TWO female nurses of National Orthopaedic Hospital, Igbobi Lagos (NOHIL) have been sacked for wearing hijab while on duty.
The nurses Mrs Fasilat Olayinka Lawal and Miss Sekinat Sanusi, relied on the prescription of their regulatory body, the Nursing and Midwifery Council of Nigeria which says nurses should either wear nurse cap or shoulder lenght hijab as contained in a circular dated February 11, 2002 (reference number N&MCN/CMF/721/1/3).
The circular which was signed by P. N. Ndatsu, Secretary General/Registrar was said to have been sent to all Directors of Nursing and their deputies, chief Medical Directors, chief Executives, and Principals.
Vanguard gathered that Muslims nurses in other government and teaching hospitals in other states wear shoulder lenght hijab. Some of them include Kwara, Osun, Oyo in the South West and most states in the north of the country.
The victims in anticipation of the hospital management weilding the big stick, approached the court to obtain injunction against further actions by the management of the NOHIL, But this did not deter the hospital management as the two nurses were sacked a few days ago.
Sacking of two nurses
Narrating how it happened, Mrs Lawal said she accepted the offer based on the circular of Nursing and Midwifery Council of Nigeria prescribing a shoulder length hijab which she expected the hospital to comply with.
When Vanguard contacted the Medical Director, NOHIL, Dr. O.Odunibi on phone for comments, he declined saying “the matter is already in court and we have been told not to comment on the matter.”
A senior Muslim nurse in the hospital who crave anonimity told Vanguard that they were not wearing hijab merely because no circular was given to them to that effect. She maintained that the development was an eye-opener to other Muslim nurses in the hospital.
The Nursing and Midwifery Council of Nigeria is a parastatal of the Federal Government of Nigeria established by Act Cap. No143 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, and the Council is the only regulatory body for all cadres of Nurses and Midwives in Nigeria.
How it happened
“I assumed duty on February 25, 2014, at the commencement of the one month orientation, I was told to remove my hijab but I insisted presenting a copy of a circular from Nursing and Midwifery Council of Nigeria to the head of Nursing Department, Mrs Adebowale, hence I was allowed to do the orientation wearing hijab.”
“I completed the orientation on March 23, 2014 and resumed duty fully in uniform on Monday March 24, 2014 and I was told that I was not properly dressed as I was using hijab and not a nurse cap.
“On April 8, 2014′ I wrote a letter of protest to the Medical Director copying Minister for Health, Minister for State for Health and Board Chairman, National Orthopeadic Hospital Igbobi Lagos and Nursing and Midwifery Council of Nigeria.”
“On April 9, 2014, I was given a query dated April 8, 2014 to explain why disciplinary action should not be instituted against me for insubordination by not wearing Nurse uniform which I replied with a letter dated April 9, 2014 and since April 10, 2014 I have not been allowed to work or even sign the attendance register, we were told to stay outside the Director of Administrator’s office by the Chairman of National Association of Nigerian Nurses and Midwife (NANNM).
“On April 11, 2014, we were given two letters, one from the Director of Administration summoning us to a disciplinary committee on Monday April 14, 2014 and another from the Assistant Director of Nursing calling our attention to some so called facts.
On the April 14, 2014, we were at the panel/ disciplinary committee and was told to have a rethink of removing our hijab within 24hrs and get back to the committee the following day at 10:00am to avoid a disciplinary action taken against us.”
“We immediately sort a legal advice since we were determined not to remove our hijab and decided to proceed to court to stop any diciplinary actions taken against us and also seek redress on the violation on our fundamental human rights and be allowed to work and wear our hijabs without hindrance as permitted by Nursing and Midwifery Council of Nigeria, the only body permitted by law to regulate the Nursing Profession in Nigeria.
“We were further prevented from entering the ward and carrying out our official duty, we wrote another letter to the Medical Director in the afternoon of April 15, 2014 notifying him of the situation.”
“On April 17, 2014, a letter was written to the Medical Director by our Lawyer informing him of the implication of their actions of not allowing us to work and if the situation persists a contempt proceeding would be commenced against them. The situation continued that way without been allowed to work until April 23, 2014 when we were given a memo to appear before the Hospital Management Board by 10:00am.”
“We met with the board and was told that by not removing our hijab we have committed an act of insurbodination and disobedience which is punishable by the law of public service.
We were asked if we were ready to retrace our steps by removing our hijab and we responded that we can not remove our hijab and moreso the matter is in court and we cannot take any further step without informing our lawyer.
Later that day ( April 23, 2014) we were issued a letter of termination of service,” she narrated.
Muslim Lawyers react
The Muslim Lawyers Association of Nigeria, MULAN, has described the termination of employment of the two muslim nurses as ‘wrongful dismissal’.
The Chairman of the association, Barrister Musadiq Adunni Sanni said the nurses have right to complain and also have the right to institute legal action if their fundamental human rights were infringed upon.
“It is wrongful dismissal. What I think they should have done is to wait on the court before taking a decision.”
Sanni continued: “this is a labour matter and if the institution allows it, then the court will have to decide who is wrong.”
“I also think they don’t have respect for the rule of law and we are not happy that a Federal Institution like that would go that way.”
On similar case of hijab involving a student who was punished because she wore hijad while in school, Barrister Sanni stated that although there is a proposal for out of court settlement, but maintained that the condition was not in favourable to the Muslims.
He said: “Just last Tuesday, the state maintained that it only limited the use of hijab to the Mosque on Fridays during Jumat and also during Zhur and Asr prayers, but we are not happy with that; our interest is total use of hijab. We are still on it and we are going to argue our case insha-Allah,” he stressed.
MUPAC cries foul
The Muslim Public Affairs Centre (MPAC) also expressed deep concern over the escalation of the case, saying the two nurses are yet another victims of discrimination. In a statement sent to Vanguard’s Facing the Kaaba, the group said the Muslim nurses could have been subjected to cruel and degrading treatments simply because of their choice to wear the hijab at work.
“By its latest action, NOHIL and the hospital management have continued to show aggression against the victims and unrestrained and unaccountable hostility towards the Islamic faith. The Nursing and Midwifery Council of Nigeria (NMCN) prescribes a standard uniform for all nurses in Nigeria and in its circular of February, 11,2002 (reference number N&MCN/CMF/721/1/3), it unambiguously specifies that “female nurses” may “wear either a Nurse cap or a shoulder length hyjab”.
“The sisters will continue to demand justice, and the resolve of the Muslim community to stand by them will only strengthened them against this latest act of aggression.”
“Tyranny of employers, public and private, highlights the need for our lawmakers to do the right things and make laws that will criminalise discrimination on the basis of religions.”
MPAC urged all Islamic organizations, mosques, Imams, human right groups and individuals who cherish and value the collective aspiration to lend their prayers and support to these Muslim nurses.