The attention of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) has been drawn to the sadistic attack and barbaric carnage unleashed on some Muslim students in Ijagbo, Kwara state, on Thursday 3rd of February, 2022. The victims of this premeditated violence were only exercising their constitutionally guaranteed right to peaceful protest over the decision of Oyun Baptist High School, Ijagbo, to deny some female Muslim students entry to the school premises on account of their use of hijab.
It will be recalled that the Muslim students’ despair peaked exponentially last week as tension rose and nerves frayed over this unjust treatment. This situation was aggravated by the inaction of the government of Kwara state to quickly arrest the situation and enforce its own directive which was restated on January 25, 2022 to all public schools in the state on the use of hijab and berets for willing students after the management of Oyun Baptist High School suddenly decreed that female students should not wear hijab to the school again. With the indifferent attitude of government to this infringement, the students took their frustration and complaint to the Kwara State Teaching Service Commission and to the Government House in Ilorin prior to the protest at the school gate in Ijagbo.
On the fateful day, according to credible reports and videos circulated on the social media, students on peaceful protests were gruesomely attacked by hired hoodlums and armed thugs wielding dangerous weapons including guns, which were fired indiscriminately at the protesters. Many people were injured and at least one person, Habeeb Idris, was killed in the process.
The level of savagery meted out to these innocent students through the connivance and inaction of those who are supposed to protect them is highly worrisome and deeply regrettable. In a world where diversity is increasingly recognised, it beggars belief that the authorities of the school and some religious leaders in Kwara state could be so brazen and inhuman in their complicity in decapitating students. This is another proof of the morbid hatred for Islam and Muslims by those whose identities will soon be unmasked by security agencies investigating the matter.
Nevertheless, it is in the public domain that the incident was not unconnected with the recent statement of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) in which the body vowed to reject any ‘imposition’ of the use of hijab in the so-called mission schools in the state. That is why the leadership of the Association has been incoherent while struggling to validate the gross violation of the fundamental rights of the female Muslim students of Oyun Baptist High School on the use of the Hijab.
Again, the Council will like to put it on record that Oyun Baptist High School is one of many missionary schools that were taken over by the Yakubu Gowon Decree of 1974. By the said decree, missionary schools including Muslim-owned ones, acquired a new status of public schools. The fact that the Government of Kwara State decided to retain the names of these schools is purely to respect the contributions of the founding fathers of the schools to educational development.
Besides, by the Kwara State Education Law of 1996 (CAP E1 of the Laws of Kwara State), these schools became grant-aided public schools, effectively ending their missionary status. In addition to the above law, the High Court of Kwara State in 2016, ruled in favour of the Kwara State Government to the effect that the hitherto missionary schools belong to the government, a judgement that was subsequently upheld by the Appeal Court in the state in 2019. All these have proved beyond any reasonable doubt that the claim to the school by anyone apart from the government is illegal. With respect to the use of hijab in public schools, the Court of Appeal has given at least three declaratory judgements in favour of the use of hijab in public schools in Kwara state.
It is on record that the Muslim community has always borne attacks on its law-abiding girls and women for adorning hijab in schools and elsewhere with stoic equanimity and philosophical calmness. The commitment of Muslims to peaceful co-existence in Kwara state and Nigeria at large should not be mistaken for stupidity as the Council will not tolerate Muslims always being reduced to victims. Those who are fanning the embers of carnage should understand that no one can predict the outcome of the war they are relentlessly waging against Muslims in this country.
We appeal to the Muslims to remain calm and law-abiding in the face of violence unjustly visited upon them in Kwara state. That Muslims have decided to allow the security agencies to handle the matter should not be construed as weakness.
While commending the Kwara State Government on the various interventions made so far, the Council would love to advise them to be more proactive in handling issues like this in future. The ominous signs of this tragedy had been there since the management of the school violated the directive of government on January 17, 2022 when it illegally decreed that female Muslim students should not wear hijab to the school again. The government ought to have called the school and the civil servants who are running the school to order.
We appreciate the timely intervention of the security agencies in the matter though we believe they could have done better. We call on them to thoroughly investigate the incident and promptly arrest and diligently prosecute those subsequently indicted. The world is watching them and so we are.
We want to reiterate that the Council shall no longer sit by and allow the various judgements secured by the Muslim Ummah in courts of competent jurisdiction to continue to be consigned to the dust bin of history. Henceforth, we shall, in conjunction with other stakeholders, institute a contempt of court proceeding against any person that violates a legally binding judgement of court if the government fails to do its duty.
We call on the Government of Kwara State to, as a matter of urgency, commence the process of changing the names of all the grant-aided public schools in line with the state Education Law CAP E1, which made them public schools.
Finally, while we challenge the Kwara State Government to walk their talk on directives, we also urge them to adopt a more stringent approach to ending the amorphous and systematic bullying of Muslim students by the authorities of the grant-aided public schools on account of their religious beliefs. Enough is enough!
Arc. Zubairu Haruna Usman-Ugwu
Director of Administration
6th Rajab, 1443 AH
8th February, 2022