Aregbesola and the Hue and Cry over Religious Clothing in Schools

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Shola Oyeyipo writes on how Governor Rauf Aregbesola’s needless religious predisposition has raised a dangerous acrimony among the Osun public

There are so many questions begging for answers after the June 3 ruling by Justice Jide Falola of the Osun State High Court on a case instituted in February 2013 by the Osun State Muslim Community and the Muslim Students Society of Nigeria. The ruling granted the plaintiffs’ prayer to allow female Muslim students wear the hijab in all public primary and secondary schools in Osun State.

Controversy
Delivering the judgement in Osogbo, the state capital, Falola held that the use of hijab by female Muslims was part of their fundamental human right to freedom of religion, conscience and thought as enshrined in Section 38 (1) of the 1999 Constitution and Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But Governor Rauf Aregbesola stated the following Tuesday while commissioning the ultra-modern St Michael’s RCM Government Middle School, Ibokun, that students found disobeying the rules on school clothing in the state risked expulsion.
Peoples are querying the rationale behind Aregbesola’s grandstanding.

The Hijab
From the Quranic point of view, the hijab is fashionable. It is related to modesty, which Islam promotes. It represents a woman’s submission to her Creator and her connection with the faith. So committed Muslim students may want to have it on, which is no crime, but it has remained a sensitive issue, which recently received a great deal of attention due to legislation and proposed legislation in several European countries (e.g., France, Germany) that banned its use in government institutions as well as educational institutions.
But for those who wear hijab out of religious conviction, the truth is obvious and indisputable. For others with limited knowledge or understanding of hijab, it can be confusing and it is such confusion that the Osun State governor should have tried to avoid.

Alleged Islamisation Plot
The Christian Association of Nigeria in Osun State has been opposed to the idea of wearing the hijab in schools since the debate on the issue started and they have continued to accuse Aregbesola of having an Islamisation agenda. It was on this basis that CAN, its chairman, and others voluntarily joined as respondents in the case.

CAN, through its General Secretary, Rev. Musa Asake, had hinged its allegation of islamisation of Osun State by Aregbesola on a security report by the Department of State Services, which indicted the governor. According to CAN, DSS had in the report addressed to the Chief of Army Staff and dated March 19, 2012, stated, “There are indications that Governor Rauf Aregbesola of Osun State is nursing the ambition of islamising the state.
“Already, he has taken control of the Jama’atu Ta’awunil Muslimeen Society of Nigeria (TA’AWUN), now spearheading the use of hijab in public schools in the state and serving as bodyguards to the governor and making frantic efforts to dislodge conventional security operatives from the Government House.”

Such suspicion was aggravated when the CAN chairman in Osun State, Rev. Elisha Ogundiya, said the judge “deeply violated the principle of fair hearing when he refused and/ or failed to hear, let alone rule, one way or the other, on the application for a joinder in the case properly filed and brought to his attention in open court by the interested parties whose schools were taken over forcefully by the government and stood to be affected by the judgement he later proceeded to deliver.”

CAN has now mandated Christian pupils to wear Church garments to school if the judgement is implemented by the governor and it has advised adherents of other religions to brace up and decide what their own followers will wear to school. But Aregbesola has advised aggrieved persons to seek redress at the Court of Appeal.

Questions
But for watchers of the development, the questions are, is Osun State now practicing theocracy or Ecclesiology, where all authority derives from deities. If not, why mandate the pupils to wear the religious attire? What script is Aregbesola acting? And very importantly, what impacts could the obnoxious ruling have on the academic performance of the children?

Besides, is the governor oblivious of the positions of great philosophers on the need to separate politics from religion as encapsulated in the quotes of three American former presidents who spoke on the topic at different times in the history of the country?

The first American president, George Washington, in letter to an Irish politician, Sir Edward Newenham, on October 20, 1792 wrote, “Of all the animosities which have existed among mankind, those which are caused by a difference of sentiments in religion appear to be the most inveterate and distressing, and ought to be deprecated. I was in hopes that the enlightened and liberal policy, which has marked the present age, would at least have reconciled Christians of every denomination so far that we should never again see the religious disputes carried to such a pitch as to endanger the peace of society.”

The fourth president of the United States, James Madison, in a letter dated 1822 also wrote, “Every new and successful example of a perfect separation between ecclesiastical and civil matters is of importance.”

