Kwara State was recently in the news over Hijab misconception which nearly put Ilorin, the state capital into an unsual religious crisis. Although this is an issue I had earlier decided not to comment on but this response was prompted by an assertion made by Bishop David Oyedepo, the Founder of Living Faith Church also known as Winners Chapel in his church. The Bishop who is also a Kwaran has asserted:
“It is such a nasty development in Kwara state where Muslims are asking their students in our schools to wear Hijab, and the church said ‘no’. I have never seen a place in my life where a tenant will be decreeing for the landlord …you know the reason why? We have never shown the world the other side of God. God is not a toy .Ours is consuming fire, let us show them the consuming fire of God, they need to know .Leave the schools for the owners, go to your schools, is there any fight? Stop putting fingers in the eyes of others. The church is a time bomb when God turns his back on anybody or any system, that system is grounded. My advice is leave the schools for the owners, find your schools…men and women can wear hijab there…Stop putting your fingers in the eyes of others when they are not blind”
Ordinarily one would have ignored the above assertion by Bishop Oyedepo, but when an assertion is seen to be misleading and inciting, it is the duty of those that know better to respond to set the record straight so that the multitude will not to be led astray by those who know nothing about the situation on the ground but are only out to create mischief on the land. I doubt if Bishop Oyedepo is aware of the judgment of the Court of Appeal, Ilorin judicial division delivered on Thursday 20th September 2019 in CA/IL/108/2016 – Incorporated Trustees of Christian Association of Nigeria & Ors Vs. Kwara State Government & Ors. The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) having earlier done the wise thing by going to the High Court of Kwara State to ventilate their grievances, but upon refusal of their claims by the lower court, they proceeded to the Court of Appeal to exercise their right of appeal which they are entitled to.
For the benefit of those who have not been privileged to read the judgment of the appellate court, I will here quote extensively the relevant parts of the decision reflecting the claims of the CAN in that case. Since the case bothered on constitutional issue, five Justices of the Court of Appeal i.e. Mojeed Adekunle Owoade; Sai’du Tanko Hussein (read the lead judgment); Hamma Akawu Barka; Misitura Omedere Bolaj-Yusuf; Boloukuromo Moses Ugo, JJCA sat in the panel that heard the appeal. According to the Court of Appeal in its judgment:
“…With the introduction of schools grant in aid programme by government, sometime in 1974, there was the clamour from various religious denominations including the 3rd -11th Appellants requesting the 1st -3rd Respondents to take over the schools established by them in order to enjoy the grant in aid programme…The surrender of those schools by 3rd -11th Appellants was not shown to have been made on any conditions… Government nonetheless came in to promulgate the Kwara State Education Law of 1974 .The law has since then been reviewed a lot of times, the extant or the existing law on this point is the Kwara State Education Law of 2006…
“….In any case all the hullaballoo surrounding the question whether the identified schools are ‘public school’ has been laid to rest by the definition of that term at section 41 of the Kwara State Compulsory Free Universal Basic Education to mean ‘A school which is assisted out of funds provided by the Federal or state or local Government’. ”
The Court of Appeal continues:
“The Appellants are not disputing the fact that over 150 schools identified by them are beneficiaries of government grant , an arrangement whereby the 1st and 3rd Respondents provide grants –in aid for the affected schools, give regulations on the academic and administrative activities /programmes of the school, recruit ,post and transfer staff, pay salaries ,allowances, benefits and other emoluments of the staff of the schools ,build class rooms ,provide infrastructures and facilities for the schools, hence the affected schools in the light of all these are under the control and management of government as represented by the 1st and 3rd Respondents, they are ‘public’ and not ‘private’ schools or institutions and this arrangement has subsisted over the years ,since 1974 under a law known as the Education Law of Kwara State. The law has been reviewed a couple of times…”
