The Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) is appalled by the odious stench of religious bigotry and intolerance oozing out from the academic precincts of the premier University of Ibadan. This is with regard to the needless acrimony and vendetta, hatred and hubris being brought to the fore on the plight of the young Muslim girls of the International School, Ibadan (ISI), owned by the University.
In this age and at this stage of our socio-political development, it is highly deplorable and condemnable that the leadership of the foremost academic community where freedom of religion and expression should be held sacrosanct, apart from other freedoms guaranteed by the Nigerian Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Rights document, can lie supine while inanity is made to fester in its International School.
What has been going on for years at ISI is an affront to refinement and civilisation, which education should impart. The denial of the Muslim girls of the right to use their hijab is just a ring in a long chain of institutionalised religious discrimination against Muslims in the school, which should ordinarily be a centre of excellence where learning, probity, excellence and character are respected.
Does ISI belong to a cantankerous Islamophobic religious Association? What hatred and wickedness would make a school management descend so low as to condemn innocent school girls to the blaze of the sun just because of hijab? Where is integrity? Indeed, where is service in a school that makes a claim to â€śintegrity and serviceâ€ť as its motto?
It is ludicrous that the anti-Islamic management of ISI, as available evidence shows, has been violating the rights of the Muslim students for several years through various acts of infraction. This is why Muslim students, who are boarders, had been compelled to attend Sunday church services for years and had been denied the knowledge of their faith while the school employed Christian Studies teachers before the school was challenged. That is also why the school management under the watchful eyes of the University of Ibadan engaged in other unbecoming conducts, only reminiscent of the colonial past when Christianity was forced down the throats of unwilling students.
The incident of Thursday, November 15, 2018, will not be forgotten by the 120 million Muslims in Nigeria. To wit, how would anyone calling herself a principal in the 21st century have the audacity of shutting innocent Muslim students out of school just for the â€śoffenceâ€ť of wearing small head-carves called hijab? What type of education did the religious bigot called Mrs Phebean Olowe receive that would make her commit such infamy? Why must Muslims always fight before they are granted their rights, as constitutionally guaranteed?
That the management of ISI is dragging itself into this muddle at this time beggars belief. Apart from the sheer population of Muslims that does not make them a religious minority in Nigeria, not even in Ibadan, the contemporary trend and the wind of change in the world is to respect the religious rights of the minority. This explains why even in the military and paramilitary organisations as well as professions in many countries across the Western world, the religious rights of Muslim ladies are granted through the use of hijab. Why is Nigeria still tied to apron strings of its inglorious colonial past in virtually every stratum, especially education?
The lesson learnt by conscionable individuals and institutions from the victory of Barrister Firdaos Amosa in being called to the Nigerian bar in July this year, after a resolved misunderstanding caused by the infringement on her right to use hijab in December 2017, is that only those who are living in darkness can deprive willing Muslim girls and women of the use of hijab in schools and workplaces. That this execrable height of intolerance and abuse is made to happen actually shows the type of person the principal is, an uninformed and megalomaniac religious bigot whose intent is to provoke a religious crisis in the ancient city and the hallowed academic community of the University of Ibadan.
We strongly condemn the management of ISI and warn the principal that she will be held responsible for whatever her administrative incompetence and religious intolerance precipitate in this matter. Muslims in Nigeria can no longer fold their arms and watch their rights being unabashedly trampled upon by minions and tin-gods who find themselves in some positions of authority. Others like her anywhere they are will be named and shamed as agents provocateurs who want to destroy this country by fanning the embers of religious discord.
The prevarications of the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academics) of the University of Ibadan, Prof. Yinka Aderinto, on the matter are rather disappointing. If he is a refined academic that he ought to be, he would have been on the right side of history, instead of pontificating on the private ownership of the school, as if private ownership confers religious abuse on the proprietors. Suggesting ISI is even a private school is shamelessly mendacious. Let Prof. Aderinto name one private investor in the school. ISI is owned 100 per cent by an agency of the government and funded by the public. We challenge him to prove to the contrary.
Now, NSCIA demands that the principal of ISI be sanctioned for dragging the name of the school in the mire and trampling on the rights of her students, against whom the school gate was shut as if they were stray animals. The Council demands that the University of Ibadan wade into the matter immediately by working together with the Muslim Students Society of Nigeria and the ISI Muslim Parents Forum to grant the students their full rights of wearing hijab, which in any way does not impede their learning. Any code, by-law, rule or regulation that conflicts with the Nigerian Constitution is null and void. Therefore, the argument of some school rules and regulations by apologists in the matter is shallow and diversionary.
Meanwhile, the Council also applauds the Lagos State Government for approving the use of hijab in public schools in the state. Though the approval is not a favour in any way as the Government had been acting ultra vires all this while by refusing to obey the judgement of the Court of Appeal since July 2016 that it was given, we still commend the Government for doing the right thing and behaving responsibly now in the eyes of the enlightened citizens who know that judgements must be obeyed until they are set aside by courts of competent jurisdiction. We urge the State Government to take a step further by withdrawing its appeal on the same matter from the Supreme Court of Nigeria. That is the appropriate thing to do.
The Council urges other Governments across the country, especially in the South West, South South and South East geopolitical zones, to take a cue from the Government of Lagos State and cure themselves of hijabphobia. They should do the needful and honourable just as once done by the Ekiti State Government, under Dr Kayode Fayemi, on the matter of hijab and not wait until they are compelled by the courts, in line with the constitutional provisions, as it happened in Kwara and Osun States before Lagos State now joins the progressive league. This is civilisation and those who deny religious and minority groupsâ€™ rights are the backward, crude and intolerant people and Governments.
As we said in our statement, â€śStop Press! Hijab is Constitutionalâ€ť released on December 18, 2017, following the denial of the call to the bar on account of hijab earlier adumbrated, its smacks of the illegality of the highest order to deny any willing Muslim female of her constitutional right of using hijab. Section 38, Subsection 1 of the Nigerian Constitution (as amended in 2011) states categorically thus: â€śEvery person shall be entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religionâ€¦(either alone or in community with others, and in public and or in private) to manifest and propagate his religion or belief in worship, teaching practice and observance.â€ť The matter was put to rest in Suit CA/IL/49/2009 where the appellate court sitting in Ilorin ruled unequivocally that the use of hijab by female Muslims qualifies as a fundamental right under Section 38 of the Constitution.
NSCIA warns that henceforth, anybody who harasses Muslim students or professionals on the basis of hijab will be deemed a criminal suspect, being a violator of the Constitution. Such lawless persons will individually answer their surnames and charged to court for violating the Nigerian Constitution regarding the rights of Muslims. Muslims have never barred Christians from dressing anyway their religion expects them to do. We have no problem with nuns in uniform or with people who do not wear shoes or earrings. They are our fellow citizens and we respect them and their religious convictions. But why should Christians always stand in our way, regarding adherence to our faith within the confines of the Constitution?
We reiterate that bigoted non-Muslims are hereby put on notice that in schools and workplaces, violating Muslim ladiesâ€™ right to hijab will be legally construed as an infringement or a form of harassment. Principals, teachers and little tin-gods in temporary positions of authority who are fond of persecuting Muslim girls and ladies because of hijab should be ready to go prison as they cannot defeat the Constitution of Nigeria in Court just as it was not, and will not be, possible for even state governments to do.
This is a warning; enough is enough!
Prof. Salisu Shehu
Deputy Secretary-General, NSCIA