Protests rocked Iwo, Esa Oke and Osogbo, all in Osun State, recently following the decision of the state government to merge some old secondary schools under a reclassification programme. While students took to the streets in protest against the policy, the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT) described the decision as inimical to the future of students, especially final-year students whose examination centres are to be demolished. They all asked the governor, Rauf Aregbesola, to reverse the decision in the interest of peace and education in the state. In most cases, religion was cited as reason for seeking a reversal. However, the case of the students of Fakunle Comprehensive High School (FCHS) was exceptional: they marched to the Governor's Office where they condemned the government's decision to turn their school premises into a motor park.
Those who took to the streets to protest on the grounds of faith should understand that there should be a separation between church or mosque from the state and educational development. It is also important to understand why the state government, noted for advancing educational innovations such as opon imo (tablet of knowledge), would contemplate demolishing schools and their conversion to motor parks, relaxation centers and residential buildings. One of the government's cardinal agenda is urbanization of Osun for development purposes. Religion should not be brought into the fore of this crisis to cast dark shadows over well-meant policies. Religious fathers and leaders should learn to be dispassionate when it comes to matters of mutual benefit for all, and they must communicate this to those who look up to them.
The essence of establishing schools by the early missionaries of both faiths was not primarily for religious extremism but for inculcating in those to be trained the universality of the doctrines of natural justice, equity and good conscience. To deny any child the chance to seek education as guaranteed by the law in a Muslim or Christian-named government school is anachronistic. It should be optional. We should not reduce our public schools to grounds of intolerance and hatred. If schools are becoming sources of disunity in any community, government should immediately take appropriate steps to eliminate the problem. Where names of schools play a part in this dangerous trend, then, the issue should be decisively dealt with.
Since these schools are funded and regulated by government and its agencies, government should fairly deal with re-naming them appropriately to reflect general ones that would not ascribe religious inclinations to them. It is illogical, insensible and a flagrant disregard of the fundamental human rights for any religious group to deny the young generation an opportunity to attend a government school simply because of the name. It augurs well for social cohesion, national rebirth and mutual understanding to allow these children to learn about the two dominant religions in the country without let or hindrance.