Opinion

How Hijab Storm Forced Closure Of 10 Kwara Schools

The controversy over the use of  hijab in mission schools in Kwara State has been long running
The controversy over the use of hijab in missionary schools in Kwara State has been long running

By Abdullateef Aliyu

Mon Feb 22 2021

dailytrust.com

The hijab controversy in Kwara State dates back to 2012 when Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed was in power. However, nine years after, the controversy still rages, threatening the peace and harmony in the state, reports Daily Trust.

The Kwara State Government last week ordered the immediate closure of 10 grant-aided missionary schools following a controversy generated by the use of hijab.

The closure of the schools followed a crisis over the use of hijabs by some female Muslim students, which was stoutly resisted by the schools authorities. With Muslim groups pushing for the rights of the girls to wear the hijab to school, tensions heightened and the Governor directed the closure of the schools pending the resolution of the issues by a committee led by his deputy.

The affected schools are C&S College, Sabo Oke; St. Anthony College, Offa Road, ECWA School, Oja Iya, Surulere Baptist Secondary School and Bishop Smith Secondary School, Agba Dam.

Others are 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.

The Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Education and Human Capital Development, Mrs Mary Kemi Adeosun in a statement on Friday said, “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.”

She called for calm and urged parents and religious leaders not to create chaos.

The genesis

In 2012, proprietors of mission schools and their affiliated churches approached the state government with a demand to return their schools, which the government had taken over.

It became a thorny issue at the time as the state government said such demands could not be met until the state’s Education Law of 2006 was repealed.

The schools in question were partly taken over by the government in 1974 under the programme of ‘Government’s grant in aid to schools.’

However, the Christian groups like the Incorporated Trustees of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), and Incorporated Trustees of all missionary groups comprising African Church, Cherubim and Seraphim, Baptist Convention, ECWA, among others sued the state government.

The Kwara Muslim Community, which has been having a running battle with the missionary schools over refusal to allow female Muslim students to use hijab in those schools, applied to be joined in the suit.

On May 17, 2016, the state high court however delivered its verdict in favour of the state government.

The judgement was further affirmed in the Court of Appeal Ilorin Division filed by the concerned Incorporated Trustees of the Christian Organisations.

In a unanimous decision by the four-man panel, the Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment of the Lower Court and ruled that the Appellants lack the right to make Christianity the only standard in the schools while affirming the power of the state government over the schools.

In the lead judgement delivered by Justice Saidu Tanko Hussein, the court held that the refusal of the schools to allow the use of hijab is discriminatory as it is a practice “in tune with the Constitution.”

“The submission made on behalf of the appellants that section 38(3) of the Constitution allows 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 heterogeneous set-up such as the schools under focus where students and pupils alike do not belong to the same religious community or denomination.

“The appeal on the whole falls and the same is dismissed as lacking in merit hence the judgement of the High Court of Justice of Kwara State delivered on the 17th May 2016 in Suit No. KWS/20C/2015 is affirmed,” the judge said.

He added, “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 the 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 not the case. Rather, it is the appellants who are not happy to see the 1st – 3rd respondents continue to allow certain policies being introduced into those schools. They failed to realise that the schools under focus, some of which are co-educational, multi-ethnic and co-religious institutions, have been run or managed as such public institutions for well over a period of 40 years.”

Since September 2019 when the judgment was delivered, there was no appeal filed to the Supreme Court to challenge the judgement though the state government did not also issue a circular in line with the verdicts of both the lower court and the Appellate Court.

Daily Trust learnt that based on this, the Concerned Muslim Stakeholders decided that since the judgement was not appealed and the fact that the judgement is already statute-barred since it was not appealed after six months, the students, as well as Muslim staff of the schools, should attend schools last Monday with their hijab.

However, this was resisted in all the schools as hijab-wearing students and staff were shut out.

At Baptist Secondary School, Surulere Ilorin, one of the schools in focus, there was a near breakdown of law and order when the Muslim students and teachers attempted to resume with their hijabs on.

This was why the state government quickly moved in to close down other schools to avert any violence. A meeting with the representatives of the Christian and Muslim communities presided over by the Secretary to the State Government, Mamman Saba Jibril, could not resolve the crisis.

Also on Saturday, another meeting led by the Deputy Governor, Kayode Alabi, ended in a deadlock as both parties are not ready to shift ground.

While the Muslim Community insists the children would begin to use hijab as the Appeal Court judgement was never appealed, the Christian stakeholders say the schools remain theirs and they have the right to prescribe uniforms for the students.

“The court did not in any way say we are not the owners of the schools,” said President of Baptist Convention, Mr Victor Dada.

“They (the Muslim Stakeholders) said the Muslim students must start wearing hijab and we made it very clear to them that is not possible. This is a mission school. This mission school is grant-aided by the government, right but notwithstanding, we are the owners. The proprietors and I made them to understand that whatever is not in line with the principle and practice of our church and denomination will not be allowed here,” he said.

But the spokesman of the Concerned Muslim Stakeholders, Isiaq Abdulkareem, faulted the failure of the state government to implement the judgement of the Court of Appeal by issuing the necessary circular.

They demanded the government should issue a public statement on the judgement and direct the schools to allow Muslim children to practice Islam in all ramifications.

Another member of the Muslim Stakeholders’ forum in a conversation with Daily Trust, on condition of anonymity, insists the state government must implement the court judgement.

When contacted yesterday, the Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, Mr Rafiu Ajakaye, said the government would soon issue a public statement on the development.

However, interested parties are calling for calm as the government moves to find a lasting solution to the issue while the affected schools remain shut.

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