There is no doubt that the current impasse in Kwara State, over the order of the state government to all public schools, including those founded by the Christian mission in the state, to allow female Muslim students wear hijab to school, has heightened tension among Christian and Muslim stakeholders. Hammed Shittu reports
Kwara State is popularly referred to as a ‘State of Harmony’, but the hijab controversy, seems to have inhibit the peaceful co-existence among the people which may also affect academic performance of the students who are currently at home due to the decision of the state government to close 10 schools founded by the Christian missions.
The development, according to THISDAY investigation, may also lead to academic failure among the students in the upcoming National Examination Council (NECO) and West African Examination Council (WAEC) examinations, due to the disruptions in academic activities of the affected schools.
The affected schools are Cherubim and Seraphim College, Sabo Oke; St. Anthony College, Offa Road; ECWA School, Oja Iya; Surulere Baptist Secondary School; and Bishop Smith Secondary School, Agba Dam.
Others are; CAC Secondary School, Asa Dam; St. Barnabas Secondary School, Sabo Oke; St. John School, Maraba; St. Williams Secondary School, Taiwo Isale, and St. James Secondary School Maraba, all in Ilorin, the state capital.
The closure of the affected schools by the government was based on the protest embarked upon by the Muslim parents and guardians of the female students across Ilorin, the state capital, over the refusal to allow their children who wore hijab into the schools premises, by their principals.
The schools were billed to reopen on March 8, but following the tension that trailed the approval of the use of Hijab by female Muslim students, the state government directed the schools to remain shut until further notice, citing safety reasons.
It could be recalled that, the call to allow female students to wear hijab in Christian mission founded schools started few years ago as Muslim stakeholders in Ilorin filed the issue in court.
The group which first filed the court case against the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) in the state demanded that the association should compel the authorities of the schools founded by them to allow Muslim female students in the Christian schools to use hijab.
The group argued that since the state government had taken over the schools, the former missionary owners no longer had control over the grant-aided schools in the state.
The Muslim stakeholders also said allowing the female Muslim students to wear hijab will be in conformity with the judgment of the Kwara State High Court of 2016 and that of the Court of Appeal of 2019.
While government ownership of the schools are not in doubt since it pays, and run the Christian/missionary schools, the court affirmation of these positions so far, could be said to have completely remove the control of the schools from the church and missionary.
Although, the issue came up during the past administration’s of former Governor Bukola Saraki and Alhaji Abdulfatah Ahmed, but this was managed without any tension during the period.
The two governors then were able to use tactics between the two religions to the extent that the government didn’t make any pronouncement and hijab was not used in any Christian schools.
However, the present administration led by Governor AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq, allegedly acceded to the demand of the Muslims stakeholders on the need to implement the wearing of hijab in the affected schools based on the court ruling that affirmed it, which has renewed old wounds in the state.
This development assumed a dangerous twist when the state governent directed the affected schools to reopen. The Muslim female students who wore hijab to school, were turned back because the Christian mission insisted that they would not allow the use of hijab in their schools. This develeopment, however, prompted the Muslim community in the state to kick against it.
The Spokesperson of the group, Alhaji Isiaq Abdulkareem, during a press conference in Ilorin recently, said they were surprised that some former owners of schools in Ilorin last Monday and Tuesday forcefully removed hijab from heads of female Muslim students at the entrance gates of the affected schools.
He listed the schools where there were infringements on the freedom of religion of female Muslim students to include; St. Anthony, St. James, Bishop Smith, and ECWA secondary schools, all in Ilorin, among others.
Abdulkareem said that allowing Muslim female students to wear hijab, will be in conformity with the judgment of the Kwara state High Court of 2016 and that of the Court of Appeal of 2019.
He asked the state government to direct schools to allow Muslim female students to practice Islam in all ramifications, by observing prayers and use the hijab.
The spokesperson said they promptly reported the infringement on rights of the concerned Muslim students to the appropriate quarters.
He lamented that at a peace meeting held in the office of Secretary to the State Government on Tuesday, the Christian mission insisted that they were not concerned about the judgements of the Kwara state High Court and the Appeal Court.
“This is the time the government and the people of the state need peace more than ever before. It should be seen as calling for trouble as failure to act may lead to people enforcing their rights in the best possible way.
“As a stakeholder in this government, we appeal to Governor AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq to take bold and urgent step in addressing this issues to avoid possible outbreak of crisis in the state”, he stressed.
Against the backdrop of this press conference by the Muslim stakeholders in the state, the state government convened a peace meeting with the two religious bodies.
The peace meeting according to the government is to allow them to state their positions and offering opinions on how to resolve the differences on the hijaab question in grant-aided schools.
The meeting was presided over by Deputy Governor Kayode Alabi who appealed to all the leaders to respect their differences, live in peace and love, and join hands to raise a generation of children who will see one another as compatriots.
