Who will save Kwara? – Part 2
The above statement was greeted with protest from the management of the schools affected and a case was filed in court. Whatever the merit of the said case, the best option is for parties thereto, to await the final determination thereof, in the interest of peace and tranquillity. It is thus surprising that one year after, Kwara State is still struggling to resolve the hijab controversy, which is an indication that the government is yet to get its acts together. Amongst the many problems of Kwara State, religion and dressing of students should be the least concern of the government. I take it that the government of Kwara State has only gotten itself immersed in this controversy purely for political capital, at the expense of the combatants themselves, which underscores my earlier reference to the crisis of leadership between the Governor and the Minister.
In this regard, I find all the controversies totally amusing, because the government is seeking to profit from the misfortune of its own citizens, purely for populism. I am not unmindful of the provisions of section 38 of the Constitution on 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 the right to acquire property is exercised for the establishment of churches, schools and hospitals, the right to freedom of religion should not antagonize or limit the discretion of the owners, in the choice of policy formulation. It should be a matter of dialogue and agreement, where non-members seek to take advantage of social infrastructure established pursuant to the lawful exercise of these rights. The government cannot and should not legislate it by fiat, as Kwara State is presently doing. It will not work.
I believe that there are Parents/Teachers Associations in these schools. They should rise to the occasion and save the children the trauma and stress of religious fanaticism. When we indoctrinate these children so early in life, we then turn around to preach unity to them, later on in life. It is hypocritical, in my view, to train children in policy segregation, thus sowing the seed of discord among them. Meanwhile, in their examination hall, the issue of dressing and hijab plays no role at all, in their performance or the outcome of their grading. The capacity to absorb instructions and teachings in the classroom is not affected by the contents of the Bible or Quran that the students can recite, especially in science-related subjects. What then is the value of all these hullabaloos?
I know very serious minded Muslims who attended Christian missionary schools and came out in flying colours, ditto for Christians who were trained in Muslim schools. Indeed, the children of prominent Nigerian Muslims are being trained in established universities in Europe and America, where the adornment of hijab is not an issue at all, but rather the content of their intellect and character. In this case however, the options for the Kwara State Government are very clear and narrow. It should steer clear of religion and allow the owners of schools to administer them in line with the objectives for which the said schools were established. Government should have no business with religion other than regulation. A situation whereby policies or actions of the government lead innocent children to pelt themselves with stones is totally unacceptable. More condemnable is a situation whereby the church as an entity, and by extension its members, are subject to agony, ridicule and opprobrium by reason only that a school is domiciled in the compound of the church. In the final analysis, it may be that not all members of the said church have their wards attending the school located within its premises.
But I have a word for the owners of the schools. The Kwara State government claims that these schools are partly funded by the government and this has not been denied at all. As we say it, he who pays the piper must be allowed to dictate the tune of the music. Once the resources of the State are involved in the running of any school, then the State cannot be reasonably excluded from participating in the management of the school that it is funding. There are several entities in Kwara State in which Muslims, Christians and Pagans and even Atheists dwell together without controversy. Not long ago, Kwara United Football Club made the State proud when it clinched the top shot of the Nigerian football league table. Those who played in that Club do not display their religion on their foreheads, nor do they select a particular uniform to be worn during their football matches to be victorious. Let there be peace in all schools in Kwara State, which will put a permanent end to the prevailing anomaly, occasioned by the poor handling of the situation by the government in power. It is not unlikely that this matter will die a natural death soon and later be exhumed once a major political decision emerges to stoke the crisis between the Governor and the Minister. I ask again: Who Will Save Kwara?
Adegboruwa is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN).
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