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Nigeria’s Christian Leaders Fault State Approval of Muslim Headscarf in Mission Schools

Logo of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN)

Christian leaders in Nigeria have faulted Kwara State’s approval of the wearing of Muslim headscarf (hijab) in “Christian Mission schools.”

In their statement earlier this week, representatives of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) say the approval is “discriminatory and divisive.”

They urge the Governor of Kwara State “to immediately withdraw his government’s approval of wearing of hijab in schools within the State, including Christian Mission schools.”

On February 26, Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq, the Governor of the Kwara State, which falls under the jurisdiction of the Catholic Diocese of Ilorin, approved the use of hijab by female Muslim students in Christian Mission schools supported by government grants.

In the Tuesday, March 9 statement obtained by ACI Africa, CAN leadership disapproves of the Governor’s directive and term his action “as premature and equally prejudicial.”

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Mr. Abdulrazaq’s decision “appears to be a contempt of the court because the Governor is aware that there is a pending court case on this matter over which the court had earlier ruled that the status quo should be maintained,” CAN representatives say in the statement signed by their General Secretary, Joseph Daramola.

“The Governor of Kwara State has shown an open bias for one religion with his inability to wait for the court processes to be concluded over this matter,” the Christian leaders of the 45-year-old entity who include representatives from the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria (CSN) add.

They decry “how some people took the laws into their hands in the State by going from school to school to enforce the wearing of hijab in secondary schools, including the schools owned by mission agents but are only granted aid by the government.”

“Instead of the government to caution such trouble makers and admonish them to wait for the court process to be concluded and judgement delivered, the government of Kwara State has shown its religious bias by the blanket approval of the wearing of the hijab, even in Christian Mission Schools,” they emphasize.

The Christian leaders who comprise the largest ecumenical body in the West African nation further note that the decision by the leadership of Kwara State “is not only discriminatory and divisive,” but one that “equally suggests that the government was the one behind the earlier illegal enforcement of the wearing of hijab in Christian schools.”

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They remind the State government that while it has the authority to give directives to public schools, “it ought to respect the schools it does not directly own, nor started and respect the religious cultures of such schools as well.”

“We urge the political elites to stop using their religious overzealousness in causing division in the society, but rather treat all equally irrespective of religious and ethnic affiliation,” they say in their March 9 statement and add, “If we would all pilgrimage together, there must be fairness to all, mutual respect and justice.”

The hijab controversy in Kwara State dates back to the year 2012 when the owners of the mission schools asked the local government to reinstate mission institutions that the State took over in 1974 under the program of “Government’s grant in aid to schools.”

However, the State’s leadership did not reinstate the ownership of the schools, a move that saw various Christian groups, among them CAN that had sponsored the institutions, sue the local government.

Kwara Muslim Community, which has been at loggerheads with the leadership of mission schools over failure to allow the hijab applied to be enjoined in the suit.

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In its May 2017 judgement, the State’s High Court ruled in favor of the Kwara government, a ruling that was affirmed by the Court of Appeal in September 2019.

In making their ruling, the appellate judges noted that the Christian proprietors of the schools did not have a right to make Christianity the only standard in their institutions of learning.

Since the appellate ruling was not appealed in the Supreme Court, concerned Muslim Stakeholders are said to have interpreted this as a sign that the leadership of Christian mission schools had accepted the hijab.

The Muslim leaders in the State held a press conference on February 16 urging the Kwara government to allow the wearing of hijab by the students in line with the court rulings. Three days later, on February  19, Muslim students and staffs in the Christian schools showed up wearing the hijab.

The school authorities are said to have turned them away, a move that saw the students take to the streets to protest the decision. With the tensions rising following the February  19 events, the leadership of Kwara State directed the temporary closure of ten mission schools that were opposed to the hijab-wearing policy.

Initially expected to reopen on March 8, the leadership of the State’s education docket announced the same day that the ten schools would remain closed “for security reasons.”

With several meetings organized by Kwara State leadership and involving Christian and Muslim leaders failing to come to a consensus, the Governor, on February 26, decided to approve the wearing of the hijab in Christian Schools in the area.

“CAN has resolved to use all lawful means to reverse the order if the government refused to withdraw the directive,” the Christian leaders said in their March 9 statement.