Hijab war in Nigeria’s Osun State: offshoot of the growing religious problem in Nigeria

December 2, 2011


 by Tola Adenle

Ever since retired General Obasanjo as president allowed the governor of Zamfara, Alhaji Yerima get away with waving the Nigerian Constitution aside by declaring Shariain his impoverished state, Nigeria has continue to lurch from one religious problem to another and, if truth be told, thousands have lost their lives in the process.  Obasanjo had his so-called 3rd Term agenda, a plan to perpetuate himself in office – like all old-fashion despots.  He failed although he told the world that if he wanted to remain in office and ask [his] God, he would have gotten it which, to be charitable, was ridiculous because everything he did pointed otherwise.


Many parts of the North, especially mostly Christian Plateau State, have known no peace since.  The Boko Haram madness is not far removed from the central problem of ever-widening gulf between the two major religions.

Now, the madness is creeping southwards although Osun is not new to religious problems between Christian and Moslems.  Since the return to civil rule, some Moslems went to the All Saints’ Church Cathedral and demolished the fence but managed peace that has reigned seems being shattered now on the hijab problem.

Governor Aregbesola who is a Moslem has a problem on his hands but one that should not be that difficult to resolve because Moslems know he is one of them and appears to take his faith seriously. 

In the same essay in above link, I  also wrote:

Governor Aregbesola may not be aware of an incident about five years ago when Moslems at Osogbo went on rampage and destroyed the fence of the Anglican Cathedral, All Saints’ Church.  This comes to mind now that huge billboards placed in various spots in the state – including one at the state border at Asejire on the highway between Ibadan and Ile Ife  -  carry the picture of Governor Aregbesola in Moslem garb in Mecca.  It shows the Mecca praying spot and I think it’s an unpardonable act in these volatile times.  Osun is NOT a Moslem state just as Nigeria is not. 

When his predecessor, retd. Brigadier Oyinlola put up huge billboards showing him in flowing diaphanous agbada and trite religious sayings like “there is only one God do the right thing …”, I wondered aloud in one of my essays for The Nation on Sunday at the false piety.  Now, this is worse because Aregbsola had his picture superimposed against a backdrop of the Moslem landmark.  It is uncalled for; those huge posters should be removed from Asejire, Osogbo, Ilesha where I’ve seen them, and wherever else  they may hang not only as they may embolden Moslem fanatics at Osogbo or elsewhere but also because they must hurt the sensitivities of Christians who are forced to look at them daily as they hurt mine and many other Christians’ I’ve spoken to.

Asking for a “White Paper” from a panel he has reportedly set up on the Osogbo problem is not a decisive step.  I’m sure the governor knows what to do without being authoritarian.  There is a [state] government’s position on the problem, the reported 2005 Oyinlola-era solution.  If he believes this position does not make for peace, he should work with school proprietors of the private schools who invested a lot of money to start schools that they would not want to become battle grounds. Government should not force private individuals to enforce a dress code in, say, a mission school to enforce a so-called dress code. 

As usual, being older brings advantages of having seen and/or experienced just about ALL.  A state education ministry once tried to enforce that my school offer both Islamic Religious Studied which, conveniently as a Christian, I excused myself out of by pointing out the high school had only a handful of Moslem students.  I promised – and kept to it – that no Moslem student would be forced to take Christian Religious Studies.  I must mention that a female parent did request that her daughter take CRS.  A problem these all-knowing inspectors failed to address was cost which I had asked:  would the Oyo State Ministry of Education help me send an Islamic teacher?

Without any prodding, I had from the start ensured the three Moslem students were driven to the Oyo State Secretariat mosque every Friday but there was still the matter of morning assemblies at which  devotions – Christian, of course – were musts. 

I think these things are simpler than we make them.  Parents who send their kids to religious institutions are implicitly agreeing to the kids having to live by the practices expected of such institutions.  And if truth be told, Nigerian Christians are not wealthier than their Moslem brothers and sisters.  It would be great for the country and for Moslem children if Moslems of means would establish more institutions at all levels so that those who believe in strict Islamic environments for their children – to which they are entitled, anyway – could choose.  Right now, well over 90% of universities – at least in the southwest which is where most educational institutions of all levels in Nigeria are – belong to Christian missions or Christian private individuals.  St. Anne’s, Ibadan had one of those engineered problem of hijab some years ago.  While I do not know the situation there now, I do remember the Principal reportedly insisted themauve dress – St. Anne’s fabled light purple uniform – did not include hijab.

It is time government gets out of the business of supervising religious lives as stipulated in the Constitution.  Recently, the Security agency, SSS, reportedly started to “monitor” clerics’ sermons in Kogi purportedly to stem religious strife,http://emotanafricana.com/2011/08/23/monitoring-clerics%E2%80%99-sermons-answering-back-wazobia-com-creeping-signs-of-desperation/.  This getting out would include the holy pilgrimages to Mecca and Jerusalem, bureaucracies for which alone hundreds of millions of Naira are devoted to each faith.  On the whole, the Hajj and Jerusalem pilgrimages cost Nigeria billions of Naira yearly.

The matter of operating a true federation should take care of that.  With a weak center getting just its real dues, each state could then pursue courses that are priorities.

Osun State, Governor Aregbesola, Nigeria – at least, the Southwest – awaits your action. 

Below is Dr. Ajetunmobi’s contribution to the same subject with his social group:

I share the sober comment (below) which highlights the insignifciance of the on-going tension between Christians and Muslims leaders in Osun State over the wearing ofhijab (Islamic headscarf) by Muslim schoolgirls in non-Muslim schools in the State. If I may recall, hijab had once been a matter of intense debate between me and some Muslim ideologues, and I did make it plain then that there is no rational, lexical, contextual and theological basis in the Qur’an that Muslim women should wear a particular kind of garment of pre-Islamic fashion which was designed for Arab women in the Arabian peninsula; there is merely a requirement for them to dress modestly.

Supposing hijab is a religious symbol and not an Arab cultural artefact, it remains the case that the Muslim schoolgirls in Osun State almost certainly went to those Christian schools in the knowledge that the schools are based, at least notionally, on a number of Christian principles that may be offensive to them. In an advanced democracy like US or Britain, the foreknowledge may pose no problem. For instance, a young Muslim female of Indian origin in the US, in New York, recalled the attitude of her former school faced with the religiosity of its Muslims pupils as follows:

I went to a Catholic school for girls. One day, I started wearing the hijab. There was no reaction from the school authorities. Then, with other Muslim girls, we asked for the permission to have a prayer room and it was granted. But one day because we were wearing skirts that were longer than the school uniform, the school authorities told us that our skirts should be shortened. My mother told them she would inform the press. The school backed off.

In Osun State, the avowed Islamness of those schoolgirls to wear hijab in Christian schools may not even be the result of a thorough reflection on religion or of a spiritual quest, but rather due to a pressure to take religious views to their paroxysm. Thus, once wearing of a hijab is allowed, the next stage will be to wear full niqab, an all-enveloping, black burqa-like garment that leaves only a letterbox slit as a window to the world, and then start to take notes in the class without removing their gloves. Let’s turn the issue the other way around: There is no mandatory requirement in the Christian faith that Christians should wear crucifixes – some evangelical Christians have actually disapproved of them as graven images. But what will happen if, for instance, Christian schoolgirls in Muslim schools in Nigeria protest that they be allowed to wear a crucifix on a long chain, or on their uniform to express their membership in Christianity. How will the authorities in those Muslim schools react to that request?

 [Dr. Abdasalam Ajetunmobi is a university teacher in the U.K.]



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