Final Conference “University Campuses in Africa and Beyond: Training Grounds, Moral Spaces and Political Arenas”

Thanks to a generous grant from the Fritz Thyssen Foundation, Remoboko organised its final conference entitled “University Campuses in Africa and Beyond: Training Grounds, Moral Spaces and Political Arenas” at Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient (ZMO) in Berlin on 6-8 September 2023.

Concept note

A learning and training institution, the university constitutes both a moral space and a social fabric (Nafziger and Strong 2020; Ndofirepi and Cross 2017). Historically, university campuses have been at the heart of social and political imaginations and experiences, and have proved transformative of aspirations, living conditions and power relations across the world. In Europe and America, university campuses offered the breeding grounds for political ideas and aspirations that radically transformed social dynamics, especially in the 1960s; in both colonial and postcolonial Africa, universities emerged as the building sites of the state and the central piece of the political economy of the newly set polities, as they trained the backbone of the state administration (Mellanby 1958; Ike 1977), promised social advancement and even development (Assié-Lumumba 2011; Livsey 2017); in contemporary India, university campuses breed and feed nationalism, exclusionary and identity politics; at the global level, the branching out of universities has become a trend and a model for a knowledge economy that is conquering the world, drawing interest from various walks of the society, but also prompting reconsideration of the added-value of university education and campus experience today (Connell 2019; Guèye 2017; Mellanby 1958; Hauerwas 2007).

While university education can be defined as a social asset, the campus emerges as a political arena (Assié-Lumumba 2011) that often hosts rival and competing ideas and actors working to offer visions of the world, models of social status and even divine salvation. In many countries, as a state institution, the university is at the center of public policies and affects governance, especially since its funding, for example, has implications for both political stability, youth aspirations, economic performance and social coexistence.

Such as a position has turned university campuses into moral spaces, sites of contestations and arenas where various moral agents be they leftist, secular or religious, take roles, acquire influence, and engage in competitions that shape the experience of being student, lecturer, or staff member. What skills and expertise become valued, sought for, and promoted? What social engineering initiatives, moral entrepreneurships and political agendas unfold and mobilize on university campuses today? How are these agents, claims and agendas co-habiting the same space? How is this process affecting life on campus? What forms, tools and ideas of politics emerge in that context? What moral ecology unfolds, especially when morality rests grounded into religiosity and absolute truth-claims? And then, what are the consequences of the secular dismissal of religion and religiosity, when intellectual culture is built on acute skepticism, evolutionism and even atheism?

With such questions in mind, we claim that university campuses offer a site of a critical examination of morality, aspirations and normative orders. In the quest for social becoming, students in particular, have to deal with a conjunction of moral and knowledge economies often at odds with each other, forcing them to be creative and modular, as they navigate the requirements of an academic curriculum, the constraints of everyday life and the expectations of their broader sociopolitical environment. In short, this conference seeks to examine how university campuses in Africa and beyond:

  1. offer training for various skills and know-how which translate into key assets for the social becoming of students beyond the campus;
  2. become a site of moral activism where competing claims of social good and citizenry lead to projects of self-transformation (individual, collective) and/or even conflicts of norms;
  3. feed on various forms of engagements (intellectual, religious, political) while developing their own politics (regional, religious, ethnic, ideological, etc.).

Programme

Report – Workshop 16-17 November, 2021

Organised by the Remoboko research group (Religion, Morality and Boko in West Africa: Students Training for a Good Life), a workshop on Religion in higher educational institutions in Africa and beyond: (Re)Conversion, Power and Authority from a comparative perspective took place at ZMO on 16 and 17 November 2021. In total, the workshop comprised four panels with different presentations. Participants had the opportunity to participate on site or via Zoom. About 40 people from Africa, North America and Europe participated in the workshop.

The objective of the workshop was to focus on conversion and power/authority in religious interactions. It aimed to offer insights into (re)conversion (as a social and spiritual process) and power/authority (emanating from individuals, religious leaders, or institutions) on university campuses. Prioritizing a comparative approach, its aim was to bring together various analytical and methodological approaches and disciplinary perspectives to examine the dynamics of conversion and construction of authority in higher educational institutions.

