Weaponization of Religion and Religious Bigotry by Nigerian Media: My Personal Experience with the Guardian Newspaper


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On July 11, 2022, I was contacted via WhatsApp chat by one “Ameh Ochojila from the Guardian”. He had gotten my contact information from one of my colleagues in the Faculty of law, University of Ilorin, Ilorin. His request was for my ‘opinion on the Supreme Court judgement on the use of hijab in school and the reactions that greeted it from some quarters.’ He also wanted me to ‘please look at from a perspective of Nigeria being secular state.’ I asked what form my opinion should be expressed in and he said, ‘analysis of about 500 words’ and that he wanted it ‘on Friday (15 July 2022) with your picture.’ Even though I was slightly taken aback by the almost terse and seemingly aloof nature of his request as though I should feel privileged for the media attention, an inclination to community service in me took over and I set to work immediately.

The next day, 12 July 2022, I received another chat from Mr Ochojila that the date of publication had changed to two days earlier than the agreed date and that I should ‘endeavour to turn it in tomorrow (13 July 2022) with your picture.’ Before 10am on 13 July 2022, I sent him my analysis and my picture with the following covering note ‘More than 500 words, but that’s the least I could get it to. Pls cut out what you feel unnecessary, but would like to see any edited version pls.’ I said this because in my analysis which is entitled ‘The Supreme Court, the Hijab Decision and the Secular State Theory’, I had made references to good practices in other multicultural contexts such as the United States on the use of hijab in public places that I thought might be edited for space. But the only response from Mr Ochojila was simply ‘thanks, very resourceful. Your department pls?’ to which question I replied, ‘Islamic Law’.

Around late afternoon on 14 July 2022, the supposed date of publication, I asked Mr Ochojila when the publication would occur, and his response was ‘Tuesday (19 July 2022). Will send the link to you’ I found this response surprising but withheld my comments. I began to think that something was off when a day shy of the expected publication date, 18 July 2022, Mr Ochojila got across to me with a request to talk on the water resource bill before the National Assembly. I declined that I had no expertise in the area and gave him the contact of another colleague who is a specialist in the area. Expectedly, the next day I got a message from Mr Ochojila that they couldn’t publish my analysis due to space and that he would let me know when it is done. At this point, I decided to keep track of what would eventually happen to my article.

After close to two weeks of silence, I sent Mr Ochojila a chat on 30 July 2022. His response was that the dates for law page are Tuesdays, and he will see whether it will be possible the next coming Tuesday. At this point, I had concluded that my opinion must not have gone down well with the editorial position on the matter and would not be published. All I said to Mr Ochojila was ‘okay then’.

 

The Supreme Court, the Hijab Decision and the Secular State Theory

 

Thus, it was a rude shock to me on Monday 02 August 2022 when I read mutilated, distorted and deliberately manipulated parts of my article and my name that were disingenuously orchestrated by Mr Ochojila to rubber stamp his bigoted and erroneous review of opinions on the Supreme Court decision on the use of hijab. Mr Ochojila sent me the link to an article he published in the Guardian entitled ‘Why Supreme Court’s Judgement on Hijab Heightens Religious Fault Lines.’ contrary to the discussions that my write up will be published as a feature article.

In that article, he describes me in an almost insulting manner as a ‘Sharia expert’ an appellation I have never used for myself and quoted me as ‘admitting’ that the decision of the Supreme Court protects only a particular religion and could pose a threat to the unity of Nigeria because it is insensitive and could promote religious bigotry. I know that some unscrupulous, base and unprofessional media personnel would employ cheap sensationalism and character assassinations to get ahead but I was still staggered that Mr Ochojila would sink so low as to deliberately misrepresent the contents of an article in print though unpublished. The fact of its non-publication in law does not detract from it being the best empirical evidence of its contents and the opinion expressed therein. I immediately expressed heartfelt thanks to the Almighty God that my opinion had not been expressed orally to Mr Ochojila.

I immediately demanded a retraction of the article by Mr Ochojila and a publication within 24 hours of my position on the matter under my name with a disclaimer containing unreserved apologies for the damage to my person and professional reputation by the Monday 02 August 2022 publication of Mr Ochojila. As this request was not honoured and in fact ignored, the present post by me represent the first step I am taking in this matter in my own little way to wrestle Nigeria from the clutches of bigots, unpatriotic, narrowminded and backwardly opinionated individuals marauding as professionals, particularly of the media, that always seek to weaponize or instrumentalize matters connected to religion for faulty and retarded personal sentiments and stance.

Dr. Azizat Omotoyosi Amoloye-Adebayo, Senior Lecturer, Department of Islamic Law, Faculty of Law, University of Ilorin, Nigeria. Contact: azizatamoloye@unilorin.edu.ng

 

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