The recurring hijab controversy is a case for concern in Nigeria, especially in Kwara state. This controversy reared its head once again in the state after the government reaffirmed the use of hijab by willing Muslim school girls in all public schools. Sa’adatu Madibbo-Kawu, the Commissioner for Education and Human Capital Development in the state made the stance of the government known during a peaceful meeting between Muslim and Christian stakeholders of Ijagbo Oyun Local Government Area.
According to a statement released by the Press Secretary, Ministry of Education, Yakub Aliagan, the policy statement of the Kwara State Government allowing willing Muslim schoolgirl to wear the hijab in all public schools, including grant-aided ones is binding. “This conforms with the judicial pronouncements of the courts of law and the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,” the statement said.
The statement also stated that ‘’Modibbo-Kawu thereafter directed the school heads of the Oyun Baptist High School, Ijagbo, to immediately implement the policy statement on the use of approved hijab in public schools.’’
‘’The Commissioner warned that anybody trying to sabotage the peaceful coexistence among the people of Kwara State will face the full wrath of the law.’’
But the stance of the state government did not go down well with the Kwara state branch of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN). The body accused the state government of forcefully imposing hijab wearing by female Muslim students on grant-aided schools.
In fact, a peaceful protest over the use of hijab turned violence in Oyun Baptist High School, Ijagbo, on February 3, when some Muslim parents stormed the school premises to protest the rejection of their wards and members by the school. The protest degenerated into violence when an unidentified man rushed to the school to inform other protesters of a machete cut.
This triggered an angry reaction from the Muslim protesting parents as they looked around for various weapons to defend themselves, but the police swiftly dispatched them.
Although CAN did not denied being part of the meeting with the Commissioner, it however claimed it never signed any agreement with the State Government allowing the use of hijab in all the grant-aided schools. The association added that the government’s inaction led to last week violence.
Kwara acting CAN Chairman, Bishop Samson Adewole said the bloody fracas ‘should have been averted if the state government had yielded to CAN’s earlier appeal. “It is noteworthy to mention that Kwara CAN had written a letter of appeal to the Governor to urgently look into this matter.
“The letter was entitled ‘the ongoing hijab crisis at Oyun Baptist High School and other mission schools in Oyun and Offa Local government areas: Calling for an urgent intervention.’ “To the surprise of the Christian community the appeal was neglected and the matter unattended to by the state government.”CAN added: “To put the record straight precisely February 2nd, 2022, some Muslims fanatics with some Muslims female students of OBHS Ijagbo staged a protest in Ijagbo town and later came to Ilorin to continue the protest at the Government House chanting slogan like “no school tomorrow except with Hijab” and the following day (i.e. 3rd February, 2022) they were mobilised with dangerous weapons to unleash mayhem on the innocent Christian proprietors.
“The report at our disposal indicates that an innocent passerby was also attacked and macheted by these Muslim fanatics. The individual was not a Christian as wrongfully claimed by some individuals. The fellow reappeared, reinforced with his fellow thugs and retaliated, this led to serious fracas with the Muslims protesters. It was the timely intervention of the security agents that restored normalcy at the school gate.
“Consequently, we reiterate for the umpteenth time that at no time did Kwara CAN and stakeholders sign/concede to any agreement or policy with the Kwara State Government on the use of Hijab as it is being claimed by the government. The usage of hijab in Christian Missions schools in Ilorin metropolis was forcefully implemented and imposed.
“The Kwara CAN’s efforts to sit and reason with the government on how to foster lasting peace on the issue is yet to yield any result. As Christians you are all urged to remain calm, peaceful and be law-abiding in the face of any provocation, believing that all issues will be resolved soonest.
The state government had in 2021 shut down 10 schools due to the hijab controversy. The schools were C&S College, ST. Anthony College, ECWA School, Surulere 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. Although the schools were later reopened, the controversy remained unabated.
The hijab controversy, if mishandled can lead into a full blown religious crisis. An opinionist, Majeed Dahiru, in one of his piece titled, “The Needless Hijab Controversy in Kwara”, advised that the state governor should “engage further with Church leaders, missionary school managements and other critical stakeholders by providing concrete assurances that the use of hijab is not a ploy by Muslims to obliterate the Christian heritage of their schools or enforce an outright take over.”