Two of the four panels took place on the first day, Tuesday, November 16th. While the first panel was chaired by Ahmadou Hamage Issa (Université Abdou Moumouni), the second panel was chaired by Ibrahim Bachir Abdoulaye (University of Bayreuth). Dr. Abdoulaye Sounaye (ZMO), Adéjoké Rafiat  Adétòrò, (University of Ibadan/ZMO), Bello Adamou Mahamadou (Université Abdou Moumouni/ZMO), and Vincent Favier (Freie  Universität Berlin/ZMO), welcomed the participants with a few introductory comments. The topic of the first panel was Religiosity, identity and the dynamics of conversion in educational institutions/ Religiosité, identité et les dynamiques de la conversion dans les établissements d’enseignement. Bello Amadou Mahamadou opened the first panel with a presentation entitled Étude comparative de la transformation identitaire des étudiants à travers la conversion religieuse. During his presentation, Bello Adamou Mahamadou spoke about the factors for adopting a religious identity and asked whether a conversion from outside can be evaluated as a sign of alienation in a big city. Bello Adamou Mahamadou’s lecture was rounded off with a commentary by Dr. Gerd Spittler (University of Bayreuth) who gave an overview of the great diversity on lived Islam at the Université Abdou Moumouni de Niamey, Niger, from 1984 to 2018. The second presentation was given by June Temitope Gbadamosi (University of Ibadan) on the topic of Pray for us: Passive culture of Muslim conversion to Christiantiy amongst residents of Obafemi Awolowo Hall, University of Ibadan. She explained that the Obafemi Awolo Hall is known to be the largest in Sub-Saharan Africa and that religion is considered as a knowledge system in this hall. In her ethnographic accounts, she addressed a wide variety of factors that influence this knowledge system (beliefs from home, beliefs from the holy books, prayers as powers). In the discussion that followed, the concept of African Islam was questioned. The third presentation was then given by Sekou Sala Timbely (Universite Abdou Moumouni) on the topic of Conversion religieuse des étudiants sur les campus universitaires de Point G et de Badalabougou à Bamako (Mali): entre affirmation identitaire et persuasion. The presentation dealt with the religious associations on campus, and with religious conversion and the motivation of the respective converts. In the discussion that followed, participants addressed the variety of different movements on campus and interrogated the reasons for such phenomenon. The last presentation before the lunch break was given by Dr. Guy Bucumi (Université de Shebrooke) on the topic on « L’émergence des universités confessionnelles en Afrique : De la gestion du fait religieux aux rivalités confessionnelles ». He spoke about the education of youth in religious doctrines with regard to judicial background and gave deep insights into why Islam is the religion of revelation. Furthermore, Dr. Guy Bucumi talked about confessionalization of the University and confessional rivalries and the religious role of confessional universities.

After lunch, the second panel dealt with the topic of Missionaries and educational institutions: the issue of authority / Missionnaires et établissements d’enseignement:  la question de l’autorité. The panel was introduced by Dr. Dorothea E. Schulz (University of Münster) and was opened with a presentation by Dr. Mara Leichtman (Michigan State University) on the topic of Transnational Authority, Kuwaiti Islamic Charitable Institutions, and Higher Education in East Africa. During her presentation, Dr. Mara Leichtman explained that the aim of these programs is to develop Islamic universities so as to increase the quality and quantity of well-educated Africans. Participants asked for example if there “Are any parallels with West Africa” or “What exactly contains the reaction of political authorities to these kind of universities” after Dr. Mara Leichtman’s presentation. The discussion that followed addressed questions of the impact to the Islamic University in daily life. The following presentation was given by Ameen Kasim (Islamic University College, Ghana) on the topic of Abdicating Islam for Quality Education? Experiences of Muslim Students at Wesley Girls’ Senior High School. In his presentation, he examined the issues of being Muslim student in a reputed Christian high school in Ghana, between compliance and resistance to school rules that affect Muslim students’ religiosity.  The third lecture was given by Dr. Frédérick Madore (ZMO) on the topic of Islam on University Campuses – Salafism in Cote d’Ivoire. Dr. Frédérick Madore talked about the first Muslim association in the country, the AMSCI, and the way it became a leading model for similar associations. In the discussion, he did not only address the national discourse on Salafism in Côte d’Ivoire, but also explained to what extent one can speak of a categorisation of social classes depending on religious identity. Concluding the first day, Mbaye Lo (Duke University) gave a keynote lecture on the topic of Reforming higher educational institutions in Africa: beyond religion and beyond secularism. The lecture engaged with historical developments and reforms in African education, and interrogated to what extent these reforms were shaped by Islamic institutions of higher education. Once again, the influence of colonial settlement during the colonial period on the current African higher education and development of these institutions with the background of different knowledge systems (europhone vs. arabophone) was emphasized.

