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Intolerance and Hijab crisis in Kwara schools

By Editorial Board
27 February 2022   |   3:55 am
Uprising over the freedom to wear hijab, or not, is ugly enough in a modern society. But having schoolchildren endlessly embroiled in such inanities to the point of shutting down schools is uglier and disgraceful.

PHOTO: BBC

Uprising over the freedom to wear hijab, or not, is ugly enough in a modern society. But having schoolchildren endlessly embroiled in such inanities to the point of shutting down schools is uglier and disgraceful. As it is currently the case in Kwara State, the unsavory development makes a mockery of both education and the core virtue of tolerance that religion preaches. Clearly, stakeholders in Kwara should be clear-headed in their choices and play less politics with children and their education.

Just when the country thought it had heard the last of the hijab crisis in Kwara schools, another bloody conflict broke at Oyun Baptist High School (OBHS), Ijagbo. According to reports, the school allegedly turned back some female Muslim students over their refusal to remove their hijab on Monday, January 17, 2022. The action elicited another rivalry between Muslim society and the leadership of the Kwara State chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN). Apparently displeased by the turn of events, some parents and their wards decided to go fisticuffs, creating a bizarre scene in which one person was killed and several others injured. The government and police waded in and shut down the school to avoid more casualties.

Indeed, the state government has been finagling with the school protocol on uniform, as if to undermine rights of missionary schools. Schools in Ilorin were in the same crisis in February last year, which led to the Kwara State government announcing the closure of 10 Mission Secondary Schools in Ilorin over “security reasons”. At the extension of the closure in 2021, the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Education and Human Capital Development, stated: “The government had earlier said that it approved the wearing of hijab in all government grant-aided public schools in the state and directed that the schools be reopened today. The Ministry of Education and Human Capital Development wishes to inform members of the public that the 10 government schools where the use of hijab is disputed will remain shut until a later date. This decision has been taken for safety reasons.”

Clearly, the government of Kwara State created the mess, perhaps for political capital and religious bigotry. But it is most surprising that of all the socio-economic and core educational issues in the state, the administration has taken extraordinary interest in how students are dressed in a plural society. Yet, the chaos has dragged on for over a year and is still unresolved. Lest the public officeholders forget, Nigeria is a multi-religious state and no government is expected to dabble into religious matters or seem to be supporting one group against the other. Section 38 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, provides for the freedom of religion and the practice thereof. The same Constitution, however, in its Section 43 grants persons and organisations the right to acquire and own property, such as churches, mosques and schools. If some religious sects have done so and the state government deems it necessary to change in-house protocol, it requires stakeholders sitting at a round-table to understand the justification and make concessions, than attempt to instill policies by fiat. Not even on the small matter of school uniforms that should ordinarily be decided by the school boards!

It is shameful that religious organisations, parents and their children have allowed themselves to be sucked into the hijab crisis. In many parts of the country, including yesteryear Kwara, Christian parents freely enrolled their children in schools established by other faiths, and vice versa.

The wards abide by the school protocols and learn the practices of other faiths without qualms. Indeed, the children of prominent Nigerian Muslims and politicians are being trained in established universities in Europe and America, where religion or adornment of hijab are irrelevant, but the content of their intellect and character. So, where has that tolerance, enlightenment and broadmindedness gone in Kwara? Indoctrinating or dividing the children along religious lines is a disservice to the children and hypocritical in nature. The religious organisations and parents need to wake to modernity and stop allowing themselves to be used against one another by self-serving politicians.

It is high time the parties concerned in this unwholesome wrangling sheathed their swords and allowed peace to reign in the interest of the students whose future is being toiled with. The lingering hijab crisis should be resolved amicably without further delay. Everybody has the right to freedom of religion insofar it is practiced in such a way that it doesn’t offend the sensibilities of others. The Kwara State government should pay less attention to obscenities and focus more on integration and sustainable development. It should allow schools to uphold their standards and enforce their discipline. The schools should be rated in scholarship and in quality of the minds produced, not in uniform worn or hijab adorned.