hile a great many Nigerians are trying to clear their eyes on awakening from a nightmarish dream about events in their country, school palaver in Kwara is adding its own twist to further muddle the waters. In the dream many find themselves driven to grapple with the question as to whether blood is, indeed, thicker than water or not. I recall that yours truly, too, after glancing around to behold the celebrations in town cast the headline to capture the mood of the moment, of what some described at the time as renewed hope. The dancing and the rejoicing was across the land and the headline was: “PMB 2015, ASO ROCK, NIGERIA.” Today, that joy has turned to sorrow in numberless homes, promise to gloom across the land, hope to hopelessness. What with insecurity everywhere. What with bloodletting in swaths of Nigerian zones and land!
What is the story about Kwara? Ten mission schools have been shut down by the state government after the schools closed the gates against some female students wearing Hijab on top of their uniforms. When the government came back it said the schools would reopen on Monday, 08 March. It approved the wearing of Hijab by Muslim girls who may wish to do so. In this test of will, it will be hard to see any Muslim girl who will not put on her Hijab if not from parental pressure, but from peer push, edged on predictably by Professor Ishaq Akintola providing a rampart of support. Ever in his elements in matters of seeming faith clash, without batting an eyelid, he recklessly asked proprietors of Christian missionary schools in Kwara to take their schools to Nyesom Wike’s Rivers State. “Nyesom Wike is waiting with open arms to receive you,” he said.
The governor predicated his decision on three planks: The schools are grant-aided, and it is a matter courts have adjudicated upon up to appellate courts. There were also consultations with Muslim and Christian communities “with a view to clarifying issues and reaching a consensus.” It was after the wide consultations, that the government, according to the Secretary to the State Government, Professor Mamman Sabah Jibril, arrived at the decision that the Muslim students should be allowed to return to their classes wearing Hijab. He said the schools were shut so that mischief makers would not take “undue advantage of the development.” The last of the meetings was presided over by the governor, AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq.
The Kwara State chapter of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), reacting to the government in their communiqué issued in Ilorin, said it rejected and condemned in strong terms the approval of the Hijab in Christian Mission schools, arguing that if allowed to stay, it would cause discrimination and allow terrorists to easily identify their children and wards. The CAN went on to add that most of the schools have churches beside them and unnecessary trespass may lead to a breakdown of law and order. The Christian umbrella organization said: “In principle and practice, schools established by Christian body are mission grant-aided and not general public schools as such cannot technically be Islamized starting with the use of Hijab.” It then demanded the return of all Christian mission grant-aided schools to their original owners.
The Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) wasted no time in firing back in a statement signed by its director, Professor Akintola. It applauded the government describing the decision as bold, forthright and far-reaching. The group dismissed CAN’s objection as naïve and shallow. “If the Hijab can allow terrorists to identify Christian children, does it also help in identifying Muslim boys?”
It is plain for all to see that Governor AbdulRazaq of Kwara State has a delicate problem in his hands, indeed, a smoldering fire in the house that has to be quenched quickly. It requires wisdom that flows from deep reflection to resolve. Matters of faith, of religion trigger emotions and iron clad passion and resolve not to yield ground. What the governor must put unswervingly before his gaze is locate justice in the imbroglio. The government wants the world to believe that it made wide consultations in Muslim and Christian communities from which it can be inferred that it was with the Christian Association of Nigeria which constitutes the principal stakeholders in the conflict. From CAN’s communiqué, however, it can be gleaned that the government decision was rammed down their throat if they were at the meeting, and I believe they must have been there.
The Hijab face-off first arose in Osun State during Rauf Aregbesola Administration. How Aregbesola thought his decision was not going to be stiffly resisted and lead to an uproar remains inconceivable. We are talking about Enoch Adeboye’s home state, Pastor Kumuyi of Deeper Life. Joseph Ayo Babalola of CAC and Oyedepo of Covenant from Omuaran in Kwara are a stone throw away. Fakeye of Cherubim and Seraphim Church indeed lived in Ilesha before relocating to Lagos. It took the quick intervention of Bola Tinubu all the way from Lagos to douse the tension. From Osogbo, the Hijab controversy spread to Lagos. This time it was not at the instance of the government but Muslim parents. The governor, Babatunde Fashola, resisted introduction of Hijab in Lagos schools. It is worthy of note that the parents were for Hijab for their children in public schools only. The matter went up to Appeal Court and was decided in 2018 in favour of the Muslim parents after Fashola had vacated office. The lower court did state that Hijab was part of worship. This was upheld by the Appeal Court which added that the ban by the state government on the use of the headgear was discriminatory of Muslim pupils in the state.