On Wednesday, November 17th, the second day of the workshop started with the third panel on the topic of Religious diversity and cohabitation on university campuses / Diversité religieuse et cohabitation sur les campus universitaires chaired by Seyni Mamoudou Ibrahim (University of Bayreuth). The third panel was discussed by Dr. Elodie Apard (LAM). The second day started with a Keynote lecture from Dr. Karen Lauterbach (University of Copenhagen) on the topic of Becoming small ‘big men’ of God: Pastorship, spirituality and joining power in Ghana. Karen Lauterbach focused on pastorship as a pathway to become small “big men” (“Pastors have the ability to bring about change”) and how power is conceptualized in the context of Ghana. This was followed by a presentation from Vincent Favier on the topic of Comparison as a mode of knowledge production in academic contexts: interpreting history through the lens of religious narratives. Vincent Favier explained during this lecture, among other things, that Africa, longer than anyone else, has created his own civilization and that the colonial heritage could still be felt. He gave insights about how students at the UniversitéAbdou Moumouni in Niamey, Niger, relate to the past and how different groups combine historical narratives with religious ones, thus producing a new historical reading that serve their interests. After that, Nadir Abdulhadi Nasidi (Ahmadu Bello University) gave a presentation on the topic of One University, Two Faiths: The Nature and Dynamics of Muslim-Christian Relations in Bayero University, Kano, Nigeria, 1977-2019. Nadir Abdulhadi Nasidi talked about the history of conflicts between Christians and Muslims in Northern Nigeria, and gave some insights into the internal and external factors that shape the relationship between Muslims and Christians in all higher institutions in Nigeria. His lecture focused on questions like why Muslims of Northern Nigeria refused to put their children into westernized educational institutions and to what extend the fear of conversion influenced the history of rivalry. The following presentation was then given by Youssoufou Bakayoko (Universite Alassane Ouat tara) on the topic of Vivre sa foi Tabligh au sein des campus universitaires de Côte d’Ivoire: Ethnographie du cheminement de la religiosité des étudiants. Youssoufou Bakayoko talked about the reasons why students join the Tabligh movement in an ideologically plural context and what are the actions that mark their presence on campus. Furthermore, he gave deep insights on how students define themselves in relation to other Islamic entities. The final comments of the third panel were given by Dr. Elodie Apard. She highlighted to what extent contributions to the third panel provided the participants with a wide range of political insights. In addition, she concluded that diversity means not only competition but is also a manipulation of the past.

After lunch, everyone started the last part of the two-day workshop invigorated. of the fourth panel entitled Controlling the campus: rise and power of socio-religious groups/ Contrôler le campus: montée et pouvoir des roups socio-religieux, waschaired by Hamissou Rhissa Achaffert (University of Bayreuth) and discussed by Dr. Frédérick Madore (ZMO) and Dr. Benedikt Pontzen (ZMO). Adéjoké Rafiat Adétòrò gave a presentation on Power Politics and Othering in religious communities at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. Adéjoké Rafiat Adétòrò focused on questions of authority and power on campus as well as on tensions between Sunna and Shia at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. Furthermore, she gave deep insights into the question to what extent one can assume that the university is a reflection of society and not a place with its own dynamics. The following presentation was given by Abdoulbaki Djibo (Universite Abdou Moumouni) on the topic Occupation de l’espace du campus universitaire: dynamiques, enjeux et construction de l’autorité de l’AEMN/UAM. He gave an account on the social – religious, political and economic context of Niger and the launch of Abdou Moumouni University. Abdoulbaki Djibo spoke not only about the major social and political change processes in Niger and at the UAM, but also about the main factors affecting daily life on campus such as the occupation of space and the confrontation between different types of structures (e.g. coexistence of different actors in the same space). The third presentation on the topic of Pentecostalism on campus in Zimbabwe was given by Dr. Simbarashe Gukurume (Sol Plaatje University). During his presentation, Dr. Simbarashe Gukurume gave insights into the growing influence of Pentecostalism on the campus, how the university and Pentecostal groups are a form of governmentality and explained how power is contested within this particular space. Amongst other things, he focused on the the way university students try to navigate the epistemological differences and how these become contested between these different groups. The last presentation of the fourth panel and of the day was given by Dr. Mamadou Yéro Baldé (Universite Cheikh Anta Diop) on the topic of Religion, jeux de pouvoir et d’influence au sein du campus universitaire de Dakar. Dr. Mamadou Yéro Baldé gave insights into the difficult concept of religion and its different meanings or definitions. He also spoke about the context and emergence of religious student associations in Dakar. Furthermore, he spoke about identity, influence and power in this context. The concluding remarks were then given by Dr. Abdoulaye Sounaye and Dr. Frédérick Madore. They focused especially on the mission ofuniversities as institutions of state constructions and what people are trained for on campus.

