I had my secondary education at Federal Government Girls College Bida, Niger State. Like all other Federal Government Schools founded after the civil war primarily to enhance unity amongst Nigerians it succeeded in meeting its goal (at least till the 90s). Every school had students from all parts of Nigeria and from all the major religions and most of us have kept and maintained close ties and contacts with one another through the years. I recollect though, that although our religions were recognized and we were allowed to practice same, no one religion had an upper hand over the other whether in terms of mode of worship, appearance or fellowship. We had the MSS (Muslim Students Society) and FCS (Fellowship of Christian Students ) which held services on Friday’s and Sunday’s respectively and were allowed to fast and pray as our religion dictated. However, you could never tell from our appearance what religion we practiced as we all wore the same uniform- white shirts on lime green skirts with a beret.
Fast forward to 2016, I and many of my classmates visited our alma mater in commemoration of our 30th year anniversary of leaving school, we came from far and wide, some from outside the country and stayed a night in school in a hostel we had renovated for the students. We mingled with the girls, joining them for exercise and lunch and though we had a wonderful time reminiscing about our days as students, we couldn’t help but notice the deterioration in the amenities and surroundings, which was not surprising as our maintenance culture in the country is basically nonexistent.
We however couldn’t get over the fact that the present students had several variants of our cherished uniform. We noticed about 4 different takes on the uniform- skirts of various lengths, trousers, shoulder length hijabs and long hijabs reaching the knees and ankles. The hijabs also came in different colors some white and some green. When we enquired, we were told that the different uniforms were allowed so as to enable students practice their religion. As ex- students, the general consensus is that the variance in the uniforms portray the school in an unfavorable light as it implies indiscipline and it is rather unsightly. Interestingly, we have old students who now wear a hijab of some sorts and lengths who never did wear them in school and I have never heard it said that it affected their religious inclinations.
It is in the light of this background, that I feel qualified to comment on the unfolding events in Kwara state which had earlier taken place in Osun State with regards to the wearing of Hijab as part of the uniform for students of missionary schools that had been taken over by the government.
It is common knowledge that prior to the takeover, both religions had schools set up by their orders, and students were bound by the rules and conventions in those schools. It is no secret that some Muslim students changed their names and some even their religion to enable them attend missions school or as a result of their attending the schools. The mission schools were well run and produced students that competed favorably anywhere in the world and that was the reason why adherents of other religions were willing to attend them in-spite of their religious differences.
The arguments have gone forth and back as to whether the wearing of hijab should be allowed in schools, that once belonged to the Christian missions and bear Christian names. Legally speaking, the fact that these schools were “once” missionary schools or bear Christian names does not make them Christian schools. They are now being run as public schools funded by the government and not the missions and though the Missions may have some say in how things are run they have no authority to insist on anything.
The case of Mission schools being run by the government is different from those mission schools that were returned to their Original owners eg Maryland comprehensive School in Lagos which was returned to the Catholic Church. In that case the school is no longer a public school but a private school and as such its mode of uniform cannot be dictated to it by either the government or the general public.
There are several reasons why uniforms are chosen by schools and institutions and why members of those institutions are mandated and expected to conform to the approved uniform. The most obvious reasons are for identification purposes, to ensure equality, project order and discipline. It is noteworthy that the uniform is chosen by the school or institutions and not by the students or their parents and that the students are expected to conform to the approved uniform even though they may not like them or think they are inappropriate (e.g wearing of jackets in the hot weather)
I find the clamor to wear Hijab in schools most unnecessary and the actions of the government unwarranted. Firstly, the wearing of the Hijab is not a religious right. It is a practice adhered to by many faithful and undoubtedly they have a right to wear same in their private space and in public spaces where a uniform appearance is not mandatory.
Secondly, the government has successfully run schools in the past where there was no recognition of religious rights apart from the right to worship. It is a fact that most of the parents agitating for the inclusion of the hijab in the students’ uniform did not wear hijabs whilst in school and that the non-wearing of hijabs did not stop them from practicing their religions nor did it affect them negatively.
Thirdly, there is the likelihood of chaos if every adherent of a religion were allowed to dress in a manner that reflected their religion in institutions such as schools.
Fourthly, there is a danger as we now see of radicalism and intolerance steadily growing among the younger generation and they are surely forming ideologies along these lines.
In a 7 minute video being circulated on social media I saw youths from both sides of the divide throwing stones at each other from across the road separating them and the first thing that came to mind was, had they grenades or bombs in their possessions would they have thrown them too? or would they have used guns, machete and knives on each other if they were at close quarters?
At the tail end of the video someone started to cry and I wondered if she, like me could see what hate, misunderstanding and intolerance had done to her community. I wondered if she recognized those throwing stones across the divide where she was and saw friends she played with as a child or even maybe a lover, I wondered if she was wondering how both communities will relate with each other after the events of that day and in the proceeding days. I wondered if she was crying because of the loss of community as she knew it.
There is more at stake than winning a battle or even a war whether legally or otherwise. It is a pity that the more religious we have become in this country, the more terrible we have become as a people, the more devilish we are in perpetrating evil upon each other, the more we have lost our humanity. It is also a pity that those championing these things were beneficiaries of a system that was not based on religion, tribe or ethnicity. It is a pity that those that enjoyed the secularism of our nation having found “religion” are now insisting on their rights being upheld forgetting that everyone has rights and that each person’s rights stops where the other’s right begins.
How I wish we could use the same passion we employ in fighting for our religious beliefs, most of which are individual preferences, to agitate for better facilities in our schools, a future for our children, a better society for us all.
The truth is that in a secular state such as ours, government both at the federal or state level has no business pandering to any religion by recognizing its tenets or practices. It has no business sponsoring people for pilgrim to holy lands. It must be neutral in its dealings with its peoples and if it was able to do so successfully in the unity schools of old, I wonder why it now suddenly realizes that students have a right to dress in a particular manner.
This thing called “religion” it is the opium of the people and it will eventually be the death of us all.
video credit-Jeo tv