Thursday, October 23, 2014



Distinguished guests, leaders of Islamic organisations present, Brothers and Sisters in Islam, Gentlemen of the press, As-Salaam Alaykum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuhu. I welcome you to this press briefing on behalf of the Joint Muslim Forum (JMF). JMF is a Muslim, non-governmental and non-profit organization with no political affiliations but serves as a platform for several well-meaning and progressive Muslim Organizations in Lagos State.
You are all aware of the agitation of Muslims in the South-West for their female children to be allowed to use hijab in public schools. This is a yearning propelled by religious obligation as the Qur’an commands all female Muslims to use hijab.

As part of the background, we must also remind you of the inhuman treatments meted out to female Muslim students by Christian teachers over the hijab saga. On February 5, 2013, an 11 year-old student, Aisha Alabi of Kadara Junior High School, Ebute Metta, was given 43 lashes of the cane on the school’s assembly ground for not removing her hijab after an Islamic Religious Knowledge class where the veil is allowed. It is our contention that 43 lashes for an 11 year-old is the height of inhumanity.

Another student, Bareerah Tajudeen of Mafoluku Senior Grammar School, Oshodi, on February 20, last year, had her hijab removed and trampled on by the school principal, Mrs. Elizabeth Omidele. This act of religious apartheid occurred outside the school premises, not within the school compound.

These are just two of several cases of religious persecution which Christian teachers unleash on female Muslim students in Lagos State. To add salt to injury, The Lagos State Commissioner for Education, Mrs. Olayinka Oladunjoye, in a press conference addressed on Tuesday, 14th May, 2013 placed a ban on the use of hijab and head scarf by female Muslim pupils in public schools in Lagos State. She stated that Muslims who want their children to use hijab should take their children to Muslim private schools. This was a highly provocative pronouncement.

Instead of taking the law into their hands, the Muslim Students Society of Nigeria (MSSN) took the matter to court seeking to vacate the ban placed on hijab by the state government.

Justice Modupe Onyeabor, in a suit filed against the government,  by the MSSN,  Lagos State Area Unit, through their lawyer, Chief Gani Adetola-Kazeem (SAN), held that the ban was not discriminatory. The judge held that Nigeria’s ‘secular’ nature as provided by Section 10 of the Constitution must be preserved by the government.

With this pronouncements, Justice Onyeabor has simply demonstrated to all and sundry that the tragedy of the Nigerian judiciary lies in the runaway nature of justice in Nigeria. This is a travesty of justice. This judge has ruled against natural law. Nigeria is not a secular state but a multi-religious one and no section of the constitution declares Nigeria as a secular state. In fact the word ‘secular’ is not in our constitution.

How can our case be dismissed when there are precedents? It is on record that the High Court of Lagos State relied on sections 38 and 42 of the Constitution in Suit No ID/424M/2004 – Fatimoh Abidemi Rasak & 3Ors Vs Commissioner for Health, Lagos State & 2Ors to shoot down and declare unconstitutional a circular issued by the Lagos State School of Health Technology banning the students from wearing hijab.
Again in the Court of Appeal in Ilorin in the case of "The Provost, Kwara State College of Education, Ilorin Vs Bashirat Saliu in suit number CA/IL/49/2009 ruled that "the use of veil by female Muslims qualifies as a fundamental right under section 38 of the constitution".

The ruling on the MSSN Hijab case is therefore illogical, inexplicable and a total miscarriage of justice. The learned judge erred by averring that hijab creates a sense of inferiority in those who do not use it. It is laughable. How can the hijab used by a Muslim student give others inferiority complex? Should those who want hijab therefore remain perpetually under oppression and lack of religious freedom?

JMF has posers for the Lagos State Government (LASG) on the hijab affair. Why is it that on one hand the state claims to promote girl-child education and on the other hand openly discriminates against female Muslim students whose crime is the wearing of hijab to school? Is LASG aware that even in UK, US and other Western countries (except France) where Muslims are in the minority, the female Muslim students in public schools are allowed to wear hijab?
Is LASG aware that Ekiti State by circular No. EK/SSG/01/375 of 12th December, 2013 has permitted female Muslim pupils in public schools to use hijab? Governor Kayode Fayemi is a Christian and Muslims constitute only about 40% of the state’s population. Lagos has a Muslim governor. Lagos has a preponderant Muslim population and Muslims in the state have been asking Lagos government to approve hijab for female Muslim children for years. This is the paradox called LASG! Or is Ekiti part of Saudi Arabia?

LASG must explain to Nigerians why hijab is acceptable on school uniforms in the whole of Northern Nigeria, Ekiti, Oyo and Osun states but it is an anathema in Lagos. How many constitutions do we operate in Nigeria? Lagos has simply become the epicentre of religious stigmatisation against Muslims. One must ask for how long will the fragile peace last? Lagos may be sitting on a keg of gunpowder.

