Nigeria’s Anti-Hijab Crusade Moves to Saudi Arabia

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When lawyers – those who pride themselves as custodians of our laws- who produce, certificate and certify our lawyers suddenly turned themselves into brazen law breakers in the case of Firdaus Amasa AbdulSalam in the Nigeria Law School, Nigeria thought the worst has happened; but the recent war against Hijab, transfered to the land of Tawheed (Saudi Arabia) by Nigerians against Nigerians calls for serious concern.

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If the allegation of gross inefficiency recently exposed by the Sahara Reporters in the narration of A. S. M. Jimoh, in an article headlined: The Nigeria Consulate, Saudi Arabia: A Centre Of Ridiculousness, is not enough to make one shudder, the report of gross human rights violation by the same Consulate in should give any sane mind sleepless nights.

According to Jimoh, “The Nigeria consulate located in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, has descended from the flimsy to the absurd in its excuses for its incompetence, lethargy, inefficiency and corruption. Besides its incapability to render any service beyond providing passports, it appears now it can no longer deliver even this essential service to Nigerian citizens living in the Kingdom. Simply put, the consulate has outlived its usefulness. A passport that should be acquired in less than thirty minutes can now take more than six month or ages at the consulate.

“Since the beginning of the year, the consulate has degenerated in its flip-floppy ability to produce passports to Nigerians. For months, it has been a load of excuses for its failure to provide this basic service to Nigerians resident in Saudi Arabia. Annoyingly, some of these excuses are outright stupidity.

“Six months ago, it said the production machine had broken down and it was taken to Nigeria for repair. Four months ago, it was the printer, which was also taken to Nigeria for fixing. Then in April, it was the finger print capturing machine they purported was faulty and it was taken to Nigeria for repair. At one time, the printer hung probably for being switched on for too long, yet they were waiting for somebody from Nigeria to tell them to switch it off and restart it again! About a month ago, it was the laminating sheet for the data page that they were waiting for from Nigeria. Again, since the last two weeks, the passport section, I am not sure if they have any other department there anyway, has been claiming that they want to update the system and the compact disk (CD) for this task is also being awaited from Nigeria! How ridiculous can these people be?

“Many families travelled thousands of kilometers to this haven of incompetence and corruption only to be welcome with this kind of outlandish, if not, gross inanities. How in a twenty-first century that an operator of computer-based system does not know that when a computer system hangs, the solution ninety-nine percent of the time is to reboot the system; switching it off and switching on again. Why would a CD to update a machine running in Saudi be kept in Nigeria? Does the CD also contain the intelligence data of President Buhari and Aso Rock that it sounds too risky to have it kept in Jeddah? And how many weeks it would take to move a CD from Nigeria to Saudi Arabia? Is the courier riding on a camel? It is either that the consulate has run out of excuse and the people asked to manufacture one are plainly silly, or they think all Nigerians in the Kingdom are dimwits. This is just a tip of the iceberg of the ineptness called consulate, as more thoughtless events and information have been dished out by the consulate, ” Jimoh said.

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As if that was not enough, as Nigerian were struggling to cope with the pains of the consulate ineptitude, salt is being rubbed to injury with the shameless but needless abuse of rights in the 21st century. Irrespective of your religious affiliations or sentiments, you will shed tears for Nigeria after reading this write-up from the Madina region, whose author chose to remain anonymous for obvious reasons.

It narration was entitled: My Experience at the Nigerian Consulate, Jeddah on 15th January, 2018:

I arrived at the consulate a few minutes before 10.00 a.m. on the above-mentioned date with the aim of renewing my passport. The security guard at the gate did not speak English, so another consulate staff who was present attended to me. After asking what my business in the consulate was, he informed me that I had to unveil my face before I could be allowed entry into the premises.

