Kwara Hijab War

By Casmir Igbokwe

On a recent visit to my state, Anambra, I tuned in to a local radio station. A pastor was on air. The crux of his message or advert, if you like, was that those afflicted by mermaid spirit or witches and wizards should visit his church for total deliverance. The ‘man of God’ also advised dreamers who wish to get accurate interpretation of their dreams to visit him and forever remain grateful. I do not like dabbling in spiritual matters because they are things that lack rational and scientific explanations. Even when a fake prophet is pulling the wool over your eyes, you are asked to believe because blessed are those who do not see but believe.

Besides, there are different religions as there are different cultures and nationalities in the world. Each of these religions has its beliefs. Christians believe no one goes to heaven except through Jesus Christ. But Muslims, Hindus, the traditional religionists and many others do not believe so. Even among people of the same religion, there are differences.

That is why many stakeholders have advised that religion should be a personal thing. If, as a Catholic, I wish to go to Jerusalem or Rome for pilgrimage, I should be able to sponsor myself for such spiritual nourishment. If a Muslim wishes to visit Mecca or Medina to stone the devil, he should be able to pay for such trips. And if I am going to school, which is a public place, I should be able to drop my religious garb at home and wear that uniform, which my school is known for.      

Unfortunately, this is not the case in many parts of Nigeria. The hijab controversy in Kwara State is a typical example. Last month, the government of that state shut down 10 grant-aided schools, originally established by Christians, to avert clashes that could arise over the schools’ insistence that wearing of hijab was not allowed in their institutions. 

Government only reopened the schools last Wednesday with a proviso that they must respect the state’s policy, which allows wearing of hijab in all public schools. Unfortunately, rival groups reportedly hauled stones and plastic chairs at themselves after female Muslim students in hijab were denied entry into Baptist Secondary School, Ilorin, the Kwara State capital. Some people sustained injuries. Security agents later arrived to control the situation.

The president of the Kwara Baptist Conference, Victor Dada, reportedly attributed the clash to the fact that the state government made a pronouncement on a matter that was already at the Supreme Court. The schools are Cherubim and Seraphim (C&S) College, Sabo-Oke; St. Anthony’s Secondary School, Offa Road; ECWA School, Oja-Iya; Surulere Baptist Secondary School; Bishop Smith Secondary School, Agba Dam; CAC Secondary School, Asa Dam Road; St. Barnabas Secondary School, Sabo-Oke; St. John School, Maraba; St. Williams Secondary School, Taiwo-Isale; and St. James Secondary School, Maraba.

It is obvious from the names of these schools that they were founded by the missions. But Nigeria’s military government took over the schools in the 1970s. The missions had lost the suit challenging government takeover of these schools at both the high and appellate courts. The matter is now at the Supreme Court. Believing that the schools now belong to it, government announced that it had been agreed, after consultations, that hijab should be allowed in the schools.

Kwara’s permanent secretary, Ministry of Education and Human Capital Development, Kemi Adeosun, said, “The government is convinced that its policy to allow willing Muslim schoolgirls to wear their hijab in public schools will lead to sustainable peace and communal harmony anchored on mutual respect and understanding.”

Adeosun said this had long been adopted in all of northern Nigeria and many states in the South-West such as Lagos, Osun, Ekiti and Oyo.

The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) is miffed. It accused Governor AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq of being behind the crisis. CAN said the governor made a pronouncement on the issue of hijab wearing in violation of the court directive on the matter to maintain the status quo until the matter was finally resolved by the court. The Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) threw the blame back at CAN. It said both the Ilorin High Court and the Court of Appeal had ruled in favour of hijab: “It is, therefore, illegal, illegitimate, unlawful and unconstitutional for CAN to insist that its members should not obey the courts.”   

This hijab crisis is not peculiar to Kwara State. In November 2018, the problem reared its ugly head at the University of Ibadan International School. Both Christian and Muslim parents bared their fangs and insisted on having it their way. The management of the school was forced to close it down after it had banned the use of hijab by female Muslim students. It decided that the dress code of the school should be maintained. As the controversy raged, the old students’ association of the school advised that the principles and laws governing the school be upheld above religion as the institution was secular and private.   

Even outside Nigeria, wearing of hijab or other face-covering apparel has been a controversial issue. In 2011, France banned wearing a full face veil, burka, in public. The European Court of Human Rights upheld the ban in July 2014 after a French woman brought a case arguing that the ban violated her freedom of religion and expression. France had also introduced a ban on Muslim headscarves and other conspicuous religious symbols at state schools in 2004. In September 2020, a member of the ruling La Republique en Marche (LREM) party, Anne-Christine Lang, walked out of a National Assembly hearing because of the presence of a veiled student, Maryam Pougetoux. This, Lang said, went against the country’s secular values. 

