The Punch editorial of Tuesday, January 21, 2014 titled “Aregbesola’s misguided church project” in which the newspaper, once again, excoriated the governor of the State of Osun for paying attention to the Christian community in his state by creating not only the enabling environment for different religious faiths, but also bringing that environment to modernity should not have been unexpected by keen observers of The Punch entanglement with Aregbesola. What would have been surprising is if the newspaper, which by now prefers to draw its ink from the well of the conservative political elements in the southwest geo-political zone on anything that has to do with Governor Aregbesola, who is probably the strongest link in the region’s chain in progressive governance. The Punch has now made the criticism of Governor Rauf Aregbesola one of its fundamental objectives and directive principle of its organizational policy. And that is fine and dandy.
The Punch editorial left a sour taste in the mouth not because it has a different view from how the governor conducts the affairs his state, but because its editorial was badly disjointed as the newspaper struggled to marshal its points. And just when you thought that it had advanced an argument to buttress a point, the editorial would turn around to make another argument that simply nullified its earlier point. The editorial was akin to a man who was dumped in a big, dark hall blind-folded, and then instructed to walk to the other end of the hall. He would without doubt walk helter-skelter, hitting his head and limbs on avoidable concrete structures and injuring himself badly in the process. The newspaper injured itself with this editorial. It left readers more confused than enlightened.
To be sure, the editorial can be distilled into two distinctive substances: the first shows the newspaper’s anger in what it considers a violation of the separation between religion and state in the constitution by Governor Aregbesola, while the other is what it beliefs is the inability of the governor to bring about socio-economic development to the State of Osun. The newspaper’s assertion that “the Osun State Government had paid N51million compensation to farmers on a large expanse of land where the state is building an interdenominational worship arena” and having done this Governor Aregbesola “will now go ahead to spend Osun’s public funds on mosques, shrines, kingdom halls, chapels for Mormons, gardens for Hindus….” The above quotes would have been unnecessary and quite redundant if the newspaper had paid attention to the key and operative word in its own editorial which is “interdenominational.” Why The Punch thinks this word is unimportant, it seems to me, is a disingenuous attempt to give the dog a bad name in preparation for its guillotine.
The allusion that the “1999 Constitution clearly forbids the promotion of any faith or faiths as state religion” is nothing but an illusion. Although the 1999 Constitution may have forbidden the establishment of any religion by the State, but who does not know that Christianity and Islam have been inadvertently recognized and promoted by the Nigerian nation—in exclusion of other religions that are outside of these two faiths such as Hindus and the Maharaji faiths that The Punch, admits exists in the polity. What’s more? The fact that the Nigerian state as a whole has been knee-deep in religiosity as an important component of how state affairs are conducted should not have been lost on The Punch. A nation and her populace that doesn’t see anything wrong in expending public funds to sponsor its citizens on religious pilgrimages to the spiritual headquarters of the Christian and Islamic faiths can hardly be seen as an embodiment of the separation of church and state as The Punch would have us believe. Why the newspaper has not seen this as an aberration is beyond believe. Judging from the way the newspaper came very hard on an initiative that not only enhances the spiritual values of Nigerians in general, and Osun indigenes in particular, aside from the tremendous economic benefit, wealth creation and other multiplier effects, The Punch probably thinks it was no big deal or it did not give a damn when President Goodluck Jonathan, who represents every Nigerian of every legitimate religious persuasions, knelt before the General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church. The newspaper apparently does not believe that a Nigerian of Maharaji faith, for instance, should feel slighted and his religion insulted, that his president had actually promoted the Redeemed brand of Christianity over and above his faith, in clear violation of the letters and the spirit of the constitution.
The Punch also posited that Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola displayed “a shocking lack of understanding of what constitute the core functions of government” and that the governor of the State of Osun erred in that “while previous governments in Osun have sought to expand farmlands for production and encourage farmers, Osun State in 2014 is acquiring farmland to build an interdenominational centre.” Nothing can be farther from the truth. Since the newspaper would rather not be bothered to expatiate and educate us on what constitutes the core functions of governments, it should be pointed out here that a government that identified a developmental paradigm of boosting its revenue earnings and creating employment for its people through the values that the people hold dear—in this case, their spirituality—is hardly lacking in understanding what constitute its core functions. In case the newspaper does not know, the developed countries of the world that we’re struggling both as a nation and as individuals to be like, adopted a simple maxim of you “build it and they will come.” This innocently looking phrase has been a practical cornerstone of developed countries of Europe, Asia, North America, and recently the Gulf region in growing their economies and creating employment for their citizens from time immemorial. Would people have visited these countries, including Dubai, which until very recently was practically a desert outpost if governments in these countries had not built things they believe people would derive some values from? By the same token, how many people of the world, including Nigerians would visit the Sahara desert even if they’re being offered free rides?
That The Punch newspaper implied in this editorial that the previous governments in Osun expanded farmlands for production and encouraged farmers is patently devoid of facts and the truth. Again, since the newspaper was not specific which of the previous governments it has in mind, we can only assume that it was referring to the immediate past People’s Democratic Party (PDP) government of Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola whose yardstick for measuring economic development was his attempt to construct a stadium in each local government of the state, until this proposed monumental economic waste was stopped in its track when Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola became the governor. Perhaps The Punch may not have heard of Osun Rural Enterprise and Agriculture Programme (O’REAP), which is probably the most ambitious agricultural initiative in the Southwest. This is a programme that seeks to move the state’s agriculture beyond subsistence to lucrative, money spinning commercial farming. Under this programme, the nine (9) farm settlements in the State of Osun in Ago Owu, Oyere, Mokore, Ila, Esa Oke, Akinyele (Iwo), Olupona, Igbaye, and Ifon Orolu have been significantly revitalized through Land Validation, Land Clearing, Tractorization, Road Networking, Construction of Bridges and Culverts, among other things.
Farm Service Centers have also been established with the aim of bringing government intervention to the doorsteps of the numerous farmers of the State of Osun in order to alleviate their sufferings. The government has also established six strategically located Farm Service Centers to cater to the needs of farmers in terms of farm outputs such as fertilizers, improved seeds/seedlings, genuine herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, rodenticides, etc. While The Punch newspaper, as society’s watchdog, is professionally and ethically bound to put government activity and policies under close scrutiny, criticizing the government of Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola just for its sake smacks of unethical professional practice. The newspaper would do well to provide more meat to its readers in its attacks of the governor the next time otherwise it should stop these needless attacks.
Femi Odere is a media practitioner. He can be reached at email@example.com.