Religious censorship at Katsina varsity stirs hornet’s nest

Muhammadu Buhari

Muhammadu Buhari

As Umaru Musa Yar’Adua University, Katsina, resumes its new academic session on Monday, January 30, 2017, tension may soar over the school authorities’ decision to single out the Muslim Students Society of Nigeria (MSSN), as the sole religious group to operate on campus. ENO-ABASI SUNDAY and UJUNWA ATUEYI write that already the directive has attracted the public’s ire and stakeholders want it rescinded forthwith.

It is not a faith-based institution, neither is it an institution for the training of Islamic clerics, but authorities of Umar Musa Yar’Adua University, Katsina, Katsina State have, in contravention of the Nigerian Constitution, outlawed other religious or tribal associations on its campus. But the Muslim Students Society of Nigeria (MSSN) got the nod to be the sole religious group to operate in the school.

Hard as the school has laboured to explain/justify its decision, such efforts have been drowned in strident condemnation of the act, which some view as religious intolerance.

The institution’s acting Dean of Students’ Affairs, Dr. Sulaiman Kankara, conveyed the new directive to all students’ clubs and associations that were operating on its campus, through an internal memorandum dated January 17, 2017.

The memo endorsed by Kankara, and entitled “Re: Registration of Students Clubs/Associations,” said the new directive was part of resolutions taken at the school’s 59th management meeting, which held on January 10, 2017.

“The Muslim Students Society of Nigeria is the only religious association allowed to operate in the university,” the memo read, adding, “All tribal and local government associations are prohibited by the university. Duly registered departmental associations should be allowed to operate,” but “participation in clubs/associations is strictly optional; as such no student should be compelled to pay any dues.”

Since the memo came to light, a barrage of condemnations has greeted the school’s directive, which stakeholders say contrasts with Section 10 of Nigeria’s constitution.

While one group wants the National Universities Commission (NUC) to get the school to explain why “Muslim Students Society of Nigeria (MSSN) is the only religious association allowed to operate on campus, another group wants the Attorney General of the Federation, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN), to step into the matter, put things in perspective and facilitate in cutting the school’s excesses before they go out of hand.

Adamu Adamu, Minister of Education

Adamu Adamu, Minister of Education

As the matter festers, authorities of the school have denied discriminating against Christian students in the approval granted MSSN, or the directive being part of government’s plot to Islamise Nigeria.

Kankara said that the controversial aspect of the guideline was actually targeted at Islamic groups, which were beginning to mushroom on campus, creating divisions among students of the same faith.

The dean said: “Actually, there is one misconception in the memo. But the fact of the matter is that in Umaru Yar’Ádua University, there is no association known as Christian Students Association.

“There is one religious association and subsidiary Islamic students associations like the Tijjanniya Students Movement in Nigeria, Academic Forum of Islamic Movement in Nigeria and many associations like that. They are Islamic students association. So what we want is to have a single union, which will be the mouthpiece of Muslim students and that is the MSSN.

“It has nothing to do with any Christian group because up till now, I have not received any application requesting registration of Christian Students Society.”

The explanation by the school notwithstanding, stakeholders are of the view that such communication should have been done in such a manner that no room is left for any form of ambiguity as a result of the religiously pluralistic society, which the country is.

However, former Dean, Faculty of Law, University of Lagos, Prof. Oyelowo Oyewo, said if the directive is eventually enforced, it would “amount to a violation of our constitutional right to religion, particularly that of the students. And then of course, there is a provision in the constitution that presents adoption of constitution by any state institution. So, on those two grounds that is, our non-establishment clause, (that is, no we are not a state that adopts any religion), basically it will violate the establishment clause, and neutrality and entanglement clause of our constitution, because it means that that particular institution is establishing one religion in preference to the others.

“And then of course it is also entangling itself in having to enforce that by preventing adherents of other religions from practicing and then of course, it constitutes an infringement on the right to religion of the other adherents. An institution of learning shouldn’t get involved in that. On those levels, it amounts to a violation of the constitution. This one is something that a federal or state institution must not do as long as it is an institution of government.

“It can regulate how those religious activities can be done, but it cannot interfere with the practice of the right to religion by citizens of the country. So, if they give room to Muslim Students Society of Nigeria, the institution cannot be populated by only Muslims, even though it is in the North where there are predominantly Muslims. The constitution allows people to practice their religion in the communities. There is nothing that prevents Christian communities or other religions from gathering as a community to practice their religion on that campus,” Oyelowo stated.

He insisted that the school “can only regulate or restrict as long as it does not interfere with the activities of the university. Nigeria has gone beyond that, and it will be a throw back to the dark ages, if any institution wants to do this. It is not acceptable at all. The management of the university should correct itself and revert whatever regulations it passed that violates the constitutional rights of Nigerian citizens immediately.

Expressing disbelief over the directive, Vice Chancellor, Redeemer’s University (RUN), Ede, Osun State, Prof. Debo Adeyewa, criticised the regulation cautioning the institution to rescind the decision, as it is capable of triggering religious conflict in the society.

He said, “I can hardly believe this report for a public institution supported with public funds. If true, it would be the height of religious intolerance. For a public institution, the move should be condemned without mincing words.

“It is capable of inciting religious conflict, not only in the university, but also in other public universities. It therefore, sends a bad signal to other institutions to promote such policies in a country, where some people boast about their stance on religious extremism. Both the state and the Federal Government should call the institution to order. It is a security issue,” Adeyewa stated.

He continued: “I would therefore advise the management of the institution to be sensitive, apply necessary discretion and withdraw the directive. Even in cases where one religious group is overstepping its bounds, the issue should be handled carefully due to the fact that spill-over effects is almost a guarantee.”

Professor of Development Communication, University of Maiduguri, Danjuma Gambo, who although frowned at private universities that do not allow adherents of other religions to practice their religion on campus, stated that the declaration by the Katsina varsity does not agree with the universal nature of a university.

According to him, “I do not understand the circumstances in that school. I don’t know the sociology of the university and the circumstances that led to that declaration. But what I know about a university is that it is a universal community, as a universal community, a university is first and foremost a kind of repository of variety of individuals from different backgrounds with different interests, sensitivities and sensibilities.

So, the university as a system is universally known for liberty, where people have the freedom to do quite a lot of things. Attempt to curtail that liberty have not always worked well because a university is a universal community. So, one expects that no matter what happens a university would ordinarily retain that heterogeneous nature. I just hope that it is a temporal circumstance, and that the university administration will review the situation and see what can be done to improve the relationship within the university. It is not an easy thing to do actually.

“I know there are some very exclusive private universities in this country that do not allow other religions. That is not good because if the admissions policy allows the admission of people from different backgrounds, it is important for them to be allowed the right to practice their religion as failure to do so defeats the essence, the very principle and nature of a university. And one may even express fears in terms of the orientation of graduates of such institution.

“One can only hope that those who are doing it will reflect and see that they take actions that unite people. They can be restricted, but not disallow them outright. That does not apply to only Umaru Musa Yar’Adua University, any university that excludes other groups from exercising their fundamental rights, that will clash with the nature of the university system as neutral a environment and as a ground for expressing variety of opinions is not doing the right thing.

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