By Gabriel Dike, Lukman Olabiyi (Lagos), Lateef Dada (Osogbo) and Layi Olarenwaju (Ilorin)
The Supreme Court judgment on Friday, which approved the use of hijab by pupils in Lagos State schools, would certainly change the learning environment in many schools across the country.
The judgment has also sent jitters down the spines of private and Christian school owners nationwide about the implications of the ruling.
A major issue about the Supreme Court judgment, which is bothering schools in other states is whether the ruling is applicable nationwide.
As education stakeholders come to terms with the apex court’s ruling, churches and traditional worshippers may decide to encourage their wards to wear gowns and traditional attire to school, like it happened in Osun State.
Some lawyers and stakeholders have argued that, since the apex court in the land made the ruling, it could be applied nationwide.
The Education Report sought the reactions of the National Parent Teacher Association of Nigeria (NAPTAN), Association for Formidable Education Development (AFED), National Association of Proprietors of Private Schools (NAPPS), lawyers and other stakeholders on the hijab judgment.
The big question now is: can Christian and traditional worshippers wear gowns and traditional attire to schools?
Certainly, some churches could encourage Christian students to wear gowns, while traditional worshippers are expected to adorn their own attire to the classrooms.
Many stakeholders are afraid that what played out in Osun State, where Christian students and traditional worshippers went to their schools in different church gowns, ropes and traditional attire, would happen in many schools.
In Kwara State, it was a kind of war in some schools in Ilorin when the state government gave the nod for Muslim students to wear hijab to Christian schools.
The two groups battled each other for days, leading to the disruption of the academic calendar and destruction of school property, until the state government rescinded the decision.
Also, the management of International School, Ibadan, University of Ibadan, sent some Muslim students who wore the hijab home. Parents of the affected students stormed the school and disrupted academic activities for days. The school had to be closed.
A legal practitioner and human rights activist, Kabir Akingbolu, said, “the judgment binds all authorities in Nigeria. It is not allowed for any school to disallow students from wearing hijab. I believe it should not be a thing to be worried about but, in all honesty, there is no need to enforce it in Christian schools to avoid unnecessary rancour and breakdown of law and order.
“The decision of the Supreme Court is a welcome development. Lagos State’s intervention in the hijab issue is an unwarranted agitation and shows undue state discrimination against women of the Islamic faith. The implication is that the state may even one day ban Muslim civil servants from wearing hijab, which will be highly discriminatory.”
In his reaction, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Kunle Adegoke, argued, “It is clear that the provision of Section 42 of the Constitution allows freedom of religion. It is part of this freedom to dress in accordance with the dictates of one’s religion, subject to necessary moderation. While European countries to which Islam is not deep-rooted are permitting women to wear hijab, it is surprising that a state in Nigeria is forbidding wearing of hijab.
“We must, therefore, commend the Supreme Court on this landmark decision, which guarantees more religious freedom. Rather than wasting taxpayer’s money to pursue such an appeal to the Supreme Court, Lagos State government should have concentrated on how to make good governance a dividend of democracy and make life more abundant for the people.
“The decision of the Supreme Court is applicable to other states. Any government that bans hijab in any aspect of public life is acting contrary to the principle of law as laid down by the Supreme Court. That implies that such state government has no regard for rule of law and has no business claiming representative democracy.”
Lagos Ministry of Education
The Lagos State Ministry of Education said it could not comment on the Supreme Court judgment.
Public relations officer of the ministry, Mr. Gani Lawal, said, “The ministry of education is awaiting legal advice from the Ministry of Justice.”
Stakeholders react to judgment
Education stakeholders expressed mixed reactions about the judgment. While the National Association of Proprietors of Private Schools said the parties involved in the litigation should respect the decision, the deputy national president, National Parent-Teacher Association of Nigeria (NAPTAN), Chief Adeolu Ogunbanjo, noted that the apex court’s ruling also affects private schools in the state.
His words: “The judgment applies to public and private schools. School owners cannot send any pupil out for wearing hijab. It is unfortunate but I call for regulations whether students would put on quarter, half or full Hijab.
