Minister of Religious Security

This is one of such articles that I write while hoping that my mind would go blank and stop me from writing. This is because I have observed the emotions involved whenever religion is on the table. Before I proceed, let me clearly state that I am neither Islamophobic nor disrespectful. I’m just writing in the interest of national religious security.

Let me begin with MTN, an organisation with a blend of villainy and perceived indispensability. As the telecoms market leader, Nigerians seem unable to do without MTN. while ordinary Nigerians tried to process the hefty fine slammed on the telecoms giant, MTN began sending text messages to some of its subscribers, asking them to re-re-re-register their SIM cards. Asking people to repeat a registration exercise that they likely have done repeatedly is very nice of MTN. My interest today isn’t these ones who sometimes have to queue under the scorching sun. Someone else will talk about them. Instead, my focus is on a subset of persons whose discomfort was enough to warrant a ministerial warning.

The Honourable Minister of Communications, Barr Adebayo Shittu, recently released a statement, part of which reads:

“The minister’s office has been inundated with several complaints from Nigerians, particularly women in veil, the way they were being treated, sometimes humiliated by the workers of telecommunications’ companies nationwide … women in purdah dresses were requested to remove their veils in public, despite the request by such women that a place should be provided out of public glare for only female officials to attend to them, adding that all entreaties failed…”

This appears as a government official defending the rights of Nigerians. In addition, the minister advised that Nigerians be treated with respect, and consideration be given to gender and religious dispositions. Although MTN was not explicitly mentioned, it is obvious that they are the intended recipients of this reprimand. Reading Mr. Shittu’s warning, there are two points I feel he failed to consider.

Number one on my list is security, which I think is the reason for all the registration stresses being placed on Nigerians. The security agencies have repeatedly said a complete biometric database of phone subscribers is necessary to fight the forces of evil. If this is the case, then I wonder why anyone is even allowed to wear full-face veils in public. I know that Minister Shittu is neither the national security adviser, nor the defence minister. However, as the communications minister, he can just issue a registration waiver for women in full veils. There should be a law somewhere that he can quote for backup. After all, he is a lawyer.

The registration of fully veiled women appears counterintuitive. Since their faces are never seen in public, why bother to have a picture of their faces? Even if a security camera were to capture a fully veiled woman on the streets, how can any security algorithm link that image to any person’s data? I think having their pictures is a waste of storage space. The government cannot eat its cake and still have it. It’s either full veils are banned in the interest of national security, or women with full veils are excluded from any procedure focused on security. Since non-related males are not allowed to see the face of a fully veiled Muslim woman, if any fully veiled person were to commit a crime, I expect Nigeria’s predominantly male security forces to hold their brakes and wait for female officers to spearhead any operation that concerns fully veiled women. Minister Shittu may have some advice for the security agencies.

Second on my list is the issue of logistics. I concede that MTN can make special arrangements in its main offices in each state capital. It can arrange for a special room or a secure booth manned by a female staff. In the safety of such an enclosure, fully veiled women can briefly uncover their faces for a quick wink at the registration camera, and then quickly repackage their faces lest any male dare see their beauty. However, the registration exercise is being carried out in hundreds of locations, some in open streets and remote communities.

Besides issuing a warning, does Minister Shittu have any advice for MTN on how to handle the logistical nightmare and increased operational cost of providing a place “out of public glare for only female officials to attend to them”? Since fully veiled women are present all over the North and in several parts of the West, hundreds of specially equipped registration points may be needed.

One “good” potential result of the minister’s challenge may be an increase in the number of females contracted for the registration exercise. This will help reduce gender imbalance among the employees handling the registration exercise. Apart from this “benefit”, my inside-the-box thinking has not shown any added benefit.

The Honourable Minister of Communications appears ready to defend religious liberties vigorously. In fact, his performance at the Senate Ministerial Screening assures all that with him as a bulwark, religion is safe. “Religious leaders should be paid officers. They should be paid by the government. Religion must be made compulsory in our institutions”. This statement shows Minister Shittu’s mind, and aptly concludes this article.

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