HIJAB: WE EXIST AND DIE AS EITHER CHRISTIANS OR MUSLIMS
By Nnedinso Ogaziechi, Independent Newspapers.
The past two weeks came with a cocktail of events that made me both proud on one hand and very sad on the other. As a proud alumnus of the University of Ilorin, I was shocked that the University that had been flying the country’s flag as one of the best in global rankings from Africa had slipped down to number five in the National Universities Commission’s recently released rankings.
On the other hand, I was over the moon that all the alumni scattered across the globe are doing extremely well and are very concerned about the progress in all spheres of life in Nigeria. The 2017 reunion parties in Chicago and London brought together the stars that the University had produced over the years.
Then last week, two alumni of the University, a royal father, Oba (Dr.) Michael Odunayo Ajayi, the Elerinmo of Erinmo, Ijesha in Osun state and Nonye Adeniji organized a well-attended Empowerment Programme Training Event for the Erinmo people. Individuals left the training empowered with self-sustaining skills and start off equipment. The sponsors and organizers are neither politicians nor prepared to seek political offices. In a country, where politicians and political aspirants invite and hug media klieg lights to publicize regular activities that they not only owe the people but are paid to do so, these Unilorin alumni and others not under reference here are doing their best to live out the true promise of their humanity and learning.
Then last week, the Hijab controversy crops up in the social media. Another alumnus of the University, Miss Amasa Firdaus was denied being called to the Nigerian bar last week for refusing to remove her Hijab worn under the wig. Her reason in her words, “My major concern is the approval of Hijab so that every person coming behind me will be able to use it for the call to bar (ceremony)”. She went to the ceremony fully aware of the rules (written, spoken or inferred). “My demand is that Hijab should be approved”, she concluded in defense of her action.
The controversy blew up a social media storm with varied opinions, analysis and criticisms for and against her actions. The apex authority on the Islamic religion in Nigeria, the Sultan of Sokoto, Dr. Mohammed Sa’ad Abubakr has reacted saying that, “…Hijab simply means decent dressing for Muslim women and was part and parcel of Islam”.
The President of Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, A.B. Mahmoud promised that the matter would be addressed but sighted the example of her daughter called to the New York Bar wearing a Hijab. However, some lawyers argue that the American and British legal systems are quite different.
Make no mistake about it, this writer is by no means a lawyer and would not be in any position to talk on the legal semantics involved in the dress code for a call to bar ceremony. However, it is important for Nigerians to be sensitive to issues that divide people as North and South, Christians and Muslims.
One does not need to be a Christian or Muslim to enjoy certain privileges or obey certain laws in a secular state like Nigeria. The issues of geography and creed are the most potent weapons of division in Nigeria and every individual desirous of peace must do everything possible to engender peaceful co-existence in the country.
The lady in question might mean well but she did not need the drama which seems well rehearsed as in her own words, “…I knew this will happen”. Before her, there had been many devout Muslims called to the decades-old Nigerian Bar. There is a ton of human rights issues for Muslim women; illiteracy, child marriage, male violence (economic, sexual and physical), VVF infestation, lack of reproductive health, the divorce system (Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi decried the system in Nigerian and advocated the Malaysian module where any divorced spouse gets half of the property),and lack of healthcare that Miss Amasa can busy herself with. I do not think that a momentary removal of Hijab for a secular programme would render ‘indecently’ dressed to have stirred so much division and controversy.
The eminent citizens that have taken a religious stand could have tarried awhile to see how those in charge of the legal institution can handle the matter amicably to avoid stocking any tension in a country that creed has been a very divisive factor. My take is that even the MBA president spoke too soon. Being a president does not mean you make or approve the laws. One would have expected a little restraint while he tries to meet with his members to see ways to resolve whatever problems exist bearing in mind the constitution and secularity of the Nigerian state.
In a country with chronic selective amnesia and where people live and die as Christians or Muslims, we have suddenly forgotten how Osun state schools almost disintegrated into chaos when the same issue of a particular religious dressing came up about two years ago. Traditional worshippers, different denominations of the Christian faith decided in protest to dress their children and wards to school in their various religious apparels in ways that were as pedagogically destructive as it was disruptive.
The sense of nationhood ebbs away when we see ourselves as either Christians or Muslims in a secular country. The irony is, there are Atheists, pagans, traditional religionist, Buddhists, Zionists etc in this country and they are as entitled to their rights as any other person. Nigeria would be more progressive and worthy of patriotic embrace by citizens when we stop saying things like, ‘ten Christians or ten Muslims died…’, Muslim North and Christian South etc when there is an admixture of both and more everywhere.
Humanity comes first before religion and a country is as good as the choice they make of these two cardinal human issues. Progress or lack of same depends on the choice of each nation. Miss Amasa ought to have chosen a more human progress oriented battle in a country with one of the lowest human development index in the world in 2017.