MURIC Director Ishaq Akintola
On Friday, August 5, 2022 Muslim Rights Concerns (MURIC) expressed opposition to the purported plan of Governor Seyi Makinde of Oyo State to return schools to their original owners. The group based its reaction on its claim that: “Governor Seyi Makinde of Oyo State yesterday announced his plan to return public schools to missionaries.”
MURIC’s claim has since been refuted by the government of Oyo State through a statement by the Commissioner for Education, Science and Technology, Abdulrahman Abdulraheem stating, “There is clearly no truth to the story making the rounds that the government of Oyo State was about to return schools to their original owners.” That must have put paid to the whole issue of return of schools, at least for now.
In its statement of opposition, MURIC unleashed a litany of untruths against missionaries, the supposed beneficiaries of the alleged plan to return schools. Those falsehoods remain largely unchallenged as has many lies that are fast becoming accepted narratives in our national space. We live in a world where a lie repeated so often, becomes part of the corpus of alternative reality. The duty to challenge such untruths is left as everyone’s duty allowing it to slide into being no one’s duty.
Since its founding in 1993 MURIC has been a vocal defender of the rights of Muslims against what it describes as “the alarming and discriminatory acts against Islam and Muslims in all facets of life.” MURIC is too important for its engagement in Islamic religious activism to be dismissed as being of little consequence.
MURIC describes itself as a “pacific organisation, peace-loving, law abiding and dialogue-prone.” Its motto is “Dialogue Not Violence.” Such an organisation of lofty ideals and noble pursuit cannot be simply dismissed; its intervention in public matters need to be taken seriously. We do so in the matter of the return of schools. Furthermore, the avalanche of false accusations deposited at the doorsteps of missionaries cannot go uncorrected in this instance.
Let us examine these allegations.
MURIC alleges that: “The idea is to perpetuate the suppression of Muslim children in public schools by claiming that the schools belong to missionaries.” Muslim students who attended Christian Missionary schools prior to government takeover rather than being suppressed went on to do well for themselves, for society, and for Islam. The impressive list of such Muslims should be a source of pride to adherents of both faiths.
MKO Abiola, Vice President-General Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, elected President of Nigeria; Prince Bola Ajibola, Judge of the International Court of Justice, founder of Islamic Mission for Africa and founder of Crescent University; Professor Babs Fafunwa, first Nigerian to earn a Ph.D in Education, one time Minister of Education and co-founder of Muslim Students Society of Nigeria; Alhaji Lateef Adegbite, First President of Muslim Students Society of Nigeria, Secretary General of Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs; Alhaja Lateefat Okunnu, co-founder and pioneer Vice-president of Federation of Muslim Women’s Association of Nigeria, Deputy Governor of Lagos State; all have one thing in common — they once attended Christian Missionary Schools.
Add to the list, Governors Rashidi Ladoja, Lam Adesina, Isiaka Ajimobi, Isiaka Adeleke, Bola Tinubu, Rauf Aregbesola and others. The list is long, spanning all spheres of national life. MURIC is advised to read the biographies of the departed, interview the living on this list, and make honest conclusions. The ownership of schools founded by missionaries or their contributions to national development cannot be wished away just because MURIC wants it so.
MURIC introduces a curious angle when it alleges “Yet the so-called missionary schools were built on land belonging to our Muslim forefathers who were deceived by the Christian colonialists into giving out the land ‘gratis’ in most cases. Apart from the land, which was given free, our Muslim forefathers also paid tax into the coffers of the colonialists to build the schools… The colonialists collected our hard-earned money and gave the missionaries.”
This fresh narrative if to be understood, has colonial officers receiving generous land grants from Muslims to build schools with tax-money paid by Muslims, and then turn around to hand the schools to Christian Missionaries. Somewhere between understanding and belief, one is lost.
Colonial administrations keep records, Muslim communities and families keep records, Christian Missionaries keep records; bringing out such records will qualify for payments of stupendous sums as reparation, which MURIC is encouraged to pursue rather than making spurious and unsustainable claims. Except that no such records exist because no such things occurred. Christian Missionaries purchased lands for religious, educational, health and social services.
Landowners were paid with funds belonging to the Churches, sometimes more than once for the same parcel of land; numerous court cases rigorously examined many of these land deeds.
Churches, hospitals, schools, vocational centres shared the same parcels of land such that it is difficult task to determine the boundary between Church and school; Church and hospital. In the world as being canvassed by MURIC, Church premises housing schools are also public property.
If MURIC is to be believed, colonialists gave missionary names to schools, which they built with public funds while the schools in turn forced Muslim students to change their names to Christian names: “It was the mother of all treacheries when the colonialists gave the schools missionary names after completing the buildings. Not only that, they turned round to bite the finger that fed them by rejecting Muslim children who refused to change their names to Christian nomenclatures. Majority of the Muslims had to succumb. Thus Abdul Rasheed became Richard, Yusuf became Joseph, Ishaq became Isaac and Maryam became Mary.”
The truth is that colonial administrations built schools and named them, King’s College, Queen’s College, Government Secondary School; Muslim Islamic Missionaries built schools naming them Islamic High School, Ahmadiyya College, Ansar-Ud-Deen College; Christian Missionaries built schools naming them Baptist High School, Methodist Boys High School, St. Theresa’s College; all these schools existed side by side without acrimony before and after government takeover. MURIC has no problem with the names of government schools or Muslim schools, it is the Christian names of schools built by Christian Missionaries that is offensive.
While not ruling out instances of Muslim children converting to Christianity on account of exposure through education, saying that they were compelled to do so as a condition for attending those schools is totally false. The stories of the men and women earlier listed are well known. They do not include such tales, rather many of them attest to the accommodation to practice their faith. In 12 years attendance in Catholic Schools, not once did I observe the religious belief of any student being an issue. MURIC has not come out with details of any one instance where that was the case.
It is not clear what possession is being referred to when “MURIC calls on Muslims in Oyo State to possess their possessions.” If this is a call to possess schools purportedly built on Muslim grant land with Muslim tax, given Christian names and turned over to Christians, then it becomes a reckless invitation to anarchy. It should not be left lying low as a stitch in time saves nine.
No such possessions exist, and the injury of takeover of schools needs no salt added.
Taking the restraint exercised by the original owners of schools as a sign of weakness is a danger that must be avoided at all costs. The erroneous belief that one religion can always have its way at the expense of another is ripe to be debunked. Those who claim to believe in “Dialogue, Not Violence” should be seen to be guided by their claim. The electoral value of weaponising the return of schools in prosecuting a political agenda may appear attractive, it is of doubtful benefit for all sides. Dialogue is a two way track, it is not advanced by veiled threats or intimidation. In any event, the other side in this case is too strong to be intimidated. Any perceived advantage by one over the other is illusory.
Muslims, Christians, and persons of other faiths have lived happily together for generations in the South Western area of Nigeria where religious tolerance is imposed by the practice of different faiths by members of the same family. It is too late in the day to disrupt the harmony that exists.
What is the future of inter-religious dialogue in a multi-religious country when issues such as return of schools become intractable? Why is it not possible for the different religions to come together towards an amicable resolution of a matter that keeps festering? Lost in the current debate is any talks about the standard of education, access to qualitative education, functional education, training of educators, condition of service of educators, curriculum development.
MURIC or any other group genuinely committed to peace through dialogue should find in the issue of return of schools a great opportunity for peaceful engagement for the good of society at large. Reaching out in dialogue demonstrates greater strength than throwing barbs. This is the challenge for MURIC.
Fasoro is a veteran media consultant and public analyst.