A Right Group, under the aegis of the Hijab Rights Advocacy Initiative have appealed to the Governor of Lagos State, His Excellency, Akinwunmi Ambode, to stop school managements from abusing, stigmatizing and Victimizing Muslim girls who wear Hijab to school in secondary school across Lagos State.
The Right group accused teachers, principals, inspectors and tutors as being the biggest culprit in this human right violation. “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”
In an open letter to the Governor, the group applauded the commitment of government towards upholding the rights of Lagosians but pleaded with him to ensure that this issue is brought to a stop.
According to Mutiat Orolu-Balogun, the Executive Director of the Hijab Rights Advocacy Initiative, the continuous harassment of Muslim girls in many secondary schools across Lagos State, is not in line with his excellency’s commitment towards upholding the human right of every Lagosian and indeed every Nigerian as guaranteed under the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended).”
Referring to the recent judgment of the Appeal Court which allows the girls to wear Hijab to schools, the Orolu-Balogun state “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”
The Executive Director lamented that despite the above judgment which is in favour of studnets wearing hijab, they are still harassed and victimized. According to the right group: “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.”
The Right Group highlighted the following cases of harassment being experienced by Muslim girls in Secondary School in Lagos
“1. In September 2017, a student of Jakande Estate Comprehensive College, Abesan Lagos September 2017 was slapped and punished one Mrs. Toke Olatunji and Mrs Ola Olohun her Government and English Teachers because she wore her hijab on her school uniform.”
“2. 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) met two students on their way home after the Friday prayers outside the school, asked them to remove their Hijab and drop it in the gutter; she slapped one of them for failing to comply with her instruction.”
“3. On 15 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.”
“4. Mrs Ogunyemi wife to Honorable 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.”
“5. Mr Adewunmi, Primary six Teacher of Sabo-oniba Nursery and Primary School 2, Ajangbadi-Sabo, Ojo Lagos has made it a duty to remove and flog any child wearing the hijab.”
“6. 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, Ebutte-Metta and St. George Primary School, Epe (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.”
According to Orolu-Balogun, 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. She noted that the narrative that “if you want your children in hijab, let them attend Muslim schools” does us all no good but rather breeds a more fractured and segmented society. According to her, “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.”
She stated that the education of the girl child is all paramount and to tell a Muslim girl to choose between her faith and education should not even be a question she has to answer because, she definitely has a right to both as they are not mutually exclusive rights!
In conclusion the right group prayed the Governor to urgently look into the matter with a view to ensuring that this ugly incident is stopped forthwith “We ask you to look into this matter urgently and for the avoidance of doubt re-state 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.”
Editor’s Note: It is hoped that the state would ensure that the right of these students to practice their chosen religion is not violated especially in the light of a court judgment which ought to be obeyed by all and sundry.