I was born into an Islamic family in Oke-Ode, Ifelodun Local Government Area of Kwara State. I was raised as a Muslim. Throughout the period of my foundational education at the Local Education Authority (LEA) which metamorphosed into the Local Schools Management Board (LSMB) in the 1970s, I received Western education in the morning and Quranic education in the evening. During the Quranic sessions, which took place under the tree in the premises of our school, we memorized Quranic verses, we were taught their meanings. Our Quranic teachers taught us to believe in the oneness of God, to acknowledge that Prophet Isa, also known as Jesus was the penultimate messenger of God. We had tutorials in Hadith, the traditions of Prophet Muhammed (peace be unto him), the last and final messenger of God. They taught us to worship God with sincerity of heart and purpose, to believe that all messengers of God were sent by the same and only one Almighty God to guide humanity during their time. Our Quranic teachers counselled us to be good Muslims, but to recognize that people of other faiths were also worshipping God in their chosen way; hence, we were to honour and respect them at all times.
When I completed my primary education and gained admission into Oke-Ode Grammar School, I continued to be a Muslim in the midst of Muslim and Christian pupils from elsewhere. As part of my extra-curricular activities, I was a member of the Muslim Students Society of Nigeria where, again, we imbibed the principles of mutual respect among people of different faiths. My school was a co-educational, boarding school, but Muslim students were permitted to attend Jumat service at the village’s Central Mosque every Friday afternoon just as Christian students attended Church services and fellowships without hindrance. We adorned the same uniform. As a Muslim student, I never wore the hijab as part of my uniform. No student was allowed to wear anything else except a cardigan in the school uniform’s colour. The school’s head prefect girl dictated hair style for all females for each week. There was no part of our school uniform that distinguished the Christian pupil from their Muslim counterpart. The primary and secondary schools I attended were fully owned, managed, and run by the government; yet, they didn’t privilege one religion over another. The Muslim and Christian pupils took their respective religion seriously. We were confortable with our religion, but we didn’t form personal friendship on the basis of religion. We interacted freely and were happy.
At home, my Muslim parents shared in the joys and sorrows of their Christian neighbours, friends, and even family members who did likewise. By the time I left my village for Ilorin to pursue my A ‘Levels in 1981, I had repeatedly attended worship services at the ECWA and the Baptist Churches, the two most prominent churches in my village; I remained a committed Muslim nevertheless. It was impossible for you not to partake in the religious activities of people of other faiths. They were your kith and kin, you shared their DNA. More importantly, you knew they were good people irrespective of their religious affiliation; you were honest enough to admit that some of them were far more superior to you spiritually in spite of not belonging to your religious group. It was not only at school that I was taught to respect people of other faiths, One of the persistent admonitions I received from my parents as a growing child was to respect and genuinely accommodate people of other faiths. The question is: what happened to us in Kwara? Why and how did political religion replace spiritual religion? My departed Muslim parents would curse me from their grave if they found me throwing stones at people of other faiths. That’s not the way they raised me. The religion being practised in my state at the moment is not the religion I knew. I knew spiritual religion that is fair and just to all concerned. I knew spiritual religion that recognizes constituted authority and admonishes the faithful to respect it at all times. I knew spiritual religion that thrives on love for one another, peaceful co-existence, and mutual respect. I knew spiritual religion that charges all adherents to worship God truly and sincerely; to not use the name of God for personal motivations.
Years later, I wanted my daughter to attend the University of Ilorin. A childhood friend hinted that things had changed at my alma mater. “Ilorin is no longer the place you used to know,” he had told me with a tinge of sadness. He said scholarship had taken flight and that religious bigotry had taken over. That couldn’t be true, I told myself silently. I accompanied my daughter to Ilorin when it was time for her to write the post-UTME examination. While she was at it, I visited a senior friend at the permanent site, and asked him to direct me to the university bookshop where I had hoped to purchase some books. Apparently, I was nostalgic about my huge collection of literature books as an undergraduate student at the then mini-campus. I became a little restless when he seemed to be taking his time to give me the direction; I rose from my seat and gestured impatiently. “Lola, sit down,” he said almost in a commanding tone. It was curious. I had never known him to be harsh. And there was something in his mannerism that jolted me. I remained standing, and fixed him a questioning look. “Things have changed around here,” he said, averting his eyes. “There are no books in the university bookshop.” I sank to my seat and hung my head low. Silence stretched between us. I can’t recall who found their voice first; but when it happened, neither of us returned to the subject.
Today, political religion has taken over in Kwara State. Citizens of a state once known for harmony are in tragic disarray. Who will save Kwara from political religion? What seems to be at the core of governance to the current government of Kwara State is to distinguish between Muslim and non-Muslim pupils in schools; perhaps, so that when religious extremists arrive to kill and maim, they might spare their own group and massacre the rest. It was my disillusionment with the identity crisis in Kwara that led to the declaration by my heroine in Where Are You From? that Kwara is in search of its soul. It is time to move beyond disillusionment. This piece is an appeal to all people of good conscience, within and outside Kwara to call the state governor to order. Political religion is explosive. Does the governor want to be remembered for bringing political religion to Kwara to unleash terror on his own people? To what end? It is time for Governor AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq to tell those who may have sent him on this dangerous errand that it is too close to home.
Lola Akande, PhD.
Department of English
University of Lagos