At a colloquium recently, I almost got myself into trouble by my inability to keep quiet and nod along as others. An elderly man in his mid seventies, university lecturer and head of department in his university ‘made’ me voiced out. The seminar was fantastic, educative and inspiring. The purpose of the colloquium was to get speakers to talk about religion and its many influences from different perspectives and how we could use our differences in religious affiliation to our advantage rather than another tool to further divide us.
Then on the second day during a Q & A session, one thing led to another and a university head of department – *Dr Agbaje was answering a question and to buttress his points he cited an example of one time his sister had issue with her boss, the school principal.
According to Dr Agbaje, his sister, *Ms Aminat, a teacher liked to wear hijab to school. This was a Catholic school. So one day the school principal *Mrs Gbotie explained to Ms Aminat that the school policy is against class teachers wearing hijab. Because of this Ms Aminat went home to her to report the headteacher to her big brother and the big brother Dr Agbaje followed Ms Aminat to school and made huge scene and eventually slapped the school principal. Also threatened to take Mrs Gbotie to court for discriminating against Aminat based on her religion.
By the time Dr Agbaje finished his story all I could remember was his rude attitude towards the school principal.
Most adult women in Nigeria wear headscarf of some sorts so wearing headscarf is not unique to Muslims alone actually many Christians will never expose their heads in public and so are the atheists. I felt there was a missing link in the story.
If you are a teacher in a Catholic school based in SW Nigeria, Aminat probably did not attend her job interview with hijab on. Changing attitude after getting the job is deceptive and I am not sure why Dr Agbaje refused to see the principal’s point of view and try to manage the situation in a civilised manner.
There are a few things wrong with Dr Agbaje using this example especially at this colloquium;
In a society such as Nigeria where gender inequality is very wide, Dr Agbaje would never do this to a male principal but it was easier for him to show his male superiority complex by demonstrating to his sister how raw women have it in our society. SCORE!
So I ask Dr Agbaje why he thought using a violent example was appropriate in a gathering where we were trying to make sense of religious atrocity we found ourselves? I asked him what slapping Aminat’s principal achieved? Dr Agbaje was not only shocked but was not pleased I questioned his actions, so when he had a chance to say something he was quick to repeat himself saying he would do the same given same circumstances.
If you’d thought your view of the world will widen positively when you get to university, just imagine being stuck in the same department with Dr Agbaje for four years – That’s a torture.
Then it occurred to me that elders like Dr Agbaje are the way they are today because they have never been challenged not in public at least. Maybe the problem lies with the women for not speaking up when their voice is most needed.
We can respectfully disagree in public too without disrespecting our elders, at least by doing so we are giving comfort to ourselves, peers around that not everyone shares violent way of resolving conflicts, there is a better way – it’s called dialogue.
When Dr Agbaje was leaving at the end of the seminar, he left an autographed book for at the hotel with reference to pages quoting holy book. He left the most charming note starting with “Dear Sister…” The note was a nice surprise as I had thought he’d break my legs after the seminar but Dr Agbaje was a gentleman afterall despite his skewed views on important social issues. I am grateful for that gesture. Still have the book on my bedside table since April each time I looked at it, I just had to smile.
* – Not their real names