“I am not unaware of the submissions made by the Appellants in this regard through learned counsel representing them. To them the introduction of of certain policies to the schools under focus by government: such as the conversion of classrooms into mosques, the ‘flooding’ of this schools with Islamic Teachers, the wearing of Hijab by female students and pupils among others, are policies or acts which are antithetical to Christian doctrines and values upon which the schools were established by the owners i.e the appellants and for which reason there was an infraction of the appellants’ rights to run , manage and propagate the Christian religion and values as guaranteed under section 38 of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,1999 (as amended).Mention was also made of section 44 of the same constitution…
‘The provision, particularly provision of subsection 1 of section 38, guarantees freedom therein contained to the appellants and all students admitted to the schools under focus .Every person has a right to conduct himself in a manner permitted by his religious calling, but the provision –does not permit any person under the guise of propagating his religion to impose his beliefs on another person who does not belong to the same religious calling with him”
“The Appellants have by no means alleged the restriction of Christian students from the practice of their religion or that Christian students were prohibited by 1st -3rd Respondents from the practice of their religion by reason of the control exerted by them in the management of the affairs of those schools .If that were the case ,their grievance would have been understood as genuine. This is a case .Rather it is the Appellants, who are not happy to see the 1st -3rd Respondents continue to allow certain policies being introduced to those schools under focus ,some of which are co-educational, multi-ethnic and co-religious institutions, have been run or managed as such public institution for well over a period of 40 years. The control and management of those identified schools, in their own way , by the Appellants in line with their Christian beliefs and values ,not minding the heterogeneous nature of those schools ,smacks discriminatory. The Constitution under S. 42 (1) prohibits those tendencies which the Appellants want to bring to bear .Section 38 (2) also forbids it.It sounds rather ironic to me that the Appellants who cry foul and shouted to high heaven that their rights to freedom of thought , conscience and religion had been violated , are the same group who are hell bent to unleash their own practices on the other people who are not of the same religious inclination. The Appellants see the wearing of hijab by students of the school under focus as provoking enough and an insult in 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 hijab .The Hijab, the practice where Moslem female cover their heads with veil or head cover ,is an act of Ibadah or 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)…”
Since the above quoted parts of the judgment of the Court of Appeal are written in clean English Language, I do not think anyone needs to be a Professor of English language to understand what the Court of Appeal has decided in the case as the judgment speaks for itself. Some of the questions need to be answered by Bishop Oyedepo are : Where is the justification for his assertion of “our schools” in his above statement in view of the Court of Appeal Judgment? In what way, is wearing of Hijab by a Female Muslim student antithetical to Christian doctrines? Were women during the biblical time not wearing the similarity of hijab or veil? Is Bishop Oyedepo also closing the gate of his Covenant University against Female Muslim Students putting on hijab of veil? What other side of God, is he threatening to show? Is Bishop Oyedepo calling on his brethren to take up arms against the Kwara State Government?
Bishop Oyedepo also boasted and talked about “landlords and tenants”. But other questions to him are: if the real owners of the land had not been tolerant and accommodating to the Christian Missionaries by given them the land to build their churches and schools, can they claim ownership of any land today? Were those schools not willingly handed over to the Government? Can one eat one’s cake and still have it? The most disheartening thing during the recent hijab crisis in Ilorin was that some Christian fanatics went to the extreme of destroying the Muslim students’ Mosque at Bishop Smith Memorial College at night and charted away their properties. They had earlier during the day chased those students away. The hoodlums also blocked the well being used by Muslim students to perform ablution for prayers on the false claim that the school belong to them and Muslims wearing hijab have no right to be there. It is this kind of madness that sometime lead to crisis, if the other side had not been patient enough .This country today needs religious understanding and tolerance and not religious incitement or confusion as religions are not set up for destruction but rather to create peace and harmony among people from different backgrounds.
