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Osun State Religious Crises: The Root Cause

Students of Baptist High School, Iwo wearing Christian Garments to school

Since government took over all schools in Osun State in 1975, there has been no missionary schools in the State hence, I wondered why Hijab or no Hijab should now cause crises in the State.

Before now, Muslims and Christians have co existed peacefully in the state so the difference between them was not pronounce until the current controversy surrounding the use of hijab by female Muslim students in public schools in the state has caused an unbridled suspicion and animosity among Muslims and Christians in the state.

Root Cause:

According to Daily Trust reports, In 2013, Osun State Muslim Community and the Muslim Students Society of Nigeria (MSSN) filed court action against the state government at the Osun State High Court in Osogbo.

Counsel to the plaintiff, Barrister Kazeem Odedeji told the court that female Muslim students were being harassed and molested in schools because they were using hijab and urged the court to protect
their right to wear hijab on their school uniforms during school hours.

During the trial, Osun State Chapter of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) voluntarily joined the suit as respondents and urged court not to allow Muslim female students to use hijab during school hours, insisting that only beret should be allowed in the schools.

After the three years of legal fireworks, presiding judge, Justice Jide Falola, in his 51-page judgment on Friday, June 3rd 2016, ruled in favour of the plaintiffs and held that female Muslim students in public schools in the state have the right to wear hijab to school.

The court said that any act of molestation, harassment, torture or humiliation against female Muslim students using hijab, constitutes a clear infringement on their fundamental human right as contained in Section 38 of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria.

Justice Falola said respondents should be restrained from disallowing the use of hijab by female Muslim students, adding that the students should wear hijab in the colour already prescribed by government.

Quoting from Article 8 of the 2004 directives of the state government which says “there are no mission school presently in Osun State as all schools have been taken over by government in 1975,” Justice Falola upheld all the prayers of the applicants and held that no student should be prevented from enjoying his or her right.

Justice Falola submitted that since the respondents have failed to cite any relevant authority in their response, he would be bound by the decision of the appellate court in Ilorin which the applicants had cited in their application.

Counsel to the plaintiff, Odedeji commended Justice Falola for upholding his judicial oath to deliver justice without fear or favour but the counsel to CAN, Ayandokun said his clients would appeal the judgement.

But there was a twist to the verdict few days later as the Osun State CAN Chairman, Rev. Elisha Ogundiya, threatened that the Christian body would direct Christian students in public schools in the state to start wearing church garments to school once Muslim female students start using hijab in schools in line with the court judgement.

In a communiqué, he faulted the court verdict and warned the state government not to implement the judgement, adding that: “The state government must be wary about giving effect to this judgment which we suspect was masterminded by Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola in line with his Islamization Agenda”.

The statement by Osun CAN leadership heightened tension in the state and also generated reactions from various Islamic groups who condemned the attempted by CAN to rubbish the judiciary.

The matter also became complicated when the principal of Christ African Middle School, Osogbo, Mrs. Iyabo Micha allegedly sent some female Muslim students out of the school because they were wearing hijab.

A female Muslim teacher in the school was said to have pleaded with the principal to allow the students to stay in the school with their hijab considering the recent court judgement, but the principal refused to listen and threatened to deal with the female Muslim teacher too.

This information soon got to some members of Muslim Students Society of Nigeria, who began mobilising themselves with intent to storm the school, but the timely intervention of Osun State Muslim Community averted the crisis that would have happened if MSSN members had gone to the school.

The principal, Mrs Micha, told Daily Trust that she only ordered the female Muslim students to remove their hijab and denied sending them away from the school as being speculated. She explained that Christ African Middle School is a mission school founded by Christian missionaries and that Hijab cannot be allowed in such a Christian school.

A source at the SUBEB who spoke on condition of anonymity hinted that the case at Christ African Middle School was just one out of many similar incidences in different schools across the state. The source disclosed that there were reports of similar cases in Iwo, Modakeke and Ikirun and the one in Osogbo gain attention because the school is located in the state capital.

The chairman of Osun State Universal Basic Education Board, (SUBEB), Prince Felix Awofisayo in a chat with our correspondent said that the state government would abide by the judgement of the court on hijab. He noted that all the public schools in the state belong to the state government and that the judgement was binding on all of them.

