In this Interview with Femi Makinde, the Chairman of Osun State branch of the Christian Association of Nigeria, Revd. Elisha Ogundiya, says nothing will stop Christian students from wearing church garments to schools as long as their Muslim counterparts wear hijabs
Christian pupils have started wearing church garments to schools following the court judgement on hijab. Don’t you think this will lead to anarchy in the state?
We pray it will not lead to that but if it does, well, somebody must be held responsible and that is the government. We have said it on many occasions that the government is like a man that marries two wives and he has to be fair to both of them. Christian children have their fundamental rights under the law of the land just like their Muslim counterparts. We issued a press statement and said that we would ask our children to start wearing church garments to school if the government implements the judgement. Now, Muslim students have started wearing hijab to school unchallenged and there is nothing wrong if Christian students also wear what they consider as emblem of Christianity to public schools.
In the judgement delivered on June 3, the judge said that the fundamental human right of the Muslim children was to wear hijab and to propagate their religion and that was why he granted them the opportunity to be wearing hijab. And if that is the case, our own children also have their own fundamental human right to wear their religious dresses wherever they want to wear them.
However, we know that is not the norm. We all know that hijab is not the norm. Choir robe is not the norm. There is a standard which has been established by the government. Some three years ago, the governor launched the uniform in the state and the Christians kicked against the policy that it would not be safe for the state to have students of different schools all over the state wearing the same uniform because most of them would be misbehaving when they know that there is nothing differentiating them.
We said it would be difficult to say this student is from this school and that student is from a different school but he launched the uniform and that day, he wore the school shirt, shorts and a fez cap. It looked funny but thank God, we have evidence with us. Also, the deputy governor, a woman, wore a gown and put on a beret and what that meant to the whole world is that the uniforms the governor and his deputy appeared in on that day are the model students’ uniform in the state, for male and female students.
Initially, the government is supposed to have appealed the court judgement on hijab because it is not part of the uniform they modelled the day Osun school uniform was launched.
Are you now saying that it was the government that instructed the Muslim community to go to court?
Well, I cannot be factual about that, but everybody knows the governor is a Muslim. And with the antecedents of the loan Aregbesola took from an Islamic bank with conditions attached to Islam this also made us to raise an alarm at that time. Even the Department of State Services said the government of the day has the tendency of Islamising the state. We inquired why would the government use an Islamic loan to construct schools that are meant for the masses. But at that time, we were persuaded that there was nothing like that and now that the result is coming out. We feel they are coming gradually with the intended policy.
Some people might feel the Christian community in the state is not being tolerant of the other religion. Are you bothered by such perception?
Christians are tolerant and we have demonstrated this on many occasions. In this case, we are not even saying Muslims should not wear hijab in schools founded by Muslims and government. You cannot allow Muslim students to propagate Islam in Christian schools and ask us to close our eyes to it. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. We are tolerant and peace loving.
In 2013, some youths attacked the principal of Baptist High School, Ejigbo; the man eventually died. You know we have units in all local governments, we were told that the principal eventually died. But we left that to God.
Did he die as a result of the attack?
I am not a medical doctor, so I would not know but the fact was that he was attacked and not long after that, he died. We leave that to God.
Some students wore church garments and other church apparels to Baptist High school Iwo on Tuesday, did CAN instruct them to do so?
We have said it earlier in our press release that schools established by the Christian missionaries will not allow wearing of hijab. In one of our discussions, we said they could wear it to the school gate and before they get into the school, they should remove it and keep it in their bags. It is not as if we hate Muslims wearing hijab or that we don’t want Muslims in schools that are owned by missionaries but what we mean is that we are not without a heritage. It is true that the government took over the ownership of schools then, but we are now in a democratic society.
Was there any agreement between the missionary schools then and the military government that the traditions of the missionary schools taken over should be maintained?
Yes. But the agreement varies, maybe due to denominations. I am sure there was an agreement between them and the military government then. After the military regime, Alhaji Isiaka Adeleke took over as the first civilian governor of Osun State and he did not change anything when he came into power. The uniforms, the way the assembly was conducted and what the students were taught in schools were never altered. When Aregbesola came, we suddenly have the issue of school merger, reclassification of schools, wearing of hijab and the rest in the state. The government of the day has altered what had been on ground.
The governor said that any student caught wearing choir robes and other things to school will be expelled, what is your reaction to this?
Okay, so the ones wearing hijab will not be expelled because that is what it implies. We have already warned the government not to implement the court judgement because it is faulty. Since the government is implementing the court ruling in mission owned schools, if that is the case, why would he expel our own students? Let us see how many children they will expel. They should be ready to expel all Christian students and let’s see how that will help them. Let them go ahead.
Are you now saying that you have the support of the national leaders of CAN?
If there is anything more than hundred per cent, I would say we have it because if this is allowed to happen in Osun, then it may happen all over the country. The national body of CAN is fully behind us.
One would have expected CAN at the national level to call the attention of the Federal Government for its intervention to the issue. What is happening in that regard?
The national body of CAN is very much aware of what is going on in Osun State. They are supporting our position on the issue. This is not about Osun State only, Christians in the country are aware and they know that the Osun State governor is planning to reduce our heritage to nothing and promote Islam at our expense.
