By Rafiu Ajakaye
Nigeria’s hijab controversy festered on Monday as dozens of Muslims held a protest to demand that their girls be allowed to wear their religious head covering to schools without being discriminated against.
“The Muslim Community of Oyo State (MUSCOYS) condemns the odious stench of religious bigotry and intolerance oozing out of the acclaimed premier university,” Ibrahim Busayri, MUSCOYS chief, told Anadolu Agency shortly after the protest at the gate of the International School Ibadan (ISI) where 11 Muslim children were recently asked to leave the playground for wearing the hijab.
The protest in the southwestern city of Ibadan led to shutting of the school, the second time since last week, following unabated demonstrations by the Muslim community. Sources in the school said authorities of Nigeria’s premier university of Ibadan -- owners of the school -- are now meeting with Muslim leaders to resolve the crisis.
Busayri called the action of the school “needless acrimony, vendetta and hatred” against the Muslims and said the protest was meant to ask the school authority to allow the girls to wear their hijab as a matter of “constitutional right”.
“This protest is to register our displeasure and condemnation of the draconian and repressive, Islamophobic directive of banning Muslim girls from wearing hijab,” he added, saying the directive amounted to wanting to deny the girls access to basic education unless they were willing to stop being Muslims.
Headscarves have increasingly become a symbol of Muslim rejection of the British colonial legacies in Nigerian public life.
In 2017, a Muslim female law graduate was barred from a call to bar event in capital Abuja for wearing a headscarf, precipitating anger from the Muslim community and a debate over the country's controversial secular status.
Barrister Firdaus Amasa was later called to the bar with her headscarf after the country's council on legal education backed down. In a 2016 ruling, a court said wearing headscarves qualifies as a human right under the country's Constitution.
The ISI hijab controversy comes just two weeks after the government in the southwestern state of Lagos officially approved the wearing of headscarves by Muslim girls. The government decision came two years after its circular banning headscarves was struck down on appeal.