The Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, has reacted to claims that female Muslims in hijab are denied registration in Oyo and other South-west states.
Mutiu Agboke, the Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) in Oyo State, said no female Muslim in hijab or purdah was denied registration since the commencement of the Continuous Voter Registration (CVR) in the state.
Mr Agboke, in a statement issued in Ibadan on Friday, urged Nigerians to discountenance the insinuation linking the exercise with religious or political discrimination.
Earlier, the Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) had alleged that 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 adhoc staff of INEC who have been disallowing them from registering as voters.
The organisation in a press statement on Wednesday alleged that women in hijab are being disenfranchised at the voters registration centres.
According to the leader of the organisation, Ishaq Akintola, a professor, “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.”
Mr Akintola also alleged that the INEC ad hoc staff involved in the practice claim that they are following instructions from their head office. “This is an old trick and a common line of argument,” he argued, adding that the issues smacks of 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),” he alleged. “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.”
While tracing the development to the 2003 elections, MURIC said it 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.”
OYO REC disagrees
But Mr Agboke in his statement Friday disagreed with the views expressed by MURIC and other concerned religious and political organisations with similar grievances.
“The ongoing CVR has no religious sentiment or political colouration but simply an electoral activity designed for Nigerians of voting age,” he said.
”Anyone with a genuine complaint should endeavour to report to the state office of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) instead of peddling rumour,’’ he said.
He further reiterated the commitment of the commission to continuously and positively engage religious bodies, political parties and other stakeholders in all the electoral activities leading up to the general elections in 2019.
NAN reports that Mr Agboke reminded all eligible Nigerians who had yet to register for the Permanent Voter Cards (PVCs) to do so. He added that replacement of defaced or lost voter card and transfer of voting right from one location to another would be attended to during the exercise.
Mr Agboke, however, said that the August 31 suspension of the CVR would not affect the collection of PVCs.
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