The Christians against Aregbesola

October 17, 2013 by Abimbola Adelakun (aa_adelakun@utexas.edu)

With a-not-so-subtle-viewpoint, the Christian Association of Nigeria dredges up the familiar issues of morality, religion, secularism and victimhood in Osun State. CAN’s nuanced outburst on Monday, contained in its lengthy press release, indicates a shadow war between it, a Christian lobby group, and the governor of Osun State, Rauf Aregbesola, who is a Muslim.

Considering how much religious liberalism exists in South-West Nigeria, the case of CAN and Aregbesola raises questions of why Osun State and why at this time?

Recently, the Lagos State Government was reported to have sealed off the Lord’s Chosen Church over charges of environmental abuse. Governor Babatunde Fashola’s action did not denigrate into the belittling prattle of Muslim-governor-versus-Christian-worshippers hyperbolic navel-gazing. Compare this to CAN’s charges of Islamisation agenda, sponsoring and glorification of idolatry and, re-classification of public schools in Osun State by Aregbesola.

Fashola, of course, cannot be easily tagged with Islamisation bias like Aregbesola; both men are evidently different. In their self-presentation, Aregbesola’s appearance preempts your perception of his religious beliefs; Fashola’s subtle. Second is the admixture of geography and culture: Lagos is cosmopolitan; Osun is provincial.

Third, Aregbesola tries too hard to pander to every existing religious belief in Osun State. While doing this, he knows he must leave room to reassure his Muslim constituency he is still theirs. This kind of politics is confusing as it is unimpressive, and that is why his religious demons remain un-exorcised.

Religion in Nigeria, by the way, is about politics and politics is about contesting spaces. When sects push for space for their religion to thrive, it is not necessarily about social equality. The aim is their cut of socio-political relevance and the capital they can build with it. Their negotiating tool is, of course, the mammoth crowd that subscribes to these religions. The politics of Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor as both the President’s spiritual adviser and Public Address System is a demonstration of this crafty mix.

CAN’s contestation with Aregbesola is buoyed by his madcap educational policies; from indications, they desire to tan his hide.

My preliminary assessment of the re-classification remedy masquerading as a revamp of the education sector is that it is meretricious, and does not demonstrate genuine commitment to resolving the problems of education.

Aregbesola’s inspired carving up of schools and teachers is not exactly new. He should ask ex-Governor Rashidi Ladoja who promoted similar wasteful restructuring of schools in Oyo State when he stimulated policies that divided schools into as many as five and all of them had to cohabit in the same compound!

Why do governors go for artificial restructuring while they neglect the real issues of funding, curriculum content development, continuous teacher retraining among others?

However, CAN and its sense of victimhood confuses me. They complain Aregbesola has the dual mandate of Islamising Osun State and glorifying idolatry. How is that possible when the two are diametrically opposed? Is Islam not as intolerant of idols as much as Christianity? Unless of course their argument is that Aregbesola is using idolatry to deflect attention from his “Islamisation agenda” and, he is promoting “idolatry” so as to claim an equal opportunity secularism, I do not see the logic in their argument.

Speaking of idolatry, what does CAN mean by classifying traditional religions as idolatrous?

I am at a loss over how to characterise the bigotry that reeks from CAN’s release. They claim they are “gravely concerned” about Aregbesola’s love for idolatry and cultism, but why the paternalism? Are members of CAN so detached from cultural realities that they see the worship of Ogun or Yemoja as idolatrous and cultic? Have they actually studied African Traditional Religion and its philosophies objectively? Or, they are merely parroting what their colonial forbearers handed down to them?

If CAN desires to see ‘idolatry’, they should look within its varied sects: crass materialism and the pastor figure are the idols on the altar people feverishly worship these days in most ecclesiastical gatherings. They further ask, “Why Ifa in this century?” and I respond, “Why Christianity in the 21st century?”

They even refer to traditional religions as “ancient idols” as if the existence of Abraham, Isaac and Jesus Christ is not as old –and possibly predates — the Yoruba pantheon of gods. CAN’s shocking lack of tact and pernicious attitude towards others’ faith gives a hollow ring to its redemptive press release.

CAN’s position makes the need for studying comparative religion right from primary school a must –not only in Osun State but also in all states of the federation. It will disabuse ignorant minds that the worship of Ogun is neither idolatrous nor cultic. Its prejudice against traditional religions shows its members lack any higher moral ground than the governor whom they accuse of upsetting social order with his religious overzealousness.

If Aregbesola were a Christian, and he was fiddling with Islamic institutions, would CAN have stood up to him? Would it agitate for equality if it were not a beneficiary?

That said, for Aregbesola, I will restate a position I have made on this page on the issue of Hijab in public schools: It should not be allowed because it is not only religious, it is political. Introducing politics to school uniforms defeats the whole purpose the concept of uniform was introduced in the first place. Uniforms are a social, class, and religious leveller and should be rigidly enforced to maintain the discipline of standardisation.

As to the question of mixing up children in other schools with the ones in mission schools, well, I understand CAN’s angst but then, any child should be able to attend any school as long as it is publicly owned. Both Muslims and Christians pay taxes in the state, so why discriminate?

Finally, I return to the third reason for CAN’s restiveness: Aregbesola’s religious pandering upsets. If he is not putting the Bible and Quran on Opon-Imo, he is advocating Isese Day for traditional worshippers. At the same time, he is busy throwing his religion in your face with billboards that announce his private devotions. And if his religious affront has not annoyed you enough, he seeks to introduce Ifa into the school curriculum. He does all these without any coherence or stating where he stands in the whole affair. This madness without methodology is confusing, like watching a footballer who insists on playing all positions.

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