Likewise, when he was governor of Ohio in 1875, the 19th president of the United States, Rutherford Hayes, in his memorable quote said: “We all agree that neither the government nor political parties ought to interfere with religious sects. It is equally true that religious sects ought not to interfere with the government or with political parties. We believe that the cause of good government and the cause of religion suffer by all such interference.”
While Aregbesola has gleefully gone about tweeting and retweeting issues relating to the debate on his twitter handle, many have reminded him that it is only in places where theocracy thrives that the religious obligations of the people ‎become a prime issue in governance. Without interference, Christians and Muslims in Osun State have coexisted peacefully for several years.

Apart from that, for many Nigerians, conspicuous religious segregation is abnormal because young people easily cohabit without any apparent display of the religious fault lines in school environments. People learn Quranic verses and Biblical recitations in schools.
It is therefore surprising why Aregbesola seems bent on fanning the embers of religious segregation by going the extra mile to highlight the factors that separate Nigerians instead of those that unite them. And this will ultimately give birth to strife, rivalry, intolerance and all other negative tendencies, if not well managed.

Reaction
Criticising the Aregbesola education policy, his main challenger at the 2014 election, Senator Iyiola Omisore, said, “Aregbesola seeks to cook tomatoes and oranges in one pot! The end-result of this confused policy has been mass protests by parents and students, several litigations by stakeholders in the state, religious crises within the newly classified schools, general instability and increased level of indiscipline in many of the newly merged schools.

“There have been rampant cases of clashes among students of different religious persuasions. The case of what happened in the Baptist High School is still fresh in our memories. The question we need to ask the Aregbesola-led administration is the reason for this ill-thought-out and poorly-conceived policy which has yielded a harvest of confusion and hardship for students and pupils.”

But justifying his policy in the education sector and underscoring some of the positive impacts they have had on the state, Aregbesola said the education policy of his administration is not a haphazard or impressionistic voyage but a holistic response to a scandalous educational rot, which he found when he took over the mantle of leadership in the state.

He stated, “Our policy therefore seeks an integrative approach to the education of our children and youth. This spans: Education Infrastructure in O’Schools: massive building of new school structures to replace the present dilapidated ones, within the framework of our schools reclassification system; standardised school uniforms in O’Uniform: to rebrand Osun public schools as well as create employment for designers, tailors and allied artisans, as employed by Omoluabi Garments Factory, the biggest of its type in the whole of West Africa; innovative teaching materials and learning aids, which clear showpiece is the award-winning Opon Imo, the computer tablet that captures all the textbooks in the school curriculum for high schools; good nutrition to fully develop the physical and mental readiness of our children for life-long learning: in O’Meals, the schools feeding system for the elementary cadre, in the first four years of school life.

“Our education policy is tailored towards making the Osun public schools system to produce the complete child, to become the complete youth and grow up to become the complete citizen, empowered in learning and in character, in the best tradition of the Yoruba Omoluabi. That way, they would be equipped, culturally and academically, anywhere they find themselves in the world, aside from becoming patriots, to take care of their state and country that had earlier taken care of them.”

According to Aregbesola, the Osun State education policy has been designed after the communiqué that emanated from the Osun Education Summit, held February 7-8, 2011, at the University Auditorium, Osun State University, Osogbo. The summit, chaired by Professor Wole Soyinka, had the theme, “Resolving the Education Crisis in Osun State: Bridging Analysis and Implementation Gaps.”

He said the reforms have had tremendous impacts on the Osun educational competitiveness. He said, “To start with, Osun, from a 34th placing among Nigeria’s 36 states in 2010, moved to 18th position in 2011 and 8th position in 2012, in performance rankings in the West African School Certificate Examinations (WASCE). Pupils from the state have also chalked up improved performances in national and international competitions, according to compilations by the Osun Ministry of Education. Also, the reforms have earned a partnership with UNESCO to build a regional teacher training institute in the state, and a fresh programme in the area of adult education.”

Dangerous Meddlenesomeness
Good as the educational achievements Aregbesola has ascribed to his administration may sound, many believe the undue religious interference in educational issues, which has been associated with his government since 2010, is the bane of the state that may rubbish all his effort.
pix: Osun Baptist students.jpg and Osun-students garments hijab classroom.jpg