By Sola Fasure
I was not flattered reading Olabisi Deji-Folutile’s column entitled ‘Frank Talk: Ogbeni Aregbesola, this is no time to flex your muscle’ in a national newspaper on Saturday, January 16. While the writer began by trying to dismiss any assumption of bias against the Osun State Governor, she ended up confirming not just her personal bias but a glaring corporate policy of antagonism against him by her organisation.
The problem with her piece in that newspaper (not The Sun) began with the title. If lecturers and doctors in the state are on strike, solidly backed by a national newspaper, and are threatening to cripple medical services in the state, then it is the governor who is actually the victim of muscle flexing by labour unions, not the other way round.
She introduced the article by referring to a protest letter written by the Osun SSG, Alhaji Moshood Adeoti. I gathered that the letter had been written since September last year, but it was not acknowledged and none of the complaints of the government was addressed, until this casual reference to it. I think respect begets respect. When a state government officially writes to an organisation, treating it this way is not arrogance, it borders on incomprehension of corporate etiquette.
I think for the benefit of her readers, she should, at least, have named the complaints of the government and allowed them to judge and see if the complaints are baseless. Even if complaints come from politicians, does that automatically rule out errors of commission and omission on the newspaper’s part? How, for instance, can a newspaper casually dismiss a complaint by the state government that the local correspondent in Osogbo writes fiction or that the newspaper publishes accusations by the opposition PDP, which for most part are always false?
I will concede to her from the beginning that she never pretends to be Governor Rauf Aregbesola’s friend, but there are too many factual errors and faulty logic in the article. I will address some of them.
First, she alleged that the governor ‘slashed tuition drastically’ at UNIOSUN and lecturers had to embark on industrial action when he could not pay their salaries afterwards.Yes, the State Government reduced tuition fees payable by indigenes of Osun at the state university on the sound premise that most parents in the state whose taxes were used to establish and run the university could not afford the fees. However, at no time did the university staff embark on industrial action because their salaries were not paid. They actually went on strike in 2013 over a dispute on ‘hazard allowance’.
“Again, the governor merged about 850 secondary schools in the state into 70, in what he described as the “Omoluabi Essence.” By that merger, Christian schools were merged with Muslim colleges where the mode of dressing involves the wearing of hijab. That also created problems. At some point, some students dressed as masqueraders to school to prove a point. It was really confusion galore!”
There are no public schools in Osun delineated along religious lines. Public schools, by definition, cannot be religious schools. There were missionary schools acquired by the government in 1976 as part of the Universal Primary Education policy of the then General Olusegun Obasanjo. That was 40 years ago. These schools were properly acquired and compensation paid to their owners. They are now owned, funded, staffed and managed exclusively by the government on behalf of the public.
The government embarked on reclassification of schools into Elementary (Primary 1-4), Middle (Primary 5-6 and JSS1-3) and High (SSS1-3) cadres. This necessitated moving pupils into their new categories and the most important criterion used was nearness to their homes. There was no confusion at Baptist High School in Iwo, even though the wearing of funny costumes to school by pupils was comical. The resort to protests in one or two schools over a fundamental restructuring of the school system is not unusual.There were 1,379 primary schools in Osun, but we now have 457 Elementary, 165 Middle, 737 Elementary/Middle and 82 High Schools. Her claim of 850 secondary schools merged into 70 is certainly wrong.
No pupil from any ‘Muslim’ school was merged into any ‘Christian’ school, although it would not have made any difference because government schools, as I said earlier, are public schools and are not being run as religious schools. However, the pupils sent to Baptist High School, Iwo were from St. Mary Catholic High School, St Anthony Catholic High School, Methodist High School and Baptist Grammar School, all ‘Christian’ schools in Iwo. Three Muslim girls that had been permitted to wear hijab at St. Mary wanted to continue wearing their headscarves at Baptist High School. This is where the disagreement came from.
The ‘Omoluabi essence’ has little to do with schools’ reclassification. It is a call to hard work, character development, integrity and chivalry. .
“In October last year, there were rumours that the state was planning to merge all its colleges of education”
I thought newspapers don’t deal in rumours.
“Last Friday, 141 members of the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics and Non-Academic Staff Union in the state-owned tertiary institutions were laid off”
Staff members of tertiary institutions were laid off by their employers. It is an industrial issue between employer and employees. It is settled in industrial relations that ‘s/ he who hires can fire’, but the affected workers also have the right to seek redress, up to the Supreme Court and even ECOWAS court. They were not fired as ‘members of the Academic Staff Union of Polytechnics and Non-Academic Staff Union’. It is logically impossible since the association does not belong to the government. They did not even claim that they were fired because of their unionism. This language would have been tolerable if used by a trade union, but from the editor of a national newspaper?
“The governor and his family use a private helicopter funded by the state to travel across the states of the federation”
This is actionable, at least by members of his family falsely accused. The state government put many security measures in place, including the purchase of 20 armoured personnel carriers (APC) and aerial surveillance helicopter in 2013. However, the helicopter was rendered useless by the Goodluck Jonathan administration because the FG-controlled National Communication Commission (NCC) refused to provide the special code for the helicopter to be linked with ground equipment for surveillance. Thus, the surveillance helicopter was rendered inoperable. This helicopter was then leased out and is generating revenue for the state. The governor has used the helicopter on a few occasions but no member of his family has ever been in that chopper. If the editor has a picture of any member of the governor’s family boarding or alighting from the helicopter, she should publish it without delay. Lastly, on railways, the Federal Government, under Goodluck Jonathan again, stifled the attempt by Governor Aregbesola to bring in locomotives and wagons for the Lagos-Osogbo shuttle on the exclusivity ground. A columnist and a newspaper have the right not to support a governor, but as a public trust, they cannot afford to publish falsehood against him.
. Fasure writes from Osogbo.