It is one thing for the helmsmen of Veritas University, Abuja to proclaim the multi-religious nature of the university in spite of its Catholic ownership, it is another to demonstrate that. As things are today, there may be no better demonstration of that than Aisha Ismail, fourth year Political Science and Diplomacy major in the university.
She told Newsletter how she, a Muslim, ended up in a wholly Catholic owned university, what her experience has been like and what she would be taking away with her by mid next year when she graduates with a Bachelors Degree in Political Science and Diplomacy.
As to how, she, a Muslim, ended up in the university, Aisha said she saw the university online and tried to crack it. Fortunately, she has a Reverend Sister for a family friend who edged her on and before anyone knew it, she got the admission and was off to keep a date with a unique experience.
She wasn’t quite apprehensive on her way to the university. Although she has never been in a school owned by the Catholics, the primary and secondary school she attended are Christian schools. Notwithstanding Veritas University’s specificities, being among Christians was not one of them for her.
Nevertheless, the first one month still had shockers for her. She felt the odd one out in her scarf with which a Muslim woman is supposed to cover her head. She was the only one in the crowd. Still, it was not so bad since she was to discover other Muslim students like herself although not necessarily in Political Science.
Before long, she overcame the initial shocks, became so integrated that she started attending the Catholic Holy Mass. But doing so, she said, was entirely on her own volition. “No one has ever spoken to me about conversion to Christianity here”, she told her interviewer.
But, what is the reaction to her choice, generally? Aisha says some people do ask her why she chose to go to a university owned by the Catholics. And this is both within and outside Veritas University. Some family members also ask how she is in a Christian university. She replies by making a distinction between a Christian university where only Christianity is studied and a university owned by Christians. “I tell people I am studying Political Science, not Christian Political Science”, she explains.
Does it mean she has no reservations? She has two reservations, one of which has expired. At some point, she thought of changing from Political Science to Mass Communications because she began to entertain the fear that Political Science might be too tough for her. In the end, she survived it and has stayed put, emerging as one of the students who talks in the class.
Her second reservation is faith related. The lecture timetable is such that it is a problem for a Muslim who has to pray five times a day. So, according to her, one could become slack if one is not strong in faith. She was not asked if she complained about this although she might not have complained because that is how the lecture timetable runs across in the university system, rather than something peculiar to Veritas University.
Other than these, she is not looking back. In fact, two of her classmates in the secondary school are now in Veritas University. Her own sister was supposed to join too but she is no longer sure if that is still going to happen. On her part, Aisha is happy she has met and mixed with lots of people of other faiths and orientations, something she values.
She is not too sure of what comes next after her graduation next June. Initially, she entertained the idea of proceeding to read for a Law Degree. Now, she is not sure if that would be the right thing for her to do next. Might the field of diplomacy resolve it for her? After all, it was the ‘Diplomacy’ part of the title ‘Political Science & Diplomacy’ that was the spark that arrested her attention as to apply to Veritas University.
Certainly, a female Muslim who attended a Catholic run university for a Bachelors Degree in Political Science and Diplomacy should be a hot stuff in the many spaces of diplomacy today – media diplomacy, cultural diplomacy, public diplomacy, digital diplomacy and the good, old conservative stuff.
Observing Aisha and other Muslims on the campus of Veritas University, Abuja can be deeply interesting. And it produces its own questions. For instance, it would be interesting to crack how it is possible for a few Muslims to be completely safe in a community dominated by Christians but the same thing is not the case in the larger society populated by more mature and experienced citizens?
There is thus a sense in which Aisha Ismail sends us all back to Bala Usman’s little red book: The Manipulation of Religion in Nigeria. The inference here is that religion is not the problem but the manipulation of religion as a tool for primitive accumulation. Two different sets of critics have come after Bala’s book. The late Dr. Sabo Bako from the Department of Political Science, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria challenged the entire argument, starting with the etymology of manipulation. That review of the book by Dr Bako could be understood within the context of the ideological warfare in ABU, Zaria’s defunct Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, (FASS). If Bala moved right, people like Bako were certain to move left. The second major attack on The Manipulation of Religion in Nigeria is the general question that goes as follows: Since when did the average Nigerian so appreciate Nigeria that unless s/he is manipulated, s/he will otherwise privilege Nigeria as a political community over and above religious sensibility? This question was posed by a Nigerian Anthropologist at an academic gathering, (a methodology workshop) in Bayero University, Kano in 1994. It is a much more academic challenge to Bala’s book than the ideological critique posed by reviewers such as Dr. Sabo Bako.
All said and done, is it not probably time for Veritas University steps out to provide intellectual leadership in taking another look at some of these claims and counter-claims, especially now that Prof Sam Amdi, a participant in the hard hitting debates that defined ABU, Zaria in those days is the Dean of Social Sciences at Veritas University? The debates in question would include those involving Sam Oyovbaire versus Bala Usman; Bala Usman versus J.S Odama; Yusuf Bangura versus Bala Usman; Sule Bello versus Bala Usman; Claude Ake versus Bjorn Beckman, etc). This certainly looks doable, what with the good concentration of political scientists in and around Abuja!
This story is an expanded version of its original as published in the current edition of Veritas University, Abuja weekly Newsletter