Amid heightened cases of insecurity, kidnapping, terrorism and ethnic violence ravaging our country, Nigeria, the city of Ilorin, Kwara State would have been enmeshed in a religious crisis between the adherents of Islam and Christianity if not for the urgent intervention of the State government.
Muslim News reports that the Kwara State Governor, AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq took some deft steps which averted what could have degenerated into a full-blown religious crisis in the ancient city of Ilorin.
The cause was allegations of intolerance and denial of divinely ordained and constitutionally guaranteed rights of Muslim female students to use short, matching hijabs on school uniforms in government owned schools, Muslim News investigations have revealed.
The age-long controversy over the use of Hijab, the Muslim headscarves, came to the fore when on Monday, February 15, some public schools formerly owned by the Christian missionaries in Ilorin reportedly supervised the removal of hijabs from Muslim female students, claiming it wasn’t part of the conventional uniforms.
The affected schools are; C&S College Sabo Oke, St. Anthony College, Offa Road, ECWA School, Oja Iya, Surulere Baptist Secondary School, Bishop Smith Secondary School, Agba Dam, CAC Secondary School Asa Dam, St. Barnabas Secondary School Sabo Oke, St. John School Maraba, St. Williams Secondary School Taiwo Isale and St. James Secondary School Maraba.
Kwara State Muslim stakeholders and individuals immediately reacted to what they described as flagrant impediment of the students’ constitutional rights, insisting that there is a standing rule in favour of the use of the hijab at the Appellate court, both in Kwara and Lagos, and the judgment, can be applied to any hijab-related issues across the country.
Muslim News can confirm that there is no proof that the Christian bodies in the State of Harmony, as Kwara is fondly called, have challenged the ruling at the Supreme court.
Several Muslim youth and women organisations, including the Federation of Muslim Women’s Associations in Nigeria (FOMWAN) argued that the religious apparel is not a privilege but divinely-ordained and constitutionally guaranteed right of the female students, who are willing to adorn it.
In a letter, titled: ‘End Intimidation of female Muslim students in Kwara’, the Muslim Students Society of Nigeria (MSSN), Kwara State Area Unit raised alarm over denial of Muslim school girls to use the hijab on their school uniforms in some public schools.
According to the Muslim Students’ body, “On Monday, February 15 and this morning (Tuesday, February 16), teachers in the purported Christian Missionary schools were asked to yank off the hijab from Muslim students’ heads while entering the school premises.
“Firstly, these schools have been taken over by the government since the 1970s. Secondly, the Muslimvchildren constitute over 80% of the students’ population in these schools by virtue of the overwhelming majority of the Muslims in the state.
“Thirdly, following several previous cases of this sort in Kwara State and many other states in Nigeria, court rulings have established that Muslims have the fundamental human rights to freely practise and exercise their religious beliefs, the use of hijab inclusive,” the statement read in part.
Multiple media reports quoted the former missionary school owners saying at the meeting held on Tuesday, February 16, in the office of Secretary to the state government that they were not concerned about the judgements of the Kwara state High Court and Appeal Court.
The society, alongside other religious groups, on behalf of the entire Muslims in the State, therefore called on the State government to step in by taking extraordinary steps in finding a lasting solution to the incessant denial of the innocent students’ rights.
Kwara govt sets up committee over Hijab
Sensing the lingering debate over the hijab could degenerate to religious crisis in the State, the Gov Abdurrazaq-led government on Wednesday, February 17, summoned a stakeholders’ meeting involving key Muslim and Christian leaders in the state to deliberate on interfaith peaceful coexistence and resolve issues relating to the use of the Muslim head coverings, among other things, in public schools.
The meeting was held on Thursday, February 18 at the office of the Deputy Governor, Mr. Kayode Alabi, who appealed to the leaders of Muslim and Christian communities “to respect their differences, live in peace and love, and join hands to raise a generation of children who will see one another as compatriots.”
At the end of the meeting, a Committee led by the Deputy Governor as the Chairman was formed to resolve the lingering hijab crisis.
In a statement issued by the Chief Press Secretary to the Deputy Governor, Modupe Joel, members of the Committee include the two elder statesmen from the two sides; three religious leaders from the two sides.
“Others are Senator Suleiman Ajadi; Prince Sunday Fagbemi; Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Justice; Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Education; Special Assistants to the Governor on Religion (Islam and Christianity); and the Chief Press Secretary to the Governor,” it added.
