Neither Islamic nor Christian studies in Nigeria
Last Wednesday, the Christian Association of Nigeria delegation that visited Aso Rock appealed to Acting President Yemi Osinbajo to have the school curriculum revisited. CAN president, Samson Ayokunle, read a speech at the Presidential Villa and alleged that while Christian and Islamic Religious Studies has previously been subsumed under a new subject, Religion and National Values, the latter was being surreptitiously re-introduced into the curriculum.
CAN also complained that the current curriculum offered the option of Arabic/Islamic Studies as a foreign language subject along with French studies except of course that there were fewer teachers available to teach French than there were for Arabic. By implication, students, therefore, get railroaded into choosing Arabic Studies; a development they fear may lead to forced Islamisation.
Overall, CAN expressed two worries: One, that reducing religious studies – both Christian and Muslim – to themes under the umbrella subject of Civic and National Values can undermine them as vehicles of religious and moral instructions.
CAN’s grouse that the suppression of religious propagation in school has weakened the society’s moral fibre, unfortunately, is an overreach. All the fellows – military and civilian – that have had the ruinous pleasure of ruling and stealing Nigeria blind professed one religion or the other. Presently, Nigeria’s President and Vice President are fervent adherents of the two dominant religions in the country, yet the level of depravity that goes on under their watch – by people who profess one faith or the other – is enough indication that religion is not reliable as a moral thermostat.
The older generation that pillaged Nigeria’s resources grew on a steady diet of religious and moral education. They not only turned out to be vandals, but they also failed to plough back into the society that gave them everything.
The moral decadence of the younger generation that CAN alludes to is, in fact, one of the many consequences of the plunder of the country by those who now consider themselves “elders” and “statesmen.” The solution should not be to feed school kids more religious education but to impart a different civic and moral lesson in them. CAN’s fatwa on the curriculum, asking for it to be “completely withdrawn and banned,” is a non-solution to a misdiagnosed problem.
CAN’s second worry that the limitation of students’ choices will force them to study Arabic is not enough to pronounce the curriculum “ungodly” or a “time bomb.” CAN had the chance to canvass a massive recruitment of French teachers. It was unhelpful that it did not provide any data to back up its rather questionable claims that there are fewer French teachers than there are Arabic teachers. Reverting to the old curriculum –which CAN wants – will not magically expand the option of students when they need a foreign language as an elective subject. They will still be confined to Arabic Studies without more options of elective subjects.
CAN should know that Arabic Studies is not going away soon and it is easier if it demands a widening of subject choices and not a contraction. Those who lobbied for the inclusion of Arabic Studies in the national curriculum had an agenda to inscribe their history and culture in the nation’s consciousness. The argument is that since much of our cultural artifacts, language, political systems, educational and knowledge systems, cultural and social symbols, were a colonial heritage, Muslims and their religious value system get systematically erased. They claim that since our present cultural formation had Christian underpinnings, the Nigerian socio-political and socio-cultural atmospheres are hostile to non-Christians who are expected to conform to a lifestyle dictated by the Western (read Christian) values that have suffused our local cultures. That is one of the several reasons there has been an Arabic inscription on the naira note. There is no point bellyaching over Arabic Studies, instead, CAN should demand more language options.
By the way, I think it is a mistake that the new subject, Religion and National Values, which absorbed both Christian and Islamic Studies gives students options of either studying Christianity or Islam. As someone who has advocated the study of comparative religion in our schools, I think they should have made learning about other faiths compulsory. It is to the advantage of the students if they are exposed to other belief systems outside theirs. In fact, the Federal Ministry of Education should have included a study of indigenous African religions and other major world religions to give students an encyclopaedic knowledge of belief systems.
If all Religious Studies means to them is a crusade, perhaps it needs an urgent overhaul and replacement with critical learning. Those who want to give their children unscientific religious education, stripped to the specifics of their religious rituals, should take them to religious houses on worship days.
That said, one cannot avoid the obvious issue here, and that is the politicisation of religion and how it infects every aspect of our lives including education. Unfortunately, non-Muslim students who could have been genuinely interested in Arabic Studies will now find themselves mentally rebelling against acquisition of knowledge because of the propaganda of Islamisation. Demagogues like Apostle Johnson Suleman who cry, “Islamisation agenda!” merely confuse matters. The truth is, Suleman and his fellow soapbox orators yelling “Islamisation” could care less about education; they are merely boosting their career as self-appointed safeguards of Christian verities. How many of their children attend public schools where they are threatened by “Islamisation”?
These people do real danger to Nigerian education by turning everything into politics and obscuring the more urgent issues. For example, how come CAN did not complain about the low quality of education children receive in schools, a process that should rightly be labelled child abuse? Why are they not advocating history to be returned to our curriculum if they are concerned about the education itself?
In Osun State, Muslims fight over their children’s right to wear Hijab in public schools but you hardly see them invest a similar passion in the poor quality of the education that places their children at the bottom of the national ranking every year. Muslims have beaten up a school principal because he did not allow Hijab but where is a similar dedication to criticising the lack of facilities in the children’s schools? Why does religion merit passion and a sense of urgency that is not devoted to what matters? Those who prioritise the politics of religion over modern education will one day wake up to find that half-baked children are a menace to the religion as much as the rest of the society itself.
Finally, this is merely another episode of moral panic generated by religious leaders and echoed by politicians. Some years ago, the palpable fear was that there was a western agenda to foist homosexuality on Africa. Nigerians were so riled against the “Western liberal order” that the “anti-gay” bill, with all its constitutional contradictions, was passed with barely an insightful discussion of its wider implications on our democratic ethos. Today, religious leaders are fuelling another paranoia – Islamisation agenda – and as expected, some people are letting puppeteers pull their puppet strings. In some years to come, they will toss around another cute “-isation” to create public paranoia. Yet, the larger national goal should be quality and the worth of education in public schools. Our collective pursuit needs to be dispensed towards giving our children the kind of education they need to compete in the 21st century, not the echolaliac of religious entrepreneurs.