TEXT OF PRESS CONFERENCE ON THE STATE OF THE NATION ADDRESSED BY THE NETWORK OF ISLAMIC ORGANISATIONS UNDER THE AUSPICES OF THE MUSLIM RIGHTS CONCERN (MURIC) ON TUESDAY 21ST MAY, 2013 AT BELEKE SMITH HALL, RABIAT THOMPSON STREET, OFF MASHA ROAD, SURULERE, LAGOS.
Our Fathers and Mothers-in-Islam,
Brothers and Sisters-in-Islam,
Leaders of Islamic Organisations here present,
Gentlemen of the Press,
As-Salaam Alaykum Wa rahmatullahi wa Barakatuhu,
We welcome you all to this press briefing. Let me begin by assuring you that Islamic organizations which are active in Lagos State have come together to form a loose federation called Network of Islamic Organisations in Lagos State (NIOLAS) for the purpose of addressing issues of common interest. The Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) only coordinates matters affecting the Allah-given and fundamental rights of Muslims in the state. This is without prejudice, rivalry or challenge to the existing Nigerian Muslim Council (NMC) which is a parent organization and whose leaders we hold in high esteem. All the organizations, including MURIC, owe allegiance to the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) which remains the bona fide umbrella body for all Islamic organizations in Nigeria.
Among the organizations in the Network are The Companion, The Criterion, Association of Muslim Professionals (AMP), Conference of Islamic Organizations (CIO), NASFAT, The Muslim Students Society of Nigeria (MSSN), Muslim Lawyers Association (MULAN), Muslim Teachers Association (MUTAN), Risalatul Haq Da'wah Society International, Al-Ikhwan Society, The Muslim Welfare Fund, etc. The leaders and members of these organizations are present in this hall today.
STATE OF EMERGENCY: President Goodluck Jonathan recently declared a state of emergency in three states: Adamawa, Borno and Yobe. While the Network of Islamic organizations condemn terrorism and violence, we insist that military force alone cannot solve Nigeria's security problem. What Nigeria needs for enduring peace is good governance and transparency. We are of the opinion that the remaining 33 states of the federation have been under emergency for long. With hunger and starvation, with homelessness and joblessness among our army of graduates, what further declaration of a state of emergency do we need? Where is electricity? Where is water? Where are the roads? Corruption remains Nigeria's middle name and it has worsened under the present administration. The average Nigerian lives on less than $1 per day. Per capita income is less than $300. Our budget for 2013 is just N4.8 trillion whereas we are making N12.7 trillion this year from oil alone. Where is the rest going? We challenge the Federal Government to answer that question.
This is the root of our security problem, not religion, not even Boko Haram. The Boko Haram phenomenon is a magical conjecture manufactured in official factories. The more we look, the less we see. Only those who created it know the rationale for its existence. The declaration of emergency rule recently is therefore sheer hocus pocus. Otherwise why leave the sitting civilian governor, the state assembly and the local governments in office? Why the massive deployment of troops in a way that has not been seen in this country even in war time?
We are deeply worried by the past reputation of Nigerian soldiers. They have a robust appetite for seeking relevance in the polity. This explains the military's 40-year misadventure into politics and the decimation of all facets of Nigerian life. The role of the military in the Boko Haram saga has been one of deliberate prolongation of its offensive. The military was not interested in dialogue or amnesty for obvious reasons. Otherwise why did the Baga incident occur after the president had set up a committee on amnesty? Was it not to escalate the crisis and provoke the militants more than ever before?
The well-known high-handedness of the Nigerian military is a major cause for concern. We call for the observance of the rules of engagement to the letter. Allah-given and fundamental rights of the civilian population must be respected. We call for independent observers from both the European Union and the United Nations to be allowed into the emergency zone immediately. We strongly suspect that the only reason why communication was disrupted in the zone in the past 48 hours is to make it impossible for eyewitness accounts of atrocities and extra-judicial killings to emerge from the ruins.
