SUPREME COURT RULING ON HIJAB: REASONS FOR EXCITEMENT
Islamic Welfare Foundation considers the supreme court judgement on hijab wearing among female Muslim students in schools in Lagos State as a breakthrough for the Muslim Ummah. The Foundation felicitates with the Muslim Ummah in Lagos, Southwest, and Nigeria in general. The Foundation particularly congratulates the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) for its fatherly role, Muslim Ummah of South-West Nigeria (MUSWEN) for its guidance, Muslim Students Society of Nigeria (MSSN), Lagos Area Unit, for its drive, Hijab Rights Advocacy Initiative for its passion, Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) for its human rights activism, Muslims Public Affairs Centre (MPAC) for its contribution and the entire Muslim Ummah in Nigeria for their voices of support. IWF prays that Allah continues to reward everyone who had contributed in one way or the other to set the female Muslim students free from the shackles of oppression, discrimination, intimidation, harassment, and assault.
The landmark judgment of the Supreme Court of Nigeria in favour of the wearing of Hijab in schools in Lagos State and nay the whole of Nigeria offers exciting reasons for Muslims, in Nigeria. For those who have been wondering about the reasons for the excitement of this landmark judgment, allow us to take you through a decade of traumatic experiences suffered by female Muslim students in Lagos State for DARING to wear HIJAB to school which the Supreme Court has now declared as a fundamental human right guaranteed by the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
February 5, 2013: E.C Ukpaka, the Principal of Kadara Junior Grammar School, Ebute Meta, Lagos, flogged Aisha Alabi, a Junior Secondary School One student 43 times on the school assembly for DARING to wear HIJAB.
February 20, 2013: The Principal, Mafoluku Senior Grammar School, Oshodi, Lagos State, Mrs. Elizabeth Omidele saw Bareerah Tajudeen outside the school with hijab, and for DARING to wear HIJAB outside the school, Mrs. Elizabeth assaulted Bareerah, forcefully removed the hijab, and trampled on it.
May 14, 2013: to compound the woes of our female Muslim students who DARED to wear HIJAB, The Lagos State Commissioner for Education, Mrs. Olayinka Oladunjoye stated at a press briefing in Ikeja that “usage of Hijab and other religious materials in public schools was against government’s policy”. This declaration institutionalised the discrimination against wearing of Hijab. For instance, The Principal, Comprehensive High School, Alapere, Ketu, Lagos ordered a ban on the use of Hijab in and out of the school and stopped the students from observing Zuhr (Noon) and Jum’ah (Friday) prayers in the school premises and after closing. In addition, in Itire Community Senior Secondary School, Mushin, the Principal on her way to school, met some female Muslim students who DARED to wear HIJAB in the public bus, scolded and ordered the female Muslim students to put off the Hijab.
This prompted the lawsuit filed against the Lagos State Government by Miss Asiyat AbdulKareem (through her father), Miss Moriam Oyeniyi and supported by the Muslim Students’ Society of Nigeria, Lagos Area Unit. At that time, both female Muslim students were 12years old. It is instructive to note that Miss Asiyat Abdulkareem is now a 400-level student at University of Lagos.
October 17, 2014: The lawsuit filed by Miss Asiyat AbdulKareem and Miss Moriam Oyeniyi against the Lagos State Government was dismissed by Justice Modupe Onyeabor of an Ikeja High Court. In her judgment, Onyeabor held that the prohibition of the wearing of hijabs over school uniforms within and outside the premises of public schools was not discriminatory and the hijab ban did not violate Sections 38 and 42 of the 1999 Constitution as claimed by the plaintiffs.
2014: In a swift reaction and with the high court weaponizing the Hijab discrimination movement, Lagos State Government formally banned the use of the hijab, arguing that it was not part of the approved school uniform for pupils. As law abiding citizens, female Muslim students did not DARE wear HIJAB to schools, the Muslim Ummah in Lagos State fully obeyed the directive of the Lagos State Government.
