Reverend Dr Victor Dada is the President of Kwara Baptist Conference who doubles as Proprietor, First Baptist Primary and Secondary Schools, one of the mission schools contending the usage of hijab in Kwara State. In this interview with WESTERN POST Correspondent, MOSUNMOLA AYOBAMI, the cleric speaks on issues surrounding the hijab controversy. Excerpts.
Can you tell us what transpired on Wednesday 17th March at Surulere?
What transpired was that we had told the Kwara State Government that we are not going to allow the use of hijab in our schools, because of the pronouncement by Kwara State Governor, Mallam Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq. He declared that all Muslim girls in mission schools should be allowed to wear hijab and we disagree. The reason why we said that was the fact that they were making the public believe that our mission schools are public schools and we made it very clear to them that mission schools are not public schools.
These mission schools are grant-aided schools and were established by missions of different churches, operated by different churches. At a point in 1974, the government partnered to give us support by aid in a bid to move forward education in Kwara State. We were the ones responsible for selecting the Principal, Head Master or Head Mistress and constitutes Board of Governance due to the tenets of our faith to uphold our belief. They expected us to have someone to be a representative of the Ministry of Education so as to comply with what the Ministry of Education is doing. We have been operating like that since 1974. To our amazement, the government said recently that they have completely taken over our schools.
So our schools are public schools, that is the narration they are making and we need to let them know that it has never been a government school. The government only give us a grant in aid but along the line when we discovered that the aide they are giving us does not accomplish the purpose for which our schools were established. All our facilities were dilapidated and they don’t employ as expected. We now ask the state government to return back our schools as we wanted to run operate them.
Like I gave the illustration to people that, if you are the landlord and somebody is a tenant. The tenant who has been paying your rent for 20 years, under what circumstance will a tenant say I have paid rent for 20 years, therefore we are co-owners of this property? The tenant had helped me to repair the tap, at a time when my tap was not working and because I helped you to do all these, those that make us co-owners of the house? So, that is what the government wanted to do. The government had helped us for sometimes and now said, we are co-owners, and that was what took us to the court.
In the course of the clash on Wednesday was there casualties?
Well, a lot of people were wounded and some are still in the hospital. A lot of people had bruises, head injuries as you must have seen on social media. We thank God nobody died from that clash.
How many people sustained injury?
Not less than 20 people were wounded.
After the state government ordered the closure of the 10 schools, what steps have you taken as a proprietor?
We met with the government not less than 20 times. At a point, they asked the Deputy governor to convey a meeting. But we still want to make the narration clear to the people, and the narration is that Christians are not fighting Muslims. We don’t have any problems with Muslims or the Muslims community around us here. We have a problem with the government, and the issue is that the government gives us back our schools. We have a problem with the Kwara State Government who is contending the ownership of our schools.
What was the rationale behind the protest on Wednesday morning at the school gate?
The rationale behind the protest was that the government legislated the use of hijab by Muslims girls in our mission schools and we made the government realise that, our school is a mission school and the proprietor of the school are responsible to design the school uniform. I have never seen a school in Kwara State where a state government prescribed the uniform they use.
It’s the owner of the school, whether it’s a community school, faith-based school, the private school that design the school uniform and hijab is not part of our uniform for Mission schools and we resist that. We are the ones authorized to design uniform for our students and we say no to hijab in our Mission schools.
Can you take us down memory lane on the rightful owner of the school?
In 1855, the Missionaries from Baptist came to Ogbomoso to Evangelise. Of course, Bowen came to Badagry in 1850. So between 1850 and 1855, he came to Ogbomoso and other places to establish churches. By that same time,1855, he came to Ilorin to start a Mission as he started work here. It was not only in Ilorin that he came visited.
He went as far as Ijagbo, Igosun, Ipee, Ala in Isin Local Government Area of Kwara State. He travelled to all these places and started Baptist work and did same here in Ilorin and when he started the work here, this place, Surulere was bought for establishing the church and the school. The whole of this place was a bush, called Oyo by-pass then. Our Mission bought this place and we have the C-of-O and by law, the owner of the land owns the property on it and that is why we are saying to the government. Government if you want to have another school somewhere else,go ahead and build your school, wherever you want to build it.
I learnt the matter is in court, tell us more about the court case?
You know a lot of people have been peddling the rumour that we went to the High Court and we lost the case. We went to Appeal Court, we lost the case. We didn’t lose any case. When we went to High Court,we were asking the government, give us back our land and our schools. The judgement of the High Court was that you have invested in your schools. You have to settle with the government, so the government will know how to return your school back to you.
That was the judgement from the High Court, but we are saying the government is reluctant to release the schools back to us, that was why we went to Appeal Court, and when we got to the Appeal Court, the same prayers were made in the Appeal Court; give us back our schools. It’s unfortunate that when they are talking about hijab, it was not part of the reason we went to the Court. We didn’t go to Court because of hijab, because nobody was wearing hijab before we went to Court. So what we are saying is give us our schools. Let the government release our schools to us but the government is reluctant about doing that.
What we did not pray for in the Appeal Court was what the judge was saying, that we should know that the Fundamental Human Rights of the Muslim girl is to wear hijab. We are asking, when did the Court becomes father Christmas dishing out judgement on cases that were not presented before it, and that was when we know, something is fishy. The judgement of the Appeal Court never said we are not the owner of our land.
The only thing the Appeal Court said was we should settle with the government on how to get our schools back which was why we went to the Supreme Court, and unfortunately, the case has been in the Supreme Court since 2019. So the governor is making a pronouncement on the case that is in Court. The more reason we are letting the whole world know that Kwara state government don’t respect the rule of law. So we urged the state government to respect the rule of law, when a case is in Court, you’re expected to abide by the rule.
Why not wait till the court rule before taking action?
The case is in law Court. Nobody is above the law. Everybody supposed to maintain a status quo. The governor and government of Kwara state were violating the rule of law. They were making pronouncement when the case is in Court and they expected us to obey that. We went out on Wednesday to stage a protest that it’s wrong for the government to make any pronouncement when the case is in Court.
Do you think the (church) has a say over the school as the Court case is still on?
We have total say over the school, it’s our school, property, land and we have total say over it. They have helped us for quite some time, we appreciate it. We want them to hand-off it.
What is your position as some missionary/grant-aided schools are complying on hijab usage.?
All the Missionary schools agreed that we are not going to allow the usage of hijab and that is our common front. That was the major reason all the schools were shut. The picture you saw where some students were wearing hijab was stage-managed.
What is the situation of thing presently?
The matter is in the hands of the Kwara State Government and we are saying they should respect the rule of law, allow our students to resume back to school and don’t wear hijab as Muslim girls in our Mission schools, and it’s the way forward
What advise do you have for Christians on this matter?
My advice to Christians is that we should be law-abiding and the state government should be law-abiding too. Kwara State Government should respect the rule of law and as you respect the rule of law, the citizens will also respect the rule of law as well.