Aregbesola: Critics Want To Demonise Us

•Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola

•Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola

Governor Rauf Aregbesola of the State of Osun explains to General Editor, ADEMOLA ADEGBAMIGBE, Associate Editor, BAMIDELE JOHNSON and SEUN BISUGA, the motive behind the angst to his education reform policy

To what would you attribute the serious uproar to your government’s education reforms?

•Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola
•Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola

There is no serious uproar. The total number of public schools in Osun is 3,000, if you count primary, junior secondary and senior secondary schools separately. There were protests from only three schools out of the 3,000. How could one, therefore, describe resistance to a government policy from three of 3,000 schools as serious protest? Let’s even leave out the number of schools. If there is protest in three of 3,000 schools and the number of students in those schools, prior to our reforms and with our reforms, is at best 2,000 each and even add other schools adversely affected by our reforms from where there had not been any protest or resistance up till now, the total number of students that could be said to have grudges will be between 6,000 and 10,000. Let’s take the upper figure,10,000, and multiply that by two. It becomes 20,000. What is the percentage of 20,000 students out of 750,000? Please, for goodness sake, do not let us allow our imagination run riot. There is no serious protest on our reforms. What you see is an attempt to make a very popular, well thought-out policy of government appear as if it is not what it is. This is a programme aimed at retooling education to make it more productive in terms of content of knowledge; make it more promising in terms of preparation for the future; make it more efficient in terms of value for money. These are the three reasons for the reforms we have undertaken in basic education. That said, let’s now go to what is. Two and a half months after our assumption of office, a world education summit was put together to look at the nitty-gritty of education, particularly basic education in our state. The best in education in Nigeria were all invited and put together for three days. Professor Wole Soyinka was at the head of this and all areas of education were scrutinised and milestones were set for us. We studied the milestones and the way to go. We on our own decided to restructure education in a way that will guarantee the attainment of the goals and our objectives of making education functional, effective and citizen-building. How did we start? We surveyed the schools. After the survey, we began with the reorientation of teachers. We reviewed grants for school maintenance from a meagre N200 per school, regardless of size and number of students per month, which will be N600 per term, to N400 per pupil per term. What that tells you is that if you have 100 pupils in a school, whereas before then you take N600 at best per term, with our own approach, such schools will take N400 per pupil or N40,000 per term. You can calculate on your own the proportion of change from the old approach to education and the new approach. We have trained over 2,000 teachers at the University of Osun. It does not stop there. To ensure that our pupils are properly groomed for learning and made capable of even receiving knowledge, we contacted nutritionists from Obafemi Awolowo University to give us a menu that is nutrient- rich for our pupils in primary One to Four. This will ensure mental and physical development required for effective learning and preparation for the future. It is not as if students were not being fed before our time, but I don’t want to comment on what they were being fed with. It is unnecessary. The truth is that when we took over, the cost of feeding pupils in primary 1 to 4 was N50 per child per day. But the nutritious meals that guarantee carbohydrate for body building, protein for nutrient and fruits for vitamin, which we serve, have led to the consumption, for the first time, of 300,000 eggs per week, 35 herds of cattle per week for beef, 15, 000 whole chickens per week, 400 tons of fish per week and unquantifiable quantity of fruits per week. If you go to the State of Osun, you will see students within the bracket I’ve mentioned being fed with warm, good meals every school day at the total cost of N3.6bn per annum. Now, because we do this to the exclusion of pupils in primaries five and six, we felt, among other things, that we cannot justify pupils of public schools being fed within an age range and another category of students not being fed. So, we felt that we should restructure education such that only students in primary 1 to 4, who we can effectively feed and who need such nutrients most, while we move students in primaries 5 and 6 to middle school, our creation, where they will join with JSS 1-3. That is how middle school is fashioned. High school is nothing other than the senior secondary school. We simply thought that we should adopt the global best practices in the categorisation of various stages of basic education. Rather than use what we are all accustomed to, we now said Primary 1-4 will be Grade 1-4, Primary 5 to JSS 3 became Grade 5 -9, while SS 1-3 is now Grade 10-12. Outside the nomenclature, its still the same curriculum used all over Nigeria that we are using. The federal government has even reformed its 6-3-3-4 system to 9-3-4 system because there is SUBEB, which says that the first nine years of schooling is compulsory. We are absolutely committed to improving education and ensuring that our pupils, particularly children of those who have no other alternative than to have the education that will make them effective and patriotic citizens of our state and subsequently nation, useful individual to themselves, their community state and nation, and confident members of society that can hold their head and their own anywhere in the world. Our goal is to produce that man. We call him a ‘new person’; a man that, because of the content of knowledge he would have acquired through our basic education system, will not only be confident, but will be prepared to use his knowledge, his capacity to support others in the community and society at large. We want to produce a human being that will see himself as an integral part of the whole society and must be ready to give his best in the quest of changing, influencing and improving the conditions of his environment, his people and the society at large. That is our goal.

