German sociologist and economic theorist, Karl Marx was absolutely right when he said that religion is the opium of the people. At least we have seen how individuals who thrive in crisis have, with religion as weapon, created rifts between otherwise united peoples in Nigeria as well as all over the world.
The ongoing hijab crisis in schools in Kwara State, is ill-timed and in fact, the least of issues that the State should lose sleep over at the moment. Nigeria’s unity is at the brink with religious bigotry, agitations for secession springing up from several ethnic groups, etc, and so, does not need the current hijab crisis which could snowball into a more catastrophic situation if poorly handled.
Unfortunately, a matter as inconsequential as clothing, has disrupted studies and created hostility in schools across the state. Since the crisis erupted, there have been several comments and statements showing diverse views; some made out of mere religious sentiment while very few were objective. In all of that, there are indisputable truths about the matter especially as regards ownership of the concerned schools and whose right it is to dictate how it should be administered.
A historical account shows that these troubled schools and many other state-owned schools all over the country were originally owned by the missionaries. In pre-colonial times, southern Nigerian societies managed an educational system that promoted their own values and moral standards which were laid down as guiding principles for their children.
That system inculcated a sense of communal responsibility in the people. In the nineteenth century, the Christian missionaries came, bringing with them, European culture and traditions. The nature of politics, especially in south eastern Nigeria, during the nationalist period (1945-1960), resulted in further re-evaluation of the fundamental role of missions in secular education.
The military which took over power in 1966 thought the idea of eliminating mission schools in the country’s educational system was best and consequently, in 1974, which was few years after the Nigeria-Biafra war, the Head of State, Gen. Yakubu Gowon passed a decree that gave the state governments right over these missionary schools. In the case of Kwara state, earliest schools (and hospitals) in the area according to an indigene of the state, Farooq Kperogi, were established not by the government but by American Southern Baptist Christian missionaries who first appeared in his hometown in 1948.
“All the schools are government controlled and fully funded, they are not Christian schools”, Governor AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq of Kwara state was quoted as saying recently. “No doubt, the schools were started by missionaries in Kwara State but in 1974, Yakubu Gowon’s government passed a decree taking over all the schools in the state, so, the missionaries lost schools to states. Kwara State took over the schools but out of sentiment, did not change the names of the schools like most other states did. So when the Hijab issue came up in some states, they went to court and it was ruled that the students who wish to wear the hijab, could do so. Any private school can have their own uniform and insist on what their students must wear but female students in government school can wear their hijab, that’s what the court said”, he added.
The governor who said he had the privilege of attending some of these schools said his father’s Muslim school was also taken over by the government. To ensure a peaceful resolve of the issue, Governor AbdulRazaq who was said to have spoken with CAN, the organisation he said should know better now that the schools are no longer Christian schools, noted that he has nothing against Christians, but that the state is only obeying the court’s ruling. It’s also important to state that the schools are no longer owned by the missionaries although they retained their names.
Looking at how issues have played out with the ensuing violence, the governor must thread with care because it is very possible that some of the parents and other stakeholders pushing for female Muslim students to wear hijab as part of their school uniform, are not doing so innocently as part of their sartorial religious identification but to fuel crisis in the once peaceful state. They could be political foes! After all, female Muslim students can attend lessons comfortably with or without the hijab.
Meanwhile, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) has said that Kwara State Governor, AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq, should be “held responsible if the crisis over hijab wearing in schools degenerates”. CAN through its General Secretary, Joseph Bade Daramola, in a statement said “it was AbdulRazaq’s pronouncement on hijab in violation of the court directive on the matter to maintain status quo until the matter is finally resolved by the court that led to this trouble”, adding “the state government ordered the reopening of the closed schools without resolving the crisis.
The governor, it was reported, reopened the schools so that they could register for WAEC exams especially after the months lost to Covid-19 locdown.
CAN said churches and mission schools are being vandalised with impunity by those “banking on the state government’s support in the pretext of enforcing the policy. It is disheartening and unfortunate that a government that was installed democratically will become insensitive to the plight and the yearning of the people as if the governor was voted into the office primarily to protect his religion. This is unfair, ungodly and reprehensible.
“There are public schools and schools that belong to some Islamic organisations where those who wanted to be wearing hijab can be attending without causing the ongoing needless crises rocking the state.”
Reacting through a statement, Kwara government said, “Arguments over the years that these schools still belong to either the Muslim or Christian missionaries have been flatly rejected by the court. So, the government totally rejects the claims some organisations are still laying to these schools because such claims are not known to the law. That some of these schools retain the names of their founding organisations is purely honorary and in memory of their contributions to education….”