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Adetola-Kazeem: SAN who died fighting for constitutionality of Hijab

History will never forget the sacrifice of Chief Gani Adetola-Kazeem SAN, a human rights lawyer who used his legal training and resources in fighting for the rights of Nigerians, especially the oppressed Muslims.

There were numerous legal battles fought and won for the masses by Late Chief Gani, who was a devout and conscientious Muslim, during his lifetime. One of such is the Hijab battle, between Asiyat AbdulKareem (then a minor), a member of the Muslim Students Society of Nigeria, MSSN, Lagos State Area Unit and the Lagos State government.

Muslim News findings revealed that on May 27, 2013, Chief Gani led a team of Muslim lawyers and dragged the Lagos State government before Justice Oyewole of the Ikeja High Court, Lagos over the ban on Hijab in public and secondary schools in the State. The period also witnessed incessant assaults and molestations of Muslim students in Lagos.

Sadly, the then Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Raji Fashola and the lead counsel to the state government, Lawal Muhammad Pedro, are both Muslims.

Despite many strategies and tactics from the state government to frustrate the Hijab case in court, Chief Gani and his team, many of whom belonged to the Muslim Lawyers Association of Nigeria, MULAN, were determined and continued to pursue the case.

The case was severally adjourned. At a point, the state government applied for out of court settlement to further frustrate the Hijab struggle. The hope of Muslim students was dashed again when the case was transferred to another judge, Justice Grace Modupe Onyeabo on November 13, 2013. Yet, Chief Gani remained resolute and ready to fight the battle to a logical conclusion.

In page 29 of his book, ‘Hijab and the Nigerian Press, Rasheed Abubakar, the publisher of Muslim News, chronicled how the late Chief Gani argued in favour of the students’ to use the Hijab. He described it as a compulsory religious obligation on Muslim ladies who have reached the stage of puberty.

Despite his further explanation on the description of the type of Hijab the Muslims proposed before the Fashola-led government as entrenched in the Nigerian constitution, Justice Onyeabo dismissed the prayer of the aggrieved Muslim students and upheld the ban on Hijab in Lagos schools. It was a black Friday, September 17, 2014 for Nigerian Muslims.

The “strange judgement” as described by the then Amir of MSSN Lagos, Engr. Kaamil Kalejaiye, though very disappointing, didn’t weaken our father, Chief Gani, who was also a legal adviser to a number of Muslim communities and associations in Lagos and its environs.

On May 27, 2015, Muslim students under the leadership of Dr. Saheed Ashafa, on the advise of their lawyers led by the lead Counsel, Chief Gani, filed a suit asking the Appeal court to declare the ban as a violation of their rights to freedom of thought, religion and education.

Their prayer was answered a year later, exactly on Thursday, July 21, 2016, when the Federal Appeal Court, Lagos Division granted Muslim students the right to wear Hijab. In his lead judgement, Justice Gumel held that the use of Hijab doesn’t violate any known law and doesn’t infringe on the rights of other members of the society.

When the Muslim community in Lagos thought the battle was over, the State government under a Christian governor, Akinwunmi Ambode made a motion – stay of execution – at the Appeal Court, in a bid stop the Students from using Hijab, but they were disappointed and disgraced as the court struck out their application.

While the Hijab case was moved to the Supreme court, the Late Gani was fully involved, before his death, in the early hours of Monday, January 8, 2018.

Despite his death, hardworking and committed Muslim Lawyers, including the late Chief Gani’s son, Barrister Ahmad Adetola-Kazeem, a renowned lawyer and human rights advocate continued to pursue the battle with other human rights groups.

Special appreciation also goes to the other groups who fought this cause to a meaningful end, by Allah’s leave. Hijab Rights Advocacy Initiative, HRAI, headed by another vibrant lawyer, Hajiya Mutiat Orolu-Balogun, MULAN, MSSN Lagos State Area Unit and all other concerned stakeholders.

Barely two years after late Chief Gani’s death, the battle he started eight years ago has finally been won as the Nigerian apex court, on Friday, June 17, 2022, affirmed the rights of Muslim female students in Lagos state and by extension Nigeria, to wear hijab to school.

While speaking with Muslim News, his son, Barrister Ahmad Adetola-Kazeem Esq. expressed his happiness, as he dedicated the victory to Islam and his father, who started the struggle.

May Almighty Allah accept his fights for the rights of the Muslims and humanity in general as an act of Ibadah. If our dead do smile in their graves, it is our belief, at Muslim News, Nigeria’s most authoritative Islamic Newspaper, that the late Chief Gani will be among the happy ones today. Jazakumllahu Khayran, Sir. We’ll continue to appreciate and remember you.

  • By Rasheed Abubakar, Publisher, Muslim News Nigeria

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