Who are those behind the attempt to tar your reforms?

Well it is not necessary. At my level, it does not make any sense pointing a finger at anybody. What is important for us to know is that it is a not a widespread protest, but a very limited and narrow protest, which is expected on any new thing or reform. Don’t forget a reform or change is innovation. But we had done so much consultation, against the notion that we did not, and only very few people still nurse some fears about it. That is not unexpected. It does not matter anymore who they are. The truth is that those fears are fading away. To me, that is the issue. The issue is not who, but that the fears are no longer there and we are moving on.

Was it that the policy was not broken into bits that people could digest and understand?

Who are these people you are referring to? Those who could not digest are those who are not in our state; there is no issue in our state. How can you say three out of 3,000 is significant? By what measure of assessment can we say three out of 3000 is significant? Will you therefore bother yourself on such an insignificant proportion? The answer is no. I told you that the total number of students involved is less than 6000. Let’s now take it to 10000 and multiply it by two. Put 20,000 on 750,000, what is the proportion? We are talking of less than two per cent. By what stretch of imagination can you claim 2 or 3 per cent is something extraordinary? But as small as the protest is, in terms of proportion, we are still conscious that efforts must be made and those efforts have been made and the protest, the agitation, is dying down. Yes, some media organistaions took it out of proportion for whatever reasons, but if you look very well at even the pictures published on their front pages, you will not see more than 50 people. From that picture, where do you find a widespread protest? It is muted and limited and what I’m saying is that as limited and muted as it is, the point is, as a government, it is our duty to ensure that whoever has any grouse with our policies and programmes must be won over, must be engaged sufficiently to understand that we mean well and whatever misgivings they have are nothing but misgivings. Our major and principal intention is to guarantee education that will make the recipient a patriotic citizen, that will be useful to himself and the society at large.

 Is it this kind of engagement that made Pastor Abiara express support for your policy?

I want to believe Pastor Abiara is conscious of the implication of a misguided outburst and came to just clear the air. Don’t forget he is from Osun and he might have been watching. He is very concerned about the state and he is not unaware of what we are doing. We did not start this thing yesterday. This programme began in February 2011. We have not done anything new. We have been emphasising and saying this thing since our very first day in office. Much more than that, go and look at my campaign promises, the Six-point Integral Agenda. It is there. There is nothing that we have done that is new. In all our public statements before and after our assumption of office, we have been saying this. We have involved all stakeholders, but I think it is not totally abnormal for people to want to demonise a programme and policy because of their own parochial interest, which they think such a blackmail will help or some other position that one might not be fully competent talk about. Otherwise, there is no issue there. It’s a development that was quite unexpected, particularly the way a section of the press magnified it as if it was more than what we had on ground. Osun is so calm, so peaceful and so unexcited about this that you wonder were the uproar, probably outrage, that is being projected is coming from.

There is also one doing the rounds online that you demolished the popular Fakunle Comprehensive High School in Oshogbo, with the intention of building a shopping mall to be named after Asiwaju Bola Tinubu…

