The illiterate governors in Nigeria have made the governors’ office a jabbering tool of all sorts. The charmingly idiotic debate on the wearing of hijab by students in public schools in Osun State decreed by the Moslem Governor, Rauf Aregbesola, aka Ogbeni, and sanctioned by a judge of a corrupt judicial system has consumed the last vestiges of political civilization in Osun State.
We live in a country where the governors are not equipped to cope with the rigors and complexities of the office. They have no intellectual tool to separate illusions from truth. They exist in a non-reality based belief system. These governors depend on skillfully manipulated images for information. They have severed themselves from the people they are elected to serve. The citizens too cannot differentiate between lies and truth. They’re informed by simplistic, childish narratives and cliches. They’re thrown into confusion by ambiguity, nuance, and self-reflection of their governors.
Before the religious bigots, extremists, and die-hard fanatics of hijab crucify me, let me state unequivocally that I’m not here to support or condemn the wearing of hijab in public schools in Osun State. That’s another topic for another day. I’m here to denounce the politics of distraction by Ogbeni craftily embedded in his hijab decree.
The hijab brouhaha manufactured and decreed by Ogbeni in the face of the collapsed economy of Osun State, the unresolved problem of unpaid hungry State workers, the penurious condition of pensioners, neglected sick and frail senior citizens, not only function to render the workers’ plight and other socioeconomic problems invisible, but also produce what the late sociologist C. Wright Mills once called “a politics of organized irresponsibility.” Mills explains that authoritarianism develops by making the operations of power invisible while weaving a network of lies and deceptions through what he called “politics of disconnect.” Politics of disconnect, argues Mills, is focused on isolated issues like the hijab nonsense which serves to erase broader issues like the non-payment of workers salaries and other nagging crises. The isolated issue of hijab becomes a flash point in a cultural, religious, and political discourse the type we’re having now.
The hijab decree by Ogbeni is a resurgence of authoritarian ideology, mode of governance, policies and social formations that put any viable notion of our democracy at risk. The hijab controversy is nonsense. It’s a politics of distraction by Ogbeni to bury in the fog of manufactured crisis important socioeconomic issues such as non-payment of workers’ salaries, the army of unemployed youths, the neglected and abandoned pensioners, the abandoned sick, and so many poverty ravaged Osun State citizens. When such divisive and non-beneficial issues like the wearing of hijab are given legitimacy, priority, and prominence, it benefits the ruling class and hurts workers who haven’t been paid for many months and other marginalized citizens of Osun State.
The hijab debate is a sad commentary on the part of the Ogbeni administration and the progressives. It’s a real disaster. The hijab debate serves as a foolish distraction and diversion from pressing socioeconomic issues. We shouldn’t be talking about this. We should be talking about what Ogbeni is doing in Osun or going to do to pay his hungry workers, to arrest spiraling youth employment, to stem widespread poverty, to pay pensioners, to provide treatment for the sick, to cater for the aged and the poor, to provide the best education possible for the children, to provide public transportation, to provide good roads, to boost farming and food production and to provide safety and security. But instead, we’re talking about this religious cliff – hijab – which is a manufactured crisis by Ogbeni.
The hijab cliff argument is manufactured both in that it is not a real crisis. Even before Ogbeni Aregbesola was born, we had a secular government in the old Western Region with secular education where Muslims went to school without hijab. We had public and private schools in peaceful coexistence competing and complementing one another. Nobody cared about hijab. The erstwhile Premiers and Governors in the Old West led by the revered political genius and leader, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, didn’t use the powers of the office or their political capital to impose one religion over the other. They never fueled the embers of religious bigotry. They never appointed themselves as spokesmen or evangelists or crusaders or fanatics of any religion. Their preoccupation was the education and liberation of the mind and empowerment of our children from want, poverty, ignorance, and disease. That was the focus of education in the Old West – our lost paradise.
The expanded reach of politics of distraction employed by Ogbeni undermines priority given to socioeconomic problems and nourishes the infatuation of Ogbeni and his colleague governors with their new extremism of religious intolerance, power drunkenness, coupled with their unresponsive and insensitive governance to the needs and priorities of our people. Does anyone think the unpaid, hungry Osun State workers give a damn about hijab? Does anyone believe starving and dying families in Osun give a hoot about hijab? What does the army of the unemployed and underemployed youths in Osun care about hijab? Will hijab wearing of students lead to good grades? Will it make them competitive with their colleagues from civilized countries with superior education system? Do you think the hungry, the sick and the fragile, the pensioners living in penury in Osun State care about hijab? Hell No!
In the denuded notion behind the hijab politics of Ogbeni, the connection between facts and lies, between imagined and real, is lost. This is a politics of extreme elements where informed modes of dissent are not only marginalized but actively suppressed. What is missing in the current debate and what majority of hijab supporters fail to recognize is that the real issue at stake is not hijab, but a powerful and poisonous form of authoritarianism that poses a threat to the very idea of democracy and its institutions and our public values.
Osun State is at a critical juncture in its history, one in which the forces of extremism are not just on the rise but are in the midst of revolutionizing modes of governance, ideology, and policy. Ogbeni’s politics of disconnect is just one of a series of strategies designed to conceal this deeper order of authoritarian politics. This undoing of our democracy and the dystopian society that is being created in its place can be grasped in the predatory casino capitalism where life is cheaper and everything is for sale. This is the new political evangelism being championed by Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola the Osun State Governor and it must be rejected by all.