The nation is being confronted with many problems which the national body of CAN is aware of. The national body does not need to call the attention of the Federal Government to what is going on in Osun State. The Federal Government has the police, the DSS and other security agencies briefing them on happenings on a daily basis. Apart from these organs of government, they read newspapers, listen to the radio and watch television. So, I believe the Federal Government is fully aware of the hijab issue in Osun State. But in case they are not aware, we are calling on them to intervene now to prevent crisis in our state.
Don’t you think with this, the Christian and Muslim students would see one another on opposing sides?
Not necessarily but somebody caused it. The authority caused it. Is it now that we are living together without any rancour that the authority is poised to tear us apart? And let me tell you, on so many occasions, we have had cause to resolve issues among ourselves (the Christian and Muslim leadership) in the state without the police or anybody knowing. For example, on the issue of churches and mosques disturbing the community, it is something that could have caused crisis but we resolved it without anybody knowing it and this means that we have been living in harmony. It is the government policy that has caused all these and until there is a round table meeting to resolve this, I don’t think it is going to be easy.
Is it not against the Bible injunction for Christians to institute legal actions?
Let me put it in perspective, we did not institute this case in court. We are peace loving people and we strive to live in peace with everyone. The Muslim community dragged the state government to court and asked the court to allow them to start wearing hijabs in schools. We knew that the judgement would affect us and we joined the case. So, we did not institute any case in court; we just joined as one of the defendants.
Have you appealed the judgement since it did not favour you?
Yes, we have instructed our lawyers to file an appeal against the judgement. I believe that would be done very soon if they have not done it; but we have instructed them to go ahead with it.
Has there been any move by any of the parties to settle the matter out of court?
Nobody has approached us that the case should be settled out of court. None.
Some are even saying that the CAN action is an insult on the court that gave the judgement, do you see it that way?
Our resolve is not an insult on the court. In what way is it an insult? The court asked Muslims to start wearing hijab in our schools, did we stop any student from wearing hijab? What we are saying is that if Muslim students have the right to wear hijab to propagate Islam as the judge ruled, Christian students also have the right to wear choir robes and other clothes to propagate Christianity. It is very simple.
The governor is a Muslim and the judgement was in favour of the use of hijab by Muslim students. Is CAN indirectly saying that the judge has done the governor’s bidding?
The governor is a Muslim, the judge is a Muslim. The judge gave an order on things the Muslims did not pray for.
Justice Saka Oyejide Falola made an ancillary order which was not based, anchored or premised on any submission or prayer canvassed by the parties before him. He said Muslim female students’ hijab shall be in colour and design already approved by the government. None of the parties canvassed for such order. He included the extraneous order in his judgement apparently to suit the desire of his fellow Muslims.
You once alleged that the governor wants to islamise the state. Do you think that is his ultimate plan?
We said this in the statement we issued then that implementing the judgement would mean that the governor is working on his islamisation agenda which was earlier stated by the Directorate of Military Intelligence in 2012 based on credible intelligence and we ( Osun CAN) corroborated this in 2014. But this will not be allowed. Government should not promote any religion above the other.
Are there ways this development has affected Christian students in the state?
I wish you were present in the court when the judge, a Muslim, delivered the judgement. He said Muslim students should be allowed to wear hijab to propagate their religion.
If Muslim students have the right to wear hijab and you are threatening to expel Christian students who wear garments they like to propagate their own religion, is that not cheating?
The governor has about two years to the expiration of his tenure. Do you think the policy/new education structure can outlive this regime?
I don’t think so.
Do you see an end to the issue anytime soon?
It depends on the state government. If the state government is ready to put an end to it, it will end very soon but if they are bent on stoking the crisis, nobody can say how long it will last. But let me tell you, we are not ready to allow our rights to be trampled upon. If Muslim children have the right to wear what they like to schools founded with the sweat of our fathers in the faith, what stops our children from wearing garments to the schools which are Christian heritage?
What solution would you propose as a way out of this impasse?
It is so simple, reverse the hijab wearing in Christian schools and we will stop our children from wearing choir robes. If they wear hijab to schools established by Muslims, we won’t question them.
It was part of the agreement reached with original owners of these schools before they were taken over in 1975. It was agreed that the cultures and traditions of the founders of the schools would be maintained but are they not violating the agreement now?
We always embrace peace. Since we raised the alarm three years ago that this would happen, people said we should allow the government to do the programme he has for us, but now everyone has found it quite uneasy. With time, the missionary schools built by our forefathers will be demolished and replaced with whatever they want to replace it with but God forbid that. There could be resolution and we are peaceful because we are peace loving. All what the government has to do is to call us to a round table meeting and we will sit with them but if force is what they want to apply, then let them go ahead.
Do you support the calls for the return of missionary schools to their original owners?
That has been our position. This will put an end to the crisis the government of the day has caused in the education sector. Yes, I support it that government should return the schools back to the owners willing to take back their schools.
If the schools are returned to their owners, there will be no problem with any student wearing hijab to Muslim schools and any Muslim student who attends Christian schools would know that he or she can not wear hijab to such schools. This would solve the problem and there will be close monitoring of the schools. Christian leaders would not allow their schools to be turned to where pupils beat teachers, commit all sorts of atrocities and I believe Muslims would not also watch their schools to decay and any Christian student who chooses to attend a Muslim school would comply with their doctrines. The return of schools to their owners will permanently solve the problem of hijab and many others.