After two days with a total of four different panels in which valuable research and new knowledge were shared, exchanged, and discussed, the workshop came to an end. It ended with an informal dinner in Berlin before everyone headed home.

Written by Anna Schenkenberger

Anna Schenkenberger is a Master’s Student at Christian – Albrechts – University of Kiel and an intern at ZMO in the “Contested Religion” research unit. She is writing her Master’s thesis about the challenges for EU cooperation with non – EU countries in the field of Migration. She studied International Politics and International Law in Kiel and Istanbul, as well as Social Sciences and Law in Erfurt. Her research interests focus on Migration, Islam and Religion and the Middle East.

If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do? Religiosity and the concept of Holistic Education in Higher Educational Institutions in Nigeria

By Adéjoké Rafiat Adétòrò

Introduction 

From 1 – 3 of July 2019, I attended the 9th Toyin Falola Annual International Conference on Africa and the Africa Diaspora (TOFAC) held at the Babcock University, Ilishan-Remo, Ogun State, Nigeria. The theme of the conference was ‘Religion, the State and Global Politics’. Coincidentally, there was a particular panel session at this conference that I found fascinating. The panel was titled Faith-based institutions and Holistic Education: Babcock experience. I found this interesting because of my ongoing PhD research on religiosity on university campuses. I was looking forward to hearing – the why and how – faith-based universities incorporate religious principles with secular education. I also was keen on knowing the goal and strategy adopted by Babcock University. 

From the beginning, religion featured as part of the conference’s programme. Every morning before the panel sessions started, conference participants converged in the auditorium for what they called – devotional. This devotional comprised a session of songs and praise and a sermon. I certainly did not expect this. It is an unfamiliar experience because it was not my first time attending an academic conference at a faith-based university.

Religiosity and Higher Educational Institutions in Nigeria

Owolabi suggests that education, by its nature, is an instrument of promoting public morality and has a powerful affinity and is linked to ethics (Owolabi, 2000: 289-301). There are about 174 universities in Nigeria at present, categorised as federal, state and private institutions. Seventy-nine (79) of these institutions are private institutions, and an impressive number of them are faith-based establishments. The introduction of western education in 1842 is one of the highlights of Nigeria’s Christian Missionary activities. By 1948, following the report and recommendations of the Elliot Commission set up by the British colonial government, they agreed to found two universities in Gold Coast (now Ghana) and Nigeria. Hence, the founding of University College Ibadan (UCI), now the University of Ibadan, since 1962.

At the commencement of university education in Nigeria, its advocates considered it a national development tool. However, by the 1970s, a charismatic explosion happened at the University of Ibadan, leading to increased campus-based evangelical outreaches by university students across the country. Consequently, the universities increasingly became enabling environments for the development of students’ spiritual attitudes and affiliations.

According to Christiano, religiosity is a general term used in the scientific study of religion to refer to individuals’ beliefs and behaviours that address ultimate or transcendent concerns (Christiano, 2001). Several universities established by faith-based institutions in Nigeria adopt holistic education as the prop of their service. Holistic education concerns developing a person’s intellectual, emotional, social, physical and spiritual potentials.

Faith-based institution and Holistic Education: The Babcock experience

On April 20, 1999, the Federal Government of Nigeria announced three institutions as the first set of private universities. One of them is Babcock University, established by the Seventh Day Adventist Church. It grew from a college established in 1959 for training church workers from the West African sub-region.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church (SDA), established by Elder D. C. Babcock, a Sierra Leonean missionary to Nigeria in 1914, is a Christian denomination known for keeping Saturday work and event-free but as a worship day. They have also incorporated this act into the university’s calendar by regulating that by 1.00 p.m. on Fridays, all offices and work activities at Babcock University end. The goal is to enable all employees to prepare for the Sabbath hour, which ends on Saturday evening. Seventh-day Adventist’s education philosophy is Christ-centred, adopting a holistic education that involves spiritual, physical, and intellectual dimensions. They believe that a necessity for qualitative education is to incorporate religious principles into secular education.

