A Call for Tolerance and Understanding

While still basking in the euphoria of my recent admission into the Nigerian Law School, I woke up to read a recent edition of a Lagos based newspapers and to my utter consternation, I was succinctly captivated by an headline on Christians protesting merger of schools in one of the South Western states in Nigeria. Reading through the position of the protesters and the effort of the government to douse the ‘tension’ made me feel extremely emotional for our existence as a Nation and our inability to see any good in our diversity as a people living together under the name Nigeria.

Religions like ethnicity is a real problem in Nigeria simply because we the people wanted it to be and it has remain a constant factor for the myriad of challenges facing us. We have deliberately decided to attack each other when there are absolutely no reasons to. And where there are reasons we are ultimately blindfolded by our imaginative thought with “This religion wants to dominate us” syndrome. The animosity has eaten deep into our fabric so much so that governmental policies which are hitherto geared towards the betterment of all are immediately seen as an attempt to ‘Christianize’ or ‘Islamize’ the polity. And as followers we are so immersed into the quagmire of religious insensitivity so much so that extrication may force an innocent mind to think we cannot live together as one nation under God. I have argued several times that there should be a separation between the Church (Mosque) and the State. A mixture of both is a beautiful recipe for disaster in public policy making and reaction to such policy. We must learn as a Nation to separate religious matter from core public interest especially in matters of Education. It is very important for our religious fathers and leaders to be dispassionate when it comes to matters of equal benefit for all. The Missionaries may have founded many of these Schools but as of today they are funded and regulated by government and its agencies on education. It suffices to conclude that while they appear to bear Muslim or Christian names, their religious inclination do not go beyond the name. It is illogical, insensible and a flagrant disregard of the fundamental human rights as guaranteed by the 1999 constitution (as amended) for any Christian group to deny a Muslim kid the opportunity to attend a Christian named Government school simply because she uses Hijab. Conversely, it is lugubrious and repugnant to doctrine of natural justice, equity and good conscience for any Muslim group to seek to deny any Christian kid the chance to seek for public education as guaranteed by the law in a Muslim named government school for the unreasonable reason that she has refused to use Hijab or cover her head.

We should not reduce our public schools to grounds of intolerance and hatred. I attended Ansar-ud-Deen Primary School and I was very privileged to have many Christian friends (girls as at then) who never covered their heads and were never chastised as to why they did not. We sat side by side in class, played, joked, ate, drank, fought, studied and learnt together like all kids would do. It was at Ansar-ud-Deen I learnt “The Lord’s Prayer” and “The Grace” and till date I still can recite them in eloquent manner despite being a devout Muslim. We offered both Islamic Religious Knowledge (IRK) and Christian Religious Knowledge (BK as it was fondly called then) as it was compulsory for all. The general theme of both subjects as we were taught was to inculcate in us the virtues of being good, spirit of brotherhood, neighborliness, love and respect for differences. We underwent examinations on CRK likewise my colleagues as they did on IRK. I grew up to understand the Christian faith, respect and appreciate of the differences. With my friends, we never cared if A was a Christian or a Muslim; we simply enjoyed our friendship and moved on. Getting to Lagos State University to study Law offers another perfect example. In my 100 level days, it was compulsory for all students to offer Islamic Law irrespective of your religious inclinations. In a class of over 350 students with more than 150 Christians, we all offered Islamic Law in a very interesting and competitive atmosphere. It was a beauty to see Christian and Muslim Law Students’ ‘argue’, share and compare knowledge on the verses of the Quran and Hadith taught in class. My Christian friends quoted verses of the Quran and argued with eloquence and precision during tutorial classes. We were not surprised to that when the results were released the ratio of high marks revealed that Christians had better ratios than Muslims. To add to the beauty, the lecturer-in-charge happens to be a very conscious Muslim and one-time leader of Muslims during his time on campus. We all laughed and joked about the result simply because we knew everyone merited the scores they got.

These are the virtues we grew up with. We learnt that in advancing the course of humanity, we only needed to appreciate the difference, learn and respect one another’s belief in an atmosphere filled with love and certainly not the one being promoted in the Nigeria of today by a Muslim towards a Christian and a Christian towards anything that has to do with Muslims. Our country cannot make any meaningful progress if we refuse to eschew this dangerous intolerance and lack of understanding we are deliberately brewing up every now and then. Private Schools funded from private purses can continue to promote individual religions as they deem fit but government schools should be a platform of togetherness of all faiths in order to appreciate the differences and promote inter-faith relations. After all, government schools irrespective of the names they bear are funded by tax-payers money who are Christians and Muslims. We owe the children of today the duty to teach them how to defend, love and respect one another across all ethnic and religious divides after all we are all Nigerians.

The government as a matter of urgency should call for dialogue between themselves on one hand and the Christian/Muslim leaders on the other hand on the reason, benefits of the policy and how they intend to keep the ‘beliefs’ of each founders in line with public policy as it demands. Our diversity should be a blessing geared towards developmental strides for our nation and not a reason for disintegration. May God bless all our children and make them great personalities for the benefit of Nigeria and humanity as a whole.

 Abdul-Aziz Bakare is a prospective Law Student at the Nigerian Law School and tweets at @backarray

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