It really does not matter what you call it, “Islamisation” or the Muslim agenda, I stand firmly
with Firdaus on the violation of her rights by the Nigerian Law School over the use of a
religious head covering – the hijab.
Why do I stand with Firdaus? I am a victim of the same system which Firdaus is standing up
against. I suffered from the same ideologies of the Council of Legal
Education and the Nigerian Law School, by denying Fridaus her Call to the Nigerian Bar. I
was a law student at the University of Ibadan from 1995 till 2001 and the wearing of hijab was forbidden at that time. In fact, Khadijah, a Muslim friend who came in
a year after me was asked to remove her hijab in the first week of school otherwise she would
forfeit her admission as a law student. Unfortunately, she did not have the courage to stand up
for herself so she removed it. The reason which the University of Ibadan gave us at that time
was that it was against the policies of the Council of Legal Education to allow law
students in Universities wear hijab. Needless to say that everyone who tried wearing the
hijab on the premises of the Faculty of Law at that time was asked to leave.
Unfortunately, for my friends and I, we did not have the courage to face the
humiliation of being sent out of our various lecture rooms simply because of the way we
dressed, so we conformed. We were timid and I call myself a coward because a couple of
junior students tried at different times and they were expelled from the lecture rooms.
Perhaps that was why I found it very funny when a reverend sister approached me one day,
begging me to caution my “Muslim sisters” from pointing her out whenever they were asked
to leave the lecture rooms for wearing their hijabs and my response to her was that well she
also had to leave since she had a religious covering on her head. She explained to me that it
was her “habit” and that she could never remove it. I told her that it was a battle that we all needed to fight together. (I wonder what happened to her law
Needless to say that we graduated and were enrolled at the Nigerian Law School afterwards
and to my surprise no one had any problems with the hijab. I and the other Muslim ladies
wore our hijabs freely without any fear of expulsion from the lecture rooms. However, you
can only imagine the humiliation we faced once again during the compulsory law dinners
when our hijabs had to be taken off. Of course, I wore a wig, yes, a wig! Because I was not
even allowed to wear even a hat. That gave me a tiny sense of relief from my humiliation – at
least my head was still covered.
I later left Nigeria for further studies in human rights in South Africa and I am glad I did
because now with a PhD in Law (Human Rights) I know that the right to dignity is a non-derogable right. Making a person feel humiliated by forcing them to dress in a manner they do not want to dress affects their right to dignity, and it is tantamount to an inhumane and
degrading treatment (the same standard goes for forcing a person to wear the hijab). I have stood before parliaments in Africa and I have delivered papers to high-level academics in my
hijab and no one has ever raised a high brow.
The issue of dressing is a personal matter and everyone is guided by various rules, for some the rules are
cultural, some are personal and for Firdaus and many others, our reasons are religious. Yes,
we are Muslims and we are guided by the rules of our maker.
The banning of the hijab in the legal profession is a violation of human rights. It is a violation of the right to education, right to livelihood, gender rights, the right to dignity and the freedom of religion and expression. It is about respecting the humanity in us.
Whoever sees this matter in a religious issue alone has a
defective sense of reasoning and judgement and I question the person’s sense of empathy and
compassion. Some people want to cover their heads and you have a problem with that? I
wonder why no one has a problem with the wearing of wigs by Nigerian Lawyers. Yes, they wear that scratchy thing with so much pride, even in the heat of the Nigerian court
rooms, all in the need to simulate the white man’s hair. Funnily, I never saw mine as a symbol of colonial enslavement until a friend (a white person) told me it is to symbolise the
wisdom of a white man. Perhaps that is why lawyers in England are no longer mandated to
wear wigs at all times. However, the Council of Legal Education has never for once thought it necessary to abolish the wearing of the wig, which is a symbol of colonial oppression and enslavement, but they have a problem with the hijab.
You may also ask about the legality of denying Firdaus and other Muslims their rights and
freedoms by banning of the hijab. Yes, it is illegal because earlier rulings have been made in the 2016 cases of Asiyat AbdulKareem and ors v LASG & ors and Salaudeen Ade Olayiwola and others v The Governor of Osun state. Honourable Justice Jombo-Ofo (JCA) setting aside
the decision of the lower court referred to previous cases such as the Provost, Kwara State
College of Education, Ilorin and 2 ors v Bashirat Saliu and 2 ors (a 2009 case) where the Court held that “the use of hijab constitutes an act of worship and the refusal to allow it is an infraction of their constitutionally guaranteed right.” Likewise Honourable Justice Falola in
the Salaudeen Ade Olayiwola’s case, the court declared that
the use of Islamically prescribed head-cover called Hijab by the Muslim Female
Students in all Public Primary and Secondary Schools in Osun State forms part of their fundamental rights to freedom of religion, conscience and thought as contained in Sections 38 of Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended).
So one would instinctively ask why the Council of Legal Education went against the rulings of these courts by violating the rights of Fridaus and every other student who want to cover her head as a Nigerian Lawyer. Well, my guess is as good as yours.
My final words are that I stand with Firdaus and her name would go down in history with the names of people like Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Rosa Parks and all those who stood up against oppression. I stand with all those whose rights have been denied for no
reason other than “because someone says so.” I firmly stand with all those people, be they
Muslim ladies, nuns, or any person who is too timid to stand up for their rights or for what they believe in. I am guided by the words of Martin Luther King that “injustice anywhere is a
threat to justice everywhere.”
I also refer to the words of Nelson Mandela at his treason trial in Rivonia in 1964- “… I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
Those are the words of courageous men, those who stood up for what they believed in and they
were prepared to die for their beliefs. Unfortunately, some of us would never be courageous
enough to stand up for what we believe in, to stand up for the truth or to stand up against
oppression against any person, be it man, woman, Muslim or non-Muslim, Nigerian or not.