OPINION: Osun School Merger, A Historical Perspective

SONY DSCLet us set some facts right. One, the state government owns the Baptist Girls High School that most of the quarrel is about. The state government picks its salary bills, the running costs and pays the WAEC fees of the kids over the years. The Baptist appellation on the school’s billboard and letterhead is historical as the school was founded by missionaries. It was however taken over by the Federal Government following a recommendation of the 1967 Asabia Commission on education.

According to Carl Le Van, Professor of School of International Service in the American University who has studied Nigerian educational system for over forty years, the decision to centralize schools was borne out of the need to address the “vast disparity between private and public Institutions” in the country as well as to curb corruption.

The very influential Simeon Adebo Commission of 1971 later recommended that government tackles the “cumbrous patchwork” that was its definition of the national educational policy at the time and proposed “complete government control for planning, financing and running of the schools”.

The Supreme Military Council responded by issuing a decree in 1972 giving the Federal Government increased authority over education and giving it supremacy in running the schools. Those authorities were ceded to state governments over time especially with state’s counter-party funding of the Universal Basic Education since 1977.

It is important to go this far into the past to make the reader appreciate that the sudden bolt out of the blue from the Baptists that the state government’s action “threatens the foundation of the Christian faith” is way, way off the mark. The schools in question are government schools enjoying government’s generous subventions. And in fact, the Baptist schools that formed the hub of these protests receive more subventions from the government than the Fakunle Comprehensive whose pupils it rejects.

The second point is the state government’s new educational policy merging some of the existing schools and building new ones. A few are already in place and the government just came back from the bond market where its issue of  N10 billion was oversubscribed. The money is strictly for building schools and invigorating the educational system in the state generally.

Now in deciding which school is scrapped and which is retained, the state government took care not to dissolve schools with overt Christian and Muslim nomenclatures. So all the Ansarudeens and the Christ Apostolics stayed, just so as not to stir sleeping dogs.

Fakunle Comprehensive School, a mixed school, was at the onset of this administration met in a sordid state with fallen structures, no thanks to years of neglect .The current administration, as part of its School Infrastructure development programme decided to merge Fakunle and some other mixed schools with the Baptist High in an effort to build a New 3000 capacity Model High School.

This effectively meant a change in the status of Baptist from a girls-only to a mixed school at the same time. Now, the mixed school policy has been the norm in the state since 1980 under the Old Oyo state.

Since then, all government owned schools were changed from single sex to mixed. Ilesha Grammar School was in fact a Boys school until it was changed to a mixed school in the 70s by government fiat.

The Baptist schools in Osun are going through that change now. It could be unpleasant as changes are wont to be and I don’t blame them for reacting. But those reactions should be measured and the language should not be as far reaching as to accuse the government of religious persecution and attempts to “destroy the heritage of Christians”.

Now, some of the Fakunle Comprehensive girls have been wearing their hijab to school while in Fakunle. (The founder of Fakunle named the school after himself. He was paid off when the school was taken over by government and converted to a public school in the 1970s.

I assume the owners of the Baptist High were also compensated. The girls simply continued wearing their headscarf in their new environment.

The Baptists and a few other churches feel offended at this and they think if the kids are going to be in a school with a Christian name, then they should drop their hijab. Well, that argument has a converse that is true, namely, if kids sent to schools bearing Muslim names get there, they should not bring a chaplet  or a cross, much less a Bible to school.

To me, these are outright matters of intolerance. They are so simple that a child can understand it. There is no way you can legitimately find faults with a government policy that makes Sadiat and Sharon sit on the same school bench.

Another point raised is that the Fakunle children are bad to the bones and will corrupt the girls of the Baptist High. They said the boys are already looking at the Baptist girls. I leave the reader to appraise that mirthful one.

When Aregbesola came on in 2010, Osun state was 34 in WAEC results out of Nigeria’s 36 states. Right now the state is number 18. Primary school enrolment has rocketed up to the highest in the country, thanks to the free lunch meal programme (OMEAL) , to 254,000 kids and  The free indigenous and standardized school uniforms for all 750,000 students in Primary and Secondary Schools.

And in fact, the majority of people behind this educational thrust are die-hard Christians. The Commissioner for education who is also the Deputy Governor is a Christian. In fact, she is an MFM heavy with a church in her official quarters. The seasoned Commissioner for Finance and the Attorney General of the state are Christians with Redeemed and CAC roots and who can overestimate the influence of such officials in a state.

Uncle Bola Ige’s son, Muyiwa, is the Commissioner for Lands. In all, there are more Christians than Muslims in that cabinet.I think Christians in the state should demonstrate more confidence in these representatives of theirs in government.

Osun CAN, by acting as they did last week and even issuing an ultimatum to the government, they put their brothers and sisters in government to shame by suggesting that they cannot be trusted to defend crucial Christian interests in the government. And that means they are thought of as either traitors or idiots or both, and I know that they are neither!

Osun is a state where the two religions have incredible harmony. If you are a religiously hostile person, I advise you rid your mind of such bias before you come to Oshogbo because chances are that you might say something silly, and quite unwittingly too, against the religion of someone who respects you.

There is no way of telling Christians and Muslims apart at first sight in that environment. It is disturbing to read comments on social media from people who don’t know what is really going on there and they are talking of the governor being a Muslim extremist and so forth. It is just nonsense. The man’s brother-land sister are Christians and they relate pretty well.

Well, it could be that leading a state of such religious diversity must be accompanied by this kind of the religious equivalent of opposition politics and maybe it is inevitable. Maybe it is a natural means of creating constant religious checks and balances. Today a Muslim is there, the next it will be a Christian and he will take his flak too.

But whatever the season and however we seek to balance the scale, we should know that we have to preserve our dignity as a people  and not set the house ablaze because we want to get rid of infesting cockroaches.  Governor Aregbesola is doing well in that state. He should be encouraged to do better and not be attacked with virulent politics couched in incendiary religious language.

JOHN OGUNLELA (johnogunlela@gmail.com)