Kwara State, a once-peaceful state, has joined other states in the country with record of religious violence following the decision of Governor AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq to impose the wearing of hijab in public schools without allowing the judicial process to run its full course, and stripping these schools of their Christian managements, control, and all forms of Christian affiliations, Ejiofor Alike writes
When the military administration of General Yakubu Gowon (rtd) promulgated a Decree in 1974 to take over all missionary schools, many of these schools across the country were stripped of all forms of Christian affiliations by changing their names from Christian names to non-religious names. The change of names and managements gave these schools new identities and effectively removed all sense of ownership or entitlements from the religious bodies. It also gave Christians and Muslims equal sense of ownership.
But in Kwara State, for instance, these schools retained their original names and managements, while the missionaries retained the sense of ownership and control even when government claimed to be funding them.
It was reported that the earliest schools in the state were established by the American Southern Baptist Christian missionaries who first came into the state in the 1940s. When the government claimed to have taken over the funding of the schools without changing their names, the original owners still remained attached to them. It was not surprising that the Baptist Church remained attached to the Oyun Baptist High School, Ijagbo, in Oyun Local Government Area of the state, which came under religious violence recently. Some of the other schools that still retained their original identities include: Cherubim & 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 include, 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 educational system of the Christian schools promotes Christian values and moral standards in line with the guiding principles of the churches. So, with the churches still attached to the schools they founded, they continued to promote their own values, which were expected to be imbibed by the students.
With the government claiming to have taken over these schools, Muslims and Christians are supposed to enjoy equal sense of ownership and privileges. However, the Christians are contesting the status of these schools and the matter is in court.
In order to claim their privileges in public schools, Muslims have insisted that their female students should wear hijab in these Christian mission-founded schools.
Separate judgments by the Kwara State High Court delivered in 2016 and that of the Court of Appeal delivered 2019 were said to be in favour of the Muslims.
But when the female Muslim students wore hijab to these schools in early 2021, they were turned back by the school management and this led to riots and the closure of the above 10 affected schools by the state government.
Secretary to the State Government, Prof. Mamma Saba Jibril, had disclosed in a statement that the 10 schools in Ilorin were to remain shut, pending the announcement of the state government’s position on the use of hijab.
Unfortunately, AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq’s government did not take the necessary steps to change the names of these schools to strip the Christians of the sense of ownership and management, if it is responsible for the funding of these schools, as claimed.
If indeed, the state government is responsible for the full funding of these schools, Christians have no business running the schools unless the ownership reverts back to them.
But if the Christians are still responsible for part of the funding, these schools cannot be said to be public schools.
The state government should have allowed the judicial process to run its full course, before it took the misstep of ordering that the use of hijab must be allowed.
In a statement issued in Ilorin by the SSG titled: ‘Position of Kwara State Government on the Hijab Question in Public Schools’, the government directed the Ministry of Education and Human Capital Development to come up with a uniform hijab for all the public schools, which would be the accepted mode of head covering in schools.
The statement added that consultations on the hijab controversy were held with the stakeholders on February 24, 2021 with Governor Abdulrazaq in attendance.
“The government has also paid particular attention to the ‘declaratory’ nature of the subsisting judgments of the Court of Appeal and their purports.
“Consequently, the government hereby acknowledges and approves the right of the Muslim schoolgirl to wear the hijab, and directs the Ministry of Education and Human Capital Development to come up with a uniform hijab for all public/ grant-aided schools, which will be the accepted mode of head covering in schools.
“Any willing schoolgirl with the approved (uniform) hijab shall have the right to wear same in public/grant-aided schools.”
AbdulRazaq’s administration knew that the matter of ownership of these schools was still subject of litigation when it took this premature decision.
The Secretary to the State Government had acknowledged this in his statement, when he noted that “the government had carefully noted submissions regarding ownership of grant-aided schools and related issues.
“While the status of these schools is the subject of judicial determination, this and other related matters will soon be subjected to a technical committee to advise accordingly.”
Having noted that the status of these schools was a subject of litigation, why did the AbdulRazaq’s administration hurriedly authorise the use of hijab without allowing the judicial process to be exhausted?
Why did the state government not take steps to change the managements and names of these schools if it had taken over the funding of the schools?
How can students wear hijab in a CAC Secondary School, or St. John School, or First Baptist High School, when the Christian names, managements and identities of these schools are still intact?
CAN, through its General Secretary, Rev. Joseph Bade Daramola, had declared that AbdulRazaq should be “held responsible if the crisis over hijab wearing in schools degenerates”.
Daramola, had in a statement argued that “it was AbdulRazaq’s pronouncement on hijab in violation of the court’s 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 crisis has since degenerated as one person was killed last week in a protest by Christian and Muslim parents of students of the Oyun Baptist High School in Ijagbo, Oyun Local Government Area of the state, over the use of hajib, turned violent.
The violence was triggered by the decision of the management of Oyun Baptist High School, on January 17, 2022 that Muslim students should not wear hijab to the school again.
Sultan of Sokoto and President-General of Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA), Alhaji Mohammed Abubakar Sa’ad, had identified the deceased as Habeeb idris.
The Sultan, in a statement signed by the Director of Administration of NSCIA, Zubairu Haruna Usman-Ugwu, said the Court of Appeal had given at least three declaratory judgments in favour of the use of hijab in public schools in the state, adding that the Oyun Baptist High School is one of many missionary schools that were taken over by the Yakubu Gowon Decree of 1974.
By the said decree, missionary schools, including Muslim-owned ones, acquired a new status of public schools.
If these schools had actually acquired new status as stated by the Sultan, the AbdulRazaq’s government mishandled the issue by not changing their names and managements to give both Christians and Muslims equal sense of ownership.
But if the status of these schools is still a subject of litigation, AbdulRazaq’s administration erred by approving the use of hijabs in these schools without waiting for the judicial process to be exhausted.