By; JACOB ONJEWU DICKSON
Thousands of Muslim women from the South West may not be able to vote in the 2019 general elections due to alleged overzealousness on the part of some ad hoc staff of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) who have been disallowing them from registering as voters.
This concern was raised by the Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) in a press statement released early on Wednesday, 22nd August, 2018. The human rights organization reported that women in hijab are being disenfranchised right from the PVC Registration Centers.
According to the leader of the organization, Ishaq Akintola, “Muslim women are being asked to remove their hijab before capturing can take place. Some are asked to draw back the hijab from their faces to expose their ears. Of course the whole world knows that it is a taboo for Muslim women in hijab to expose their hair or ears. The Muslim women who refused to remove their hijab or to expose their ears are being turned back without being registered. This is unacceptable.
“It is cultural profiling. We are going to use every legitimate means to resist this aggression against Islam. We smell a rat. Religious fanatics have infested INEC’s ad hoc staff and their mission is to frustrate prospective Muslim voters. They want to reduce Muslim voting power in the sub-region.
“The INEC ad hoc staff who commit this atrocity claim that they are following instructions from their head office. This is an old trick and a common line of argument. It suggests conspiracy. It means anti-Muslim elements have taken over in INEC head offices in Lagos, Ibadan, Abeokuta, Oshogbo, Ondo and Akure (capitals of Lagos, Oyo, Ogun, Osun, Ondo and Ekiti states). This abuse is widespread particularly in Lagos State but INEC may want to focus its attention on its office at Arigbanla Road, Orile-Agege LCDA, Iyana ipaja, very close to NYSC camp.by
MURIC traced the history of the disenfranchisement of Muslims to 2003 elections. “The disenfranchisement of Muslims in the South West has great antiquity because this same scenario played itself out in 2003, 2007, 2011 and 2015 and we complained on each occasion. We are surprised that it is happening again.
“We wrote INEC’s head office in Lagos in 2003 when Muslim males were being asked to remove their caps and turbans while the women were asked to remove their hijab before they could be registered for the national identity card scheme. The head office did nothing until we were forced to march on the streets to their office. Is INEC also daring us? It had better not be because we can march again.
“How can INEC allow Muslims to be treated like second hand citizens? We are disappointed. Is the system ready to integrate Muslims at all? Can the Nigerian nation enjoy peace where a large religious group is constantly marginalized and oppressed? Havent we had enough religious crisis? Should certain public officers take actions capable of precipitating religious violence?
“MURIC will not stand akimbo while Muslims are turned into mere laughing stock. We affirm our Allah-given fundamental right to vote and be voted for. We demand equal opportunities in all aspects of the Nigerian life. In particular, we assert clearly, emphatically and unequivocally that obtaining voters’ cards is the right of every Nigerian citizen regardless of creed, ethnic background, profession or level of education.
“We appeal to INEC national headquarters to intervene urgently. We suspect that the national headquarters may not be aware of what is going on in the South West. It shows that voter awareness campaign alone is not enough. INEC should intensify staff training and enlightenment. Ad hoc officials as the first direct contact with the public need to be properly educated so as not to cause civil unrest over the ongoing PVC registration.
“We cannot trivialize the issue of PVC. Apart from using it for voting, it can be used for various official transactions. The implication is that Muslim women who are denied access to PVC are deprived of their Allah-given fundamental right to perform their civic responsibilities like voting for their preferred candidates. They are also robbed of the right to possess means of identification whenever the need arises.
Worse still, Muslims who are coerced into agreeing to remove their hijab during capture will forever face the ignominy of being requested to remove their hijab each time they attempt to use their PVCs as means of identification. Why should Muslims be turned into dregs of the society? Why should we be made to face perpetual embarrassment? Is it not better to be free men in our graves than live as puppets and slaves?
“MURIC deplores the hypocrisy being exhibited by the elites of South Western Nigeria against Muslims. Every effort is calculated towards stigmatizing Muslims. It is interesting that this atrocity is not committed anywhere in the North. No Muslim male or female is being asked to remove any part of his or her dress. This is symptomatic of mischief. Muslims in the South West are being singled out for marginalization. There is no gainsaying the fact that the marginalization of a large section of the Nigerian population is a threat to our nascent democracy.
“As a palliative measure and in the interest of justice and fairplay, we demand further extention of the registration deadline to enable those Muslim women who were maltreated by high-handed ad hoc officials to return for registration. We also suggest that INEC headquarters should draft more ad hoc staff to the South West and open more registration centers.
“In our closing remarks, we appeal to Muslims nationwide to remain calm and law-abiding. However, we urge them to intensify efforts aimed at obtaining their PVCs, to maintain decorum at the registration centers even while being firm and uncompromising in matters of their Muslim identity and to be on alert for any announcement from INEC. Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom”.