As the drama over the use of hijabs and church robes to school by students in Osun State intensifies, Ahmed Oluwasanjo has given an interesting opinion on the controversial matter.
File photo: Students wear religious robes to school in Osun
Let’s call a spade by its name. That some Christian students dramatically attended school in their religious robes and garments, in protest against a court verdict that allows female Muslim students wear hijab in public schools in the State of Osun last week, clearly points to the subtle tussle for supremacy between Christians and Muslims in the State. This might be too harsh for us to admit, but the fire beneath the “hijab” and “garment” saga is gradually spreading out for all to see.
If we could all recall, the same drama played out in the run up to the Osun State gubernatorial election in 2014. Then, it was trivialised as works of some politicians trying to play the religious card. However, we would be living in a fool’s paradise to believe that same old narrative this time.
Issues that revolve around religion are sensitive and generally very volatile. Therefore, there is no point in apportioning blames in this case, as doing so could only escalate the issue and drift our attentions away from the main issue and its serious implications.
Looking back on how the hijab saga started in Osun State, how the Osun State Muslim community approached the court for an order to allow female Muslim students wear the hijab in public schools in 2013, the eventual judgment of a high court that permitted the use of hijab in public schools, the response of the Osun State Christian Association of Nigerian to the judgment, and the drama that ensued in two secondary schools in Osun State last week, one could easily understand that the unfolding drama is far more religious than political.
Without mincing words, students who wore robes and church garments to school last week Tuesday were mere gloves covering the iron fists of religious actors, rebuffing a court order they perceive would entrench the Islamic faith in public schools in Osun State. While on the other hand, Muslims in Osun State do not appear to be willing to shift ground on their interest. For them, seeing their children wear hijab to school is a right.
This makes the issue fairly knotty.
Unfortunately, these religious actors fail to realise that wearing the hijab or beret in schools is not integral to the quality education being offered and received in any way. By this, I mean it would have made sense if the bone of contention of these religious gladiators had something to do with the improvement of the academic performance of students in the state.
According to reports on the May/June 2015 West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) performance chart, Osun State placed 29 out of 36 states, with just “8,801” out of its “48,818” candidates obtaining the basic entry requirement for university admission. Of course, this would make no meaning to religious actors, distracting students with their shenanigans.
But, why stir the hornets nest by promoting divisive religious tussles amongst students while the scars of Ife-Modakeke crisis is yet to properly heals?
Yes, the Ife-Modakeke crisis was not religious. Yet, it resonates well when we reflect on a Yoruba proverb that says: “A man whose mother was killed by a mad man would/ought to scamper for safety at the sight of a mechanic”. In other words, had these religious actors ruminated on the devastation of the Ife-Modakeke crisis, perhaps they would have refrained from sowing the seed of religious discord in Osun State. Most especially now that it appears that the ”Omoluabi” bond that unifies Osun people is gradually giving way to divisive religious rivalry.
That said, whichever way we choose to look at it, Christians and Muslims in Osun State need to rethink the future implication of their actions and give peace a chance. That a court order allows female Muslim students to wear hijab to school does not amount to the “Islamisation” of Osun State, and neither does the banning of the use of hijab in public schools make female Muslim students succumb to Christianity in any way. Allowing Christians, Muslims and traditionalists wear their religious outfits to school in a wilful emphasis of their religious identities can only project Osun as the world’s capital of confusion.
Given the aforementioned, it would be logical and safe to suggest that public schools in Osun State essentially operate as secular institutions, working strictly by rules and regulations that our conflicting religious interests cannot override. Public schools ought to be platforms for raising students and building up communities irrespective of individual differences.
More importantly, the governor of Osun State, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola needs to carefully manage this delicate issue. Because, if the fire burning underneath the “hijab” and “garment” saga is allowed to spread, it would not only consume his legacy, political future and political party, it would cause more damage than we can envisage within and beyond Osun State. No doubt, it’s still a laughable and manageable mess for now, but no one can tell what it could morph into in the nearest future.
By Ahmed Oluwasanjo.
By Ahmed Oluwasanjo writes from Abuja and can be reached through firstname.lastname@example.org and @ahmedrazak3.