The Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB) on Friday, 26th November, 2021 confirmed that the use of niqab has been banned in the institution. In view of the development, it was reported that a female Muslim alumnus was forced to remove her veil by the school security men before she was allowed to enter the university.
Reacting to the development, an Islamic human rights organization, the Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC), has rejected the ban. The group, in a statement by its director, Professor Ishaq Akintola argued that no academic institution, public place authority or employer of labour has the right to ban niqab because the freedom to ‘manifest’ religious belief is enshrined in the Constitution of Nigeria.
The group said:
“No institution of learning, from primary to tertiary, whether federal, state, or even private, has the right to prohibit the use of hijab or niqab. It is a contravention of the provisions of Section 38(i) & (ii) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended which says inter alia:
“ ‘Every person shall be entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom (either alone or in community with others, and in public or in private) to manifest and propagate his religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance’
“Furthermore, Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Right, (ICCPR) guarantees the right to freedom of religion unconditionally. In addition, Article 9 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights & Fundamental Freedoms contains a right to have ‘respect for the religious feelings of believers…’ But FUNAAB authorities have no respect for the religious feelings of Muslims. This must stop.
“The problem with some non-Muslim heads of educational institutions and public offices in the South West is that they wrongly assume that they can compel Muslims under them to abide by their own non-Muslim way of dressing. They therefore go all out to enact rules and regulations which disallow Muslims from dressing like Muslims. This presupposes that they hate the sight of Muslims.
“We affirm that any rules and regulations which contradict the letter and spirit of the constitution is illegal, unlawful, illegitimate and unconstitutional. This is the import of Chapter 1, Part 1, Section 1(1) & (3) of the Constitution which stipulates:
“ ‘This Constitution is supreme and its provisions shall have binding force on all authorities and persons throughout the Federal Republic of Nigeria.’ In particular, Section 1(3) says, ‘If any other law is inconsistent with the provisions of this Constitution, this Constituion shall prevail, and that other law shall to the extent of the inconsistency be void.’
“To that extent, therefore, all anti-niqab pronouncements, memos, circulars, posters, etc issued by FUNAAB are null, void and of no legal effect whatsoever. Same goes for all such declarations and actions in other academic institutions throughout Yorubaland.
“We are not unaware of the security implications of the use of niqab and hijab, particularly in these days of general insecurity and we are going to be pragmatic in our approach to this danger. There is the assumption that the dresses may aid shoplifting in campus bookshops or libraries. Weapons may also be hidden under such clothing. But the same fears should also be entertained about some of our African dresses, e.g. agbada or babanriga. Or will any institution contemplate the banning of these African dresses on their campuses?
“Therefore, if the authorities are not just keen on profiling Muslims, all they need to do is to ensure that Muslim women wearing niqab or hijab are checked by female security personnel. Their identities can also be verified by female officials who will take them to one side and take a look at their faces and cross-check on their identity cards.
“The security threat is not enough to deprive this insignificant number of students of their Allah-given fundamental human rights. Even the United Nations described Article 18 of the ICCPR as a provision that ‘cannot be derogated from, even in time of public emergency’.
“Hijab does not pose this kind of threat anyway. But how many female Muslim students use the niqab on campuses? They are very few, perhaps, 2, 3 or maximum of 5 in a campus. Those using niqab are very few because unlike hijab, niqab is not mandatory. It is a matter of choice but, at the same time, it is a symptom of a deeper spiritual journey into the labyrinth of taqwah (piety).
“Therefore, any Muslim woman who chooses to use niqab has simply elected not to ‘dress to kill’ or to show her curves just to make men salivate and run after her. Even for this reason alone, she deserves love and respect, not hate and humiliation.
“This is why we find the bill board on decent dressing erected by FUNAAB most illogical, highly irritating and extremely ridiculous. The university placed the picture of a Muslim woman in niqab among those of female students in hot pants, body-hogs, male sagging trousers, crazy jeans, etc. We strongly condemn this act of provocation and we demand that the Muslim woman’s picture be removed from the billboard without delay.
“FUNAAB must also withdraw the ban placed on niqab within seven days or Muslim students in the institution will embark on peaceful demonstration as from Monday, 6th December, 2021. FUNAAB is advised not to test our will or that of the Muslim students.
“The fact that Muslims in general have been quiet and docile in the South West does not mean that they are cowards. Also, the fact that Muslim students in the region have never raised their voice against tyrannical school authorities in spite of several provocative actions taken against them does not mean that they do not know their rights. They are simply abiding by the teachings of Islam on obedience to constituted authority.
“But the case has become different today as many institutions in the South West are bent on perpetuating the persecution of Muslim students. FUNAAB has crossed the red line. This oppression must stop and Muslim students have to take their destiny in their hands or the humiliation will continue ad infinitum. From now on, any institution in the South West that messes up with Allah-given fundamental human rights of Muslim students will face the wrath of the students.
“What MURIC will not encourage is violence. School properties must not be damaged. Neither should any individual be molested. Muslim students involved in peaceful demonstrations must be civil. Roads outside the campus must not be blocked as this is capable of causing discomfort to innocent road users or even death of people who are sick or pregnant women being rushed to the hospital.
“Ogun State branch of MURIC has been directed to liaise with the leadership of the Muslim Students Society of Nigeria (MSSN) in FUNAAB for the purpose of monitoring developments and to ensure that no single Muslim student engages in violence. All area units of the MSSN are advised to be on standby.
“The regular molestation faced by the female Muslim girl-child in Yorubaland has exposed the insincerity of feminist groups in Nigeria. Where is Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG)? Where are the female civil rights groups? Why have they turned the blind eye at the persecution faced by female Muslim students? This selective activism has exposed them.
“But Muslim students must understand from now on that their destiny is in their hands. This religious apartheid will not stop until they liberate themselves. Even South Africa under the notorious apartheid regime was not so bad. This will mark the beginning of another milestone in the peaceful struggle of Muslim students in the South West to liberate themselves from religious discrimination, stigmatization, tyranny, persecution and oppression. After decades of untold suffering, Yoruba Muslim students are saying : Let the Muslims go!”