Friday, 1st December 2023

Crisis in Osun State: Is handing over of schools to original owners a better option?

26 June 2016   |   2:08 am
The controversy surrounding Osun State’s new education policy, which led to the merging of schools, some of which belonged to missionaries, is degenerating.

The controversy surrounding Osun State’s new education policy, which led to the merging of schools, some of which belonged to missionaries, is degenerating. From the very outset, the Christian community had vehemently opposed the development, saying such action would obliterate the legacies upon which Christian mission schools were founded. A court judgment permitting female Muslim students in the state to wear hijab in public school seems to have aggravated the situation, as Christian students have recently started donning religious garbs to school also. Understandably, people in the state and beyond are bewildered by all this, wondering if Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, the state governor, would allow such situation to continue. What is the way out of all this? Should the state start considering returning the schools to the original owners? CHRIS IREKAMBA and ANN GODWIN (Port Harcourt) report.

‘Merging Of Schools Without Regard To Original Owners Is An Injustice’
(Bishop Emmanuel Badejo, Catholic Diocese of Oyo)

The merging of schools formerly belonging to Christian missions with others in Osun State without regard for the vision of the original owners is simply a continuation of the injustice done in the 70s to those organisations and education in Nigeria. The take-over of schools has been regarded by many honest analysts as ill-advised. This is the reason why some governors, who have mustered enough courage, sincerity and humility, have handed them back to the original owners and even apologised. The allegations levelled against credible religious organisations as reasons for taking over their schools, such as accusing them of undue profiteering, marginalisation of people of other religions or discrimination against certain groups, simply do not hold water. Many Nigerian dignitaries have testified to the fact that they went to mission schools belonging to religions other than theirs and were never forced to convert, nor were they marginalised.

Aside the injustice of snatching those schools from people that sweated to build them, government also wronged the Nigerian people. Through the takeover, government cut off the possibility of a healthy competition, which enhances quality in any enterprise, as well as denied the public of the discipline of value based education, which were the hallmarks of the mission schools. No doubt, if the missions had been allowed to keep and run their schools, the current resistance to the wearing of hijab in schools originally owned by Christians would not have been so abrasive.

So, given that a court in Osun State permitted female students to wear hijab to public schools, Christians should exercise the right to challenge same in the court, if they wish. However, the status quo should be maintained until a superior court either validates or reviews that judgment. By the same logic also, I think that schools originally owned by Christian missions should be returned to them so that they can as well guarantee the same measure of expression of their religion in those schools. It seems to me a real sign of disrespect and a slap in the face for government to simply overwrite the vision and intention of the original owners of Christian schools, for instance, by admitting boys into originally girls-only schools and vice versa. None of this is beyond Governor Aregbesola. Such past injustice needs to be redressed, if we are serious about building an equitable and just society in Nigeria. It is the public, which pays the price, if this is not taken into consideration.

‘Those Fanning Embers Of Discord Should Sheathe Their Sword’
(Imam Morufu Onike Abdul-Azeez, Deputy Chief Imam, NASFAT HQ, Lagos)

To say the least, recent happenings in Osun State has left a sour taste in the mouth of all those who are clamouring and praying for peaceful coexistence among various religious faithful in the nation. A particular section of the society feels that its right has been infringed upon by not allowing their children to abide by the dress code of their religion, which saw the female students covering their head with what is referred to as hijab and decided to challenge the situation in a law court of competent jurisdictions and eventually got the judgment in its favour. What would have been expected of any aggrieved party is to further challenge the ruling by appealing the judgment. But alas, what we have been witnessing is a melodrama that is making so many people, who are advocates of sincere harmonious interfaith relationship begin to think that we are only paying lip service to interfaith relationship in this country. It’s known that all religions preach submission to constituted authority: “Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to obey, to be ready to do every good work, to speak evil of no one …” (Titus 3:1-2). “O you who have attained faith! Pay heed unto God and pay heed unto the apostle and unto those from among you who have been entrusted with authority” (Qur’an 4: 59). All this does not mean that we are to disobey God in situations, where the law of man may conflict with God’s law (Acts 4: 18-20; Acts 5: 40).