I immediately protested – as this was at least the third time I was visiting the consulate and had never been asked to do this – but he showed me a notice pasted on the wall that all women were expected to unveil their faces before entry into, and all through their stay in, the premises. I explained to him that I could not do this, but was willing to be identified at the gate to fulfil any security requirements that may arise. He, the un-named consulate staff, however told me that this was not about identification. When I asked what it was about, he said that this was not his job, and he was only trying to help, that I should discuss with the security men, and he left.
Thereafter the remaining men, at least three of them, started telling me that I had to either unveil my face and go in or leave the premises. I asked them to at least wait until my husband – who was still outside settling the taxi fare – arrived, and they relented.

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When my husband came, I narrated what happened to him and he asked to see a senior consulate staff to explain my situation to him. According to him, the man he saw confirmed that this was a new rule of the consulate and that I had to comply or wait for the Consul General. As he returned to inform me of the result of this meeting, the security men, again, began to ask us to leave the premises. So, we left the interior of the security post to wait outside for the arrival of the C.G.

The C.G. arrived some time later and, on seeing us outside the consulate, asked why we were there. The security men told him that I had refused to remove my face veil, and he shook his head vehemently and ordered that I be denied entry. My husband went to talk to him, but he refused to grant him an audience. He – from a distance – told my husband that I HAD TO COMPLY AND UNVEIL MY FACE THROUGH OUT MY VISIT as was stated by the notice. And when my husband asked to be allowed to explain, and possibly negotiate my willingness to undergo identity checks for security purposes – as I’m used to doing in airports and other security sensitive facilities worldwide – he said he was not interested in listening to anything my husband had to say and asked him to vacate the premises.

Once he returned to me and was giving me the report of this aborted meeting, the security men once again came to us and ordered us to leave the vicinity of the consulate. They said Oga said we had to go away from there. At this point, both my husband and I told them that we would not move from there. We were law-abiding Nigerians who lived and worked in Saudi Arabia peacefully for over seven years now, and we had a legitimate business at the consulate which we have, so far, been unable to transact. They threatened us with police and bodily removal, but left us alone when we refused to leave.

Over the next six hours, different members of staff came to talk to us in a guise of goodwill and Muslim brotherhood. They had a range of reasoning and arguments;-This veiling of face is not in the Qur’an – It is not compulsory – Are you saying that all the other women who have exposed their faces are going to hell?-We are all Muslims here, no one is trying to victimse you -Allaah has seen your intention. Just do what is asked and go inside – This is the rule of this place, obey .- THIS PLACE IS UNDER THE NIGERIAN JURISDICTION, YOU MUST OBEY NIGERIAN LAW. – They can bring diplomatic police to arrest you.

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All these were the things said directly to us, disregarding the taunts and snide comments made mostly by the security men and others who came to spend time with them at the security post, but when they saw that I would not unveil myself unrestrictedly, they all left eventually. However, at least two of these well-meaning consulate staff said a variation of, ‘This man – meaning the C.G. – will not budge on this matter.’ At least one swore by Allaah to that effect. At about 2p.m., I asked to speak to the CG personally, but he sent the message that I could unveil my face then come in to see him.

After that, the bulky security man in all-green uniform came to me in an intimidating stance and asked me to move from where I was at the entrance of the consulate. As my husband had left by then to bring our children – who had spent over three hours waiting with us in the sun – to the hotel, I was afraid for my safety as a woman alone and did what he asked. He told me to sit at the edge of the kiosk painted green and white, off to one side and away from the entrance or the security cameras.

Notably, only one member of staff – at about 3.30p.m. – offered to intercede on our behalf with the C.G. But seeing as the C.G. drove off a few minutes after 4p.m., and we did not see the gentleman again till we left at 4. 30p.m, I guess his mission was unsuccessful.

I have tried – all through this narration – to give a factual recollection of something that was, in truth, a harrowing and humiliating experience for me and my family. To stand outside in the Saudi sun for over seven hours – they refused to even let me in to pray salaah – for something as arbitrary as ‘this is the rule here’ without even attempting to listen to my case, or assist me in finding an acceptable solution or middle ground…..

“And Allaah is Witness over all that we do.”

Conclusion

If all these are happening under the watch a President Muhammadu Buhari, isn’t it time that the government come alive to its responsibilities and ensure its citizens, whether home or abroad are treated with expected dignity and respect.

By Yinka Salaam, Lagos

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