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Niqab Ban: Court fixes date to hear suit against Nigerian university

February 1, 2022

Ms Afeez, a student of the university, is seeking an order of the court for unconditional access to the school, a public apology and a N50 million compensation for being allegedly publicly harassed.

The Federal High Court Abeokuta has fixed February 22 for the hearing of a fundamental right enforcement suit against the Federal University of Agriculture Abeokuta (FUNAAB), Ogun State.

A student of the institution, Mariam Afeez, sued the institution over its decision to ban the use of niqab on the campus.

She is seeking an order for unconditional access to the school, a public apology and a N50 million compensation.

The university has in the past been enmeshed in controversies surrounding the use of niqab, a piece of clothing that covers the face leaving only the pair of eyes, and usually worn by Muslim women, since October 2017, when it put up a billboard to show its intolerance for “lousy and immoral” dressings.

The billboard carried the pictures of ripped jeans, mini-skirts and niqab which angered Muslim students on the campus.

PREMIUM TIMES learnt that although the billboard was brought down after condemnations, the controversy, however, got a new twist in December 2021, when the university, after a senate meeting, reaffirmed the ban.

The public relations officer of the university, Kolawole Adepoju, refused to comment on the matter, saying he did not have the mandate to talk on the issue.

The suit

According to a copy of the court documents seen by PREMIUM TIMES, Mariam Afeez, through her lawyers led by Ahmad Adetola, approached the court seeking, among others, “a declaration that the ban on the use of niqab is unconstitutional, illegal and of no effect.”

Part of the documents read: “(The student code of dressing as issued on December 16th is) inconsistent with Sections 38 (1) and 42(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) which guarantees the religious rights of the applicant in practice and practical observation whether in public or in private and by extension the use of the Niqab (Face Veil) without discrimination.”

The suit listed FUNAAB, its governing council, the university’s senate and its vice-chancellor, Felix Salako, as respondents one, two, three and four, respectively.

As contained in the documents, the suit is praying the court for “an order of perpetual injunction restraining the respondents, their servants, agents, privies, assigns, person, body of persons howsoever called claiming through them or acting under their authority or instruction, from infringing on the right of the applicant to manifest and propagate her religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance whether in private or in public.

“An Order compelling the respondents jointly and severally to pay the applicant the sum N50,000,000 (fifty million Naira only) as compensation for breach of the applicant’s fundamental human rights.

“An order directing the respondents to tender a public apology to the applicant in two widely read newspapers for infringing on her fundamental rights.”

Ahmad Adetola, counsel to Ms Afeez, told PREMIUM TIMES that: “this is a fundamental issue which harps on religious practises of an individual and no law made by the school can trump the provision of the constitution.”

“This is a fundamental right issue backed by section 38 of the constitution and there have been judgements of courts, both lower and higher ones, on this particular issue.”

Mr Adetola, who wondered why the university has not placed a ban on the wearing of jeans since it is worn by cultists, asked if a niqab-wearing individual has ever caused mayhem in the school.

“Have they ever found out that someone wearing the niqab has caused havoc in the school?” he asked, adding; “We hear of cultism, we hear of everything. When have they banned people wearing jeans because cultists wear jeans? I just think it is bigotry of some individuals.”

Harassment

On Thursday, November 24, Ms Afeez, a final year student in the statistics department of the university, was forced to remove her niqab before being granted access into the campus after security personnel denied her entry, on account that the security department has been ordered not to allow any niqab-wearing person access into the campus.

The student said her plea that female security personnel should confirm her identity and let her into the campus fell on deaf ears.

The court documents quoted Ms Azeez to have said: “After about an hour of harassment, intimidation, threat and embarrassment by the officers of the 1 Respondent (FUNAAB), I was forced to remove my face veil (Niqob) in the public glare contrary to my religious beliefs and practice as guaranteed in the Constitution.

“The forceful insistence that I remove my veil and the inhuman treatment meted on me by officers of the 1st Respondent subjected me to open ridicule in the presence of several students, lecturers and other visitors passing through the 1st respondent’s gate while it lasted. I was singled out for monumental embarrassment despite not contravening any law.

“The 1st Respondent (FUNAAB) is not a faith-based institution but an institution owned and funded by the federal government to reflect the multi-religious nature of the country.”

New circular

The final year student said she wrote the school management on the ‘harassment’ but did not get any favourable response.Advertisements

However, on December 16, 2021, the school management through the office of the registrar released a circular re-affirming the existing students’ dress code “with great emphasis on facial identification of all students at all times within the university.”

Parts of the circular signed by ‘Bola Adekola, the university’s registrar, reads: “(FUNAAB) Senate at its statutory meeting held on Tuesday, December 14, 2021, considered the issue of dress code as it affects students of the university. Senate re-affirmed its earlier decision on students’ dress code as enshrined in the university’s students regulation with great emphasis on facial identification of all students at all times within the university.”

“Senate reiterated the fact that its decision on dress code was taken without prejudice to any religion, race or creed but for the peace and security of every member of the university community and to promote teaching and learning in a conducive atmosphere.

“All members of the university community, particularly students, are therefore reminded that NO change has been approved to the dress code put in place since 2017 by the senate and should be strictly adhered to at all times.”

On Tuesday, when PREMIUM TIMES contacted the university’s spokesperson, Mr Adepoju, he said he could not comment as he was not mandated to speak on such an issue.

He said: “I cannot talk to you on this matter because I don’t have the mandate. But it is important to note that the peace and tranquility of the university community is the concern of everyone here.”

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