The President of the Kwara State Baptist Conference, Victor Dada, has said the missionaries are not fighting Muslims but the state government over the status of their grant-aided schools.
“The fact that they have helped us at one time or the other does not make them owner or co-owners of the schools. Christian missionaries are not fighting Muslims but the state government over their grant aided schools.
Mr Dada, who is the leader of Baptist churches in Kwara and parts of Niger State, spoke on the lingering controversy surrounding the use of the Hijab by Muslim students in schools founded by Christian missions in an interview with PREMIUM TIMES on Thursday.
“A lot of people have been misconstruing it as if the Christians and Muslims are fighting. We are not fighting Muslims, we are fighting the government – the government that wants to forcefully take over our schools, our heritage,” he said.
“They have been helping us and we are grateful to them. But for them to wake up overnight and say the schools are now public schools, that’s the narrative we want to change.”
According to him, the government is reluctant to release the schools to the missionaries because “they have built one classroom or the other and they are paying teachers’ salaries.
“The fact that they have helped us at one time or the other does not make them owner or co-owners of the schools. That is what we are saying,” he told PREMIUM TIMES.
When asked about the concerns over students who have been at home for more than three weeks because of the crisis, Mr Dada said that is the fault of the government and not of the churches.
“Posterity will judge the Kwara State government if they truncate the educational life of these students. Let the whole world tell the government of Kwara State to respect the rule of law.”
Mr Dada said the government should wait for the Supreme Court judgment on the ownership of the schools before taking any action.
On the status of the churches’ appeal at the apex court, Mr Dada said no date has been fixed yet for the hearing.
For nearly a month, the use of hijab in the grant-aided schools has generated a controversy amongst members of two religious communities in the state— which later led to the closure of 10 schools.
The affected schools are C&S College, Sabo-Oke; St. Anthony’s Secondary School, Offa Road; ECWA School, Oja Iya; Surulere Baptist Secondary School, and Bishop Smith Secondary School, Agba Dam.
Others are CAC Secondary School, Asa Dam road; St. Barnabas Secondary School, Sabo-Oke; St. John School Maraba; St. Williams Secondary School, Taiwo Isale, and St. James Secondary School, Maraba.
The government had set up a committee to resolve the misunderstanding and later announced that the schools would resume on March 8 with willing female students allowed to use the hijab.
The government, however, reconsidered the reopening order over safety concerns after some Christians rejected the government’s decision. It later announced March 17 as the resumption date.
Meanwhile, the controversy degenerated into a clash on Wednesday at Baptist Secondary School, Surulere.
According to the Baptist leader, about 20 people including pastors were injured during the clash.
PREMIUM TIMES also observed that the school gate and signpost were destroyed while the front of a nearby Baptist church was defaced.
As of Thursday, out of ten schools, only ECWA Secondary School, Oja Iya, has resumed academic activities.
Muslim leaders react
The spokesperson of Muslim Stakeholders in Kwara State, Isiaq Abdulkareem, said those involved in the clash of Wednesday do not represent the Islamic group.
“They are just passers-by and members of the community who felt the use of hijab is the fundamental rights of students,” Mr Abdulkareem said on Thursday.
“We will remain patient with the government because they told us they are on top of the situation, as people who cherish peace,” he added.
Mr Abdulkareem said the head covering is a symbol of faith which is harmless and does not hinder learning.
“The whole world has moved on. In a multicultural and religious society like this, you cannot say female students must not use hijab. Hijab is a symbol of faith and they are denying them.”
For Abubakar Aliagan, a professor of Islamic studies in the University of Ilorin, the government should take action to salvage the situation.
“I don’t know why the government will give a directive and the Christian fundamentalists will decide to go against it. From what happened yesterday, it is clear who is fomenting trouble. The government needs to take action,” he told our correspondent.
The spokesperson of the police in the state, Ajayi Okasanmi, however, said the police will not tolerate the reoccurrence of the Wednesday scenario.
“We will not allow such to repeat itself again. Anyone that breaks law and order will be arrested and duly prosecuted.”
It should be noted that the military government, in the 1970s, took over these schools from their owners.
The schools, now grant-aided by the government, had their names changed, but some, like those in Kwara, retained their names.
The missions in Kwara have challenged the government take-over of the schools in court but lost at the high court and appellate court.
However, the missions, comprising different Christian denominations, have taken the case to the Supreme Court.