May 27, 2015: the female Muslim students filed an appeal, seeking redress and asked the court to declare the ban as a violation of their rights to freedom of thought, religion, and education. The case, CA/L/135/15, was between Lagos State Government, Miss Asiyat AbdulKareem (through her father), Miss Moriam Oyeniyi and the Muslim Students’ Society of Nigeria.
July 21, 2016: a five-man special appellate court panel, presided by Justice A.B. Gumel, overruled the October 17, 2014, judgment of Justice Modupe Onyeabo of the Lagos State High Court in Ikeja, which banned the use of hijab in public primary and secondary schools in Lagos State. While striking down Justice Onyeabor’s verdict, the Justice Gumel panel had held that the ban on hijab was discriminatory against Muslim pupils in the state. The panel upheld the Muslim students’ contention that the ban violated their rights to freedom of thought, conscience, religion, dignity of human persons and freedom from discrimination guaranteed by the 1999 Constitution. Justice Gumel also 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. 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 ban on hijabs was a policy of the Lagos State Government (respondent).
February 2017: The Lagos State Government approached the Supreme Court to challenge the July 21, 2016, judgment of the Court of Appeal which affirmed the right to use hijab by Muslim pupils in Lagos State. This was after the Lagos State Government sought to stay the execution of the judgment at the Lagos Division of the Court of Appeal but failed. At this juncture, scroll back to October 2014 and note the difference in the reaction of the Lagos State Government.
Recall that the judgement of Appeal Court was in July 2016, which was ruled in favour of wearing the hijab for the female Muslim students, but that did not stop the infringing of rights of the female Muslim students in Lagos State.
September 22, 2017: Mrs. O. O. Dada, a.k.a Aya Dada, a Yoruba teacher, notorious for calling the hijab "AKISA" (rags) met two students on their way home after the Friday prayers outside the school, and for DARING to wear the HIJAB, asked them to remove their hijabs and drop them in the gutter and one of the students was slapped for her failure to comply with the instruction. The hijab discrimination movement was rejuvenated.
September 2017: at Jakande Estate Comprehensive College, Abesan, Lagos, a female Muslim student was slapped and punished by Mrs. Toke Olatunji and Mrs. Ola Olohun (Government and English Teachers respectively) for DARING to wear HIJAB on her school uniform.
November 15, 2017: at Ilogbo High School, Otto Awori, Ijanikin, Lagos, Mrs Onkwocha, Mrs Oladipupo-George, and Mrs. Akinbolade with impunity went round the school to remove hijab from students whom prior to this time have been peacefully wearing their hijabs.
Rest of 2017: Mrs. Ogunyemi, wife to Honourable Ogunyemi, then, Chairman, House committee on Education, Lagos State House of Assembly turned herself into a self-acclaimed task force who goes around classes to personally remove hijab from the heads of female Muslim students when she goes on inspection as an officer of the inspectorate office. She also gave teachers instruction to do it. At Sabo-Oniba Nursery and Primary School 2, Ajangbadi-Sabi, Ojo, Lagos, Mr. Adewunmi, Primary Six teacher at the school added to his teaching duty, to remove and flog any child for DARING to wear the HIJAB. Some teachers and principals of Iba Housing Estate School, Iba; Jakande Estate Comprehensive College, Abesan; Kadara Grammar School, Ebutte-Metta; St. George Primary School, Epe, took laws into their hands by beating, harassing, and humiliating female Muslim students who DARED to wear the HIJAB.
September 13, 2018: Mrs. J.O. Sadare, the principal of Isolo Senior Secondary School, Lagos State, sent five female Muslim students out of the school and suspended them for DARING to wear HIJAB. The students were pictured reading in a tricycle outside the school gate i.e., they turned the Keke to the classroom.
September 2018: at Jakande Comprehensive Senior College, Abesan, Ipaja, Lagos, Abeedah Alabi was initially prevented from registering at the school because she was wearing the hijab until several interventions. Abeedah went on to win several laurels for the school.
