Tension in Osun over Hijab in Public Schools

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• Govt says CAN’s allegation unfortunate
Yinka Kolawole in Osogbo
Palpable tension on Tuesday enveloped some schools in different parts of Osun State including Osogbo, the state capital, over the use of hijab by female Muslim students during school hours.
Also yesterday, the state government described the allegation by the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) against the state government over a court judgment on the wearing of hijab in public schools was unfortunate.

The Principal of Christ African Middle School, Osogbo, Mrs. Micha, was said to have sent some female Muslim students who used hijab out of the school.
THISDAY learnt that a Muslim female teacher pleaded with her to allow the students to stay with their hijab but the principal refused to listen.

When some members of Muslim Students Society of Nigeria heard about the development, they mobilised themselves to storm the school but the timely intervention of Osun State Muslim Community averted the crisis that would have happened if MSSN members were not stopped.

A judge of the state High Court, Justice Jide Falola, had delivered a judgment last Friday in favour of a case instituted by Osun State Muslim Community against the state government on the right of female Muslim students in public schools in the state to use hijab on their school uniforms.

However, CAN in state faulted the judgment and vowed to appeal the matter in the higher court.
CAN also threatened that it would direct Christian students across the state to be wearing church garments to schools to propagate their faith if the government implements the judgment of Justice Falola.
When THISDAY visited the school, Mrs. Micha said she only ordered the female Muslim students to remove their Hijab and denied sending them away from the school as reported.

The principal insisted that hijab cannot be allowed in a Christian school.
Also at the state Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB), the chairman of the board, Prince Felix Awofisayo, said the state government would abide by the judgment of the court.
He noted that all the public schools belonged to the state government and that the judgement was binding all of them.

Consequently, a government statement by Mrs. Abiola Adewemimo, the state Solicitor -General and the permanent Secretary noted: “It has come to the notice of the state government that CAN alleged that the judgment of the High Court of the State in favour of the right of female pupils to wear hijab in public schools was masterminded by the state government.”
She said: “We consider this to be unfortunate, we hasten to remind all religious groups, Christians, Muslim and traditional religion worshipers that the judiciary is an independent arm of government that is responsible and not under the control of the executive in anyway.”

According to her, “government must state that it is unfortunate and very sad that a body of religious leaders could level such an allegation without any proof or evidence. It is a fundamental principle of law that he who asserts carries the burden of proof which CAN has failed to discharge in the present circumstances! It is unbecoming of any party to a suit to engage in casting aspersions on the judiciary, deriding the rule of law and challenging constituted authority, particularly when there is a right of appeal guaranteed by the constitution of the land. This is an option we are aware CAN has already settled for having filed a notice of appeal in the Court of Appeal on the same matter.”

She stressed that for avoidance of doubt, it was the right of any aggrieved party who is dissatisfied with the judgment of the Court to Appeal. Both parties should remember that the government was a defendant in the suit and has remained neutral on the issue even before the court.

She remarked also that the government should, therefore, not be dragged into the matter, as it will continue to maintain its neutrality in matters of this nature, preferring to maintain and promote our roles in the interest of all regardless of their religious affiliations.
The state government urged all people of good conscience to ensure the maintenance of peace in the state progress and development can never be achieved in the midst of rancour and denigration of the rule of law.