Muslims across the country have kicked against heightened searches conducted on women wearing Islamic dresses by security men.
Muslims who spoke to this paper this weekend cautioned security agencies against frisking Muslim women dressed in hijab and burka, adding that such an action would amount to profiling them.
Wikipedia describes the hijab as a “veil that covers the head and chest, which is often worn by Muslim women beyond the age of puberty in the presence of adult males outside of their immediate family as a form of modest attire.”
Other dresses worn by Muslim women as a religious duty are the niqab, which only leaves the area around the eyes open and the burka which is a dress that covers all parts of the body leaving just a mesh over the eyes.
Nigeria’s neighbour, Chad – which is also part of the multinational joint task force – banned women from wearing hijab both in private and public places, following two suicide bomb attacks. The hijab was also banned in public places in Congo-Brazzaville, to counter terrorism in May.
SUNDAY PUNCH gathered that due to the rising cases of Boko Haram female suicide bombers hiding explosives beneath the Islamic dress, Nigeria’s security agents in the North have also begun to search women who wear Islamic dresses for bombs.
Last year, there were about 10 cases of female suicide bombers who used the Islamic dress to conceal explosives in parts of the North. This year there have also been similar cases recorded in some parts of the country.
In May, a 10 year-old girl detonated a bomb concealed under her religious veil killing five and injuring many others at Bayan Tasha motor park in Damaturu, Yobe State.
Two months earlier, in February, two hijab-wearing women said to be in their late 20s in Yobe State killed two people when they detonated explosive devices hidden beneath their clothings.
On February 11, in Borno State, another female suicide bomber in a burka attacked a crowded market, killing seven people and seriously injuring 20 others.
Prior to the February suicide bombing, a girl believed to be no more than 10 years old detonated explosives hidden under her burka at a crowded Maiduguri Monday market, killing 20 people and wounding many more in January.
The UNICEF child protection specialist Laurent Dutordoir, had last month, noted that female suicide bombers were on the increase in Nigeria.
Following this development, the army and the police had deployed more female operatives for the purpose of frisking women wearing hijabs especially in states where Boko Haram have attacked more than once.
SUNDAY PUNCH could not get the Director, Defence Information, Maj. Gen. Chris Olukolade, to comment on the issue as calls to his phone did not connect and he did not respond to a text message sent to him.
A top military official however confirmed the new security procedure.
He said, “In a particular community, the women were asked to use the type of hijab worn by female youth corps members. It covers only the head and part of the face, but this was rejected by the people, saying it was an attempt to prevent them from practising their religion.
“Now, we ask the female agents on duty to ask anyone wearing hijab to raise up the cloth from afar so that they can see if they have anything under the covering and anyone that fails to obey will be arrested.”
The Deputy Force Public Relations Officer, Abayomi Shogunle, told SUNDAY PUNCH that women who wore the hijab were only searched by female security agents because of the religious and cultural beliefs prevalent in the region.
He said, “More female policewomen have been deployed to participate in security operations that would involve the searching of women, because of the religious and cultural beliefs of the (Northern) region.
“Women wearing hijab don’t constitute a security threat. The Nigerian constitution guarantees freedom of religion and dressing. Our officers serving in the states prone to terrorism are aware of the modus operandi of the insurgents and they know what to look out for.”
The police spokesperson said though policemen face threats on a daily basis, they knew the mode of operation of terrorists.
He said, “Recently in Kano a female terrorist wearing a hijab was trying to mingle with people entering the mosque, but the officers there were able to identify her and fish her out.
“The same thing happened again in Kano when a hijab-wearing female attempted to enter a school and she was prevented from entering the school to carry out her deadly mission. The policemen on duty knew she was not coming on a good mission, so they stopped her from entering the school and she was forced to detonate her bombs outside the premises.”
But Muslim leaders who spoke to SUNDAY PUNCH flayed the security procedure. JNI Secretary-General, Dr. Abubakar Aliyu-Khalid told one of our correspondents that frisking hijab-wearing females would not solve the problem of terrorism.
“We are not comfortable with the security arrangement. There should not be separate laws for Muslims and other religion adherents. Solving problems in Nigeria is like scratching the surface. We do not support the fact that Muslim women should be singled out for this action. It is known that some of the people who carry out these suicide bomb attacks are not even Muslims,” he said.
Similarly, the Convener, Muslim Rights Concern and Professor of Islamic Eschatology at the Lagos State University, Professor Ishaq Akintola, said the Muslim community was against the search of women wearing hijab.
Akintola said, “It will amount to profiling Muslim women. The repercussion will even be graver than we ever expected. Already, the Nigeria elite are discriminating against Muslim women and Muslims generally. Muslims have the right to dress the way they like. Let the security agencies do their work; they know what to do. There is deep intelligence. They should nip conspiracy and plots to bomb in the bud.
“Where they (Boko Haram) are making the bombs, get them there. Those who are behind making the bombs, get them. Those who finance them, pick them. You don’t infringe on civil rights. Boko Haram or no Boko Haram, people should dress the way Allah has instructed them.”
In the same vein, the Executive Secretary of Muslim Ummah of South-West of Nigeria, Professor Dawud Noibi, told one of our correspondents that singling out hijab-wearing women was wrong.
He said, “It would be wrong for the army or the police to single out Muslim women who wear hijab for security search simply because the Boko Haram insurgents use a similar mode of dressing to carry out their suicide bomb attacks. It will be wrong to target only Muslim women. That will also mean that (all) Muslim women wearing the hijab are suspected suicide bomber. It will also be against the ethics of the police and other uniformed security agencies to use men to search women.”
Muslims spread across the country also spoke against the frisking of women in hijab. One of them, Azeez Olasupo, said such move was tantamount to denying the Muslim women their right to freedom.
Olasupo stated, ‘‘I condemn in totality the action of the police. Nigerian security agents are not that civilised to know how to handle Muslim women.”
Another Muslim, Adullahi Jika also said, “That some of the bombers wore hijab does not mean that every woman wearing hijab is a bomber. The government should find a solution to the insecurity and not disturb women wearing hijab.”
But the Christian Association of Nigeria, the umbrella body of Nigerian Christians insisted that hijab-wearing women be searched.
The General Secretary of CAN, Reverend Musa Asake, told SUNDAY PUNCH that Muslims must understand the new trend in the war against Boko Haram.
Asake said, “If some people are misusing it, then, there should be a restriction as to where to use it. If you are trying to compare it with Catholic nuns, have you ever caught a Catholic nun with a bomb? Has a Catholic nun ever bombed anybody anywhere? Hijab is not something new and has anybody ever challenged it? It is until this thing (suicide bombing) started happening. This is what we are saying; it is for our security.”