I read with utmost astonishment the piece by the Punch Editorial Board on “Aregbesola’s misguided church project” in the Punch of Tuesday, January 21, 2014 and wish it is necessary I respond to it.
Ordinarily, one will not feel concerned about a misconception of a public programme that is widely accepted by the majority of Nigerians irrespective of their religious belief, but for accusation of bribery and corrupt practice to emanate from a respected newspaper, a member of the revered fourth estate, which main function is to inform and educate the public, is to say the least, unpardonable.
To say “Rauf Aregbesola, the Governor of Osun State, appears impervious to moderation in matters religious” is antithetical to report of this nature. It is baseless and lack data. Aregbesola is not impervious to religious matter, though the issue at hand is not an issue of religion as it has been painted by the reporters.
To clear the air from the outset about the allegation of aiming to bribe the respected Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) with a “Greek Gift”, I want to say that the idea of providing Open Heaven – an open ground where Christians of all denominations can use for retreats, conventions and meetings, started since 2006 when Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola was still dreaming about his aspirations for his beloved state.
It is intended to aid the regeneration of the area by creating an attractive open space for Christian religious use which will spurn both residential and commercial developments of the area in the nearest future. This was reiterated by Ogbeni Aregbesola at Joseph Ayo Babalola University (JABU), Ijesha Arakeji on March 18, 2012, when he bagged Honourary Doctor of Philosophy in Entrepreneurship.
Open Heaven is not a church building project as erroneously claimed by the Editorial. Open Heaven is an open ground with modern amenities and conveniences for Christians to dwell and worship periodically. It will be built and maintained by the government as no individual or church can claim ownership. It has religion-tourism potential just like the Osun Osogbo festival, River Thames Water festival and Rivfest in Port Harcourt.
In 1997, when Major General Jeremiah Useni (Jerry Boy) found out that Old Parade Ground in Area 10, Garki, Abuja was becoming insufficient for the number of churches willing to use the place for their Nignt Vigil, conventions and crusade and the benefits of the ground to food-sellers, drink-sellers and the people of the area, he built another open ground with a small canopy as podium along Abuja – Zuba Road, Kubwa. This is not without cost as it fell inside the Gwarimpa Residential Scheme Team 8.
In London, Mayor Thames festival is an annual water event that attracts millions of tourists and river worshippers from all over the world. It is the biggest of its kind by any standard. When this week-long activities was becoming rowdy, the Mayor of London procured some buildings between Thames Bridge and London bride and turned this into a park with Tax-payers money for the comfort of the participants. This park is also used by fun-seekers when Mayor Thames festival is not taking place.
Mecca receives over 2 million worshippers in October 2013 alone. The worshippers that visited for Humrah (small hajj) cannot be less than 500,000. This is the kind of business idea that spurned Open Heaven Development. Calling Open Heaven a church is like calling Muslims Eidel Praying Ground a mosque.
Late Felix Houphouet-Boigny, the former president of Cote D’Ivoire, built the largest church in the world in Yamouskoro, Cote D’Ivoire. Today, that church is the biggest tourist centre in that country. Houphouët-Boigny moved the country’s capital from Abidjan to his hometown of Yamoussoukro and built the world’s largest church there, the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace of Yamoussoukro, at a cost of US$300 million.
When Aregbesola started Nelson Mandela Freedom Park as an open place for all to relax and to reduce the density of the area, not many people relax the latent value in this corridor of the state. On Saturday, January 18, 2014, Osun PDP Gubernatorial aspirant, Senator Iyiola Christopher Omisorre, was at Nelson Mandela Freedom Park in preparation for his campaign on February 8, 2014.
It is a wrong notion and misunderstanding to think that provision of people’s needs that can bring development is not “what constitutes the core functions of government” or that it “is certainly out of sync with development”. Open Heaven is not a “Greek Gift” to anybody. It is a development project that the government so much believes in can develop the state. Saying “Aregbesola’s church project is not in tune with modern governance” is an aberration and not in line with the Editorial’s notion about “standing on principle”.
It is by “standing on principle” to develop all parts of the state that this project is seeing the light of the day. One can imagine the number of visitors that will come to Open Heaven every year. The economy of the area and the state in General will be boosted with the construction of Open Heave. By intervening in religion, the government is not interfering. It is one of the functions of the government to invest in any legal area where it knows can boost the economy and generate dividends now and in the future.
Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola fared well when it comes agricultural development in the state. Aregbesola is making agriculture the mainstay of Osun’s economy. Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, while justifying the huge amount committed by his administration to agricultural sector development in the state claimed that; “The neglect of agricultural sector by successive administrations in the country has the tendency of exposing the nation to famine as it is being experienced in some developing nations like Somalia, Niger Republic and Sudan.” It is therefore, improper to claim that Open Heaven will diminish the Osun agricultural land.
Development Consultant, Osogbo