The rise and fall of Rauf Aregbesola

For former Governor of Osun State and Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola, Saturday, February 19, 2022 was a day he will not forget in a hurry.

It was a day that marked his final fall from grace to grass. It was the fall of a political colossus.

His sin was that he wanted to play God, by becoming Osun’s political godfather. In an egregious political miscalculation, he adopted Alhaji Moshood Adeoti as his governorship candidate to run against the incumbent governor of Osun State, Adegboyega Oyetola.

Oyetola is seeking re-election on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the state.

But Aregbesola had vowed to uproot the governor and ensure that his second term ambition is thwarted after he felt his big ego bruised by the policy volte-face embarked upon by his successor.

While he was in charge of Osun, Aregbesola pursued some obnoxious policies, some of them in the education sector. He was also unpopular with the workers as he owed salaries. Worse, he left tonnes of debt for his successor.

To be sure, the obnoxious policies almost made the APC lose Osun State in 2018 election. But for quick political alliances in the rerun election, the state was almost harvested by the opposition Peoples Democratic Party.

As a referendum on his eight year tenure, the 2018 election, which Oyetola won by few hundred votes, spoke volumes about his unpopular era.

With Oyetola in the saddle, he had methodically reviewed the policies, to much public acclaim.

But Aregbesola wanted his policies to remain untouched in the state. By his recent statement, he revealed that he personally begged Oyetola not to uproot them. Oyetola, he said did not budge.

Thus the battle line was drawn between him and Oyetola.

Elders in the state tried to reconcile them. But it was impossible as Aregbesola reportedly snubbed such efforts, determined to teach Oyetola some political lessons.

In the run-up to Saturday’s primary, Aregbesola, posturing as Lord of the Manor, fired missiles upon missiles against Oyetola, vowing to supplant him.

His vitriol did not stop at Oyetola’s door.

Aregbesola went after Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, calling him names, abusing him for behaving God-like.

He also did not spare former governor of the state, Chief Bisi Akande.

Many people in Osun who listened to his statements felt he went overboard as he appeared to bit the fingers that fed him.

It was Akande that invited Aregbesola to Osun state in 2006 to contest the 2007 election. All these years, Aregbesola had played politics in Alimoso LGA of Lagos.

It was Tinubu, whom he called unprintable names that sponsored his political adventure in Osun, including the protracted legal war that ensued after he claimed he was robbed of victory in the 2007 election.

Eventually, in November 2010, he got justice and was sworn in as governor.

But his reign was not smooth sailing, as he ran into salary crisis after two years.

In contrast, Oyetola has done a very good work in Osun and uprooted his obnoxious policies which almost cost APC the state in September 2018.

Oyetola has won the people to his heart. He paid civil servants their full salaries which Aregbesola was not paying.

He even paid them the full minimum wage, He abolished the single uniform policy of his predecessor and brought in several reforms in the education sector.

All these angered Aregbesola as he vowed to uproot him.

Unknown to him, the people had long abandoned him.

The consequence was the Electoral debacle suffered by his anointed candidate, Moshood Adeoti in the Osun APC primaries.

The rise of Aregbesola

A native of Ilesa, Osun State, Aregbesola was born  on 25 May, 1957. He bagged Higher National Diploma (HND) at the Ibadan Polytechnic, studying Mechanical Engineering Technology.

Aregbesola’s interest and involvement in politics dates back to his undergraduate days when he was Speaker of the Students’ Parliament (1977–1978) at The Polytechnic, Ibadan, and the President of the Black Nationalist Movement (1978–1980).

He was also an active supporter of other progressive students’ movements nationwide, which earned him, for instance, a life membership in the National Association of Technological Students.

In June 1990, he became an elected delegate to the Social Democratic Party Inaugural Local Government Area Congress.

In July of the same year, he was also a delegate to its first National Convention in Abuja. Aregbesola, as a pro-democracy and human rights activist, was a major participant in the demilitarization and pro-democracy struggles of the 1990s in Nigeria.

Upon the return of the country to democratic rule in 1999, he was a member of the Alliance for Democracy, which sponsored Senator Bola Tinubu, to become governor of Lagos State in the same year.

Aregbesola was Director of the Bola Ahmed Tinubu Campaign Organisation (BATCO), who drove the electoral victory of Bola Tinubu in 1999, and he performed a similar feat with the platform of the Independent Campaign Group, with which he ensured the re-election of Tinubu for a second term in office.

Aregbesola was made Commissioner for Works and Infrastructure by Tinubu in 1999 and he remained commissioner for seven years, till he left to contest Osun governorship election in 2007.

He was like the deputy leader of the Lagos politics as Tinubu gave him a free hand to operate.

Aregbesola was made the leader of Mandate Group, a strong political group in the APC. He was the kingmaker in Alimosho.

With Aregbesola governor of Osun State, the leadership of Mandate Group was transferred to  Cardinal James  Odunmbaku, popularly known as Baba Eto.

During his reign as Osun Governor, Aregbesola almost set the state on fire when he introduced hijab in all schools, which the Christians kicked against.

He also introduced single uniform in all schools in Osun. For about five years of his eight-year tenure, Aregbesola was paying Osun workers half salaries and adopted several unpleasant policies.

