A challenge for MURIC | The Guardian Nigeria News
On Friday, August 5, 2022, Muslim Rights Concerns (MURIC) voiced its opposition to Oyo State Governor Seyi Makinde’s alleged plan to return the schools to their original owners. The group based their reaction on their claim that: “Governor Seyi Makinde of Oyo State yesterday announced plans to return public schools to missionaries.”
MURIC’s claim has since been refuted by the Oyo State government through a statement by Commissioner for Education, Science and Technology, Abdulrahman Abdulraheem, stating, “There is no There is clearly no truth to the story going around the Oyo State government returning the schools to their original owners.This must have settled the whole issue of returning the schools, at least for now.
In its statement of opposition, MURIC unleashed a litany of untruths against the missionaries, supposed beneficiaries of the so-called school return plan. These lies go largely unchallenged, as do many lies that are quickly becoming accepted narratives in our national space. We live in a world where a lie repeated so often is part of the body of alternate reality. The duty to dispute such untruths is left to everyone’s duty, which allows it to become nobody’s duty.
Since its founding in 1993, MURIC has been a strong advocate for the rights of Muslims against what it describes as “alarming and discriminatory acts against Islam and Muslims in all facets of life”. MURIC is too important for its involvement in Islamic religious activism to be dismissed as of little consequence.
MURIC describes itself as a “peaceful, peace-loving, law-abiding and dialogue-oriented organization”. Its motto is “Dialogue, not violence”. Such an organization of lofty ideals and lofty pursuits cannot simply be dismissed; its intervention in public affairs must be taken seriously. We do this with regard to the return of schools. Moreover, the avalanche of false accusations filed at the doors of the missionaries cannot remain unanswered in this case.
Let’s examine these claims.
MURIC alleges that: “The idea is to perpetuate the suppression of Muslim children in public schools by pretending that the schools belong to the missionaries”. Muslim students who attended Christian mission schools before the government takeover rather than being repressed continued to do well for themselves, for society, and for Islam. The impressive list of these Muslims should be a source of pride for followers of both faiths.
MKO Abiola, Deputy General Chairman of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, elected President of Nigeria; Prince Bola Ajibola, judge at the International Court of Justice, founder of the Islamic Mission for Africa and founder of Crescent University; Professor Babs Fafunwa, the first Nigerian to earn a doctorate in education, former Minister of Education and co-founder of the Muslim Students Society of Nigeria; Alhaji Lateef Adegbite, First President of the Muslim Students Society of Nigeria, Secretary General of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs; Alhaja Lateefat Okunnu, co-founder and pioneering Vice President of the Federation of Muslim Women’s Associations of Nigeria, Deputy Governor of Lagos State; all have one thing in common: they have already 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, covering all spheres of national life. MURIC is advised to read the biographies of the deceased, interview the living on this list, and draw honest conclusions. The ownership of schools founded by missionaries or their contributions to national development cannot be taken away simply because MURIC wants it so.
MURIC introduces a curious angle when he asserts that “Yet the so-called missionary schools were built on land belonging to our Muslim ancestors who were deceived by the Christian colonialists into distributing the land ‘for free’ in most cases . Apart from the land, which was given away for free, our Muslim ancestors also paid taxes into the coffers of the colonialists to build the schools… The colonialists collected our hard-earned money and gave it to the missionaries.
This new narrative, to be understood, shows colonial officers receiving generous land grants from Muslims to build schools with tax money paid by Muslims, then turning around to hand the schools over to Christian missionaries. . Somewhere between understanding and believing, we are lost.
Colonial administrations keep registers, Muslim communities and families keep registers, Christian missionaries keep registers; the publication of such documents will entitle them to the payment of staggering sums of compensation, which MURIC is encouraged to pursue rather than making spurious and unsupportable claims. Except that such recordings don’t exist because nothing like that happened. Christian missionaries purchased land for religious, educational, health and social services.
Landowners were paid with church funds, sometimes more than once for the same plot of land; numerous court cases have rigorously examined many of these land deeds.
Churches, hospitals, schools, professional training centers shared the same plots of land so that it is difficult to determine the boundary between the Church and the school; Church and hospital. In the world approached by MURIC, ecclesiastical premises housing schools are also public goods.
According to MURIC, the colonialists gave missionary names to the schools, which they built with public funds while the schools in turn forced Muslim students to change their names to Christian ones: “C’ was the mother of all betrayals when colonialists named schools after missionaries after they finished the buildings. Not only that, they turned to bite the finger that fed them by rejecting Muslim children who refused to change their names to Christian nomenclatures. The majority of Muslims had to succumb. So 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 of these schools existed side by side without acrimony before and after the government took over. MURIC has no problem with the names of public schools or Muslim schools, it is the Christian names of schools built by Christian missionaries that are offensive.
Without excluding the cases of Muslim children converting to Christianity due to exposure through education, to say that they were forced to do so as a condition of attending these schools is totally untrue. The stories of the men and women cited above are well known. They do not include such tales, rather many of them attest to the accommodation to practice their faith. In 12 years of attending Catholic schools, not once have I observed that a student’s religious belief was a problem. MURIC did not provide details of a case where this was the case.
It is unclear what possession is being referred to when ‘MURIC calls on Muslims in Oyo State to own their property’. If this is a call to own schools supposedly built on land granted to Muslims with Muslim taxes, given Christian names and handed over to Christians, then it becomes an unwise invitation to anarchy. It must not be dropped because one point in time saves nine.
Such possessions do not exist, and the hurt of the takeover of schools need not be added.
Taking the restraint exercised by the first owners of the schools as a sign of weakness is a danger that must be avoided at all costs. The mistaken belief that one religion can always get by at another’s expense is ripe for debunking. Those who claim to believe in “dialogue, not violence” must be seen to be guided by their affirmation. The electoral value of weaponizing the return of schools in pursuit of a political agenda may seem appealing, but it is of dubious benefit to all parties. Dialogue is a two-way street, it is not advanced by veiled threats or intimidation. Either way, the other side in this case is too strong to be intimidated. Any advantage perceived by one over the other is illusory.
Muslims, Christians and people of other faiths have lived happily together for generations in the southwestern region of Nigeria, where religious tolerance is enforced by members of the same family practicing different faiths. It is too late to break the harmony that exists.
What is the future of interreligious dialogue in a multi-religious country when issues such as the return of schools become intractable? Why is it not possible for the different religions to unite for an amicable resolution of a case that continues to escalate? In the current debate, we lose all discussion on the level of education, access to quality education, functional education, the training of educators, the conditions of service of educators, the development of programs.
MURIC or any other group truly committed to peace through dialogue should find in the issue of the return of schools a great opportunity for peaceful engagement for the good of society as a whole. Reaching out in dialogue demonstrates greater strength than throwing barbs. This is the challenge for MURIC.
Fasoro is a seasoned media consultant and public analyst.