In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful
Press Release: FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
MPAC Calls on Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) to Prevail on the Christian Leaders in Kwara State to Prevent Further Loss of Lives
Monday, 7 February 2022 | 6 Rajab 1443 AH
In February 2021 the Kwara State Government had approved the use of hijab in all public schools in the state after lifting a temporary closure of 10 grant-aided secondary schools in Ilorin, the state capital, following controversy on the use of hijab in the schools.
In a statewide broadcast, the Governor of Kwara State, His Excellency AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq said, “We took that decision in good faith and in the overall interest of all. I swore to an oath to protect every Kwaran”. Hence, the government directed that all the affected public schools be reopened on the condition that they respected the rights of the Muslim students to use the hijab and also cautioned parents, officials and authorities at the affected schools to maintain peace and order.
Unfortunately, the government’s approval of the use of hijab did not go down well with a section of the Christian community and the affront led to violent clashes by Christian leaders who mobilised worshipers to protest the approval. Unfortunately, this type of behaviour followed a similar pattern orchestrated by CAN leaders in the State of Osun a few years ago, over the same issue of the use of hijab in public schools. Meanwhile, Christian leaders in Kwara State had twice challenged the government’s ownership of the affected schools in the High Court and Appeal Court but lost both cases, despite this they refused to let peace reign and continued to trample on the rights of the Muslim students to use the hijab as guaranteed by the Nigerian Constitution and the Government of Kwara State.
On the 3rd of February, 2022, following months of discrimination and harassment of the hijab-wearing Muslim students of Oyun Baptist High School, Ijagbo Kwara State, including refusal to allow the students into the school while in hijab, the Muslim students staged a peaceful protest in front of the school gate to express their grievances over the non-compliance of their school management to the directive of Kwara State Government which basically secures the student’s constitutional rights to freedom of religion and freedom of expression of religion. The Muslim students’ protests were about basic rights, and to pressure the State Government to stop the harassment and disrespect of the Kwara State Government’s directive on the use of hijab.
Later that day, it was widely reported in the media that the protest “had turned violent”, that the Muslim protesters were being attacked leaving one person dead and several others injured. Further investigation revealed that a Muslim student, named Habeeb Idris, was killed in the incident and several others injured by thugs allegedly hired to confront the peaceful protesters and disperse the protest. Habeeb was later buried on Friday, February 4, at Lafiagi town, in Kwara State while the other victims continued to receive medical attention at the hospital.
This unfortunate incident has sparked anger across the Muslim community and worsened the already tense situation in the state. It has become apparent that the Christian community and its leaders are mischievously exploiting the volatile situation in Kwara State to aggravate the crisis by targeting and attacking Muslim students not only to disrupt peace but also to cause a large scale strive between the faith communities. It was obvious that although they were acting locally, they meant for their actions to have nationwide impacts. It is unfortunate that such an incident as this will be orchestrated by those who are being paid by the government to teach national values, fear of God and give valuable education to the students.
The actual motivation for this scale of unrestricted hate and violence unleashed on the Muslim students cannot be divorced from the hateful rhetorics of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) over the years. An organization that is supposed to be a builder of peace and national reconciliation has turned itself into a rallying voice for morbid hate against Islam and Muslims, actively promoting intolerance and bigotry across the country.
The issues regarding the crisis in Kwara State are both uncomplicated and non-controversial:
1. Muslim students in Kwara State, and anywhere else in Nigeria, have the right to the constitutional guarantees of freedom of religion and expression of religion, just like any other citizen anywhere in Nigeria.
2. They also have equal right to public-funded education like other Nigerians. Such rights will be secured by them in every public-funded educational facility as no Nigerian should carry a price tag for being a Nigerian. This is an inalienable right.
3. If CAN, or the so-called proprietors of Oyun Baptist High School, has any agreement with the State Government regarding its stake and rights in the school, this should be sorted with the State Government or through the courts. Any school in Nigeria that is funded by the taxpayers cannot take away the constitutional rights of any Nigerian or create a choice for students between observing religion and accessing education.
4. Adherence to the rule of law requires that all parties abide by the Kwara State Government’s guidelines and regulations, even when they seek to achieve a different result through the court. This is what the Muslim community did in Lagos State until the Federal Court of Appeal quashed the judgment of the Lagos State High Court that upheld the discriminatory policy of Lagos State which banned the hijab in Lagos State public schools. Obedience of the Federal Court of Appeal judgment is also the only reason why the Lagos State Government has allowed the use of hijab in public schools even as it seeks to use the Supreme Court to take away the constitutional rights of the students in its public schools now. It is clear that the so-called proprietors of Oyun Baptist High School have not been tutored in the civic and democratic principles of respect to the rule of law and supremacy of the Constitution. It is this ignorance that makes them to insist that despite official pronouncements and standing court judgments, they can single-handedly pursue a different path, whipping up emotions and inciting violence to enforce their will.
5. The Kwara State Government has a duty to secure the constitutional rights of all the citizens, and in this specific case, it has the duty to ensure that the Muslim students of Oyun Baptist High School enjoy the same rights as other students in public-funded schools.
6. Now that a life has been lost, those directly linked to provoking the protest, instigating the violence, inciting it or by acts of omission or commission, did nothing to prevent it, must be held accountable. The enablers and perpetrators of this heinous crime must be brought to justice. Not just the triggermen, but also those who enabled the crime.
MPAC reiterates its total condemnation of this ugly escalation and violence against people exercising their constitutional rights and the needless loss of life. We call for an immediate and thorough investigation into the matter by the law enforcement agency as well as swift justice for the victims.
Following this latest incident, MPAC also calls out the dangers of extremism and issues a clear call for action to Government to deal decisively with hateful speeches, acts of extremism, use or incitement of violence and any act that threatens peaceful coexistence, law and order, emanating from any corner. The threats of extremism and hate crimes are dangers that should be confronted irrespective of the identity of the victims or the justification used by the perpetrators.
Although CAN has spent more than a decade using divisive symbolism to define itself by what it hates rather than what it loves, and particularly by its unbridled phobia for Islam, it now has the responsibility to prevent further loss of human lives. In almost all of the hijab crises in the South-Western part of Nigeria, CAN remains the instigator and its divisive messages are the most important motivation. CAN deserves a blame for being a major contributor, whipping up emotions and driving anti-Muslim sentiments in Nigeria. CAN has turned itself into the engine room of the Nigeria’s Islamophobia industry. The blame CAN deserves also emanates from the fact that as the umbrella body of the Christians in Nigeria, it had a choice, and now that its blameworthy role has cost a human life, it has to take responsibility and change its way.
There is clear evidence that the Nigeria Inter-Religious Council, NIREC, in particular needs to do more to ensure that smear-casting and demonization of Islam and Muslims are addressed squarely, that Islamophobia is recognized as a present and thriving problem within certain communities and that hate theologians do not continue to have freedom to market their credo, endangering peaceful coexistence and national peace. All hands must be on deck to eliminate hate and all the crimes resulting from hate.
Muslim Public Affairs Centre, MPAC
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