Reports reaching us from the zone is not palatable. A huge humanitarian crisis is evolving in the territory. Already, over 2000 Nigerians have fled Borno following the clash between Boko Haram and Nigerian troops in Abadam local government area of Borno North. As at Saturday 18th May, 2013, supplies were running short in the zone. The price of basic goods has soared with supply lorries prevented from entering the zone.
THE BAGA SAGA: We reject reports of investigations of the Baga massacre by the Nigerian military. They cannot investigate themselves. We demand an independent enquiry conducted by the UN. We also call for the involvement of the International Criminal Court (ICC) at the Hagues. Those found culpable should be given the Charles Taylor treatment.
THE HIJAB IMBROGLIO:
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 such Islamic attires would only be allowed during "… prayers, when they want to read the Qur'an and when they want to go for Jumat prayers."
We reject this position. It is a product of intolerance, tyranny, oppression, persecution and stigmatization. The rejection of the use of hijab in public schools reveals the pitiable human rights condition to which Muslims in the South-West have been subjected both in colonial and post-colonial days. It also stands in contradistinction to the democratic principles of freedom, equal rights, justice and fair play.
Instead of allowing free dialogue, the Lagos State Government is pushing Muslims in the state to the wall. We reject the claim made by the Commissioner for Education that the issue was discussed at length and that "We reached certain agreements". Concerned and well-informed Muslims and Islamic organizations were either deliberately ignored or edged out of purported discussions while handpicked surrogates of the commissioner and uninformed few were picked. MURIC petitioned the ministry in a letter dated 25th February 2013. Though the ministry acknowledged the letter, we were not invited for dialogue at any point in time.
We challenge the Commissioner for Education to tell the world who she discussed with. She should also tell Nigerians what happened to all the memoranda submitted on the issue by several Islamic organizations in the state. What became of the 8-page memorandum dated 26th March, 2013 and submitted by MURIC to the State's House of Assembly? It is our contention that a neo-colonial mindset is at play in the Lagos State Ministry of Education.
We also challenge the Commissioner for Education to tell the world what her ministry has done to the principal of Kadara Junior Grammar School, Ebute Metta, Mrs. Ukpaka, who personally administered 43 strokes of the cane on a female Muslim student by name Aisha Alabi, a JSS 2D pupil, whose only offence was wearing hijab. Is this not child abuse? Is this not the height of Islamophobia and religious intolerance tainted with sadism? Instead of taking the law into their hands, the Muslims in the state petitioned the ministry of education. What has the ministry done about this?
The Commissioner's pronouncement that Muslims who want their children to use hijab should take their children to Muslim private schools is a reckless, arrogant and irresponsible statement. It is a declaration of war on Lagos Muslims. Is the commissioner saying that Muslims are not part of the citizenry in Lagos State? Are the Muslims not paying tax? Or is the commissioner telling Lagosians that Lagos public schools are designed only for Christian pupils? This commissioner has no iota of respect for the dignity of the Muslim person. She has casted aspersion on the collective body of the Muslim Ummah in Lagos State.
The Commissioner should simply resign if she can no longer play the role assigned her in the ministry. She has demonstrated enough hatred for and arrogance towards Muslims. No public officer worth the salt should make such an insensitive, provocative, outrageous and preposterous statement. It is an insult on Islamdom in Lagos State. It is also a ploy to uproot all vestiges and landmarks of Islam from Lagos State. It is therefore unacceptable.
For the avoidance of doubt, 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 all of which Nigeria is a signatory support the position of Muslims clamouring for the use of hijab. Denial of this agitation also constitutes a breach of Section 38 (i) & (ii) of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution.
We challenge the Commissioner to tell the world why the hijab is acceptable on school uniforms for Muslims in the North and an anathema in the South-West when Nigeria is just one country. Network warns that Lagos State Government is provoking Muslims in the state. The recent position of the LASG has merely worsened relationship between the Muslims and the state government. We have no problem with our Christian neighbours and people of other faith. We oppose violent reactions. We believe that religion should promote tolerance, forgiveness and love. The name of the religion does not matter. No religion from God preaches hatred or violence. But relationship between the adherents of different faiths must be based on mutual respect and equal rights in order to achieve such cohesion in society.
