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HomeBreakingKwara State Government Islamizes Christian Schools, Imposes Hijab for Muslim Girls

Kwara State Government Islamizes Christian Schools, Imposes Hijab for Muslim Girls

Christian Parents Decry Marginalization of Christianity

By Mike Odeh James and Luka Binniyat

(Kaduna) More than 200 Christian schools in Kwara State, North Central Nigeria, face a looming crisis as the state government continues to force their principals to make them Muslim in appearance and outlook.

Some of these historic missionary schools are more than 100 years old and were built by Christian missionaries and indigenous Christians, educating millions of graduates.

Bar Shina Ibiyemi, Publicity Secretary of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Kwara State chapter, revealed to TruthNigeria that the Christian Schools have been forced to adapt to Muslim students’ desires.

“The Kwara State Government has subtly taken over Christian schools and imposed  Islamic practices on some of them, says Bar Shina Ibiyemi, Publicity Secretary of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Kwara State chapter.

The controversy erupted in 2021  when The government, ordered the temporary closure of  “10 grant-aided secondary” schools in Ilorin, the state capital, pending the resolution of a dispute over whether to allow Muslim girls to wear the hijab.

Muslim leaders demanded  that students should be allowed to use the head covering in accordance with the Nigerian Constitution, but Christian clergy argued that bringing the Muslim dress code into the schools would contradict the heritage of the Christian organizations that  built the schools.

After months of controversy the government authorized the use of hijab in all public schools in the state and ordered the reopening of the affected schools.  Yet, the Christian leaders have filed their briefs with Nigeria’s Supreme Court.

Kwara State Government Islamizing Christian Schools

Students in Kwara school wearing the hijab. Photo by: Mike Odeh James
Students in Kwara school wearing the hijab. Photo by: Mike Odeh James

Many of the school owners that talked to TruthNigeria insisted that the aim of the takeover of their schools was to allow the state government to impose Islamic practices on Christian schools.

In effect, the state government is forcing Christian schools to adopt Islamic practices, building mosques in missionary schools, and pressuring school owners to allow it. This move is seen as an attempt to erase the Christian heritage of the schools.

“They insisted that girls in Christian schools must wear hijab, and we insisted that’s not possible,” he said. “But the government directed Muslim students to attend classes in Christian schools wearing hijab.”

Ibiyemi also accused the government of building mosques in missionary schools, which is not allowed in Muslim or government schools.

“The government is pressuring Christian school owners to allow mosques to be built on their premises,” he said. “They blackmail those who refuse, saying other Christian schools are allowing it, so you must too.”

Temitope Olorunmo, Chairman of Parents Teachers, Christ Apostolic Church Ilorin, Kwara State, told TruthNigeria that,

“Since 2020, we’ve noticed a surge in demands from the state government and some Muslim parents to allow girls wearing hijab to attend classes in our grant-aided schools. We’ve maintained our stance that these are Christian missionary schools, and we cannot compromise our principles. If they’re uncomfortable adhering to our dress code, they have the option to enroll in other schools,” Olorunmo said.

“However, the government is bent on confiscating our schools, he added.

The Genesis of the Takeover of Christian Schools

Students and parents march in front of a Baptist school in Kwara to object to the imposition of the hijab at their school. Photo by: Mike Odeh James
Students and parents march in front of a Baptist school in Kwara to object to the imposition of the hijab at their school. Photo by: Mike Odeh James

In a bid to verify the claims of Christian schools’ takeover by the government, TruthNigeria investigated a 1972 agreement between the Kwara State Military Government and owners of missionary schools, commonly referred to as “Christian schools.”

Terms of the Agreement

The agreement stipulated that the state government would provide financial aid to missionary schools, including the payment of salaries and necessary finances to maintain the schools. However, the ownership and management of school affairs would remain with the school owners. The terms also ensured that the government would not acquire school properties and that the schools’ names would not be changed. Moreover, the agreement respected and protected the religious practices of the schools, maintaining their integrity.

Olorunmo explained that the government initially offered to help pay teachers’ salaries, but the missionaries retained proprietorship and management.

“This arrangement allowed the schools to maintain their Christian values and traditions while receiving financial support from the government, and the owners agreed,” he said.

“The government then coined the name ‘grant-aided schools’ for missionary schools; we were okay with it because it did not affect the ownership or religious outlay of missionary schools, Olorunmo said.

A Betrayal of Trust

Rev. Ibiyemi, the publicity secretary of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), revealed to TruthNigeria that in 2004, the Kwara State Government unilaterally changed the status of missionary schools from grant-aided schools to public schools without notifying the owners.

 This move was a clear violation of the agreement reached in 1972, which stipulated that the state government would provide financial aid to missionary schools while the ownership and management of school affairs would remain with the school owners, according to Ibiyemi.

“The government enacted an edit called the Educational Edit of 2004, effectively transferring the ownership of the schools from Christians to the state government without informing the public or the school owners,” Rev. Ibiyemi said.

Thus began the government’s subtle takeover of Christian schools, introducing Islamic practices and pressure to build mosques in missionary schools.

Justice Failed

According to Ibiyemi, the owners of the schools taken over by the Government had approached the court asking for their schools to be handed over to them.

Nonetheless, the rulings coming out of the court seem to be heavily prejudiced in favour of the government.

So the Christians are left with no option but to appeal to the international community to come to the aid of the school owners –  the churches and mission societies that built them.

Persecution of Christians in Kwara: Widespread but Subtle

Rev. Kallamu Musa Dikwa, the Director General of the Center for Justice on Religious and Ethnicity in Nigeria, told TruthNigeria that Kwara State aims to take over all Christian-owned schools, introducing Islamic and Arabic studies, while suppressing Christian education. This move has led to riots and the further stigmatization of Christians in the state.

 “The government wants to follow the examples of Borno, Yobe, and Kano States, where Christian religion is not taught in secondary schools, while employing numerous Arabic and Islamic teachers.”

Mr. Ibiyemi emphasized that the marginalization of Christians in Kwara extends beyond school takeovers.

“In the civil service, Muslims are promoted above eminently qualified Christians. For instance, a level 13 Muslim can be appointed above a level 15 Christian,” Ibiyemi said.

” Furthermore, Christians are not allowed to rise above certain levels in the state civil service.” He also noted that Christians are overlooked in the sharing of palliatives, while Muslims are favored. This systemic marginalization perpetuates a culture of oppression, limiting Christians’ opportunities and silencing their voices.

Mike Odeh James and Luka Binniyat are conflict reporters for TruthNigeria.

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