The current controversy that has enthralled Kwara State in the last two months on the heels of the enforcement of hijab wearing for female Muslim students in public schools, in all intent and purposes, calls for serious understanding, flexibility and objectivity. Already, the storm ignited by this unwarranted cascading development is monumental and the consequences on the peaceful co-existence of the people of the state, and particularly the children’s education would be scary.
The enforcement of the policy by the Governor Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq-led state government, few months ago, apart from threatening the peace and diminishing the fervour of the ‘State of Harmony’, the spate of animosity and attendant violent confrontations it has generated, have farther polarised the Christian and Muslim communities. Although the agitation for or against wearing of hijab in the state’s schools which has presently become a threat to collective peace of the state, did not actually begin with the present administration, as it occurred during the administrations of Dr. Bukola Saraki and Alhaji Abdulfatah Ahmed, who in their tact made no categorical pronouncement on the matter and allowed the sleeping dog to lie until they left office.
But recent events in the state, given the manner with which the enforcement of hijab by the state government has been carried out in public schools is baffling. Since Governor Abdurazaq on February 25, 2021 pronounced the policy permitting Muslims girls attending Christian missionary schools, otherwise regarded as grant-added mission schools, to wear hijab in the school, all has not been well with the state as there has been strong disquiet over unacceptability of the policy.
It is, therefore, curious that the Kwara State case cannot be an exception, if the wide resistance within and outside the state that the policy has continued in the last two months to attract is anything to gloss over. What is expected, the Christian community has consistently stood on it point with a vow that it would not to allow any students to wear hijab in their schools, while the Muslim community on the other hand is threatening fire and insisting that they would not allow their children to be deprived of practicing their faith by wearing hijab to their schools.
The controversy and confrontations, and the attendant unrest that has engulfed the school system, due to the resistance of Christians to the policy and immediate order by the government to temporarily shut down 10 mission schools, are all pointers to the orchestrated plan of the state government. Although the government cited the need to forestall any breakdown of law and order in the Ilorin metropolis as reason for its action, the reopening of the schools, according to him, would depend to a large extent on the resolution of the hijab controversy in the affected schools.
Following the rejection of the policy by critical stakeholders, who considered the government’s move as diversionary, unguided and fanaticism, it is non-gratifying that Governor Abdurazaq failed to learn from the experiences and controversies that trailed a similar policy in Osun State under the administration of Rauf Aregbesola and that of the International School, University of Ibadan, before the status quo ante was allowed to subsist and for peace to return.
It was not surprising that the peace meetings convened by the state government, where it urged the Christian and Muslim communities, the two warring parties, to bury their differences and allow peace to reign have not yielded any fruit because of the partisanship of the government.
The hijab crisis started about eight years ago, when the Kwara State chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) in 2013 went to court to challenge and demand for legal ownership of the schools taken over since 1974. But, the Kwara High Court in Ilorin had ruled in May 2016 that all the schools taken over by the then Military Administration of David Bamgboye in 1974, belonged to the Kwara State Government.
Now, the argument is that the judgement and that of the Court of Appeal in 2019 did not rule that female Muslim students must wear hijab in Christian-owned schools. As it is also noted, the out-ofcourt settlement sought by CAN with the state government, under AbdulFatah Ahmed, was denied by the governor, who claimed that since CAN went to court and lost, no out-of-court settlement would again be realistic. With the matter still at the Supreme Court, and the highest court in the land, and which is yet to make pronouncement on the issue, which could go either way, the state government should have waited for the Supreme Court pronouncement before setting the system on fire.
By and large, the Military Administrator, David Bamgboye, who took over the mission schools in 1974, was said to have made it clear as part of the agreement reached with the original Christian owners of the schools that the sensitivity of the original owners would be protected. As a matter of honour, it is incumbent on the part of the state government to honour the agreement made to the owners of these schools when they were taken over in order to foster peace in the system rather than assume the source of the people’s disunity.
But, whatever the case, what is more important is that the governor should bury his partisanship in this matter and refocus his administration’s attention on what is more profitable in the education sector – improved funding, provision of infrastructure, increase enrolment, out-of-school-children, etc, and not mundane issues such as hijab.
Since wearing of hijab has nothing to do with the quality of education of the state, or enhance students’ performance in the SSCE, why then should he create a crisis where none was in existence, only to fan the embers of discord among the people. What the state and the people need now is good governance which will bring better education, healthcare delivery system, security and improved welfare of the citizenry, and not a government that orchestrates crises to cause disunity and mortgage the future of the people on the altar of power and ego massaging.