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Hijab wearing causes disquiet, disharmony in Osun schools


Some students of Baptist High School. Iwo in church vestments

Some students of Baptist High School. Iwo in church vestments

The festering controversy on the desirability or otherwise of wearing veil otherwise known as hijab by Muslim female students to public schools, particularly the ones established by the Christian Missionaries, has once again put the Christian and Muslim communities in Osun State on edge.

The crisis is not new and first reared its ugly head in 2013, but was temporarily subdued due to a pending court case on hijab instituted by the Muslim community against the state government. The former had dragged the government to court to enforce the fundamental human rights of Muslim female students to wear hijab to propagate their faith in schools.

Hitherto, the two religious groups have engaged each other in a kind of ‘’cold war’’ over the issue with the Christian community pointing accusing fingers at the state governor, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, for being the patron, sponsor and promoter of hijab in the state public schools.

They claim there was relative peace among adherents of the two religions until Aregbesola came to the political scene in Osun and “introduced’’ it to the state education sector.

The argument put up for Aregbesola’s love for hijab was that the governor wanted to use it as part of hidden agenda to Islamise the state. The issue has since become a thorn in the flesh of Aregbesola’s administration, which had also made spirited efforts to deny the accusation on several occasions.

However, the Christian community is not persuaded by Aregbesola’s defence.The matter, however, came to a head on Friday, June 3, 2016 when Justice
Saka Jide Falola of the Osun State High Court delivered a judgment on the pending case. Citing section 38 (1) of the 1999 Constitution, which stipulates the right of every individual to practice their religion in tandem to their religious faith, Falola said the pupils have the fundamental right to wear hijab in any public schools.

The judge noted that the hijab case had led to series of letters and accusations by counsels of both Muslim and Christian communities.He added that the joining of Osun Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) in the suit further caused tension leading to several adjournments of the case and overruled the application filed by CAN.

In a spontaneous reaction, the CAN rejected the ruling and decided to approach a higher court to seek redress with a caveat that they would also direct Christian students to wear church- related garments to schools. The association said the ruling was a slap on its face and negation of an agreement reached with the government at the point of the take-over of the mission schools.

Part of the agreement, according to CAN, is that government would preserve the culture, tradition and heritage of the schools. But with the court decision over the issue of hijab, the Christians said they would not open their eyes and allow the heritage toiled for by their forefathers in the faith to be desecrated by strange practice.

Government has also said that the claim by CAN over the ownership of the mission schools is no longer tenable. Government stated that the 1975 take -over of the mission schools has vested the authority of ownership, management and control of public schools in the hands of state authorities.

On Tuesday, CAN backed up its threat to order Christian students to wear robes and other Christian garments to schools with action. There was confusion in the schools as some Christian students wore different church vestments instead of the approved school uniform to school, to join their Muslim female colleagues who also wore hijabs.

The students, who wore Christian garments of different colours sewn into choir gowns, stormed their classes without being prevented by their teachers. Many female Muslim students also appeared in hijab and gained access to the school without restriction by the
school authorities.

The Principal of Baptist High School, Iwo, Mr. Omotayo Arowolo said there was no crisis in the school despite the appearance of students in different attires.

He said: “You can see it yourself that normal teaching and learning is going on and there is no crisis of any kind. The teachers are not disturbed from doing their work and the students are also responding to instructions. We are operating in a peaceful atmosphere’’

As the students trooped into the school, some members of CAN, who had mobilised to enforce the wearing of church garments by Christian students, also stood by at the gate of the school to see whether the students would be denied entry.

The head of Catholic bloc of CAN in Iwo, Catechist Paul Olagoke, said they were in the school to ensure that no student was molested or chased away from school for dressing in church garment.

According to him, what is good for the geese is also good for the ganders since the Muslim students were allowed to wear hijab, then Christian pupils should also be free to wear whatever they liked to school.

While reacting to the development, governor Aregbesola said aggrieved parties in the court ruling on hijab should seek further legal redress instead of resorting to self-help. He warned that any student found disobeying school rules and regulations and appearing in school in unofficial dress code risks expulsion.

CAN also responded calling for restraint on the expulsion threat by the governor because, according to the body, the governor might end up expelling all students from school.

Speaking through his Director on Communication and Strategy, Mr Semiu Okanlawon, the governor said all aggrieved parties in the recent court
judgment over hijab should channel their grievances according to the rule of law and not resort to self-help.

He distanced his administration from the court judgment that allowed female Muslim students to wear Hijab to school, saying the Judiciary is an independent arm of government, the decisions of which are not subject to any influence by other arms of government.

He said: “It is funny for some people to insinuate that government has a hand in the judgment. The government is a democracy, not a theocracy.‎ Any student found disobeying school rule and regulation risks expulsion from our schools.”

