The West African Health Examination Board (WAHEB) which was established in 1925 has scheduled its next examination for Friday 3rd November, 2017. WAHEB is the regulatory body in charge of Schools of Health Technology and Hygiene in Nigeria. The body organises qualifying exams for schools of health technology in the country. Its time-table shows that one of its papers will start 12-30 pm and end by 3 pm on 3rd November, 2017.
The Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) strongly condemns WAHEB’s examination time table because it clashes with the period of Muslim Friday prayer (Jum’ah). It is illegal, unlawful and unconstitutional. It is equally provocative, callous and capable of causing the breakdown of law and order.
Section 38 (i) & (ii) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria
provides: “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’’
There is no gainsaying the fact that WAHEB’s time table has violated both the letter and spirit of the above constitutional provision by scheduling a paper for 12 pm to 3 pm on Friday, 3rd November, thereby preventing Muslim candidates from the ‘practice and observance’ of Jum’ah prayer. This act constitutes a serious threat to peace, law and order.
The tradition of the board had been to either schedule only one paper on Fridays or schedule two papers from 9 am – 11:30 am and from 2:30 pm to 5 pm so as to allow Muslims to attend Friday prayer between 1:00 pm and 2:30 pm. This had been the practice of the immediate past registrar, Mr. E. B. Asoto. But the current registrar, Mrs. Gladys Nchelem Ihunda has for the past three years allegedly re-scheduled the body’s examinations between 12.30 pm and 3 pm on Fridays thereby targeting Muslim candidates for religious persecution, spiritual deprivation and psychological trauma.
Section 42 of 1999 Constitution of Nigeria also provides:
(1) A citizen of Nigeria of a particular community, ethnic group, place of origin, sex, religion or political opinion shall not, by reason only that he is such a person:-
(a) 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 (or its agencies-addition ours), to disabilities or restrictions to which citizens of Nigeria of other communities, ethnic groups, places of origin, sex, religion or political opinions are not made subject.
In the same vein, Section 13 of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act (1991) which provides, “a public officer shall not do or direct to be done, in abuse of his office, any act prejudicial to the rights of any person knowing that such act is unlawful or contrary to any government policy’’
MURIC, therefore, calls on the Minister of Education to, among other things, order the immediate review of WAHEB’s time table, investigate the circumstances surrounding the manipulation of the board’s time table in such a way that it runs counter to the provisions of the law and puts the nation to peril and find out the extent of the responsibility and culpability of Mrs. Gladys Nchelem Ihunda in this matter taking cognizance of Section 13 of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act (1991).
Peace will continue to elude Nigeria until those who ignite conflagrations are held accountable. Therefore no attempt should be made by the Ministry of Education to sweep this matter under the carpet. Nigerian examination bodies are known for targeting Muslim candidates for persecution.
For example, the West African Examinations Council (WAEC) was embroiled in a similar religious oppression scandal when it scheduled one of its examinations to take place during Jum’ah period about a year ago while a WAEC official allegedly removed the hijab of a female Muslim candidate (Miss Khadijat Anisere). We demanded apology but WAEC refused to apologise to date.
Let it be on record, therefore, that Nigerian examination bodies are deliberately provoking Muslim candidates. But in general, what it means is that Christians in positions of authority use such positions to prevent Muslims from enjoying their Allah-given fundamental human rights. The patience and maturity being exercised by Muslims should not be mistaken for cowardice. On the contrary, examination bodies and governments should note that everything has a limit. Those who take actions capable of provoking Muslims must be held responsible for the consequences of any future breakdown of law and order.
That is why it is necessary for the Minister of Education to act with dispatch on this issue. The advent of social media has made matters like this highly sensitive and volatile as this story about WAHEB has gone viral among Muslims throughout the country. Others will be deterred from wicked, petty and fanatical obsession if a scapegoat can be made of the current registrar, Mrs. Gladys Nchelem Ihunda. Nigeria does not need officials who cannot rise above primordial sentiments. We must learn to do the right things at the right times.
MURIC reminds Nigerians of the anatomy of terrorism and religious violence. Those who blame Muslims for religious violence have one or two lessons to learn here. It is repeated persecution like the one being suffered by Nigerian Muslims which often leads to violent reactions and terrorist acts. Violence and terrorism are mere smoke and there can never be fire without smoke. However, the real fire which causes the smoke called terrorism is persecution and denial. The Aristotelian theory of causality posits that actions beget reactions. All along, Nigerians have been addressing the symptom, leaving the real disease to spread like wild fire.
Religious crisis is rampant in Nigeria because ours is a society where Muslims are frequently forced to make a choice between their career and their religion. Unfortunately the Federal Government (FG) ignores the cries of Muslim victims. Intimidation of Muslims by their non-Muslim bosses is the order of the day. Here are the five evils Chamberlain spoke about: brute force, bad faith, injustice, oppression and persecution. MURIC says enough is enough. Set the minaret free. Let the Muslims go.
This ugly development serves as a good example for the need for FG to declare Friday a work-free day. Christians are not suffering the way Muslims are suffering in this country. Can WAHEB or any other examination body schedule any of its examinations on a Sunday? Has any Christian been prevented from going to church on Sunday the way Muslims are being prevented from going to the mosque on Friday? It is not possible because Sunday is a work-free day. The solution therefore is in the hands of FG. No Christian boss will be able to persecute Muslims on Fridays once it is declared work-free. FG must therefore do the needful. Muslims are enslaved in present-day Nigeria. Give us Friday. Break the shackle of repression around Muslims’ wrists and ankles. The proposed restructuring exercise must address this once and for all.
We warn against the scheduling of meetings, political rallies, conventions, elections, programmes and activities on Fridays, at least until FG declares Friday free. In the education sector in particular, we advise schools, colleges and institutions of higher learning to desist from holding lectures, tests, examinations, debates, seminars, workshops and symposia between 12 noon and 3 pm on Friday. It has been discovered that such meetings are deliberately fixed for Fridays either to prevent Muslims from attending Jum’ah or to deny Muslims the right of participating in crucial issues while vital decisions are taken in their absence if they leave for the mosque.
Our members in all states of the federation have been instructed to closely monitor those who flout these constitutional provisions and report same to us. While we remain faithful to our principle of non-violence, we warn that justice is the soul of peace. Those who deny one can never have the other.
As we round up, we implore Nigerian Muslims to remain calm and law-abiding as we hope that the Minister of Education will do the needful before the November 3 examination is taken. Even after that date, Muslims should desist from taking the law into their hands. MURIC has the capacity to use the instrumentality of the law to stop illegal, unlawful and unconstitutional examinations and also take good care of the irresponsible and unpatriotic officials behind them, using the same legal channel.
Professor Ishaq Akintola,
Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC)