By Inwalomhe Donald
There is a partial media blackout in the State of Osun. There is almost no reporting on positive developmental strides taken by Governor Rauf Aregbesola.
Instead, the reports that make it to the media appears to be a huge smear campaign of Aregbesola’s character by paid ‘bloggers’, who use smear headlines like ‘Osun Pensioners IDP Camp’, ‘Islamizing Osun’, ‘Osun Debt’, and others to smear the character of the Governor. A section of Osun media is curiously silent on more than 300 kilometers of roads constructed across various local government areas of the state and the East-West bypass in Osogbo.
Interestingly, Osun has one of the longest road construction records in Nigeria, which enhances easy access for residents, but this is never reported by the media in Osun. They have simply refused to report it.
In addition to the roads earlier mentioned:
*The Eastern bypass axis of the intracity ring road in Osogbo is being completed, with work rounding up on the three link bridges connecting the roads;
*A strategic trumpet interchange at the ever busy Gbongan junction of the Ife-Ibadan highway is also nearing completion;
*The Trumpet interchange bridge further connects another dual carriage road construction that links Gbongan town to Osogbo;
*Also, there are a number of intercity and other major road constructions linking Osun to other neighbouring states, including-
*A 74km boundary highway connecting Osun and Lagos through Orile-owu, Ijebu-Igbo;
*A 47km highway connecting Osun and Kwara States; and several other road maintenance and repairs projects across the state are being handled by the Osun Road Maintenance Agency.
Has the media in Osun State collapsed? This question is germane because Osun makes leading headlines for negative reasons, but when there are positive developments in Osun, the media will be silent. Since 2012 when Governor Aregbesola started the Osun school feeding programme, a section of the media has been silent on it. When Governor Aregbesola took sukuk bond, a section of the media said that Aregbesola wanted to Islamize Nigeria. Now that sukuk projects are being commissioned, the media is silent. The media is silent on the six completed High Schools built with sukuk fund: Ilesa High School, Osogbo High School, Ataoja High School Osogbo, Fakunle High School, Osogbo, Wole Soyinka High School Ejigbo and Seventh Day Adventist High, Ede.
Given these evidences, the credibility of the media in Osun has collapsed because the same media who reported that Governor Aregbesola wanted to Islamize Nigeria when he was taking sukuk bond can not tell Nigerians that Governor Aregbesola has used sukuk bond to build 792 classrooms, 66 laboratories, 22 ICT halls for the 11 High Schools across Osun State. The media can not tell Nigerians that Osogbo High School, Ilesa High School and Iwo High School are built with steel, not cement blocks and these are first of their types in Nigeria.
From 2012, the news organizations have suggested over and again that they can never be believed on anything in Osun. They have proven that, if given the chance, they will deliberately withhold important information from their readers while knowingly publishing false, defamatory hit pieces that are engineered solely to misinform the public and subvert the democratic process in Osun.
In essence, the mainstream media in Osun is so desperately biased and unfair in its exasperating effort to destroy Governor Aregbesola that it has obliterated any illusion of credibility it once had. Journalism has utterly collapsed across the entire mainstream media in Osun.
From the inception of his administration in 2010, Aregbesola has been in the eye of the press storm, often for the wrong reasons. His energy and drive; the openness of his government; and his outspokenness attracted the attention of his political detractors and the press. To complicate matters, his enthusiastic embrace of people-oriented policies and programmes generated a lot of debate. This was particularly true of the revolutionary education programme, featuring school reclassification, school mergers, school feeding and uniforms; a social welfare programme for seniors; and an ambitious infrastructure development programme, featuring a ring road around Osogbo and the construction of a modern airport with a hanger.
To be sure, a number of these developments have been reported and discussed in the press. Unfortunately however, it appears that the press can hardly pass off an opportunity to drop a negative line or two about Aregbesola. This was evident in how quickly he was made the scapegoat among the 26 or so governors owing salary arrears for their workers.
