I have, for weeks now, followed with keen interest what some people have chosen to call the merger of Christian and Muslim schools in Osun State. I had sought to understand the gist of the controversy but the matter got more intriguing by the day.
However, I was to discover, to my consternation, when I probed into the matter that the controversy is a needless exercise. What has been going on is sheer muck-raking borne out of mischief or a deliberate misinterpretation of the issue at stake. That is why an issue as straightforward as reclassification (not merger) of schools in Osun State has been made to assume a pugnacious dimension.
The Governor, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola has, in all of this, been accused of scheming to islamize Osun State. That accusation was a major spark that ignited my interest in the matter. I wanted to know how and why the governor would want to do that. I was interested in that because I had encountered the governor at close quarters where he had cause to explain the tag of Islamic fundamentalism usually placed on him. From his handling of the issue, the impression I get is that the man has nothing but pity for those who misread his intentions in this matter. He accuses them of intolerance.
That is why they cannot see beyond their noses and recognize that he has not allowed his religious faith to intrude into his official engagements. The governor would readily tell you that there are more Christians than Muslims in his cabinet. How then does this suggest that he is seeking to make Osun an Islamic State?
It is wild assumptions such as this that have been brought to bear on an issue that borders squarely and roundly on one of the action plans of the Aregbesola administration. On assumption of office in 2010, the administration outlined for itself a six-point action plan one of which was to provide the state with functional education. The plan became necessary in view of the rot that has taken over education in the state over the years.
The administration has since rolled up its sleeves in its pursuit of this objective. This has given rise to the reclassification of the schools in the state into Elementary, Middle and High Schools. The reclassification was one of the recommendations of the O’schools (meaning Osun schools) Committee set up to deal with the perceived issue of neglect and decay which schools in the state suffered over the years. Under the arrangement, the state is now building state of the art schools. The idea is to censure that the state meets the standards set out by the United Nations Educational and Scientific Organization (UNESCO) and by so doing consolidate the gains of education in Nigeria.
However, the measure, as laudable as it is, had consequences for the old order. It has led to a situation where some existing schools have become empty. Under that circumstance, some schools within the same locality have had to merge in order to have the requisite enrollment figure.
Naturally, a situation such as this could cause disquiet in some circles especially since people are usually resistant to change. But one salutary thing about it all is that the government, from the information obtained from the Ministry of Education, never forced anybody into any school. The choice has remained that of parents and guardians of the schoolchildren. Going by the tone and direction of the controversy, you would think that there are schools in the state that are owned by Christians or Muslims.
But the fact of the matter is that all the public schools in the state are owned and run by the government. This is has been so since 1975 when the then Western State took over all schools in the South West. What this means is that mission schools exist only in name, not in fact. It is therefore difficult to understand how the issue was made to assume a religious connotation when it actually has none. For the rational analyst, it is easy to see why the wind had to blow in the direction of religion. We live in a land where politics is brought into everything we do.
For a state like Osun which will go into elections very soon, every issue can be made to take on a political colouration. For the opposition, politicizing the reclassification of schools could be a potent tool to discredit the administration in the state. To achieve this, situations have to be interpreted out of context or even falsified in order to score a cheap political point. This is what the Aregbesola administration has had to contend with recently.
But the issue must be divested of its hysterical undertone if we must arrive at the truth. And the truth here is that Osun is confronted with a man of conviction who pursues whatever cause he believes in single-mindedly. Having undertaken, in the best interest of the state, to give education a new lease of life in Osun State, Governor Aregbesola has been taking uncommon steps to realize his lofty dreams for the state.
I recall what transpired on the day Opoimo, the tablet of knowledge, was launched in the state. The innovation embedded in the computer tablet was real. It has, since then, effectively rendered books redundant in the school system in the state. This is because it contains over 50 books which cover the 17 subjects taught in schools in the state. With it, Osun will no longer have a situation where pupils will be deficient in certain subjects on account of their inability to buy the books prescribed for them. The tablet therefore makes education in the state cheap and affordable.
But it certainly will not make sense to just throw the opon -imo at the pupils without providing a proper learning and teaching environment. The reclassification of schools is aimed at streamlining the curricula of the school system and also eliminate multiplicity of schools in the state.
Beyond that, the new order in the state is bound to arrest out of school syndrome. The Elementary segment of the three categories of schools in the state ensures that pupils are provided for by the government. The pupils are given free meals and this has encouraged many who were out of school before to return.
Unlike the razzamatazz that obtains in some states in the name of free education or educational reform, there is something unique about the Osun example. The Opon Imo revolution and the reclassification of schools in the state are landmarks that cannot be wished away. They constitute a formidable challenge to those who seek to take over the affairs of the state from Aregbesola. The man came with these ideas for all times. It can be safely said that he has delivered on his promises. When he leaves, history will recognize him as someone who came and made appreciable impact on his environment. To seek to unseat such a man is therefore a tall order.
If our system permits meritocracy, those who seek Aregbesola’s job should be put on the spot. The people should be interested in knowing what they have in stock for the state. They need superior argument to do this. If they fail, then they would have given the man in the saddle a free ticket for his return trip. This should be the challenge the opposition should confront. Raking up muck over issues that are already settled will lead to nowhere.