An inter-religious clash that has been doused in the interim rocked Kwara earlier today. It reincarnated from years of simmering dispute over the rights of female Muslim students to wear the Hijab to attend their Christian missionary schools. The state government had earlier taken over 10 missionary schools in a move aimed at curtailing what appeared to be blooming into a major problem.
Missionary schools had enforced a ‘no-hijab’ rule on students for a while, and had been challenged over the policy for just as long. In response, the state government, following several resolution meetings between Christian and Muslim religious leaders, moved to take over ownership of the school. The move, challenged by the schools and lost in the state High Court and Court of Appeal, is still in contention as the Supreme Court ruling remains awaited.
The awaited judgement notwithstanding, the Kwara Government went ahead to not only take over the schools, but also to grant the right of Muslim students to don their hijabs to these schools. This, arguably rightly, angered those in disagreement with the decision and Saint Anthony Secondary School in response prevented its hijab-clad students from gaining access into the schools ground. The ban led to angered Muslim parents raising a heckle and equally angered Christian parents standing up to it. The result was chaos.
While announcing the reopening of the school, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Education and Human Capital Development, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, had said, “The government is convinced that its policy to allow willing Muslim schoolgirls to wear their Hijab to school … will lead to peace and communal harmony.”
The assertion, made mere days before the clash, may well have been true based on whatever data at the disposal of the government that informed it to make the statement which can now be easily dismissed for the ill-informed conclusion that it has proven to be.
What the government might not have factored into its data is its own high-handedness. The same one that made it move in the first place to take over the missionary schools, and the very same one that made it go ahead with it despite the matter still being in court.
In the same announcement made ahead of the reopening, Mrs Adeosun had cited how, “This path of mutual understanding, and peace with regards to [the] Hijab had long been adopted in all of Northern Nigeria and many states in the South-West.”
There is something she omitted, however, and that is that in all of these places, it was not by high-handed decree reminiscent of military rule that this ‘path to peace’ was arrived at.
Religious clashes are almost a staple of Nigeria’s disparate communities from Wamako in Sokoto State to Amatagwolo in Rivers State.
A lot of it is rooted in historical injustices swept under the carpet, some of it is rooted in the careless handling of religious matters in the country by leaders who are leaders only in name, and so much more is rooted in a self-serving theology that refuses to see the ‘other’ as fully human.
Kwara is not an isolated incident, nor will it be the last even had it been resolved smoothly.
It falls on religious leaders, government officials in charge and in the end individual Nigerians to find a lasting solution. That won’t happen until we begin to see each other’s humanity fully, beyond whatever individual loyalty we have to Christianity or Islam.