By Oladipupo Jimoh, International Liaison Personnel, Revolutionary Socialist Vanguard (Nigerian Section of the RCIT) https://revolutionarysocialistvanguard.wordpress.com/ 22.03.2021
The media space had been rent for a fortnight by shocking news of bloody clashes between Christians and Muslims in Ilorin, Kwara state over whether or not Hijabs, one of the head coverings of Muslim women, should be allowed in Christian missionary schools.¹
Interestingly, the government of Kwara state was neck deep with one of the sides in this conflict. The government claimed that it had won the proprietors of the missionary schools, that is, the churches and other Christian religious organizations when the dispute was tabled in the Kwara State High Court, yet the religious proprietors of these institutions insisted that they have been wronged by the government for allowing the use of the Hijab by students in their Christian missionary schools and were determined to continue their crusade against such “profanity” by all available means.
The government’s defence was that since it has funded those institutions for decades it reserved the right to make policies concerning the institutions of learning which in its opinion should reflect “secularism” and “pluralism”. The milestone in this government funding or takeover was alleged to have occurred as far back as 1974 when the process of partial or full transfer of these missionary schools to the Federal and state governments began in earnest throughout Nigeria.
Every consistent democrat and progressive should support the separation of governance from religion and the promotion of religious indifferent views and policies by the government. Naturally this should include the shunning of any official ban on voluntary religious coverings such as the Burka, Hijab, Niqab etc.,as well as any mandatory or enforced dress pattern for all sexes. Yet what we find in those countries perceived as models for secularism and/or pluralism is shockingly in contrast to the expected standard. In France, legislators have passed a law effectively banning the use of head coverings like the Hijab and the Burka for Muslim women citing “security” reasons by saying CCTV cameras hardly identify women using these coverings if they were to be involved in, say a shoplift. While some have claimed that wearing a hoodie and a facemask produces the same effect, others argue that this legislation does little to stop robbers who come mask on and guns blazing. In Switzerland a similar law has been passed this time around, it follows the banning of minarets in architecture (!)²
If our model secularist governments from the West have faultered this badly then cross-checking the pro-Western justification the Kwara state government uses to enforce the use of Hijab in Christian missionary schools becomes necessary.
A convenient place to start is the 1974 agreement. Did the government throughout Nigeria tell these clergymen that they would gradually but consistently erode the clerical statutes with which they ran those schools? Was the government of that period really a secularist or quasi pluralist one? If both Christian and Muslim missionary schools were grant aided or adopted by both state and Federal levels of the government, could this not have been seen as a brand of secularism/pluralism at the time?
To answer these questions, a little more contextual background maybe required. You see the Missionary schools were the brainchild of the European colonialists who after plundering our lands and peoples for 400 years had the meat of their hearts tenderised by only God knows what and decided to give us schools. For decades these schools served as, if you like, the de facto institutions of learning of the colonial governments. So they were not just set up by religious bodies but they had the blessing of a state where not just religion and government were fused but that was also non-secular in that it was monarchical–The British Colonial Government.
To be clear, this 1974 pact took place across Nigeria and Kwara state is not the only state where such climactic conflicts have occurred over the use of Hijabs in Christian missionary schools. The 1974 pact which took place only 14 years after independence was part of a process of hand over of “government assets” from the colonial masters to the “colonised” and the spirit of that hand over still persists even though in a different form today.
Every mature political thinker at least knows that Nigeria is the worst kind of semi-colony (a neo-colony) and the celebrations in 1960 were just over the new flag. In like manner the state that inherited this new form of dependence from its masters was not secular. It was at best a multireligious state. This is where the distinction comes in. Now you no longer have to wonder where the tradition of starting meetings with a Christian opening and ending them with an Islamic closing came from. A multireligious government is not the same as a non-religious one.
