On the 19th February 2021, the Kwara State government ordered the closure of ten schools formerly owned by some Christian bodies. The schools were taken over by the government in 1974. The government, however, allowed them to continue to bear their Christian names, while the government has been responsible for the running cost and maintenance of the schools. The ten public schools were ordered closed by the government to prevent the breakdown of law and order following the refusal of the former owners of the schools to allow Muslim teachers and students of the schools use _hij?b_ within the premises of the schools.
It will be recalled that there had been _hij?b_ controversy in Kwara State since 2012, following the attempt of the former owners of the schools to have full control over the schools that had been taken over by the State government. They demanded that the schools should be returned to them. Consequently the government was sued by the Christian bodies at an Ilorin high court but the Kwara Muslim Community applied to be joined in the suit on behalf of the Muslim students who are not allowed to use _hij?b_ in the schools. The State government won the case on the 17th of May 2016. The judgment was appealed and the Christians lost again in September 2019. It is remarkable to note that the Appeal Court ruled that the appellants lacked the right to make Christianity the only standard in the schools. It also said that "the refusal of the schools to allow the use of _hij?b_ is discriminatory as it is a practice in tune with the Constitution. "
The Court of Appeal judgment of September 2019 has not been challenged by the Christians at the Supreme Court. Consequently Muslim students and staff went to their schools with _hij?b_ but they were sent out by the schools' principals and the heads of the Christian bodies which owned the schools before they were taken over by the government in 1974.
One expects these Christian bodies who were dissatisfied with the judgement of the Court of Appeal to proceed to the Supreme Court. Instead they took law into their hands, which is a flagrant disobedience to the judgement of the Court of Appeal. The leaders of the Christian bodies and the principals of the schools should be tried for contempt of court.
Interestingly, Britain that brought Christianity into Nigeria has allowed wearing of the _hij?b_ in her schools since 1980s. The Nigerian Christian bodies want to be more Catholic than the Pope. Toby Howarth, the Bishop of Bradford, in the Diocese of Leeds, of the Church of England supports the wearing of the _hij?b_ by primary school girls. He says:
"This is a matter of religious identity, not sexualization, and the British policy should be not to make a big deal of it, but simply say that you have to wear the right colour that goes with the school uniform" ( _The_ _Sunday_ _Times_ , 03 September 2017)
A _Sunday_ _Times_ survey also reveals that thousands of state primary schools allow girls to wear the _hij?b_ as part of approved school uniform in UK. Incidentally the country has allowed a Muslim woman, in person of Raffia Arshad, who wears _hij?b_ to become a judge.
Ilorin is generally known as a Muslim town. It has been an Emirate since 1823. Muslims are officially in majority. Sharia Court system operates in Kwara State adjudicating over Muslim matters. No non - Muslim has been forced to appear in the court. Christians established schools to convert Muslim students to their religion. They deny Muslims the practice of Islam in an Islamic town with an Emir and great scholars of Islam. The government in its wisdom took over the schools to protect the interest of all, while it has been financing the running of the schools with taxpayers' money, majority of who are Muslims, and yet the Christians continue to oppress the Muslims by not allowing the Muslims to practise their religion. Do the Christians expect the Muslims to fold their hands and watch their children converted to Christianity before their eyes? That is not possible. Christians attend Muslim schools in the state. They are not forced to wear _hij?b_ in the Muslim schools.
Ironically the Bible enjoins Christian females to cover their head (1 Timothy 2:9-10 & 1 Corinthians 11: 4-7). Catholic Rev. Sisters and Mothers obey the biblical injunction. Mary, the mother of Jesus wore _hij?b_ . The artistic impression of Mary as displayed by Christians confirms that. If some Christians now jettison biblical teaching and celebrate nudity, immorality, indecent mode of dressing, Muslims will never do that. They obey the . teachings of the Qur'an on the female mode of dressing (Q33:59 & 24:31). Muslims must note that the Christians want to make Muslims emulate their disobedience to God. Muslims have been warned by Allah against the antics of the Christians (Q2:120). Let's be on our guard and stand firmly by the ethos of Islamic mode of dressing.
Kwara State government should solve this lingering problem once and for all. The government should exercise full control over all the schools that it has taken over. They are public schools. They should be seen as such. No religious body should have any control over the schools. The schools should cease to bear the names that reflect any religious body. They no longer belong to any religious body. That was done in other northern states in 1974.
Principals and Vice Principals should no longer be appointed by the former owners of the schools. Loyalty and allegiance of the Principals and the Vice Principals will always belong to whoever appoints them because whoever pays the piper dictates the tune. The government should appoint them as they appoint other teachers to demonstrate that it is the owner of the schools, and that the schools are not jointly owned by the government and anyone, or partially owned with anyone else.
Every Nigerian has been guaranteed religious freedom by Section 38(1) of the Constitution. Everyone must therefore be allowed to enjoy that freedom wherever he or she may be in Nigeria.
Prof Yasir Anjola Quadri
14th Rajab, 1442 / 26th February 2021