(Read this insightful intellectual exchange between ABIODUN OWONIKOKO (SAN) & SYLVESTER UDEMEZUE, with comments by FEMI FALANA (SAN); OLANIYIN OKIN; OLUWASEUN OMOTOSO; OYEWALE AKINRINADE; & OTUNBA OLAYINKA BOLANLE on the legal and ethical issues surrounding the recent face-off between Miss Firdaus Abdulsalam and the Nigerian Law School over the former`s insistence on wearing hijab for call to bar)A Nigerian Law School graduate was reportedly denied her call-to-the-bar for refusing to take off her Islamic headscarf, the hijab. Amasa Firdaus Abdulsalam was not permitted by the Body of Benchers to enter the International Conference Centre (ICC), venue of the 2017 ceremonies, on December 12, 2017 when the call to bar was held. The Nigerian Law School said that the lady was breaking the dress code set by the School and by the Body of Benchers (the body responsible for the Call to Bar, but Firdaus, who was already wearing her new gown, insisted on wearing the wig on top of her hijab. The hijab is a headscarf worn by many Muslim women who feel it is part of their religion or culture. According reports, Miss Abdulsalam called the refusal of the Nigerian Law School to call her to the bar a violation of her right to freedom of religion as protected by Section 38 of the 1999 Constitution. The call to bar is the official moment where an individual is sworn into a law society or court and obtains licensing to practice law in that jurisdiction. Miss Abdulsalam can be called to the bar next year only if she is regarded as having complied with all the rules. This incident has generated heated argument, discussions among Nigerians at home and in diaspora, especially on the social media.
Presented below is a part of some nourishing intellectual discussion which occurred on the hijab controversy on a popular WhatsApp forum, the LEGAL PRACTICE DISCOURSE (LPD) Forum among some Learned Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SAN`s) and some other lawyers in Nigeria, in respect of the legal and human right issues raised by the actions of Miss Amasa Firdaus Abdulsalam (in having insisted on wearing her hijab for call to bar) and the reaction by the Body of Benchers (in having denied the lady access to the venue of the 2017 Call to Bar for the induction ceremonies on grounds that her actions violated the mandatory rules governing the conduct of the ceremonies). This section of the discussion was kicked off by a comment titled, “FIRDAUS HIJAB CRUSADE,” authored by a learned Senior Advocate of Nigeria and intellectual giant, Mr. ABIODUN OWONIKOKO, SAN.
FIRDAUS HIJAB CRUSADE.
(BY ABIODUN OWONIKOKO, SAN)
The reactions (for and against) to her conscientious objection to being forced to wear wig without hijab at her call to bar show that we are misinterpreting the poor girl. And for those who may be unaware I was part of the appellant`s legal team in the Court of Appeal case that resolved the constitutionality of hijab wearing by female pupils in Lagos State public secondary schools. It was from outset a test case. We needed someone with the right fact scenario to pursue it right from high court to the court of appeal.
In my view, Firdaus was not unaware of the rules and code of dressing at call to Bar ceremonies for qualifying lawyers as happened last week. Hers was a conscious political statement; probably misguided or not well informed, having regard to the lack of consensus among Muslim schools of thought on hijab being a religious prescription for Muslim women. She knew well enough the consequence of her decision and was evidently prepared to face it. She craved publicity (free advert) for her cause on a global platform and she’s getting it. All said, I think I respect the girl more than I do those who fail to appreciate her objective — she wants a bar that is domesticated and nuanced to reflect our culture and realities. Whether accommodation of hijab for those who treasure it as a statement of faith (not necessarily of piety) should be given consideration in the light of this incident (which I welcome) is a matter that we can no longer avoid discussing robustly. Citing differences between US, UK legal system and ours is not an answer to the question posed by the poor lady. I want to believe she’s having her laugh at us because she set us an examination, which we elected to sit for — but now insist on marking her script as her examiner. We need more of her type who have courage of their conviction with willingness to pay the price, to challenge our settled view about matters that require deep rethinking. If someone were to refuse to wear wig and gown at call to bar on account of being a colonial anachronism (not based on religion), I wonder if we would have a different argument in rejoinder to him.
Having said that, would I (as a Muslim) advise my daughter to do what Firdaus Amasa did if and when she qualifies to be called to Bar? Certainly, not. But would I be upset by it, if I knew ahead and was convinced she chose to do it as a matter of conscience with full appreciation of the implications for her career in the conservative legal profession — you bet I will not. Not that I have any choice…. Firdaus` is a test of the limit of our tolerance for disruptive change that is upon us in Nigeria, across all disciplines. Since the news broke we have seen that the issue raised by Firdaus` is not esoteric — it’s been addressed in other African commonwealth countries satisfactorily.
