More Nigerian states are returning public schools seized from churches decades ago, refueling debate over the high tuition charged by mission schools.

Mission schools, which since the 1800s offered free or low-cost education to the majority of Nigeria's youth, were nationalized after the West African nation's civil war ended in 1970 in an attempt to defuse tribalism. In 2001, Lagos became the first state to return hundreds of seized mission schools to churches in hopes of seeing quality of education improve. The states of Imo, Ogun, and Plateau—home of conflict-ridden Jos—followed suit.

Recently, the southern state of Anambra returned 1,040 primary schools to their original church owners, while neighboring Delta handed over 40 schools with more to come. Four other southern states have expressed interest in doing the same.

The majority of government teachers, however, have refused employment in the returned schools, protesting that church operators are too strict and profit-oriented.

Their concerns echo a heated debate among Christians over the fees charged by today's mission schools. Tuition at church-run primary schools ranges from 15,000 to 50,000 naira ($100-$350) per term. The minimum wage in Nigeria is 18,000 naira ($120) per month.

Many church families complain they cannot afford to enroll their children. "These schools are not for the poor; they are too elitist," said Bola Akin-John, president of International Church Growth Ministries. "Even members who donated toward their establishments cannot send their children there."

"They should have told us they are running profit-oriented schools from the outset," said Alex Adegboye, general overseer of The Stone Church in Ibadan, "instead of using the word mission ...

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