What the Muslims are demanding on the issue of hijab is their Allah-given and fundamental 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?
Therefore nobody should tag us as trouble-makers. Our thesis comes from a mature and balanced mind. We want peace in Lagos and in Nigeria as a whole. We appeal to all and sundry not to allow the demand for hijab to be hijacked by politicians and religious extremists.
Violence or terrorism is mere smoke and there can be no smoke without fire. The fire which often ignites violence or terrorism is injustice, marginalization and stigmatization. We assert that justice is the soul of peace. It is difficult to deny one and enjoy the other. This is the cause-effect theory as in the law of Karma.
We appeal to all well-meaning Lagosians, particularly elders, to intervene in this matter. We have great respect for the leadership of the Lagos administration. We therefore call on LASG to open another door of genuine dialogue where all proactive Islamic organizations and human rights groups will be represented. This is not too much in the interest of durable peace. The last exercise was selective, parochial and undemocratic.
However, we affirm that the Muslims will continue to explore all constitutional means to challenge this outrageous declaration on hijab. In spite of the Commissioner's attempt to provoke Muslims in Lagos, we remain committed to the maintenance of law and order in the state. We appeal to Muslims in the state to ignore this provocation and to remain calm and law abiding.
THE BASIS OF PEACEFUL COEXISTENCE: The Network of Islamic Organizations is interested in promoting peace in Lagos State and in the whole country. Muslims in Lagos State are always ready to coexist peacefully with people of other faiths. So far so good, there has been no religious crisis in Lagos and the South-West of the country. But this is mainly because the Muslims in Lagos and in the region have been very tolerant. The truth of the matter is that Muslims have not been given their equal share in rights, priviledges and positions in the South-West. Islamic landmarks have been under threat in the South-West since the colonial days while Christian heritage have been assumed as 'conventional' and therefore imposed on Muslims in the region. A good example is the school uniform.
The British colonial masters were the designers of the school uniforms used to date. They never consulted the Muslims regarding the type of uniform most acceptable to Muslims even though Islam was already in Nigeria in 1085 and in Lagos long before the year 1775. There were more than fifty madrasas (Islamic schools) in Lagos by 1775. The presence of so many Islamic schools in Lagos at that time is enough proof that Islam had been in Lagos at least fifty years earlier, around 1725. In comparison, Christianity was first preached by the British Henry Townsend under the Agacia tree in Badagry in 1842.
This means Islam was already in Lagos more than a hundred years before the advent of Christianity. Additional evidence of the great antiquity of Islam in Yorubaland is the existence of Shari'ah courts in Ede in 1913 during the reign of Oba Abibu Olagunju, in Iwo under Oba Muhammad (Momodu) Lamuye who died in 1906 and in Ikirun in 1910 under Oba Aliyu Oyewole. Our people say when a child rejects pounded yam in the evening, the parents will reveal his history to him. There is no gainsaying the fact that people who practice Shari'ah must have imbibed the culture of Islam for more than a hundred years before introducing it. Whereas Islam entered Lagos peacefully, history testifies to the fact that the British entered Lagos by force and Lagos was bombarded in 1851 to compel Lagosians to accept British culture and religion.
This British culture is today symptomised by the school uniform used by pupils in Lagos public schools. Christians are satisfied with the current uniform because it is the product of British Christian culture. It is natural that Muslims find it unacceptable. We see it first and foremost as immoral and indecent as it exposes our young ones, particularly the females, to immorality. It is amusing that those campaigning against the spread of HIV and AIDS fail to see the connection between HIV and AIDS, early pregnancy and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
The Muslims who are canvassing the use of hijab by female Muslim pupils are not asking non-Muslims to use it. If this is a true democracy, there should be freedom in this regard. Government is free to ask the Christians if they want another uniform or not. The Christians are free to reject the present uniform if they don't like it. They are free to ask for something else they prefer. But their present silence means acquiescence. In the same manner, the Muslims are free to accept the current uniform or to reject it and that is what they have been doing and government has failed to listen. We assert firmly that Christians or any other group have no moral or legal right to oppose Muslims' demand for hijab. On what basis is such opposition? How does the sight of hijab affect a Christian or any other non-Muslim for that matter since they are not expected to use it?
