These are not the best of times in my state of origin, Osun; where we are currently observing funeral ceremonies of innocence as the extremes tendencies of the state governor, Rauf Aregbesola have put a knife to the very thing that made us one people.
I met Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola in 1998 when on Sunday Adigun Street in Ikeja, Lagos, the then campaign headquarters for the governorship bid of Lagos State by Senator Bola Tinubu.
Myself and Dr. Bunmi Omoseyindemi gravitated towards him as he was the most ideological person in the campaign. Added to that was his pious disposition which marked him out as one of the very few men I have seen on campaign grounds not crazy about cornering resources.
That was why I approached him that a particular item being done by the campaign could be done at half of what the vendors were taking and he endured we got it done. The gentlemen who were handling it whom I thought were friends to the candidate later came to fight me for spoiling their market.
He was not overtly ambitious then. I recall as myself, Omoseyindemi and him stood in Abiola’s compound during the June 12 celebration after Tinubu won the election and he said he was not after any position but would not object if the new governor ask him to be his personal assistant. But by some stroke of fate he was named the Commissioner for Works.
If I had any reservation about him, it was only about his overt religiosity. He would come to the campaign office most times in his Islamic gown with his goatee to match. When he wore normal dress, his tebliq trouser stood him out always.
When he became commissioner, I was with him in his office one night during the America-Afghanistan war and was surprised at his almost child-like excitement when news came on CNN that the Talibans inflicted some damage on the American forces.
It is those manifestations of his that have turned Osun into a sorry case today and leading to the death of innocence among our young people along religious lines.
I had my primary education in Ondo town and returned to Osun State for my secondary education in the late 70’s. We never cared who was a Christian or a Muslim as we mingled freely. Some of my classmates who were Muslims have remained best friends till date because they were not veiled and I could put faces to their names. We were in the old Oyo State then with a Christian, Chief Bola Ige becoming our governor in 1979 and his deputySunday Afolabi also of the same faith. It was not an issue as everybody focused on the cardinal programmers of the Unity Party of Nigeria which they faithfully implemented. In Lagos, Lateef Jakande and Rafiu Jafofo were the men UPN picked to implement the plan. Michael Ajasin and Akin Omoboriowo in Ondo were both Christians just like there was no issue in Ogun that Bisi Onabanjo and another Christian named Sesan Soluade were giving free education.
That liberal disposition in Yorubaland would see a Ganiyu Fawehinmi being married to a Christian wife, an example which a Wale Oshun has replicated without rancour.
That was the spirit of our fathers who stood at the gates as warriors when Jihadists were going to inflict strange doctrine on Yoruba psyche.
But the Aregbesolas of the Yoruba nation are changing all that stoking religious war in our syncretic space. Aregbesola, on assumption of office in 2011, constituted the Professor Wole Soyinka-led education summit to look into the state of education in Osun. The summit gave birth to the re-classification of schools in the state including merger, school feeding programme, and provision of same school uniform for students in the state. It is the merging of schools which became mega schools that gave birth to the current disharmony between Christians and Muslims in Osun as each of them wants to protect its faith.
The reforms from the Soyinka summit were to later have the interpretation of conditions precedent to access the Sukuk bond as the Islamic bank had to be convinced they were investing their money in Islamic schools.
The governor in his first time surreptitiously introduced Hijab in Osun School but backed off when it was going to boomerang and a second term project still lay ahead. They stylishly moved the battle to the courtroom where after three years a Justice SAKA has ruled that Muslims can wear hijab to school and even granted some prayers that were not put before him.
The resistance to the move have seen children of other faiths coming to school in choir robes and egungun attires. The symbolism of these forms of protest should not be missed. That is the irresistible spirit of Yoruba people which Islamists (the political Muslims) should reckon with in their quest to bring strange doctrine into a space where religious extremism has always been a stranger.
After he booted Oyinlola out of office, Aregbesola made a commitment that he was going to outdo Awolowo in Osun. We didn’t know what he meant was that he was going to do what Awo did not do. Baba Layinka was not going about dividing Yoruba along religious lines rather he brought higher ideals for people of all faiths to rally around.
Aregbesola is a Yoruba patriot and he should pause and ask himself how he wants to be remembered 20 years down the line. Would he be happy to be recorded in history as a destabilizer of an existing social order? A jihadist from within who reawakened the Jihad of yore defeated in the battle front by our ancestors?
After him Osun must never again go for an extremist -Christian or Muslim-as a governor. We will do well with a moderate and unifier.