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Nigerian Baptists embrace chance to reclaim schools taken in ’76

OGBOMOSHO, Nigeria (BP)–The leader of the Nigerian Baptist Convention has voiced support for returning mission schools to the nation’s churches.
S. Ola Fadeji, the Baptist convention’s general secretary, according to an article in Ogbomosho’s Sunday Tribune in mid-July, said Baptists are fully prepared to take over the schools. According to the newspaper, some state governors in southern Nigeria are moving ahead with plans for negotiations with churches to make the transfer.
Olusegun Obasanjo, democratically elected as Nigeria’s president earlier this year, was the nation’s president in 1976 when the schools were moved from religious groups to the government.
Among other church leaders, the new Anglican bishop of the Igbomina Diocese, Michael Olukayode Akinyemi, said the schools should be given back to the religious bodies in order to bring back quality and discipline to the educational system.
Archbishop Felix Alaba Job of the Catholic Archdiocese of Ibadan told the Sunday Tribune, “[T]he Catholic Church has never hidden its intention to recover her schools since the takeover … .”
The number of Nigerian schools that could be involved in the transfer was not specified in the article.
“Our duty,” Fadeji told the newspaper, “will be to instill good and positive discipline in the schools, to ensure that moral instruction and good citizenship is taught and to help in making the infrastructures and other physical facilities good-looking.”
However, the announcement has brought Muslim opposition. While Christians say they intend to have an open-admission policy, Muslims say they fear their children will be denied access to the schools. Muslim-Christian tensions in the country continue, reflected by a recent call by Muslims in Ilora, capital of the northern Kwara state, for the removal of Christian churches from their communities and a ban on constructing new ones.
Fadeji said he is not surprised at the Muslim opposition because their schools are few compared to the number of Christian schools. However, he said the Muslims have nothing to fear. “We cannot deny that the children will be evangelized,” he said, “but we can assure them like in the past that we will not force anybody to become a Christian.”
He pointed out that great Nigerians, like M.K.O Abiola, who until his death of a heart attack was the elected leader of Nigeria, was a Muslim who had been educated in a Christian school.
The takeover of mission schools by the government by 1976 was a source of much controversy because mission schools, traditionally a strong part of overseas mission programs, were highly esteemed.
Throughout Africa and many parts of the world, leading government officials and others have all been educated in mission schools, but the move to independence in many countries included a desire to shake off what was seen as foreign influences, even though the schools were the mainstay of much of the countries’ education.
After 15 years of military rule, Obasanjo has been outspoken about the role his faith will play in leading Nigeria. After he was imprisoned by the former military ruler, Ibraham Babangida, he told of undergoing a profound spiritual transformation, with some help from Baptist leaders.
In Nigeria, politics has deepened the religious divide, according to Religion Today story on the Internet. Muslim military leaders have ruled the British colony since the 1980s, but Obasanjo, in one of his first acts, established a panel to investigate persecution of Christians from 1983 to the present, leading Muslims to claim he is discriminating against them.
Resuming responsibility for formerly Baptist schools is not a worrisome financial concern, Baptist leader Fadeji told the Sunday Tribune. Finances are a secondary issue, the newspaper described Fadeji as saying. “[T]o start a project at all, you must first prepare your mind for it and that is what the church has done,” he said, noting that for a number of years “the church has prepared itself spiritually, morally and psychologically for the takeover.”
Fadeji assured teachers currently in the former mission schools they will retain their jobs and that ultimately the move will be beneficial to them.

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  • Wendy Ryan