My dear great people of the State of Osun, I wish you and your families a happy, fulfilled and prosperous New Year. This year, 2014, by the grace of God, will be the best year for all of us and for our great state.
As we begin this great year, I reflect on the last year and even the last three years since the Almighty God, by His grace and mercy, brought me to this seat as your Governor. Permit me to say that the only reason why I aspired to be governor was to get an opportunity to improve the lot of the masses of our people.
I know how dehumanising poverty and lack of opportunities can be. I know how illiteracy can truncate the destiny of a person and a society.
This is why every day our focus as an administration has been (and is) on how to improve the lives of the majority of our people.
My firm belief is that government exists to protect life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, provide an environment for commerce to thrive, for the young and economically deprived to be educated, for the sick who cannot afford medi-care to be taken care of, for the provision of security for all, and for the enforcement of the rule of law and maintenance of law and order.
All of these must be premised on the truth that all men, regardless of means, religion or ethnicity, are created equal by God and must be enabled where they are unable to access the means for decent and humane existence.
The question I ask myself about any policy we propose to make is simple: ‘How will this benefit the poorest in the State of Osun’?
It is this philosophy that has guided and inspired all of our policies as your government. We put in place the O’Meals programme for feeding all elementary school children daily because we know that a large number of our people find it difficult to feed themselves and their children. We know that undernourishment and calorie deficiency is a major cause of physical and mental underdevelopment of children and young people.
It has been scientifically confirmed in many countries that provide lunch for their children in school that it significantly improves the academic performance and health of the pupils. We are finding this to be the case in our state.
Additionally, the programme has increased elementary school enrolment in Osun from 150,000 to 380,000 children. We now have the largest elementary school enrolment in the country.
Our O’YES scheme which started with the employment of 20,000 youths and additional 20,000 in the second phase, was a response to the criminal neglect of our young people, culminating in massive youth unemployment in our state and the nation.
Of importance to us on the ideological level is that we also needed to affirm that government has a duty to promote full employment and should do so by direct intervention in situations of emergency such as our nation is in today.
Our provision of ‘OPON IMO’ (THE TABLET OF KNOWLEDGE) which contains all the textbooks and teaching aids required in high school is because we know that most parents in the state simply cannot afford the cost of text books.
Again we believe that all of our children, regardless of the financial means of their parents, must have equal access to books and other materials for effective learning. The introduction of this electronic tablet is to bring our children, no matter how remote their location may be from the centres of digital advancement, to familiarity and currency with cutting-edge technology.
Our payment of monthly stipends to our elderly citizens who have no other means of income is also born out of our burning concern for the poorest and most vulnerable in our state. Today we can safely say that we are providing for any person over the age of 65 who has been certified by our enumerators as not having a means of income. No elderly citizen of Osun should die of neglect or want.
The same is true of our educational reform policy. You will recall that when I was sworn in as Governor in November 2010, the schools were in a shambles. Hardly any school in the state had facilities of any kind. We then called for an education summit, attended by great educationists and intellectuals of all persuasions.
Professor Wole Soyinka, our own Nobel Laureate, made time out to personally attend. The summit recommended a complete overhaul of our education system.
The most important conclusion of the summit was the restructuring of the system into three basic categories, Elementary, Middle and High schools. Grades 1–4 are the elementary school, Grades 5–9 are the middle school, while grades 10–12 are the high school.
In the high school, we focus on preparing the children for both internal and external examinations. Our plan is to build 20 new high schools, 50 middle schools and 100 elementary schools. Each of these schools will be equipped to state-of–the-art standards, especially with digital learning aids, electronic boards, functional and contemporary laboratory equipment, sports facilities, clean water and large power generators etc.
The only way to provide these facilities at affordable costs is to merge small poorly equipped schools into larger schools where all the facilities can be provided to large numbers of students using economy of scale to maximum advantage. This is what we have done.
Sometimes, this policy has been misunderstood and some have tried to mis-characterise the reforms as having a religious undertone. This is most unfortunate,wicked and untrue.
The philosophy of our education policy has been the development of a new man intellectually, socially and morally. This new man is placed in the centre of society and views his own development as part of and for the development of society.
This is a non-parasitic and non-oppressive man, who views his existence in the context of the growth of others; he views whatever he acquires to be subsumed in the overall interest of others. He is a man in himself and a man for society.
Let me say categorically that I, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, will never use the trust and mandate of ALL Osun people, who are of all religions and beliefs, to advance the cause of one religion over another.