Most of us do not know that in Kenya the bar has accommodated use of hijab by Muslim women along with their wigs in court. Did it occur to senior Muslim (particularly female) lawyers to advocate a reform like this when we had a Muslim female CJN? That would have been a perfect factual scenario for sympathetic hearing. It would perhaps have made the Firdaus drama needless and obviated.
We can only conserve and preserve traditions and systems that work and increase value for efforts. That’s why we observe children of eminent lawyers taking degrees in the profession only out giving regard to their parents` expectation but immediately hanging their wig and gown after call to bar to pursue their own dreams (or fantasies) like acting, singing, fashion, computer coding etc. Albeit with differing outcomes on the scale of success if measured only in money terms while their self-fulfillment and happiness are discounted. Our younger generations cannot bear in silence, the hardship and frustration we endure with our atavistic conformance with moribund status quo. They are giving us warning of an incipient rebellion against seeming imperviousness to need for holistic reform that answers to demands of the present and needs of a future that is more of their own than that of our expiring generation. This jihad of provoking intellectual debate is far better and should be warmly welcome in lieu of that made notorious by ISIS and Boko Haram. ~ By ABIODUN J. OWONIKOKO SAN .
OLUWASEUN ‘DAYO OMOTOSO (First Reply to Abiodun Owonikoko, SAN):
With due respect sir I disagree with your submissions. A Bar reflective of our culture? I am dazed. What part of our culture is hijab? What tribe does that belong to? Would you put up this same argument in support of a Mason who insists on going to the call to bar with his apron or in support of an Ogboni member who insists wearing his itagbe or shaki to the call is his religious right? Would the cheerleaders of this affront to the solemnity of the bar put up their arguments in support of a candidate who insists that he worships masquerades and must be called in a masquerade’s garb? We must understand the consequences of our choices and the limits of our rights. Talking about rights, none of them is absolute.
FEMI FALANA, SAN (reacting to A. Owonikoko`s):
Biodun, yours is a commendable intervention. But can we blame the girl in a country where Islam and Christianity have been turned into state religions by the State? If the Nigerian Law School commences public events with Muslim prayers and ends with Christian prayers, can it turn around to blame a student for wearing her wig on top of her hijab? Could Firdaus not have been influenced by the Lagos and Ilorin Judicial Divisions of the Court of Appeal, which ruled that students have a constitutional right or fundamental right to wear hijab in secondary schools with prescribed school uniforms? If she challenges the decision of the Law School, won’t the (Federal) High Court be bound by both judgments of the Court of Appeal? Or, is the dress code of the Law School not a prescribed school uniform?
SYLVESTER UDEMEZUE (reacting to Femi Falana`s):
Dear Learned Silk, Sir, kindly permit me to humbly suggest, with utmost respect, that the issues decided upon by the Court of Appeal in the cases you have referred to are somehow different from those in the present scenario. I therefore respectfully do not think those decisions would guide this instance. Several issues are at stake here, I believe. And, should the matter ultimately go to court, all relevant issues would be on display before the courts. Besides, the lady’s professed “right” to wear hijab for call to bar is not an absolute right. Further, the lady knew all the relevant rules from Day One — on her being admitted to the Nigerian Law School (NLS), and she had then voluntarily executed a WRITEN UNDERTAKEN to abide by all the rules as well as the Code of Conduct for Students and Aspirants; and she had indeed, earlier, on THREE occasions (during the Law Dinners) removed the hijab in compliance with extant rules, only to now decide to assert her “right” during the Call to Bar. It is curious! What then has happens to the principle of “volenti non fit injuria.” Does waiver of right not apply, if any such “right” had existed in the first place, which I doubt? Anyway, it is my humble opinion that every right guaranteed under the Constitution demands some reciprocal responsibility from the holder or purported owner of such right. Moreover, the Nigerian Law School, the Council of Legal Education (CLE) and the Body of Benchers (BOB) have their own rights, just as Miss Amasa Firdaus thinks she does have hers. And if the lady (Firdaus) desires to be a member of the Nigerian Bar, her so-called “rights” would not excuse her from complying with the conditions precedent for an admission into the Bar.
Let me respectfully also state at this point that the mere fact that the NLS starts some ceremonies with prayers and ends with prayers does not suggest that the CLE/NLS is now a religious organization, nor that it would now bend its rules in order to accommodate behaviors, precepts, supposed “rules” of certain “religious” organizations into its Code of Conduct. The NLS/CLE is a secular body, just as the Body of Benchers (BOB), whose rules and regulations do not favour nor discriminate against any particular religion, but applies equally to all aspirants irrespective of religious, ethnic, political or social affiliation. The moment the BOB or the CLE/NLS decides to bend backwards to accommodate individual predilections of one religious group, other religious organizations would begin to assert their own “rights” in which case the NLS/CLE and BOB would become obliged to also accommodate every one of them; after all, what’s sauce for the goose is sauce also for the gander.
