Hijab Bill And The Question Of Religious Discrimination

AREWA AGENDA – The lingering controversy over a bill titled Religious Discrimination (Prohibition, Prevention, etc.) Bill 2021 is another sensitive matter before the 9th House of Assembly that should be handled with caution.

The member representing Bida/Gbako/Katcha Federal Constituency in Niger State, Musa Saidu Abdullahi sponsored the Religious Discrimination (Prohibition and Prevention) Bill 2021, which has been passed for first and second readings.
Having been matched with stiff resistance, particularly from the Christian community, Abdullahi visited the Christian Association of Nigeria to clarify the issue around the bill.

He said, “I see a problem that has become a big challenge and we have shied away from it over the years. It is the issue of religious discrimination. So, we came up with a proposal to address religious discrimination in this country.”

Section 9(2) of the bill specifically stated that “It shall be unlawful for any qualifying or professional body or authority to discriminate a person on the ground of the person’s religious belief or activity or manifestation of the person’s religious belief.

(a) by refusing or delaying or failing to confer, renew, extend or vary the authorisation or qualification or license;

(b) in the terms or conditions on which the authority or body is prepared to confer, renew, extend or vary the authorization or qualification or license;
(c) by revoking, varying or withholding, or withdrawing the authorization or qualification or license.

The qualifying or professional bodies or authority to which section 9 of this Bill apply include any qualifying or professional body or authority that is empowered to confer, renew, extend, revoke, vary or withdraw authorization or qualification or license that is needed for, or facilitates the practice of a profession, the carrying on of a trade or the engaging in of an occupation.

Discrimination relating to qualifying/Professional Bodies.

While Abdullahi is right in a sense, as some eligible Nigerians may lose the opportunity to enrol in certain state engagements due to their faith-based belief, I fear that selective implementation of the law, if passed, may create even bigger controversy in now or in the future.

For instance, the bill did not solely mention the use of Hijab, but in part C captured other areas thus “It shall be unlawful for an employer to discriminate against a person on the ground of the person’s religious belief or activity or on the ground of the other person’s manifestation of religious belief such as using or wearing religious emblem, religious head cover such as hijab, decent and modest religious wear, etc.”

The above clause may open a leeway for even infamous faith-based organisations to seek unnecessary attention. Also, Nigerians whose faith-based belief negates the use of trousers can hide under the decent and modest religious wear to contest the code of conduct and dressing of even regimented services.

By ADEBIYI ADEDAPO

Arewa Agenda is a publication of young writers and journalists from Northern Nigeria geared towards peaceful coexistence and national development through positive narratives.

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