By Yinka Salaam
The recent disobedience of the Council of Legal Education to the constitutional provision and flagrant violation of fundamental human rights of students by supposedly ‘learned’ men has indeed generated a lot of furore among Nigerians.
Firdaus Amasa AbdulSalam, a product of the Faculty of Law from the University of Ilorin who finished with Second Class Upper (2.1) was denied of her certificate despite her brilliant performance at the Nigerian Law School; not because of any offence but for daring to put on a headscarf (smallest hijab), or succinctly put, for her refusal to obey illegal command to remove her hijab.
Reports have it that rights of Muslim ladies who were to be officially called to Bar at the International Conference Center last Wednesday were brazenly violated as they were all respectively asked to remove the Hijabs before the ceremonies were to begin prior to entering the hall. This request was complied with by all the Muslim ladies present except Firdaus who refused to remove hers. But despite entreaties made to the authorities, she was denied entry into the hall by the Body of Benchers – hence she missed being Called to Bar.
Firdaus resisted all pleadings to convince her to remove her hijab as she reiterated that even at gun point (as a trained lawyer), she would neither compromise her right in the face of tyranny nor remove her Hijab merely because those who are supposed to be respecters and defenders of the laws have decided to break them!
Accordingly, some Sisters who apparently were allowed into the hall had to remove the Hijab before entering but quickly brought out extra ones from their bags and used them afterwards. But then, a particular Sister who did this later had her certificate seized… and was asked to remove the Hijab again to recollect it.
Reactions in torrents
The Nigeria Association of Muslim Law Students was the first to condemn the infraction of the law, describing it as unconstitutional, unjust and unfortunate act of prejudce.
NAMLAS insisted that while It is not a fundamental right to wear the wig, it is to wear the Hijab.
In a release, the president of the association, Eyinnade Habeeb while felicitating with the graduands expressed deep regret for the unfortunate incident.
“Meanwhile, my felicitation is marred with deep disappointment when call to bar is on a collision course with the Fundamental Human Rights on the use of hijab. What a dilemma! Despite the unrelenting efforts from concerned Muslims at different quarters as regards this issue, our Sisters at the Law Dinner are still facing challenges of removing this Allah-given right. Carolyn Walker-Diallo, the first Muslim judge in the united States was sworn in with her head covered. Heaven did not fall and America did not turn Saudi Arabia.
“The Dictum of Justice, Jide Falola of the Osun State High Court and the rulling in Asiya Kareem V. Lagos State Government are relevant precedents in this regard. If our Sisters are not allowed to enforce their rights, protected under both local and international statutes, then there is fire on the mountain.
Eyinnade noted that governmental institutions at different levels in Nigeria have been unapologetic and belligerent about the right to use Hijab in recent times but sees the latest incident at the law dinner as, not only provocative but an arrant display of needless arrogance that merely poured salt on open wounds.
“Where do we go from here? How can we be talking about peace where there is no justice? Where is the principles of democracy, liberty and the Rule of Law? Where are the promises made by the drafters of our sacred constitution? How do we avert this bias when justice has become a scarce commodity?,” he queried.
He therefore called on the National Assembly, the Judicial Service Commission, the Nigerian Bar Association, Nigerian Law School and other concerned agencies at all levels, including Muslim organisations and parents to declare a state of emergency on this bias and put a stop to the usual humiliation of Muslim Sisters at the Call to Bar/Law Dinner celebration.
Hijab Right Advocacy Initiative was next. In a release tagged: “Council of Legal Education in Breach Again” and signed by its spokesperson, Barrister Ruqoyyah Saad Dindi expressed deep concern for the pain inflicted on Firdaus for choosing to exercise her constitutional right.
The group condemned what it tagged, ‘an oppressive conduct and flagrant disregard to Firdaus’ right, guaranteed under the law and threatened to seek redress in a law court to prevent future breach should the Council refuse to rescind its decision within a reasonable period.
