It all started on Tuesday, December 12, 2017, a day of joy for Miss Firdaus Amasa, who was one of those to be called to bar. She had completed a 5-year law programme at the University of Ilorin and a year of studies at the Nigerian Law School, but an unfortunate incident happened!
She was not allowed to enter the International Conference Centre, Abuja venue of the Call to Bar ceremony, due to her refusal to remove her Hijab, and she was consequently denied the glorious opportunity to be called to bar.
The story read in part, that “sources at the ICC, Abuja (the venue of the call to bar ceremony) said that before the ceremony was to begin, all Muslim females were RESPECTFULLY asked (by the Body of Benchers) to remove their Hijabs prior to entry into the hall. The request was complied with by all the Muslim females present except Amasa Firdaus, who vehemently refused to remove hers…”
Thousands of angry Muslims who vented their anger peacefully on social media however said there was nothing RESPECTFUL in asking a Muslim woman to remove her Hijab when there is no written law that SPECIFICALLY legislates so. This is because, in Islamic tradition, telling a Muslim woman to remove her Hijab is tantamount to telling her to remove her clothes and go stark naked!
Prior to this time, Muslim ladies in the Hijab had always removed their Hijabs before they could be called to bar. The legal authorities cited unwritten policies of the Nigerian Law School to justify the prohibition, which many say is a violation of fundamental human rights as entrenched in the Nigerian constitution.
Miss Amasa, the first Muslimah to challenge the status-quo in recent times, refused to remove her Hijab, insisting that doing so is against the teachings of her religion, Islam.
She however opted to wear her shoulder length Hijab beneath the wig, the conventional head cover worn by lawyers, a gesture which was turned down by the Body of Benchers.
The House of Representatives later weighed into the controversy over the Hijab crisis, and directed its Committees on Justice and the Judiciary to investigate the matter and make appropriate recommendations to the House. The resolution was adopted following a motion by a HOR member from Kano State, Mr. Abubakar Danburam-Nuhu.
The brouhaha over the Hijab ban was ameliorated following the intervention of the House of Representatives to investigate the Firdaus/Nigerian Law School Hijab saga. However, for Nigerian Muslims, the peaceful and bloodless battle had just begun.
How Muslim Organisations Reacted
Thousands of Nigerian Muslims (and non-Muslims) took to the social media while prominent Islamic organisations staged press conferences to bitterly express what they termed “lawlessness and victimisation of Muslims over the Hijab in all spheres of life”.
Prominent among such Muslim organisations are the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA), the Conference of Islamic Organisations (CIO), the Muslim Students Society of Nigeria (MSSN), The Muslim Congress (TMC), Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) and Al-Muminaat (The Believing Women), amongst others.
The NSCIA, the umbrella body of Muslims in Nigeria, spoke tough like never before, and threatened to lead nationwide protests and fierce legal actions if the Council of Legal Education (CLE) refuses to rescind its decision not to call the affected graduate to the bar.
In a statement signed by its Deputy Secretary-General, Professor Salisu Shehu, the group narrated: “On the 13th of December, 2017, a young female Nigerian graduate of Law, Miss Abdulsalam Firdaus Amosa, was prevented from joining her colleagues for the momentous call to bar ceremony at the International Conference Centre, Abuja.
“Her only offence was that she wore a hijab under her wig. For this unpardonable ‘crime’, as it was deemed, she was wrongfully denied the opportunity of being called to the Nigerian bar as Barrister and Solicitor of the Supreme Court of Nigeria with her colleagues, though she had passed all her exams both at the University and the Nigerian Law School”, it stated, in part.
At a press conference held at her headquarters at Iba, Lagos, Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) described the action of the NLS as deplorable, reprehensible and preposterous, adding that the very school where human rights lawyers are trained to respect human dignity is not expected to be the very first institution to dehumanize Nigerian citizens.
The indefatigable Director of the Organisation, Professor of Islamic Eschatology, Lakin Akintola said, apart from Ms. Amasa, two other Muslim sisters who wore hijab under their wigs on that day would also have been denied the call to bar, had they refused to remove their hijabs when ordered to do so.
He said: “An official seized one of the hijabs after the Muslim lady (not Firdaus, but name withheld) had removed it, threw it on the floor in the presence of guests and trampled upon it! What level of hatred could have caused this? It is not only disgraceful but highly abominable”.
According to the human rights activist, the Nigerian Law School has become a den of Muslim-haters. An institution that is expected to train minds in revolutionary reforms is the same championing segregation among citizens. It is archaic, parochial and reactionary.
The Hijab Advocacy Group headed by Barrister Mutiat Orolu and the Muslim Lawyers Association of Nigeria (MULAN), Lagos State Chapter justified Ms. Amasa Firdaus’s action, which they claimed is in accordance with the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
In a statement jointly signed by the groups, Hajia Orolu said: Section 38 of the 1999 constitution (as amended) states: “Every person shall be entitled to Freedom of Thought, Conscience and Religion, including freedom to change his religion or belief and to manifest and propagate his religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance.
She said: “It should be understood that Fundamental rights are inalienable rights and the courts have emphasized that “It is a Right which stands above the ordinary laws of the land and which in fact is antecedent to the political society itself. It is a primary condition to a civilized existence” per Eso J.S.C. in Ransome Kuti & Ors V. A.G. of Federation & Ors (1985) 2 NWLR P. 211 @230.
“Also in Abidemi Rasaq & ors V. Commissioner for Health Lagos State, the Lagos State High Court held that a circular issued by Lagos State School of Health Technology banning students from wearing Hijab is unconstitutional”, the Barrister stated.
The arrowhead of Hijab struggle in Lagos government schools, the Muslim Students Society of Nigeria, Lagos State Area Unit expressed worry about the incessant harassment of Muslim students who choose to obey Allah, while addressing the press early this week at its Lagos Secretariat.
Its Amir (President), Dr Saheed Ashafa revealed that the wave of harassment and denial has found its way to the law school, where a Muslim law graduate was denied access to the call to bar ceremony because she tucked her hijab under her wig.
Dr Ashafa said that this is the highest form of segregation, misuse of power, disregard for the constitution and lawlessness by those expected to be promoting obedience to the law.
According to him, this occurrence has already ridiculed the importance of the law school and it is advisable for them to urgently apologise to the embarrassed Muslim law graduate, Amasa Firdaus, and reinstate her rights. She should be celebrated and specially compensated for promoting and fighting for justice, which are the ideals that the law school itself imparts.
Reaction From CLE, NBA, House Of Rep
As at the time of filing this report on Thursday, December 21, 2017, there were no official statement from the Council of Legal Education (CLE), but the President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), A.B. Mahmoud (SAN), whose daughter was recently admitted to the New York Bar while wearing Hijab said:
“The controversy here on Hijab is needless. The NBA will embrace diversity and tolerance in the Nigerian legal profession. The Hijab issue will be addressed”, he tweeted.
The House of Representatives has also mandated its Committee on Justice and Committee on Judiciary to investigate the matter.