There is no one person or (religious) group that does not have rights! And there is none who doesn’t know how to assert these “rights,” and to assert them hard. The Catholic Rev. Father wears his cassock all day and all night long. The Catholic Rev Sister wears her head veil and long gown all day and all night long. Traditional rulers among us (Obas, Emirs, Igwes, Ezes, Obongs, etc.) wear their regalia always. Members of the Celestial Church of Christ (CCC), the Cherubim & Seraphim (C&S), etc. go about their businesses without any footwear. The Charismatic Ministry members always insist on wearing prescribed church aprons. There’s a particular way Pentecostal Pastors dress always. Imams and Alfas are not left out, neither are the core traditionalists, chief priests, or even atheists. All these people and others have always wisely obeyed the dress code at the Call to Bar, knowing that this is the right thing to do. But when the time comes, I mean, when this push comes to shove, all of them, each of them, every one of them, would tell you that if you’re entitled to wear your hijab, they equally are entitled to wear their apparels, however awkward, without any let or hindrance. The result, Sir, would be total CHAOS and disorderliness, that may signal the beginning of the annihilation legal education and the profession of law in Nigeria. We would then have ourselves to blame for this outcome—- assuming it gets to that. And it would be too late then to make any U-turn. I agree that people have the right to push for a change of the status quo. But, up until the change sought (if it is sought) is duly effected, extant rules must be obeyed by everyone concerned.
Finally, the need for respect for lawfully constituted authority is not yet dead. Hence, an Italian writer and scholar of old, Pope Pius XI (1857–1939), once said, and I agree: “justice requires that to lawfully constituted Authority, there must be given that respect and obedience which is its due…” And, as American theologian, ethicist, commentator and professor, Reinhold Niebuhr (1892–1971), put it, “the false tendency to claim God as an ally for our partisan value and ends is the source of all religious fanaticism.” For the late Martin Luther King Jnr, “there are some things concerning which we must always be maladjusted if we are to be people of good will. We must never adjust ourselves to racial segregation. We must never adjust ourselves to religious bigotry. We must never adjust ourselves to economic conditions that take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few.” Earlier, George Washington, American Statesman and the first President of the USA, (reputed to be the father of modern America), had declared that “..it is our boast, that one man’s religious tenets will not forfeit the protection of our Laws” It’s however for the courts to decide on this matter, if it gets into their domain; my comments are without prejudice to their powers in this respect.
Thank you, Learned Silk, Sir.
ABIODUN OWONIKOKO, SAN) (a response to Sylvester Udemezue`s):
I am still unable to see the point of whether she’s right or wrong when what she set out to do was protest application of the dress code that in her view did not respect her right to wear hijab underneath her wig. Once we agree that the Nigerian Constitution neither prohibits nor mandates wearing of hijab, the question will then arise: whether in the practical (not textual) application of the Legal Practitioner’s dress code, a Muslim woman’s religiously supported right (not obligation) to wear hijab is being violated. Until she attempted and was denied to wear the hijab, it was a moot point. An academic question. The incident has given it life as an issue to litigate upon with an identifiable complainant who can show locus standi – Firdaus. If Kenya Bar allows use of hijab beneath lawyers` wig as an expression of religious right; how strong would be the argument that it is not unconstitutional to deny Firdaus that right in Nigeria? The test is what is reasonable in a normal society. It would be interesting to see whether our courts will be willing to hold that Kenya is not a reasonable society for accommodating hijab. It does not however mean that it was wrong to have denied her entry for call to bar at the last try since as at then, the application of the dress code had not been challenged or judicially interpreted in a precedent. It may arguably lead to the court declaring that it amounts to religious discrimination to deny her the use of hijab. It’s a totally different matter if she sought to be excused from wearing the lawyer`s wig, like any other lawyer. And that distinction is what we might not have sufficiently adverted to. That was not her contention. The issue is so jurisprudential tricky that predicting which one of the contrasting lines of argument will prevail in court may be presumptuous. It’s not black and white on the facts and I dare not speak with any authority or confidence about what the courts will eventually decide. But if it helps, mention must be made that at the first opportunity to hear the famous appeal in the hijab case the panel declined to proceed because it was an all-Muslim panel presided over by Augie JCA (as she then was). Counsel were thereupon advised to pray the President of the Court of Appeal to reconstitute the panel in order to give it some religious balance. A full panel of the Court presided over by a non-Muslim was later assigned to take the eventual appeal. Although we talk about the hijab issue resolved by that case, its most ground-breaking pronouncement was that Nigeria is not secular state. Rather, that by the express provisions of the constitution, Nigeria is a multi-religious nation.
