Osun 2014: Religion in the hands of Aregbesola
By Gbenga Faturoti / Osogbo
Unfolding events in Osun State in recent times suggest that Osun State Governor, Rauf Aregbesola, has proved critics of his style of administration wrong over accusation that his government was attempting to turn the state into an Islamic state. The critics, including some leadership of the State Chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), had accused Aregbesola of surreptitiously plotting to Islamise the state, an accusation which the administration has consistently debunked.
Though Osun State, like any other state in the federation, is a secular state, which accords all religious sects due and equal recognition, and since the creation of the state on 27 August, 1991, it is yet to record any religious crisis. The three religious sects: Christianity, Islam and Traditional religion are practised in the state without any one engaging the other in any untoward challenges, crisis or controversy. This is because within a family, the three sects could be practised by the same siblings.
Religious balancing, however, has no doubt become an issue in the political circle in the state in recent times under the present administration, in particular, when the state government doled out N35million towards the burial of founder and tele-evangelist of World Soul Winning Evangelical Ministry (WOSEM), Apostle Timothy Oluwole Obadare, who died in March this year.
Beside this, Governor Rauf Aregbesola was present at the burial ceremony of the acclaimed preacher along with his deputy, Mrs. Grace Ttilayo Laoye-Tomori, and members of his cabinet. His presence and that of other public figures from the state added to the glamour of the burial of the great spiritualist whose funeral ceremony attracted dignitaries from across the world.
In appreciation of his contribution and personal involvement in the burial ceremony, the spiritualists in the ministry and under the supervision of CAN invited him and showered praises and prayers on his administration. Even every stone harden soul that was present at the ceremony and watched as the clergymen showered prayers on Aregbesola and his cabinet would have a change of mind about him and his government.
Some days after the traditional religious worshippers requested for a public holiday to celebrate their Isese festival which the traditional worshippers called “Odun-Nla” as it is always done for Christmas/New Year for Christians as well as Hijra for Muslims and for which the state government granted and proclaimed 20 August, 2013, as public holiday in the state for the celebration of Isese festival.
The State government did not only grant the holiday request but gave financial assistance to the traditional worshippers who trooped out in hundreds for the hitch free event held at the Osogbo Government Technical premises. The devotees and worshippers of different deities parade and pray for peace and progress of the state and nation at large.
Apart from assistance in monetary terms, Governor Rauf Aregbesola, a devoted Muslim attended the festival and spoke on the need for peace and harmony among adherents of all religious faiths.
To the traditional religion adherents, the leadership, including Chief Awopetu Idowu, Ifayemi Elebuibon and Kayode Esuleke respectively spoke glowingly about Aregbesola’s administration as well as their support for his second term bid.
The government’s action however generated, though not openly, some comments among the residents of the state. While some have accused the state government of assisting the deceased family and WOSEM to the tune of N35million, others, mostly Christians, from the ministry commended the gesture of the current administration towards achieving a befitting burial for the departed man of God.
There were also insinuations that the Governor was trying to play politics with the gesture so as to woo members of the ministry and other Christians in the state to support him as the 2014 governorship election approaches.
However it was a thing of surprise to the beneficiaries (WOSEM) and people of the state as it was least expected from Aregbesola, who is a Muslim and was not expected to play active and direct role in the burial of individuals, be it religious leaders or otherwise.
But before now, Aregbesola had at all times been preaching religious tolerance among the three religious sects and always ensure that representatives of the three religious sects attend government functions where he gives due recognition to the three religions and ensure that prayers are offered in their different ways.
Justifying government contribution towards the burial of the late Apostle, one of the 14 member burial committee put in place by the state government, who also doubled as the State Commissioner for Finance, Budget and Economic Planning, Dr. Wale Bolorunduro, said the government action was to give the late cleric a deserving recognition and importance.
He explained that the state government decided to institutionalise and immortalize the late spiritualist to serve as linkage between the present and future, adding that most importantly, the arrangement was part of the tourism development agenda of the state government.
He declared that the Mausoleum at the WOSEM Shilo, Ileki, Ilesa where Obadare was buried would become a place for contrite prayers and a sober reminder of the great values he both preached and stood for.
While describing the late spiritualist as not only an icon but an institution of blessing to the whole world, Bolorunduro said that late Prophet was an epitome of wisdom which the vacuum his death created will take time to fill.
The eldest son of the late Prophet, Dr. Paul Obadare, while thanking the state Government on behalf of the family, WOSEM, Christians, and other organizations dear to his father praised the administration of Rauf Aregbesola for not being biased. He claimed that his administration in the state has demonstrated that it accommodates all faiths.
He also commended the administration’s resolve in building a mausoleum which he said would turn the burial ground to a tourist centre describing it as the best that any Government can do for remembrance.
It would be recalled that Governor Aregbesola has done similar thing to the Muslim community when the administration sponsored the celebration of Hijra along with the Muslims brothers.
Early this year, April precisely, Governor Aregbesola was the special guest of honour at the centenary convention of the Nigerian Baptist Convention held in Osogbo where he gave a sum of N10million for the completion of the church modern convention mission hall and presented the Certificate of Occupancy (C of O) of land for the mission free of charge and urged the congregation to transfer to the nation the demonstration of love and affinity.
Aregbesola appealed for change of attitudes from adherents of all religions. The charged Christians to strictly imbibing the doctrine of Jesus Christ saying that Nigeria will be a new nation on earth if love takes the centre stage in all religions.
When contacted on politics of religious balancing, the State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Sunday Akere said that the state government had never had any crisis with any religious sect in the state. He explained that the present administration accords all religious equal recognition.
On the controversy of usage of hijab in Christians established schools in the state which led to outcry in public secondary schools, Akere pointed out that government did not distribute hijab to any student in the state when it distributed uniforms to all its 150,000 students. He maintained that all the schools became public schools with the taken over of schools established by the various religious bodies and communities by the General Jemibewon administration in 1975 which, in effect means that, either Muslim or Christians schools are all public school established by law.
He disclosed that the state government had met with the leaders of the religious sects in the state at the end of which they all signed and agreed on a statement which rested the case of hijab in Christian schools.
Akere averred that out of 35 members of the cabinet in the state, 25 are Christians which show how committed the governor is to bring about religious peace and harmony in the state. He said the state government under Aregbesola had never considered the issue of religious to determine issue on public matters, stressing that, in as much as the government gave relevance to all religious in the state, the question of islamisation does not arise
When contacted, the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)’s Director of Publicity, Bola Ajao said even though the party has nothing concrete to say, there is nothing wrong in the involvement of the government in the burial of Obadare. “We have no reservation on the issue”, he said.
For a state with an electorate that is sensitive to religion, the Aregbesola’s government gestures would go a long way in drawing it nearer to the people and they are not likely to forget when election comes. Via leadership