I decided to cite the above case in order to establish the fact that the issue in question goes beyond the take over of school by missionaries. A sane society will allow its citizens to relate in all environments, educational institutions inclusive without the citizen compromising any of his religious values. For instance, London metropolitan police allows its officers to dress according to their religion after satisfying the minimum official uniform dress code. The same also is the case in Scotland, Canada, etc. It will surprise a lot of people to know that in the so-called Western countries we are copying e.g. America, wearing of religious headcover is protected under the constitutional right to freedom of religion. Moreover, there is no school uniform in most public schools in the U.S. However, what the Muslims are saying is that a Catholic nun should not be banned from wearing her veil to school, especially government owned school and not the religious robes that are meant for Sunday or Friday services in churches and mosques respectively.

And surprisingly, no one has told us the section of the scripture discouraging modest dressing and wearing of veils, which perhaps is not known to Mother
Theresa, who wore her veils always. Therefore, I would like to appeal to those fanning the embers of discord by using religion to further divide us to sheathe their swords. The Governor of that state has done his best in recent times to ensure that people of different faiths live together in his state despite the drum of war being beaten by some people, which is why the people of the state have refused to be dragged into any religious violence. I want to express that the continuous brouhaha on the part of a group after court ruling and despite the scriptural injunctions on modes of dressing will amount to “playing the dog in the manger” or a case of throwing sand in someone else’s garri, just because you are satisfied with your own food.

Talking about the return of schools to missionaries, doing that after the government has used the taxpayers’ money, including atheists, to develop them may not be fair enough. The holy Qur’an enjoins justice: Qur’an 16 verse 90. It will even amount to government shirking its responsibility, because a government that cannot provide education for its citizenry is better advised to go. Also, if at the formation level of our children, we have been showing them that “this is ours and that is theirs,” which the school take-over may cause, where is the demonstration of religious tolerance preached by all religions? Qur’an 25:63 “For true servants of the Most Gracious are (only) they who walk gently on earth, and who whenever the foolish address them, reply with (words of) peace.”

The ultimate solution to religious harmony is sincerity on the part of religious leaders to the slogan of good interfaith relationship, as well as ensuring respect for each other’s religious values, as preached. The umbrella bodies of religious associations in Nigeria— CAN and SCIA should always speak up.

‘Return Schools To What They Were Before Present Administration
(Rev. Francis Ejiroghene Waive, General Overseer Fresh Anointing Missionary Ministries Inc. /Senior Pastor, Church of the Anointing, Warri Delta State)

CHRISTIANS in Osun State certainly have every reason to fear and criticise the state government’s policies on the merging of schools and introduction of religious dress code in public schools. These policies will certainly begin the process of erasing Christianity from Osun State, hence the Christians there are protesting. Someone needs to remind the three arms of government in Osun State that religious wars are usually very expensive, explosive and impossible to win. This was how crisis started in Lebanon, Somalia, Syria and other theatres of war around the world.

These religious moves of the Osun State government will not reverse the falling standard of education or solve any of the many problems confronting education in that state. Our constitution provides that Nigeria is a secular state. Those who swore to uphold the constitution should not act contrary to its provisions. It is a shame that with all the developmental challenges the state is facing, it is this religious distraction and incitement that the government is promoting. It beats the imagination what informed this.

By the way, is this one of the governor’s campaign promises? Will this pay the arrears of salaries owed workers in the state? Should every governor use his position to promote his religion? Should elections now be based on religious persuasions? What is happening in Osun State is very sad and carries potentials for grave consequences and should, therefore, be condemned by all people of goodwill. In the interest of peace and progress, all schools should return to their secular status i.e. as they were before the present administration in the state came up with these satanic ideas. Otherwise, schools should be returned to their original owners, who might practise their religions in their schools, while those founded by government must remain 100 percent secular.

‘Osun State Govt Shouldn’t Be Involved In Religious Dress Code’
(Rt. Rev. (Dr.) Michael Olusina Fape, Diocese of Remo Sagamu, Ogun State)

EDUCATION, whether formal or informal, is a major component of the requirement for the individual’s growth and development; and by extension any dynamic and civilised society. Of course, nobody has the monopoly of the means of transmitting formal education within an institutional setting. It may be debated, but the fact cannot be controverted that the Christian Missions were in the forefront in the crusade for the introduction of sound Western education in Nigeria through the Church Missionary Society (CMS) and Methodist Church. While it is true that the Christian Missions pioneered and established many schools in the hey days of our country, before military incursion into Nigerian polity, later the Islamic Missions, especially the Ansar-Ud-Deen (AUD) were not also left out.

