Osun Calisthenics programme, the initiative of the Governor Rauf Aregbesola-led administration has fully gained ground and attracted attention from many observers, even critics of the administration, particularly now that it has been institutionalised in schools across the state. This report by GBENGA ADENIYI traces the background and its benefits so far.
The history of Callisthenics could be traced to the era of Chief Bola Ige, as governor of the old Oyo State. When it was introduced in the Second Republic, it was a toast of all and was well applauded all over the country. It was later discontinued as a result of military incursion into government.
Callisthenics, a physical gymnastic training exercise, which combines the use of signals with the parade of colours, designs and patterns with body movement, gestures, music rhymes and gesticulations to create impressions and pass messages. The body exercises that are displayed include bending, jumping, hopping, twisting, wriggling, turning, swinging and spinning. The long history of calisthenics and gymnastics among others, and the full importance of physical training in the development of healthy and wholesome human personality may likely not be fully appreciated, documented and understood until one turns to history, culture and traditions of ancient Greece. With its various city states specialising in one form of gymnastics or the other, the central doctrine embraced by all was that the human body was regarded as a temple that provided a sacred abode for the human mind and soul. Among the Greeks of old, the belief was held in high esteem that gymnastics and callisthenics were necessary to keep this temple healthy and functional.
However, after a very long period of time – government of Osun recalibrated Callisthenics in 2012 when experts were brought to Osun, by the Governor Rauf Aregbesola-led administration to instill the exercise in the pupils of public schools in the state. It started with the assistance of two Cubans, Francis Rodriguez and Raiza Guerra, who trained the first set that performed during the 21st anniversary of the creation of Osun. They also trained the trainers who have since taken over from the Cuban and now engaging the students in the feat.
The first public artistic display of the trained 8,000 pupils on Tuesday, August 28, 2012 at Osogbo City Stadium as part of the 21 years celebration of Osun was nothing, but indeed a model brought in by the administration to inspire a new generation of leaders with team spirit, collaboration, concentration and commitment. It was a memorable day, as the atmosphere was impressive; the highly elated crowd did not only feel it, they saw practical demonstration and marvelous delivery of coded messages and signs.
The second major display of the public school pupils was in June 3, 2013 when the Osun government hosted the Oodua World Children Day where the pupils again displayed at the same Osogbo City Stadium. At the Callisthenic stand, which is directly opposite the main pavilion of the main bowl of the stadium, the students that comprised the inscription display team were already on with various displays. Their displays include the following: The National Flag, the State Flag and colours, E Kaabo, State of Osun, the State of Osun Welcomes You, The State of Osun Welcomes Oodua’s Children, Ipinle Omoluabi and We Are the World. Other displayed writings and inscriptions include We Are Marching On, Rauf: A New Era, We: Pride of Osun, Eko Dara Pupo, Omo L’aso L’aye and Osun: Going Places. These beautiful writings and inscriptions, boldly presented in the form of callisthenics display were enough attractions which held the audience spell-bound and perpetually glued to their seats pending the commencement of the programme of events. They were simply “extra-ordinary, displaying dexterity, creativity and ingenuity. The display brought out an uncommon degree of social coordination which was inculcated into the students through six months of rigorous trainings conducted by Cuban experts and Osun trainers”.
When the programme started in 2012, those dazed by the uncommon phenomenon, rushed to town, criticised the feat and alleged that the government was training the youths as armed militias with the aim of using them to secede from Nigeria. Though ridiculous, the wave at which the allegations travelled, coupled with the political differences between the state government and the then federal government made many to wonder how children holding flags and making artistic display could be used to secede from Nigeria
It was not too long for people, especially those hearing “Callisthenics” for the first time to know and believe that it was a philosophy of education introduced to inculcate the values of unity, harmony, discipline, teamwork, hard work and creativity into the school children. It can be seen from callisthenics display that the whole is the sum of the parts. You must do your part for the team to succeed and your own success is only meaningful with the success of others. If one athlete should be out of sync with the team, the formation fails.
