Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) leaders have been urged to ban the wearing of full-face veils by Muslim women as part of an effort to limit the growing number of Boko Haram female suicide bombings.
ECOWAS President Kadre Desire Ouedraogo told reporters at the close of a two-day summit in Abuja that countries should enforce the ban "in line with their national realities."
The move would forbid dress that prevents security personnel from being able to identify women.
Boko Haram jihadists have since July been using young women and girls as suicide bombers by hiding explosives in their loose-fitting clothes.
Congo Republic, Senegal and Cameroon have all banned the wearing of full-face veils in public.
Osman Mohammed is professor of political science at Kaduna State University in Nigeria, says while the ban may be met with resistance, particularly from conservative Muslim groups, at the same time, the right to exercise one’s religion must go hand in hand with security concerns for the public.
“It will have some social, political dimensions. Socially and culturally and religiously, predominantly Muslims wear the veil as a compulsory. So I think that [the ban] would have little bit of resistance with the conservatives such as the ones we witnessed in Kaduna that had clash with authorities. They will never accept such order. So you will have stiff resistance on one side, and also you will have some acceptance on the other side,” he said.
Mohammed said the ban has worked in Cameroon and Chad, it can also work in other West African countries if the governments of those countries educate their people about the ban.
“Except of course, public enlightenment would have to come in there, both international and domestic media have to help in public enlightenment as to why that has to happen and for how long. It has to also happen in a way that it would be a temporary measure. How temporary, I don’t know and it might not be certain,” Mohammed said.
To those who say the ban would infringe on the religious rights of the women wearing them, Mohammed said in the wake of Boko Haram’s deadly violence, national security should outweigh personal religious freedom.
“I believe that the freedom to exercise your religion should be done with total concern about security as well. I think where there is no security, religious practices will not take place as well,” Mohammed said.