Lagos Schools, Hijab and the Sovereignty of the State, By Adeolu Ademoyo

Adeolu Ademoyo

The news that the Lagos state government is examining the wearing of hijab by female students in Lagos state public schools has generated considerable interest among citizens. Such interest is justified in view of the social roots and origins of terrorism in our nation and the commercialization, fetishization and mystification of the female body which often leads to its re-constitution and capture.

Hence, the question is: Is it right for the Lagos state government to legislate on uniforms in public schools? Should the state legislate for or against a particular uniform(s), in this case hijab? The latter question is important because we have wrongly made religious issues overly sensitive.

However, the so-called sensitive nature of religion needs open scrutiny. This is because the invisible, phobic and neurotic fear of the “other” locked in the human heart is often part of the psychological origins of terrorism in the land.  And if Sigmund Freud the socio-psycho analytic philosopher is right that there is a sub-conscious part of the human body which is an invisible clock that ticks away every second of our life on earth; a “spy” of some sort that   “secretly” records our thought in spite of us, then a public engagement and conversation about   the innermost closet of our mind is healthy no matter how sensitive the issue is.

A cursory check will reveal that there may be some sense in Freud in view of the ease with which otherwise innocent looking people fall back on or into terrorism. Check the Tsarnaev Muslim brothers of Boston terrorist killings and the most recent case -the British-Nigerian, Mr. Michael Adebolajo, a 28-year-old   Muslim convert who is alleged to be involved in the criminal hacking down of a British soldier, an obvious terrorist act.  Looking at Michael Adebolajo’s (a Michael, a “Mujahid” with the name of a Christian archangel, he reminds me of our own local and homegrown Mujahids, thugs and terrorists “Mujahid” Asari Dokubo and Abubakar Shekau), placid face no one will ever know what is inscribed on his grisly, gruesome and venomous mind. No one would have been able to match “Mujahid” Michael Adebolajo’s inscrutable face with the hideous inscriptions; with the prowling and lurking death that inhabit the deep, dank, and dark closet of his hate-seething and hate-seeking mind.

This is why, we owe Sigmund Freud a debt for calling humanity’s attention to the paradoxes of the secret and mysterious workings of the subconscious in our bodies; the virtue the sub-conscious potentially has plus the hate-damage it can potentially wreck on the world. Mujahid “Michael” Adebolajo’s case is Godless, shameful and disgusting, a sickening and hurting embarrassment to the public, noble, honorable and moral act of parenting; his act is an infernal disgrace to himself as an adult, and to humanity.

Therefore, to ask where all these emotions of anger and terrorism come is to fail to accept the truth in Freud’s suggestion about how the invisible sub-conscious in us records secretly, quietly and seamlessly every second of our life thoughts in spite of us even when we appear “placid” like a lake on the surface. This is why it is better to publicly unlock the subconscious in us before it locks and knocks us into another gore of violence and terrorism in our nation. So will legislation against religious uniforms in public schools by a state, which has legislated that a uniform is the appropriate dress code, be right?

My answer rests on the rational and that in a 21st century modern state you cannot have two sources of sovereignty.  Our folk cultures put it more succinctly that you cannot have two captains in a ship. This means that if we are interested in preserving the Nigerian state as one indivisible sovereign, then a state has the right to legislate on the wearing of religious uniform(s) if the state has legislated that uniforms are the acceptable mode of dress in its public schools. We need to begin to engage issues more rationally. This way, no one is “targeted” or feels that he is “targeted”.

So based on a rational criterion, my answer is: if a state is not a theocratic state, and if the state, through the wisdom of its multiple, plural and diverse tax payers has legislated that wearing a designated uniform is the appropriate dress for students in its public elementary and high schools, then such non-theocratic state ought to stand by its decision that a/the designated uniform is the appropriate dress.

It could be objected that it is inconsistent to allow religious uniform(s) in public universities while disallowing it in public elementary and high schools. A plausible answer is that public universities have autonomy of administration, policy and funding. Public elementary and high schools are direct expression of the will of the state and they are perceived as such by all citizens in the republic.  And if the state is a plural non-theocratic one, it is therefore valid and sound for such state to legislate against religious uniform(s) in its public schools, otherwise such religious uniform(s) will be wrongly perceived as defining the nature of the will of the state.

It could still be objected that (i) it is irrational not to allow a citizen’s way of life in public schools, (ii) defending one’s way of life is the rational thing to do and it would be irrational not to defend one’s way of life.  These objections are made on the view that  “ways of life” are also rational acts. But the issue is not whether the content of someone’s way of life is rational or irrational. The issue is what to grant by a particular type of state in a particular setting-public elementary and high schools.

If we fail to acknowledge the type of state and setting as the issue at stake, then since the nudist also has a right to his/her way of life, then the nudist must be allowed to come to public schools naked for the nudist’s way of life ought to have equal rational weight as anyone’s way of life on the ground of equity. But the republic’s citizens in their plural and diverse wisdom have tacitly and explicitly acceded to the sovereignty of the state to refuse to designate nakedness as a dress code in public elementary and high schools. Thus, one cannot give sovereignty to a state on one way of life and withdraw it on another. This will be inconsistent, incoherent and, indefensible.

This is why for such state to allow religious uniform(s) in its public schools; such state will be violating itself and its own sovereignty. Such conscious self-inflicted violation by a state is a self-invitation to chaos and anarchy. But if such state wishes to allow religious uniform(s) in its public schools, such state must first either re-define itself as a theocratic state or reverse itself on its position on the wearing of a/the designated uniform in its public schools. This is when the state will be acting rationally for the health, safety, objective existence, continuity, inclusiveness, and perpetuity of the nation. Since we must presume that rationality is a gift of all humans regardless of our diverse faiths, such rationality and its acts are what we citizens, as citizens urgently need at this moment to save and perpetuate the nation.

This is not an argument for or against any faith. It is an argument that we citizens and parents owe our society the duty and obligations of love to teach our children to love the beauty of the inherent diversity and plurality in the world and to accept with warm and kind embrace the beauty of these diversity and plurality, and to teach our children to accept lovingly, and kindly   the sovereignty of the modern state they live in for there can never be two sovereigns in a state. To object to this is to formalize terrorism and anarchy in the republic and in the world at large as a way of life as terrorism is being re-franchised as a hate enterprise of   lone wolves. This will be a hostile death to the republic, the Nigerian nation and an inclusive and plural world. This is not acceptable.

Adeolu Ademoyo is of Africana Studies and Research Center, Cornell University, Ithaca NY.

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