BY ADEOLU OYEKAN
Dresses are matters of personal choice. Sometimes, they reflect our personal values such as simplicity, ostentation, moderation, etc. At other times they could be deployed to mislead, especially when it involves politics, as it has increasingly become these days. Beyond building brands, politicians dress sometimes to convey a message, whether truly meant or not. Most important though, is for the brand, whether in substance or appearance, to be identified with the personality.
From Awolowo to Azikiwe, Tafawa Balewa, to Alamieyeseigha, Tinubu, Oshiomole and even Buhari, dressing has been a part of the political brand. Dressing and their political messages is not the purpose of this writing, at least in the literal sense. I only seek to make a metaphorical reference to it in an attempt to make a more important point.
In my homestate of Ogun, Governor Ibikunle Amosun has a signature cap that is associated with him, one that has become synonymous with him since his entry into state politics, standing on his head like a hanging tower of Babel wherever he goes. As I watched his swearing in ceremony back in 2011, a lot of things ran through my mind. A friend watching with me, expectedly, mentioned the cap. I was however not so interested in the cone-like, woven material seated on his head. Rather, I was trying to see beyond the words into the person, as he outlined his mission to rebuild. The Governor himself wasn’t so much concerned with his cap that morning. The part of his dress that stole the day was the agbada he had on, which according to him, belonged to his father. He wore it that day he effectively said, to symbolize a return to the old values of hardwork, honesty, among others.
Over seven years into his two term tenure, the Governor, neutrals, friends and foes, are in a good position to commence an evaluation of his performance in office whether wholly or sectorally, against the backdrop of the solemn promises of that day. I must confess I am not a fan of the Governor. Beyond his first term effort at dualizing major roads in the big towns of Abeokuta, Ijebu Ode, Sagamu and Ota, I have concluded that effective governance in the state has gone on a long leave of absence, which dates back it must be said, to the second term of his predecessor, Gbenga Daniel. It is why the state remains so blessed. Only potentially. Returns on human and material resources available for its development are at best marginal. No other area attests to this fact than the educational sector – primary, secondary, tertiary; with the first two suffering massively. It has been on my mind to do some long pieces on the state of education in Ogun state, beyond engaging government apologists in debates and expressing one’s displeasure with the state of things on social media platforms. An experience last weekend has finally nudged me to do one, which I hope time will permit to be followed by a few more.
I had set out for Sagamu early morning of Saturday 30th June 2018, because I’ve not been home in months, and also because I have promised myself to attend the 25th anniversary of our seniors, the 88/93 Set of Remo Secondary School, Sagamu. They had hyped this reunion and it had been the issue of discussion among many old students of the first co-educational school in West Africa. I couldn’t afford to miss it. Not even the tanker fire incident of the days before, which had dampened my plan to drive home could deter me. I headed to the motorpark. Halfway into the journey, I received a call not to bother coming again, as the event had been cancelled. Impossible! With all that hype? Too much had gone into the planning, from what we’ve heard and seen! They’ve spent millions building a multipurpose games court, the like of which you won’t find in any stadium in Nigeria today. What could have happened?
I started to make calls of my own, and in a short while I heaved some sigh of relief, as my earlier caller and a few other contacts informed that the event would still proceed, but at a different venue. The Set have been denied access to mark their 25th anniversary within the school premises. I headed towards the new venue a bit relieved but partly confused. I ran into an old teacher of mine a big uncle of mine. My curiosity made the exchange of pleasantries short, for someone I haven’t seen in many years. So, he gave me an account that would be verified by countless other people I discussed with over the next two days.
The 88/93 Set had invested a lot of resources into their 25th anniversary. They had organized programmes for the students, done a documentary, built the very beautiful, modern games court I earlier mentioned, and had concluded plans to present awards and gifts to over 50 teachers and non-teaching staff who had contributed to the growth of the school. The Commissioners of Education, Youth and Sports among other government functionaries had been briefed and invited, with commitments that they would grace the occasion. Everything looked set, until politics happened.
The way the Old Students Association is set up, as it is in many other places, is that every Set as much as possible, runs autonomously. There is however an umbrella body that coordinates all the old students. Like the Sets, it has its own leadership, recognized in their rights as leaders for their tenure in office, but every Set pulls its own weight according to its capacity. Apparently, the current National President has been nursing a political ambition, and has been mulling which platform would best serve his interest. He settled for the PDP, early in the week leading to the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the ‘93 Set. Some have dubbed the timing dumb and insensitive, while others disagree. What is not in doubt though, is that the APC in the state felt slighted. The Governor was reportedly enraged. All of that was Tuesday and by Wednesday morning, there had been summons. The school principals had been issued queries. The celebrating Set was asked to come and explain how it got permission to ‘tamper’ with public property under the guise of renovating the sports ground and beautifying the school. A government official was said to have casually mentioned all possible sanctions, including the demolition of the structures ‘illegally’ erected. That includes a small building beside the court named the 88/93 Set.
Members of that Set, from my little observation on the day, make a politically diverse lot. While some are pro the ruling APC, others are not. Many are simply indifferent. In any case, there are a handful of them who do not reside within Ogun state, or even the country, such that they are sufficiently removed from the daily intrigues of political calculations going on in Sagamu and Ogun state in general. All these arguments could not sway the government. An inquiry will go on. In the meantime, members of the Set are to stay away from the school. Thus began that Wednesday, the search for an alternative venue, and a realignment of the programmes earlier designed to hold on the school premises, for very obvious reasons.
