Education

Kwara Hijab Imbroglio: Not yet Uhuru

HIJAB CRISIS

Kwara State has been embroiled in hijab crises, particularly in the grant-aided mission schools since 2021, resulting in several mayhems and disruption of school activities, as well as loss of lives in certain instances. STEPHEN OLUFEMI ONI examines the controversial issues

 

  • Muslims: CAN leadership should abide by the law

 

  •  Christians: We say no to hijab wearing in our schools

 

The last may not have been heard of the knotty issue and crises trailing hijab wearing in schools that entangled Kwara State in the last few years between Christian and Muslim communities, resulting in incessant attacks and disruption of activities, as well as subsequent closure of schools.

 

Worried by the lingering crisis and the need to resolve the logjam and prevent reoccurrence of the contentious issue between Christians and Muslims in the state, the Governor AbdulRahman Abdul- Razaq-led state government, few months ago instituted a sevenman Panel of Inquiry on the hijab question at the public funded- Oyun Baptist Grammar School (OBGS), Ijagbo in Oyun Local Government Area, to address the crisis and prevent escalation of the violence in the state’s school.

Despite, the government’s moves, vis-à-vis the report and recommendations of the Panel, the main controversy surrounding hijab wearing by female Muslim students to school, including the grant-aided mission, has not been resolved.

 

This is as the Christian community in the state has vowed to resist the policy, while the Muslim community is also saying the wearing of hijab by the female children has come to stay in the state’s schools.

The Panel of Inquiry, headed by Dr. Shehu Omoniyi Ibrahim, had on April 29, 2022, submitted its report to the Governor Abdul- Razaq, which though seems not to have brought a respite yet to resolving the lingering issue that has pitted the two religious communities against each other.

 

To some stakeholders, the hijab imbroglio that in 2021 rocked no fewer than 10 grant-aided mission schools across the state that prides itself as a State of Harmo

ny has not been resolved. The state government, they argued had authorised the use of hijab by female Muslim students in all public schools, including the grant-aided mission schools on which the Muslim community now anchored their insistence. The Oyun Baptist Grammar School (OBGS), Ijagbo being the latest mayhem between Christians and Muslims, which occurred on February 3, 2022, however, led to the death of one person, while several other people were reportedly injured, thereby forcing the state government to close the school so as to prevent the escalation of the violence.

 

However, as part of moves to resolve the logjam and prevent reoccurrence of further attacks on the schools, the state government took a major step by setting up the sevenman Panel of Inquiry.

Led by its Chairman, Dr. Shehu Omoniyi Ibrahim, other members of the Panel of Inquiry include Pastor Modupe Agboola; Kwara State Chairperson of the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations, Dr. Saudat AbdulBaki; Special Assistant to the Governor on Religion (Islam), Alhaji Ibrahim Zubair Danmaigoro; Special Assistant to the Governor on Religion (Christianity), Reverend Timothy Akangbe; and a Director in the Ministry of Justice, Ishola Olofere, who served as Secretary.

The panel, among other terms of reference, is to investigate the circumstances that led to the violence, establish roles of every individual involved and recommend to the state government steps that should be taken to

avoid recurrence in the future. Meanwhile, receiving the report and recommendations of the Dr. Shehu Omoniyi Ibrahim-led Panel of Inquiry on April 29, 2022, at the Presidential Lodge, Ilorin, the state capital, Governor Abdul- Razaq promised to convoke an interfaith dialogue as recommended by the panel towards strengthening peace, tolerance and understanding among adherents of different faiths in the state.

 

He said: “Like you have recommended, we will definitely commence interfaith dialogue, while the government looks quickly into the report. From what you have said before we read the report, it is obvious you have done a thorough job. “We thank you very much.

You have done a good job. It is not an easy job. We do understand the sensitivity of the issues and we ensure to do what is right.”

 

Governor AbdulRazaq, who disclosed that the state government had been eagerly waiting for the report, further assured the people of the state that his administration would soon reopen the school for academic activities under a peaceful atmosphere. “We have been eagerly awaiting the report.

 

The government is in a hurry to reopen the school, but we also want to make sure there is peace within the community before that is done,” he further stressed. Also, the panel’s Chairman, Dr. Omoniyi Ibrahim, while handing over the panel’s report to Governor AbdulRazaq, however, noted with regret that “the only issue  that could not be agreed upon by all members of the panel was still the hijab controversy.” He, however, urged the state government to institute a periodic interfaith dialogue or bi-annual interfaith convention that would promote religious harmony in the state.

 

He said: “We thank you sincerely for finding us worthy to handle this assignment. We strongly hope that this report will be a roadmap to peaceful co-existence in our public schools, not only on hijab, but on other conflicting interfaith matters. “We reviewed several reports of previous committees set up by the government on religious matters. We note with regret that the only point that could not be agreed upon is still the hijab issue. We scrutinised many past circulars from the Ministry of Education to the Chairman of SUBEB on Hijab Matters.

