The controversy that flared up last week over the use of hijab by Muslim women in National Youth Service Corps [NYSC] orientation camps was another case of storm in a tea cup. Some of the foul language used in that “controversy” was totally unnecessary and it created a mountain out of a mole hill. NYSC’s policy for some time has been to allow Muslim women to wear the short hijab that covers the bosom during the two weeks’ orientation camp but they are not allowed to wear the full-length one during this period.
However, a reiteration of the policy by Director General of the NYSC Brigadier General Johnson Olawumi suddenly caused uproar. Olawumi said last week that the use of long hijabs in NYSC camps during orientation exercises remained prohibited due to the insecurity in the country last week. He said this when he received the League of Muslim Youths in Da’awah in Abuja. He said it was unfortunate that in recent times terrorists have used women wearing long hijabs to hide IEDs under it and to kill innocent people. He said while NYSC respects everyone’s religion, it has a responsibility to protect the lives of corps members under its watch. Olawumi also urged female Muslim corps members to use the short hijabs while they are in camp and he urged the league to help enlighten the youths on the matter in orientation camps.
Earlier, National Coordinator and Amir of the league Barrister Lukman Hassan said their visit was to express their disappointment with the scheme for putting a ban on hijabs for female Muslim corps members in orientation camps. He urged NYSC to allow every citizen their rights to religion. The next day, Muslims Rights Concern [MURIC] jumped into the fray and said it rejected the purported ban on hijab in NYSC camps. Its director Professor Ishaq Akintola said the ban was unacceptable to Muslims. He said, “We reject the purported ban. It is 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. On what grounds is he banning the use of hijab? Security reason is not enough because we have examples of armed robbers using police uniforms to rob. Has anyone thought of banning police uniform?”
To begin with, the NYSC boss made a mistake by attributing the ban on long hijabs in orientation camps to security concerns. The orientation camp is a paramilitary exercise and since its beginnings in 1973, corpers have been made to wear military style jackets, trousers, boots and T-shirts. Insecurity is a new comer in this matter and the service’s dressing policy clearly predated it.
If Olawumi made a mistake, MURIC also made a mistake with its extraordinarily harsh language. While it is alright for advocacy groups such as MURIC to agitate for the rights of citizens as it sees them, it should handle such matters with caution and not take it upon itself to dictate internal regulations to a quasi-military set up such as NYSC. If such a trend continues, very soon civil society groups would be dictating to the police and ultimately even the military about their internal rules and regulations.
Luckily, the matter has now been resolved with clear understanding that NYSC does not prevent Muslim women from wearing their hijabs during the orientation exercise. It is the full length hijab that is not allowed within that period. This should be taken in good faith as a regulatory necessity and should not be used to cause tension and bad blood in the polity. A later statement by MURIC acknowledged that the matter has been resolved and that the controversy was due to an initial misunderstanding. This is good. Going forward, we urge NYSC and all other public agencies to keep channels of communication open in order to explain to the public any rules and regulations that are held in suspicion in certain quarters. Similarly, we urge civil society groups to in future seek proper clarification and dialogue with public agencies over any matters that concern them, rather than use such strong language that could cause a breach of the peace.
Source: Daily Trust