Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Hijab Controversy In Osun

By Wale Sokunbi
Osun State is once again in the vortex of a storm over a ruling by a state High Court which granted students in the state the right to wear the Muslim female covering, the hijab, to school as part of their fundamental human rights. Since that controversial ruling by Justice Jide Falola on June 3, Nigerians have been inundated with pictures of students of other faiths, especially Christians, going to school in religious vestments such as cassocks, choir robes and the like.
The implication of this ugly situation is not lost on Nigerians. It is a recipe for anarchy, as students of all faiths may decide to start coming to school in their different religious apparels, and it would not be out of place to see student adherents of our traditional religions coming to school with their red and white apparels, divination beads, palm fronds and calabashes filled with kolanuts, red oil and other items that they could insist their faiths mandate them to take to their places of instruction. On a lighter note, our courts would, indeed, be hard pressed trying to determine the veracity of such claims, which would be a monumental waste of their precious time.
On a more serious note, it is unfortunate that the matter of school uniform has become a big distraction in the state. It is worrisome that at a time when all attention should be focused on the problems bedeviling the nation’s education sector, especially the sorry state of public schools and the declining performance of students in public examinations such as the Senior Secondary School Certificate Examination (SSSCE) conducted by the West African Examinations Council (WAEC), some Nigerians appear more worried about the scarf, hijab or beret that students in government schools are wearing to school.
Although the use of accessories associated with a particular religion could amount to a subtle promotion or propagation of that particular religion in the public school system, and the state judiciary should not be seen to be promoting the use of the paraphernalia of any religion in schools, the leaders of other faiths in Osun State need a more measured response to Justice Falola’s controversial “hijab judgement.”

Instead of the dramatization of the issue with their directive to Christian students to also wear Christian apparels to school, a better response would have been to immediately seek to set aside the judgment as well as appeal it at a court of competent jurisdiction.
The sight of some students of Baptist High School, Iwo, wearing all manner of religious vestments in their classrooms is an invitation to crisis, and the state authorities should be on guard to prevent a breakdown of law and order in the school system. In this regard, the statement by Governor Rauf Aregbesola that he had not ordered the use hijab in the state’s schools should go some way in resolving this crisis. The Muslims who stormed St. Charles High School, Osogbo, to enforce the use of hijab were also told by the school authorities that the schools could only act on directives from the state’s Ministry of Education.
For me, the essence of the uniform is self-evident. It is to promote uniformity of appearance of all who wear it and the benefits of such uniformity have been acknowledged and embraced all over the world. Although the argument has been made in several quarters that some students do wear hijab in the northern states, including Kogi, Kwara and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, without anyone making an issue out of it or trying to wear choir robes to school in protest, I feel that the wisest thing to do at this time is to allow the status quo to prevail while those who are aggrieved by the hijab ruling go to court to vacate the judgment.
By status quo, I mean that there should be absolute neutrality in school uniforms to give all students a feeling of oneness and allow the state government   concentrate on the more important issues of governance. In Lagos State, a judgment was given against the use of hijab in public schools and the matter is currently on appeal. I think the issue of the hijab is one that should be allowed to go all the way to the Supreme Court as it goes to the right of school administrators to regulate school wears for students. If care is not taken, the controversy would go beyond uniforms to the right of students of different faiths to observe their different “hours of prayer” on the school premises, which would also be within their “fundamental human rights.” Would we then build the school timetable around “prayer hours?”
The controversy over the hijab is unfortunately a fallout of the growing division of the people by politics. Nigeria and Osun State have apparently moved from a past when religion was not a big issue to the current situation where it is pairing with ethnicity as the two biggest issues in the country.
It is sad that today, virtually every issue is taken from the religious or ethnic prism. Whether we admit it or not, we have a reached a stage where the people’s assessment of any public appointment is viewed from ethnic and religious prisms. When new appointments are made, the question in the minds of many Nigerians is the tribe to which the appointee belongs, and his or her religion, and not really his competence for the office.
This unfortunate situation is not being helped by developments such as the Boko Haram insurgency and the herdsmen’s attacks, which can be interpreted as a deliberate plan by one tribal or religious group to spread its tentacles and dominate other parts and religions in the country.
Issues such as the Hijab controversy only serve to exacerbate such fears and it would have been good if all parties to the controversy would sheathe their swords and work together for the promotion of peace and qualitative education in Osun state. One thing that I find totally amazing in the country today is the people’s predilection for, and preoccupation with, issues that can only further divide the country, and not unite it, or promote its development.
Let the aggrieved stakeholders in Osun’s education system and all those who are angry over one issue or the other in the country exercise restraint on their grievances and go about their demands in a way that will not upset the applecart of the nation. It is only in an atmosphere of peace that they can obtain and enjoy the rights that they are demanding from the relevant authorities.
In virtually every part of the country, there is growing divisiveness and a penchant for troublemaking as everyone, and every region, insists on its “inalienable” rights, but never the rights of all Nigerians to a better life. Aggrieved persons are quick to bomb pipelines and to protest (Ministry of Finance officials earlier this week protested non-payment of Overtime Allowances, that are unknown to civil service rules and traditions!).
There are hardly any attempts by Nigerians to sit down and consider the seriousness of the situation of the situation of the country, with regard to the gravity of problems such as the employment crisis; the tens of   thousands of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and the cost of rehabilitating them; the economy that is floundering on account of the crash in the price of crude oil in the international market and the failure our leaders past and present to effectively diversify the economy; the poor power supply; the troubled education and health sectors, and the challenges confronting the agricultural and manufacturing arms of the economy.
These are serious issues for which Nigeria needs all hands on deck, instead of the distractive protests from virtually all parts of the country.
Let the aggrieved stakeholders in Osun’s education system and all those who are angry over one issue or the other in the country exercise restraint on their grievances and go about their demands in a way that will not upset the applecart of the nation. It is only in an atmosphere of peace that they can obtain and enjoy the rights that they are demanding from the relevant authorities.

*Wale Sokunbi, the Op-Ed Editor of   TheSun newpaper could be reached with walesokunbi2010@yahoo.com

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