Female Muslim pupils in Lagos State can now wear hijab to school, the Court of appeal ruled yesterday.
The appellate court voided the 2014 verdict of a Lagos High Court, which outlawed the wearing of hijab by the pupils.
In a unanimous decision, a special five-man panel presided over by Justice A.S. Gumel held that it would amount to discrimination on religious ground if the pupils were disallowed to wear hijab.
Others on the panel are Justices M. Fasanmi, A. Jauro, J. S. Ikyegh and I. Jombo Ofor.
The appeal was filed by two female pupils of Atunrase Junior High School in Surulere, Asiyat Kareem and Mariam Oyeniyi, under the aegis of the Muslim Students’ Society of Nigeria (MSSN), Lagos State Area Unit.
The appeal followed the dismissal of their suit by Justice Modupe Onyeabor of the Ikeja High Court on October 17, 2014, which challenged the government ban on hijab use in public schools.
In the lead judgement Justice Gumel held: “The wearing of hijab is an Islamic injunction and also an act of worship,” hence it will constitute a clear violation of the appellants’ constitutionally guaranteed rights to stop them from wearing the hijab in public schools.”
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 hijab ban is the policy of Lagos State Government (respondent).
It noted that no circular was presented before the lower court to show such a policy existed, adding that “he who asserts must prove”.
The court observed that if there was such a policy, it should have emanated from the House of Assembly and not the Executive Arm of government.
It held that the fundamental human rights of female Muslim pupils as enshrined in Section 38 (1) of the 1999 Constitution was violated by the respondent.
The appellate court dismissed the government’s argument that it made an exception by allowing the pupils to wear hijab during prayers.
The government banned hijab because it is not part of the approved school uniform.
Following the ban, Asiyat and Mariam, suing through their parents, Abdulkareem Raji and Sulaimon Oyeniyi, filed a case on May 27, 2014, asking the court to declare the ban a violation of their rights to freedom of thought, religion and education.
Dismissing the case, Justice Onyeabor held that the ban was not discriminatory.
According to her, the ban did not violate Sections 38 and 42 of the 1999 Constitution as claimed by the plaintiffs. The judge said Section 10 of the Constitution made Nigeria a secular state, adding that government must maintain neutrality at all time.
Justice Onyeabor said the government has a duty to preserve the secularity of the institutions concerned as argued by the then Lagos State Solicitor-General, Mr Lawal Pedro (SAN).
She noted that since government funds public schools it is competent to issue dress codes and other guidelines pupils.
According to her, the use of uniforms engenders uniformity and encourages pupils to pursue their mutual academic aspirations without recourse to religious or any other affiliations.
The judge observed that the uniformity sought by the government in the issuance of the dress code would be destroyed, if the plaintiffs’ prayers were be granted.
Responding to the judgement, Lagos State Area Unit MSSN President Saheed Ashafa said the right to wear hijab was long overdue.