UI International School and unending Hijab crisis

 The prolonged crisis rocking the University of Ibadan International School over wearing of Hijab has moved from protests to litigation as BAYO AGBOOLA narrates.

The parents under the aegis of Muslim Parents Forum recently stormed the Bodija Central Mosque in Ibadan for a solidarity protest declared by MURIC to support the plight of the female students.

At the well-attended solidarity protest, the forum left no one in doubt about their determination to achieve their long-pursued clamour for the use of Hijab by all Muslim students wishing to abide by Islamic mode of dressing. 

Few minutes to the commencement of the regular Friday Jumat prayers, the forum joined other Muslim brothers and sisters for the prayers with their banners condemning the continued refusal of ISI management from acceding to their clamour for the wearing of Hijab by their children who are students in the school.

The parents, numbering about 50, immediately after the Jumat service, staged the protest within the central mosque chanting solidarity songs to support their clamour with their banners having inscriptions such as, ‘Hijab is Allah’s given dress code’, ‘We ISI students deserve the right to put on our hijab’. ‘We cover our heads, not our brains’ etc. They said that any attempt by the school management to deny their children their fundamental human rights would be legally, legitimately and peacefully resisted.

We have taken to litigation – Forum chairman

Speaking with journalists during the protest, chairman of the forum, Alhaji Abdulrahaman Balogun, said in continuation of the Hijab struggle, the forum has refiled 

fresh 11 cases against the school, the principal and the ISI board on the Hijab tussle and that the forum is determined to legally pursue the case to a logical conclusion. Alhaji Balogun said it was wrong for the principal to be embarrassing the female students for wearing Hijab to school and even outside the school premises.

“The constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria has given everyone the guarantee and any attempt to deny any of our children such fundamental human rights would be resisted legally, legitimately and peacefully. It’s my pleasure to announce to you that we have refiled our case against the University of Ibadan, the management of ISI, the principal, Mrs Olowe, the DVC Academics, Professor E B Ekeola. We have filed 11 different cases in line with the dictates of the courts. I’m sure that they are being served as we speak. 

 “Our children are molested, not even within ISI now but outside. The principal, Mrs Phebean Olowe, claimed that even all the land that leads to ISI belongs to ISI. She said once they wear the uniform, they must not put on hijab, then they went about removing it forcefully, harassing the parents, harassing the children, trying to force them to sign undertaking and all sorts of things,” he said.

Alhaji Balogun added, “We have two appellate judgements in the case of Lagos and Ilorin in support of hijab right and we are just awaiting the judgement of the Supreme Court on it. And we expect that a Nigerian and in a public-owned school, even if it is a privately owned school, have to obey the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. And this is our point.”

Petitioned NHRC, DSS police

Justifying the protest, Alhaji Balogun said it became necessary in view of the need to alert the public on the dimensions the issue was presently assuming, saying, “The thing is now leading into a dangerous height because when you are now attacking our kids, harassing the parents, it is getting too dangerous; we have petitioned the National Human Rights Commission, (NHRC) the DG DSS, the IGP and the Ministry of Education as well as the university authority.”

The chairman declared that every effort by the parents to settle the matter out of court had proved abortive as the management of the school refused to shift ground but insisted that the status quo on the uniform must be maintained, saying, “We had three meetings to settle out of court; we shifted ground and asked them to tell us the mode of dressing the school wants in terms of shape, mode, colour, size and others, but they are saying the status quo must be maintained. But in the rules and regulations of ISI, there is nothing there even in Section 7 that says student cannot wear hijab. There is nothing in the books that prevent our daughters or anybody willing for that matter to adorn hijab, let alone the constitution of the FRN. Even, if there is anything like that, the constitution of FRN supersedes any other enabling law. And if it was not contained there, then why are they harassing our girls?

Before the last solidarity protest, the forum forwarded a petition to the NHRC over alleged intimidation, molestation and harassment of their female Muslim students in the school. 

In the petition copied the DG of DSS) and other relevant agencies jointly signed by the chairman and secretary, Balogun and Mrs Bilikis Badru, respectively, they emphasised that, “It is necessary to inform the DSS on the situation in the school which could degenerate into a breakdown of law and order in the University of Ibadan and Oyo state in general if not urgently challenged.”

Despite peace move, school authorities recalcitrant

According to the petition entitled: ‘International School Ibadan Hijab Situation: Preventing a Looming Crisis’, it flayed the flagrant disregard for the constitutional rights of the girls to adorn the hijab especially outside the school premises, saying it is an affront on the collective sensibilities of the Muslims who have children in the school.

“However, we calmed ourselves down thinking the principal was quoted out of context. It was therefore disturbing that the school principal through a staff of the Account Department, Mr Odewale and a security guard, Mr John Mike, took the laws into their hands by harassing our daughters for adorning the hijab outside the school premises, several metres away from the school gate on July 3, 2019. Although, the girls were later allowed entry, but only after they have been thoroughly disgraced in front of their peers.” 

“On July 4, the situation became worse as the girls were thoroughly disgraced outside the school premises under the watchful eyes of the chief security officer, the school vice principal, Mr Akintunde, Mr Odewale of the Accounts Department, hordes of security personnel from both the university and the school and some gun-wielding policemen. The matter was promptly reported to the leadership of the University of Ibadan Muslim Community who swung into action by contacting the university administration. This probably informed the decision of the school authority to relax their draconian posture on July 5 and 8 to a more sinister but less observable form of harassment.

 “On Saturday July 6, her father, who is an academic staff of the University of Ibadan was also given a dose of the subtle harassment as a plain-cloth security official of the school was surreptitiously snapping his pictures while exiting the gates of the school after picking his daughter at the end of extra class. On July 8, the devastating but subtle harassment continued with Mr Omokunmi abandoning his duty as vice principal and stood at the school gate to stalk and continuously cover the movement of the girl in question right from the gate to her class as well as other three Muslim girls.

“We wish to state that we would not be liable for any breakdown of law and order that may result from the actions of overzealous elements who may want to use the opportunity presented by the matter to foment trouble within or outside the school premises.”

With the refiling of 11 fresh cases before the Oyo state High Court sitting in Ibadan on the Hijab by the forum, it is glaring that the crisis in the University of Ibadan International School, Ibadan is far from being over.

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