It can’t but amaze one, how a governor will not think through its policies very carefully, especially on matters of religion and faith. Why will a government sow seeds of disharmony among school children who are in their impressionable years and instigate crisis which if not carefully handled can easily get out of hand? It is understandable that girls in public schools may be free to wear their Hijab in their schools. It is not the same with faith-based schools. They may be grant-aided, they are not public schools. To grant-aid schools is to give help to them materially in the main so that they can more easily carry out their programmes. The idea arose mainly in Awolowo’s Western Region when the government felt it should begin to worry about providing room for the overflow of products schools would turn out from its free primary education programme. Public Secondary schools run by government were scarce. Can anyone remind me of any government school in the city of Ibadan other than Government College, (GCI) in the 50s? The schools were either mission schools and colleges or privately owned. Government grants started to be given to mission secondary schools and some privately run schools in aid of their expansion of facilities or to pay teachers. Such was the population envisaged that the government established secondary modern schools as a stop gap, and from where the products could go out to acquire skills or go to teacher training colleges or straight to secondary grammar schools. The government also believed grant-aiding schools was in the overall interest of the society and in furtherance of its programme to give education to every child and every citizen of the Region. As Tai Solarin was wont to say, an educated citizenry is easier to rule, but difficult to ride! The Awolowo government wanted the citizens to be free from ignorance and diseases.
After the nation’s Civil War and the devastation as well as the pauperization that attended it, the Administrator of East Central State as the East was then known, Mr. Ukpabi Azika decided to take over all schools so that the government could aid the rapid educational recovery and development of the people of the state. He was edged on by Dr. Tai Solarin, himself a successful school proprietor, who also mounted the campaign that led to widespread take-over of schools or increase in the aids granted to those of them that declined to surrender their institutions. Because of extravagant claims by governors who beat their chest that the schools belonged to the government, the clamour to return the schools to their original owners soon ensued. Many were returned; the decision bolstered by the general public discomfiture that standards had started to drop.
Within the last decade, politicians-turned public functionaries have been drawing attention more to what divides our country, indeed widening the fault lines, than what unites the people and gives them dignity. Think of the schools of old and think of the everlasting—using the word literally– friendship cultivated by students whether from Christian or Muslim homes. The pupils could be seen swinging in love and harmony. No discrimination on religious or ethnic grounds. How can such friendship and bond be forged with government functionaries subtly exploiting religious differences, in some cases blatant, among children, and turning round to make hollow preachments on the beauty of unity?
It is scarcely remembered that Dr. Lateef Adegbite, Secretary-General of the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs attended Baptist Academy, Obanikoro, Lagos; that Professor Babatunde Aliyu Fafunwa, more fondly called Babs Fafunwa also had his secondary education at the same Baptist Academy. Do you know that Chief Moshood Abiola attended Baptist Boys’ High School, Abeokuta same as Justice Bola Ajibola? They all went to the school chapel for morning devotional worship. It did not on account of that make them Christians. It might have deepened their knowledge of Christianity and broadened their minds, nevertheless the bond of friendship with classmates and schoolmates endured. There are numerous Christians that went to Ahmmadiya Grammar School, Ibadan and Ansar-U-Deen College, Agege. Many Christian professors had their secondary education at Sanni’s Muslim College, Ijebu Ode. It is the same in CMS Grammar School, the first secondary school in Nigeria which first started in Abeokuta before it was moved to Lagos. Students who were from Muslim homes went to Igbobi College. Chief Chris Ogunbanjo went to Igbobi; so did Dr. Duro Soleye from Offa in Kwara. Name the schools: Olivet Heights, Oyo; Ijebu-Ode Grammar School, Ijebu-Ode, Ilesha Grammar School; Baptist Boys High School, Shaki, a predominantly Muslim community; Abeokuta Grammar School; Christ High School, Ado-Ekiti; Loyola College, Ibadan; St. Annes, Ibadan; Stella Maris College, Okitipupa; St. Bernard’s, Oyo; Methodist Boys’ High School, Lagos; Methodist Girls High School Yaba’; Reagan Baptist Girls High School, Yaba; St. Gregory’s College, Obalende; St. Finbar’s College, Akoka. Great schools, all.