Callisthenics, is known to have the substance of unity, harmony, balance and team work and thus presents one of the best engagements for teaching young pupils the cooperative spirit in a simple, delightful and interesting way. In other words, virtues such as team work, esprit de corps, which are highly desirable in every society and social interactions are also derived from and fostered by callisthenics. This is in addition to its health benefits for the body such as flexibility, physical strength, agility and the capacity for endurance.
The governor had sometimes in 2016 during one of the Callisthenic display at the celebration of the Osun at 25, said that “the Osun School Callisthenics is not a frivolous brainwave that will be swept away by the tide of time. Rather, it is a well-conceived programme as part of the overall redesign and reorganisation of the education system in Osun. Our administration views physical education with all seriousness, and we regard formal education as incomplete without its physical development component. Accordingly, we give it the required priority in the restructuring of education.
“As we have emphasised, the callisthenics programme is not only an out-of-school sports activity but a lifestyle-changing project for building a new generation of students who are physically fit, mentally sound and socially well-adjusted. And we are not alone in this view. We have history to draw upon, and this is also supported by practices in other lands and climes. Even the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) regards physical education programmes as part of its crucial brief”.
The 2016 display involved 4,000 pupils between the ages of 9 and 14, drawn from 17 Middle Schools in Osogbo and Olorunda Local Governments.
However, the new dimension of institutionalisation of callisthenics and its adoption as an integral part of the curriculum in all the schools across the state cannot be over emphasised. This has been capped with callisthenic competition among students of secondary schools across the nine federal constituencies in the state.
Speaking at the flag off of the competition, the Director of Social and Grassroots Mobilisation and Guidance, Office of the Governor, Mr. Adebayo Ojo commended the students for excellent performance, saying with their display, it shows that the values of unity, harmony, discipline, teamwork, hard work and creativity had been inculcated into the school children.
Ojo also lauded Governor Rauf Aregbesola for adopting callisthenics as a co-curriculum activity for students in more schools across the state, saying callisthenics game has enhanced organisational capacity and understanding among the youth.
The competition was held simultaneously in all the nine federal constituencies and rounded off in Osogbo City Stadium, with winners from each Federal Constituency presented cash gifts. A cheque of N1 million was presented to the Winners in each of the three Senatorial Districts, and N750,000 to the first runner up while the second runner up got N500,000. Ede/Ejigbo Egbedore Federal constituency came first in Osun West, Ikire and Iwo federal constituencies came second and third respectively. In Osun Central, Irepodun zone came first, while Ila and Ikirun zone came second and third respectively. In Osun East, Ilesa came first, Ijebu–Ijesa came second while Ife came third.
The competition was organised by the local coaches who are trained secondary school teachers. It was held on volunteering basis with the parents providing the sport kits for their children, unlike in the past when the government was responsible for all the expenses, including the provision of kits for the participating students. The responses received from parents in terms of provision of kits for their kids clearly showed that the programme is well appreciated by the generality of the people of the state.
Some of the participating students described the programme as enticing and dedicating, saying, in the course of their participation, they have learnt that concentration and commitment to duty must be imbibe in the course of their academic pursuit and their future endeavour.
One of the student from Ede Federal Constituency, Islamiyah Adebayo said, “what I have learnt from this is that without concentration and commitment it will be difficult to achieve meaningful thing, either in your academics or anything you engage in outside academic.
“I thank the government of Osun for exposing me and my co-students to a feat like this because for me, it is not about the physical exercise, it is about the concentration and focus that is required. If is about physical exercise, as a young school girl, I do more than enough everyday”.
Another student from Ilobu zone, Badiru Idris, said, “participating in callisthenics was fun and interesting, appealing to the government to also expose some of the interested to coaching of callisthenics, which, according to him, might also be a means of self-dependent for them in future.
A parent, whose child was part of the exercise, Mrs. Juliana Adegbenro said, she was impressed by the show of concentration, commitment and dedication of the students during their callisthenic display, urging the government to ensure the sustainability of the programme.