Promoting Religious Tolerance And Diversity In Osun

ONE of the major crises the Federal Government of Nigerian has been facing in the last eight years is religion. It has stretched the unity of the country to its limit as politicians have, since the inception of the Fourth Republic, gone beyond limit, using it as an instrument to acquire political relevance, therefore, creating acrimony between people who ordinarily lived together harmoniously.

However, the government of the state of Osun under the leadership of Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola has been able to cement all indigenes and residents in the state to see beyond religious differences and live together as a people bonded by destiny in the same land. During the Governor’s inauguration in November 27, 2010 he never hid his intention to achieve high level cordiality among faithful of different religions living in the state by declaring: “I am not a governor of Muslims or Christians, neither am I a governor of Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, but a governor of all the people of the state of Osun. Irrespective of their belief or religious, I would ensure the protection of the rights of all as I pledged before you all”.

Before the inception of the administration in the state, residents and indigenes of the state were quick to suspect each other, especially on matters relating to religion.

But Aregbesola, within a short time, was able to eliminate, not just the mistrust between the two major religious faithful, but also gave the traditionalists a sense of belonging.

The first step taken towards this direction was during the short-listing of cadets for the state youths empowerment scheme, OYES, neither apllicants religion nor their political affiliation or ethnicity was given priority. In fact, members of the cadets were allowed to dress in accordance with their religious dictates without jeopardising the code of conduct of the scheme.

Muslim and Christian parents as well as their children in public schools now support government in its bid to ensure unity among them with the return of religious studies to ensure moral standard among the younger generations in the state.

The administration also decided to break new ground during its one year anniversary by involving people of the three faiths in the state into the programme of events for the celebrations.

The one-month event gave Muslims, Christians and traditional believers a sense of belonging in line with the Governor’s pledge during his inauguration. Awards were given to people who have displayed exemplary behaviour among the various faiths, among whom are the Chief Imam of Osogbo, Sheik Mustapha Ajisafe; the state Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, president, Prophet Abraham Aladeseye and the Araba Awo of Osogbo, Chief Ifayemi Elebu-ibon.

The peculiarity of the celebration was captured thus by Elebu-ibon: “Ogbeni has really showed that the differences in our religions can be harmonised to achieve great understanding capable of moving the state to higher level politically, socially and economically. If this trend is maintained or improved upon, then other states of the federation would learn from the style of the Governor to attain religious diversity in the country.

“Bringing the different religious leaders together has further deepened the level of trust between us all. Besides, he gave the traditionalist a sense of belonging in the state, considering the fact that Osun is the source of the Yoruba nation. We are proud of the feat he achieved in the area of religious harmony in the state. All of these are reasons the state has remained peaceful religiously and ethnic-wise”.

Religious diversification was not left out of the Governor’s drive to develop the state tourism potential. This is evidenced during the Osun Osogbo International Festival with adherent of the festival being elated at the dimension introduced. Still, in a bid to balance the equation, the state government is in talk with Christian leaders such as Pastor Enoch Adeboye, Prophet Kayode Abiara, Pastor Matthew Ashimolowo, Pastor Williams Kumuyi and others in the country on how to develop a Christian convention centre in Ilesa equipped with state-of-the-art facilities to further enhance the state’s status as the hub of tourism in the country.

For the first time since the creation of the state, the atmosphere during a particular festival reflected the festive essence as evidenced during the last Ramadan Festival as the major towns wore a look synonymous with the celebration. Visitors into the state could easily notice that it was the fasting season as insignia bearing prayers for the state and the nation in general adorned major roads in major towns, including the state capital.

Same was re-enacted during the Eid-el-Kabir festival, the Christmas, the New Year and the Easter celebrations that were marked in grand style as the indigenes of the state resident in Lagos, Ogun and Oyo states were spared the rigour, exploitation and risk associated with having to travel in commercial vehicles as the state’s Osun Free Rail Transportation came to their rescue.

This measure enabled government to provide social services to people of the state, thereby harmonising their religious differences into a means of strength and unity of purpose.

In addition, during last year’s celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, major cities of the state of Osun were decorated to reflect the uniqueness of the Christmas period. Lights reflecting five stars as well as colourful display of Christmas colours showed visitors that the state is indeed celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ.

The State Government also achieved a new feat in the federation by bringing its citizens of different faith together to celebrate the New Year amid fanfare. For the first time in the country, fireworks would be used to usher-in the new year as observed in developed countries.

Besides all these, Ogbeni always lends his voice to condemn in totality religious intolerance and terrorism against people of other faiths in some part of the country and always seek civic resolution to the problem. He proposed to the Federal Government to adopt the youth empowerment scheme as a means of engaging the youths to be socially responsible, instead of taking up arms against their kinsmen in the name of religion.

Today in the state, religious acrimony is at its ebb, like in years gone by in the country when religious differences never counted as an issue among the people, both indigenes and non-indigenes, Muslims, Christians and their traditionalist counterparts.

Source: Nigerian Elites Forum