The celebration eventually held at the hall in the palace of Akarigbo, at a great unbudgeted cost as I learnt. It was a huge success, even if one could feel the anger of many attendees who had earlier headed to the school only to be turned back. Memories flooded back. I saw so many teachers in that great school in the 90s, people who by sheer hard work earned that iconic, reputable, though decaying school the identity and brand it has today across the world. Chief Mrs Wilde, a long-serving principal who symbolizes the values of the school for most of those who passed through it in the 80s and 90s, went home with the prized gift of a brand new car! Other teachers and staff got gifts as well. Banters, good music, performances, drinks, all flowed freely. It felt really good to be an old student. I ran into a senior colleague at work whom I never knew to be my senior. It was a pleasant surprise.
I am not a member of the ‘93 Set, and do not know what they make of all that happened, or is still happening, as a group. I therefore do not claim to speak for them. But then, as an old student, indigene and citizen, I feel qualified to express my sadness at how politics came to taint an effort at volunteerism. It is greatly discouraging to see people commit their resources to their Alma mater, only for such efforts to get vitiated through recourse to petty politics by those in authority. I have been to RSS more than a dozen times in the last couple of years. I cannot point to one thing that the state government, under Ibikunle Amosun or his predecessor, did for that school. The dilapidation of public schools, primary and secondary, has continued gradually and steadily under the current government. Classrooms and hostels are falling off, whether it’s in Sagamu, Abeokuta, Ikenne or Sango Ota. The governor continues meanwhile, to build mega schools that have not been put to use, in the middle of nowhere, across the state. Those unoccupied structures I’ve seen in Ikenne, Ago-Iwoye, Abeokuta and a couple of other places are testament to poor planning and profligacy.
When a group of people come together under a non-partisan platform to help an irresponsible government fulfill its obligations, what it ought to show in my view is gratitude. It should not, irrespective of the ‘indiscretion’ of anyone related to the group, send a public signal that selfless service, volunteerism and philanthropy is to be measured by the level and nature of its political undertone. It’s a poor way to appreciate public spiritedness. It is utterly sadistic. I hope, faintly, that the state government will be remorseful enough to offer an apology, and reassure the general public, especially those contemplating one form of assistance or the other for any neglected public institution, of the minimum of indifference, wherever and whenever they step in to fill the gaps created by the government’s ineffectiveness.
Those who make the point that the President of RSSOSA, mindful of the toxic nature of our politics, ought to have been more circumspect with the timing of his declaration, which one must say, is his right, do have a point. I agree as well with those who think that going forward, people who want to serve the Old Students Association, given its importance to the school, and the need to insulate it from needless politicking, must be those who harbour no immediate political interest. Yet, the point of what happened must never be lost on anyone. It was a needless abuse of power, wielded to punish a Set of the Old Students for the political ‘sins’ of the President of the larger body, who, as the state government knows, is not a member of the group celebrating its Silver anniversary. The denial of the use of the school premises, stoppage of the commissioning of the games court as well as the prevention of its use by students of the school is a misuse of excessive powers. Partisan politics should not make it too difficult for old boys and girls, now men and women of diverse backgrounds, to gather in their school, celebrate and give back in their own little or very big way.
I am not against the articulation and reiteration of a standard code which guides voluntary interventions, such that it curtails arbitrariness on the part of the executors, as well as highhandedness by those in power. It will likely insulate donors from the drunkenness of power than it regulates scarce negative consequences on the part of the benefiting schools. All of that said, the threats of labelling already completed interventions illegal if true, is a bad joke carried too far. My own group, the 91/97 Set renovated the Music Studio early last year, just as a host of individuals and Sets have done one thing or another for the school to keep it in shape. There will be many structures and contributions to so label if such a threat is followed through.
I wish to congratulate the 88/93 Set for their astounding accomplishments, and wish them many more years of celebration and contributions to our dear school. They have raised the bar of interventions in RSS, and the school can only be the better for it, to the irritation of future meddlsome politicians.
As for governor Amosun and his party people, I offer a prayer of contrition, especially as his administration moves into its final months in office. I pray that within the little time left, he will come to the realization of the need to dispense with that very big revelrous cap on his head, and replace it with a new, thinking one. He can keep it small and modest. Perhaps that will help him become more reflective, and make him see what public education has become, as opposed to what it ought to be, in the state of Awolowo, Tai Solarin, Wole Soyinka and other great minds whose accomplishments more than anything marks out Ogun state as the intellectual capital of the nation. He needs to fix public schools, pay teachers their due entitlements, remit their cooperative deductions which I learnt has been withheld for about 20 months, and also pay gratuities and pensions dating back to 2012.
While at it, he should find better usage for those mega frauds called mega schools – big, isolated structures conceived without any iota of consideration for how best they could serve the communities they are supposed to benefit. He should be more of a patriot in his last days in office than a politician. Politicians render services with benefits in mind. Patriots render services to the glory of God and the benefits of fatherland. The RSS anthem has some relevant messages for him, and other public office holders as well.