Although it is a known fact that education is a major programme of a responsible government from primary to tertiary levels, that notwithstanding, religious institutions are positive partners in the delivery of good educational policies. Education is a programme that must be operated without any religious biases or sentiments. That was the way it played out before the take-over of schools by the military. Pupils in primary schools and students in secondary schools had the liberty to attend any schools of their choice with their parents’ backing, taking cognisance of the religious traditions of those schools, but without any coercion. It must be noted also that even after the take-over of schools, there was no force to compel any pupil to attend faith-based schools. Parents, pupils and students still had the free choice of which schools to attend. Therefore, there would have been great sanity in our educational institutions, if religious institutions had been allowed to continue to manage their schools, which they founded. This would have also removed religious suspicion and confusion, as we have in Osun State today.

Certainly, what is happening in Osun State is an abuse of power, and a clear show of religious bigotry. In fact, education in Osun State has today become a laughing stock. A great damage has been done to the educational institution in Osun State, and only the grace of God and refined leadership will be able to redeem in future the great damage already done. If the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom (Psalms 111: 10; Proverbs 9: 10), there is need for those in the leadership position of Osun State to fear God, and save the common people of the state from anarchy, as is being currently experienced. Government in Osun State should focus more on important business of governance, which includes poverty alleviation, provision of good roads, decent accommodation and regular supply of electricity, rather than being involved in the murky water of religious dress code.

‘We Should Be Careful Not To Mix Religion With Govt Policy’
(Arc. Taofeek Olawunmi Agbaje, President Jama-at-ul Islamiyya of Nigeria & Overseas

THE new education policy in Osun State, which brought about the merging of elementary, middle and high schools, has nothing to do with religion. I don’t believe the policy will have any negative effect on the Muslim or Christian heritage. We should be careful not to mix religion with government policy. Both the Islamic and Christian holy books command faithful to obey governmental authorities. We must remember that God created the authorities ruling over us, just as He created us. Everyone must submit him/herself to governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted. Hijab is part of the decency and modesty of a female Muslim in line with Quranic injunction. It’s a way of life, which implies that those wearing hijab are obeying the commandment of Allah. This is different from wearing the Church Choir and church garments everywhere. Can we compare hijab with Choir robe and church garment? Hijab is part of day-to-day dressing for female Muslims, while choir robe and church garments are just seasonal and ceremonial wears.

The information I heard on the hijab problem in Osun State was that the government had at a time banned the use of hijab in public schools across the state and the Muslim Students’ Society of Nigeria (MSSN) in Osun State, feeling it was an abuse of their rights, decided with the Osun State Muslims Community to approach the High Court in 2013 to challenge the state government’s decision. In the process, the Osun CAN was joined in the suit and after about three years of legal battle, it was ruled that the state government erred in its decision to stop the wearing of hijab in public school. The court held that wearing hijab was part of the fundamental rights of female Muslims pupils. The court further ruled that any act of molestation, harassment, torture or humiliation against female Muslim students using hijab constitutes a clear infringement on their fundamental human right, as contained in 1999 Constitution of Nigeria. But this didn’t go down well with Osun CAN, which, instead of accepting the court’s verdict, proceeded to give directive to the effect that Christian students should start wearing Choir robes and other church garments to school.

The way out of this is for all the religious organisations to obey constituted authority. Osun government is a constituted authority, as well as the Osun State High Court. The Holy Qur’an and the Holy Bible speak of the relationship between the Muslim/Christian and the government. We are to obey governmental authorities. School ownership by religious organisations will not prevent the protest going on in Osun State. What we need is for the religious leaders to display high level of religious tolerance. I attended Ahmadiyya College, Agege, now Anwar-Ul-Islam College over four decades ago and we had Christian students in the school. They were allowed to attend Church service on Sunday and during the Ramadan fasting, the school provided food for them in the afternoon. They were not forced to fast. Many of our teachers were Christians and among them were the Vice Principal and the Housemaster. Then, there was a high level of religious tolerance. That is what we need now.

