Supreme Court upholds use of hijab in Lagos schools
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By Sodiq Oyeleke
June 16, 2022
The Supreme Court of Nigeria has granted the use of hijab by female Muslim students in Lagos State Government-owned schools.
The apex court delivered the ruling upholding the use of hijab by Muslim students on Friday in Abuja.
The court dismissed an appeal by the Lagos State Government and upheld the earlier judgement of the Court of Appeal which held that the ban on hijab was discriminatory against Muslim students in the state.
Justices on the panel were Justice Olukayode Ariwoola, Justice Kudirat Kekere-Ekun, Justice John Inyang Okoro, Justice Uwani Aji, Justice Mohammed Garba, Justice Tijjani Abubakar, and Justice Emmanuel Agim.
Wild jubilation greeted the verdict with the Amir (President) of the Muslim Students’ Society of Nigeria, Lagos State Area Unit, Miftahudeen Thanni, and other members of the organisation seen shouting “God is great”.
The court upheld that the ban violated the Muslim students’ rights to freedom of thought, conscience, religion, the dignity of human persons and freedom from discrimination guaranteed by the 1999 Constitution.
The Lagos State Government had banned the use of the hijab, arguing that it was not part of the approved school uniform for pupils.
Following the ban, the students filed the suit on May 27, 2015, seeking redress and asked the court to declare the ban as a violation of their rights to freedom of thought, religion and education.
The case, CA/L/135/15, is between Lagos State Government, Miss Asiyat AbdulKareem (through her father), Miss Moriam Oyeniyi and the Muslim Students’ Society of Nigeria.
Lagos high court bans hijab in 2014
Justice Modupe Onyeabor of an Ikeja High Court had on October 17, 2014, dismissed the suit instituted against the Lagos State Government by two 12-year-old girls (at that time), who are members of the MSSN, Lagos State Area Unit.
In her judgment, Onyeabor held that the prohibition of the wearing of hijabs over school uniforms within and outside the premises of public schools was not discriminatory.
According to her, the ban did not violate Sections 38 and 42 of the 1999 Constitution as claimed by the plaintiffs.
Dissatisfied, the appellants urged the appellate court to set aside the judgment and protect their constitutional rights.
Appeal court upholds use of hijab in 2016
A five-man special appellate court panel, presided by Justice A.B. Gumel, had on July 21, 2016, overruled the October 17, 2014 judgment of Justice Modupe Onyeabo of the Lagos State High Court in Ikeja, which banned the use of hijab in public primary and secondary schools in Lagos State.
While striking down Justice’s Onyeabo’s verdict, the Justice Gumel panel had held that the ban on hijab was discriminatory against Muslim pupils in the state.
The panel upheld the Muslim students’ contention that the ban violated their rights to freedom of thought, conscience, religion, dignity of human persons and freedom from discrimination guaranteed by the 1999 Constitution.
Justice Gumel also held that wearing the hijab was an Islamic injunction and an act of worship required of Muslims.
He said the use of hijab by Muslim pupils could not cause disunity, distraction and discrimination against students of other faiths as declared by the lower court judge.
Resolving all the five issues raised in favour of the appellants, the appellate court held that the lower court erred in law when it held that the ban on hijabs was a policy of the Lagos State Government (respondent).
Other justices in the five-man panel were Justice M. Fasanmi, Justice A. Jauro, Justice J.S. Ikyegh and Justice I. Jombo Ofor.
Lagos govt loses again
The Lagos State Government had in February 2017 approached the Supreme Court to challenge the July 21, 2016 judgment of the Court of Appeal which reinstated the use of hijab by Muslim pupils in Lagos public primary and secondary schools.
This was after the state government sought to stay the execution of the judgment at the Lagos Division of the Court of Appeal but failed.
Lagos issues circular on hijab
In November 2018, the Lagos State Government issued a circular backing the use of the Hijab for Muslim female pupils in public schools.
The circular read, “Since the case of the use of Hijab in Lagos State is still pending in the Supreme court of Nigeria, status quo be maintained, to avoid contempt of the court, that is students be allowed to wear Hijabs on school uniforms but same must be short, smart, neat and in the same colour of the uniform (skirt).
“Furthermore, schools management are advised to downplay comments and disciplinary actions on the use of smart Hijabs until the final determination of the case by Supreme Court.
“No student should be discriminated against in any form on the basis of religion.
“All principals and teachers must be sensitized to comply accordingly. You are enjoined to adhere strictly to these recommendations.”
Muslim students assure LASG of moderacy, warn teachers
Reacting to the judgement, the Amir (President) of MSSN in Lagos State, Miftahudeen Thanni, said that with the judgement, students in public primary and secondary schools in Lagos State can now wear hijab to school without harassment.
He warned teachers and government officials against harassment of female Muslim students, urging that the Supreme Court judgement should put a stop to the “undue” punishment of students willing to wear the hijab.
Thanni, however, assured the state government and residents of peaceful co-existence, noting that Muslim students won’t abuse the judgement.
According to him, the judgement has deepened the students’ and Nigerians’ confidence in the judiciary.
He said, “We are a law-abiding organisation and we will continue to uphold the law of the land. We applaud the judgement. The position of the law is very clear on the subject matter. This matter once more assures us that all hope is not lost on having a modest society.
“The government should not be waging war against youths who chose to cover their nakedness while encouraging those who walk naked and engage in illicit acts in public.
“It gladdens to see that the injunction which the LASG is using as a basis to deny the rights of Muslim students has been decided by the apex court.
“We hereby urge all stakeholders to be law-abiding for a peaceful implementation of the judgement. There should be no violation of human rights against our students while we expect an immediate implementation of the judgement in all schools across the state. We urge the government not to delay implementation.”
While congratulating and thanking Muslims and the legal team on the recent victory, Thanni said, “We congratulate the entire Muslim Ummah (community) and urge our Muslim students to uphold decency and cleanliness which are the hallmark of Islam while exercising their rights. We also pray to Allah to forgive the shortcomings of the late Alhaji Adetola Kassim (SAN) who started this case without collecting a dime from us.”