The Governor said it is not the business of any government, through the schools, to lead a child in a particular religious direction. That will be for parents and religious institutions, in private capacity, until the child is grown enough to make a decision on religion.

His words: “The government therefore cannot support or be seen to be supporting a particular religion. I believe also that parents and society should compliment the government in shaping the minds of the pupils to be receptive to knowledge and godly character formation; to be sensitive to the need of others, the plurality of our society and the imperative of mutual tolerance. They should also be brought up to be team players, even when in a competitive environment. It amounts to subversion of the educational needs of a child for them to be drawn into and used for political purposes.”

There was palpable tension last Wednesday at the Baptist High School, Gbodofon, Osogbo, venue of a joint prayer session organised by the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) over the hijab matter.A combined team of regular and anti- riot policemen including men of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) fully armed, had stormed the venue of the meeting. They arrived the venue in eight police patrol vans. Their presence caused serious panic for students of the school and CAN members who came to attend the prayer.

The large presence of the security agents did not, however, deter CAN members from reaching the venue of the prayer.Commenting on the police siege on the venue of the meeting, the Vice-Chairman of CAN in the state, Pastor Moses Adedeji Ogundeji, noted that the security men were around to intimidate and frighten members of CAN from attending the meeting. He said members were resolute and would not abandon the struggle until their objectives over the use of hijabs in public schools are attained.

Meanwhile the leadership of the Christian Association of Nigeria {CAN}has urged the state government to commence the process of returning
mission schools taken over in 1975 by the military administration to their owners saying doing so would end the crisis created by the wearing of hijab in public schools.

The prayer, which centred on the recent court ruling on hijab held at Dominion Hall of Osun Baptist Conference, Gbodofon, Osogbo, was attended by over 200 pastors and scores of Christians across all the denominations in the state.

The prayer was at the instance of the state CAN Chairman, Reverend Elisha Ogundiya and led by his Vice, Pastor Moses Adedeji Ogundeji. CAN stated that the prayer was meant to seek the face of God and to reject the court ruling on hijab and other alleged ‘’Islamization agenda.”

Ogundeji, who also called for the return of mission schools to the original owners said, “we don’t want crisis in Osun because of hijab issue.” He contended that, “in-as-much as we are trying to resolve the crisis with prayer, if government should expel any Christian pupil or student, it means all the students in public schools would be sent packing.

He said: “The country has had no rest from the hands of Boko Haram, Niger Delta Avengers, Fulani/Bororo herdsmen. Therefore let there be peace in Osun and let the state be free from the shackles of evil and oppression.”

The CAN Vice Chairman described the presence of security personnel around the prayer venue as an embarrassment, saying it was not at the instance of the association.

Just as the police laid siege on the venue of the CAN meeting in Osogbo, what might have resulted to physical fight between CAN members and some Muslims in the town was averted in Iwo.

The two groups reportedly clashed in front of the Baptist High School, Iwo when CAN members insisted that their children who came to school in church garments should be allowed to enter the school premises.

The Guardian learnt that the crisis got to the notice of the Oluwo of Iwo, Oba AbdulRasheed Akanbi who quickly rushed to the area and brokered peace between the parties. The monarch took the parties to his palace for settlement and assured that he would ensure peace reigns between Muslims and Christians in the area.

Security men drafted to the school moved round combing every nook and crannies to ensure hoodlums were not hiding to forment further trouble.Meanwhile, Osun State Muslim Community has urged the Osun State chapter of CAN to respect the judgment of the State High Court on the issue of use of hijab by female Muslim students in public schools in the state.

The Vice President of Osun State Muslim Community, Alhaji Mustapha Olawuyi while speaking on the hijab crisis, said it behoves every responsible individual to abide by judgment of court and appealed to Osun CAN to embrace peace in the best interest of justice and progress.

Olawuyi said: “Muslims in Osun State are not concerned with what any student wears to school, we can only advise the Christian body to do things within the limit of the law. If the Christian body feels that the right of Christians has been violated, the body should approach the court and seek redress.

“We are not oblivious of the decision of CAN to appeal the verdict of Justice Falola but we have not received any notice of appeal. Therefore, we shall urge them to file their appeal and pursue same diligently instead of engaging in lawlessness and propaganda”, Olawuyi said.

Olawuyi added “we call on all the respondents in the case including the state government, the education administrators, principals, head teachers, teachers in both the public schools in the state to respect the rule of law by obeying the judgment of the court.”

Despite the threat of expulsion by the governor, Christian students at Baptist High School, Iwo, have continued to wear Christian –related garments and robes while female Muslim students also wore their hijabs to the school.

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