Nigeria's leading Christian organization this week welcomed a government decision to return former mission schools to their sponsoring religions and urged foreign supporters to support the move as beneficial to education standards.

Charles Obasola (C.O.) Williams, general secretary of the Christian Association of Nigeria, said the organization was finalizing the funding framework for dozens of secondary schools, due to be returned to the churches at the beginning of January.

He said: "This is a historic development which will raise the quality of education considerably. The federal government started taking over Nigerian mission schools in 1970.

"What they took over is now in a shambles with between 150 and 180 pupils to a class when the law allows a maximum of 30. We have an awful lot of work to do to raise standards again and weed out uncommitted teachers, but I can guarantee that the church schools are going to be highly popular," he said.

CAN—which includes the country's main Protestant and Roman Catholic churches—has obtained a pledge from Lagos State that it will subsidize each pupil whose school is taken back by a Christian or Muslim body to the tune of 5000 naira (about US$50) a year. This will be a temporary measure to ensure that all children continue to receive education but it is expected to be phased out as fee-paying by parents returns. Other parts of the country are expected to make similar arrangements.

Williams said: "This is going to be a huge job. We need to renovate both buildings and morale. We are going to need outside support, and we must convince our foreign friends to help. They believe that churches should not go into education but this is the only solution for Nigeria and the government has conceded it."

Williams denied that the move to return schools to religious groups might exacerbate divisions between Christians and Muslims in the country.

Referring to Muslims, he said: "Let them have Koranic schools. Let people choose the education they want for their children. In the days when we had mission schools, many Muslims chose to send their children to us because our education was better."

President Olusegun Obasanjo, who took office at the end of May as the first democratically elected head of state for years, is a Baptist who received his education at a mission school. His wife, Stella, is a Roman Catholic.

The high standard of mission schools in the years up to 1960 when Nigeria was a British colony is often cited. Writers such as Wole Soyinka, a Nobel literature prizewinner, and Chinua Achebe were products of these institutions.

Williams, a former teacher in a Methodist school and a former education ministry official, said: "In many states Muslims already have their schools, so we are merely restoring the balance. We are banking on people giving their skills and time to make these schools real centers of excellence."

Related Elsewhere

See our related story, "School Decision Irks Muslims" (Sept. 6, 1999), and our recent coverage of Nigeria: "Nigeria's Churches Considering Legal Challenge to Islamic Laws | Third state moving toward implementing Koranic laws" (Dec. 17), and "Nigeria On the Brink of Religious War | Northern states adopt Islamic law, increasing Christian-Muslim tensions" (Dec. 16)

See other coverage in Maranatha Christian Journal.