Owing to the high insecurity in the country, and an equating high level of security consciousness expected, Director-General of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) Brigadier-General, Johnson Olawumi has banned Muslim women from wearing hijabs (Islamic veil) at NYSC orientation camps. Consequently, some group of muslim youths attempted protests pointing out that the rule is against their religious rights. However, the DG of NYSC insisted the ban stands and there will be no going back despite the complaints of a Muslim group who came to him to table their petitions against the prohibition. Speaking to the NYSC DG, representatives of the Muslim group said,
Members of the NYSC are Nigerians who have contributed to the development of this country; female corps members deserve protection by the NYSC. We don’t believe that a female corps member putting on hijab has done any wrong against the Act establishing the NYSC. So they deserve the respect of the NYSC. We have traveled far and wide and visited different camps. Why are the rights of female corps members being infringed upon. We are here to register our displeasure.”
The Director General of NYSC, Brigadier General Johnson Olawumi, who stated this when he received the League of Muslim Youths who came to lay their complaints concerning the ban in Da’awah yesterday in Abuja, expressed regrets that terrorists in recent times, have used ladies who wear long hijabs with suicide belts underneath, to kill people. He pointed out while reiterating NYSC’s tremendous respect for the religion and tribe of every Nigerian, that the scheme also had the responsibility of protecting the lives of corps members under its watch during the orientation camping exercise. In his response, Brigadier-General, Johnson Olawumi said,
Under my leadership, the NYSC will accord respect to every corps member, irrespective of tribe and religion. The incident in Benue State was caused by the use of long hijab. The security situation in the country is tough. There is the danger of somebody using hijab for other reasons. There have been cases where young girls put on hijab and eventually turn to suicide bombers. Boko Haram members know how to get at whoever they want as target. That is why we frown at the wearing of long hijab. Please call on all your Muslim youths to be patient and adhere to it, just for a short period during the camp. We frown at long hijab because of the security implication.”
Olawumi, however, encouraged the female corps members to use the short hijabs while they are in camp and solicited the understanding of the league in enlightening the youth on the matter in orientation camps.
Meanwhile, the director of Muslim Rights Concern, (MURIC), Ishaq Akintola has bluntly rejected the stance, saying that the NYSC DG is stepping on their toes. In his annoyance, he posed this long list of questions sourced from premiumtimesng.com:
“The Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) rejects the purported ban. It is reckless, baseless and preposterous. No public officer of the Federal Republic of Nigeria should speak in such manner.
“The pronouncement smacks of power drunkenness. It is a hate statement. The Director General needs to purge himself of Islamophobia.
“On what ground is he banning the use of hijab? Security reason is not enough because we have examples of armed robbers using police uniforms to rob.
“Has anyone thought of banning police uniform? About forty armed robbers dressed in army uniform attacked six banks in Agbara, Ogun State last week. They killed a policeman and a pregnant woman. Should we ban army uniform because of that?
“Brigadier General Johnson and his ilk are hiding under the security challenge facing Nigeria to implement a hidden agenda, namely, to stigmatise Muslims and to embarrass our daughters and wives who wear hijab.
“Is General Johnson aware that female Muslims in the British police use hijab on top of their uniform? Can he tell us how the hijab disturbs a corper’s uniform?
“Does the DG know that hijab is an integral, nay, the most vital part of a female Muslim’s dress? Does he know that female Muslim corpers feel as if they are naked when disallowed from using the hijab? Is he aware of the psychological trauma such female Muslim corpers go through?
“How can we spend a lifetime training our daughters to dress decently and you dehumanize them in your camp within 24 hours? How dare you?
“We affirm that we will use every constitutional means to stop this religious apartheid against Muslims in the name of discipline and regimentation.
“Why must Muslims face persecution everywhere in Nigeria? Why can’t the Nigerian system accommodate and integrate the Islamic culture? Why cant Nigerian officials allow Islamic landmarks to stand pari passu with British colonial and Christian culture?
“Is Nigeria truly independent or is it a banana republic created to serve only the interest of the British imperial masters? Must Muslims be forced to accept British Christian mode of dressing?
“We must ask who designed Nigeria’s school uniform? Who designed the army and police uniforms? Was it not the British? What is the religion of the British? Is every Nigerian in the same faith? So why cant we allow the Muslims to retain their identity? Why cant the Muslims enjoy religious freedom in this country?
“Why must Muslims be forced to dress like Christians? Why must Muslims be denied the dividends of democracy? Any policy that fails to carry us along is exclusive. Nigeria is for all of us. We reject an NYSC that promulgates anti-Muslim decrees.
“We remind the DG that he cannot turn Muslims in NYSC camps into slaves. This is not military rule. NYSC officials, including the DG will be acting ultra vires if they take actions which violate the laws of the land.
“Section 38 (i) & (ii) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria guarantees religious freedom. We seek the enforcement of this right.
“Yet the hypocrisy of the system has been exposed. Can the NYSC Director General explain why the NYSC allows female Muslim corpers in places like Kano and Sokoto to use the hijab while their counterparts in the South are harassed and intimidated?
“Why this double standard? Is the ban only meant for the South? Or is it further proof of the mythological ‘Northern-Muslim and Southern-Christian dichotomy’? It had better not be.
“We hope it will not get to a point when Nigerian Muslims will decide to opt out of the NYSC service year. Yes, we may have no other option than to ask our daughters to ignore an institution which targets them for ridicule, torment and persecution.
“MURIC charges the NYSC to revisit its rules. Any aspect of those rules which fails to respect the faith of Christians, Muslims or traditionalists should be expunged. Such rules are draconian and counter-productive. They only serve the interest of neo-imperialists.
“We appeal to the National Assembly to save Nigerian Muslims from annual embarrassment in NYSC camps. Our daughters are being derobed in public courtesy of a system that is blind to sociological realities, a system that has allowed itself to be enslaved by the culture of the colonial master.
“We call on the Director General of the NYSC to desist from precipitating a religious crisis of monumental proportion over the hijab saga. Nigeria has enough on its hands already. The DG should stop stirring the hornet’s nest.
“We insist that Nigerian Muslims cannot be intimidated. Nobody should test our will. Nigerian Muslims have the capacity to mobilize for peaceful protests in all NYSC camps across the country if the molestation of our daughters continue. Enough is enough.
“We did not bargain for an NYSC that has been hijacked by religious bigots and Muslim-haters!
“MURIC has a duty in loco parentis to cry out against the persecution of female Muslim corpers. They are our daughters and also our members. We charge all Islamic organizations in the country to rise to the occasion.
“We cry out to our mothers-in-Islam in the Federation of Muslim Women Associations of Nigeria (FOMWAN), the Criterion and all other female Muslim organizations. It is taboo for a woman to ignore her child’s cry! Muslim women arise, the slave masters are dragging our daughters in the mud.
“We advise female Muslim corpers to continue to use their hijab. It is their Allah-given fundamental human right.
“We are keeping a tab on those unscrupulous elements who will snatch the hijab from the heads of our daughters or those power drunk officials who will expel them from NYSC camps.
“Perhaps the time has come to revisit the whole gamut of this NYSC affair,” Mr. Akintola, a professor, said.