Aregbesola: Less Religion, More Performance

For Osun State Governor Rauf Aregbesola, the uniform controversy at the Baptist High School, Iwo, was a sore point in recent time he would probably want to leave quickly behind. Ogbeni, as the easy going governor is called, shares a lot in common with my own State governor, Adams Oshiomhole – both great performers, progressive minded, courageous, dogged and not afraid to step on any one’s toes in the course of their many reforms.

As a regular visitor to Osun since 2008, this commentator as an appreciative and concerned observer has seen enough on the ground and so thinks the governor does not deserve the furore generated by the uniform saga.  Verifiable evidence abounds of the impressive work of transformation and modernization the governor has done all over the State.

It is unfortunate that the country has continued to allow itself held down by the dogmas of religion and ethnicity. Being a Christian by faith – I would rather have an honest, dynamic, astute Muslim leader who knows his onions and serves his people well than a fellow Christian leader who is incompetent and playing the religious and ethnic card to hold on to his office.  These sentiments will not put food on the table nor will it bring regular power supply – the country’s major albatross, it will not ensure good health-care for the teeming population, it will not bring good roads and effective transportation nor generally the good things of life that ensure high standard of living.

The country is getting increasingly divided along religious and ethnic lines with religious leaders and tribal chieftains who are supposed to know better fanning members of divisiveness.

But for the preponderance of thieving, divisive, selfish leaders, religion and ethnicity would not have too much relevance in the matters of governance. The sing song all over the land is “it is our turn” (to steal from the public till)? How unfortunate. The country requires leaders who are builders that can bring all the people together through good governance, dynamic selfless leadership, and transparency with accountability to the people. A true good leader would not need to play any mischievous religious or ethnic card because as a rallying point, everyone would see him or her as “our governor, our president”, before any other consideration.

In Osun State, political forces wearing the togas of religious bigots are working hard to undermine the impressive achievements of one of the best performing governors in the country.

It is not how a governor or president dresses that makes him a good or bad leader. Some public commentators in recent write-ups even detest even the governor’s mode of dressing and labeled him as a Taliban. The governor’s humility and simplicity are ready qualities that announce his amiable personality and his mode of dressing is just one way to express it for the same reason, Adams Oshiomhole of Edo State would always want to be identified of his pedigree as a labour leader and dress in the famous Khaki attire as a comrade. In any case, the writer would have performing governor dressed the way he is rather than in silk Italian suits or flowing Agbada and is not performing. Conversely, that a public officer wears cassock does not mean the public till safe with him.

The Aregbesola administration has been able to bring about pragmatic transformation in the various sectors of governance and compared with previous administrations in the state, there has been much impact and improvement.

The government has also been able to reduce youth unemployment in the state through the Osun Youth Empowerment Scheme (OYEMS). Perhaps, the most endearing aspects of the Ogbeni reforms in the state are the social orientation and the egalitarianism thrust. The poor are well provided for and given a sense of belonging which is absent in most other governments throughout the country.

Is Aregbesola really a zealot or fundamentalist? Is he out to Islamize Osun State? A fundamentalist definitely would not have no tolerance for other religions and would not respect other religious viewpoints or associate with adherents of other faiths. Boko Haram offers a good example.

The deputy governor and several aides in his administration are also Christians.  Some time ago, he hosted a PAN – Yoruba Conference aimed at forging Yoruba integration across the globe. He is also presently involved in the building of 200,000 Christian Ecumenical Centre in Ilesha which commenced in December 2010 long before the crisis snowballed.  Recently, he went on pilgrimage to Oke Maria to pray alongside some of his most vicious political opponents.

To be surrounded by people of other faiths and to have taken part in various exercises of other religions shows that he is tolerant in his personal religious affairs. These are not qualities of a religious zealot. The governor has been grossly misunderstood because of his faithful adherence to his avowed faith and his critics are making a capital of it in an election year. There is no doubt that he fervently loves and practices his Islam faith on account of which some commentators have called him an Imam. But he does not hate the other religions and would not stop anyone from practicing their own faith when he has not stopped his own close aides.

It is understandable that Christians of whom the writer is one especially the Baptist Convention do not want ancient landmarks removed from the Baptist High School. But beyond this posturing, many Christian leaders in Nigeria today can be likened to the Pharisees and Sadducees that Jesus Christ labeled as hypocrites in the Bible. They don’t see anything wrong in acts of injustice, maladministration, corruption, wasteful government spending as long as they are benefitting from them.  They are hobnobbing with political leaders to enrich themselves. President Goodluck Jonathan has been junketing from Church to Church and not one of those pastors has been bold enough to tell him (amongst others) of his wasteful spending of Nigeria’s resources with the eleventh plane about to be added to his presidential fleet. These leaders have lost the right to be the moral conscience of the society.

Aregbesola is certainly not a Saint as other mortals and political leaders. His greatest weak point is allowing his controversial nature speak louder than his true good intentions and acts and having been unable to assuage the fears of Christian leaders in the state, accommodate them and letting them know that he means well for them and all Osun people.

The response of the government machinery to the barrage of orchestrated phantom attacks was (strangely) operationally inept and strategically pedestrian. As the controversy brewed, the state government should have come out decisively before now to stop the practice though the governor in a recent address stated that the government did not approve the use of hijab in any School at any time.

The governor as leader and father of the state should also try to carry the Christian faithful along and continually reassure them of government resolve to protect their rights of worship. The state government could also review the policy of reclassification and mergers of schools to allow harmony. As done successfully in Lagos, Mission schools could be handed over to their owners to manage themselves, spend their own money on them and dictate their terms.