So the multireligious nature of the Nigerian state underpinned the take over of both Christian and Muslim missionary schools by the government even though it may have passed as secularism or pluralism at the time. The only question is why this multireligious state suddenly chose to become more “secular”. Or did it really? If so when did this process of “pluralisation” begin.
The post-independence policies of the Nigerian government are an extension of the imperialist policy in a new form, however, since the mantle for the preservation of the neocolonial economy was placed in the hands of the northern Islamic caliphate every other thing was to follow the sanctimony of the emerging state religion and not even the Christian missionary schools were exempt.
The secular state remains a pipe dream in today’s world. Even in a country as advance as the US we still see Christian rituals of prayer and sermon during the last presidential inauguration ceremony. All those countries which have for decades posed as the model for secular values are soon exposed by one crises or the other whether domestic or international. It is worth pointing out that not only those states lower the standard of secularism who enforce religious dressings or coverings like Saudi Arabia, etc., but also those states like France and Switzerland which bans voluntary religious coverings or directly attacks religious minorities like China.
While the US especially in Trumpian times uses religion to manipulate public opinion, Macron’s France uses Islamophobia to replace government dissatisfaction in the face of a domestic crises through anti-religion.³ In both cases religion or “anti-religion” still legitimised the power grip of both governments. A truly secular state is one which does not need religion or “anti-religion” as the case maybe to fulfill its goals. This remains the only progressive form of separation of religion and government.
So what played out in Ilorin through the Hijab controversy is not a conflict between the conservative Christians and secular Muslims rallying behind the pluralist government of Kwara state. It was a fight for the soul of the government between two religious forces where the one (Christian forces) was trying to stop the advance of the other (the Islamic forces). It should be clear by now that a state order enforcing the use of Hijabs in Christian missionary schools has the same spirit as the outright ban on Muslim coverings in France. This is the case since both the campaign of Islamophobia in Macron’s France and the enforcement of Hijabs in those schools only revived the religious fires in the Muslim world and in the Christians of Ilorin, and Nigeria as a whole, respectively.
Revolutionaries and genuine leftists should know the side to take when faced with a conflict similar to the violent face-off over the Hijab in Ilorin. Lenin, that great Russian philosopher, always emphasized the distinction between what he called proletarian and bourgeois anti-clericalism. Progressives must take the side that, for whatever reason, promotes the separation of religion from government meaning the return of the missionary schools to the religious organizations and the side advocating for this was the Churches.
The Hijab was only a symbol in the conflicts. The bloody clashes were in the real sense over the changing balance of religious forces in the governance of the state. In such a fight the position of consistent democrats could only be to eviscerate all religious influence, content and standing from the government and in the specific case of the Hijab brawl in Ilorin only the losing side of the fight stood for this by demanding the reversal of the institutions back under their control. Enforcing the use of religious articles in an incompatible religious association by state decree or court order is tantamount to abolishing religion. The blowback for this can only be the reinforcement of religious zeal and the birth of new religious prejudices.
It becomes inconsequential who has been funding the institutions since 1974 since we have established that it was with the same religious purview, only the face changed from Parishioners to government officials! It is equally hardly surprising that instead of building new institutions of learning the government chose to take over the missionary schools because the mission of the neo-liberal government is to stall development so that Nigeria can remain a neo-colony. Hands off missionary schools! Fund free quality education for all! No state/government involvement in any religious establishment of any kind! Religion should be a private matter!
(2) https://www.bbc.com/news/amp/world-europe-56314173; https://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/society/political-history_the-controversial-minaret-ban--ten-years-on/45399822; https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-13038095
(3) See on this: Michael Pröbsting: France: The Parliamentary “Left” Fails to Oppose Macron’s Anti-Muslim “Separatism Law”. Another example of social-chauvinist capitulation to Islamophobia and Police State policy by the Stalinist PCF and Mélenchon’s LFI, 14 February 2021, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/europe/france-the-parliamentary-left-fails-to-oppose-macrons-anti-muslim-separatism-law/