In a referendum early this month, voters in Switzerland supported ban on face coverings in public, including burka or niqab worn by Muslim women. Such countries as Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark and the Netherlands have fully or partially banned wearing of face coverings in public.  In Turkey, which has a predominantly Muslim population, scarves are banned in civic spaces and official buildings. Nevertheless, two-thirds of Turkish women still reportedly cover their heads. In July 2013, Russia’s Supreme Court upheld a ban on hijabs in the country’s Stavropol region.

Religion is a sensitive issue and we have to be very careful with it in Nigeria. What should be uppermost in every parent’s mind is sound education of their children, not wearing of hijab. If a school says white shirt upon white trouser is its uniform, I don’t see why it should be difficult to respect that rule. Introducing any other dress outside this will be contravening the school’s dress code. That is why it is called uniform. What student A wears is what student B should also wear. It makes for easier identification of students of such a school and it helps in apprehending a stranger who may be in their midst to cause havoc.

We already have enough crises on our hands. The spate of insecurity is unprecedented in the country’s modern history. Killings, banditry and kidnapping for ransom are rampant. We cannot afford to add religious crisis to these in any part of the country this time.

For me, hijab is good. It makes girls look modest and humble. Reverend Sisters in the Catholic Church wear similar things. But such dresses should be worn in mosques or churches, as the case may be, or other public places where they are allowed. Hijab can also be worn in Islamic schools or public schools where it is permitted. It will be insensitive to wear it in Christian mission schools or private secular schools.

The onus is on government to be on top of the situation by not favouring any particular religion or even dabbling in religious matters at all. This is particularly so for multi-religious states like Kwara. Governor AbdulRazaq of Kwara State could adopt what Peter Obi did in Anambra State as governor. Obi handed mission schools back to the missions but still funded and aided them. Lagos also handed mission schools back to them and does not interfere in the day-to-day running of such schools. Kwara can do the same thing for its grant-aided mission schools because government is not good in managing schools.

For now, all the combatants should cease fire. Beyond the court pronouncements and their interpretations, all the parties should let wise counsel prevail. The missions should exercise patience and allow the Muslim students to wear their hijab in the meantime. Though it is a painful decision, it will ensure peace and sustenance of their legacies pending the final judgement by the Supreme Court.

 

Re: Shell: Goldfish in turbulent sea

Casmir, the place of Shell in Nigerian economy cannot be underestimated. Directly, they have thousands of Nigerians who earn their living from them and indirectly millions earn their living from them. In terms of corporate social responsibility, they have been quite visible. Unfortunately, in Nigeria, a lot of hypocrites abound in public offices who are determined to frustrate the smooth corporate existence of many blue-chip organisations because of personal gains. Nigerian economy will be comatose if such companies are forced to down tools. There will be an urgent need for the government to have a functional policy to protect them despite whose ox is gored.

– Pharm. Okwuchukwu Njike, +234 803 885 4922

Dear Casmir, the public relations department of Shell should improve on tactics with which to cope with incessant demands from natives and other beneficiaries. I had read of scholarships awarded by Shell to citizens of Niger Delta amongst other offers. Every suit against the company should command substance or be struck off.

– Cletus Frenchman, Enugu, +2349095385215

There is a popular saying that when two elephants fight, the grass suffers. Shell and Aiteo should make peace and resolve their differences so that the workers and others who are doing businesses in these two companies will not lose their livelihood. It is always difficult to build when organisations and nations are in crisis. Crisis never cooks good food. My advice is that Shell and Aiteo should go for round table peace talk to bring lasting solution within themselves.

– Gordon Chika Nnorom, Umukabia, +2348062887535

Dear Casy, your highly researched and educative piece on Shell’s trouble with Aiteo was great. My take on it here is that Shell as a good corporate citizen, should avoid some bad eggs among her staff to drag her through mud and also try to settle most of the problems out of court. I was shocked to read the huge amount of cash pay out to both government and communities as taxes and compensation and yet the poverty level of the people in that region stinks to the high heaven. Our rulers in the eastern and mid-western Nigeria where oil and gas revenue flows like the ocean water have adopted the hegemonic system of the north where few minority elites pauperize the majority. So, while Shell and other oil giants pay for the development, the roguish political elites and their traditional counterparts hijack and steal the people’s money, send their children to the best schools abroad and arm the poor youths to kill themselves.

– Eze Chima C. Lagos, +2347036225495

  • Also published in the Daily Sun of Monday, March 22, 2021

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