With the increasing harassment, assault and embarrassment of female Muslim students, various Muslim groups, such as MSSN, Lagos Area Unit, MURIC, Hijab Rights Advocacy Initiative, and MPAC, called on the Lagos State Government to respect the July 2016 Appeal Court decision by issuing a circular to stem the flagrant discrimination against the wearing of the Hijab for female Muslim students in public schools.
November 2018: Lagos State Government eventually issued a circular allowing the use of hijab in schools. The circular read, “Since the case of the use of Hijab in Lagos State is still pending in the Supreme court of Nigeria, status quo be maintained, to avoid contempt of the court, that is students be allowed to wear Hijabs on school uniforms but same must be short, smart, neat and in the same colour of the uniform (skirt). Furthermore, schools’ management are advised to downplay comments and disciplinary actions on the use of smart Hijabs until the final determination of the case by Supreme Court. No student should be discriminated against in any form on the basis of religion. All principals and teachers must be sensitized to comply accordingly. You are enjoined to adhere strictly to these recommendations.”
Bigots have no respect for directives, law, and humanity. This was made clear from the reactions to the July 2016 Appeal Court ruling and Lagos State Government circular because the hatred towards female Muslim students on hijab continued.
2018 - 2019: Female Muslim students were forced to remove their hijabs before their pictures were taken for WASSCE registration. It occurred in Adeolu Senior Secondary School; Agbeda Community Grammar School; Yewa Grammar School, Ikorodu; Oluwa Memorial Senior Secondary School; Ajeromi Ifelodun Senior High School; Ojoku Senior Secondary School; Cardoso Juniopr High School; Lagos State Government Secondary School, Ijanikin; Ajangbadi Senior High School; Oto-Awori Senior Grammar School and Iba Housing Estate Senior Secondary School.
January 2019: at Ikosi High School, Female Muslim candidate was slapped by WAEC official for her refusal to remove hijab during WASSCE registration.
April 11, 2019: at New Ocean School, Megida, Ayobo, Lagos, the daughter of ace broadcaster, Sulaiman Aledeh, was among several female Muslim candidates who were denied entry at the JAMB examination center in Lagos for DARING to wear HIJAB.
May 2019: at the Reufort Comprehensive College, Imalete Alaafia, Ajah, Lagos, WAEC Supervisor sent out a female Muslim candidate out of the examination hall and the next day, for daring to still wear the hijab, he forcibly removed the hijab on her head. Officials of the school confirmed the incident.
November 2019: at the Estate Junior High School Agege, Lagos, Asmau Babalola was assaulted by Mrs Fakunle, a Yoruba teacher, her hijab forcefully removed from her head and called a witch. The beating was so severe that her wrist was swollen.
2019: at the Army Cantonment Girls Secondary School in Ojo, Lagos, two teachers at the school molested, harassed and intimidated 13-year-old Khadeejah Adewunmi Ajayi in JS2, and prevented her from preparing for some class tests merely because she DARED to wear HIJAB on her school uniform after school hours. The Principal of Omole Senior High School, Omole, Lagos, banned the students from wearing the hijab even after they have been wearing it in compliance to the government circular issued in 2018. At Omole Grammar School, a team led by Mrs Akingbade went round classes to remove hijab from students and punished students who refused to do so.
2021: Female students were disallowed from using hijab at Okota Senior Grammar School, Okota, Isolo; Ogba Junior Grammar School, Ogba; Alimosho Junior Grammar School, Alimosho; Community Primary School, Ilogbo; Anglican Primary School, Ijanikin; L. A. Primary School, Ilogbo-Elegba; Fazil Umar Ahmadiyyah Primary School, Okokomaiko.
December 2021: Two female Muslim students of Igboye Community High School, Igboye, Epe, Lagos State, were made to stand outside the classroom in the sun while their classmates were writing an examination.