“Firdaus has surely taken a giant stride for thousands of Muslim ladies who had gone through similar emotional trauma of having to yank off their head covers on their call day or risk not get called to the Bar. It is quite disheartening that the Nigeria Council of Legal Education which is supposed to be the custodian of the law and upholder of Human Rights has always been encroaching on the Rights of Muslim lawyers to practice & observe their Religious belief, duly guaranteed under the constitution for decades, in spite of entreaties and plea from prominent Nigerians,” HRAI said.
A social critic, Mohammad Tukur from Portharcourt rather asked rhetorically: “What has Hijab got to do with a ceremony that did not last beyond an hour. What offence has an innocent Firdaus committed (rather than being an obedient servant of her Creator) to deserve this ill treatment from Nigeria. We are talking of a 2.1 graduate of the University of Ilorin and did excellently well in Law School.”
Whither the feminists
A right activist, Eseoghene Al-Faruq Ohwojeheri however wondered why his colleagues have kept unusual silence on Firdaus. He wondered why no feminist has been on the side of Firdaus Amasa and why they have all retreated until a woman they consider an actual human being has a problem.
He wrote: “Aisha Yusuf is retweeting about Firdaus. Retweeting oh, the great fearless Aisha Yusuf that can insult two Buhari and one Yar’adua inside 150 characters. She is now retweeting. Fear no let am create hashtag not to talk of NGO on top this matter.
“Hadiza Bala Usman is inside a container at NPA, so no show. My friend Inibehe Effiong is no longer a human right activist, he no longer believes in fundamental human rights, he has decamp to supporting “rules” over the under dog because this underdog has a Muslim name. “Mama” Oby Ezekwesili is of course minding her business, how the matter concern her? She is giving her twitter Bible lessons as usual, fear no let any Muslim twitter influencer quote Qur’an except to insult a fellow Muslim and say Islam is peace, turning the other cheek and praising the Lord, Halleluyah.
Position of the law
Establishing the position of the law on the prohibition of the use of Hijab/Veil by some public institutions, O. G. Chukkol a student of the Faculty of Law, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria wrote:
“To clear a preliminary point, I am a Christian and shall by the grace of God die a Christian. This work is based on my little understanding of the law and love for rule of law. The work is also informed by my agreement with the words of Martin Luther King Jr. who once said:
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”
“In other words, it is Muslim females facing it today, tomorrow it may be Christians. So, I feel a spade should be called a spade.
“The next point is whether a Muslim female can capitalize on the provision of Glorious Qur’an to insist that she is entitled to wear Hijab everywhere. The answer is obviously in the affirmative.
Subsection (1) of section 38 of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (2011 as amended) provides as follows:
“Every person shall be entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion…and IN PUBLIC or IN PRIVATE) to MANIFEST AND PROPAGATE his RELIGION or BELIEF in worship, teaching, PRACTICE and
OBSERVANCE” (emphasis mine)
The constitution is a grundnorm and by section 1(1)&(3) thereof, it is Supreme and binding on all authorities and persons in Nigeria and as well above the ordinary laws of the land. Since the constitution recognizes ones right to manifest ones religion and belief in practice and observance, a Muslim female, being a Nigerian too, has the right to wear her hijab anywhere.
“Courts have consistently held that, having regards to chapter 24:30-31 of the Holy Quran, a Muslim female has the unfettered right to wear her hijab anywhere,” Chukkol concluded.
Historic and esoteric perspective
A Lagos-based journalists, Sikiru Balogun rather went historic and philosophical when he posited that the issue of Firdaus should not be taken lightly, since according to him, the practice or the culture of legal system in Nigeria has become some sort of religion than what we see on the surface.
According to Balogun, “Law profession like other courses in Humanities are believed to have originated from the ancient Greek. Practising or observing them can be compared to exercising the power, influence and authority of the pantheon gods. It’s also to them an act of venerating gods in the pantheon Greek, take it or leave it, it has been like that for ages.