The university’s Department of Religious Studies organised this special panel I attended that comprised faculty members from humanities, law, social sciences and agricultural sciences. Some of these panellists are, in fact, clerics of the SDA. My first observation of this panel was that it appeared to be more of an advertisement for the institution than an academic presentation. Other than the five panellists, there were only four people in the audience. Of the four attendees were two people, including myself, whose research interests resonated with the panel’s title. Also in attendance was a lecturer who wanted to know the peculiarity of Babcock’s experience compared to the faith-based institution where they taught. The fourth person was an alumnus of Babcock, who gave testimony of the efficacy of the institution’s method of knowledge production and dissemination.

The strategy adopted by Babcock University towards holistic education is said to be enshrined in the institution’s philosophy of establishment. Religion being the fundamental principle for founding the institution, is regarded as a tool for redemption and reformation. This informed their adoption of holistic education, which integrates the denomination’s spiritual, social and physical values with the university’s academic curriculum. As far as the curriculum is concerned, the Nigerian University Commission (NUC) oversees curriculum building for higher educational institutions in Nigeria. However, the Seventh Day Adventist’s International Board of Education and Adventist Accreditation Association’s philosophy guides Babcock University’s curriculum. The panellists claimed that at all levels, their academic curriculum contains compulsory biblical courses like biblical principles of personal and professional life and character formation and spiritual growth. They have equally developed biblical references for other secular academic studies to teach courses like the biblical foundation of Biochemistry and Agricultural science.

One then wonders how the university manages to integrate religious curricula into the academic fabric. There is the Office of Institutional Effectiveness (OIE) which is the coordinating node for this integration. The office trains students on integrating learning and faith through conferences, workshops and opportunities for individual meetings. At the same time, they teach staff how to incorporate teaching and faith. The panellists argued that the institution emphasises ‘education for eternity’ and ‘education and redemption’, which informs why attendance at chapel seminars, a prayer forum for students and faculty members is compulsory. According to Adebola Olayinka, one of the university’s researchers, students are encouraged to take religion as a ‘developmental focus’, because of their believe that the university is ‘God’s chosen’ to re-engineer Nigeria they are expected not just to attend church programmes but to manifest the teachings in their everyday activities.

Their take on spirituality is that for Babcock University, religion is more than a struggle against immorality, unlike other faith-based institutions. The university is also committed to the global mission of human salvation, emphasising redemption and education. Recently, when the university expelled a student for engaging in an ‘immoral act’, the institution stated that they could take her back if she were repentant.

One takeaway from the panellists’ claims and description is that the education provided by faith-based universities in Nigeria seeks to integrate religious principles with social and academic curricula. The university campus is assumed to be an appropriate site to achieve this goal. Punitive measures are also in place to ensure that students adhere and reflect the knowledge they are receiving. By carefully curating academics and students’ activities, their social life and professional engagement should mirror the biblical teachings derived from the Seventh Day Adventist philosophy.

Notes

Holistics Education http://www.schoolaroundus.org/holisticeducation  

Babcock University https://www.babcock.edu.ng/about  

Seventh-Day Adventist Church In Nigeria- Facts and History  http://www.adventistnaija.com/2016/04/seventh-day-adventist-church-in-nigeria.htm

On the Tarmac, Waiting for Take-off

By Adéjọkẹ́ Rafiat Adétòrò & Vincent Favier

It is unclear why and when people started naming this unspectacular place at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria, like this. The tarmac is a flat, large, tree-lined and well asphalted parking space, that officially belongs to the adjoining Chapel of the Resurrection, traditionally dominated by Anglican and Methodist denominations. One would find the campus’ main mosque next to it, and, on the other side of the road, the “Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Catholic Chapel”. Almost everyone on the campus knows about the tarmac, where it is, and what happens there. During the day, the parking space fulfils its formal task: hosting cars. But in the evening, cars have left and people, mostly students, invade the tarmac.

On the campus, the sun goes down behind a palms’ skyline, an exception in a city of an estimated – not officially – 6 million souls seeking shelter from the burning sun and heavy rains under an ocean of rusty roofs. Ibadan’s famous hills are like green islands emerging from an infinity of buildings, houses and roads that fade away in the horizon’s smog. 

