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Protecting religious rights at Rivers State University

According to the report, while the university’s authorities paid for the construction of churches for the different Christian sects on campus, they frequently demolished any structures that the Muslim students put down their own money to erect.

Despite several plea letters to many quarters, including one sent directly to Rivers State governor, Mr Chibuike Amaechi in 2008, the issue has remained unresolved, eleven years after the first makeshift tent meant for worship was pulled down.
In January last year, the demolition of another structure by the university caused a storm of protests from clerics and Islamic leaders in the country. These fell on deaf ears.
In their letter to Governor Amaechi, the Muslim students urged him, as the Visitor, to intervene and prevail on the management of the institution to stop this apparent suppression of minority religious rights.
“We have been observing our religious rights from a makeshift tent, susceptible to harsh climatic conditions”, and “is constantly under demolition threats from the school authorities as of the case of 19th March 2005 when the tent was demolished and our properties carted away”, the letter said.
As the Daily Trust feature suggested, the student’s appeal to the governor to come to their aid and ensure that a befitting mosque was constructed for them as is the case for their Christian counterparts, did not receive any positive response. The appeal went unheeded as the students were again ignored.
That apparently has been the established pattern since then. Frustrated for lack of a place to perform their religious obligations, the students would erect a structure to enable them do just that, only for the authorities to pull it down the next day, seizing Mosque and other worship appurtenances in the process.
A troubling aspect of this entirely avoidable spat is the fact that the university’s authorities failed to honour a court ruling in the matter.
In a case filed before the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt, ninety eight Muslim students of the university applied for the enforcement of their rights to worship. In the suit, FHC/PHC/CS150/2012, the students, along with other applicants, asked the court to declare that the failure and the refusal of the authorities of the University of Port Harcourt to allocate a portion of land to them for the construction of Mosque to be used as a prayer house amounted to a flagrant breach of their fundamental rights to freedom of thought and religion.
On February 19, 2013 by Justice Lamba Akanbe ruled in favour of the Muslim students, and ordered the university authorities to allocate a piece of land to the Muslim students for the purpose of construction of their Mosque.
But the university has not made any move to respect-or appeal-that judgement. Since it was delivered, the students are yet to secure a place of worship in the university.
It is amazing that an environment that every right thinking member of the society would consider to be an enlightened an egalitarian one, like the academic community, would be caught up in an issue like this that resembles intolerance of the views and practices of a religious minority in its midst.
The state government‘s astonishing silence over this matter since it was brought to the attention of the governor is disappointing.
There should be a change of heart on the part of the university’s management. There are at least six churches on the campus, all of which were built at the university’s expense. Providing a piece of land for its Muslim students, who in any case say they would raise the fund themselves to build on it a befitting place of worship, would advance interfaith relationship and harmony  in the academic community and beyond.


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