Looming consequences of the hijab judgment
SIR: On Friday, June 17, 2022, a judgment by the Supreme Court upheld the right of Muslim female students to use hijab in public schools. The judgment of the Supreme Court which tops every other judgment on the matter and is bound to shape discussions on the issue for many years is already sending ripples across the country.
A decade of diatribes
The tussle from the High Court to the Supreme Court over the decision of the Lagos State Government to disallow female Muslim students in the school from the use of hijab took all of ten years before the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the Court of Appeal which restored the use of hijab by female Muslim students in Lagos State.
In its judgment, the Supreme Court held that wearing the hijab was an Islamic injunction and an act of worship required of Muslims, and consequently, the banning of female Muslim students from wearing a hijab to school is a violation of their fundamental rights to freedom of thought, conscience, religion, dignity of human persons and freedom from discrimination. By the judgment, the Supreme Court upheld and perhaps extended the rights contained in Section 38 of the 1999 Constitution (As amended).
A lawyer`s loud laugh
On Thursday, June 23, 2022, legal practitioner, Malcolm Emokiniovio Omirhobo went to Supreme Court in an outfit that soon drew national attention. While he had the traditional wig and gown on him, it was what he wore beneath that stuck in the memory. With bare feet, and with a feather tucked into his wig, the lawyer had a red cloth tied around his waist below the white shirt he wore. He also made sure he had an amulet around his neck as well as chalk painting around one of his eyes.
While the Justices of the Supreme Court did their best to ignore him especially as he was not appearing in any matter before them, he was particular afterwards about telling newsmen that being an adherent of traditional religion, he could take liberty with his dressing to court given that the court had opened the floodgates the previous Friday.
A judicial juggernaut
Of the three arms of government in Nigeria`s democracy, the judiciary appears the weakest. Yet, it is a key player and in the judgments of its courts, the common Nigerian should find hope. Atop the hierarchy of these courts in Nigeria is the Supreme Court, which has the preeminence of being Nigeria`s highest and final court. This invariably means that though judicial proceedings do not necessarily start there, they necessarily end there. This singular power and privilege apportioned by law gives the court the opportunity to shape the law in whichever way it wants as it interprets same.
It was in the exercise of this power that the Supreme Court overruled the Lagos State Government on the hijab issue and until it reverses itself, Nigerians can take to the bank the fact that they can dress as their religion allows anywhere without fear of legal consequences or discrimination.
While Lagos State is adjusting to ensure that female Muslim students are allowed to use their hijabs in public schools within the state, just as the lawyer showed, any other Nigerian might choose to flout whichever dress code there is and put same down to some religious injunctions.
The consequences are set to be jarring and far reaching.