And although deans of faculties and non-academic staff sometimes cut trees on the campus for aesthetic matters or for any other obscure reasons, the university campus is probably the only public accessible greenest space in town where one can admire a sunset listening birds singing in a rich natural environment. But this is not what students aim to do when they gather every evening of the week on the tarmac.

Take a seat at the edge of the place, on these white concrete benches on the Chapel’s side, and you’ll find students who, individually or in tiny groups, walk back and forth, whispering inaudible words. Other would sit right next to you, often listening to sermons through their earphones. In the middle of the tarmac, two girls walk in circle side by side, making convulsive gestures. They speak, but not to each other. Sometimes, one of them would go down on her knees and talk to the asphalt, or through the asphalt, even, as if to address her prayers and wishes to the underworld. Heads bowed towards the ground, or held up high, eyes shut, frowning, supplicating, psalms of the hands facing up, or arms raised towards the sky; Pentecostal students seem to perform their prayers to establish a connection between the earth and the universe. This performance is fostered by the many Pentecostal fellowships for undergraduate students present on campus. They gather regularly on the tarmac.

To sum up briefly, Pentecostals aimed to break with certain theological interpretations and religious practices of mainstream Churches, flatten old clerical hierarchies, and, eventually, free the Word of God. Its adherents emphasise the baptism through the Holy Spirit; its presence during worship manifests when practitioners start “speaking in tongues”, a divine gift. Speaking in tongues doesn’t happen just out of the blue, or systematically. One must “train” if one wants to achieve a certain level of proficiency. Individuals develop their ‘own’ style of tongue-speaking like their own language of sounds. This collective worship setting enables them to practice, get inspired by others, let it flow, and let it go.

The tarmac is a favourite playground, a field of predilection for this kind of practices. It is for free, open and outside, large enough, there is public light at night. It is conveniently, centrally located on campus, in the middle of the earliest three religious buildings: The Mosque, the Catholic Chapel, and the Protestant Chapel. The latter was the first space of worship built in 1954 on campus, shortly after founding the University of Ibadan in 1948. It sometimes hosts ceremonies like the recent celebration of the university’s 70th Foundation Day. The Chapel regularly organises worship and educational activities for pupils, students, and holds frequent services for people who mainly live on the campus. Therefore, it tolerates the presence and practices of Pentecostal youth on the parking space. The second wave of Pentecostal revival started in Nigeria in the 1970s, often on university campuses. Youth literally went out of the traditional religious buildings and started worshipping more freely, and this is how places like the Chapel’s car park have been appropriated. Now, it is socially widely accepted and has become part of the campus’ landscape.

Student Pentecostal fellowships usually gather in the evening, sometimes filling the space with hundreds of people, dispatched in smaller groups like passengers waiting at a crowded terminal’s boarding gates. Groups would naturally use the whole width and length of the area to avoid that others’ cacophony mutes their own sermons. Well organised fellowships usually succeed to perform a prayer service or a bible study on the tarmac through a carefully rhythmed, although acoustical, succession of actions. As members slowly arrive and wait for the session to begin, they would start “warming-up” by pronouncing dimly, individually, some prayers, words, or sounds. Then, joint prayers, singings, sermons, healing performances would follow, punctuated by short but louder and louder tongue-speaking interludes, until the group would reach the final take-off, a seemingly “out of control”, heated, collective frenzy. However, since March 2020, the tarmac atmosphere has been very different for some reasons. The first is the academic and non-academic staff strikes. The second is the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic that led to schools’ closure.

Image of an Èṣù effigy staged in a sacrificial style. Cross-posted picture retrieved from twitter Feb. 2020

The disruption caused by the strike and school closure also meant that religious programmes’ participation witnessed some changes. Likewise, spaces often appropriated for religious programmes became deserted. The tarmac remained and resonated empty during several months. Like some of their parent and affiliate churches, some students’ fellowships tried to close the gaps by moving some of their activities online. They conducted virtual programming via social media platforms like WhatsApp and online radio platform such as Mixlr. For instance, the Ibadan Varsity Christian Union fellowship members convened weekly on these platforms for prayer meetings, bible study, and prayer and fasting sessions.

