The scene retained the ambience of a prehistoric warfare. The battle was devoid of modern arms and ammunition. No AK-47s. No RPGs. No machine guns. But, conscious that the power of life and death rests in the tongue, all the gladiators settled for its proper lethal deployment.
On one side, chants of “Laillah Illaha Lahu, Laillaha Illah lahu” (There is no other god but Allah) rented the air. On the other, warriors responded with echoes of “Holy Ghost fire” and “I command…” to neutralize the assaults.
When it downed that divinity was not going to participate in the disorderliness, the parties dropped back to self help. Promptly, they hauled any available materials like stones, pebbles and sticks as grenades. In the end, some 20 persons, reportedly sustained injuries with three hospitalized.
That was on Wednesday, 17th March in Ilorin, the Kwara State capital. That day, Christian versus Muslim adherents and leaders clashed at Baptist Secondary School, Surulere over the use of hijab, (a head cover worn by female Muslims) in missionary schools in the State.
The ten schools in question are Cherubim and Seraphim College, St. Anthony College, ECWA School, Baptist Secondary School, Bishop Smith Secondary School, CAC Secondary School, St. Barnabas Secondary School, St. John School, St. Williams Secondary School and St. James Secondary School, all in Ilorin metropolis
Christians, posing as the underdog in the fracas had protested carrying placards with various inscriptions in some of the schools. At Cherubim and Seraphim College, Sabo-Oke, church members in their immaculate white robes and girdles occupied the school. They were armed with placards with inscriptions such as “O To Ge,” ”give us our schools back”, “No to Hijab in Kwara”, “Kwara is not an Islamic state, Kwara is for all”, “Our schools is our heritage”, “we oppose the Hijab in our schools.”
The Cherubim and Seraphim movements in their full regalia blocked entrances to Cand S College Sabo Oke, today in deviance to School opening order by Abdulrazaq government. Photo credit: Satcom Media
It took the intervention of the police and operatives of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, NSCDC to restore peace in the affected locations. The people were subdued and dispersed with teargas canisters. In the meantime, the schools remain under lock and key.
To be sure, the schools have been closed weeks back, precisely on February 19th, by government to avert breakdown of law and order over the hijab controversy. Debate over the use of the veil have become more combustive in the face of worsening economic conditions. An initial reopening date of 8th March was reviewed over peace concerns.
The immediate trigger of the crisis was government’s announcement on Tuesday giving tacit approval for the use of hijab by willing Muslim students in the grant-aided schools and reopening the schools. A statement by Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Education and Human Capital Development, Mrs. Mary Kemi Adeosun conveyed the decision.
The statement reads in part: “The Kwara State Government hereby announces the reopening on Wednesday, March 17, 2021, of the 10 schools that were recently shut down over the hijaab question, even as government’s peacebuilding efforts continue.
“The government is convinced that its policy to allow Muslim schoolgirls to wear their hijab in public schools will lead to sustainable peace and communal harmony anchored on mutual respect and understanding.
“This path to mutual respect, understanding, and peace with regards to hijaab had long been adopted in all of the northern Nigeria and many states in the Southwest such as Lagos, Osun, Ekiti, and Oyo States.
“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.” The statement concluded.
The hijab debate over the years have become volatile and touchy in the State. The legacy schools were established by different Christian denominations many decades ago. They were however handed over to government 45 years ago. The then military government under late Colonel David Bamigboye accepted the schools for grant aiding.
The agitation over rights of female Muslim students to wear hijab according to Islamic protocols in the mission schools started about a decade ago. Proprietors of the schools have also been mounting pressure on government to return the institutions to their sole proprietorship.
The News gathered that the Kwara State branch of the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN in 2013 went to court over ownership of the mission schools. A High Court in Ilorin turned down the prayers of CAN in May 2016. Dissatisfied, the Apex Christian body proceeded to the Appeal Court. The association also lost the appeal in 2019. Convinced of the merit of it’s case, the group approached the Supreme Court, where the matter is still subsisting.
A Muslim stakeholder, Alhaji Abdullahi Ibrahim argued that the judgements validate the use of hijab in the schools. “The decisions of the two courts give right to students in these schools to practise their religions without any hindrance whatsoever, including freedom for female Muslim students to dress according to their faith.”
Counsel to CAN Sina Ibiyemi however punch holes in the argument. He said the 2013 case was not on hijab and could not have authorised its usage. “The proprietors took the Kwara State government to court that they wanted their schools back. The issue of hijab was not part of their claims.
CAN also condemned government’s authorisation of hijab. Joseph Daramola, Secretary of the association opines that since the matter was still in court, with a directive on maintaining the status quo ante, the decision of government was prejudice and hasty.
In a statement, the association accused the Kwara State Governor Abdukrahmsn Abdulrazaq of bias and taking side in the dispute. Hear him.
“The Governor of Kwara State, AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq, should be held responsible if the matter degenerates because it was his pronouncement on the issue of hijab wearing in violation of the court directive on the matter to maintain status quo until the matter is finally resolved by the court that led to this trouble.
“Wisdom is required by those in leadership to handle sensitive issues such as that of religion so as not to precipitate war. If any damage is done to any church or anyone is injured on this matter, the Governor of Kwara State will be held responsible,”
The Proprietors of the affected schools hinted at the security angle to the issue. The proprietors in a communique read by their spokesperson Rev Victor Dada, said that the “body condemns the use of hijab in Christian missions grant-aided schools as this will cause discrimination in schools and allow terrorists to easily identify our children and wards.
“Christian mission grant-aided schools should be returned to the owners promptly as most of these schools have churches besides them and unnecessary trespass may lead to break down of law and order.
“We shall continue to interact and dialogue with the state government on the return of grant- aided schools to the proprietors.”
On its part, the Muslim Rights Concern, MURIC spoke tough and accused their Christian colleagues stoking the crisis. Prof. Ishaq Akinola leader of the group insisted hijab must come to stay in the mission schools. “It is a well-known fact in modern society that any group that flouts court pronouncement is inviting chaos.
“MURIC warns the Kwara State Government (KWSG) against compromising its authority over this issue. Any attempt by KWSG to spoon-feed CAN or to sweep the right of the Muslim girl-child to wear hijab under the carpet will be resisted by the Muslim community. The law is on our side. On hijab we stand. There will be no retreat, no surrender.”
The news reports that Kwara State prides itself as the State of harmony. Is that acclaim about to be hijacked by the hijab fracas?