12 January 2013

Nigeria: Islamophobia and Obafemi Awolowo University


As the Obafemi Awolowo University continues its golden jubilee celebrations amidst pomp and pageantry, there are silent tears being shed somewhere.

Strange activities of the security men on OAU campus with respect to persecution of female Muslim students who wear the face-veil are becoming unbearable. They carry out these actions under the pretext of enforcing the provisions of the school dress code. What is however baffling is that these rules have actually been in existence for a couple of years, and it has been known to be exclusively invoked on the Muslim students alone.

Now they have transcended all levels of reason, going as far as arresting and detaining these students, seizing their student identity cards, threatening their parents and coercing them to sign vindictive undertakings under duress. We thought we had done away with the times of the military and their usual way of treating the masses.

It is important to note, that there is a major part of this dress code which prohibits WEARING OF PROVOCATIVE DRESSES. It would be sheer waste of time to start telling you about the situation with those who fall into this category, dresses keep getting smaller as more flesh gets shown.

Note the use of the word "provocative"; a very relative word that cannot be morally defined. Interestingly, no such person has ever been accosted or treated the way the Muslim ladies have been treated. Why then do the school security men have to unleash their frustration on students who have decided to protect their dignity, honour and chastity; students who have decided to uphold their Islamic tenets about dressing.

I find it rather offensive to have to put up with naked thighs, cleavage, breasts and buttocks which are flaunted daily on our campus; a direct consequence of the sexualization drive we have taken from the West in direct contrast to our native African values of feminine modesty.

I thought there is a university that prides itself on learning and culture located somewhere in Ile-Ife. Why did the school management pay LAGBAJA - a masked musician to entertain at the recently held 50th anniversary celebration? Isn't it that everyone's face is supposed to be visible at all times? Why then are these female Muslims who are practicing their religion being subjected to irrational persecution? What a manifestation of deceit and hypocrisy!

Moreso, the Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria guarantees freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as well as freedom to propagate one's religion, practice and observance of its tenets publicly or in privateThe same Constitution guarantees right to freedom from discrimination inter alia on the basis of religious belief.

With recourse to the above Constitutional provisions, it would be better if the so called school security men could keep away from this dastardly act and any officer or official worth the name should know that religion is too sensitive an issue to mess around with in Nigeria today.

This issue must not be known to those outside this campus, because it would be so incredulous to hear that the face veil, an Islamic identity is coming under a ban in a Nigerian university, founded and funded by the joint resource of our fathers.

If the face veil is allowed in the hallowed confines of Harvard, Yale and other institutions known to be well ahead of our Great Ife in all ramifications, I don't know why OAU has elected to be different by giving body and soul to discrimination. Islamophobia is real and alive in our world, what OAU has done is to only bring it to our shores.

Be informed that no security reports whatsoever has ever been put forward concerning the veil to warrant such iniquitous treatment of these women. While the school management may want to save its face by arguing based on security concerns, it is noteworthy that UNIMAID (Maiduguri), BUK (Kano) and ABU (Zaria); all federal institutions have not made the disheartening move that OAU has made.

And how does the OAU management explain the victimization of Muslim Nursing students who are not allowed to wear capes and Pharmacy students denied the right to wear the hijab that even leaves the face revealed? Muslims are second class citizens in OAU and all that remains to be done by the school authority is to enshrine this in their book of law.

A close friend of mine had this to say when this issue once came up: "I find this extremely depressing. I have been in the UK for 2 years and know women who have come through the UK border security in their face veil without any problems. I have seen (veiled women walk in the University of Leeds campus without harassment."

The OAU campus remains the only university in the whole of Nigeria where Muslim females are deprived their basic rights even while their payments go into running the affairs of the school. Let the school bring up its arguments for this unwarranted persecution based on religious belief, and the hidden truth shall be revealed.

Balogun writes from Ibadan, Oyo State.

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