On what Bishop David Oyedepo referred to as their schools where hijab are not wanted, it is necessary to let the Bishop be aware, if he does not know till day that those schools do not belong to them or anyone but rather to the Government of Kwara State. The Bishop should not allow himself to be misled by the fact that those schools still retain their Christian names i.e Baptist, Bishop Smith, St. Anthony or Mount Camel among others. There are stiil those that bear the Muslim or Community names like Ansar Islam or Ansar Deen or Baboko or Barakat but that does not take away the fact that they all belong to the government after being taken over from their original owners. The school that is today called Ilorin Grammar School,(IGS), Ilorin was originally known as Ilorin Community School established by the father of the incumbent Governor of Kwara State who he is now late in person of Alhaji AbdulGaniyu Folorunsho Abdulrasaq (SAN). He was the first lawyer from the old Northern Region of Nigeria. Can the incumbent Governor today claim ownership of that school because it was established by his father, after being taken over by the government ? The answer to this is capital NO. I dare say that Bishop Oyedepo’s assertion is false, unfounded and misleading. .
In wake of Amasa Firdaus’s Hijah’s call to bar ceremony, I had written under an article titled CALL TO BAR AND HIJAB CONTROVERSY as follows:
“…Now that Amasa Firdaus has been called to the bar by the Body of Benchers with her Hijab, the controversy seems to have resurfaced. The argument by some of our colleagues that the call to bar of Firdaus by the Body of Bencher will now open the flood gate to all kinds of people to come with their various religious attires asking to be called to the bar, to me is an argument that cannot hold water. The question that I have been asking some of those who have engaged me in discussion is that: Is there anything harmful in this simple Hijab wears by this lady? The explanation I have given to some people who care to listen is that any Muslim lady that adopts the type of Hijab wears by Firdaus wears it to everywhere she goes. It is not mainly for religious or ceremonial purpose. Everywhere she goes she makes it to form part of daily dressing. Can this be said of other religious or ceremonial attires?”
It is very unfortunate that we live in a country where some people only respect the court judgment in their favour .When a judgment is against them ,they do everything to undermine it. If the Appellants (CAN) are still aggrieved by the judgment of the Court of Appeal, the best they should do is to tell their lawyers to proceed to the Supreme Court, the highest court in the land rather than closing schoos’l gates against the Female Muslim Students wearing Hijab as that would amount to a contempt of court that is punishable under the law. In the case of Abdulkareem Vs Lagos State Government (2016) 15 NWLR (Pt. 1535) 177, the Court of Appeal held that:
“… The refusals to allow the 1st and 2nd appellants wear Hijab on their school uniforms during or after school hours breached their right to freedom of religion because, the wearing of hijab by female Muslims constitutes an act of Islamic worship…”
The issue at hand is that of law and not sentiment. Will the law allow the breach of fundamental rights of any citizen? The answer is capital NO! It will amount to hypocrisy for anyone to argue that the right of a Female Muslim Students to wear hijab should not be protected as guaranteed under the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Another unfortunate thing on this issue is that our Human Rights activists have gone mute. Is Human Rights agitation now becoming selective in this country? We should not allow unnecessary hatred for others to becloud our sense of reasoning and the need to be tolerant to one another. What threat does the wearing of hijab pose to any decent society? Will it be rational to stand against its being used by anyone who desires it in this period when higher institutions of learning are trying to regulate dressing particularly among women to ensure decency? Can any rational or objective mind kick against the wearing of Hijab by Muslim women? Simon Kolawole (SK), a journalist and columnist wrote in his ThisDay Newspaper on Sunday Column of 21st March 2021 as follows:
“…I have never hidden my view on Hijab: I have absolutely nothing against people wearing it to school, same way I don’t care if you wear ‘deeper life’ scarve .the schools where crisis have erupted are owned and funded 100 percent by the state ,not by any church or mosque. Anybody who feels aggrieved by the government policy should please go to court rather than stir strife. Self-help will only worsen matter. Aviodable!”
We have had a situation where some people have gone to court to ventilate their grievances but have refused to accept the verdict of the court Those religious leaders that ought to advise their followers to be law abiding are now threatening to show the other side of their God, the meaning of which is best known to them. With the boasting of Bishop David Oyedepo, if there is any further breakdown of law and order, those in authorities should know the direction to turn to.In a decent society, nobody is above the law.
▪︎Abdulrasheed Ibrahim, LL.M, Notary Public
NOTE: Anyone is at liberty to disagree with my above submissions as I will surely appreciate a balanced, fair and objective rebuttal.
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