RELIGIOUS DISCRIMINATION, INFRINGEMENT OF MUSLIM RIGHT TO FREEDOM OF RELIGION: THE DISHEARTENING STATE OF A GOVERNMENT-OWNED INSTITUTION; FEDERAL UNIVERSITY OF AGRICULTURE ABEOKUTA
1. We do like to start by citing a quote of the highly revered social rights activist; Martin Luther King Jr.: “Our lives begin to end, the day we become silent about things that matter.”
2. The level of embarrassment the female Muslim students, who have the religious conviction of using the veil (Niqob), and have chosen to make it a part of their religious obligations in dressing, as enshrined in the configuration of Islam, is becoming heightened and unbearable in FUNAAB. This prejudice remains mind-boggling, as it discards the rights and freedom already legislated by the constitution of The Federal Republic of Nigeria in the expression of faith and religion.
3. These students, unlike every other registered student, cannot walk on campus, or into classrooms, without the fear of being stopped by a staff of the University, and of harassment. In some cases, they are sent out of the campus on account of expressing their faith. The level of anxiety, and emotional stress that comes with this kind of situation, for students who are entitled to enjoy the luxury of comfort, and orderliness their counterparts enjoy as students.
4. More heart-wrenching is that on several occasions, the Deputy Dean of students’ affairs, Prof. Fafiolu – someone who is supposed to be a father for all students by his position in the University, has been on the frontline of this perpetual assault.
5. On Wednesday, December 29th, 2021 at around 8:44 am, Prof. Fafiolu, while in his car, spotted a female student on Niqob around motion ground, and ordered the sister to get out of the University, arguing that her dressing is against the University regulations. At an attempt at mediation, he resorted to shouting at and embarrassing her. Such a traumatic experience for a married woman, on what grounds?
6. Just the day after, 30th of December, 2021, Prof. Fafiolu spotted three students, two of which were veiled, walking towards the school mosque. He beckoned on them and told them they are not permitted to use the veil on campus. The students tried to engage him to help him understand that they would be ready anytime to unveil their face for a female official who can verify their identity with their student identity cards in the time of its need. He blurted obstinately, maintaining his staunch standpoint that every individual on the veil must leave the university.
7. While the engagement was ongoing, the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Felix Kolawole Salako saw this and interfered. In his words “we are not saying Niqob is banned, but facial identification is what we are talking about. What we are saying is that you must be facially identified. At any time on campus, if anyone wants to see you, your face must be unveiled.” He had other chats with them and left the spot.
8. Prof Fafiolu, despite the Vice-Chancellor’s statement, still bullied the sisters, telling them to hop in his car, as he was going to drive them out of campus. Why? Because they chose to use Niqob, of which Nigeria’s constitution has legislated. This is what is obtainable in FUNAAB today, from the Student Affairs Division.
9. On Monday, 10th of January, 2022, another student, on her way to see the Dean of COLANIM was stopped by the same Deputy Dean of Students Affairs at COLANIM, insisting she leaves the school premises. He added that he received calls from some Muslim leaders in Abuja, and he expects them to charge him to court. Such were the words of a supposed custodian of the affairs of students.
10. The last straw that broke the camel’s back was the encounter Prof. Fafiolu had with two veiled sisters on Thursday, 13th of January 2022. He met the sisters on their way to sit for a test at the Chemistry Laboratory, he inquired about their destination and purpose, after which he proceeded to the venue ahead of them.
11. Fortunately, the lecturer-in-charge of the test was a female, and the sisters unveiled for her to verify their identity. The lecturer was satisfied, and permitted them to enter for the test. Yet, Prof. Fafiolu, in disgust, insisted they remove the piece of clothing (veil) totally or they take the risk of not writing the tests even though they have been identified by the examiner.
12. Since the conversation has always been an issue of appearance and identification as reiterated by the Vice-Chancellor, and not on the grounds of hatred for a particular religion, one would think the sisters fulfilled all righteousness and ought to be free to go write their test. Lo and behold! The sisters were not allowed to write the test. These incidents affirm our conviction, that Prof Fafiolu is “reputable” for his notoriety and irredeemable hatred for Muslims, and this substantiates our claims, that the war against Niqob, is an agenda, fuelled by bigotry, and born out of hatred for Muslims.
13. On Friday, 14 of January, 2022, two veiled Muslim students were also deprived participation in CHM 425 test, forced to spend the allotted time of the test in detainment, at the senate building, where they were repeatedly intimidated, unjustifiably reprimanded and threatened not to return to the test venue.
14. The Vice Chancellor, Prof F.K. Salako, has allowed this stigmatization and persecution to happen as against his reassurance that there is no ban on the Niqob, and Muslim students would not be victimized.
15. As Muslim students, we have always maintained peace because that is the hallmark of our religion, but our calmness and diplomatic approach to issues in the university have been over time taken for weakness.
16. Our message to the University is simple, Niqob is not a threat in the university, it is not an indecent or immoral dressing, our sisters shouldn’t be forced to unveil, they are willing to verify their identity to any female official at the points of need.
17. FUNAAB is not the only government-owned institution in Nigeria where students put on Niqob. Niqob usage is obtainable in many other institutions and even in Europe and America. What then is the fuss about FUNAAB and the vehement refusal of her students wearing Niqob?
18. We hope the university learns from the pool of historical events that had led to religious crises across the world in time past.
Where do we stand as leaders of the Muslim students on campus?
19. It is evident to all and sundry that we are determined on our resolve that Niqob is part of our religion, it is by that virtue that it becomes a fundamental human right with constitutional backings in any public institution under the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
20. We, therefore, call on the management to put an immediate stop to this barbaric act of bigotry.
21. وَإِذْ يَمْكُرُ بِكَ ٱلَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا۟ لِيُثْبِتُوكَ أَوْ يَقْتُلُوكَ أَوْ يُخْرِجُوكَ ۚ وَيَمْكُرُونَ وَيَمْكُرُ ٱللَّهُ ۖ وَٱللَّهُ خَيْرُ ٱلْمَـٰكِرِينَ
And ˹remember, O Prophet,˺ when the disbelievers conspired to capture, kill, or exile you. They planned, but Allah also planned. And Allah is the best of planners. (Suratul Anfal, Q8:30)