Dear Learned Silk, Sir, I will (with your kind indulgence) say the following in response, with due respect:
- You referred to the rule in far-away Kenya and expressed your optimism that Nigerian Courts may take a cue from that country. I do not think our courts would so do. That is the rule in Kenya; the rule is different in Nigeria and anyone who desires to join the legal profession in Nigeria MUST respect the rules of the profession or of the relevant regulatory authorities —- whether one is a Christian, Moslem, traditionalist, atheist, etc. My beloved sister, Miss Amasa Firdaus, elected to not comply with the rules in NIGERIA, and hence was denied admission to the Nigerian Bar. Nigeria is not Kenya. So, the rules in Kenya cannot govern or guide application of Nigerian rules to Nigerians in Nigeria. Besides, I am aware that decisions of superior courts in some foreign jurisdictions may have some persuasive influence on our courts. I doubt if Kenya is now first among such countries. Finally, on this point, since our rules expressly prohibit the use of hijab for call to bar, which was why all other, hijab-wearing, Muslim ladies (save Miss Firdaus) had come to the International; Conference Centre (ICC), Abuja, venue of the 2017 Call-to-Bar Ceremonies, without wearing their hijab, I honestly do not think such persuasion would be entertained in this instance.
- If the lady (Firdaus) refused to remove her hijab and the BOB refused to admit her to the Nigerian Bar, and both parties left it at that point and went home, having each exercised/asserted each party’s right (the lady, the right to refuse to remove her hijab and the BOB, the right to refuse to call her to bar on grounds of noncompliance with set rules), I do not think there would have been any issues. It was the same lady who had taken the matter a step further, by going on the social and print media, and indeed everywhere, crying for help, and alleging that NLS had denied her “fundamental right” to wear hijab for call to bar, against extant BOB/CLE rules. So, it’s the lady (and not the Law school, nor the BOB) that had caused all this unnecessary brouhaha, controversy, with these shenanigans plus her needless religious grandstanding and unprovoked “bring-them-down” campaign against the BOB/CLE; and therein lies the “wrong” in her conduct! Yes, Sir! Hence, another respected Senior Lawyer has described this whole matter as a pure “conduct issue,” and not at all a “religious issue.”
- I agree with your statement that “it is a totally different matter if she (Firdaus) sought to be excused from wearing wig like any other lawyer.” But, sir, seeking to be excused from wearing the lawyer`s wig on grounds of her religious beliefs is NO different from her wearing the wig PLUS other things (i.e., hijab) when extant rules say it is only the wig — no more, no less. What if an African traditionalist decides to come to the Call venue with the lawyer`s wig on, but with some Peacock feather hung on top of the wig, in line with his religious beliefs— would he not be in the same shoes, Sir? Breach of rule is breach of rule, irrespective of how it occurs and notwithstanding the reasons given for such violation of rules. If a lawfully constituted authority should accept such individual reasons (purely subjective reasons) or excuses for this kind of flagrant disregard for its rules, I do not think anyone would ever obey any rules; of course, each person must have or contrive a reason (which may be religious; like a religious “right”) for violating secular rules. E.g., a primary school pupil who comes to school later than the scheduled time and is therefore not allowed into the school premises and into the classroom could allege violation of his “religious right” claiming he had come late because he had some religious “obligation” to offer prayers in his local church or mosque in the morning before coming to school—- a right which he would then insist the school must respect. Another student who decides to embark on a religious retreat outside of his locality during the time of the semester-end exams might return from such (religious) retreat and insist that the school must organize for only him his own examinations, claiming it would be a breach of his religious right (for the affected school) to not so do, since it was his adherence to “a religious obligation” that had led him to miss the first round of exams. Hmmmmmm!!!! Rights!!!! Fundamental rights!!! And what should we expect? The school must accede since such a student has a religious right!