“I hope we are not seeing a repeat of the Osun State scenario. It also means Christian students can wear gown and traditional worshippers can put on their traditional attire to school.”
President of AFED, Mr. Orji Emmanuel, said the Federal Government was dabbling into what it was not supposed to do. School uniforms, he stressed, were the acceptable wear for students.
He warned: “If any student wants to wear hijab, let him or her go to Muslim schools. We must learn to keep religion out of our schools. In school, uniform is the prescribed mode of dressing.”
However, the president of NAPPS, Chief Yomi Otubela, said, “Supreme Court is the highest court in Nigeria and so we feel that its decision should be respected by the parties involved in the litigation.
“In addition, since Nigeria is a secular state, NAPPS believes in religious tolerance and feels individuals should be able to appreciate spiritual values, beliefs and practices that are different from their own.
“Faith-based schools should be able to run their schools in accordance with their religious beliefs.”
Reacting to the ruling, the Muslim Students’ Society of Nigeria (MSSN) described the judgment of the Supreme Court validating the use of hijab as part of the constitutional rights of female Muslim students as a victory for the rule of law and victory for the oppressed against the oppressors.
The Ameer, ‘B’ zone of the MSSN, Bar Qaazim Odedeji, who was part of the legal team, said, “I want to use this opportunity to call on public officers, school administrators and employers of labour to respect the rights of Muslim women and protect same against any for discrimination.”
On his part, the Osun State director of media, Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, Bishop Seun Adeoye, said the Christian community would abide by the decision of the apex court on the use of hijab in public schools, saying, “If it is the right of our Muslim girls to wear hijab in public schools, Christian girls who also desire robes indicating their religion should be permitted this right.”
In Ilorin, the chairman of the Muslim Stakeholders, Alhaji Is-haq Abdulkarim, said the ruling affirmed the position of the Muslims that hijab was a fundamental human right.
He warned that if harassment, bullying and persecution of Muslim students in schools or other schools anywhere in the state continued, the Muslims would not have any alternative than to secure their rights in the best manner they understand as the schools are public schools as pronounced by two superior courts of record.
Abdulkarim, a chartered accountant, said the Supreme Court judgment effect all states in the country; Kwara State Government must therefore enforce freedom of worship including re-erecting demolished Mosque in Bishop Smith Memorial College Ilorin by some hoodlums parading themselves as agents of some people.
He concluded by calling on Kwara State Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) to stop promoting religious crises in the state through the public schools, adding “the state is a ‘state of harmony’ which believes in the rule of law, adding the two judgments delivered by two superior courts of record on ownership of schools which were in favour of Kwara State Government were declaratory judgments that must not have its implementation delayed whatever.”
The Christian Association of Nigerian (CAN) PRO, Rev. Shina Ibiyemi while reacting said: “The Supreme Court judgment delivered to allow Muslim girls wear hijab in Lagos state schools. As lawyer, first and foremost I have not laid my hands on the full judgment of the apex court. But from what I read on the social media, however that case started with a sort of fundamental human rights and the state government challenged it and that particular case, it was the Lagos government that went on appeal to the apex court.
But in our case in Kwara State, it is a different matter altogether.”
“The issue of hijab was imported by some elements. Hijab issue was not taken to court. What was taken to court was the issue of administration by the church of the schools they established and government grant aided and not hijab. Hijab was smuggled into it to make it look somehow.
“I as an Individual do not have any issue with hijab. I have many friends who use hijab and we are still friends. I even have staffers that use hijab and no problem about it.
“It is a matter of understanding and tolerance, which has been going on for a long time. It is not the issue of hijab but the mean issue Christians in Kwara State have is attempt by some elements to take over the heritage of our forefathers and change it for their own use.
“Contrary to the speculation or wrong position some people probably have been saying that the land we built the schools and church’s was given to us freely was wrong. The land was paid for and the Certificate of Occupancy (C of O) was obtained. So it is absolutely different from what the Lagos state government appealed to Supreme Court and was dismissed.”