‘Govt Took Over Schools‎ Previously Owned By Religious Organisations And Offered Compensations’
(Professor Dawud O. S. Noibi is the Executive Secretary/CEO Muslim Ummah of South West Nigeria (MUSWEN)

THE matter has nothing to do with the merging of schools in the state, as the constitutional rights of a person is not affected by the type of school he or she attends. The crisis arose, when the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), supported by a large section of the media in the South West, rejected the ruling‎ of a high court in the state to the effect that female Muslim pupils/students have the right to wear the hijab, even when they are in school uniform. The reaction of CAN does not seem proportionate to the court ruling ‎to which they are objecting. The ruling is not a substitution for Islamic attire for the school uniform. To instigate Christian students to come to school in their various church attires is, therefore, to say the least, disappointing.

The mistake was perhaps due to lack of understanding of the status of the hijab, as part of the dress of a female Muslim. The hijab is not just a religious symbol, but also a religious requirement, for the non-fulfilment of which, the individual ‎or her parent is accountable before Allah on Judgment Day. It is from this angle that we should all consider this matter against the background of Section 38 (1) of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria, which ‎states 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” (emphasis is mine). In the Qur’an 24: 31, Allah states how a Muslim woman should be dressed, especially when she appears in public and it includes the covering of her head and bosom. This directive applies to all Muslim women that have attained puberty and are, therefore, under obligation to carry out prescribed religious duties. Obviously, most of the female students in secondary schools are already in this category in these days, when, sadly, 13-year old girls are giving birth to children.

Even the younger Muslim girls cannot be denied the right to wear the hijab on the grounds that they have not attained puberty. Islamic tenets include ‎the directive that parents teach and encourage their children, male and female, to observe the FIVE daily prayers, when they attain the age of SEVEN and to be strict with them over it when they are 10 so that they get used to it, as they grow older. By the jurisprudential principle of analogy (qiyaas), this should be applied to dress as well. So, a female Muslim pupil in a primary school would be exercising her constitutional right, if she chooses to wear the hijab, while in her school uniform.

It is well known that the Nigerian Constitution prevails, where any law or administrative directive conflicts with it. So, no school proprietor can lawfully deny a female Muslim ‎pupil/student the right to wear the hijab, not even in a private school, let alone a public one. That leads to the question of ownership of schools. In 1975, the government took over schools‎ previously owned by religious organisations or individuals and offered compensations. Even prior to the take over, virtually all such schools were grant-aided by government with taxpayers’ money. Therefore, aside the issue of constitutional right, the previous proprietors of such schools had no moral justification to deny a female Muslim pupil/student her right in this regard. This is, more so, with respect to such schools that were community owned originally, having been jointly established by Christians and Muslims, but later regarded as Christian schools by one means or another. Such schools abound in some states in the South West, including Osun State.

In view of the above comments, I wish to advise CAN leadership in Osun State to deeply consider the advice of my friend, John Cardinal Onaiyekan, the Catholic Archbishop ‎of Abuja, which he offered at the recent Roundtable on Law and Religion. His Grace said the nation should adopt the policy that no law should prohibit what religion prescribes or require citizens to do what religion prohibibits. CAN and Osun State should learn a lesson from this advice. Besides, on purely moral grounds one may ask: how does a Muslim girl’s wearing of the hijab offend a Christian? Moreover, the court ruling does not compel all Muslim students to wear the hijab. It is left entirely to the choice of the individual student, who wishes to obey the order coming from her Creator. Let us all learn to adopt the spirit of give and take‎ and accord our judiciary the respect that it deserves.

‘If Nigeria Is Truly Secular, Let State Owned Schools Be Run By State And Vice Versa’
(Pastor Clement Emekene, Senior Pastor, Glory Reign Assembly Port Harcourt)