I have concentrated on South-West schools because it is in the zone Christians and Muslims can be said to be equally matched, sharing population almost equally. How can I forget Christ the King College, CKC, Onitsha? There were no rancors. Is it conceivable that anyone would ask that Muslims be made to wear Hijab at Our Ladies of Apostles College, Ijebu-Ode, Remi Tinubu’s old school, and at Anglican Girls Grammar School, Ijebu-Ode, Kemi Nelson’s school because they are grant-aided?
There is hardly any of the schools that does not have strong Old Students Association, some Association of Classmates within the larger umbrella, all proud of their schools. They do not think of themselves as Christians or Muslims when they meet in their associations. They are old students, simple. The technological wonders of these times enable them to run platforms through which they reconnect and communicate regularly sharing experiences. It ought not to be lost on the governors that school uniform is part of a school identity and culture. Many old school students even in their 70s who left school 50, 60 years ago still keep their school caps, their badges, their ties and blazer. Such is the deeply ingrained connection with the school identity. Wearing of Hijab in mission schools will distort the school identity and do violence to their culture.
The mission schools have their aims and objectives. These are primarily to familiarize their students with Christianity and the scriptures, what are expected of Christians, certain values and moral rectitude and consequences of perversity. How are these compatible with the wearing of Hijab in missionary schools as Hijab is a way of Muslim worship? What each person upon graduation does later in life becomes his own business.
There are two ways out of the crossroads for Governor AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq. If the girls must wear Hijab they should be withdrawn from the Christian faith-based schools and taken to Muslim Colleges where they can wear their headgear without any rancor. There are also many public schools to which such withdrawn students can be distributed. In the alternative, the government can stop grant-aiding the schools and let them fend for themselves as they elected doing ab initio. Fortunately, the Kwara State arm of CAN has asked that the schools be returned to the original owners. For years– at a certain period—in Kwara , Cherubim and Seraphim College, more widely referred to as C&S College, Sabo Oke, founded in 1969, was the first choice for children of senior government functionaries and the elite club in Ilorin. It was what King’s College and Government College, (GCI) meant to my generation. The governor can borrow the example from his neighbour and brother governor, Gboyega Oyetola who returned mission schools to their original owners and scrapped the misguided practice by his predecessor of giving the same uniform for all schools in the state.
Aregbesola and Gboyega Oyetola are ideologically opposed. Oyetola is an apostle of free market economy. Aregbesola is on the left. Although Oyetola takes his religion seriously, excusing himself from meetings whenever the time to pray knocks, he is not a fundamentalist. He does not trouble anyone over the spiritual values one may profess. That is a typical representative of the people of South-West where no one troubles the other over his beliefs. It is not debated. This is exemplified by four former governors whose wives are Christians. They are Bola Tinubu married to Remi, a pastor in the Redeemed Christian Church of God, (RCCG) who initiated the yearly end-of-year interdenominational prayer session held every January at Lagos State House Marina; Tunde Fashola married to Abimbola, a Roman Catholic, like his own grandmother; Abiola Ajimobi married to Florence and Ibikunle Amosun married to Funsho whose father is a Christian clergyman in Osogbo. Bright as he is and accessible as he can be, his hard-line and insensitive position on Hijab bordering on fanaticism, stains his record. Disrupting the aims and objectives of Christian mission schools is not how to pay them for laying the foundation for educational development of Nigeria. It is ingratitude at its worst. To force Hijab wearing in their schools using state power is unjust and unconscionable.
For years Ilorin had been calm over religious matters. In mid-70s, Easter period was awaited with trepidation because of clashes in attempts to halt Palm Sunday procession from certain parts of Ilorin. This has been settled and made a thing of the past through the mature handling by and understanding of the city fathers. Governor AbulRazaq should, like his predecessors not allow the ugliness of the past rear its head. Prof. Ishaq Akintola said Kwara State is predominantly a Muslim State. This may be true, but it is also Yorubaland! It is where the light culture of spiritual tolerance, accommodation, liberality, freedom, participation and of shared joy of Christian and Muslim Festivals has had an unshakeable root and its rays beamed through the land–for Ages.