By Shereefah Ohunene Enessi
The Supreme Court of Nigeria has given approval to female Muslim students to wear hijab to school in Lagos State, and by extension, Nigeria. Here are the 11 key points Nigerians and the world need to know about the 201-page judgment signed by Justice Emmanuel Akomaye Agim of the Supreme Court of Nigeria.
1. The Learned Justice of the Supreme Court stated that the wearing of hijab by a female Muslim is a manifestation, practice and observance of her religion of Islam. In interpreting the provisions of section 38 of the 1999 constitution as amended, the court held that prohibiting the wearing of hijab by those who wish to do so on their school uniform amounts to a breach of the students’ rights to freedom of thought, conscience and religion guaranteed under section 38.
2. The court stated emphatically that, no matter how justified one might feel in a course of action, he ought not to take the law into his own hands, thus, where there is a dispute regarding a fundamental human right, it is the court that must have the final say.
3. The provisions of section 38 of the constitution is further affirmed by the provisions of section 6 of the Child Rights Law of Lagos State, 2007 which provides among others that every child has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
4. The court stated that there was nothing to show that enforcing the right to freedom of religion through the use of hijab for some students would amount to discrimination of others. There are also no facts to show that the wearing of hijab could lead to chaos or disunity among students.
5. The learned Justice of the Supreme Court held that, by allowing the female students to wear hijab at certain times, the appellants recognized the students’ constitutionally guaranteed right to manifest their religion through the use of hijab. There is therefore no justification for limiting that right if it cannot be shown that it infringes on the rights of others.
6. According to the court, suggesting that the students who wish to exercise their constitutionally guaranteed right under section 38 of the constitution are free to attend faith-based schools (Islamic schools) or private schools is discriminatory and in violation of sections 17(2)(a), 18(1)(a) and 42(1)(a) of the 1999 Constitution as amended.
7. The court further held that the trial court was bound by the decision of the Court of Appeal case of Provost, Kwara State College of Education, Ilorin & ors. Vs. Bashirat Saliu & ors. Appeal no. CA/IL/49/2006 and ought to have abided by it. The Supreme Court proceeded to state that the Court of Appeal was right in its holding that the trial court had no justification to refuse to be bound by the decision in the aforementioned case while favouring the European Court of Human Rights.
8. The learned Justice of the Supreme Court went further to affirm that the Court of Appeal was right to have held that the respondents’ (the aggrieved students’) rights to fair hearing was infringed upon at the trial court due to the raising of the issue of secularity of this country viz-a-viz section 10 of the constitution as amended by the learned trial judge suo motu without inviting the parties to address him before predicating his decision on it.
9. According to the court, “Nigeria is a multi-religious and multi-cultural society which is evolving continuously, and citizens are becoming more aware of their rights and avenues through which to enforce them.”
10.The court then stated that if it is the desire of the appellants to foster unity and a sense of belonging among all students, it should standardize the hijab for use in schools and incorporate it in the prescribed uniform.
Consequently, the court held that the appeal by Lagos State Government is unmeritorious and deserves to be dismissed. It was accordingly dismissed.
– Shereefah Ohunene Enessi is the Executive Secretary, Hijab Rights Advocacy Initiative (HRAi)
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