Written by the Editorial board of The Guardian Newspaper
The Osun State High Court judgment, the other day, granting the right of Muslim students to wear hijab in all public schools in the state, based on the doctrine of fundamental human rights, was ill-advised and insensitive, to say the least. The judge should have known that although fundamental human rights are inalienable, they are exercised in a society of men and women where the rules of socialisation mediate those rights in order to avoid anarchy. It was the whole essence of the hypothetical theory of the state. As Rousseau puts it in his The Social Contract, “Each one of us puts into the community his person and all his powers under the supreme direction of the general will; and as a body, we incorporate every member as an indivisible part of the whole.”
Just when it was assumed that religious tension had died down in Osun State, the new judgment came to excite the state into another round of unnecessary crisis. The consequent scene of riotous clothing by different students to public institutions has not only been offensive to public sense of decorum but a testimony to how not to govern. It is indeed not surprising that public institutions and leaders have had to be engaged for trouble-shooting. They have had meetings with some Christians in the state as well as representatives of Governor Rauf Aregbesola amidst protestations from aggrieved Christian religious groups. Expectedly, the state government’s spokesmen have variously sought to extenuate the government’s culpability in the looming anarchy in the state while some Muslim partisans have expressed their support for the judgment without weighing the implication. This is very unfortunate.
State-religion relationship in a multi-national setting is without doubt problematic. Statecraft in contemporary times has, therefore, devised the governance formula of secularity. In a Weberian bureaucratic tradition, religion is never to be entertained in the public service. Nigerian statesmen who are aware of this complexity of intermingling state affairs with religion also chose secularity for the Nigerian state.
This is engrossed in Section 10 of the 1999 Constitution as amended. The section is unambiguous and states expressly that, “The Government of the Federation or of a State shall not adopt any religion as State Religion.” This somewhat relegates religion to the private realm of the individual despite the impunitious violation of the constitution by many state actors who have, over the years, funded religious pilgrimages of some of their people, especially the two most popular religions in the country, Christianity and Islam.
The judiciary, saddled with the constitutional responsibility of interpreting both the letters and the spirit of the constitution ought to know better and be guided in its dispensation of justice by the grundnorm. The judge in the Osun State matter ought to have been circumspect in his judgement. The verdict has excited renewed religious agitation in the state. The answer to the problem lies in a constitutional awakening and appreciation of the tradition and principles of scholarship.
Students should wear uniform and after school hours, people can go back home and wear clothes whether religious or otherwise. What is the meaning of the word school? It means training in uniformity. It means training in the same mould, hence distinctive clothing worn by those in school. School is about building people in a particular mode for self-development and to provide leadership for others to follow. A school system primes pupils and students for discipline. In other words, it socialises the students to self-restraint.
The judge ought to have heeded the warning of the British bard, William Shakespeare who said, “‘T will be recorded for a precedent,/And many an error by the same example/ Will rush into the state. It cannot be.” There is no wisdom in that judgment on Osun.
To be sure, the moment religion is brought into school, it is a decimation of that process. Chaos sets in. The judge did not appreciate the essentiality of the school system, a classic case of knowledge without understanding. And the collateral damage of the judgment on education is monumental. It goes to the heart of discipline in the school system. Our history is replete with examples of conformity to the rule of uniformity in schools. Both Christians and Muslims went to Christian and Muslim schools where the rule of uniformity obtained. What is more, across the institutions of the Nigerian state, police, army and paramilitary formations, populated by adherents of different religions, wear uniforms.
The tension created in Osun State is unnecessary. The government ought to pre-occupy itself with how to run the affairs of the state better and not to be handed diversionary channels through religious fanaticism in a state that has lived, over the years, in religious harmony. Now that it is in the throes of religious tension, the Osun State Government should apply for a stay of action through the appeal court and promote dialogue on the matter.