Our observation is that Nigerian Christians have always acted as opposition party or rivals of Muslims even when the issue at stake does not concern them. They are always out to make mountains out of molehills. They always oppose any demand made by Muslims. Examples abound in this regard: OIC, Islamic banking, etc. Our understanding of this is that our neighbours preach love but want no progress for others. They see themselves as rivals. Any achievement by Muslims is seen as a minus by Christians.
This is why the Lagos State Government, other governments in the South-West and even the Federal Government must be careful about demands made by Muslims. Governments must weigh demands along the line of parity. Government must be able to determine whether or not the Christians already have what the Muslims are asking for. Another useful criteria government must use in determining the rationale for demands made by religious groups is whether or not the scripture of that group commands what the group is demanding.
Is it not interesting that the Christians since independence have never demanded any particular thing? We want sociologists to look critically at this question. Why is it that it is Muslims alone who are always making demands? Why don't the Christians ask for something? The answer is very simple. Though Islam had been in Nigeria for 800 years before Christianity, British colonization of Nigeria sought to completely uproot Islamic culture. The British succeeded in creating a scenario whereby the whole system was Christianised. This is why Christians are satisfied with the status quo. The normal thing was for Nigerian leaders to ensure that Islamic landmarks disrupted by the British were restored after independence in 1960 while those of the Christians are retained for the two cultures to run parri pasu. But this never happened because Nigerian powerful Christian elites, though a clear minority, mounted a campaign of calumny and deceit each time Muslims seek to balance the equilibrium, thus blocking the road to justice.
THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN TERRORISM AND JUSTICE: Terrorism and violence thrive where there is no social justice. Justice is the soul of peace. Those who deny one always end up losing the other. We reaffirm that violence or terrorism is mere smoke. The cassu belli is a fire kindled by injustice. A good fire-fighter will not direct the hose at the smoke. He knows he should face the fire.
We therefore call the attention of senior citizens in Lagos, men of goodwill, the Nigerian security agencies, human rights organizations and the international community to what is happening in Lagos State. Muslims are peace-loving people. They go their own way until authorities push them to the wall. The Allah-given and fundamental rights of Lagos Muslims are being flagrantly denied today by the Lagos State government. Using blatant lies and divide et impera gimmicks, a non-Muslim commissioner is publicly insulting Muslims and maligning their collective integrity.
In the interest of peace, we lay the following demands before the Lagos State House of Assembly:
1. That the Honourable House calls this arrogant commissioner to order;
2. That the principal of Kadara High School be suspended and the circumstances surrounding the caning of the Muslim girl investigated by the House;
3. That the House reopens dialogue on the demand of Lagos Muslims for use of hijab in public schools while Islamic organizations are allowed to attend a public hearing on the matter.
4. That the public hearing be given due publicity on radio, television and other means of communication.
Gentlemen of the press, Muslims are civilized and cultured people. We issue no threats. But let nobody make a mistake about our resolve to ensure that justice is done. Already, MURIC has reported this hijab case to some international and local human rights bodies so that the whole world will know what is happening here. Letters have been forwarded to Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, The Islamic Human Rights Commission, National Human Rights Commission as well as the House of Representatives' Committee on Human Rights in Abuja. This is just the beginning. All available legitimate options are on the table.
Thank you and Allah bless you all.
Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC),
Yahoo Group: groups.yahoo.com/group/muslimrights
MURIC's bank account :
Banker's Name: Guaranty Trust Bank
Banker's Name: Guaranty Trust Bank
Account Name: Muslim Rights Concern
Account Number: 0112827277
Account Number: 0112827277
Be just Justice is the soul of peace
No one can deny one and have the other
Neither can violence or naked force bring lasting peace