Date Posted: June 23, 2016 at 6:43 am

Poor Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola! It seems the Osun State Governor can never put a foot right in the eyes of the powerful Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) whose control of the Nigerian media is hard, if not impossible, to match. His crime, as he himself aptly put it the other day in response to the gratuitous attacks he has been subjected to of recent, seems to be that he insists on being a good Muslim.





Not too long ago he was called all manner of names for daring to declare the first day in the Islamic calendar a public holiday in his state whose Muslim population is probably the majority. For his critics it didn’t matter that the Solar calendar from which Christmas and New Year celebrations derived is not universal. It also did not seem to matter that the declaration deprived non-Muslims of nothing.

Gratuitous as those attacks were, however, they were still understandable; as governor, the buck for any administrative order stopped on his table.

The same cannot be said of the most recent attacks he has been subjected to over the ruling on June 3 by an Osun State High Court in Osogbo in favour allowing female Muslim students to wear Hijab in all public primary and secondary schools in the state.

Justice Jide Falola’s ruling on Hijab was not the first. The first was nearly two years ago in October 2014 when Justice Modupe Onyeabor dismissed a similar suit filed in May 2013 against the Lagos State Government by two 12-year old girls under the aegis of the Muslim Students Society of Nigeria, Lagos State Area Unit, over the government’s ban on Hijab.

In her judgment, Justice Onyeabor said the state’s prohibition of the wearing of Hijab over school uniforms within and outside the premises of public schools was not discriminatory. According to her, the ban did not violate sections 38 and 42 of the 1999 Constitution as claimed by the plaintiffs. They had contended that the ban violated the two sections which gave them the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

Instead, the judge said, the right they sought violated Section 10 of the Constitution which said “The Government of the Federation or of a State shall not adopt any religion as State Religion.”

In deference to the ruling by the judge the plaintiffs decided to respect the state’s dress code but appeal her judgment. The case has since pended before the Court of Appeal and is likely to go all the way to the Supreme Court.

The contrast between the restrained reaction of the Muslim leadership in Lagos to its loss and the petulance of the Christian leadership at both the state and national level in the Osun case could hardly be sharper. And the extent to which the newspapers have indulged the Christian leadership in their petulance spoke volumes about their fairness, balance and objectivity.

Since the June 3 ruling Aregbesola has been accused of trying to start a “war” – in the words of Vanguard of June 15 – over religious dressing in his state. Several newspapers have carried pictures of some students in their choir and Church attires to their schools when they reopened on June 14 following the “June 12” public holidays.

The prophesy of this fabricated “war” may yet be fulfilled if it all depended on the CAN leadership – and the newspapers.

As the chairman of the state’s chapter of CAN, Elisha Ogundiya, said in a statement on the court ruling, “Christian students in all public schools founded by Christians with the toil and sweat of our forefathers in the faith (will) have no choice but to start wearing garments and vestments as part of their school uniform for the propagation of our faith, given that Justice Saka Oyedije Falola declared the right of female Muslim students to do same, as what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander as well.”

Reverend Musa Asake, CAN’s General Secretary, was even more unequivocal in blaming the governor for creating what he called a “religious crisis” between Muslims and Christians in the state.

“Although they are talking about court judgment,” Asake said, “what I can say is that Aregbesola is responsible for whatever is happening in Osun State. We at the national level are in total support of the decision by the Osun State chapter of CAN that Christian pupils should attend classes in choir gowns, Girls Guide and Boys Scout apparels, including white garments, depending on whatever attire appeals to any Christian parent.”

As Christian leaders, the partisan statements of Ogundiya and Asake are understandable, albeit untenable. Not so, the editorial of the Nigerian Pilot of June 17, which was both untenable and impossible to understand.  The governor, the newspaper said, “should not in his usual demeanour sound as one who shares in ignorance and pretense over a matter that is volatile like the looming religious crisis…It is wrong timing for the world to see him as a religious fundamentalist nursing a hidden agenda TO ISLAMIZE OSUN STATE.” (Emphasis mine).

Any newspaper worth the name should know there is separation of powers between the Judiciary and the Executive arms of government. It should also know that recognising a manifestation of any religion is not the same as adopting it as state religion.

This is what makes it truly baffling that the Osun State governor should be held, not just vicariously, but directly responsible for the ruling of a court. But then, as the man himself said, it seems his crime is that he insists on being a good Muslim.

“Is it,” to use his own words, “a crime that I am a Muslim, is it because I struggle to be a good Muslim that everything I do is being misunderstood? I think I don’t deserve all these lies against me.”

The man has challenged any one with evidence that he ordered the wearing of Hijab to bring it. Not a single one of those calling him names has done so. And it’s unlikely that they ever will.

Aregbesola has done all he can to be a good Muslim, which means being fair to all religious persuasions in the state. Contrary to what his critics say, our Constitution never said Nigeria is a secular state. My Advance English Dictionary defines secular as “of or relating to the doctrine that rejects religion and religious considerations.” The very opening words of our Constitution say we are “…a Sovereign Nation under God.” This is clearly no rejection of religion.

Even Section 10 of the Constitution that the Lagos State High Court Judge cited as her basis of banning Hijab in the state did not reject religion. It only says none should be adopted by the State.

The section may look like a contradiction of Section 38 which gives us the freedom of religion and to manifest it. But it seems contradictory only if we assume recognising any manifestation of a religion amounts to adopting it. This assumption is clearly a fallacy. Otherwise it would mean, for example, the fact that we celebrate Christmas means the country has adopted Christianity as the State religion.

Just like Christmas is a manifestation of Christianity so is Hijab a manifestation of Islam, albeit even more so, because an adult woman is considered naked without it. It is indeed an irony that the Christian leadership should object to a dress considered ideal for Christian women who dedicate themselves to serving God, as reverend sisters do.

Section 38 of our Constitution says we are all entitled to our faiths and to the freedom to “manifest and propagate it…in worship, teaching, practice and observance.”

I find it impossible to understand how my daughters or my wife wearing Hijab in public violates the right of a non-Muslim to manifest his or her own faith. I find it even more impossible to understand how doing so amounts to the country adopting Islam as State Religion.

In any case if anyone felt threatened by female Muslim students wearing Hijab I would have thought the proper thing to do was to go to court and seek redress rather than defy a lawful order issued by a lawful authority.

Aregbesola was not the one who said female students can wear Hijab to school as part of their uniform. It was the courts that did. Those who disagree should go there and test their presumptions of the rights of their children to dress to public schools as they deem fit instead of trying to make a straw man out of Aregbesola, the easier to destroy him.

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