Friday, 17 June 2016

Osun's macabre dance – By Louis Odion, FNGE

By on 10:44
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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.

Gbenga Dan Asabe

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