INDEPENDENT OPINION: Politics, Interfaith Pluralism, And Osun State Chapter Of CAN

Yoruba people of the South Western part of Nigeria are unique in many ways. They are considered to be very enterprising and accommodating people. In fact, many observers would not dispute Yoruba people’s claim to sophistication when it comes to religious tolerance and accommodation of other ethnic groups that live in their midst. Yoruba people are known to tolerate each other’s religious beliefs and views. In Yoruba land it would not be unusual to find Christians, Muslims and traditional Yoruba worshippers of Ogun, Obatala and Osun, etc, living in the same nuclear family.

This, among other factors, attests to the civility and sophistication of Yoruba people. Further, as predominantly educated, and until lately, Yoruba people would ordinarily question the rationale of any politicians or religious leaders that try to incite or plant seeds of discord among them. The above background not only provides enough justification to condemn in strong terms the recent utterances of leadership of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Osun state Chapter, but also calls for deeper reflections by every Yoruba stakeholder.

The ongoing school reclassifications in Osun state, which require merger of some schools, are certainly generating some heated debates in the state of Osun. Like every innovative policy that challenges the status quo, this policy surely jolted and unsettled many people, including me. Personally, I do not appreciate the decision to reclassify my alma mater St Charles Grammar School Osogbo from all-boys school to a mix gender school. This will certainly rob all OBA (as we call ourselves) of our “gender identify”.

I am assuming that many of my friends who graduated from all-girls Baptist Girls High School Oshogbo would feel the same way, too. It would appear we are losing the identity we so much cherish. But unlike many people, knowing the governor closely gave me the opportunity to know he has good intentions in the implementation of this policy. In fact, I know the governor is passionate about the development and advancement of Yoruba as a whole. Additionally, I know he is not a religious fanatic as he is often unfairly labelled.  Of course governor Aregbesola is very passionate about his religion, Islam, as his younger sister is equally passionate about her religion, Christianity.

With reference to the reclassification of schools in the State of Osun, while I think that citizens of a democratic state should have the constitutional rights to question government policies and demand explanations and accountability at all times, I believe these rights should be exercised within the context of the law. Thus, what one finds curious and troubling is the ultimatum given to the governor of Osun state by the leadership of the Osun State chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN).

The CAN leader, Rev Elisha O. Ogundiya, in a manner reminiscent of the military era, demanded an immediate halt to the government policy.   He threatened to proceed on “other actions” if the governor fails to yield to his demands. Rev Ogundiya’s action and ultimatum remind me of the Tea party in the USA.  CAN, it appears, is doing to governor Aregbesola what the Tea Party is doing to Barack Obama in the USA: blackmail.  Putting religious coloration to public policy that affects Christians, Muslims and traditional religion worshippers is simply disingenuous and utterly reprehensible. CAN needs to be reminded that much as one may dislike the policy, schools that are being reclassified are all public schools, funded by the state government, and are not faith based private schools. While one may debate the rationale with the government, the state reserves the right to make changes as it deems fit.

Ordinarily, I would have been constrained not to dabble into this issue for various reasons; chiefly being that my position might be misconstrued as bias in favour of the governor. Upon deeper reflections, I felt it would be unfair not to exercise my civic rights because of fears of criticisms from others. In fact, it would be immoral of me not to jump at the debate, not only because I know the governor very well, but because my late Dad was a former CAN leader in Osun state, when CAN leaders led exemplary examples in pursuit of public peace. Thus, I felt that perhaps sharing my personal experience would help others to reflect deeper about how we got to this sorry state in Yoruba land, so we may beat a quick retreat.

Like many Yoruba families, some of my family members are practising Muslims.  But I am a Christian. My late Dad was a Pastor and a missionary for over 50 years. My life and Christian upbringing exemplify religious tolerance.  With harrowing introspection, I recall celebrating Christmas holiday, Easter holiday, Eid El Fitri and Eid El-Kabir with equal enthusiasms while growing up in Oshogbo. Eid El-Kabir holiday and Christmas holiday were and are still my favourite festive periods. With nostalgia, I remember how as a kid, I often commenced my day on Id El-Kabir day by doing justice to the ram meat at the Adegoke’s house, the Olaiya’s house, the Yussuf’s house and the Igbalaye’s house, all in the Alekuwodo area of Oshogbo; always to end my feast at the Lawyer Ajibola’s house in Ogo-Oluwa area.

I intentionally mentioned the names of my friends so no one thinks my claim is non-verifiable.  Interestingly, my late Dad was an active member of the Christian Association in Oshogbo in the 80’s. He not only preached the gospel of Christ about peace and tolerance as noted in the Holy Bible, but encouraged interfaith pluralism through his actions. He often prayed for the Muslims during their festive periods. Our Muslim neighbours usually sent us well prepared meals during Muslim festive periods, gestures we always reciprocated at Christmas.

While my story or the dynamics of my family might not have direct correlation to the public school reclassification policy, it surely relates to religious tolerance and serves as a lesson on how to avoid religious discord that may precipitate bloodbath in Yoruba land.  I strongly believe that stories like mine need to be amplified to overpower voices of those who sow the wind of religious hatred and subsequently benefit from the whirlwind of ensuing chaos and confusion. These intolerant people must be told that human experience is largely a shared experience, and regardless of our differences, the bond that unites us is stronger than what divides us. Although I am not a fan of the public school reclassification policy, if reclassification of my alma mater, St Charles Grammar school, Oshogbo, from all boys school to a mix gender school will bring quality education closer to a female child that lives closer to St Charles but farther to other schools, I would embrace the policy; it would be selfish of me to do otherwise. I would rather be profoundly troubled about lack of access to quality education by any child, and least worried about losing the gender identity of my alma mater.

CAN’s leaders in Osun state should recognise that the common bond and decency that we share together as a Yoruba people are stronger than our religious differences, or any attributes that separate us. Most importantly, they must know that while fighting for your convictions is important, knowing when to fight and when to seek peace requires God’s wisdom.  Continuous engagement of the government based on superior argument strikes me as a wiser option for CAN to embrace than planting seed of discord and threatening a state government that is enforcing its educational policy.