By Femi Abbas
The relationship of religion to Truth is like that of a menu to a meal. By describing the meal as best as it can, the menu points to something beyond itself. When we use the menu as a guide to the choice of our meal we do it the deserved honor. But when we mistake the menu for the meal, we do it and ourselves a grave injustice.”
By Reb Yerachmiel
It was not the intention of yours sincerely to write about the Osun State hijab crisis again in this column today. But doing so became inevitable as a way of clarifying some issues shamelessly but deliberately muddled up by some Nigerian reporters/correspondents who have connived to throw the ethics of their profession to the winds seemingly for the sake of bread and butter.
About three years ago, a supposed Nigerian journalist of Yoruba stock from the Lagos/Ibadan axis of Nigerian media (name withheld) boasted to yours sincerely. He said that “you veteran journalists only spent the most active part of your professional lives to work assiduously for the stability of journalism in Nigeria while we, the touting journalists of today are here to reap the fruit of your labour. Now, we do not labour much before riding in jeeps and living in mansions”. In response to that puzzling comment, I merely grinned in amazement.
It was only last Tuesday, when Nigerian newspapers were awash with a glaring false news report of a press conference at which I was present that I came to grasp the esoteric meaning of the boasting comment of that unnamed pseudo journalist.
The syndicated falsehood was filed to the various print media houses by the members of Ibadan-based glorified correspondents’ chapel including their so-called Chairman (a Pastor in a foremost Pentecostal Church). Embarrassingly, that report was the direct opposite of the statement made at the press conference in which I, as a veteran journalist, was involved. It was a clear evidence of professional abuse for which some of those correspondents are well known.
The connotation here is that quackery has come to replace professionalism in Nigerian journalism. And, in truth, that much is very manifest in the current practice of what we used to proudly call ‘the noble profession’. The quality and dept of reportage these days serve as evidence of no thoroughness either in terms of proper training or those of professional ethics.
The Missing Dignity
In any modern society where normalcy holds sway, a journalist is seen like an arbiter who, through his reportorial, moderates fairly among conflicting parties without reflecting an iota of bias. If such an arbiter is the first to start a street brawl, how can he retain the dignity of an arbiter?
Today, neither the nobility of journalism profession nor the pride of its practitioners exists any longer. Thus, genuine journalism can be said to be dead in Nigeria with average reporter becoming like a vulture hanging anxiously around the corner to feast undeservedly on the carcass of a comatose prey. Professionally speaking, journalism in Nigeria has unprecedentedly reached its dead end. What remains of it in the real sense is the shameless ‘pick and chop’ game in which the half-baked, so called reporters/correspondents are actively but greedily engaged.
If the so-called ‘Fourth Estate of the realm’ could descent to such a notorious level within the same realm, one can imagine how much doomed has the realm itself become. With this crop of quacks parading themselves as journalists in Nigeria today, only a few patriotic parents would want to encourage their wards to become journalists anymore especially since journalism is fast becoming a symbol of falsehood. I may be one of such parents.
What Transpired at the Press Conference?
On Monday, June 27, 2016, most Ibadan-based media correspondents (about 27 of them) assembled at the grandiose Islamic Center situated on the famous Awolowo Road, (Housing Corporation Area), Bodija, Ibadan, on the invitation of the Muslim Ummah of South West Nigeria (MUSWEN). The latter, being the umbrella body of all Muslims in the South West region including the State Muslim Councils of those States as well as the League of Imams Alfas of Yoruba land had planned a Press Conference at which to express its own reaction to the judgment given two weeks ago on the hijab case in Osun State.
Meanwhile, as the noise kept raging on that judgment and loudly echoed with unambiguous partiality, as usual, by Nigerian media, MUSWEN remained calm and cautious as it kept consulting with the Muslim stakeholders in the region before arriving at the decision to hold a Press Conference on the issue to explain its position to the world on behalf of the South West Muslims.
Presentation of Facts
Following the presentation of facts in an 11 page written statement read by the Executive Secretary of MUSWEN, Professor D. O. S. Noibi, OBE, DSc, FISN, FIAC, questions and comments were thrown open while the full text of the read statement was given to everyone of the correspondents present at the occasion.
