Averting looming religious acrimony in Osun

Latest developments in Osun State should be a source of worry, necessitating an urgent need to call those concerned to order otherwise, religious turmoil could be the lot of the state. The new education policy of Governor RaufAregbesola, in reclassifying schools in the state and the ill-advised decision to build an Open Heaven Worship Centre are the Siamese public decisions that are capable of causing serious crisis in the state, if not curbed without further delay.

The subsisting and persisting furore over the reclassification of public schools has worsened and getting to the boiling point suchthat the state’s chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) had given the state governor, RaufAregbesola, an ultimatum to rescind the decision. The state government had defended the merger because it was one of the main recommendations of the State’s Education Summit, which was organized to reverse the perceived decay in the state’s education sector when it took over reign of office, in 2010. The level of decadence of the schools was so severe that it could neither promote teaching nor learning. To worsen matters, teachers were also lacking, in terms of prerequisite qualification and standard. Hence, any serious government that is interested in public education, as a means of developing its human capital base should take urgent steps to reverse the deterioration; but not the way it is going about it.

This ugly incident snowballed a few weeks ago into confusion at the Baptist High School, Iwo, as some pupils shunned their official uniforms and wore choir gowns, white garments, Islamic apparels and other unconventional dresses and costumes to the school. While some people believe that wearing the unconventional dresses was nothing but a way of protesting or registering dislike for the homogenous uniform introduced by the government.

Confusion reportedly became severe at the assembly grounds as the pupils could not listen to their teachers because they preferred lining up themselves along religious lines. Some pupils, who was dressed in a gown usually worn by the choir in the Baptist church, was said to have led Christian students in gospel praises, while their Muslim counterparts dressed in Hijab were hollering Allau Akbar and singing praises to Allah simultaneously. It was learnt that although many other pupils appeared in the government-approved uniform, a few ones who were neither Christians nor Muslims wore clothes with the insignia of their religious beliefs, making the atmosphere in the school chaotic and tensed-up!

The state Christians Association of Nigeria had described the policy as a ploy to erase whatever missionary legacy and foundation of Christian faith being threatened by the state government policies, especially in the education sector, which the church appears not ready to compromise on. On the other hand, the Joint Muslim Action Forum, which is an umbrella body of all Islamic groups in the state, issued a terse statement, condemning the protest. The state Christian body had unanimously resolved that government should stop the merger of schools forthwith, rescind the planned changing of single sex schools to co-educational schools and return all mission schools to their original founders while the suit instituted on the issue of Hijab wearing is still pending before an Osun State High Court.

There are few issues to ponder upon. First, the decision to make the students to wear the same uniform has no direct impact on their performance at public examinations. So, why bother? Merging of schools has also resulted into making some rural communities to lose their schools as pupils were forced to embark on long journeys daily to neighbouring towns at great risks. Reclassification on the basis of age has also been flawed on the basis of the fact that it does not take care of fast and slow learners whose abilities will certainly defy such boundaries. The furore generated by the new process in Osun could best be described as peoples’ resistance to change especially the type which they were never part of.

While still battling with religious crisis in schools, the Aregbesola administration dabbled into another round of controversy by giving out what looks like the Greek gift to Christians. This quest had led to the acquisition of the large expanse of land at OdoIju and Ibodi in the Atakumosa West Local Government Area of the state, to build what it considers a ‘befitting’ place of worship for Christians. The lame excuse, according to the governor’s aides, was to reap the envisaged benefits accrued to pilgrimage centre; akin to what he saw at the Redemption Camp of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, which usually attracts large congregation to the area on the Lagos – Ibadan Expressway. To the Osun State government, by building an Interdenominational Worship Centre, it will hopefully boost the standard of living of the people and the economic life of the state, as long as the worshipers visited the place, eat, buy souvenirs and even lodge in hotels around the vicinity.

That is where the Osun State government missed the point. When did shopping or doing business become the essence of going to the church or crusade? Again, it should also be made to realize that building a church, by whatever name, should not be the responsibility of a government at all in a secular or mufti-religious society like ours. What then happens to other religions and those who do not even practice any faith? What this invariably means is that the idea is nothing but misplaced priority, waste of public fund and an act that is capable of causing religious crisis. These strange happenings in Osun – the school reclassifying and construction of a worship centre are not really about Christianity or Islam. They are ill-conceived public actions that could misconstrue the government as lacking the basic understanding of what constitute the good governance.

Without delay, the Aregbesola government should discontinue with the two programmes, to avert the looming religious imbroglio. For, it is too dangerous for governments to dabble into religion or faith matters because of the tendency to create social schism and fragmentation. The 1999 Constitution, as amended, clearly frowns at the promotion of any faith as state religion. It should rather spend public resources on the provisions of good health, sound education, social security and employment. This will no doubt be impactful to peoples’ lives than what the state government is busy pursuing.

Kupoluyi wrote from the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta. Email:[email protected], Twitter, @AdewaleKupoluyi

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