A lot have now changed, in November most worship places on the university campus resumed physical services with churches and mosque opening to congregants again. People began to trickle into the tarmac; a space that has not been in much use because of COVID-19 restriction measures and students’ absence on campus. Although the university is still closed to students, some students staying off-campus who either returned from home and some who live in Ibadan have started to reconvene for physical fellowships. Some other individuals in groups of two or there that appear not to be students have also begun to troop on the tarmac for prayer sessions. Since mid-November, a few Redeemed Christian Postgraduate Fellowship’s (RCPGF) students began to meet on the tarmac on Wednesday evenings. Even though the RCPGF holds its programme in another part of the campus, they have been using the tarmac because of its open and accessible character since the university is still officially closed.

(Chapel of the Resurrection Carpark_Tarmac with front view of the Chapel Hall. Picture by Adéjọkẹ́ April 2020)

Socially Distant, Spiritually Connected: Religious activities on the University of Ibadan campus amid the coronavirus pandemic

By Adéjọkẹ́ Rafiat Adétòrò

The outbreak of COVID-19 has caused many changes in various spheres of human life and institutions, including religious and educational ones, that are central to human and social relations around the world.

Religious centres on many university campuses in Southwest Nigeria organize activities for the members of their immediate and host communities. These centres were closed to worshippers as part of the measures announced to contain the spread of the coronavirus. So, religious leaders sought alternative ways to keep up with the religious practices of their congregation especially devotional activities. The changes to these activities are remarkable. At the University of Ibadan, churches, mosques and other grounds appropriated for such purposes saw some interruptions and adjustments to their programmes.

©Adéjọkẹ́ Agbowó, market, opposite the University Of Ibadan. (May 2020)

COVID-19 in Nigeria: Actions and Reactions

In Ibadan, Nigeria, despite the relative adherence to abstaining from religious and school gatherings, the city is still bubbling. Operators of commercial transport, commuters and market traders in Agbowó, a mini-market opposite the main gate of the University of Ibadan (UI), conducted their business with no social distancing. Though a few are conscious of the problem, discernible in their use of face masks, wrapping of hands in plastic bags in place of hand-gloves and comments from some, whom to reassure others gesturing towards restraint from physical contact, claim they “don’t have Corona.” The latter habit is common among transport workers for whom grabbing and dragging commuters to board their vehicles have always been the usual practices.

This city hosts the country’s premier university, the University of Ibadan established in 1948. The University is a federal university bound by federal regulations on holidays, as with the lockdown recently instituted. On the evening of 19 March, Nigeria’s Minister of Education, through the ministry’s permanent secretary, ordered the closure of tertiary, secondary and primary schools in the country. Following this directive, the university management released a statement closing the University, ordering students to vacate their residence halls.

At the University of Ibadan, non- academic and academic unions of the university had earlier embarked on an industrial strike because of both internal and external default in remuneration. This action impaired operations and left the students in a precarious situation. Students took up the roles of security officers and porters in their halls of residence while writing their final examinations since the members of the non-academic staff charged with these responsibilities stopped working in mid-February. The order to vacate the university buildings applied to postgraduate students, though they have not started their examinations. As a result, they had to forgo a host of their activities and gatherings – social and religious, that would characterize the end of a session.

©Adéjọkẹ́ Mount Zion Ground, April 2020

COVID-19 and the Adjustments to Devotional activities at the University of Ibadan

The nerve centres of religious activities on the University of Ibadan campus are the Chapel of the Resurrection, Our Lady Seat of Wisdom catholic chapel, University Central mosque, Mount Zion Ground and Baptist Service Centre. Other places appropriated for this purpose include cafeterias in residence halls and sports centres. 

Towards the Northeast gate of the University is the Awo Hall, named after Obafemi Awolowo, a key nationalist figure who played a fundamental part in Nigeria’s struggle for independence. Beside this hall is the Mount Zion Ground, a crucial religious landscape of the campus. It is a space for postgraduate students (PG) fellowship hosting about 7 – 8 Christian denominations. Competing soundscape – buzzing instrumentals and varying human melodic tunes mark the presence and activities of the different Christian denominations worshipping on this site every Sunday and sometimes even during weekdays when school is in session. But on this first Sunny Sunday in April 2020, the sonic atmosphere was entirely different except the chirping birds. I felt here the disruption to religious activities caused by the lockdown measure the most.

