Kwara Hijab Judgment: A Pandora's Box?

Amanatullah Láńre Adédèjì

"Religion is the opium of the people" is one of the most frequently paraphrased statements of German sociologist and economic theorist Karl Marx. How true is this?

While I was watching the short video clip, I knew it would generate to religious crises and soon be all over the media. I was left with no doubt that the unknown voice in the video was on a mission to expose the act he believed to be unjust due to intolerance. Shortly, two young school girls in their teens are seen alighting from a bike and immediately tuck hijabs in their bags. The unknown voice inquires about the reason for the act and one of them replied that the school is against it. The voice gives her reason to wear the hijab, and she does as advised. She puts it on, enters the school and the usual repeats itself: she is asked to remove it.

If religiosity brings economic growth and development for a nation, Nigeria would have been better than USA, China, Japan and Germany. And, this would have led us to good standard of living. Religiosity, of course, is expected to increase our godliness. Nigerians! How Godly are we?

Inasmuch as our religiosity lacks godliness, the problem would forever persist: our governors will continue to divert public funds into personal accounts; the civil servants won't cease to be negligent of their works; the Christians would always show hatred towards Islam; the Muslims would always be intolerant to the Christians; fundamental rights of citizens are forever deprived; the rich would forever be ready to intoxicate the poor with the dose of religiousity in order to keep looting without hindrance.
Religious crises and issues aren't new in Nigerian news. Oyo, Lagos, Osun, Rivers and many other states of the nation were in the news over religious issues, lately. Now, it's Kwara state. Hijab is the bone of contention. I know it shouldn't be trivialized, it's an issue worthy of writing.

I wouldn't want to go into the depth of the secularity of Nigeria as a nation. I know it's a topic on its own. Is Nigeria a secular state? If 'yes', what are the implications? If 'No', why do people ascribe secularism to the country. I, however, know of a fact: the word secularism isn't in Nigerian Constitution. The 1999 Constitution of Nigeria did not use the expression “secular” to qualify he Nigerian state. The word cannot also be found in any section of the Constitution. Section 10 of the Constitution prohibits both the Federal and State Government from adopting any religion as state religion. And, there's a constitutional provision for a Sharia Court of Appeal and the Constitutional obligation on states to provide facilities for religious life. This shows Nigerian government at all levels aren't indifference to religion. The fact is clear: Nigeria is a multi-religious country. As for secularism, we need to know the meaning and justify it with the current situation of the country before we can conclude, since the constitution doesn't state as such.

Let's trace the history back: Christian missionaries who came to Nigeria in the nineteenth century came with religion, culture and education. They were Christians and are on the mission to spread Christianity to the nook and cranny of the country. They were irrepressible. After independence, military government thought of its necessity to have control over the schools. They planned to dismantle the grip of missionaries on educational system. It was a success.

ln 1974, government took control of many schools, whose original ownership cut across faiths and private individuals across the country. Since the takeover, the state governments have controlled, managed, wholly funded and staffed the schools, which were run and are still being run as public institutions. Missionary schools in Kwara States weren't left out of the development.
In spite of the control , the schools still maintain the legacy of the pioneers. The pristine creeds aren't compromised and, the administration still believe they own the schools. Beyond the school setting, the two major religions- Islam and Christianity- have always been on loggerheads over issues relating to tolerance. MURIC is always in the news to complain about any ill-behaved attitude towards Islam, and CAN doesn't cease from being a critic against Islam and its decisions that seem to have affected the members of the some of the compliants brought against each other are illegitimate.

Ordinary, it would have been an issue not worthy of writing on, if the said schools are missionary schools- without the influence of the government- and the Muslims are claiming the right for Students to use hijab. However, the schools are government-owned schools- under the legacy of the missionaries.

The 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Chapter 4, Section 38 (i) and (ii) stipulates that:
‘Every person shall be entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom (either alone or in community with others, and in public or in private) to manifest and propagate his religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance’

‘No person attending any place of education shall be required to receive religious instruction or to take part in or attend any religious ceremony or observance if such instruction ceremony or observance relates to a religion other than his own, or religion not approved by his parent or guardian'
Going by the constitution, nothing stops muslim students from wearing hijab to school. However, the legacy of the school, which doesn't conform with the style of dressing, might pose problem for its execution.

Members of the Kwara Baptist Conference staged a peaceful protest in Ilorin, the state capital against hijab-wearing in grant-aided mission schools. Some of the placards read: ‘no hijab in Baptist schools and other mission schools,’ ‘give us back our schools,’ ‘let peace reign in the state of harmony’ and ‘no religious violence in Kwara.’ This shows an outright displeasure against it.
Just like it happened in ISI, University of Ibadan, the outright displeasure against the use of hijab is almost in government-owned schools in this part of the country. In many schools ( Public schools for goodness sake) , muslim students are deprived the right of wearing the garment. This is nothing but intolerance that was born out of hatred of the religion, and if this is not cautioned, could lead to a retaliation which would be born out of frustration.
Being public schools, the government should ensure right-thinking people, who are just ( in spite of their beliefs), are in the helms of affairs of the schools . The government should have a roundtable discussion with the custodians of the missionary schools to reaffirm the ownership of the school and find ways to tolerate all religions and their ways of life.

If returning the school back to them would solve the issue, the government shouldn't hesitate to withdraw its funding for the school and leave them independent as they were initially.
Let me bring it to your notice: there are many Islamic missionary schools in Nigeria that accommodate non-muslims without any disrespect to their religion and style. They are allowed to put on beret, and to organise their weekly fellowships.
As against the respect of hijab for Muslim female students, some opine that if that should be the case, the traditionalist too should be allowed to put on their attire. This is hypocrisy! Hijab to Muslim females is a life; not what to wear only when there's a spiritual festival. . The traditionalist put it on only for occasions. Bringing this up is the highest level of hypocrisy.
We are a nation and a nation is expected to be one.

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