Osun’s macabre dance – By Louis Odion, FNGE

Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola

In moments of social
dilemma when power is thought to be tainted by partisanship, it is often to the
temple of the bar that a society looks for clarity and direction. In the hand
of the conscientious judge, the spirit of the law in fact comes alive over the
iceberg of technicalities. Then, the wise judge will creatively sidestep the
usual bogey of precedents with an interpretation that best captures the essence
of justice in both letter and spirit, thereby ensuring continued harmony and
balance of the society at large.

 Sadly, the exact opposite of the foregoing is
what is presently playing out in Osun State. A strange ruling by a judge is
stoking sectarian tension and could potentially ignite a conflagration with
dire implication for national security and stability. Specifically, the past
few days witnessed a theatre of the absurd at the Baptist High School, Iwo, as
students of the Christian faith came to school wearing all manner of regalia
associated with the church. To the Tesbir their Muslim classmates had
brandished, the Christians flaunted rosaries.

 It was all supposed to be their own
affirmative action against a judgement entered on June 3 by Justice Jide Falola
giving students of Muslim faith freedom to wear hijab to schools as “part
of their fundamental rights.”

Louise Odion

 In their own reaction, the state branch of the
Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) reckoned it would amount to dignifying
the judgement by going to a superior court to challenge it. To them, what makes
it even more unbearable is that the very school where hijab is now welcomed was
originally built and owned by Baptist missionary.

 Not to be outdone, they simply resorted to
encouraging their wards to wear any church costume imaginable to the
classrooms. Not to take chances, some Christian parents volunteered to
accompany their wards to the school to ensure no one molested them over their
sartorial preference.

 One of the CAN leaders, Paul Olagoke, a
catechist and head of the Catholic bloc in the Iwo district, put very bluntly:
“We’re here to defend our religious right, to ensure that nobody chases
away our children for deciding to wear choir robes and other church-related
clothes to school.

 “We told the government before the school
merger that we did not want Christian schools to be merged with other schools
to avoid this kind of situation. We’re determined to make sure that
Christianity is not eradicated in the schools established with the sweat of our
forefathers in the faith.”

 As if acting a comedy script, the pupils in
the conflicting attires were however said have remained cordial as they
exchanged pleasantries. A fact confirmed by the school’s principal, Omotayo
Arowolo, with a cynical emphasis. To those who might be losing sleep, he
quipped: “You can observe by yourself that there is peaceful atmosphere in
the school compound and learning is progressing well without disturbance.”

Minister of Education Mallam Adamu Adamu

 But the atmosphere of normalcy and tranquility
painted by Arowolo is nothing but false. Otherwise, the Osun State Government
would not have ordered the school’s closure yesterday.

 Before the recourse to the self-help by
Christian parents, the state director of the Department of State Security (DSS)
was said to have hosted CAN leaders with an appeal that they back down for the
sake of peace. A plea that apparently fell on deaf ears. For now, no one can
tell what happens next.

 But the truth must be said: the June 3 ruling
was most unreasonable. It is most unfortunate that a judge, without regards for
the religious sensibilities of other citizens in a supposedly secular state,
could take liberty to interpret the constitution in such a reckless manner. It
is the most insensate thing to do at delicate times like this when the fissures
in the nation’s fault-lines appear to be widening by the day.

 Coming to think of it, it is even incorrect to
assume only Christianity and Islam define our religious identity as a nation.
Among the citizenry will be found practising traditionalists as well, for
instance. Pray, if Muslims and Christian kids were allowed to don the hijab and
the white collar respectively in the classrooms, on what moral basis shall we
be stopping children of juju worshippers from tying amulet around their wrists
if they so wished?

Justice Abubakar Malami

 Even more dangerous is the exposition of
innocent pupils at this tender age to the sectarian politics that has more or
less corrupted the larger society. Rather than teaching love and the virtue of
peaceful co-existence, we are inadvertently infecting the little ones with the
virus of hate. What a shame.

 Already, Governor Rauf Aregbesola has
responded in a manner anyone so caught in the middle would have by clarifying
that the hijab approval was only a judicial pronouncement and not the policy of
his administration. Unfortunately for Ogbeni, the negative publicity this
sartorial dust has generated at the Iwo school appears to have suddenly
overshadowed his inauguration lately of a number of reconstructed public
schools elsewhere in the state which ordinarily is praise-worthy. His burden is
not lightened by the fact that he is Muslim himself, though generally seen as
very accommodating of those who share different faiths.

 But rather than merely directing school
authorities to deal with pupils who come to schools in uniform not approved,
Ogbeni can show greater sagacity in the circumstance by directing his Attorney
General to take legal steps to set this divisive ruling aside expeditiously, in
case no NGO had already done so.

 Beyond that, it would also not be out of place
if the National Judicial Council, as the custodian of the juridical tradition,
weighs in to spare our society the anarchy likely to germinate from this kind
of toxic ruling.