- Respected Learned Silk, Sir, you advise that the Court of Appeal has decided that Nigeria is a “multi-religious state.” I agree. But, with due respect, Sir, I see NO material difference between the terms “multi-religious state” and “secular state.” A “secular” state is a state that is officially neutral in matters of religion, supporting neither religion nor irreligion; a state that treats all of its citizens equally regardless of religious affiliations; a state that avoids preferential treatment for a citizen from a particular religion/non-religion over other religions/non-religion. A secular state does not have a state religion (an established religion in accordance with whose precepts the state is governed) or its equivalent. A true secular state steadfastly maintains a neutral governance style without any influence from religious factions and vice versa. A secular state separates church or mosque, etc., from state. (See http://www.definitions.net/definition/secular%20state). It is therefore clear from the above that a secular state is, more often than not, a multi-religious state who, to avoid being accused of bias, maintains neutrality and refuses to afford any special or preferential treatment to any particular religion over and above the others. A “multi-religious” state which runs the affairs of state in a neutral manner, and not allowing itself to be controlled, influenced or intimidated by any professed “rights” of any of its many religions is a SECULAR STATE. Sir, is this not a good reason for the NLS and BOB to insist on neutrality by refusing to allow use of the Muslim hijab, Catholic Rev Fathers’ Cassock, Alb and Stole, Catholic Rev Sisters’ veil and gown, the Lord’s Chosen’s Apron, the Deeper Life member’s scarf, the Pentecostal Pastors’ COLLAR, the traditionalists regalia, the chiefs, otunbas’ and high chiefs’ red, white, blue or brown caps, etc., by aspirants during the call to bar ceremonies. It is for the same reason of secularity that Celestial Church of Christ (CCC) and Cherubim & Seraphim (C & S) members who are Nigerian bar aspirants are not permitted to come on bare foot into the call to bar venues. If you have agreed that Nigeria is a multi-religious country, with each religion trying to lord it over the other, then I earnestly beg you to agree that Nigeria needs to maintain its secularity by not favoring or accommodating the practice or culture of one religious group without also accommodating those of the others. Except you are suggesting that, in furtherance of some religious “rights,” everyone from everywhere should be allowed to wear everything from everywhere, anyhow, for Call to bar! Then, I would say, God help us!
I am grateful for the opportunity you gave me to learn from you.
Thank you, Learned Silk, Sir.
ABIODUN OWONIKOKO, SAN:
Your optimism is fascinating. I will have you know that the hijab case was lost at the High Court before a judge who is a staunch Redeemed Christian Church of God member. Her Ladyship relied on an European Union Court decision interpreting EU human rights conventions to hold that denial of right to wear hijab by a pupil was not a breach of freedom of religion. A contrary decision of Ilorin Division of the Court of Appeal cited was supposedly distinguished. So the judge preferred the EU Court decision referred to the court from Turkey — holding that hijab could be banned on ground of secularity of state not to promote or support a particular faith. That was the reason for constituting a full panel of the Court of Appeal which reversed the trial court and upheld religious right to wear hijab by Muslim female students in public secondary* schools.
Respected Learned Silk, Sir, Miss Amasa Firdaus and all other Muslim aspirants to the bar were allowed to wear hijab (a particular type is allowed) to classes/lectures while they were students in the Nigerian Law School (NLS). The Law School, as we all know, is owned by the Council of Legal Education (CLE). The Nigerian Law School (NLS) is a public school, no doubt, I agree. The scenario is however different here, which has nothing to do with a public school, the NLS or CLE. Call to Bar is a CEREMONY, the planning and organization of which are the sole responsibility of the BODY OF BENCHERS (BOB), an independent corporate body (not a public school) established by section 3 of the Legal Practitioners Act, Cap L11, LFN, 2004. Wearing of all sorts of religious veils or scarf, including hijab, especially the ones that cover one`s ears (which is what Miss Firdaus actually wore on the fateful day) is expressly banned for call to bar CEREMONIES. This case is not about the (religious) right of a student to wear hijab in a public school. It is rather about the right of an aspirant to the Nigerian bar to wear hijab to an INDUCTION ceremony (call to bar) organized by an organization (not a school), the BOB, where the rules EXPRESSLY ban the use of such, or that type of, hijab. The Nigerian Law School has no business with the call to bar ceremonies —- except to the extent it is permitted by the BOB to assist the BOB. Call to bar is a SPECIAL, FORMAL SOLEMN CEREMONY, not a classroom lecture. The call to bar venue is not a classroom nor a school premises. The Body of Benchers (BOB) is not a public school, I repeat. Call to bar is an induction/admission ceremony into the Bar—- the Nigerian Bar (Association). I therefore humbly