27 November 2015
Worried about insecurity in the country, Director General of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), Brigadier General Johnson Olawumi has insisted that the use of long hijabs in NYSC camps during orientation exercises remained prohibited.
This pronouncement created confusion in Nigeria for three days, until NYSC officials clarified that the "long hijab" in question is only one that reaches the ankles, while any hijab which covers the bosom or even reaches to the knee is permitted.
The matter is important to Nigeria's Muslims, since all graduates in Nigeria must undertake a mandatory one-year period of national service. Women who refuse to relinquish the prohibited form of the hijab will be dismissed from the national service. The consequences of being dismissed are serious, since most employers in Nigeria require a national service discharge certificate.
The measure was therefore seen by critics as placing obstacles in the career advancement of young Muslim women who will be prevented from national service either by their parents or their conscience.
Speaking with the League of Muslims Youth in Nigeria's capitol Abuja, General Olawumi said it was unfortunate that in recent times, terrorists have been using ladies wearing long hijabs to conceal IEDs to kill people.
He said the NYSC respects the religion and ethnicity of every Nigerian but had the responsibility of protecting the lives of corps members under their watch.
Olawumi urged female corps members to use the short hijabs while they were in camp and urged the league to help enlighten the youth on the matter in orientation camps.
However, the National Coordinator of the league, Barrister Lukman Hassan understood this to be a general prohibition of normal Muslim hijabs and expressed his organization's disappointment, urging the NYSC to allow every citizen their rights to religion.
All over Nigeria, Muslims rejected the ban on the ambiguously termed 'long hijab' for female college graduates enrolling for national service.
One Muslim group has described the decision by the government agency handling the recruitment as "discriminatory, baseless and unacceptable".
Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Aliyu Abubakar, general secretary of the Muslim Jama'atu Nasril Islam (JNI) community group in northern Nigeria said:
"We are concerned that some individuals will wake up one morning and take decisions with far-reaching constitutional implications.
"Definitely the pronouncement by [Olawunmi] is unacceptable as it amounts to punishing the whole for the sins of some misguided people. It will amount to violations of the rights of Muslims to ask them not to wear hijab."
Hundreds of people have been killed in Boko Haram suicide attacks on soft targets in northern Nigeria, with explosives often detonated by underage girls or women which reports say conceal the lethal devices under a long head covering.
"The security situation in the country is tough. There is the danger of somebody using [long] hijab for other reasons," Olawunmi told local media, responding to criticisms from Muslims.
"There have been cases where young girls put on hijab and eventually turn into suicide bombers. Boko Haram members know how to get at whoever they want as a target. That is why we frown at the wearing of the long hijab.
"Please call on all your Muslim youths to be patient and adhere to [the new rule], just for a short period during the camp," Olawunmi added.
However, Muslims say the explanation for the ban is simplistic, questioning why, for example, the government has not banned underwear despite some women having been caught hiding illegal drugs in their undergarments.
Others have queried why army uniforms have not been banned due to some armed robbers wearing them to escape arrest.
Abubakar questioned whether the NYSC was speaking for himself or the government, insisting that such "policy statements, such as the one he just made, are to be made by government after thorough discussion and debate by relevant stakeholders".
Abubakar added: "At such debates, all issues would be considered. In this instance, ignorance is not an excuse.
"The issue of the hijab is a religious one and it has constitutional implications. One individual cannot just wake up and issue a statement with fiat. It is not acceptable.
"It is unfortunate that this kind of impunity is going on when we have laws. The director general must come out to say whose position he was communicating: that of government or a religious group."
Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC), a prominent NGO, has also faulted the decision which it dismissed as "reckless, baseless and preposterous".
"No public officer of the Federal Republic of Nigeria should speak in such manner. The pronouncement smacks of power drunkenness. It is a hate statement.
"The director-general needs to purge himself of Islamophobia," MURIC Director Ishaq Akintola said in a statement.
"Brigadier General Johnson and his ilk are hiding behind the security challenge facing Nigeria to implement a hidden agenda, namely, to stigmatize Muslims and to embarrass our daughters and wives who wear hijab," he claimed.
Akintola described the wearing of the hijab as an "integral part" of the dress of Muslim women, saying that banning it would not be acceptable, adding "How can we spend a lifetime training our daughters to dress decently and you dehumanize them in your camp within 24 hours? How dare you?
"Is General Johnson aware that female Muslims in the British police use hijab on top of their uniform?
"Can he tell us how the hijab disturbs a [national service] uniform? Does the DG know that hijab is an integral, nay, the most vital part of a female Muslim's dress?" adding that "Section 38 (i) & (ii) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria guarantees religious freedom. We seek the enforcement of this right."
Nigerian Muslims have previously campaigned successfully against earlier proposed bans on the hijab, and this presant debacle is no exception.
The Muslim Corpers Association of Nigeria (MCAN) yesterday cleared the air on the raging controversy. MCAN, in two separate statements issued in Abuja, revealed that members of its executive held a meeting with the Director General of the NYSC, Brigadier General Johnson Olawumi, where the issue was amicably settled.
In the first statement titled ‘Ban of Hijab Within NYSC Scheme: A False News’ MCAN reported that the DG apologized to the female corp member who was harassed by the Benue State camp commandant who has since been banned from the camp. The director general also promised to set up a committee to find a lasting solution to the hijab affair. The committee, according to the report, will co-opt a member of the MCAN executive.
In the second statement issued by MCAN titled ‘NYSC DG Discredits The Ban Of Hijab’, the group confirmed that only the long hijab which reaches the ankles was banned while any hijab which covers the bosom or reaches the knee is permitted.
The Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) welcomed the recent development. Contrary to earlier perceptions, we note with pleasure the director general’s amenable disposition to the hijab question and his transparently liberal mien to religious issues.
"MURIC Welcomes Resolution Of NYSC Hijab Saga" The Paradigm November 27, 2015
"Muslims Hit Out Amid Nigerian National-Service Hijab Row" Harbeler - English edition November 26, 2015
"Nigeria: Hijab Ban At NYSC Camps Invitation to Chaos - Muslim Rights Group" Premium Times November 25, 2015
Maureen Onochie, "Nigeria: No Long Hijabs in NYSC Camps, DG Insists" All Africa November 24, 2015