THE Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, last week, warned against the practice that allows pupils to wear discriminatory faith-based uniforms in schools across the country. The foremost dramatist and social critic, who spoke during the inauguration of the N750 million-school built and named after him by the Osun State Government in Ejigbo, warned against dividing the pupils along religious lines by allowing them wear uniforms that typified their religious affiliations.
Although Soyinka expressed happiness over the honour by Governor Rauf Aregbosola, he insisted that there should be nothing to divide pupils along religious lines. He stressed that the feeling of ‘holier than thou’ was one of the factors that brought about the abduction of Chibok girls by Boko Haram insurgents last year.
Soyinka also suggested that one of the ways we can reduce this fatalistic sense of holiness is to reduce the element of difference and implored that we do not distinguish our children by their religions.
We commend Soyinka for his timely warning and urge the Osun State Government and other states that promote this ugly and dangerous practice of faith-based uniforms to desist from it. We say this because the problematic practice neither promotes scholarship nor peaceful co-existence of Nigerian pupils.
The schools, which serve as secondary agents of socialization, should emphasise learning and building of bridges across cultures in a country with great diversity as ours instead of championing sectarian interests.
This overt depiction of our religious preferences in public schools in a multi-religious nation like Nigeria is an invitation to anarchy. Discriminatory school uniforms can only breed hate, unhealthy rivalry and even lead to avoidable violence.
Soyinka was right to link this undue dramatisation of religion with the sad Chibok girls’ abduction which has entered its second year now. Chibok is a predominantly Christian community and the majority of the girls abducted from the school were Christians who may not have dressed in certain ways.
If there is one thing that tends to divide us as a people, it is the misapplication of religion. That is why we recommend that the authorities should do everything possible to discourage religious intolerance in our school system.
There is urgent need now to rein in this extreme and unconscionable descent to religious fanaticism and intolerance in all our schools.
No doubt, the public schools are set up to afford our children secular education. Those who do not feel comfortable can enroll their children in faith-based private schools. Schools run with the tax-payers’ money cannot afford that open exhibition of religious prejudices. In fact, such open show of religious preferences through uniforms should be discouraged anywhere it is found and stopped forthwith.
Unfortunately, the victims of these acts of religious intolerance and divisive politics are children whose minds are still pliable.
Governments at all levels must rise up to this challenge and stop discriminatory uniforms in Nigerian schools. It is constitutionally guaranteed right for our children to enter public schools run with the tax-payers’ money without the threat of religious domination or discrimination.
We call on religious leaders to show understanding and cooperate with government to stop the discriminatory faith-based school uniforms in the country. Religious practice is a thing of the mind which should not be diminished through this needless open ritual of piety.
Let our religious leaders preach tolerance and shun all forms of extremism and intolerance and discriminatory tendencies in our schools. Parents should also work with government to ensure that faith-based uniforms are done away with in our school system because of the dangers they portend.