As a veteran who is well familiar with the nitty-gritty of reportorial, yours sincerely seized the opportunity to counsel those correspondents on the professional implication of editorialization and cautioned them against it. However, despite that counseling, the usual short cut was adopted in writing, syndicating and filing falsehood to their various newspapers. It was a shame beclouding the right sense of judgment.
The Contents of the Press Statement
For the benefit of the fair-minded readers of this column and numerous others the especially Muslims of the South West who may have been deliberately misled by the by some fanatical reporters present at that conference, the full text of MUSWEN’s statement is re-presented here below. Please, read on:
“A judge can’t have any agenda, a judge can’t have any preferred outcome in any particular case and a judge certainly doesn’t have a client. The judge’s only obligation – and it’s a solemn obligation – is to the rule of law.”
Samuel Alito (US Supreme Court Justice)
Gentlemen of the Press, on behalf of the leadership of the Muslim Ummah of South West Nigeria (MUSWEN) and indeed all Muslims in the South West region of Nigeria, I want to warmly welcome you all to this all-important Press Conference.
As we are all aware, MUSWEN is the umbrella body for all Muslims, Muslim organizations and Muslim institutions domiciled in the South West region of Nigeria. The body aggregates the aspirations and interests of all Muslims in the region.
It is thus part of our primary obligations, not only to propagate Islam and defend the interests of Muslims, but also to promote the cause of peace and peaceful co-existence among the people, irrespective of their faith and ethnicity, in the region.
This press conference becomes imperative against some recent happenings with regard to the use of hijab in public primary and secondary schools in Osun State. We wish to state that this is not the first time that MUSWEN would be addressing the media on the issue of hijab in Osun State public schools. The first conference was held on 20th February, 2014 when the issue was at its infancy.
The Osun State Muslim Community and the Muslim Students’ Society of Nigeria (MSSN) on February 14, 2013, dragged the Osun State Government to court seeking an order of the court to allow female Muslim students enjoy their fundamental right to use hijab in public primary and secondary schools in the State pursuant to Sections 38 and 42 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999.
The suit which was directly instituted against the State Government also had the State Commissioner for Education, Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, among others, as respondents. The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Osun State Chapter, its chairman and other interested Christians voluntarily joined as respondents.
The applicants told the court that female Muslim pupils/students were being harassed by the fourth and fifth respondents (Principal and Head teacher of a public secondary and public primary school respectively), insisting that such was a clear discrimination and infringement on their fundamental rights.
The applicants premised their argument on a decision of the Court of Appeal, Ilorin, in The Provost, Kwara State College of Education, Ilorin & 2 Ors vs Bashirat Saliu & Ors, which noted that female Catholics wear hijab, while Mary, the mother of Jesus was always depicted as wearing hijab on her head.
However, the respondents insisted that only beret and face cap were recognized and that students should abide by the government’s directives. They insisted that allowing students to wear hijab in schools where Churches are located was alien to their religion and thereby urged the court to dismiss the application of the applicants.
In his judgment on June 3, 2016, Justice Jide Falola of the Osun State High Court observed that religion was introduced to the case when the CAN and others joined the suit, noting that he decided to deliver the judgment after all pleas to settle the matter amicably had proved futile.
In a 51-page judgement, Justice Falola ruled that the use of hijab by female Muslims is their fundamental human right to freedom of religion, conscience and thought, and as such no female student should be molested or sent out of school for wearing it. Premising his judgment on Section 38 of the Nigeria Constitution and Article 8 of the 2004 policy published by the state Ministry of Education, Justice Falola held that female Muslim students were not exempted from the freedom of religion, conscience and thought.
He ordered that the respondents should be restrained from disallowing the use of hijab by female Muslim students, adding that the students who wear hijab should ensure that it is in the colour prescribed by the first to fifth respondents. He said since the respondents had failed to cite any relevant authority in their response, he would be bound by the decision of the Appellate court in Ilorin which the applicants had cited in their application.
Quoting copiously from Article 8 of the Guidelines on Administration and Discipline in Public Schools in Osun State which was issued by the State Government in 2004 which says “there are no mission school presently in Osun state as all schools have been taken over by government in 1975,” Justice Falola upheld all the prayers of the applicants and held that no student should be prevented from enjoying his or her right.
To be continued….