Tunde Fagbenle: Praises for the guru, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola

by Tunde Fagbenle


Having worsted all political adversaries along the way to becoming the state’s governor, Ogbeni has thrown himself at the job with so much zeal, passion, and vision such as the state has never before seen. Because of his ascetic lifestyle, he seems to embody those lines of Awo’s self-assessment of leadership quoted in last week’s column thus:

I call Ogbeni “the guru” and not without cause. It’s an appellation some of us who were friends of the late rabble-rouser Kanmi Ishola-Osobu gave Kanmi. “Guru” is a fond word for someone who displays high acuity of mind, a master. The online dictionary meaning includes “an intellectual or spiritual guide or leader.” The general public also called Kanmi “the People’s Lawyer” and knew him more as the lawyer of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti. Kanmi was my elder “brother” and he loved me.  He said I looked like the reincarnation of some late brother of his. And my Yaba, Lagos, residence then (in the 80s) was the place of daily rendezvous of Kanmi and us his followers. Kanmi courted controversy and controversy abided with him till he breathed his last on earth. O, Kanmi!

But I digress badly. I apologise. This is not about Kanmi but about Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, the political guru and governor of my state of Osun. Incidentally, they, Kanmi and Rauf, come from the same Ilesha – these Ilesha people! And I’m fond of both of them. Were Ogbeni a lawyer he would be a replica of Kanmi: bold, brilliant and bad! Bad in the good sense.

Were anyone to doubt Ogbeni’s political sagacity such a one should go to the Alimosho area of Lagos where Rauf lived and held court before moving, like a meteor, to become the governor of Osun, and like a meteor transforming the face of the state within a mere three years to a state almost unrecognisable – positively so. When during the 2011 presidential election the dominant party in the South-West, ACN as it was then known, flip-flopped to jettison their own presidential candidate, Nuhu Ribadu, in a funny deal that gave their votes to the opposing PDP candidate, Goodluck Jonathan, it was only Ogbeni’s state of Osun that stood its ground, sticking with the party’s Ribadu win or lose, whilst Jonathan won in all the other South-West states. Ogbeni made us hold our heads high in Osun, for when things turned sour as they were bound to turn in that sell-out deal and Jonathan turned out not to be who others thought him to be, we are laughing in the state of Osun.

Having worsted all political adversaries along the way to becoming the state’s governor, Ogbeni has thrown himself at the job with so much zeal, passion, and vision such as the state has never before seen. Because of his ascetic lifestyle, he seems to embody those lines of Awo’s self-assessment of leadership quoted in last week’s column thus:

“While many men in power and public office are busy carousing in the midst of women of easy virtue and men of low morals, (Ogbeni), as a few others like (him), (is) busy at (his) desk thinking about the problems of (the State of Osun) and proffering solutions to them. Only the deep can call to the deep.”

That is what Ogbeni has going for him; he is consumed in how to transform Osun to becoming the leading state in Nigeria, and his conviction gives him the courage to break down barriers, chart new courses, and dream new dreams.

However, even Ogbeni must be in wonder how and why the latest of his many interventions draws so much flak from the public. A couple of weeks ago the state government embarked on the building of a 200,000-capacity Ecumenical Centre of Worship on a vast tract of land somewhere in the Ilesha area. It is said that the land was donated by the community for the purpose, though the government in appreciation still gave pecuniary consideration to the community.

In an already suspicious and disturbed atmosphere following the recent surgical restructuring of public schools in the state that drew the ire of some religious interest groups, perhaps the outcry should be no surprise. All sorts of ill motives have been read to the gesture and strong damnation visited upon the idea:The government should have no business investing in religious “business”; Why is he, Ogbeni, a devout Muslim so interested in the “glory” of the Christian faith? It’s a “Greek gift”, it’s a ”trickery,”etc.

But what is the truth? Must we allow objectivity to be sacrificed on the altar of sheer negative criticism? What are the merits and demerits of the venture?

One thing is clear, forget heaven, there is money to be made in religion! Ask the Pentecostal pastors with their private jets and incredible estates. Religious “tourism” is big business all over the world, from Rome to Mecca, and there is wisdom in a government “tapping” into it whichever way it safely can, especially by providing the enabling environment for this veritable industry to thrive without the government becoming enmeshed in the process.

I think all the talk about Ogbeni on a mission to “Islamise” the state or create religious schism is baloney, if you ask me. Yes, it is probable that he is desirous of creating a “level playing field” for all religions, something not likely to go down well with any religion that may see itself as the only “road to heaven.”

If we cannot scrap religion altogether, then we might as well figure how to harvest its possibilities. That must inform the attention the state government, begun by Oyinlola’s and now Aregbesola’s, has given to encouraging and developing our traditional worship centres, groves and shrines. Between Osogbo (for Osun) and Ile-Ife (for Ifa and the creation myth) lie huge possibilities of multi-million dollar religious tourism of global relevance.

Nevertheless, one would like to know how Ogbeni proposes to have his new “wonder” Ecumenical Worship Centre operate or administered when it is completed? Without any particular Christian denomination being able to “own” it or lay claim to it, is it intended then to be government-owned and government run, for lease like “Event Centres” to any interested (Christian) body? What is the workability of that?

I am in no doubt that soon enough maybe in a year or two the government will also be creating one such “wonderland” for Islam, probably in the Iwo/Ejigbo parts with huge Muslim population. But why is that a worrying prospect? What should concentrate our minds is how to maximise the advantages of our multi-cultural and multi-religion circumstance in the best possible way, while safeguarding against attempts at turning these “ventures” into avenues for negative and unnecessary competition amongst religions.

Ogbeni, the guru, is one in a hurry and has so many irons in the fire; one wonders how he does it. He dreams up turning Osun into a Mecca for adherents of different faiths for one and one reason only: tourism and the immense economic benefit that could mean for his people – the people of Osun. Any other reason or agenda must and will be resisted. Let us pray!


 Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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