November 28, 2023

Rights advocates charge minister of education to probe religious crisis in FUNAAB

The continuing incidence of maltreatment of female Muslim students at the Federal University of Technology Abeokuta, FUNAAB, has raised a lot of concerns among well-meaning Nigerians, individuals, Islamic groups and rights advocates, as every attempt to call the university management to orderliness remains unfruitful.

Following the peaceful demonstrations held by the Muslim students’ of the university to make public awareness and get Mr vice chancellor’s attention on a matter that denies a significant number of his students their fundamental rights to education, several rights advocates (individual & group) have upheld intolerance and decried the ill-treatment, calling the attention of the federal government of Nigeria before going out of hand.

In a similar demand for fairness and justice, the Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) has called on the Minister of Education Prof. Tahir Mamman to have a serious probe of the situation denying female Muslims access to university campus, examination halls, among others, in FUNAAB.

The full statement read:
“The Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB), has been engulfed in religious crisis for several months without any solution in sight. Whereas female Muslim undergraduates who use hijab or niqab in other universities all over the country have free access to their campuses, lecture rooms and examinations, FUNAAB has been a horse of a different colour.

“Female Muslim students in niqab are disallowed from entering the campus. They cannot attend lectures or write examinations. The situation degenerated about two months ago when a female guest lecturer in niqab who was invited to an Islamic programme in the school was not allowed to enter. It led to a peaceful demonstration held by the Muslim students. There has been no solution weeks after the demonstration and the condition of the female Muslim students remains the same.

“MURIC is deeply concerned with the plight of the Muslim girl-child in FUNAAB. We cannot fathom the rationale for the harsh treatment being meted out to female Muslim students whose only crime is that they have elected to shun material recklessness, immorality, indecent dressing and prostitution.

“We are equally at a loss to understand why FUNAAB under the watch of Professor Olusola Babatunde Kehinde should be different among all other Nigerian universities. Female Muslim students who use niqab do so freely in other institutions.

“Female security personnel on those campuses carry out identification exercises on the veiled students whenever and wherever necessary and there have been no hitches. But the vice chancellor of FUNAAB has totally rejected the idea.

“It should be noted that many of the female students using niqab in other universities are performing excellently in their studies. One of them just graduated from the University of Lagos with first class (https://twitter.com/muslimnews_NG/status/1702348323523322336?s=19). Another female Muslim, Balquis Bintilaye, who uses the veil was the best graduating student in an American university recently, thereby proving that their brains function normally even with their heads or faces being covered.

“MURIC invites the Honourable Minister of Education, Professor Tahir Mamman, to save FUNAAB from total collapse by instituting a probe into the circumstances surrounding the religious crisis which began since November 2021.

“A federal university cannot claim to be unaware of the position of the law on religious freedom in this country. Section 38(i)&(ii) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria guarantees religious freedom for every Nigerian.

“As far back as 2009, the Court of Appeal ruled in favour of the use of niqab as a fundamental human right (https://www.intelregion.com/news/from-archive-appeal-court-upholds-students-rights-to-use-niqob-download-full-judgement/; See Provost Kwara State College of Education, Ilorin vs Basirat Saliu Suit No. CA/IL/49/2009, the Court of Appeal, Ilorin Judicial Division).

“It should be noted that the current vice chancellor, Professor Olusola Kehinde was acting vice chancellor from 2022 to 31st March, 2023. He became the substantive vice chancellor on 1st April, 2023. It can therefore be adduced that he is not in any way alien to the role played by the university management in the crisis. Even the fact that the niqab imbroglio continues to fester during his tenure speaks volumes.

“It is our assumption that the vice chancellor may be nursing an incurable persecution complex, lack of the spirit of compromise, desertification of crisis management skill and a fixated determination to deny the Muslim girl-child of her right to education.

“Such rigid mien is alien to academic culture. Acute deficiency in leadership qualities and lack of damage control tactics on the part of the vice chancellor may also be at the bottom of his failure to rein in the religious brouhaha on time.

“We demand a powerful probe panel into the niqab saga. Female Muslim students who have been disallowed from writing examinations should be given the chance to rewrite the papers in the interest of justice and fairness.”

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