A Baptist school in Ijagbo, Kwara State, North Central Nigeria, has been shut down by the state government after a breakdown of law and order in the school.
The decision to close Oyun Baptist High School, Ijagbo, was announced Feb. 3 after a fracas broke out in the school’s domain over the wearing of hijab, a Muslim veil, which the school does not approve. Unhappy with the policy, some parents of Muslim students at the school staged a protest that resulted in them clashing with Christians, who saw nothing wrong with the directive. The confrontation led to violence, injuries and the reported death of one person.
It was the latest violence in the state involving Christians and Muslims over the wearing of hijab by Muslim students in Christian-run schools like Oyun Baptist High School. Previous concerns or disturbances led to the closure of some schools by the state government as well as burning of worship centers by aggrieved persons.
Previous concerns or disturbances led to the closure of some schools by the state government as well as burning of worship centers by aggrieved persons.
Oyun Baptist High School is one of the so-called “missionary schools” in Nigeria that were founded as faith-based schools. Muslims contend that all such sectarian schools were effectively taken over by the government with the Yakubu Gowon Decree of 1974, but the practical effects of that continue to be contested.
Like many Nigerian states, Kwara is a heterogeneous society, inhabited mainly by Christians and Muslims and is considered by many scholars and historians as the territory from which Islam, through Usman dan Fodio’s jihad in the 18th century, gained a foothold in the southwestern Yoruba-speaking region of Nigeria.
While Christians and Muslims in the state are known to have coexisted in relative peace for much of their history compared to some other northern states where religious violence is rife, differences over issues like the hijab in educational centers have, in recent times, made headlines.
Early last year, the Kwara State government, in a bid to resolve such a crisis, convened a meeting in Ilorin, the state capital, with stakeholders from both religious groups present. A circular issued after the meeting revealed that participants were enjoined to seek ways to mutually resolve the matter and not exacerbate it.
“The meeting was summoned by Gov. AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq,” the circular stated. “At the meeting were representatives of the Muslim and Christian communities, political and thoughts leaders in Kwara State. The meeting resolved to devolve into a committee that will specifically tackle the hijab question … (and) stressed the need for every side to keep the peace and constantly caution members of their communities to avoid any action or comments that may disturb public peace.”
That plea for peace apparently didn’t work, as the latest unrest shows.
Following last week’s incident, the police intervened to restore order, while the state government announced the closure of the school.
Following last week’s incident, the police intervened to restore order, while the state government announced the closure of the school. A statement signed by Hajia Sa’adatu Modibbo Kawu, commissioner for education and human capital development in the state, deplored the violence while also condemning the Baptist school’s hijab policy.
“The Kwara State Government totally condemns the resort to violence in the government-owned Oyun Baptist High School, Ijagbo, on Thursday. This is totally unacceptable. The Kwara State Government unreservedly condemns the flagrant act of discrimination against anyone, especially children, on religious grounds. Such discrimination will not be tolerated in any public-owned institution in the state,” she said. “While the government and the security agencies continue to work with leaders on all sides, it hereby directs the immediate shutdown of the school pending resolution of the issue.”
She then commended the security agencies for their prompt action that has restored calm in the area and urged them “to investigate and bring to book anyone linked to the violence as a deterrence to others.”
Such religious violence, she noted, “brings nothing good,” which explains why the state government is appealing for calm.
On its part, the state’s police command said its officers were able to bring the situation under control.
“The Kwara State Police Command wishes to inform the general public, especially citizens and residents of Ijagbo community and its environs, that the command’s tactical units and conventional policemen deployed in Ijagbo have successfully restored peace and are also on ground to ensure that no further breakdown of law and order is allowed,” a statement reported.
The disturbance in Ijagbo, the police further said, “is sequel to the crisis related to the wearing of hijab in schools, which matter has been in contention between the Christian and Muslim faithful in Kwara State. Of current concern is the breakdown of law and (order) between Ijagbo community and protesting Muslim parents, where weapons were freely used.”
Muslim and Christian groups in the state have blamed each other for the violence.
As the affected students and public generally wonder when the school could be reopened, Muslim and Christian groups in the state have blamed each other for the violence.
The Kwara Muslim Stakeholders, while speaking on the incident, said the problem began when some Muslim students of Oyun Baptist High School were sent home by some Christians. That didn’t go down well with their parents, and so they arrived back at the school to protest the infringement of their children’s fundamental right and were attacked, leading to violence and the death of one parent. The group said that previous efforts by the Christian Association of Nigeria to stop Muslim students from wearing hijab in their schools was overruled by the court.
At a press conference broadcast by Channels TV, Isaq Abdulkareem, chairman of the Kwara Muslim Stakeholders Forum, urged the state government to take over schools that fail to comply with the court or its policies. “We expect the government to immediately take full control of all schools, all schools disobeying the court judgment and extant government circulars on the use of hijab,” he said.
On its part, the Christian Association of Nigeria blamed the crisis on Muslim fanatics out to foment trouble and said the group would resist any attempt to enforce use of hijab in its schools. Speaking on behalf of CAN, Samuel Ajayi, chairman of the group in Ijagbo, said: “We challenge the state governor (AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq) to be man enough to fulfill his promise on the return of our schools (to us). Memorandum of Understanding on returning these schools to proprietors have been submitted to the state governor since June last year but until now, nothing has been heard about that Memorandum of Understanding.”
The vast majority of Baptists in Nigeria are affiliated with the Nigerian Baptist Convention, which is an indigenous outgrowth of more than a century of work by what is today known as the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. Southern Baptists from the United States have been a major presence in Nigerian Baptist life. The Nigerian Baptist Convention founded and operated thousands of primary and secondary schools, most of which were taken over by the government in 1974, although some state governments have returned control of schools to the missionary founders.
Anthony Akaeze is a Nigerian-born freelance journalist who currently lives in Houston. He covers Africa for BNG.