Every true Yoruba man follows the Omoluabi ethos. In every Yoruba family, we have Christians, Muslims and devotees of traditional religion. In Yorubaland, we do not play religious politics. That is contrary to our beliefs.
Our legendary political father, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, was a Christian, but his only sister, Alhaja Oyefeso, was a Muslim. He supported her in her faith till she died. I also have Christians in my own family; my sister’s children who live in my home are Christians. They go to church every Sunday
This is why, in Osun, we allow the celebration of the three major religions officially. We do not discriminate. At public events, we even encourage prayers from all the three religions.
There are some who may genuinely feel that the education reforms might affect their missions. This is an unfounded fear. Only an irresponsible person will attempt to rubbish or remove the legacy of missionaries in education in Osun and even in Nigeria. I attended mission primary and secondary schools here in Western Nigeria and I proudly display that on my resume.
But let me take us back into a bit of our fairly recent history. Everyone knows that mission schools were taken over by the government of the Western State almost 38 years ago. This means that since 1975, all mission schools were owned, funded and run by government. But the successive state governments ensured that the names of the schools were not changed, in order to maintain the legacies of the founding missionaries.
Therefore, as we rebuild the schools and expand their facilities, we also have not and will not tamper with their names. We believe that the missions and missionaries, who founded the schools, must be immortalised by retaining the names of the schools. For example, one of the completed middle schools in Osogbo is the Salvation Army Middle School at Alekuwodo.
I am also aware of the agitation of some missions to have schools returned to them. Although, as I have said before, the schools have been owned by governments since 1975, our administration is not foreclosing the prospect of returning some of the schools upon the completion of our new schools.
I wish to emphasise that this process can only begin upon completion of the schools we are currently and aggressively building all over the state. The process of return of schools must be well planned and executed because of the various implications, especially the fact that their ownership had changed almost four decades ago.
Osun is a state which will be a model of peace and tolerance. I would like to say that religious, political and ethnic tolerance is the basic foundation of our Omoluabi heritage. We must promote this culture of tolerance and civilised conflict resolution with all our might.
This is why we have decided to establish an Omoluabi Peace and Conflict Management Commission. This is to be a standing commission where communal, religious, ethnic or other social disputes can be resolved by a body of respected elders from across Yorubaland and even other groups.
The Commission is to be headed by the distinguished former judge of the World Court, H. E. Justice Bola Ajibola (SAN). The executive secretary is Rev. Ladi Thompson who is the special adviser to the President of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN). These two eminent people will be supported by equally eminent and worthy people with diverse experience.
The Commission will hear petitions from individuals, religious organisations, communities, and other interest groups.
The Commission will invite petitioners or disputing parties for hearings with a view to resolving disputes amicably. The Commission will be established under the proper legal instruments and their recommendations will be considered for implementation by all relevant bodies in the state.
Our state must be known for tolerating every shade of opinions. I am by choice, training, and experience a democrat. I believe that the voices of the people must be respected, but we must air our differences, even of dissent, in the best tradition of Omoluabi.
In the past three years, we have worked hard to change the fortunes of our people and set our state on the path of greatness. We have touched every aspect of life and affected everybody for good. Our various policies have been felt by the old and young, men and women.
We have restored the pride of our people and the glory of our land in education, agriculture, commerce, transportation, information technology, security and industrialisation.
My administration’s most passionate desire is to produce food in sufficiently massive quantities to be able to feed our people, and then have surplus to process and sell. I am of the firm belief that food security is an essential foundation of any meaningful human and industrial development.
Accordingly, the policies we put in place have created wealth for our people and increased the fortunes of government as well. More people now have regular income and the revenue accruable to the government has increased.
This year will be the culmination of our efforts, as our various programmes will come to fruition. I am asking for your continued support and participation in order for us all to reap the full benefits.
I also wish to remind us that this year, 2014, is an election year in Osun – the governorship seat will be up for contest. We must prepare for this. Election presents an opportunity for the people to choose their leaders and also reward or punish good or bad leadership. We must approach this task with this simplicity but with every sense of responsibility.
We must seek to exercise our rights and protect these rights from encroachment, using the most civilised and legal means. But we must avoid violence and unruly conducts and we must not give room for any troublemaker who might want to use the pretext of election to perpetrate mayhem and destroy our efforts and collective gains of the past three years.
As we enter this great year of destiny, I pray that all our supplications will be answered, our joy will be full, our children will make us proud, our businesses will return excellent profits and our farms will yield bountiful harvests. We will not die in this New Year, we will live and enjoy the fruit of the land, in peace, in joy and in good health. Amen.
Thank you. God bless you.
Osun a dara!