At the meeting were representatives of the Muslim and Christian communities, political and thoughts leaders in Kwara State.
According to THISDAY investigation, the meeting resolved to evolve a committee that will specifically tackle the Hijab question.
The members of the committee constituted included; the Deputy Governor (Chairman), two thoughts leaders/statesmen from the two sides; three religious leaders from the two sides; Senator Suleiman Ajadi; Prince Sunday Fagbemi; Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Justice; Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Education; Special Assistants to the Governor on Religion (Islam and Christianity); and the Chief Press Secretary to the Governor.
In a statement signed the Deputy Governor after the meeting, he said, “there is a need for every side to keep the peace and constantly caution members of their communities to avoid any action or comments that may disturb public peace.”
But, as the peace committee was holding its meeting in Ilorin, the Muslim female students in the affected schools recently staged a peaceful protest over their denial to wear hijab to schools .
Sensing that this might snowball into a religious crisis in the state, the state government in a statement ordered the closure of the schools in Ilorin where the crisis had emanated.
In a statement issued by the Permanent Secretary, State Ministry of Education and Human Capital Development, Mrs. Mary Kemi Adeosun said the closure comes as a government committee comprising representatives of the Muslim and Christian communities have met to iron out the differences between the two communities.
“Further communication will be issued to inform members of the public on the development. Government calls for calm and urges parents and religious leaders to avoid actions or comments that may further split the two communities”.
Moreover, the peace meeting convened by the state government with the religious leaders to resolve the controversy surrounding the wearing of Hijab by the female students in some secondary schools in the state ended in a deadlock.
THISDAY investigations revealed that, the two religious bodies stuck to their demands at the meeting.
Sources close to the meeting who spoke on condition of anonymity said the Muslims leaders insisted that the female students would continue to wear their Hijab to schools in line with the Court of Appeal ruling on the issue.
Sources also revealed that the Christian leaders kicked against it saying that they will not allow the wearing of hijab in the missionary schools except head cap.
It was learnt that, the Christian leaders were said to have told Muslims leaders at the meeting that, “if the Muslim females children cannot abide with their rules, they may take female children to the Muslims schools in the state and be putting on their hijab.”
Sources close to the meeting added that, the peace meeting did not yield positive results as there was no communique on the peace talks.
The development it was gathered didn’t go down well with the state government on the comments from two religious bodies in the state and the government may issue proclamation on the issue this week.
However, the Christian mission in the state has chosen the option of praying to God so as to have peaceful solutions to the hijab controversy.
The association also demanded the return of their schools and no use of hijab as they do not want the schools to lose the identity of being built and owned by churches.
The well attended prayer session by members from various units and denominations was held on February 21, 2021 at St. Barnabas Anglican Cathedral, Sabo-Oke, Ilorin.
Reverend Fr. Ralph Ajewole, Chairman, CAN Ecumenism who briefed the congregation, said, it was for the faithful to raise their voices to the Lord in unison, citing the example of how the Israelites were able to overcome in battle.
He reminded Christians that “God is with us in facing the current challenges as he has always been,” charging them never to be tired or worried.
After a bible lesson taken by Evangelist Mary Okoye, Rev. S. O. James of Ebenezer Baptist Church, Sabo-Oke, Ilorin, gave the exhortation.
He admonished the people to believe in God who never forsake his own people.
“We have reached a level in Kwara in which Christians are just living to survive. Why? What happened last week Thursday and Friday in respect of attempted enforcement and resistance of hijab in Christian-built schools will make anyone to feel sorry for the state,” he remarked.
He reminded all that, “God is with us. We have Him as Israelites have Him. He has promised to be our God and He has superior power.”
He enjoined Christians to go in might as a united body of Christ.
The gathering also prayed for a secured society and for Governor Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq to heed CAN’s call and make do his promise of answering their requests.
The association’s legal Adviser, Mr. Shina Ibiyemi who elucidated on the legal angle of the controversy said, there was never any time the hijab issue was a subject of contention in the law court in the state.
He therefore implored the people to harm themselves with fact and safeguard against misconception.
On March 18, the state government had ordered the principals, teachers and other staffs of the affected schools to resume duties on the second day which was March 19, but the Christians in the state locked the gates of the affected schools , thereby denying the staff from gaining entrance.
The ugly development, however, prompted the state government to deploy a task force to implement its directive to all schools in the state to reopen and all teachers of the affected schools to report to their respective schools.
The Press Secretary in the state Ministry of Education and Human Capital Development Yakub Ali-Agan, in a press statement made available to THISDAY said all the 10 schools involved in the hijab controversy had been fully opened, hours after the state government directed all the principals and teachers in the affected schools to resume for academic activities.
According to the statement, “The schools were opened by government taskforce which moved round the metropolis to ensure that the directive is followed and that teachers and students are protected and allowed to begin academic activities.”