That is a lie. The structure in Fakunle is there, but what they have not said, which we have told the world, is we are upgrading our urban centres, not Osogbo alone. Most people don’t know that Osun has the highest number of ancient towns in Nigeria and by that, we mean towns with over 500 years of existence. Out of the many, we have chosen in this first phase just nine. They are Ile-Ife, Ilesa, Oshogbo, Ikirun, Ila, Ejigbo, Ede, Iwo and Ikire. Again, this has been in our programme since our campaign that we will upgrade city centres; two kilometres radius from the city centre will be turned around. We engaged the services of United Nations Habitat to do the plan for it and it is ongoing. We have been on this thing for 24 months. On our own, we identified and engaged the UN Habitat and we are working. In Osogbo, we have started. Visit to the town and you will see what we are doing in the city centre. The city centre of Oshogbo, the two-kilometre radius, cover where Fakunle is. Fakunle is in a prime location andt if we leave Fakunle there, it will totally destroy our vision of an urban city centre. It is not only Fakunle that is affected, but it suits the fancy of people who want to scandalise us to say it is. A big church that had been there before Fakunle is going and has been marked for demolition. A big mosque at the other side, Abubakir Mosque, is gone. The entire development around railway station is gone. In the same vein, a section of the market there is gone. Nobody, besides the acrimony generated by the opposition on compensation, which we are already paying, has raised any issue. I can’t therefore understand the basis for the concern about Fakunle when the students of Fakunle are being properly reintegrated into schools around without fuss. The students of Fakunle that have moved to Salvation Army are grateful because you cannot compare the facilities in the Salvation Army Middle School with what they had in their previous school and those that are being moved to other schools are equally supplied with materials for their education and are taken to schools with improved facilities. Beside the resistance in the Baptist High School (previously a girls’ school) around the place, where we moved them, the students have not complained of any disadvantage in the movement. I believe that what we are doing is nothing abnormal. The Lagos Marina is so nice to look at now. People were there before it became the beautiful place it currently is. I want to assume that there were even schools there and the schools had to be relocated when the development of Marina as the centre business district of Lagos had to be. As a result many of those who lived there were moved to Surulere. Worldwide, central business districts are usually areas designated for business and commercial activities and when there is the need to develop such districts, traditional facilities and structures are usually affected, but not adversely because they are well relocated and taken care of. That is what we are doing in Oshogbo. There is not yet a categorical decision on what will happen, but what we know is that to upgrade our city centre Fakunle High School cannot be where it is now. Students of the school are properly taken care of and I’m happy to tell you that there has not been any whmper of protest from the student because the facilities in those locations they have been taken to are far beyond what they had have in Fakunle. There is no intention to use the old Fakunle to immortalise or promote the interest of anybody outside the person whose initiative produced Fakunle as a school in the first instance.

As appealing as the urban upgrade is, don’t you think it could be milked by the opposition, especially now that election is around the corner?

Is this for the election? Why do men participate in politics? Is it for ego or for legacies that will stand the test of time? That is how I want to relate to your question. I am much more concerned about the legacy of my projects, programmes and policies than the ephemeral material consideration of ego and pecuniary benefit. I’m not into this because of myself. I’m into this to impact positively on my society, such that in 100 years’ time, history and people will recognise our actions, strides and efforts to build a legacy that will stand the test of time.

Talking about legacy, what is the end product of the Opon Imo that was distributed to students in the senior secondary schools in Osun. Beyond using it as an instruction material, do we expect to see the first phone maker from State of Osun?

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Opon Imo is multi-faceted. Opon Imo democratises access to sound education. How? If you remove from parents the burden of heavy investment in book procurement for their wards, no parent thinks about investing heavily in books again, whether they can afford it or not. Opon Imo has taken that yoke off their neck. All students in senior secondary school in Osun have all the books required for effective learning and preparation for examinations throughout the course of the three years in secondary school, which we now call high school. That burden is off the parent’s neck whatever fee it is, N1,000, N3,000 or N10,000. No pupil in our high schools requires a dime for books. Let’s assume government wants to take that burden off the students without Opon Imo, the cost is simply abnormal and outrageous and I will try to explain to you.  Suppose the government wants to give each of the 150,000 students in high school three textbooks out of the 10 or 20 they might require as the case may be, the average cost of a text book is N1,000. So, three will be N3,000. If you multiply three by 150,000 it means you have N4.5bn. It means that  government will be investing N4.5bn annually. We do not have that. We are 34th position on the chart of federal allocation and the allocation keeps dwindling. Opon Imo is a boost to education in terms of cost. On the impact on the student, of course a child that is acquainted with the latest technological gadget in the world on Information Communication Technology, ICT, will have a headstart in knowing the working of that device, the operation of that device and you will expect such a child to have advantage over their peers anywhere in the world. In the nearest future, I look forward to seeing our own version of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and several of the icons in ICT coming from Osun because the sky is the limit. There is nothing that those I have mentioned have to become ICT experts that is not now available to our children in the remotest part of Osun as well as the urban parts.  Our students in senior secondary schools have access to the best device in information technology. Secondly, they no longer have to bother about how to get books. In relation to those two, you have a virtual learning platform in Opon Imo, where their teachers explain in details every subject as well as the test zones, where 40,000 questions, past questions and attempted answers on WAEC examination, UTME examination and other tests of comprehension and cognition in all aspects of study. With these, I want to believe that Osun and any state that adopts this strategy of democratisation of access to knowledge will be a world leader in education and the development of first class human beings in the nearest future. I have no doubt about it.

On one side, Aregbesola is seen as a man who wants to Islamise Osun State, on another hand, he is seen as a man who ensured that Ifa is put in the Opon Imo and is promoting a belief that people think should been discarded. Exactly what are you?