Hijab is a religious duty for Muslim women and failure to use it is a sin against Allah. Any employer who stigmatizes or victimizes a Muslim woman on account of her wearing hijab has also violated her Allah-given fundamental human right.

Victimization of a Muslim woman for using hijab constitutes a breach of Section 38 (i) & (ii) of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution. The African Union Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights proclaims in Article 4, Clause 1 & 2 that “Human beings are inviolable. Every human being shall be entitled to respect for his life and the integrity of his person.” Nigeria is a signatory to this charter.
The provisions of Article 18 of the United Nations Charter and Articles 9 and 14 of the European Treaty of Human Rights and Articles 18 and 19 of the Treaty of Civil and Political Rights also criminalise religious profiling.

What the Muslims are demanding in the issue of hijab is their Allah-given fundamental human right. They are not asking anyone to put hijab on Christian pupils. They want to dress the way the Qur’an commands them. Freedom of religion is one of the civil liberties enjoyed in a civilized society. Lagos should not deny this religious right. Hijab is used on school uniform in Britain and Ireland. Female Muslim police use hijab on their uniform. That is true liberalism and advanced democracy.
It is stigma for anyone to hate the sight of Muslims or to claim that the sight of Muslim pupils in hijab is capable of causing religious crisis. The fact of the matter is that the current uniform used in schools is Christian uniform imposed on Nigerians by Christian colonial masters. It suits Christian culture and that is why Christians are not complaining. But it constitutes a violent assault on the psyche of true and practicing Muslims. That is why Muslims are complaining. But will LASG want to be seen as imposing Christian culture on Muslims and denying the latter of their well-deserved dividend of democracy?
We are aware of secret agreements between Christian leaders and certain foreign powers. They have pledged to enforce Christian culture on Muslim children through education. They also vowed never to allow any Islamic landmark in the Nigerian society but to vigorously sustain Christian values and to force same on Muslim children so that Islam may eventually be eliminated in Nigeria.

JMF seeks to know the true democrats. Where does LASG stand? On the side of religious freedom or on the side of the oppressors? It is unfortunate that by its actions and utterances, LASG has not only willingly become a tool in the hands of the villains, but it has become an active participant in the brutal assault on the liberty of Muslims in Lagos State.

We call the attention of the judiciary and indeed other stakeholders to the fact that so many states in Nigeria allow the use of Hijab in public schools and this has not been known or reported to destroy uniformity sought by government in the issuance of dress code. We wonder how Lagos State’s case is different.
We call on the state government to voluntarily ignore the judgement and uphold the right of female Muslim students by issuing directive to school heads and principals to allow use of hijab to students who subscribe to its use. In this way the government would have shown that it is father to all and does not alienate any section of the community. This step does not in any way offend the so-called Nigeria’s secular nature as provided for in Section 10 of the Constitution.
We hasten to remind the government that the judgement if implemented is capable of creating avoidable tension and crisis and thereby destroy the peaceful co-existence and religious tolerance which the state currently enjoys. We are not in doubt whatsoever that some overzealous teachers, school heads and principals will take full advantage of the judgement to taunt and victimise female Muslim students as witnessed in the recent past.
Having been pushed to the wall, the Muslims of Lagos State have no alternative than to use what they have to get what they want. Election fever has gripped politicians as we draw near February 2015. We have resolved to give our votes to any candidate from any political party who is ready to grant us religious freedom. We will vote for those who will approve the use of hijab in schools no matter what their political affiliation. This suffering is too much. LASG treats Muslims with disdain. Enough is enough. Our slogan for LAGOS 2015 is therefore: NO HIJAB, NO VOTE!