suggest that we should consider leaving out these cases dealing with pupils’ freedom to use hijab in public schools, because I respectfully do not think they would guide the present scenario, which has much to do, not with one’s freedom of religion, but instead with freedom of association and implications of subscribing to membership of an association. If one desires to belong to an association, is one not expected to either COMPLY with the express rules of the association serving as preconditions for admission into the Association or to otherwise stay away from the Association? Or, is it the Association that is expected to change its rules, and bend backwards to OBEY the prospective member’s personal, even “religious” rules? This is a major question the Nigerian Courts would answer in this very instance, I believe. I repeat, it is not about right to wear hijab in a public school, and it is not about freedom of religion, but majorly about the responsibility to obey the rules of an organization or association to which one voluntarily proposes to belong. This is why His Lordship, Dongban-Mensem, JCA, once declared as follows:
“In the exercise of their constitutional rights under sections 39 and 40 of the 1999 Constitution, which guarantee freedom of thought, assembly, association, etc., individuals elect to and do subscribe to membership in associations, which sometimes curtail their rights. The appellant, while exercising his right, joined an honourable profession of formidable societal influence and relevance which of necessity has rules and regulations to guide his professional conduct and which along the line curtail some of his choices. The appellant was not compelled to take up the profession of law and its attendant compulsory membership of the Nigerian Bar Association. However, once he made the choice to study and practice law and thereby placing his name on the roll of honour of belonging to the profession, he stands bound by the internal rules and regulations of the Association. There would therefore be no issue of a breach of the Constitution of the country if the rules demand of him, UNDIVIDED LOYALTY…. How can a law court interfere and set aside these vital rules for the sanitation of the Bar? The way forward for the appellant is as in all democratic settings – a hard campaign for the reversal of these bye-laws by a majority of the members who after all are said to have voted enmass for the bye-laws. The appellant needs to sharpen his persuasive skills and convince the other members of the association that the said bye-laws are inimical to the progress or perhaps the existence of the association.” (see CHINWO v OWHONDA (2008) 3 NWLR (Pt. 1074) 341, 361 on freedom of association–Implication of subscription to membership of association).
Sir, what happened in Abuja, at the ICC, venue of the 2017 swearing-in or call to bar ceremony, was that the lady (Miss Firdaus) voluntarily elected to not be called (inducted) into the Nigerian Bar, by not complying with the mandatory rules, which apply without any discrimination or preference against any particular religion. She has thus made her choice. Jurisprudential theories of obligations based on association or membership are supported by the commonsensical belief that we should obey the laws of our societies or associations whose membership we voluntarily subscribe to because we belong (or voluntarily want to belong) to them. Then come the theory relating to duty of loyalty and obedience, which requires a member or prospective member of an association to act in accordance with the organization’s articles, bylaws, and other governing documents, as well as all applicable rules and regulations, irrespective of the member’s or prospective member’s personal or religious interests which he or she is not permitted to rank or place over and above the interests or rules of the Association to which he or she has voluntarily subscribed. Finally, the allegation of discrimination against Amasa Firdaus (on grounds of her religious beliefs) or of violation of her religious rights could only avail her (Miss Firdaus) in this particular instance if she is able show that adherents of other religious organizations (or that other Muslim lady aspirants), who also came for the same call to bar, were allowed to wear similar apparels, veils, scarfs, etc., while she, Miss Amasa Firdaus, was not allowed to wear hers. This, to me, is the only thing that would permit the bringing in of this right to religious freedom into this scenario.
Thanks, again, Learned Silk, Sir. Have a nice day. Kindest regards.
ABIODUN OWONIKOKO, SAN (concluding remarks):
Everything you have reiterated, the lady appreciates. But the point she’s provoking in all of us is — is the law as applied to her case in breach of her right to freedom of religion guaranteed under the constitution as a fundamental right? Nobody has answers to that? Not even the eminent retired Chief Justice of the Supreme Court who made a fatherly gesture of persuading her to “leave mata.” The opinion of a High Court in litis on the point (unless and until set aside) is enough to close the issue. Until then, we are all just engaging in an intellectual exercise so long as we don’t judge her decision extra judicially. It’s as simple as that. And I would think enough is said about it. We may now eagerly await the originating summons to test our hypothesis.
