Editorials of newspapers are supposed to be the encapsulation of the outfits thoughts, constructive criticism, advice, warning among others. The quality and maturity of an editorial is a testimony to the erudition and wisdom of the team that makes up the media outfit. That is what we expect from a newspaper of THE PUNCH status. As a paper that self-proclaims itself as the most widely read paper, it was expected that it would keep its journalistic duty sacred and beyond parochial sentiments.
Nigerians awoke to a sensational editorial from the Punch on the 21st January, 2014 with the headline –Aregbesola’s Misguided Church Project . had it been one of the soft-sell newspapers lacking depth and proper organization we would not have bothered, but for a highly regarded paper to base its thoughts on beer-parlour gist straight from the mouth of frustrated opposition who having nothing to oppose have resorted to blackmail and religious sensationalism, is incomprehensible. The first paragraph of the piece immediately exposed the jaundiced thought-line for what it is- hogwash (apologies to PUNCH editorial!). The paragraph states as follows-
Rauf Aregbesola, the Governor of Osun State, appears impervious to moderation in matters religious. His latest misadventure is to purchase a piece of land to build a church as part of his queer concept of ‘development’.
Aregbesola did not swear oath to govern Osun on PUNCH editor’s definition of moderation or development. The governor swore to an oath in the seventh schedule of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) which is to do right to all manner of people, according to law, without fear or favour, affection or ill-will. PUNCH’s grouse is not the unconstitutionality of Aregbesola’s actions but its uncouthness and uncompromising nature in activating hitherto inactive provisions of the Constitution for the benefit of his people.
The Editorial’s warped comment also failed to understand the essence of a secular state. While Section 10 of the Constitution establishes the secularity of the Nigerian State, it is not however, ignorant of the religious passion of the people therein, which was why section 38 provides for an elaborate right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. It is regrettable that an organization such as PUNCH which ought to be a citadel of letters continuously fails to grasp the meaning of secularism. The preamble to our constitution states … having firmly and solemnly resolved: to live in unity and harmony as one indivisible and indissoluble Sovereign Nation under God… Our secularity does not make us Godless or display official cockishness towards people’s mode of expressing their religious beliefs. Secularism seeks to ensure and protect religious belief and practice for all citizens. Secularism is not about curtailing religious freedoms; it is about ensuring that the freedoms of thought and conscience apply equally to all believers and non believers alike. (see www.secularism.org.uk)
What is all these hoopla all about anyway? In the build-up to the 2007 gubernatorial election, Aregbesola promised to leverage on Osun’s unique history of being the birthplace of some of the most successful contemporary church founders in the world. He reasoned that being the homeland of Prophet Ayo Babalola (Christ Apostolic Church); Pastor Adeboye (Redeemed Christian Church of God); Pastor W.F. Kumuyi (Deeper Life Bible Church); Prophet Obadare (CAC); Prophet Fakeye (Cherubim and Seraphim Movement); Pastor Mathew Ashimolowo (Kingsway International Christian Centre) among many others the state must deplore this resource to its socio-religious and economic advantage. This informed the need to encourage and support the Christian community to open a 200,000 capacity worship centre for use by all denominations in the State.
While campaigning at Ilesa, the Odo-Iju community in Atakunmosa West LG donated a parcel of land for the project in order for it to host such a strategic site. This promise was followed up by a letter which was accepted by the government and the sum of fifty one million was paid to the community for compensation on economic crops as every such gifts are usually done by any sane government. This uncomplicated issue was what PUNCH decided to latch on to berate a governor for fulfilling his electoral promise.
It is amazing that Punch has no qualms whatsoever with the multi-billion naira National Mosque and Christian Ecumenical Centre in Abuja, built with government money; the hosting of the largest Christmas carol in the world by Akwa-Ibom State worth hundreds of millions among many others. Every government and its people decide and define what they want, not a parochial editorial. Chief Obafemi Awolowo of blessed memory had a pristine foresight when he pioneered the establishment of Christian and Muslim Pilgrims Welfare Board in the 1950s. This was not regarded as religious bigotry nor bribery as PUNCH would have termed it. That vision has succeeded in helping many Nigerians fulfill their life-long duty to their God, thereby promoting harmony and peace.
It is an abuse of language and privilege for a newspaper to regard the fulfillment of an electoral promise as bribery or Greek gift to the Christian body. Christians are intelligent enough to hold their own brief on this matter, however, we must point out that this latest campaign of calumny to set a religious body against the Governor has become an over-blown trumpet, of which we know who the trumpeters are- PDP and its hangers-on. The same assertions made by the PUNCH editorial has been severally piped, though less intelligibly, by the ill-educated chairman of the PDP in Osun. It would be bizarre for a newspaper of PUNCH standing to translate itself to become the official megaphone of the Osun PDP. If however, it wishes to become such, so be it.
It is hypocritical and highly unfortunate that a respected Newspaper such as PUNCH would regard the development in Osun as queer! Tell me, what is queer about providing school uniforms for 750,000 students and pupils? what is queer about feeding over 250,000 pupils daily with nutritious home-grown foods? what is queer about distributing 150,000 e-learning device to students where all their books and past questions are stored for use? please tell me what is queer about employment of over 3000 teachers and massive teacher training? What is queer about building and equipping of 170 new schools in a state hitherto popular for acute shortage of educational infrastructure?
Even the blind can see real development going on in Osun. Can anyone deny the construction of 10km roads in each of the 30 local governments and one area office? Can we deny the construction of modern state of the art roads all over the State? Can PUNCH pretend to be ignorant of the statistics being reeled out by Federal Government and international organizations attesting to the verifiable developments taking place in Osun. A state with the lowest unemployment rate in the country (per National Bureau of Statistics); the state with the lowest crime rate as confirmed by the chairman of the Police Service Commission, Sir Mike Okiro among many other undisputable developmental feats recorded by Aregbesola government is there for all to see.
It is unfortunate that a newspaper establishment would set up itself to be the persecutor-in-chief of a federating unit in Nigeria. Many articles, comments and columns in the paper over time has attacked the policies of Ogbeni Aregbesola. An earlier piece, Christians Against Aregbesola by Ms. Abimbola Adelakun on 17th October, 2013 showed the nadir which PUNCH’s arm-chair criticism efforts have gone. This piece, is therefore a continuation of such shenanigans. We are however not fazed by these baseless vituperations, our comfort rests in the fact that the people of Osun are daily witnessing a breath of fresh air which had eluded them for so long.
For the avoidance of doubt, let it be known to all our traducers that the Government of the State of Osun as presently constituted will continue to provide enabling environment for her people to live and practice their religion without let or hinderance as exemplified in the freedom of thought and conscience broadly allowed in the constitution and nothing will detract us from this sacred duty as it is a pact we have made with our people. Ours is a government of conviction and not of convenience!
Ibrahim Lawal is a Senior Special Assistant to the Governor in the Ministry of Regional Integration and Special Duties.