The Supreme Court on Friday gave approval to female Muslim students to wear hijab to school in Lagos State.
Five out of the seven members of the court’s panel which sat on the case ruled in favour of hijab while the two remaining members dissented.
The majority decision affirmed the earlier Court of Appeal’s decision which restored the use of hijab by female Muslim students in Lagos State.
The case involved the Lagos State Government as the appellant and Asiyat AbdulKareem (through her father), Moriam Oyeniyi, and the Muslim Students’ Society of Nigeria as the respondents.
Judge Grace Onyeabo of the Lagos State High Court had in a judgement, on October 17, 2014, upheld the state government’s decision to ban the use of hijab in public primary and secondary schools in the state.
But the High Court’s decision was upturned by the Lagos Division of the Court of Appeal in a judgement delivered on July 21, 2016.
In a unanimous judgement, the appeal court panel ruled that the ban on the use of hijab in public schools in the state was discriminatory against Muslim pupils.
Displeased with the judgement, the Lagos State government attempted to obtain a stay of execution of the Court of Appeal’s decision but failed.
In February 2017, it appealed against the July 21, 2016 judgement of the Court of Appeal.
Lagos State government became the appellant in the suit marked SC/910/16.
Delivering judgement in the case on Friday, five members of the seven-member bench affirmed the Court of Appeal’s decision.
It dismissed the appeal challenging the Court of Appeal’s decision as lacking in merit.
The Supreme Court’s majority lead decision was prepared by Kudirat Kekere-Ekun but was read on her behalf by another member of the panel, Tijjani Abubakar.
Other members of the panel are Olukayode Ariwoola, John Okoro, Uwani Baba-Aji, Mohammed Garba, and Emmanuel Agim.
The Court of Appeal had ruled that the hijab ban violated the students’ rights to freedom of thought, conscience, religion, the dignity of human persons and freedom from discrimination guaranteed by the Nigerian Constitution.
A.B Gumel, who delivered the lead judgement of the Court of Appeal panel, 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.
Commenting on the judgement on his Facebook page on Friday, Ahmad Adetola-Kazeem, a lawyer in the pro-hijab legal team, noted that the Supreme Court’s decision is applicable in all the states in Nigeria.
“Supreme Court of Nigeria rules in favour of Hijab for Secondary School Students in Lagos State and by extension all states of the country. Re: SC/910/16- Lagos State Govt. and Ors V. Asiyat AbdulKareem,” the lawyer, whose father, the late Gani Adetola-Kaseem, was leading the legal team, stated.
“May Allah reward Gani Adetola-Kaseem who led the team of lawyers in this case and also signed and filed the brief of argument few weeks before his death, May He reward everyone who contributed to the success of the case abundantly,” he added.
Muslim group hails verdict
A Muslim rights advocacy group, the Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC), has hailed the judgement of the Supreme Court.
MURIC, in its statement signed by its director, Ishaq Akintola, a professor, said: “This is the moment of truth. Divine truth has overwhelmed social truth.”
He added: “No matter how long, truth will prevail in the end. MURIC hails this judgement. We salute the courage of the honourable justices who stood by the sanctity of the Constitution and the inviolability of our font et origo.”
He said the pronouncement had infused hope in the Nigerian judiciary.
“The justices have refused to be swayed by religious sentiment. They stuck to the facts of the case and relied on the supremacy of the Nigerian Constitution. This is evident in the constitution of the panel: only three of them are Muslims while the remaining four are Christians. Yet five of them were in favour,” he stated.‘Implement judgement immediately’
He called on the Lagos State government “to immediately implement the letter and spirit of this judgement” by issuing “a circular on the approval of hijab in all its public schools without any delay.”
He said MURIC had earlier demanded the issuance of this circular but the Lagos State government “ignored our demand to date”.