The false reports began as soon as Aregbesola assumed office in 2010. He was falsely accused of moving Osun towards secession from the Federal Republic, by styling his state the State of Osun. Later, in an editorial, one newspaper listed Osun as one of the states which purchased exotic cars for their traditional rulers, when not even a bicycle was purchased for any traditional ruler.
In 2014, a newspaper also published a feature article, with a headline which suggested that controversy still surrounded the state’s free school feeding initiative, while in reality, parents, farmers, and caterers were thanking the governor for it. Not done, the newspaper went on, almost a year later, to publish another false story, indicating possible cancellation of the school feeding programme, when no such plan was ever contemplated.
In none of the fabricated school feeding stories were the health benefits of the meal programme highlighted nor was there a mention of the multiplier economic benefits to the farmers, who produce the foodstuffs; the local traders who sell fruits and vegetables; and the caterers, who cook the food, many of whom were simultaneously empowered to service their local communities.
The intensification of the crisis surrounding the delayed payment of salaries was the motive behind another false story by the same newspaper in which a chairman of a pensioners’ forum was cited as calling on the Central Bank of Nigeria to stop the bailout for Osun. The fellow cited in the story claimed that he never spoke with the said newspaper.
These false reports raise a major question. First, why would a reporter habitually publish false stories, and against the same target? There are three possible answers. One, the newspaper has a hidden agenda against the target of the false stories. Two, the reporter is being rewarded for publishing the stories by the sources of the false information. Three, the reporter is ethically challenged.
Today, the media in Osun State could not tell Nigerians that Federal Government school feeding is not different from the operation of the school feeding programme embarked by the Aregbesola administration and now it has been taken over by the Federal Government. Osun State, the first to provide free meals for primary school children, has had marked progress in school enrolment, retention, and performance but the successful programme has been under-reported by the media. From 2012-2016, Osun State was the only state in Nigeria that sustained the Nigerian school feeding programme and the media under reported it.
Today the media in Osun State could not tell Nigerians that the Osun Elementary School Feeding and Health Programme now known as O-MEALS is the only surviving school meal programmes in the country. It was formerly known as the Home Grown School Feeding and Health Programme (HGSFP) . This has now been restructured and enhanced by the administration of the State of Osun, to reach a larger number of students (254,000) and to empower over 3000 community caterers.
The programme was initiated by the Federal Government in 2004 through the Universal Basic Education (UBE) Act but on assumption of office, the Aregbesola administration undertook a comprehensive review of the inherited school feeding arrangement and came up with an overhauled and rebranded programme that was officially launched on the 30th April 2012. Implementation in primary schools is ongoing throughout the State. The key areas of improvement undertaken by the current administration are, inclusion of elementary year 4 , thereby increasing beneficiaries to 254,000, Capacity Development and Empowerment of 3007 Community Caterers , Backwards Integration to Local Markets and Process Improvements.
Till date the media in Osun State has not told Nigerians that this scheme has gained international endorsement as well. In November 2012, Partnership for Child Development (PCD) United Kingdom and the Government of the State of Osun signed the Osun Elementary School Feeding Transition Strategy Plan Document to further strengthen the programme. O-MEALS aims to reverse the very low academic performance of pupils, given that good nutrition is necessary for development of cognitive skills. The daily feeding allowance for each pupil has also been increased from ₦50.00 to ₦250.00.
For effective service, a total number of 3,007 food vendors/cooks were trained and are currently employed to serve midday meals for pupils of classes 1, 2 , 3 and 4 in all primary schools in the State of Osun. For easy identification, each of the food vendors was provided with uniforms free of charge.
Till date the media in Osun State has not told Nigerians that the programme has helped increase school enrolment by a minimum of 25% since the commencement of the revised programme.
When one considers the gross underreporting of developmental strides by the State and the frequent lies published as truth against the current administration, there is only one valid conclusion: Osun is indeed under a media siege.
*Inwalomhe Donald, a public affairs analyst writes from Benin City (firstname.lastname@example.org