Current happenings in Osun State after a High Court ruled Friday, June 3, that, female Muslim students can now wear hijab in all public primary and secondary schools in the state is worrisome to say the least. It also calls for concern because the Christian faithful in the state are taking the situation not lying low.
Justice Jide Falola of an Osun High Court ruled that the use of hijab by female Muslims was their fundamental human right to freedom of religion, conscience and thought. He held that no female student must be molested or sent out of school for wearing a hijab. Justice Falola declared that since all missionary schools had been taken over by government in 1975, all students had equal rights to practice their religion. However, he noted that such hijab must match the colour of their school uniforms.
The Osun State Muslim Community and the Muslim Students Society of Nigeria instituted the case in February 2013.
Expectedly, Christians in the state through the umbrella body, Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, have reacted. In a swift move, they called their faithful in the same schools to wear choir robes and church garments, which the students obeyed. At Baptist High School, Iwo, the students reportedly appeared in school in different church vestments. At Salvation Army Middle School in Alekunwodo area of the state, it was the same development. Muslim female students wore hijabs while Christian students wore white garments sown into choir gowns. Both groups gained entry into the school unhindered by security personnel.
The CAN leadership reportedly supervised the exercise to ensure that no Christian student was molested or chased out of school, a development corroborated by the Principal of Baptist High School, Iwo, Mr. Omotayo Arowolo, who admitted that no crisis occurred in the school. Equally, CAN reiterated in a terse statement that Christian students in public schools will wear church garments to school if Governor of Osun State, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola goes ahead to implement the judgment by the state High Court legalising the use of hijab by Muslim students.
In the bulletin approved by executive committee of CAN and heads of churches in the state headed by Elisha Ogundiya, they warned, “Where the Osun State Government is inclined to implementing the judgment, Christian students in all public schools founded by Christians with the toil and sweat of our forefathers in the faith will have no choice but to start wearing Christian garments and vestments as part of their school uniforms for the propagation of our own faith given that Justice Saka Oyejide Falola declared the right of female Muslim students to do same, as what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander as well.”
But reacting to the Christians students’ action, Governor Aregbesola, warned that any student found disobeying school rules in the state is at risk of being expelled. He said all those aggrieved with the recent court judgment over hijab should channel their grievances according to the rule of law and not result to self-help. Aregbesola also denied interfering with the court judgment.
“The judiciary is an independent arm of government, the decisions of which are not subject to any influence by other arms of government,” he said, urging aggrieved parties to appeal the judgment which was the legal and best option in this current situation.
Yes, the governor spoke well on the appeal option for those aggrieved but we fault his commentary about indiscipline on the part of any student who disobeys school rules. This is because the contending issue as it stands now, goes beyond waiting for students to disobey school rules and regulations and then pounce on them. The state should be worried about the dimension the situation may be drifting towards, particularly given that leaders of CAN came out to ensure Christian students were not molested. This is a serious matter, which should worry the governor as the chief executive, law officer and father of all despite the different religions.
He should not in his usual demeanor sound as one who shares in ignorance and pretence over a matter that is volatile like the looming religious crisis. This is not the time he should be seen as an unserious and insensitive governor to the well being of his people. It is also wrong timing for the world to see him as a religious fundamentalist nursing a hidden agenda to Islamise Osun State.
We urge him therefore to deploy political wisdom in handling this delicate matter instead of staying aloof and relying on the high court judgment. He should call the CAN leaders to a meeting to prove neutrality and assure them that in line with the fundamental rights declared by the trial judge, Christian students can also wear their apparels provided it matches the colours of government approved school uniforms in exercise of their right to religion, thoughts and conscience. This is the way to go, in order not to see the state in the news again for the wrong reasons.