Baptist School defies govt peace meeting, lock out Muslim students
When one would have thought that the outcome of the meeting would have brought relative peace, the management of Baptist Secondary School, Surulere, defied government’s peace meeting barely 24 hours after, by locking out innocent Muslim students over the hijab.
Parents and guardians of the affected students trooped out in their numbers to peacefully protest what they regarded as a violation of fundamental rights guaranteed by the constitution, on Friday, February 19.
They alleged their wards were harassed by security officers on the orders of the management of one of the affected schools over the use of hijab.
The Proprietor of Baptist Secondary School, Surulere, Mr Victor Dada, who didn’t deny the incident argued in an interview on Channels TV, which was monitored by Muslim News, that Muslim students would not be allowed to don the hijab, saying it does not align with the principle and practice of the Baptist church. He stated that the control of the school still lies with the missionary which dictates the uniform, adding, “Hijab is not part of our school uniform”.
Kwara govt calms protesters, orders shutdown of affected schools
In swift response to the Friday demonstration by Muslims over the hijab, the Kwara State government ordered the shutdown of all the affected schools.
This happened as a delegation from the state government led by the Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, Mr. Rafiu Ajakaye accompanied by security agencies visited the protest scene in Surulere to calm the situation.
A statement by Mrs Mary Kemi Adeosun, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Education and Human Capital Development on Friday announced the directive which affected 10 schools, pending resolution of the hijab question in the schools (as mentioned above)
“The closure comes as a government committee comprising representatives of the Muslim and Christian communities meets today to iron out the differences between the two communities. Further communication will be issued to inform members of the public on the development.
Government calls for calm and urges parents and religious leaders to avoid actions or comments that may further split the two communities,” the statement read.
‘Closure of schools, short term solution to avert crisis — Hijab Rights Group
One of Nigerian leading organisations, Hijab Rights Advocacy Initiative (HRAI) said though the closure of schools is a short term solution to avert crisis, it does nothing but perpetuate injustice and breeds more chaos and unrest in the long run.
Speaking with Muslim News on Saturday, February 20, in Lagos, the Director of the Hijab rights advocacy group, Barrister Mutiat Orolu-Balogun noted that every citizen of Nigeria has rights guaranteed under the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, saying these rights are not contingent upon the rights of another.
According to her, the matter of the Hijab has been settled by the courts in Plethora of cases. It is a right guaranteed by the constitution and thus it is a sheer waste of time and resources to set up a committee on a matter that that been concluded upon.
“The Muslim girls should be allowed to wear their hijab, others that also have rights they feel has been trampled upon should seek out lawful avenues to uphold their rights, if not, the society will descend into chaos. The Kwara state government should therefore uphold the constitution from where it also derives its legitimacy and powers from,” she concluded.
THE INCORPORATED TRUSTEES OF CHRISTIAN ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA & ORS V. THE KWARA STATE GOVERNMENT & ORS
In the Court of Appeal of Nigeria on Thursday, the 20th day of September, 2019
The appellants see the wearing of hijab by students of the schools under focus as provoking enough and an insult on the school or institution established to practice Christian religious doctrines.
There is no evidence coming from them on record as would suggest that Christian female students were compelled to wear the hijab. The hijab, the practice where Muslim female cover their heads with veil or head cover, is an act of i’baadah (worship) as recognised in the Islamic religious worship.
This act or practice is also in tune with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,1999 (as amended), See in particular section 38(1) See Provost Kwara State College of Education Ilorin & 2 Ors v. Bashirat Saliu & 2 Ors (Unreported) Appeal No. CA/K/49/2006 of 18th June, 2009.See further, the decision of this court in Abdulkareem v. Lagos State Government (2016) 15 NWLR (Pt. 1535) 177.
The appellants, thus have no right to complain of acts which do not impugn on them. See: Adewole ors v. Alhaji Jakande & ors (1981) NCLR 262.
The submission made on behalf of the appellants that section 38(3) of the Constitution allow them or give them the exclusive right to make Christianity the only norm in the schools under focus is only wishful thinking. Such is not tenable in a heterogenous set-up such as the schools under focus where students and pupils alike do not belong to the same religious community or denomination.
Students and pupils of those schools come from different backgrounds and so there is no semblance of homogeneity amongst these students as to permit the imposition o the practice, the appellants have in mind over those schools.
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