 

We also noted that the issue of hijab had been promoted to public discussion since 2007, and yet could not be resolved by previous governments.” Part of the panel’s recommendations include a review of the policy on grant-aided schools to clarify grey areas; police investigation into the violence that claimed one life at the Ijagbo school, and prosecution of any culprits in order to avoid a repeat of the incident; official action on specific individuals indicted of negligence or collusion in the crisis; payment by the government the hospital bills of those injured; and appeasement of the family that lost their loved one.

 

But, on the controversial hijab issue, which has pitted the Christian community against the Muslim community in the state, the panel okayed the government’s policy that allowed any female Muslim child to wear hijab in all categories of public schools as sacrosanct and should stand except the Supreme Court later holds otherwise.

 

The recommendations, among others, also stated that the government should restrict religious activities in public schools to those officially conducted by either the Muslim Students Society of Nigeria (MSSN) or Fellowship of Christian Students (FCS), while disallowing clerics or individuals from outside the schools from conducting such activities in public schools, among other recommendations.

But, reactions and counterreactions have continued to trail the report of the Panel of Inquiry recently submitted to governor from the Christian and Muslim communities. In its reaction to the panel’s report, particularly the recommendation that the “government’s policy allowing female Muslim children to wear hijab in all categories of public schools is in order and should stand except

 

the Supreme Court later holds otherwise, the state Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), in a statement by its Public Relations Officer (PRO), Shina Ibiyemi Esq, said that while the association is fully in support of interfaith dialogue aimed at bringing about more understanding and peace in the society, it vehemently objected to the use of hijab in its grantaided mission schools in the state.

Thus, the association insisted, saying: “CAN’s position is still NO to the use of hijab in its grant-aided Christian Mission Schools in Kwara State.” On the panel’s recommendation for the review of the policy on grant-aided schools to clarify grey areas, CAN countered that it is not aware of any grey areas that need clarification, saying: “Some grey areas were intentionally created to forcefully take away our churches, lands and other properties where we cited our schools.

 

The lands on which most of the Christian mission schools were built were duly purchased and acquired with the required Certificates of Occupancy (CoF) and not the disinformation that the lands were given as gifts to the missionaries.” CAN spokesman, however, added: “I have not seen the report, but for ease of reference, the matter taken to court by CAN and Proprietors of the grant-aided mission schools in Kwara State was to have full control of administration, policies and teachings, because we realised that the government is not recruiting CRS/CRK teachers in the mission schools and those schools are not maintained by the government apart from the salaries paid to teachers and other staff.

 

“We filed the case within time at the Supreme Court, but there is no date for hearing yet. What is in the Supreme Court does not include the hijab issue. In short, our demand is that the government should return our schools to us as that would engender permanent peace in the state.

 

The issue of hijab had never been an issue in the state before now. If you look at previous governments in the state, none of them forced the use of hijab on these schools, so we are a bit concerned and confused about what is now happening. We felt some individuals wanted to use a device to take over our properties from us. In a sane clime, everyone will maintain the status quo ante bellum.

The Oyun Baptist Grammar School (OBGS) uniform does not include the use of hijab, and no institution or government should enforce the same on any mission school. “Religion is personal and should not be enforced by anybody, institution or government on others; same with mode of dressing.

This is an act of oppression, injustice and intolerance. We can’t force others to accept our point of view and religion or faith, and it should be vice versa with the Islamic faith. For ease of reference, the lands upon which the schools were built include Proprietors’ churches, houses, hotels and farmlands, among others.

 

“Proprietors and CAN have mutual understanding with the government that we should apply for our schools and the same will be returned to us. And we all applied. We told the government that those schools are our heritage and we are ready to pay the staff their salaries if and when the schools are returned to us.

 

Thereafter, Lagos, Delta, Ekiti, Ogun and Ondo states returned some of the missionary schools on demand by their mission owners. “We were invited by the state government and we were told that there are some laws in Kwara State that needed to be repealed for our schools to be returned to us.

 

We told the governor that it is not necessary, and that what matters most is his will to return our schools to us. But, since then no action on this has been taken by the same state government. “It is sad the way Christians are being marginalised in Kwara State. I want to use this medium to appeal to all good people of the state to plead with the state government to do the needful and allow peace to reign in the state.”

 

Meanwhile, in their reaction, the Coordinator of Muslim stakeholders in Kwara State, Alhaji Isiaq AbdulKareem, said they still stand on their earlier demands, adding: “CAN leadership should abide by the law.

 

They lost at Kwara High Court in 2016 and also at the Appeal Court in 2019.” He added: “Our three conditions are: those that killed a Muslim and maimed about 11 persons in the Ijagbo school violence should be brought to book; compensation for the family of the deceased, while Oyun Baptist High School should be renamed Oyun High School because it is owned by the state government and not CAN or Ijagbo Christian community.”

 

However, further investigations by New Telegraph have shown that it is clear and evident that there is the peace of the graveyard in the grantaided mission schools in the state, going by the position of both the Christian and Muslim communities on the issue of wearing of hijab in schools, notwithstanding the state government’s insistence that female Muslim students are authorised to wear hijab in all categories of public schools in the state, including the grantaided mission schools.

 

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