The continued Islamophobia in Lagos State, Nigeria has moved to the National Orthopeadic Hospital (NOH), Igbobi and the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Idiaraba. Two female nursing staff members of NOHI and another one in LUTH are being prevented from carrying out their official duties. They were accused of not dressing properly as a result of their wearing of shoulder length hijab.

In the case of LUTH, the female nursing staff was intimidated and “arrested” by the Police briefly on the 12th of April 2014.

She was subsequently released with an advice by the Police that the LUTH authorities should handle the matter administratively. On the other hand, after series of verbal assaults and intimidation, the two nursing staff at NOHI were issued queries on the 8th April 2014. The staff stated in their responses to the query that they were only in compliance with the nursing council directive on nurses uniform which allows the use of a cap or shoulder length hijab. All efforts to convey the directive of the Nursing and Midwifery Council of Nigeria circular titled “Nurses Uniform” Ref No: N&MCN/CMF/721/1/3 dated 11th February, 2001 that stated that “a female nurse should wear either a nurse cap or a shoulder length hijab” fell on deaf ears. They were further intimidated and made to face a disciplinary committee on Monday 14th April, 2014.

Islamic Medical Association of Nigeria (IMAN) the umbrella body of all health workers in Nigeria, condemns these acts of religious intolerance and abuse of fundamental human rights by the authority of NOH, Igbobi. IMAN calls on the Hon. Minister of Health, Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu, the Minister of State for Health and The Board Chairmen, NOH, Igbobi and LUTH to quickly call the Chief Medical Directors and the Directors of Administration of these two federal institutions to order.

The hijab refers to the religious head covering worn by Muslim women. Like prayer, fasting and pilgrimage, certain religious celebrations, dietary and clothing requirements are obligatory practices of the Muslim faith. It is already integrated into the official uniform of the Army and Police force in such great democracies as United States, United Kingdom and Sweden. The hijab has been around for more than 1400 years. In Nigeria, it enriches our multiculturalism; and it does not by any stretch of imagination threaten our secularism or diversity. These are some of the cardinal benefits of true democracy that we all believed we are struggling to enthrone.

Such religious expressions are protected by the Nigerian Constitution, which protects the free exercise of religion. Section 38 (1) of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution guarantees this right to practice our religion. It states that “Every person shall be entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including freedom to change his religion or belief, AND FREEDOM (EITHER ALONE OR IN COMMUNITY WITH OTHERS, AND IN PUBLIC OR IN PRIVATE) TO MANIFEST and propagate his religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance.

Section 42 (1) clearly spells it out that no citizen shall be subjected either expressly by, or in the practical application of, any law in force in Nigeria or any executive or administrative action of the government, to any form of DISABILITIES or RESTRICTIONS by reason of belonging to a particular community, ethnic group, place of origin, sex.

These provisions have been put to test twice before in the court of law. The judges upheld the provisions in both instances.

  • The female Muslim students of Kwara State College of Education, Ilorin, Kwara State, won a landmark victory on Monday, 08 May, 2006 in their case against the board of the college which had approved a dress code for students banning the niqob (a form of hijab). The High Court in Kwara State, presided over by Justice Durosinlorun Kawu, ruled in favour of the students and declared that the content of the Article “J” of the school’s new dress code “is unlawful, unfair, discriminatory, unconstitutional, null and void, and of no effect whatsoever”;
  • In another landmark judgment on Thursday, November 18th 2008, Judge Olubunmi Oyewole of the Lagos State High Court ruled that ban on hijab was a breach of articles 38 and 42 of the Nigerian Constitution.

IMAN urges the Hon. Minister of Health to uphold the female nurses’ rights to express their religion in a friendly atmosphere and one that is free from any forms of abuse, intimidation, harassment or discrimination. The minister took an oath to support and defend the Constitution of Nigeria and bear true allegiance to the same. Fulfilling that oath requires the minister and the house committees on health in both chambers of the National Assembly to act firmly and decisively on the side of the Constitution. It is up to the Hon. Minister to reaffirm the rule of law and, in this particular case, restore hope for tolerant and diverse federal health institutions where promotion of religious freedom and rights are transparently observed in official policies.

On our part, IMAN is determined to pursue the matter by all lawful means to ensure that the rights of all our members are preserved.