It is not a question of what am I. It is there any sense in what they are saying? You should know that there is a disconnect in their effusion. Except one wants to be charitable, they don’t need to be responded to. But let’s examine the issues. When I was in  class three in secondary school, there was a book called Asa ati Ise Yoruba. That book had the Ifa mark on its front cover. The three sets of binary points in front of the book are classically Ifa. There is no pretence about it. I still believe that in some forms, that book is still a major text book for Yoruba teaching our secondary schools. I bought the book. My father was a devout Muslim, but there was no issue about it. If 40 years ago, our people never bothered about a book that clearly showcased Ifa, where then is this new found angst against Ifa in Opon Imo. Is it that there are no longer Ifa worshippers in our land or that it is fashionable to assume, though we know there are, that they don’t exist. Over the years, they have been oppressed, alienated and ignored. Meanwhile, in the oath of office of all public officers, not necessarily the governor, all public officers, there is this line which says you must be fair to all manner of men, regardless of any consideration–ethnicity or faith. Secondly, Section 38 of the constitution clearly states that nobody must be denied of the observance of is religion in any educational facility. That is why Ifa was taught as a component of Yoruba in all schools in the Western Region. Go and look at the SSCE/WAEC syllabus. Ifa and all our deities are integral part of the curriculum for Yoruba Studies. What is it that Aregebsola has done differently? I told you that in Opon Imo, we have all the textbooks that you require to pass you WAEC. Just as we have the Qu’ran in Opon Imo, we have the Bible and we have a section on Ifa, which simply teaches ethics and morals of Yoruba culture and tradition as dictated by Ifa. There is no aspect of divination in it. In fact, it is titled, Ifa on Ethics and Morals of Yoruba Tradition and Custom. Where have we gone wrong? Interestingly, most of the people who are glibly commenting on it have never demanded for or seen what it is about Ifa in Opon Imo. They just feel it is convenient and fashionable for them to ask why we brought Ifa into Opon Imo. There is nothing fetish in Opon Imo about Ifa. There is nothing about divination. What you have there is simply the promotion of the best in ethics, morals, values and character of Yoruba, which are all exemplified in Omoluabi ethos. We pray that they should inform themselves through effort by seeking to buy Opon Imo because it is so cheap. On the market, it is about N50,000. It is cheaper than a BlackBerry and most of the smartphones that we buy. Opon Imo is a stand-alone electronic device that gives our children the best access to complete education at that level.

You haven’t responded to the allegation that you want to Islamise Osun?

People who say that should be pitied because I see religion as an extremely private and individual matter. Just as I hold dearly my own faith,  I believe that you should hold dearly to your own faith. I cannot therefore have such an attitude to religion and want to impose mine on others. My religion does not allow me to force my beliefs on others. My religion says there is no compulsion in faith. It even says in a verse, let people believe or disbelieve as they choose. Where then will I find the intellectual ground, the basis, for wanting to impose my own. I have said it severally. I told those who care to listen or read most of my interviews that my siblings are Christians. So, if some of my siblings are Christians, where then will I find the courage to want to do what I failed to do within my immediate family? If I could not convince my sister and brother, who are Christians, to remain as Muslims, from where will come the capacity to impose my own faith on those who are not related to me? They know it is a lie. It is more of an attempt to stigmatise me than anything that is real. I want to challenge those who so claim to bring an empirical evidence of their charge to the public. There is none. If you say I am a devout Muslim, I am. I make no bones about it. I struggle to be as good a Muslim as possible because I believe in it and the constitution allows me to so do. Outside that, from my circle of friends to those who are around me to the people I have worked with and who I am working with, there are no reasons to support such an outlandish claim. Probably it will interest you that two-thirds of my executive members are Christians; more than two-thirds of the permanent secretaries I appointed are Christians; more than half of the members of the House of Assembly of Osun are Christians; more than two-thirds of Osun judiciary are Christians. Where then is this charge that keeps on running and running? When you put all this together, something will come out. It is more than mischief. To me, it is a grand design to blunt our dynamic drive to put our state, and by extension our region, at the forefront of development. I want to tell you that they have failed because we shall not be deterred. Neither are we going be distracted from our focus to put Osun, Yorubaland and Nigeria on the course of sure and certain development that will make the black man an essential part of humanity within the next two decades.

The leanness of the resources of your state is well known. How then do you find money to do what you have been able to do because some of these projects are ambitious?