©Adéjọkẹ́ A side-view of the entrance to the University of Ibadan Central Mosque on a Friday before the lockdown (March 2020)

Before the official closing of the university and religious centres across the country by the federal government, a letter signed by UI’s Chief Imam had been circulating on WhatsApp. It was the notice of suspension of the “weekly Jumu’ah prayers’ and any other mosque events that will create a gathering of up to fifty people in the general interest of the Muslim Ummah.” Of course, this is the first religious centre in Nigeria to take precaution against the spread of the virus by deciding to put a hold on religious gatherings in the physical congregation.

For a mosque that hosts not less than one thousand worshippers from within and outside the campus for its weekly Jumu’ah service, this is an important decision. Asides this, observing physical distancing which is one of the cautionary steps to curb the spread of the virus appears unrealistic. Particularly because the doctrinal position encourages standing in close contacts while observing congregational prayers. Also, no room because the mosque management just embarked on an expansion project for the increasing number of worshippers.

From Friday 22 May, the Chief Imam delivered the Khutbah (Friday sermons) on the mosque’s YouTube and Facebook channels. These channels also complemented the customary broadcast of sermons delivered on Eid-al-Fitr and Eid-al-Adha; Islamic festivals, by the university radio station.

©Adéjọkẹ́ The Chapel of the Resurrection, UI (April 2020)

A mellow, melodic sound assumed to be from a piano lured me to the chapel area on Easter Sunday from behind the mosque. I watched the priests in their white cassocks go into the chapel in a procession with cameras and audio equipment surrounding them to aid their current means of conducting church services. In contrast to the mosque’s action, the Chapel did not stop their physical services until a few weeks after the closure of the university. The adjustments to their activity did not start until 29 March when moves their Sunday services and other programmes online and on-air broadcasting via the church’s online radio station, YouTube channel, and sometimes on a private radio station in Ibadan. Despite these provisions, a few worshippers still make it into the chapel to worship and some others in the car park (tarmac).

From the sounds and sights in some staff quarters in different parts of the University, I could tell that some Christian families on campus have turned to house fellowships held in their living rooms or outside in their compounds since they cannot go to their worship centres.

Without a doubt, there have been some modifications to religious activities in the University. An example is the suspension of devotional activities, held physically in groups. The social detachment arising from this informed the need to find alternative ways to stay spiritually connected. Thus, the broadcasting of sermons via YouTube, Facebook, online radio platforms and traditional radio stations became alternative ways of keeping up with religious practices and the community. 

But, in a country with an often poor internet connection and unequal/less access to such facility, I expect the transition to virtual programming will not provide the intended effect for some people. On different occasions, even I had problems enjoying some programmes disseminated via the chapel’s online radio because of the incessant pause while streaming. However, the traditional radio stations like the university-owned Diamond FM specifically prove to be a suitable option, particularly for this year’s Easter Sunday, Eid-al-Fitr and Eid-al-Adha celebrations. Although, it is customary for the radio station to broadcast sermons delivered on the campus during Christian and Muslim festivals.

There is a group of people that stand to benefit from these alternative forms of conducting devotional activities on university campuses. These are former university students, who often share posts on their social media pages about their favourite religious preachers or leaders when they were on campus. For instance, after my undergraduate programme at the University of Ilorin, I would often mull over how much I missed the Imam’s delivery of the weekly Khutbah at the central mosque. Perhaps, the online broadcast of services and hymns by the chapel and Khutbah by the mosque is a blessing for some people, as they can now enjoy what they have so far missed even it if it is in the interim.

Adéjọkẹ́ Rafiat Adétòrò

Religious practices and spatial appropriation at the University of Ibadan

On February 25, 2020, the French Institute for Research in Africa (IFRA-Nigeria) hosted a doctoral seminar within the frame of the REMOBOKO research project. Vincent Favier and Adéjoké Rafiat Adétòrò, got the opportunity to present on “religious practices and spatial appropriation at the University of Ibadan”.

Religion, Morality and Boko: Students Training for a Good Life. What to look for? How?

Our first workshop on “Religion, Morality and Boko: Students Trainig for a Good Life. What to look for? How?” took place on December 11-12, 2018 at Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient Berlin.

This is the initial workshop of the Remoboko project. It will focus on the methodological aspects of the project. It will also be the opportunity to introduce the overall idea of the project and the individual projects the three PhD students will be working on. We expect to receive feedback and suggestions from colleagues working on similar and closely related issues. This is important and will help the different project refine their research questions and seek collaborations. Finally, the workshop will be the occasion for all project participants, the group leader, the PhD students and their supervisors, to meet for the first time in Berlin.

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