The cases cited are the few reported on hijab discrimination in Lagos State schools, and they barely made it to the mainstream media if not for the websites of MURIC, MPAC and EDUCELEB, MSSN. However, it should be noted that hijab discrimination is not limited to schools and Lagos State. Nursing students and professionals are regularly harassed for DARING to use HIJAB. Let us excuse the medical sector for ignorance of the law, then, the popular case of Amasa Firdaus at the Nigerian Law School in Abuja in 2017 springs to mind and it becomes inexcusable, but it reflects the struggles of female Muslims and the Muslim Ummah.
How about the nine female Muslim students who were locked out of International School, Ibadan (ISI) for DARING to wear HIJAB? One of the female Muslim students, Miss Ikhlas Olasubomi Badiru was even suspended by ISI in 2019 and the case is still in court as the parents and the girl are showing courage worthy of emulation. Shocking as it sounds that nine female Muslim students were locked out of International School, Ibadan, it was not even the worse, because fifty-five female Muslim students were locked out of another international school for DARING to wear HIJAB and yes, you read the figure correctly, 55. Interestingly, this also happened in another University community, International School of Ladoke Akintola University of Technology, LAUTECH, Ogbomoso.
In Ogun State, the Chairman of its Teaching Service Commission, Evangelist Joshua Olalekan Ifede, ordered female Muslim teachers who wore hijab to the venue of the promotion exercise to reduce their hijabs to shoulder level by the next day (Friday 16/4/21) or they would not be interviewed. The incident took place at Lisabi Grammar School in Abeokuta, where the interview was held. Following the incident, an official message went viral on social media, saying, 'Dear colleagues good afternoon. I have the directive of the TESCOM Chairman, Evg. Lekan Ifede to inform you to get back to our teachers in all the interview centers to dress corporately. Tell our Muslim Sisters to put on hijab that doesn’t go beyond their shoulder. Whosoever that is not corporately dressed will not be attended to as from tomorrow. Thanks and pleasant night. CCZS.'
During the administration of Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, female Muslim students were prevented from wearing hijab in public schools which prompted a lawsuit against the Osun State Government. We are all living witness to the circus that greeted the judgement of Osun State High Court to allow the wearing of Hijab by female Muslim students. The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) stage-managed the dramatic reaction to try to act against the judgement of the high court. Christian students were made to wear cassock, some wore their choir uniforms and it even saw students coming to school in masquerade attire. For few days, Osun State became the laughing stock of not just Nigeria, but the rest of the world used this incident as an example of disruption of learning. It is interesting to note that the students who went to school in masquerade, cassock, choir attires could not sustain it beyond a week, no need to guess, our female Muslim students are still wearing their hijabs in Osun State.
In case you are still struggling to understand the excitement and the implication of the Supreme Court judgment in favour of the hijab, the parents of the girl who was allegedly harassed by one Mrs. Adeyemo, one of the teachers at the International School, Obafemi Awolowo University, can now sue both the school and the teacher based on hijab discrimination. With the Supreme Court Judgement, the female Muslim students of Oyun Baptist High School (OBHS) who were locked out of OBHS for three weeks for DARING to wear HIJAB can file lawsuits. This is also related to the cases outlined in this report.
It is worthy of note that during these years of persecution and traumatic experiences for our female Muslim students, the mainstream human rights and girl-child education advocacy groups barely raised their voices in support of these oppressed female Muslim students. The volte face from these groups is legendary whenever the victims of oppression are Muslims. These groups depend on international donors with the claim of championing the cause of girl-child education, yet, female Muslim girls are locked out of schools and assaulted, and they blowed muted trumpet because they are merchants and not activists.
Islamic Welfare Foundation joins other Muslim organisations to express our excitements with the Supreme Court judgment on hijab which entrenches the rights of our female Muslim students to wear their hijabs. Our female Muslim students are now armed with the law and for DARING to wear HIJAB and face traumatic experiences, they can now DARE the bigots to harass, intimidate and assault them for wearing the hijab.