THIS issue of religious infiltration into governance in a supposed secular state like Nigeria is a huge distraction. In order to address this problem of wearing hijab and other religious costumes and robes to public schools, schools that belonged to the missions should immediately be handed back to their original owners. If this had been the case, the problem brewing in Osun State may not have even arisen in the first place. In the light of today’s reality in Nigeria, the matter has run deeper, wider and more complicated, if not altogether convoluted than ever. The wearing of hijab in public schools, whether in Osun State or any other state in Nigeria is a clear violation of the sacrosanct secular status of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. There has been a steady infringement and continuous incursion of a planned Islamisation of Nigeria by some elements among the Muslim community in Nigeria. It was the late General Murtala Mohammed, who in the wake of his regime in the 70s decreed the takeover of mission schools in Nigeria. Some of the reasons adduced then included the challenge of funding, uniformity and so on. But it’s becoming clearer now that the real motive for that misadventure was and still is a hidden Islamic agenda aimed at total Islamisation of the entire country. Otherwise, what is the business of a responsible government combining the undertaking of worthwhile developmental programmes with religious practices in public schools in a supposedly secular nation such as ours?

In any case, if those in power believe in imposing their faith on others, then let them be ready for the kind of reactions we are seeing now in Osun State. On a very serious note, I think Osun State governor is playing what I will describe as politics of distraction. He has craftily hidden this in his hijab decree. The governor is doing this hijab rumpus in the face of the collapsed economy of Osun State, the unresolved problem of unpaid hungry state workers, the impoverished and penurious condition of pensioners, neglected sick and frail elderly citizens. Now this hijab matter is helping to heighten workers’ plight and other socioeconomic problems. Or does he think that this will make the problems invisible? Is Nigeria a religious or secular nation? If the country is secular, then state owned schools should be state schools and secular indeed. Let the religious bodies take back their schools and run them. Then they will have the liberty to impose whatever they like on their pupils and students, including their lifestyles. The level of control exercised by the religious body will ultimately influence the extent to which it can control the way of life of those that buy into their religious practices.

‘It Is Time To Domesticate School Uniforms To Suit Religious And Cultural Diversity’
(Alhaj Nasir Awhelebe Uhor, Rivers State Islamic Leader/Vice President General, NSCIA Rivers State branch)

THERE is nothing wrong in having individuals, organisations owning and running the schools they established. Way back in the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s, government and private schools co-existed competitively. Such private schools included individual, Christian and Muslim mission schools. Looking back, one can’t say the country was the worse for it. I am not fully versed in Osun State’s new education policy, but given the objections raised by Christians over the new policy, the government might have found it more rewarding had it engaged all the stake-holders in a sustained and exhaustive dialogue with a view to allaying perceived fears, and ironing out grey areas of the new policy.

Beyond that, one cannot completely rule out the issue of religious bigotry in the on-going protest by Christians in Osun State. Matters came to a head, when a high court granted Muslim female students the right to wear their hijab on their school uniform. The court saw that the hijab is an integral part of female Muslim dress code wherever they maybe within or outside home at all times. In their objection, the Christians claimed that the right granted the Muslims was part of a grand design by the state government to Islamise all schools in the state under the new education policy. In protest, they ordered their children and wards to also exercise their implied right to wear to school their church garments. And children and wards complied.

I still cannot fathom the logic behind their claim and directive to their children. Osun CAN only succeeded in ridiculing itself. I was opportune to visit a mixed school in Kaduna. I have also watched some other schools in the North during news on television, where female Muslim students in their hijab learn side by side and play together with their Christian classmates. No hassles. No inhibitions. So why not in Osun and elsewhere for that matter? Right from infancy, Muslim female kids are taught to respect their dignity and womanhood by wearing hijab, as stipulated in the Holy Qur’an. The hijab is meant to cover all the sensitive parts of their body at all times and places, except when they are within their rooms and secluded compounds. They grow and become adults in their hijab. So, denying them their hijab in school is like stripping them.

We do know that there is nowhere in all the versions of the Holy Bible, where Christians were directed by God to wear such church garments as choir gowns, etc, as part of their everyday dress code at home or outside home. Since CAN has already forced its pupils and students in Osun to wear church garments over their uniforms, it should go the whole hog by ordering adult female Christians to do same by wearing church garments over their dress at home, churches, places of work, farms and markets, as Muslim females do. As a solution to this hijab/uniform issues, I think it is time we domesticated uniforms to suit our religious and cultural diversity. The present obsession with uniforms, as bequeathed to us by the colonial masters argues for such a review. Above all, there should be established a culture of sustained mutually friendly dialogue of stakeholders before a major far-reaching decision is taken by governments and organisations.

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