By Monsuru Olowoopejo
RELIGIOUS bodies in Lagos State are currently divided over the implementation of Court of Appeal judgment, last Thursday on the use of Hijab, (Muslim headscarf) in public schools. While the Muslims under the aegies of the Muslim Students’ Society of Nigeria, MSSN, have written to the State Government demanding implementation, the Lagos State chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria,CAN, has warned against implementation of the judgment.
The five-man panel set up by President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, presided over by Justice, A.B. Gumel, set aside the earlier judgment by Justice Grace Onyeabo of the Ikeja High Court, Lagos, banning use of hijab and declared that students, especially Muslims have the right to wear Hijab within and outside their school premises without being punished or victimized.
The case was between Asiyat Kareem (Minor) suing through Mr. AbdulKareem Raji; Mariam Oyeniyi through Mr. Sulaimon Oyeniyi; and Muslim Students’ Society of Nigeria, MSSN Lagos State Area Unit (suing through its president, Saheed Ashafa), against Lagos State Government and others.
The MSSN had approached the court, seeking to demand use of Hijab in schools after a JSS 11 female student of Kadara Junior High School, Ebute Metta, was on February 5th, 2013 subjected to corporal punishment for failing to remove her Hijab after the Islamic Religious Knowledge class.
CAN warns against implementation, calls for appeal
Few days after studying the judgment of the Court of Appeal on the use of Hijab in Lagos, the Christian Association of Nigeria, Lagos State, expressed displeasure over the case, urging the State Government to approach the Supreme Court to seek judgment over the issue.
CAN, Lagos in a statement signed by Secretary, Rev. Israel Akinadewo, “We can only appeal to the State government to take all legal steps immediately, in reversing this judgement, before the Mega City vision for Lagos State is destroyed through religious extremism.”
In the statement, it argued that the Christian and Muslim leaders are both members of Nigeria Inter-Religious Council (NIREC) in Lagos, saying, “we have worked perfectly well together.” It noted that Lagos State was a cosmopolitan state that had witnessed peace and development over the years, due to the good relationship between both faiths leadership, and their cooperation with successive governments.
The statement said, “Some of these public schools are missionary schools, bearing Christian names, hence any implementation of this judgement is tantamount to Islamizing the state of excellence.
“There should be a standard dress code for all, to be made public for all students who attend public schools in Lagos State. Tax payers monies are used for the establishment and running of these schools, hence religious dress codes should not be allowed under any circumstance. This is even with the fact that religious bodies can establish private schools, and the demands of their religion can then be effectively implemented,” it added.
MSSN writes Ambode, demands implementation
Apparently after reading the reaction of CAN over the judgment, the MSSN Lagos have asked their Counsel, Gani Adetola-Kassim, to write the State Government, demanding for the implementation of the judgment. It would be recalled that the State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr. Steve Ayorinde had after the judgment, stated that the government would study the judgment to know the next line of action.
In an interview with Vanguard, the President, MSSN Lagos State Area Unit, Mr. Saheed Ashafa, said “we have met with our counsel after the judgment. And we have asked that he writes the State Government on the need to implement the judgment without further delay.”
Ashafa noted that in order to avoid any face-off between both parties, “the government will determine the mode of implementation and not us. We are law abiding citizens and believe in the present administration.”
Sensitization on Hijab
While we await implementation, Ashafa said, “it is expected that non-Muslims will utter provocative statements to stir up confrontation. And due to this, we have intensified our sensitization of the Muslims on the need to remain calm irrespective of the provocative statements uttered against them.
“We also know that in Lagos, we have a forum where all religious bodies meet to discuss issues on religion (NIREC). And at that forum, we have often maintained good relationships between various faiths. And due to this, we do not envisage that there will be a problem from non-Muslims on the use of Hijab. But if there is any, we will create a forum to further sensitize them on what the Islamic religion demands from its believers,” he added.
He noted that if the case proceeds to the Supreme Court, “we are fully prepared for this. It is an issue that concerns fundamental human rights. But while we await the appeal, we started sensitizing Muslims and non-Muslims on the tenets of the religion.”