SYLVESTER UDEMEZUE (concluding remarks):
My position has been that such rights, no doubt guaranteed under the Constitution, are subject to certain limitations, restrictions designed to ensure an orderly and just society and in recognition of the fact that ours is a secular state, nay, a multi-religious state, in which, as a matter of law, justice and common sense, NO one particular religion (out of the existing and conflicting many) should be guaranteed its own rights over and above those of the other religions or religious groups. One’s voluntary subscription to membership of a secular association automatically imposes certain limitation to one’s right to freedom of religion. A religious person who has voluntarily subscribed to membership of a secular associations must know he is obliged to comply with the entrance rules of the association— the pre-conditions for becoming its member. Again, for the members and regulatory bodies/organizations in the legal profession in Nigeria, it is either we wisely retain the ban on use of certain hijab, scarf, caps, albs, aprons, cassock, and wearing of barefoot, veils, feathers, etc., for call-to-bar ceremonies and preserve the existing sanity in our profession, or we unwisely lift the existing ban and thereby open the door for all manners of displays, actions and behaviors, however awkward, retrogressive, uncivilized, crude or irrational, by adherents of all kinds of religious organizations (known and unknown, orthodox and unorthodox, ancient and modern)—- whose members could then come for the Call to bar with anything and everything they like to wear, put on , or attach to their heads or bodies, eyes, ears or nose, anyhow, because they too have rights, which are NO LESS constitutionally guaranteed than Miss Amasa Firdaus’ right to wear hijab in violation of BOB/CLE’s extant rules. It is well!! Whatever we want for our profession is what we would get in it. We all must be prepared to live with the choice we decide to make for the Nigerian Bar. As Max Brooks has advised, in his book World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, “one can’t blame anyone else, no one but oneself. One has to make one`s own choices and be prepared to live every agonizing day with the consequences of those choices.” Our lives are only an expression of the choices we make. So, also does the future of the legal profession in Nigeria depend of our present choices, decisions, actions or inactions. In the book, Lanthe, published in 2015, author Cathlin Shahriary observed that, “all great choices are made with great risks. You must decide for yourself if the consequences are worth the action you are willing to take.” Good luck to us!! I stop here while we wait on the “wise men” of the Bench, members of the same noble profession, to come to our aid, now, to save our profession from avoidable chaos, confusion, commotion and collapse.
Thank you so much, Learned Silk, Sir.
I remain, respectfully yours,
OLAJIYI OKIN (contributing):
Learned friends, let’s take a moment to examine the Regulation Wear as provided by the Body of Benchers (BOB) and see if it admits of all the arguments about other religions as have been canvassed on this platform. Part of the regulations provides thus: “During this exercise, all your facial features, including your ears must be exposed for capturing. This is also applicable to all our female Muslim Students wearing the Hijab”
From the above, it is clear that wearing of Hijab during the call to bar ceremony is not totally prohibited. From the appearance of Firdaus, the only breach of the regulations is that the Hijab covered her ears. She can therefore be said to have substantially complied with the regulations. Can traditionalists or any other religious adherents comply with the regulations to the extent of the compliance by Frdraus? Is substantial compliance not acceptable in our laws? I am of the opinion that bringing in the issue of the paraphernalia of traditionalists and other religious bodies is not apposite in this regard. The regulations specifically mentioned the Hijab. The Latin phrase, expressio unius est exclussio alterius, which literary means, the express mention of one thing is the exclusion of the others, is applicable in the instant case. The regulations never mentioned the hood of the monk, the ragtag of the masquerade, the cassock of the pastor or the white linen of the Eyo masquerade etc, etc. In my candid opinion, if Firdaus’ Hijab had exposed her ears (there are Hijabs that expose the ears) then this issue would not have arisen. In my opinion, she substantially complied with the regulations and should have been admitted to the Bar. I plead that our arguments should be within the confines of the regulations stipulated by the CLE/BOB
SYLVESTER UDEMEZUE (reply to Olaniyi Okin)
With due respect, dear Sir, I think this is beside the point here. The rule you have quoted relates to only attendance at lectures at Nigerian Law School. Wearing of hijab is totally prohibited for call to bar ceremonies. There’s no doubt about that and this explains why ALL the hitherto hijab-wearing Muslim ladies who were to be called to the bar on December 12 and 13, 2017, had come to the ICC, Abuja, venue of the Call, without any hijabs on their heads. If there were no such rules outrightly banning wearing of hijab during call to bar, why did all those hundreds of Muslim ladies come to Abuja without hijab? Or, did the CLE and BOB inform the other Muslim ladies of the extant rules but failed to inform only Miss Amasa Firdaus? Or, is Miss Firdaus the only Muslim lady aspirant to the Nigerian Bar in 2017? Now, permit me to ask, is there any female Muslim lawyer here, now, who wore hijab to her Call to Bar during her own time? Is there any male lawyer here who has ever seen (whether physically and on TV) where anyone wore hijab to Call to Bar in Nigeria? Miss Firdaus knew the rules banning hijab for Call to Bar from Day One, but had deliberately chosen to flout the rules because, as she and her supporters and sympathizers claim, she was embarking on a “crusade” to make a “human right” statement, to prove a point, namely, that she has the “religious” right to wear hijab to Call to Bar even in violation of extant secular rules of an organization she voluntarily subscribed to. CALL TO BAR IS NOT AN ADMISSION INTO A PUBLIC SCHOOL; IT IS AN ADMISSION INTO AN ASSOCIATION THE NIGERIAN BAR (ASSOCIATION) — Call to the Nigerian Bar is tantamount to an admission into the Nigerian Bar Association; AN INDUCTION PROGRAM into membership of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) or the Legal Profession in Nigeria. Hence a person, once called to the bar, automatically becomes a member of the NBA. Whether we choose to say NBA or the Legal Profession, either way, it is an association, a society, membership of which is voluntary but with some conditions precedent to be met before one is admitted. If one meets the conditions, one is admitted. If one does not, one is not admitted. It’s a matter of choice.
