By Mutiat Orolu-Balogun
We write to draw your attention to the continuous harassment of Muslim girls in many secondary schools across Lagos State. As Your Excellency has shown commitment to uphold the human right of every Lagosian and, indeed, every Nigerian as guaranteed under the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended).
The Court of Appeal in a Judgment delivered by a full Constitutional Panel (coram A. B Gumel, M Fasanmi, A. Jauro, J. S Ikeygh, and C .I. Jumbo- Ofo, JJCA) in the Lagos Division of the Court on 21st July, 2016 upheld unequivocally, absolutely and without qualifications, declared the rights of willing Muslim female students in secondary schools to use the Hijab on their School Uniform and forbade the victimization and abuse of children due the use of the Hijab, and perpetually restrained the officials of the State from further discrimination based on the use of the Hijab.
It is disturbing that this ABUSE, STIGMATIZATION, VICTIMATION and, in many cases, the PUNISHMENT of our children who choose to live within their God-given and Constitutional rights happen daily in schools across Lagos State. Even sometimes, extending to higher institutions. This harassment is usually carried out by teachers, Principals, Inspectors and in some cases Tutor-Generals; who are meant to stand in Loco Parentis for our children.
To reiterate our point, we will mention a few cases: In September 2017, a student of Jakande Estate Comprehensive College, Abesan, Lagos was slapped and punished by one Mrs. Toke Olatunji and another Mrs Ola Olohun; her Government and English Teachers because she wore her Hijab with her school uniform.
On Friday, 22nd September, 2017, Mrs O. O. Dada, a.k.a. ‘Aya Dada’; the Yoruba Teacher, who is notorious for calling the Hijab ‘Akisa’ (rags in the Yoruba language), met two students on their way home after the Friday prayers outside the school, asked them to remove their Hijab and dropped them in the gutter! She also slapped one of them for failing to comply with her instruction.
On the 15th of November, 2017, in Ilogbo High school, Otto Awori, Ijaniki Lagos, Mrs Onkwocha; Mrs Oladipupo-George and Mrs Akinbolade, with impunity, went round the school to remove Hijab from students whom, prior to this time have been peacefully wearing their Hijabs.
Ogunyemi; wife to Honourable Ogunyemi; Chairman, House Committee on Education, Lagos State House of Assembly who was hitherto a class teacher and recently moved to the Inspectorate, has turned herself into a self-acclaimed Task Force who goes around classes to personally remove Hijab from students anytime she comes around for inspection in any of the schools and, specifically, giving instruction to teachers to do the same. She does this with the brazen audacity that her husband is in charge and no law can challenge her authority.
Adewunmi, a Primary Six teacher at Sabo-Oniba Nursery and Primary School 2, Ajangbadi-Sabo, Ojo Lagos has also made it a duty to remove and flog any child wearing the Hijab.
Some Teachers and Principals of the following Lagos State Secondary Schools: Iba Housing Estate School, Iba, Lagos; Jakande Estate Comprehesive College Abesan, Lagos; Kadara Grammar School, Ebute-Meta, Lagos and St. George Primary School, Epe, Lagos, to mention a few, have equally taken the Laws into their hands by beating, harassing and humiliating female students who wear the Hijab in compliance with their religious Faith and in compliance with the Judgment of the Court.
There are several other cases which time and space will not permit to be cited here. It is no doubt that while this Government is working hard to make Lagos State a Mega City; where peace, unity, mutual trust and respect thrives, the harassment and victimization of a section of society; especially children, is antithetical to this Vision. The narrative that: ‘If you want your children in Hijab, let them attend Muslim schools.’ does us all no good; it only breeds a more fractured and segmented society.
It becomes more disturbing with the uncontested fact that the Muslims in Lagos are the bulk of the taxpayers, have the highest number of votes at elections, yet there will be attempts by officials of the State to deny them their right to attend Government schools.
The education of the Girl-child is paramount in our hearts. To tell a Muslim girl to choose between her Faith and education should not even be a question she has to answer. Never! She definitely has a right to both as they are not mutually exclusive rights!
We at Hijab Rights Advocacy Initiative volunteer to assist in educating and sensitizing everyone in this regard, as well as help to design School Uniforms and Sports Wears that will incorporate the use of the Hijab, as expected of any Muslim female who has attained the age of puberty and chooses to if need be.
We ask you to look into this matter urgently and, for the avoidance of doubt, restate your Government’s commitment to the Rule of Law by addressing this issue as quickly as possible in favour of Human Rights and the Girl-child.
Mutiat Orolu-Balogun is Executive Director of Hijab Rights Advocacy Initiative