LAGOS – More than five decades of independence, Nigerian Muslims are complaining of the government’s bad governance and low protection of religious rights, resulting in recurring violations and worsening religious tensions in the country.
“The rights of Muslim Nigerians to freely make important choices in relation to public expression of their religion, in a democracy, are hampered by badly informed government policies and public statements in certain quarters, and Islamophobic sentiment that is just entering its maturity,” Kamor Disu, head of the Muslim Public Affairs Centre (MPAC), told OnIslam.net.
“Whether on National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) camps or in certain public schools in the country, bold bigots and Islamophobes who rely on state powers or official privileges to impose near-nudity on our kids enjoy protection or respect.”
Disu was referring to the government’s recent restrictions of wearing of the Muslim headscarf across schools in Lagos, southwest Nigeria, stressing that officials with anti-Islam agenda are being given official cover.
“Obviously the harassment of school kids in hijab, and the impunity of those providing political cover for them, have to stop,” he said.
“Such actions are symptomatic of a nation at 53 still learning to crawl, and a laughing stock of other nations that uphold human rights, human dignity and respect of religious expression.”
Fifty three years ago, Nigeria gained its independence in October 1960.
Recently, Lagos authorities have banned the wearing of hijab at schools. The Muslim outfit is also outlawed in most south-western states.
Islam sees hijab as an obligatory code of dress, not a religious symbol displaying one’s affiliations.
Nigeria, one of the world's most religiously committed nations, is divided between a Muslim north and a Christian south.
Muslims and Christians, who constitute 55 and 40 percent of Nigeria's 140 million population respectively, have lived in peace for the most part.
Founded six years before Nigeria’s independence, the Muslim Students Society of Nigeria (MSSN) believes the rights of the Muslims, like every other people of faith, are well enshrined in the country’s constitution but are trampled upon at will.
“In all honesty, Muslims have not been having it rosy in Nigeria. There are lots of instances where Muslims’ rights are not recognized even though such are firmly entrenched in the nation’s constitution,” MSSN spokesman, Sulaiman Alamutu, told OnIslam.net.
“Take the case of hijab in Lagos State where the government remains hell-bent on not allowing Muslim girls to wear the hijab in public schools. In federal government institutions such as the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) and the Law School, the situation is the same. Look at the appointments into key positions at the federal level, you can observe the wide margin in the ratio for Muslims and non-Muslims.”
“Also in Lagos state, all the Tutor-generals (TGs) in the six educational districts are non-Muslims! Does that mean there are no qualified Muslims in the state to be appointed? In the South-east, Muslims are treated like outcasts. These are some of the issues that make one feel dejected. Nevertheless, I still believe the situation will change over time.”
The Al-Muhminaat (interpreted as The Believing Women), an organization of Muslim women across Nigeria, made similar observations.
Yet, the group went further to insist that the lack of religious harmony among Nigerians is fuelled partly by the lack of mutual respect for one another and partly by politicians for selfish agenda.
“Unity is vital to growth and development of any society but important to these are mutual respect and mutual understanding. Each of us must appreciate our diversity and not disregard one another,” Hajiah Sherifah Yusuf-Ajibade, spokesperson for the influential group, told OnIslam.net.
“Islam recognizes that all humans cannot be Muslims, Prophet Muhammad (may Allah be pleased with him) led the Arabia and led non-Muslims too.
“They coexisted peacefully while respecting everybody's rights. Leadership in Nigeria has taken Nigerians for granted for too long. Religious harmony is undermined for self-interest of those in power and their cronies.”
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