Call to bar ceremony is not an admission into the Body of Benchers (BOB) nor into the Nigerian Law School (NLS) or the Council of Legal Education (CLE). The aspirant who appears for call to bar had earlier been admitted into the NLS after which he did his registration, started lectures and thereafter did the bar final exams. It is only after the aspirant has (1) passed the Bar Final Exams, (2) passed the Portfolio Assessment, (3) participated in the mandatory Three-Law Dinner terms and (4) is also adjudged to be a “fit and proper person” being of good conduct, that he would then be admitted into the legal profession (the Nigerian Bar) during the call to bar/induction/swearing-in ceremonies. Further, as we all know, the “CALL TO BAR CERTIFICATE” which is issued on successful completion of Call to bar ceremonies is the Qualifying Certificate for becoming a member of the Legal Profession in Nigeria. Once you’re issued with the Qualifying Certificate (during the call to bar ceremonies), you become a Barrister (and Solicitor), a member of the Bar (the Nigerian bar). So, if one is coming g for the call to bar, such an aspirant is coming to become a member of an association; accordingly, the aspirant must be prepared to observe the rules of the association or the rules of conduct (fit and proper) for entrance into the association. One`s religious principles cannot be a justifiable reason for disobedience of such entrance rules. If one`s religious precepts, doctrines, cultural practices or whatever are in conflict with the rules of the association which one proposes to join, one has either to obey the rules of his religion and stay away from membership of the association or to obey the rules of the association and be inducted into the association. So, the case of Amasa Firdaus is not about violation of fundamental right to freedom of religion; it is about the implications of one subscribing to the membership of a voluntary organization. Let’s call a spade by its name. The religious rights, guaranteed under the 1999 Constitution, as amended, are without doubt subject to certain limitations …. Every basic human right draws its authoritative force which confers on it and attaches to it some reciprocal or respective duty. Hence, to claim one’s rights and ignore one’s duties, or only half fulfill them, is like building a house with one hand and tearing it down with the other. As Indira Gandhi once said, “people tend to forget their duties but remember only their rights.” That is what my dear learning friend and sister, Miss Amasa Firdaus had done!! Mahatma Gandhi put it more succinctly: “rights that do not flow from duty well performed are not worth having.” Finally, George Washington once declared “the government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion,” Now, I beg us to not forget that, likewise, the government of the Nigerian State is not, in any sense, founded on any religion —- not Islam, nor Christianity nor any other. It is a secular state.
It is all storm in a tea cup. Was the lady in issue not aware of the dictates of her chosen legal profession? Was she not aware of the Rules and Regulations on dress code for lawyers on d Call to Bar day? Has she not got all the opportunities to choose between her life profession or her religion before she displayed her gross disrespect to d pillars of our noble profession before the whole world? As we were warned before our Call to Bar, one of us was spotted wearing a striped shirt, by the then ex-CJN, Adetokunbo Ademola, and was asked to leave the queue and wasn’t called to bar that evening. It was the instant judgement for gross disobedience. A law or rule not yet set aside must be obeyed. Let’s not encourage indiscipline under d guise of religious bigotry.
OTUNBA OLAYINKA BOLANLE:
As we consider the wearing of the Arabian hijab by Law inductees from the spectrum of the religious angle, perhaps we should consider the absurdity of a situation that would present itself if an extremist practitioner of his own peculiar religion says his “religion” forbids wearing of any clothes whatsoever and that he should be called to the Bar “NUDE.” After all, that was how we all came into this world. Once you set a precedent based on sentiments, all sorts of future situations (however awkward they may be) will beg to be accommodated in it. I do not see how the observance of codes of dressing peculiar to a particular profession (known to the applicant before seeking admission into same) violates anyone’s fundamental rights or makes you any less a member of the profession. Let us not encourage bigotry or deviancy. Every organization has its own rules and regulations. Perhaps, it is these rules that make each organization unique. If you want to play women football, FIFA has prescribed codes for their jerseys and shorts. If you want to join “ogboni confraternity” you must be willing to put on their “kijipa”(or is it “liki” they call it)…. Religion and Ethnicity are pure diversionary tactics from Nigerian rulers. Please shine your eyes.