21st December, 2021
The Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) said female Muslim students are daily exposed to humiliation, persecution in Lagos public schools over the use of hijab.
The group, however, asked the Lagos State Government to issue a circular on the permissibility of using hijab in public schools in the state.
MURIC hinged its request on incidents in the state’s public schools in which some teachers maltreat female Muslim students who use hijab.
The demand was made in a press statement issued on Tuesday, 21st December 2021 by the director of MURIC, Professor Ishaq Akintola.
The statement reads :
“Female Muslim students are daily exposed to humiliation, persecution and denial of Allah-given fundamental human rights in Lagos public schools over the use of hijab. Although there is a subsisting court judgement in favour of hijab use, school authorities hide under the cover of the absence of an official circular approving or unbanning use of hijab to infringe on Allah-given fundamental human rights of the Muslim girl-child.
“The spread and sequence of these violations and abuses are alarming. Our records show that Lagos schools where female Muslim students are disallowed from using hijab in October 2021 alone include Okota Senior Grammar School, Okota, Isolo, Ogba Junior Grammar School, Ogba, Alimosho Junior Grammar School, Alimosho, Community Primary School, Ilogbo, Anglican Primary School, Ijanikin, L. A. Primary School, Ilogbo-Elegba, and Fazil Umar Ahmadiyyah Primary School, Okokomaiko, to mention just a few.
“The most recent one is the incident at Igboye Community High School, Igboye, Epe, Lagos State, where two female Muslim students were made to stand outside the classroom in the sun while their classmates were writing an examination. This happened a few days ago in December 2021 and their only crime was that they wore hijab.
“Meanwhile MURIC is aware that the state government does not support the maltreatment of female Muslim students who wear hijab. The Commissioner of Education, Mrs. Folasade Adefisayo always intervenes whenever MURIC reports any case of the overzealousness of a school principal or teacher over the hijab issue.
“Neither does the state governor have any aversion to the use of hijab. A picture that went viral last week showed Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu sitting beside a hijab-clad female Muslim student inside a classroom. There were also other Muslim girls who wore hijab in that classroom. That picture spoke volumes.
“A governor entered a classroom and saw some female students wearing hijab. He did not send them out. He did not order them to remove their hijab. Neither did he reprimand them for wearing it inside the classroom. Instead, he elected to sit beside one of such hijab-clad girls.
“MURIC commends Sanwo-Olu for this singular act. It is a clear demonstration of a positive inclination towards hijab. It exemplifies the height of religious tolerance and it sent a strong message to the Lagos public that the governor has nothing against hijab and Muslims.
“Yet the governor’s humane and accomodating attitude stands in contradistinction to the hostile disposition of the direct handlers of the Muslim girl-child in Lagos public schools. In timid obedience to the schools’ instructions prohibiting use of hijab in the school premises, female Muslim students wear hijab from home but they remove it at the schools’ gates and tuck it inside their bags.
“But the teachers go to the extent of assaulting the female Muslim students even inside commercial vehicles as they ride to or from school. They forcefully remove the hijab from the girls’ heads and slap them on their faces. These acts are not only judiciable but also provocative. They are capable of igniting religious crisis.
“It is therefore very glaring that the school principals, headmasters and teachers are the problems. But the irony here is that they also claim to be innocent and acting on the orders of the Sanwo-Olu administration. They tell Islamic organisations that complain of molestation of Muslim girls that there is no circular approving hijab. Though we ask them also to produce any circular that banned hijab ab initio, they stand their ground and the persecution continues ad infinitum.
“This squarely places the Muslim girl-child, her parents as well as Islamic organisations and the Lagos Muslim community in a conundrum. The LASG has a responsibility to resolve this dilemma by coming clear and producing a circular. MURIC calls on LASG to do the needful without delay.
“It is the lack of a clear directive from the state government to the school authorities which emboldens these teachers to maltreat, harass and intimidate Muslim students. It is an undisguised attempt to scare the Muslim girl-child from pursuing education.
“Osun State government under Governor Isiaka Oyetola issued a circular after some school authorities started behaving funny despite a subsisting court pronouncement and there has been no hijab controversy in the state since then. But in Lagos public schools, principals and headmasters still demand government’s circular when Muslims cite the judgement of the Court of Appeal.