“So calling a lawyer to be to Bar is exclusively part of the rites of passage for whoever wants to become a member of the Bar to tow the path of honour by submitting himself or herself to the originator which can be likened to renouncing one’s religion or practice.
“In Nigeria, the situation is even worse. Law profession is extremely guided to satisfy or placate certain group of people who have fraternised themselves with the gods, those who have belonged to several occultic groups which in real sense, is an act of veneration to the pantheon gods.
“In China, India and other parts of the world where law profession is being practised, it is an exclusive path of some priests, monks and whoever serves as intermediary between people and gods; the only exception is the one who truly believes in God and cuts a niche for himself like what our Brothers and Sisters in NAMLAS and MULAN are doing in their respective zones.
Balogun challenged MULAN as the face of Muslim lawyers and the well meaning Nigerians who believe in the cause of justice to wade into the matter before a major damage is done.
US Army Experience
Another legal expert, Mr AbdulAziz Bakare, in a reaction entitled: On Hijab, Law School & Call to Bar consoled Firdaus with story of his wife, a Soldier in the US Army who was suspended from training two times until she won for herself and coming generations, the right to wear Hijab on military uniform.
Dear Amasa Firdaus, Please allow me share a brief story with you so that you may be inspired and remain resolute.
“In 2015, my wife, a Soldier with the US Army, was told at the Army Annual Training at Fort Dix, New Jersey, United States that she either take off her Hijab or leave the Annual Training. My wife insisted that her Hijab is part of her and she will never remove it to please anyone or authority. Exactly like you reportedly insisted. Eventually, she was told to leave and she left the Annual Training. After the conclusion of the annual training, her Military unit said she cannot return….At another point, she was invited back to the drill and she went there with her Hijab 🧕 on her head. Again, she was told she cannot use her Hijab and she had to leave and she left. Away from the limelight she fought this vehemently by escalating the issue to the top echelon of the command. We prepared a memo to the authorities explaining why she should be allowed to use her Hijab.
“She was away for almost a year but eventually and in end, the Army Secretary under President Obama released a new regulation allowing the use of Hijab. It was a glorious moment. Her decision to remain undaunted paved the way for others who will come after her. Suddenly, the fight was worth it. All those period she had to cry became a thing of joy. We were elated that her resolve to remain undaunted finally paid off. Today, she proudly wears her Hijab on her uniform, attends her drill sessions and performs well. She’s a badass solider who’ll soon be commissioned as an officer and I’m so darn proud of her.”
Bakare reminded Firdaus that she has once again reignited the conversation that has been on for years, just as she has brought the nation’s attention to the way the Nigerian Law School and Council of Legal Education who are empowered to train new lawyers show flagrant disregard to her rights guaranteed under Section 38 of the constitution.
He thereafter called on other colleagues of his to prepare for legal fireworks that may soon ensue between right activists and the Nigerian Law School with the Council of Legal Education who are though, empowered to train new lawyers but themselves refuse to obey the judgments of the Courts?
Bakare wondered why, despite a pletora of court decisions and judgements, the Nigerian Law School and by extension the Council of Legal Education continue to victimize Muslim Law Student who chose to cover their hair by threatening not to call them to the Nigerian Bar.
“Are we really going to debate this issue from our religious googles or be objective and err on the side of common sense and humanity?,” he queried.
So, let the legal fireworks begin.
And as Nigerians anxiously await MURIC press conference on Tuesday, in addition to other responses to follow, the world look on to the Minister of Justice and the Attorney-General of the Federation to rise to the occasion and make executive declaration so that this could be resolved as the denial of attending Jumua’t (Friday) Service in public and private offices and institutions was resolved.
To Firdaus, always remember that: Every successful person has a painful story & every painful story has a successful end.”
Elder Yinka Salaam writes from Osogbo, Osun State.