Date: 2021-02-25

In our meeting with the executive governor of Kwara State, Malam Abdurrahm?n Abdurrazz?q last Wednesday (24th February, 2021), he made it clear, after listening to submissions by representatives from both parties that his government will come up with a decision that will leave neither a victor nor a vanquished. Watching the governor speak with so much enthusiasm and passion for peace and justice, I wasn't expecting anything short of this pronouncement. By this decision, the government of Kwara State has strictly upheld the truth, law and sound logic.

There can never be a better way to resolve the Hij?b crisis in the state than legitimising its use by the Muslim girl-child. Anything else would be illegal, inimical to peace and justice as well as a recipe for chaos and disaster. Section 41 of the Kwara State Compulsory Free Universal Basic Education Law defines a public institution as "a school which is assisted out of funds provided by the Federal, State or Local Government." By this provision, the missionary schools ceased to be private owned since 1974 when they started benefitting from public funds provided by government from tax payers' money. This fact was established by both the State High and Appeal Courts in 2019.

In the case of Incorporated Trustees of Christian Association of Nigeria & ORS v the Kwara State Government & ORS (2019) LPELR-48561 (CA), the Appeal Court upheld government ownership of those schools. Needless to mention that section 38(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999 as ammended) guaranteed the right of every citizen of the country to practice and manifest their religion without causing injury to anyone. The Appeal Court in the case of Bashirah Salihu & 2 ORS v Provost College Of Education, Ilorin (2006) ruled in favour of the students and upheld their right to wear the Hij?b (in fact in this case, it was the Niq?b {face veil}) in school.

Therefore, so long as those schools remain a public property, pending the ruling of the Apex court, the right of the Muslim girl-child must be protected. As a law abiding and respected citizen of the state, I have some pieces of advice for government to forestall any future crisis on this same issue. I'm saying this because I know so well that some overzealous and bigoted individuals will still try to test our patience by attacking our girls. Such reckless action might not go unreplied by some equally overzealous Muslims. We don't want a breakdown of law and order, and certainly not at this trying times for the country. So, here are 5 things the government of Abdurrahm?n Abdurrazz?q must move to do immediately without further delay:

1. Set up a technical committee to oversee the enforcement of the use of Hij?b by Muslim girls in all public schools in Kwara State.

2. Through the state House of Assembly, enact a law that will punish any individual or entity that refuses to recognize this right.

3. Change the names of those schools to reflect public ownership. One of the reasons why despite the law & order of the courts, certain people still think that they own the schools is because of the names. As my boss, Prof. Aliagan, rightly posited in his submission at the meeting with the governor, the mistake by the Bamigboye administration of retaining the missionary names of those schools must not be repeated this time around.

4. Constitute a permanent interreligious dialogue committee to interface from time to time with members of the community on the need to have mutual respect for each other's faith & practices, and maintain peace.

5. In the event that the Supreme Court overturns the judgement of the State High and Appeal Courts, government must do the following:

a. Sit down with the owners and value the assets & liabilities of the schools. Having enjoyed funds sourced from tax payers monies since 1974 under the guise of public schools as defined by the Kwara State Compulsory Free Basic Education Law, any change in the status quo must attract refund of all the funds back to public purse.

b. Revoke the lands & return them back to their original owners. Without a doubt, those lands were given to the missionaries free of charge by the host communities at the time so they can establish institutions of learning for the benefits of the general public. So if they insist on having their schools back where only Christian norms and values are respected & are backed by the Apex court, let them remove the original structures belonging to the church so government can revoke and release the lands to their ancestral owners. If the latter decide to resell the land to them, that's fine, otherwise, they should migrate elsewhere. You can't eat your cake and have it.

The approval of the use of Hij?b by female Muslim students in public schools in Kwara State is neither a victory for the Muslims as it's not a favour done to us, nor is it a defeat of the Christians as it doesn't rob them of any right guaranteed by the Constitution. It's a mere enforcement of court ruling and entrenchment of a Constitutionally guaranteed right.

Indeed governor Abdurrahm?n Abdurrazz?q was right when he said, "there shall be no Victor, no vanquished."


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