“In retrospect, we remember that LASG banned the use of hijab about seven or eight years ago, arguing that it was not part of the approved school uniform for pupils. But the history of school uniform shows that the present school uniform being used in the whole of Southern Nigeria was designed by the British colonial masters who were, essentially, Christians and who, expectedly, designed a school uniform that was, and still is, suitable for Christians. Imposing it on Muslim children without regard for their faith is therefore insensitive, tyrannical and unacceptable.
“It is natural for Muslims to seek to modify the Christian uniform to suit the dictates of their faith at least for the female Muslim students who, according to the Glorious Qur’an, must not go out of their homes without wearing hijab (Qur’an 24:31; 33:59), hence the introduction of the hijab.
“But the government reacted to this development by banning hijab. Following the ban, Lagos Muslims argued that public schools are funded by the government from tax payers’ money and if it is true that Muslims in the state also pay tax, then their interests must be taken into account. Besides, Lagos is a cosmopolitan state, therefore, the policies of the state government must take into consideration the heterogeneity of the culture of its citizens.
“To challenge the ban on hijab, two 12-year-old girls under the aegis of the Muslim Students Society of Nigeria (MSSN), Lagos State Area Unit, filed a suit at the Ikeja High Court, Lagos, seeking redress and asking the court to declare the ban as a violation of their rights to freedom of thought, religion and education.
“On 17th October, 2014, Justice Modupe Onyeabor dismissed the suit instituted against the Lagos State Government and declared hijab illegal in public schools (https://www.channelstv.com/2014/10/17/court-upholds-lagos-ban-hijab-use-public-schools/; https://dailypost.ng/2014/10/18/muslim-students-reject-court-ruling-hijab-ban-lagos/).
“The students approached the Court of Appeal and the latter, presided over by Justice A. B. Gumel, set the High Court judgement aside in a unanimous decision on case CA/L/135/15 between Lagos State Government, Asiyat AbdulKareem (through her father) Moriam Oyeniyi and Muslim Students’ Society of Nigeria on Thursday, 21st July, 2016 (https://www.premiumtimesng.com/news/top-news/207298-court-appeal-grants-lagos-public-school-students-right-wear-hijab.html).
“In his lead judgment, Justice Gumel held that the use of the hijab was an Islamic injunction and also an act of worship, hence it would constitute a violation of the appellants’ rights to stop them from wearing the hijab in public schools. The appellate court further held that the lower court erred in law when it held that the ban on hijab was a policy of the Lagos State Government.
“It is important to note that LASG took the case to the Supreme Court and requested for stay of execution of the appellate court’s decision but this was rejected on 7th February 2017 (https://punchng.com/lagos-takes-hijab-case-supreme-court/). The legal implication of this is that the status quo ante (i.e. the pronouncement of the Court of Appeal which approved the hijab before LASG approached the Supreme Court) must be maintained. Anything otherwise will be contempt of court.
“But it has been impunity galore since the Appeal Court approved the use of hijab as Lagos school authorities have turned female Muslim students into objects of ridicule, harrassment and persecution on account of their wearing hijab. The school authorities claimed they were unaware of the judgement of the Appeal Court which was favourable to use of hijab.
“The position of Muslims in Lagos State has always been that if the teachers claim that they are unaware of the judgement of the Court of Appeal or that they are not quite sure of the position of the state government, a circular emanating from LASG or the state’s Ministry of Education will clarify the government’s position. This was what the government of Osun State did when teachers were reluctant to allow use of hijab in Osun schools after an Osun High Court declared the hijab constitutional. A circular was issued and the matter was put to rest.
“MURIC affirms that fundamental human rights are inalienable rights. They are not ordinary priviledges and their enjoyment is a major parameter for measuring good governance. In addition, compliance with the appeal court judgement on hijab which was delivered on 21st July, 2016 is critical to the affirmation of respect for the rule of law by the LASG.
“It is therefore mandatory that the LASG ensures that the Ministry of Education, the State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB), tutors general, principals, headmasters and teachers of public schools are instructed to obey the appeal court ruling. The only official instrument known for doing this is the issuance of a government circular directing these organs and officials to allow female Muslim students who wish to use hijab to do so.
“Only thus will the government’s good intention become manifest to all. The absence of a circular has created a communication gap as well as a sharp contradiction between the friendly attitude of the state’s executive governor and the hostile mien of authorities of public schools towards the use of hijab. The time to issue the circular is now, before Lagos Muslims start thinking of dragging the state government, its education agencies and school authorities to court for contempt.”