Aregbesola was later to become Minister of Interior under President Muhammadu Buhari’s second term. Till this moment, he is the minister of Interior.

Beginning of Aregbesola’s fall

The Osun State Governorship election in 2018 that brought in Oyetola marked the gradual beginning of Aregbesola’s fall. With lots of atrocities and setbacks in Osun, the people were willing to dump the APC. The PDP’s governorship candidate, Ademola Adeleke was coasting home to victory when the election was declared inconclusive, warranting a re-run in some local governments. That was what changed the game for the APC. Tinubu mobilised massively to ensure that Oyetola emerged winner of the election. The civil servants, which Aregbesola was paying half salaries moved against the APC, among others.

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Aregbesola’s final fall

Having completed his two terms as governor of Osun, Aregbesola came back to his base in Alimosho to take over as leader of Mandate Group. In May 2020, Aregbesola unilaterally sacked Odumbaku as leader of Mandate Group and appointed his crony, Alhaji Enilolobo Ayinde as new chairman of the Group. This was seen as an affront on Tinubu.

He fixed his loyalists in strategic positions. The news got back to Tinubu, who had previously said Aregbesola was the only person he could commit anything into his hand and go to bed with his two eyes closed. He never doubted Aregbesola’s loyalty.

That was why he always had his way.

Aregbesola was said to have single-handedly brought in Sarah Sosan to become former Governor Babajide Fashola’s deputy. He was also instrumental in Adejoke Orelope-Adefulire’s emergence as Fashola’s deputy during his second term.

With the latest trend of making Enilolobo as Mandate Group Chairman without Tinubu’s approval and with what the former Lagos governor heard of him, he was set to dangle the axe. It was also gathered that unpleasant things Aregbesola said about Tinubu in secret were recorded and played back to Tinubu who became disappointed. In a bid to whittle Aregbesola’s growing influence in Lagos, Tinubu ordered the dissolution of both the Mandate Group and Justice Forum. In June 2020, the Governor’s Advisory Council (GAC) announced the dissolution of all political groups within the All Progressives Party (APC) in the state.

During the Local Government Election in Lagos, last year, Aregbesola’s loyalists were cut to size. They were replaced in Alimosho, leaving him with nothing to hold on to. He now sees Osun as his last hope of becoming relevant.

He has to ensure that Oyetola does not return for another four years or else, he is doomed as Oyetola is a relation of Tinubu.

Aregbesola vented his frustration and anger on Tinubu on 15 February, 2022 and officially parted ways with him.

He told Tinubu that the same treatment meted out to a former Lagos State governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, which foreclosed his re-election bid in 2019, would be administered on his brother and Governor of Osun State, Gboyega Oyetola.

Speaking in Ijebu Ijesa, while addressing party faithful and stakeholders in the state ahead of the primary, he launched tirades against Tinubu in relation to the political situation in Osun State, including how he has abused his leadership and suddenly assumed the god complex.

Aregbesola added: “We took over government on November 27, 2010 and by 28th, we announced that whoever sought revenge would be struck down by God. We only handed over to God, those who made us suffer. After we served for eight years, it wasn’t only party members that benefitted from our administration, the entire state did. I went everywhere in Osun with projects.

“However, by the time my successor was handed over to me around May or July 2018, I was told, ‘Rauf, this is the ideal successor that would stand by you. He would further showcase your efforts. He would not betray you; he would not dim the light of your glory’. That was what the person, who handed him over to me said. If the person is listening to me, it would resonate with him, if he said so or not.

“It is possible some share your ideals and it’s also possible some do not. This happened in Lagos recently. There was a governor, who wanted to seek re-election and the party declined and showed him the way out with their votes. So, the same way it was in Lagos then, is exactly the way it is in Osun today. What is good for the goose, is also good for the gander. It cannot be the turn of your younger brother now and you change the rules.”

Aregbesola also called Tinubu unprintable names.

Aregbesola’s statements on Tinubu and Akande elicited anger among party faithful and even those who are not APC. This is the last straw that broke the camel’s back. The minister’s utterances were very offensive to Osun elders and monarchs, including Lt. General Alani Akinrinade (Rtd), Akande and others.

A day after Aregbesola released venom on Tinubu, Akande and Oyetola, the monarch of his hometown of Ijesha, the Owa Obokun of Ijesaland, Oba Gabriel Adekunle Aromolaran, promised to support Oyetola, irrespective of the rascality of his enemies.

He said whoever is against the candidature of Oyetola should rather go and smash head on an electric pole, insisting that “Oyetola is the candidate that will win Ijesha land.

“We don’t give room for rascality in Ijesha land. The support we will give you includes peace. We have warned our children that they should not get themselves involved in thuggery. I pledge on behalf of the Ijesha people that we shall give your administration full support to ensure that you win come July 16, 2022.”

Well, on the D-day, Aregbesola and his candidate were cut to size, they were disgraced and humiliated as Oyetola won massively at the APC primary election.

In a face-saving statement, Aregbesola described the primary as a sham and considered challenging it in court.

The danger for Aregbesola is that if Oyetola goes on to win a second term, he will be rendered useless politically as he would have lost in Lagos and Osun. He will be rendered irrelevant politically.

His case represents a great fall from grace to grass.

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