New Telegraph

February 24, 2024

Flowing in the tide of hijab controversy

Fourteen days ago, the Kwara State Government had directed the 10 Christian mission schools shut down over the hijab crisis to reopen saying peace building efforts continue. The directive, government reasoned, was to allow the students prepare for their West African Senior School Certificate Examination.

Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Education and Human Capital Development, Mrs. Mary Kemi Adeosun had issued the statement on behalf of the state government, saying government was convinced that its policy to allow willing Muslim schoolgirls to wear their hijab in public schools would lead to sustainable peace and communal harmony anchored on mutual respect and understanding. The statement reads “This path to mutual respect, understanding, and peace with regards to hijab had long been adopted in all of the northern Nigeria and many states in the Southwest such as Lagos, Osun, Ekiti, and Oyo States.

“As the students resume normal classes, the government took special notice of the plight of those of them preparing for the West African Senior School Certificate Examination and hereby directs affected schools to hold at least two-hour extra lesson for all the intending candidates after school hours daily.

The government will provide light lunch for the students until the beginning of their exams while teachers allotted for the extra coaching will get stipends for their efforts. “This is to bring the students up to speed ahead of the impending external examination.

The closure of the schools was necessary to forestall security breaches which may affect lives and properties. “The government sincerely commends the Christian and Muslim leaders for their understandings and their efforts to build peace within their respective communities in the past weeks. It urges everyone to join hands with the government to raise a generation of schoolchildren who will respect one another’s differences and together build a sustainable future for our state. “Finally, the government reminds all its employees such as school principals and teachers in the affected schools to take special note of the policy.

There will be zero tolerance for violations of anyone’s fundamental human rights under their watch.” However, the reopening of the schools March 19 as directed by the state government was marred by pandemonium as both Christian and Muslim faithful engaged themselves in war of words, resulting in the pelting of one another with stones and other dangerous objects. No fewer than five people were reported to have been injured in the ensuing fracas. The situation was worse in Baptist Secondary school, Surulere as security operatives had to disperse the warring Muslim and Christian faithful to bring the situation to normalcy.

Security agencies like police, civil defence corps and soldiers were deployed in the affected schools to prevent breakdown of law and order. As early as 7.30 am on the fateful day, students of the affected schools that trooped out to comply with the state government’s directive to resume normal classes were disappointed as they were turned back at their respective schools. The students who were eager to resume could not gain entrance into the schools as leaders of the Christian faith and their members were already at the main gates of the affected schools, asking the students to go back home.

The Christians, carrying placards with various inscriptions like: “O To Ge (Enough is Enough); Give our schools back to us; No to Hijab in our schools; Kwara is not an Islamic state; Kwara is for all; Our schools are our heritage; We oppose the use of Hijab in our schools. “Security operatives had to take over the affected schools in order to prevent breaking down of law and order in the state.

As the hijab crisis lingers, Executive Chairman of the state’s Teaching Service Commission (TESCOM), Bello Tahueed Abubakar, on Thursday directed principals, teachers and other staff of the 10 grant aided mission schools to report for duty in their respective schools on Friday, March 19, 2021.

The Chairman, in a statement, explained that this became necessary in order to prepare the final year students for their external examinations, threatening that failure to report would attract the full wrath of the law. He added that government would not condone any act of insubordination. Abubakar also warned all stakeholders against taking law into their hands, stressing that peace meeting continues between the government and the stakeholders.

The Chairman explained that the government regretted the inconveniences the shutdown might have caused the students, adding that the action was taken in the interest of peace. He also appealed to parents and mem-bers of the public to remain calm as government was on top of the situation since its meeting with stakeholders is still ongoing. However, despite government’s order that teachers of the 10 grant aided mission schools should resume work, some Christian mission proprietors refused to open their schools, insisting they would not allow the use of hijab in their schools. The schools included Cherubim and Seraphim College, St. Anthony’s Secondary School and Bishop Smith Memorial College, all in Ilorin.

When New Telegraph visited Cherubim and Seraphim College, Ilorin, to monitor compliance with government’s directive, Christian faithful, in large numbers were seen singing and praying outside the school’s gate, while the teachers were also seen loitering and discussing in groups.

A load of sand was also seen in front of the school gate to prevent the teachers and students from entering the school. Although teachers also turned up at St. Anthony’s Secondary School as directed by the state government, they were seen outside in groups discussing the situation.

The situation at Baptist School, Surulere, where there was fracas two days ago, was, however, peaceful as teachers gathered in groups inside the school, discussing. Government later broke open the gates of some of the grant aided mission schools that were still under lock and key.

It was gathered that the forceful opening of the gates of St. Anthony’s Secondary School and Cherubim and Seraphim College was done in the presence of armed security men and officials of the state’s Ministry of Education and Human Capital Development and those of the Teaching Service Commission (TESCOM). Vice Principal (Administration) of Cherubim and Seraph I’m College, Mrs Yemi Adedayo, told our correspondent that the gateman said he didn’t know who locked the gate and who kept the key. She said: “When I got here this morning, the gate is firmly locked but the staff are all around according to the directive of the state government.”

A teacher at St Anthony’s Secondary school, Yunus Abdulrazaq, said he also came to obey the directive of the state government but, like other staff, he met the school gate locked. When New Telegraph sought the view of the state Chairman, Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT), Comrade Olu Adewara, on the implications of continued closure of the schools on the future of the students, he declined to make any comment, saying the NUT has resolved not to comment on the hijab and other related issues. Former Minister of Sports and Youth Development, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi, who was also a former Commissioner for Education in Kwara state, however, urged the state Government to reopen the schools without further delay.

In a statement in Ilorin, the state capital, Abdullahi lamented that the students have lost so much teaching time to the lockdown forced by the coronavirus pandemic and should therefore not be allowed to suffer further as a result of the hijab issue. He said: “Under the best circumstance, the big concern for everyone was how to recover the precious time that the children had lost to COVID-19 pandemic.

Therefore, we cannot afford to keep the children out of school even for one further day if we truly care about their education. “This hijab thing is nothing new. The contention over the identity of mission schools is also not new. We have managed these issues over the years without allowing them to escalate to the level of forcing the closure of schools.

Some people are either mismanaging or exploiting this issue. “Is the government suggesting that parents of the Muslim children would prefer the education of their children to suffer rather than allow them to attend schools without hijab? Or are they saying that the Christian parents would rather have their children stay at home than to allow some Muslim children to wear hijab in the school? I don’t think so. And this is why it is difficult to understand the rationale behind the decision of government to keep the schools closed indefinitely.”

Abdullahi, therefore, appealed to all concerned to put the education of the children in the affected schools above all other considerations, while calling on the state government to reopen the schools without further delay. With the forceful reopening on Friday of some of the schools that defied government order, the coast appears to be clear for resumption of normal academic activities in the 10 grant aided mission schools as from Monday next week.

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