OPINION: Osun And Aregbesola’s Revolution

Tunde FagbenleI’ve kept off saying anything on the raging rumpus in the state of Osun over the education restructuring embarked upon by the maverick governor, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, simply because I needed to have a fuller understanding of the issues involved. And so, for all of last three or more weeks I’ve sat perched like the proverbial old owl on the wall: the more it saw, the less it spake; and the less it spake, the more it saw!

But first what happened?

The government of Osun decided to restructure the education system of the state, and turn the hitherto nationally uniform order of 6-3-3 (six years of primary, three of junior secondary and three of senior secondary) into a 4-5-3 (four Elementary (primary), five Middle school, and three High school) structure.

It has its implications: One, it means a realignment and reclassification of all state public schools (take note) in a manner to fit the new reform. Schools are merged and regraded (reclassified); in the process pupils and students are moved all over the place into appropriate schools for their age grades within the closest proximity to their abodes. Two, it means necessarily turning hitherto single sex schools into mixed schools.

The whole jigging and juggling was bound to create a lot of dislocation and discomfort, and confusion in the minds of many. What’s all this and why?

Thrown into the mix is the religious angle. A number of those schools had religious antecedents which in present day is in name only as all of them, taken over by the state (and this is in virtually all the states of the federation) about 40 years ago, have had no further input, notional or material, from the original “faith owners” in the running of the schools, with all responsibility devolving unto the state (public) as the new and absolute owner.

The hoopla and protests that have greeted Ogbeni’s reform has been loudest by the Baptist denomination of Christians for reasons only known to them, since the other denominations have somehow shown understanding and exercised restraint. But I do empathise with the Baptist, more so as I was born one, even if I have long distanced myself from Christianity, or any foreign originated faith. I remember feeling very awkward, even revulsed, when my old school, the once famous Kiriji Memorial College, Igbajo was mixed in my final year in 1965. I wanted to puke.

But what the Protestants (the Baptists living up to their name) should have done, had their faith guided them within the ambit of the law, was to have gone to court rather than taking the law into their hands by blocking entry of male students coming into their new “mixed” school that had changed from an all girls school. Go to court to seek an injunction in the first instance, whilst challenging the legality of the government’s action – a challenge that in my opinion would have come to nought. But, at least, they would have bought some time – to “negotiate”, if you know what I mean!

Another truth, which is worth emphasising, is that whilst the government has appropriated virtually all mission schools 30-something years ago, religious missions, just like private individuals, remain free to set up new schools afresh, right up to the university level – as a mushrooming of it has shown. Unfortunately, very clearly, their “mission” has long shifted from genuine desire and commitment to enlightening the young at free or affordable costs, as was the case with the early missionaries, to now milking the multitude, as the exorbitant fees of the universities and the jet-owning lifestyles of some pastors loudly testify!

It is easy, very easy to forget that the present 6-3-3 national education structure had not always been so. In my time what prevailed was the 6-6-2, or 6-5-2 (i.e. six primary, six or five secondary, and two upper school – HSC, the equivalent of GCE Advanced Level). In the North where I grew up it was even 7 (or 8)-6-2! And the school calendar year in my time was January to December, with periodic mid-term and Christmas/New Year holidays. All sorts of things informed the changes made by the then military government, including harmonisation with prevailing observance abroad, especially the UK, and the farm-harvesting seasons for parents that require help of their children, even as deteriorating standards were added to the excuses.

We must always remind ourselves that we are in a supposedly federal state (country). We must not forget that, lest we affirm the point made by my friend, Mr. KayodeIlesanmi,retired federal P.S. in my penultimate column that: “Even the little the states have now constitutionally, they are always so willing to donate back to the centre. Every little problem they have, they beg for federal intervention, even in basic areas of their responsibility like education/health or arterial roads.”

We have the likes of Ogbeni to thank in facing the challenge to force observance of the federation notion.

So is Ogbeni’s school restructuring some fly-by-night fancy idea? Indications are that it is part of a holistic radical reform of education in the state. And impressive have been the interventions and results so far. Those that stick everyone in the face and cannot be ignored include: spectacularly pushing Osun in national WASSCE performance ranking from the 34thposition in 2010 when Ogbeni took overto the 8th position by 2012; free nutritious lunch meal programme (as obtained in developed countries) for Primary (now Elementary) 1-4 pupils; and, of course, the revolutionary Opon-Imo (Knowledge Tablet), to name but a few.

The Guardian newspaper editorial of the 23rd has this to say: “The controversy embroiling education reform in the State of Osun is needless, if not contrived. It tends to reduce the significance of what Governor RaufAregbesola is trying to achieve in restoring the lost glory of education in the state.” I concur.

Knowing what eight years of Ogbeni would do to the transformative development of the state of Osun, I am saddened when I hear flippant analogy of some reactions to Ogbeni’s school reform to what brought the stellar government of Chief Bisi Akande to an end – on account of his unpopular recalcitrance against teachers’ and civil servants’ pay.  Osun voters, it is said, paid Akande back by rejecting him at the polls for a second term, cutting their noses to spite their faces as it were.

Were there no lessons learnt by my Osun people? Was the almost eight years of the locust that followed, a happy one for them? Are they threatening to have that again to “spite” Ogbeni and halt the rapid pace of development Osun is now witnessing? Is something wrong with us?

Ogbeni may be radical, even impetuous, and certainly in a hurry to bring transformative change to the state of Osun in particular and Yoruba nation as a whole. But any charge of propensity to IslamizeOsun by him is all baloney, especially in the light of his obvious pursuit of Yoruba socio-cultural resurgence and the creation of a level playing field for all faiths.

Nevertheless, knowing full well how Ogbeni’s brilliance often leads him to conceit, it is equally imperative to have a vibrant but responsible opposition to put him on his toes and let him know he cannot take the people for granted. And that’s saying it the way it is!