There was tension in some public schools in different parts of Osun State including Osogbo, the state capital, yesterday, after some female Muslim students insisted on wearing their Hijab during school hours in a Christian school.
While conflicting reports of the sanctions were reported by various witnesses, the principal Mrs Micha insisted that “Hijab should not be allowed in Christian schools.”
Recently, an Osun State High Court judge, Justice Jide Falola, delivered a judgement in favour of a case instituted by the Muslim community against the state government on the right of female Muslim students in public schools in the state to use hijab to school.
The state chapter of Christian Association Nigeria (CAN) faulted the judgement and vowed to appeal the case.
CAN also threatened to direct Christian students across the state to adorn Christian garments to schools to propagate their faith if the state government went ahead to implement the judgement.
Chairman of the State Universal Basic Education (SUBEB), Prince Felix Awofisayo, told newsmen that the state government would abide by the judgement of the court and noted that all public schools belonged to the state government and that the judgement would apply on all of them.
Days after this report, several students were photographed going to school in traditional masquerade costumes as well as Christian students of Baptist High School attending school in church robes.
In defiance to Governor Rauf Aregbesola’s warning on Tuesday that any student found disobeying school rules and regulations risk expulsion, some students who arrived the school for the day’s lessons in church robes were turned back by security men manning the gate who however allowed female Muslim students who wore hijab as a complement to their uniforms into the school premises.
Nigeria identifies itself as a Secular country but in reality it is not a secular country. Religion plays a huge role in the lives of Nigerians, their allegiances as well as frames the justification of what is right and wrong. Religious considerations in several situations supersedes even the constitution and civil rights as was seen with the debate of child brides, rights of homo-sexuals and the creation of sharia courts.
The 1979 constitution in section 10 states that, the government of the federation or a state shall not adopt any religion as a State Religion”. Whilst in section 275 the sharia law is adopted in to Nigeria secular legal system. (Islamic judiciary system is established), A sharia court of Appeal (subject, however to the Supreme Court). Despite the contradiction, these policies were put in place to assuage the fears of the mainly Christian south of Northern Nigeria’s plans to Islamize Nigeria. To achieve this, the constitution had to make allocations to respect the identity and culture of Northern Nigeria in relation to the Sharia court.
Whilst for the most part this has reduced conflict between the North and South along religious lines, it has not reduced ethno-religious violence in the Northern part of Nigeria. Furthermore regardless of this constitutional provision, the fear of religious imposition still lurks in the psyche of Southerners while northerners are also very protective over the introduction and thinking related to Christianity being introduced to the North.
Secularism as an ideology to limit conflict by facilitating freedom and diversity sometimes fails to take in to account the broader fears and psychological desires of people by disregarding religious viewpoints. This ’pretend’ neutrality particular to secularism, as it has become in Nigeria does not reflect how religious the Nation is. The nation must come to the understanding that in a multi-ethnic and plural society such as ours, it is impossible to separate religion and politics.
In understanding this, the process by which states and governments make decisions must endeavor to get the religious perspective of the public and target group in to consideration.
Conflicts based on religion are a function of ideology, the human needs theoretical frame work advocated by John Burton’s (1979, 1997) expatiates on the psychological needs for groups that relate to growth and development. These include peoples’ need for identity, security, recognition, participation, and autonomy.
Another factor is the psychological fear of a people’s culture being dominated or oppressed. It is these fears that lead to the opposition to young girls wearing hijab to schools. It is also contradictory that a judiciary that exist to enforce the secular nature of the constitution would rule in favour of people wearing Hijabs to state schools. This ruling clearly shows that the Judiciary prioritizes the civil rights of citizens over the facade of secularism as enshrined in the constitution.
Uniformity of Religious accessories
While the civil rights of citizens must be respected, the need to preserve identity is of the upmost importance to ensure peace and stability in all regions. A specific policy must be put in place that guarantees these freedoms of expression to everyone and not just Muslims. The state would do well to incorporate religious apparel in to the uniforms as options for every student to choose from. By engaging in wide consultations, several religious accessories can be designed and made to complement school uniforms in colour and style.
Eventually only those that feel very strongly about this attire would continue to wear it, those who are responding for reactionary reasons would eventually wear only the regular uniform.
Such a policy would prevent residents from viewing Muslim students as having preferential treatment under the law and by the government. It will also limit friction with school staff as well as C.A.N. Most importantly it would minimise the politicization of the issue by political opportunist.
Burton,John (1997) “Violence Experienced: The Source of conflict violence and crime and their prevention”. Newyork. Manchester University Press.
Burton, John(1990) Conflict Resolution and prevention: St Martins Press
Thovoethin, Paul-Sewa and Yusuf Shamsudeen Adio(2010) The Nigerian state and the management of Secularisim: Challenges and Contestation. – fifty years of Nationhood? state, society and politics in Nigeria: Concept publications limited.