One of Nigeria’s leading Islamic human rights groups, Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) has described the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN’s opposition to the proposed anti-religious discrimination bill as conservative and reactionary.
The Christian body on Tuesday moved against the bill which has scaled through the second reading in the House of Representatives.
The bill is titled ‘Religious Discrimination (Prohibition, Prevention) Bill 2021’.
CAN’s opposition to the bill came through a threat of violence via a statement issued yesterday by its secretary, Joseph Daramola, who argued that legislating the wearing of hijab in schools would lead to the trouble that the sponsors of the bill may not be able to handle. Daramola claimed that the bill is ill-timed and uncalled for.
In his reaction, on Wednesday, the Director of MURIC, Professor Ishaq Akintola, urged lawmakers to go ahead with the bill as it is not designed for hijab rights alone.
The Muslim rights advocacy group argued that the bill also aims at liberating Nigerian workers and women from discrimination.
According to MURIC, “CAN is not talking about morality, legality and justice in its opposition to the bill. CAN is not interested in whether it is right or wrong. The only thing CAN is interested in is to impose its own whims and caprices on the lawmakers by threatening fire and brimstone. Imagine CAN’s words, ‘We are not against the wearing of hijab in public and Islamic schools but our schools should not be included unless those states are looking for trouble.
“CAN refers to missionnary schools which were taken over by the Gowon decree of 1974 as ‘our schools’. That is a misnomer. Those schools ceased to be missionary schools a long time ago. CAN will therefore be living in self-denial if it continues to refer to them as ‘our schools’. These are schools being fully funded by the government. Teachers’ appointments, promotion, salaries, entitlements, etc are in the hands of government. Is their any doubt about who owns the schools? It should be noted that both the Christians and Muslims were fully compensated when government took over their schools.
“We note the use of the highly combustible word ‘trouble’ at the end of CAN’s sentence. Why must it be about ‘trouble’? Why not about the law? Why not about fairness? Why not about equity? Why not about justice? CAN is trying to scare the lawmakers. Its statement is full of threats. But we are not bothered. The process must take its due course. This is about law-making and the honourable members are not morons. They know what the bill means from the point of law and within the context of the Nigerian constitution. They have also been following events around the country and even outside the shores of Nigeria.
“The job of the people’s representatives is to enact laws that will liberate the citizens, laws that will break the shackle of oppression, laws that will neutralise tyrants, laws that will spell out the rights of the proletariat to the chagrin of the bullying capitalist compradore bourgeoisie.
“CAN said the bill is ‘ill-timed’. How can a bill seeking freedom from oppression be ill-timed? Everyday is the day of freedom. Every moment is the moment of liberty. It is only the 21st century disciples of Pieter Willem Botha and F. W. de Klerk who remain ideologues of ‘No freedom today’. Those who postpone the day of liberty live to crane their necks from the narrow confines of their bedroom windows as liberty train cruises by.
“CAN said the bill is uncalled for. They can say that to the marines. The cruel treatment of female Muslim students by Christian teachers over hijab called for the bill. The expulsion of Muslim students in the International School of the University of Ibadan called for it. The expulsion of Miss Aisha Abdul Aleem from a secondary school in Abeokuta called for it. The refusal to allow Amasa Firdaus to be called to bar in the first instance called for it. Nay, this bill is not only called, it is also chosen.
“The world is changing but CAN is averse to change. Democracy has gone digital but CAN still sees it with analogue eyes. Even colonialist Britain recognised the need to let people go. It granted independence to countries within its empire decades ago. Today Britain allows hijab in its schools. Go to Britain and see freedom. American schools allow hijab. Canada, Latin America and the rest of Europe have seen the light. Baptist College in Australia changed its school uniform to accommodate hijab-wearing students in 2019.
“But here in Nigeria, CAN, an ultra-conservative body, wants to drag Nigerians back into darkness after we have seen the light. It had better not be. CAN is the most conservative and reactionary organisation in Nigeria today. CAN is neck deep in gymnastic religiousity. The hijab bill must go ahead. The people’s representatives must boldly march forward. Distinguished reps must not allow CAN to scare this honourable House.
“Besides, this bill is not about hijab wearing alone. It is about freedom from all sorts of discrimination in workplaces and all public spaces. For instance, it will free a poor man from harassment if he enters a five star hotel or empower him to sue anyone who attempts to embarrass him. A female worker will be able to cite it if she is discriminated against on account of her being a female.
“This is freedom bill. It is the people’s bill but CAN wants to kill it. It is not only for religion or hijab. It is about the people’s fundamental human rights. Honourable members must not allow our oppressor to have his way. We seek the protection of the distinguished members of the House from the tyranny of CAN.
“Fortunately we are not in a military dispensation where CAN can just use its influence anyhow. This is a democracy for crying out loud. Nigerian Muslims are entitled to the dividends of democracy and sponsorship of bills in the legislature is one of the dividends of democracy. In fact it is a major landmark.
“It is the selfish wish of CAN to monopolise everything, including legislation. If it were possible, CAN would turn back the hands of the clock and take Nigeria back to apartheid South Africa where ‘Dogs and blacks not allowed’ to enter certain clubs, swinmming pools, etc, except that CAN would replace the word ‘blacks’ with ‘Muslims’.
“MURIC therefore urges honourable members of the House to ignore CAN’s rantings and go ahead with the freedom from discrimination bill. We charge lawmakers to resist CAN’s intimidation and coercion. This is the time for lawmakers to stand up for justice, truth and righteousness.
“Nigerians are yearning for freedom. The poor masses are working under severe conditions particularly in expartriate companies. They are suffering and they are looking up to their representatives for liberation. Extant laws are not enough to set them free. This bill is exactly what they need to emancipate them from tyranny, oppression and persecution. CAN is a distraction. Go ahead and do the job for which you were elected. Set the people free.
Professor Ishaq Akintola,
Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC)
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