Eleven nurses dismissed from their jobs in Bauchi State, Nigeria for refusing to exchange their nurse’s uniform for the Islamic dress of trousers and veil, have been reinstated by the federal government, sources say.
The government’s decision to reinstate the nurses brings to an end a dispute that began in 2002, when the new medical director of the Federal Medical Center in Azare, Bauchi, issued a directive ordering all nurses to wear Islamic dress. Several Christian nurses objected on religious grounds, but the Medical Center responded by indefinitely suspending al of the nurses, a move that intimidated many of them into returning to work. However, the eleven continued their protest and were dismissed on April 24, 2002.
Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) reported that following their dismissals, the nurses along with their families suffered hardship during their lengthy period of unemployment. To pressurize them further, the Bauchi State Government had also withdrew contracts and terminated the employment of their spouses. As a result, many were forced to withdraw their children from boarding schools.
Supported by groups such as the Nursing and Midwifery Council of Nigeria, the Bauchi Chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), and the local Christian NGO, the Macedonia Initiative International (MII), the nurses appealed unsuccessfully to the Medical Center and later to the Federal High Court in Jos, Plateau State which dismissed their appeal on July 26.
In 2003, CSW President, Caroline Cox, visited Bauchi in a private capacity at the invitation of the MII to highlight the continuing plight of the nurses. On receiving news of the reinstatements, Cox said, “This is a very important step for the affirmation of religious freedom and tolerance and the right to professional practice according to one’s fundamental professional principles.”
For the nurses, the reinstatements came as a relief following the long period of hardships they and their families had endured.
Advocacy Director of CSW, Tina Lambert commented, “The brave stand of these nurses against the imposition of Islamic dress codes should serve as an inspiration to other Christians in Shariah states that experience discrimination and harassment. CSW will continue to support Christians in Nigeria who suffer as a result of the unconstitutional imposition of Islamic codes.”
The Federal Medical Center in Azare is one of 12 Nigerian states that have enacted the Shariah penal code, of the 36 in the nation. Although its proponents insist that Shariah is applicable to Muslims only, non-Muslims in Shariah states reportedly suffer discrimination and are often compelled to comply with Shariah restrictions.
Since 1991, Bauchi’s Christian population has regularly suffered armed violence. In one episode, on June 18, 2001, local Jihadists backed up by militants from the neighboring republics of Chad and Niger, attacked and destroyed a Bible school in Tafawa Balewa. The attack was then followed by regular raids and attacks which left over 200 Christians dead and tens of thousand dollars worth of property destroyed.
More recently, following the deaths of up to 100 Muslims in Yelwa, Plateau State, letters were circulated ordering Christians to leave Bauchi by May 14 or face the consequences. However, this time the state government took precautionary measures by sending members of the security forces to protect Christian areas.
Since 1999, religious violence has claimed some 10,000 lives in Nigeria.