I had the tutelage in public administration, particularly public financial administration from the best public financial administrator in the history of Nigeria: Bola Ahmed Tinubu. He is an extraordinary financial administrator. He mentored me so well and I took time to imbibe his mentorship. The benefit of such deep and effective tutelage is what we are all witnessing in Osun. It will interest you to know that we have raised the internally generated revenue of Osun from meagre N300 million to N1.6billion. It is not as if that is enough for us to prosecute our programmes, but it is significant. And to add to the amazement of our detractors is the fact that as difficult as it is today, we have a conservation fund for Osun with N5billion locked up there for generations yet unborn. When you add this to what you say are ambitious projects, then of course, yes. People with limited knowledge of effective and efficient utilisation of public resources will definitely be astounded. I have no apology to anyone.

Are there mechanisms your government has put in place to sustain Opon Imo?

If by sustenance you mean will it be available forever? Yes, it will be. As we have said, which I want to repeat, we are purchasing 50,000 from the manufacturers in China and we are using that huge purchase to get the manufacturers to start assembling the remaining 100, 000 here. They have started. Opon Imo will have a life of its own. A Special Purpose Vehicle, SPV, is being put together to market Opon Imo to whoever wants it anywhere in the world because it is an innovative device. That SPV, run by the Osun Investment Corporation, and other private interests will take up the marketing and distribution of Opon Imo to interested entities, states, individuals, schools and others within and outside Nigeria. The charge that I read recently about us not patronising the local manufacturers is neither here nor there because those who can should let us know. An international electronic company has written us and we are discussing with them Those who can produce the device to the standard required by us are free to come because the demand for Opon Imo will run into millions in the nearest future and as many firms as possible will be required to produce it. The whole of the Chinese ICT capacity cannot meet the need of Opon Imo in Africa, let alone the world.

In what way are the private school owners keying into your reforms? 

They are already there. One thing I must tell you is that by the time we finish the first phase of our school infrastructure, most of the shabby and substandard private schools will definitely go away because nobody will want to spend any fee, no matter how generous they want be, on substandard schools when they have free and high quality public schools. Many of the substandard schools will fade away. I must tell you that we have the highest primary school enrolment in Nigeria, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. But if that is contestable, what cannot be contested is the fact that we met an enrolment figure of 180,000 in our elementary schools (primary 1-4) and that figure has jumped from 180,000 to 300,000 and it is still growing. That tells you that it is either people are migrating to our state or those in private school are joining the public schools. There can’t be any other way to explain it. Whichever way it is, we are having a huge influx of students into our public schools.

How far has the government gone in attracting investment to Osun?

We are the only state, probably apart from Lagos State, that has attracted serious direct investment. I was unable to tell you the various phases of our reforms before. But because of our reforms in school identity and school uniforms, a garment factory is there producing uniforms for all our students in public schools.  Also on that, market women are engaged to distribute the uniform to those who want to buy. I read a couple of days ago that our uniforms are expensive. Our uniforms are the cheapest in Nigeria, in terms of quality of sewing and production as well as the value. I don’t really know what those who find faults in our purposeful introduction of three different sets of uniforms for elementary middle and high school. You can then factor in the economics that is involved, the employment-generating capability and the industrialisation benefit to the state. It is shocking to me that we are totally detached from global reality. In Britain, the uniforms of public school students are virtually the same and they are bought in the supermarket. Neighbouring Benin Republic has one uniform for all students in their public schools, outside the university. What we are doing is nothing new. Though, innovative here, it is almost the practice in all reasonable places on earth. The etymology of uniforms, that is the root of uniform, is to differentiate ownership of schools. While we have not forced students in private schools to use our uniform, we have simply defined the public ownership of schools by ensuring that all the pupils in our schools have uniforms suitable for the level of education they are in: elementary, middle and high. I don’t see anything there other than industrialisation, economy of scale, efficient utilisation of our resources to get the best for our people. Apart from the uniforms, students do not need to pay for anything else.

They do not pay to us for the uniforms; they buy from the various retailers. Again, Opon Imo, has opened another avenue for industrialisation. The 100,000 Opon Imo tablets are going to be produced locally in Osun. In addition to that, we will be commissioning another innovative industrial outpost, the RSG Adulawo technology centre, where polymer television sets, iPad, telephones and desktop will be assembled. We are still attracting investments and investors. I must not fail to say that, indeed, we are very peaceful. From the first day in office, we have made it impossible for anybody to disturb our peace through our effective motivation of all the security agencies and operatives. They are so well motivated to ensure that they have no reasons not to be up and doing in their responsibility to our state. We support them with equipment effective maintenance of law and order. We have met with the federal government to activate the emergency call centre that has been built since 2009, but has not been used up till now. We are hopeful that the federal government will accede to our request to get this emergency call centre ready. When it is ready, we will deploy an emergency area surveillance system that will respond to any emergency, be it crime or accident. With that, I can tell you very confidently that there can’t be any surprise on the issue of security and the maintenance of law and order.