Reacting to the development, the Amir (President) of MSSN, Osun Area Unit, Mallam Basiru Olasunkanmi expressed worry over the attitude of CAN on the matter and cautioned against further provocation.
Students of Baptist High School, Iwo wearing Christian Garments to school

His words, “The use of hijab is a directive to Muslim women from Allah and it has been supported by the law of the land given the recent, court judgement. We call on all and sundry to abide by the ruling of the court. MSSN and Muslim Community would also be compelled to taken necessary actions if CAN persist in its disregard to court judgement.”

In a similar vein, Osun State Muslim Community also warned CAN leaders in the state against lawlessness. The Vice President of Osun State Muslim Community, Alhaji Mustapha Olawuyi said it behooves every responsible individual to abide by judgement of court and appealed to Osun CAN to shun lawlessness in the best interest of justice and peace.

Olawuyi posited that there should be no argument concerning the implementation of the court judgement that granted the fundamental rights of female Muslim students in public schools in the state to use hijab during the school hours.

Speaking further Olawuyi said, “Muslims in Osun State are not concerned with what anybody wears to schools, we can only advise the Christian body to do things within the limit of the law. If the Christian body feels that the right of Christians has been violated, the body should approach the court and seek redress.

“We are not oblivious of the decision of CAN to appeal the verdict of justice Falola but we have not received any notice of appeal. Therefore, we shall urge them to file their appeal timeously and purse same diligently instead of engaging in lawlessness and propaganda,” Olawuyi said.

As it is, there is ‘arrested’ peace in the land following alleged threat by the CAN in the state to compel Christian students to wear Christians apparel to school to further express discontent against the court verdict on the use of hijab.

The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) kept to their words, yesterday,Christian secondary school students in Osun State on Tuesday wore church garments to their schools, in a dramatic but defiant protest against the use of Hijab by female Muslim students, Premium Times reports.

Students attended Baptist High School, Adeeke in Iwo town of Osun State and Salvation Army Middle School, Alekuwodo, in the church robes.

The state chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria has been up against the state government allowing Hijab in schools.

Last week, CAN warned that Christian students in public schools will start wearing church garments to school if Governor Rauf Aregbesola goes ahead to implement a judgment by the state High Court legalizing the use of hijab by Muslim students.

A statement released Friday by CAN chairman, Elisha Ogundiya, said the decision was taken at an emergency meeting of the association’s executive committee, and heads of Churches held in Osogbo on June 7.
Students of Baptist High School, Iwo wearing Christian garments to school

“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 uniform for the propagation of our own faith given the Justice Saka Oyejide Falola declared right of Muslim Female Students to do same as what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander as well,” the statement read.

“Adherents of other faiths who have their choice to make in this matter can wear theirs as well.”

The association appealed the court ruling, which amongst many things, it said implied that hijab was a means of propagation of Islam which it stated was a fundamental right of Muslim girls and ladies.

“This declaration violates the religious right of the original owners of the missionary schools as agreed upon when the schools were taken over by the then government of Oyo State in 1975,” it said.

The association also accused the governor, Rauf Aregbesola, of masterminding the judgment in line with his “Islamization Agenda”, arguing that this had been earlier stated by the Directorate of Military Intelligence in 2012 based on credible intelligence and corroborated by Osun CAN in 2014.

“This unshed toga of Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola flies in the face of the fact of the overwhelming number of Christians in Osun State vis-a-vis Muslims,” the statement further said.

On Tuesday, students decked in church robes arrived Baptist High School, Adeeke in Iwo town at about 8.30am.

Officials of the Christian Association of Nigeria were on hand to observe the reaction of the teachers.

Apparently having a pre-knowledge of the development, the teachers did not react to the new dress codes. They quietly went on with their teaching schedules for the day.

The drama also took place at the Salvation Army Middle School, Alekuwodo, where female Muslim students who wore hijab were allowed into school, as well as those wearing church garments.

Similarly, CAN officials were present to ensure no student was sent back home.

The principal of Baptist High School, Omotayo Arowolo, said there was no crisis in school, despite the development.

He said the teachers were in their classes doing their normal teaching activities, noting that no student was chased out.

“We are here to ensure that no student is send back home from school,” said Head of the Catholic Bloc of CAN in Iwo, Paul Olagoke.

“We are here to defend the right of our children, since the female Muslim ‎students are free to wear hijab, our own children also are free to wear anything.”