It is no longer news that a selfish and misguided section of our Christian brothers have called for a Christian Governor in Lagos State come 2015. The overwhelming majority of Lagosians and well meaning citizens have rejected this divisive and parochial call noting that it is an undemocratic and disgraceful desperation for power which raises questions about the motive behind such call.
We at JMF reiterate our total rejection of such campaign and call on Lagosians to reject any candidate that emerges (from any of the political parties) on account of subterranean or disguised religious sponsorship. We enjoin Lagosians once again not to allow mediocrity and religious sentiment to becloud their sense of reasoning in the choice of the candidate they will elect to govern the state.
What should be uppermost in the mind of all is the development of the state and the welfare and security of all Lagosians.  Merit and demonstrated capacity to govern must be the criteria to determine the next governor of the state. Lagos is a peaceful state with religious harmony. Lagosians should be weary and distant themselves from selfish pseudo politicians (in religious guise) who want to create hatred and disaffection among them through religious sentiment. We condemn this backward and retrogressive approach to political power and call on the people to be vigilant.
We also want to alert Lagosians that in spite of this condemnation by well meaning citizens of Lagos State, the proponents of a Christian Governor did not desist. They appear bent on creating religious crisis and disharmony in the state. They have carried their campaign to the major political parties and have “anointed” candidates for the parties. We call on all party supporters and Lagosians in general to be vigilant. We ask them to reject any candidate foisted on them on the basis of religious sentiment irrespective of political party platform.
We also alert unsuspecting Lagosians that the antics of these self seeking religious bigots and individuals are not limited to the political parties and religious platforms but include traditional rulers’ platform, the social media, bogus skill acquisition, employment /empowerment deceit, financial inducement otherwise known as stomach infrastructure, “free” medical check up and treatment, and all kinds of tactics. Beware and be warned.
It is also very sad and unfortunate that some of our Muslim brothers and we dare say sisters have fallen prey to these antics and have started to position themselves to take advantage of this retrogressive idea.
Let it be put on record that Lagos State Muslims did not at any time nor in any forum accept the call for a Christian Governor not to talk of endorsing or adopting any Muslim Candidate as Deputy Governor. We, the Muslims of Lagos State dissociate ourselves completely from this embarrassing, misleading and deceptive quest for “political power” through the back door.
We remain committed to democratic norms and principles in the election of governor for Lagos State. Our stand is that candidates should emerge on the basis of merit and demonstrated capacity and capability to move Lagos State forward and consolidate on the existing level of development.  We are for the steady development, security, peace and welfare of Lagosians irrespective of the religious affiliation of governorship election candidates. We will educate our people and all Lagosians and pitch our tent behind any candidate from any party or from any religion who emerges to contest governorship election in the State on the basis of merit and not because he or she was anointed or sponsored on religious affinity or God-fatherism.
As a matter of fact we Muslims in Lagos State are the ones who truly deserve to call for a True Muslim Governor. It is on record that the so-called Muslim Governors that have governed the state since 1999 have never supported any Muslim cause. On the contrary, Muslims have suffered discrimination both in terms of actions and policies of the state. There is no single policy of the state that has favoured the Muslims or put Muslims in any advantage beyond other non-Muslims. The list of such anti-Islam policies and actions are endless with the education of our children being the most adversely affected.
As we speak today, none of the six Tutors General in the state is a Muslim despite the gentleman agreement to balance such appointments at the commencement of the policy. Same is true of most other appointments in spite of the fact that qualified and deserving Muslims are available in large numbers.  Furthermore and in spite of international best practices which allows the use of hijab, female Muslims in the state are asked to remove their hijab in ‘documentation’ offices where their pictures are required. Failure to do so could jeopardise their access to statutory rights.
We use the opportunity of this press conference to call on Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola, SAN and his government to promote religious harmony in the state and reverse the discriminatory policies of his government against the Muslims who have given him and his administration support and demonstrated goodwill for peaceful co-existence even in the face of blatant provocations. Specifically, we call on him to follow or even go beyond the example of Ekiti State by enacting laws which forbid all forms of discriminations against Muslims in the cause of upholding the tenets and practises of their religion. 
Hijab must be allowed in schools and workplaces including hospitals. Morning assembly prayers in schools must be standardised and not left to the whims and caprices of the Head Teacher or Principal. Arabic and Islamic Religious Knowledge teachers must be employed to teach the subjects in schools. Muslim Science students should not be prevented from taking Islamic Studies. Hijirah holiday must be declared just like Osun State. Coroner law must be amended to allow Muslims to claim their corpses for burial without delay. Cremation of corpses must stop.
Shariah division must be created in the judiciary for Muslims who wish to opt for Shariah legal system. Political appointments and promotions should be fair and balanced, state sponsored decoration of streets and highways in preparation for Christmas including Countdown to the Gregorian New Year Day must either stop or extended to Muslim festivals as well, and Friday must be declared as HALF WORK and HALF SCHOOL day to enable Muslims attend Jumat service with their family. In short we call on the government to establish parity.
We also restate that the JMF is non- political, and not for profit organisation. We are not terrorists. We are not arsonists. We promote peace. We abhor violence. We despise terrorism and aggression. Our methodology is Dialogue and Prayer. Our permanent INTEREST is freedom of worship and justice for all. 
For the avoidance of doubt, our purpose here today is not to reiterate the marginalisation and discrimination against Muslims in the state per se, but to call on all and sundry to dissociate themselves and reject any governorship candidate that may emerge from any of the political parties on the basis of religion or anointed sponsorship. Let candidates put themselves forward and freely canvass for support without any form of religious interference.   
I thank you for honouring our invitation. Allah Bless You All.

The text of the press conference was signed by about 28 Islamic organisations including The Companion, Movement for Islamic Cultural Awareness (MICA), Muslim Students Society of Nigeria (MSSN), Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC), National Council of Muslim Youth Organisations (NACOMYO), The Criterion, Muslim Welfare Fund (MUWELF), etc. The text was read at the event by Alhaji Wale Sonaike, Acting Chairman of JMF.
The occasion was well attended and the venue, Rahmatu Islamiyyah Hall, was filled beyond capacity as many people stood outside.  

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