Amosu 'would do well, and the party would always assist him in making sure he keeps to party line in terms of governance.'
But then, there is the issue of perennial conflicts that often erupt between godfathers and their godson. How would he handle the temptation to interfere, like some godfathers do, provoking conflict. Osoba said: 'I don't think we would have such problem in Ogun State. As an experienced manager and journalist, I managed The Herald and left The Herald, I didn't look back and interfere. I managed the Sketch as MD. I left, handed over to my friend, Peter Ajayi. I didn't look back. When I left Daily Times, I didn't interfere with Dr. Yemi Ogunbiyi. I have the experience of leaving major institutions to people. That would be my guiding principle. My role is a fatherly role, advisory role and I would be a counsellor. I would warn, because I've been through it twice. He is going through it for the first time, but he can be rest assured that I won't be standing on his neck looking for what to eat.'
On the question on campaign funding, Osoba made us to understand that getting back Ogun State didn't cost much financially. 'I can tell you that we had pittance to spend. No government resources, no facilities, no external funding for the campaign. All the efforts were within all of us in Ogun State. Party leaders contributing their widow's mite into the common pool, and that is how we run the campaign. If anybody tells you that he is the financier of any campaign in Ogun State, that is not true. We are self-sustained. The people didn't vote for money. Even where they were offered large sums of money, those who took their money still went ahead and did what they know and believe to be right.'