The Muslim Students Society of Nigeria (MSSN), Lagos, has issued a 30-day ultimatum to the Lagos state government to implement the Supreme Court ruling approving the wearing of hijab in Lagos schools.
The student group wants the government to issue a circular on the court’s verdict warning its officials not to harass Muslim women who wear hijab to school.
Speaking at a news conference on Wednesday, the association’s president, Miftahudeen Thanni, said issuing the circular would curb “overzealous” teachers and principals from contempt of court.
“This is not to punish the Lagos state government, but to ask for the speedy implementation of the Supreme Court ruling,” he said.
“We waited patiently to obtain the sentence and we were legal at all times. During this period, we consulted, collaborated, protested, held rallies and sensitized government officials on why a willing Muslim woman should be allowed to wear hijab.”
The case involved the Lagos State Government as appellant and Asiyat AbdulKareem (through his father), Moriam Oyeniyi, and the Muslim Student Society of Nigeria as defendants.
supreme court verdict
After years of legal wrangling, on July 17, 2022, the Supreme Court approved the wearing of hijab by Muslim female students at school in Lagos state.
Five of the seven members of the court panel ruled in favor of the hijab, while the other two disagreed.
The high court rejected an appeal by the Lagos state government and upheld the Court of Appeal’s earlier ruling that the hijab ban was discriminatory against Muslim students in the state.
According to the Supreme Court, the ban violated the rights of Muslim students to freedom of thought, conscience, religion, the dignity of human persons and non-discrimination guaranteed by the 1999 Constitution.
The court panel included Justices Olukayode Ariwoola, Kudirat Kekere-Ekun, John Inyang Okoro, Uwani Aji, Mohammed Garba, Tijjani Abubakar and Emmanuel Agim.
AB Gumel, who delivered the main ruling of the Court of Appeals panel, held that wearing the hijab was an Islamic mandate and an act of worship required by Muslims.
He said that the wearing of the hijab by Muslim students cannot cause disunity, distraction and discrimination against students of other religions, as the trial judge stated.
In a ruling on October 17, 2014, the Lagos State High Court upheld the state government’s decision to ban the wearing of the hijab in public primary and secondary schools in the state.
But the decision was reversed by the Lakes Division of the Court of Appeals in a judgment issued on July 21, 2016.
In a unanimous decision, the appellate court panel ruled that the state’s ban on hijab wearing in public schools was discriminatory against Muslim students.
The Lagos state government was not satisfied with this ruling and tried to obtain a stay of enforcement of the Court of Appeal’s decision, but failed.
In November 2018, the Lagos State Government he later issued a circular to all public high school principals instructing them to allow students.
Speaking further, Mr. Thanni said: “When the Lagos state government issued the circular, we thought relief had come, but it is absolutely unfortunate that some school authorities and some flawed teachers are working against the circular. Ultimately, they are interested in endangering law and order.
“Instead of obeying the circular, some school principals, deputy principals and teachers pretended to ignore the adoption of Hijab in Lagos state and started desperately dealing with our members.
“On no account should a girl be denied an education again in Lagos State and in Nigeria in general.
“Images of Muslim students kicked out of the exam room for wearing hijab touches the heart and always brings tears to our eyes. We don’t want this to happen again. The girl’s education is very important in our hearts. No Muslim girl should ever be told that she chooses between her faith and her education. They are both her rights.
“We demand that the Lagos state government issue a circular within 30 days of the issuance of the sentence allowing hijab.
“The Lagos state government should sanction officials who go against the Supreme Court ruling and hold a meeting with MSSN Lagos, Muslim leaders and other Islamic organizations on the size and modalities of hijab wearing.”
In her remarks, Ms. AbdulKareem, who sued the Lagos state government, called for the victimization of Muslim students to stop.
“We suffered to get this judgment and I hope that it will be the end of the victimization that someone like me suffered,” he said.
For her part, the Executive Secretary of the Hijab Rights Advocacy Initiative, Shereefat Enessi, praised the Supreme Court for the ruling.
“It is not a victory for Muslims alone, it is a victory for civilization, for democracy and for peace.
“We are not all Muslims and as such understanding the importance of a religious mandate like hijab may not be easy but at least we are all in the same boat which is Nigeria, bringing each other down would only bring us all down.” he said.
Likewise, the national emir of MSSN, Uthman Abubakar, who lamented that Muslim students have suffered discrimination for a long time, welcomed the Supreme Court ruling.
“The MSSN salutes the courage, understanding and application of the Constitutional law as it is by the panel of magistrates.
“The sentence is manifestly credible and guaranteed as one of the fundamental Human Rights granted to Muslims and any other adherents of a religion,” he said.