Osun: Another pseudo-storm


Leaders Beware: Christian or Muslim, you may find this piece irreverent, since Ripples does not particularly care about Hijab or any religious frock.

These wears are a cultural imposition that came with these foreign faiths.

But Ripples is adamant on fairness and equity — and so should any fair mind — particularly when it concerns structural injustice.  That looks “fair” just because it had “been there” for so long!

That alone drove this intervention in the current Osun Hijab pseudo-storm.

What was the basis of “secular” uniforms in Nigerian schools? Lagos of the 19th Century, as captured by Prof. Michael Echeruo in his book, Victorian Lagos, may well offer a glimpse.

“Lagos remained almost thoroughly a ‘Christian’ community,” quipped the Revd. Mojola Agbebi, a radical Christian cleric, in Victorian Lagos.  “Its government was British and so, Christian; its elite was educated and so also Christian.  The mass of the people were, however, ‘uneducated’ and pagan (read African traditional worship).”


“In between,” he continued, “came the Muslim community, but, for a long time, it had neither the political nor economic power to enforce an appropriate position for itself in Lagos life.”

Meanwhile, the Lagos official census, by 1891, was: 10, 269 Christians, 21, 103 Muslims and 54, 230 pagans (again, read African Traditional worshippers), according to Victorian Lagos (page 82).

Still pushing the Agbebi analogy, the Lagos government was British — and Christian.  So, its mode of operations, routine work and rest days, public holidays, as well as its education policy — and school administration — was Christian.

If the school administration was Christian, then it logically follows the uniform prescribed for the schools would be Christian.  So, the uniforms were as “secular” as their British (read Christian) origin allowed.

Indeed, it wasn’t until February 1899 that the Lagos government — thanks to the efforts of Liberian Edward Blyden, who worked in the Lagos service as Political Agent for Native Affairs, but resigned in 1898 — that the Lagos government introduced a government-sponsored Lagos Muslim School.  Dr. Blyden, though himself a Christian, was champion of Muslim education.

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To Dr. Blyden’s memory, from grateful Lagos, is the Edward Blyden Memorial Primary School, Lafiaji, Lagos — which, as kids on Lagos Island in the early 1970s, we used to mock as “Edo Foro”, somewhat punning Edward for Edo (Yoruba for liver).

But even that school, like other public schools back then, was run as a “secular” school, hinged on Euro-Christian tradition!

Why that disproportionate domination?  Simple.  Christianity (back then, less than 100 years in Africa) came with colonial empire building.  Islam (which, quoting Agbebi again, had been around for 1003 years) came with trans-Africa Arab trade.  But both were foreign doctrines.

While trade might cohabit with local culture, if the cash is right, imperialism imposes its own.  But aside from a Christian-led government, Christian missionaries pioneered running schools.  So, even when Muslim missions later followed suit, the European concept of the school uniform was well-neigh settled.

So long for the much vaunted secularity!

As it was with Lagos, then the British colonial capital, it is with Federal Nigeria.

On the balance, even with the Muslim lobby’s Arabic scrawl on Nigeria’s currency and their gamely push to brand their faith as the religion of power of independent Nigeria, British colonization has ensured much of the country’s so-called “secularity” had Euro-Christian roots.

Yet, Nigeria has a huge Muslim population.  In the name of equity, don’t Muslims too have rights, of self-expression, under the law?

That tucks the matter back to the Osun Hijab controversy.

Since an Osogbo high court ruled that Muslim girls could wear the Hijab as accessory to their uniforms in public schools, an emotive army has been screaming : it’s secularity or nothing! But whose secularity?

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On this score, some newspapers have written editorials, exhibiting the disturbing penchant, of the Nigerian contemporary press, to brandish specious analysis as the zenith of rigour!  They also leave themselves open to not unfair accusations of anti-Muslim bias.

The Punch editorial was predictable: arrogant, bigoted, total and sweeping!  It was an unabashed beatification of its well-executed agenda of editorial mischief, nay diktat, against Aregbesola and his Osun government.

You doubt?  Check how the newspaper always slants its Osun stories, towards its favourite cauldron of religious Armageddon!

In a buzz of self-praise over a self-fulfilling prophecy, the newspaper even growled at the Osun government to junk its education reforms, simply because the chaffing, all-mighty Punch balks!

But the Osun government need not be dismayed.  If you search the literatures enough, many a newspaper would have roared at Chief Obafemi Awolowo that he was wasting time and resources, executing his epochal free primary education programme. But history is a wiser judge!

But perhaps The Punch suffers some structural defects?  How many of its Editorial Board members are Muslims, for instance?

And how many there, are imbued with enough sensitivity to delicately approach this debate? Or even the scholarly humility to research the root of Muslim rights in a so-called secular Nigeria, beyond the baying rage of an all-knowing and all-wise crusader!

The Nation too wrote an editorial on the matter, on which Ripples also disagrees.

After all the excitement, however, a court has passed a verdict many feel is controversial.  But when a party disagrees with a judgment, due process demands appeal, not resort to self-help.  To endorse self-help under any guise, particularly when the so-called secularity of school uniforms is founded on smoke, is indeed tragic.

But the conceptual mischief — if not outright and wilful confusion — in the brouhaha beggars belief! The huffing Osun Christian elements scrambled their children and wards to school with a pot-pourri of Christian worship cloaks: soutanes, surplices, choir robes!

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But can all these be defended as the  normal, everyday wear for Christian girls, the way the Hijab is a Muslim girl’s, 24 hours-a-day?

And now, parting shots — from Christian voices of Victorian Lagos.

First Bishop James Johnson, “Holy Johnson” in Lagos church history and moderate cleric.  He was Saro with Ijebu roots.  But he talked of the Ijebu contempt, for 19th century local Christians’ British affectations — “long trousers, shoes and socks, and … umbrellas,” English customs that came with the gospel.

And the iconoclastic Mojola Agbebi: “… the white man’s names, the white man’s dress, are so many non-essentials, so many props and crutches affecting the religious manhood of the Christian African”

That about captures Ripples’ attitude to zealots on both sides of the divide: you can still practice your faith without becoming either a western or Arab caricature.  Still, everyone has a right to express themselves, their own way.

The Hijab controversy is, therefore, a mere symptom.  The real disease is the skewing of Nigeria’s official public life against Muslims, no thanks to the British (read Christian) imperial legacy.

Nigeria’s so-called secularity is a near-farce, being Christian-driven.  So, Muslims too have a right to be integrated into that “secularity”.

That is the tale of the Osun Hijab — and the Nigerian state should listen; and make amends.

That is what is fair and equitable to all.

By Olakunle Abimbola

Abimbola is a member of The Nation Newspaper Editorial Board, and a columnist in under the Ripples.

SOURCE: The Nation

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